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The Sweet Taste of Love

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Yuuri fell into the rhythm of the kitchen. His kitchen. He drifted from pastries to pies, from pies to muffins, from muffins to breads, and from there he lost track. He was hot and sticky under his coat, his sleeves rolled up and his collar undone. He'd only been going through the motions for three hours and already he had dark splotches of food coloring on his wrists, flour clinging to his cheeks and collarbone, and two different types of batter splattered on the front of his outfit. The sickeningly sweet aroma of dark chocolate hung in the air, feeding the ache in his temples.

It was magical.

No matter how tired he was, how overworked, or how pained, Yuuri loved all of it. The early morning rush was electrifying, lighting a spark in his veins that told him to just go. There wasn't any time to wonder if he was doing something wrong, if the cream could be a little better, if the filigree was crooked, if he was a horrible baker just imitating the greats he would never become. No, he could just tune all of it out as he stepped into the mad dash before the doors opened.

In the kitchen, as he worked on his own with no crowds or teachers watching, scowling, critiquing, he could remain in a carefully composed bubble of serenity. He could tune out his nerves that turned his best work into slop, and just set himself into a peaceful flow. The kitchen was anything but calm with its stagnant heat, blaring alarms, and bustling workers, but it gave Yuuri freedom from his troubles. He could focus solely on the roll of the pin beneath his palms, the flattening of the dough beneath the pressure, how perfect and beautiful the cookies would be when they came out of the oven, and the look on the customers' faces when they took their first bites.

His work would make people happy. That was all Yuuri really wanted. To make people happy. Not upset, or angry, or disappointed, as he was used to, but happy. He could sate their hunger and caress their taste buds, giving them a few moments of bliss, a reprieve from life and its harsh realities.

That was how he saw it, anyway. Other people's food had inspired those feelings in him. He figured he could do it, too. At the end of the day, and even in the beginning, and multiple moments throughout, that was what he looked forward to. Satisfying other people and making sure that they left his shop happier than when they entered.

Music drifted quietly through the speakers, his foot lightly tapping to the beat as he continued to roll out the dough. He scrunched his nose up in distaste as the dough began to stick, so he dusted some more flour onto the rolling pin and continued with even pressure. He was just about to grab the cookie cutter when the heady scent of hazelnut hit him from the stove. Turning, he caught a glimpse of the unoccupied pot and rolled his eyes.

"Phichit, unless you want burnt butter, you better get over here!" he shouted.

The door to the walk in cooler instantly sprang open. "Got it! I got it!" Phichit ran to the stove, collecting his wooden spoon and stirring as he set to work. "Thank you, Yuuri," he said, giving him a mega-watt smile.

"Mhm." He set back to work, only stopping when Phichit came and glanced over his shoulder.

"No cookie press, today? How daring."

Yuuri snorted. "Going old school. A woman ordered some emoji cookies for her daughter's tenth birthday."

"Ooooo. So they're going to be decorated with a bunch of outrageous expressions and little happy faces? So cool. I love emojis!"

"I know. Your texts are always full of them." He finished cutting his last one, filing it onto the tray with the rest before slipping the cookies in the oven. "I texted you that I was getting water at the store the other day and you replied with an 'ok' with like five emojis after it. We might actually have to get you some help. You're like some hyperactive thirteen-year-old."

The other man gasped, putting his hand to his mouth dramatically. "Why I never!" His expression dropped back into a smile as he began working on the other baker's table. "But I'm a cool thirteen-year-old, right?"

"You put unicorns in your texts," he said with a deadpan stare before opening the fridge and sliding out the cake he was working on earlier.

"Unicorns are cool," Phichit defended as he frowned.

Yuuri just shook his head and pat his friend's back as he passed by. "Of course, of course. They're the coolest." He set his cake down, collecting a piping bag and filling it with frosting. It was a three layer chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream filling. A smooth vanilla buttercream coated the outside. So far it was blank, nothing but a row of piped shells decorating the bottom. He'd just begun to work on the swoop design when there was a loud crash from the other side of the kitchen. Yuuri didn't flinch. "What was that?"

"…Nothing," came a high pitched, mousy voice that could only mean the opposite.

"Minami, what'd you drop?"

There was a lull of silence. "A bowl of filling?"

Yuuri chuckled. "Is that a question?" He turned to find the usually bubbly Minami crouched low as he frowned down at the mess with tears in the corners of his eyes. One of their mixing bowls had shattered on the floor by his feet, most of the pieces still miraculously held together by the large glob of cream filling in the center. Giving a resigned sigh, he looked to Phichit who'd finished his job with the drizzling of his tarts. "Could you help him clean it up? I've got to get this cake decorated before my frosting gets too warm."

Phichit gave a nod of confirmation, making his way over to the boy as he laughed into his hand. "You've really gotta watch that enthusiasm, Minami."

His cheeks puffed, but he didn't deny it. "Yeah, I know."

"That's like the third dish this month."

"Fourth," the blonde corrected. "But that's way better than last month!" A proud smile took over his face as he bounced on the balls of his feet.

Yuuri turned back to his work as they cleaned up. Setting the tip to the cake, he eased the frosting out of the bag with a continuous squeeze, gliding it along the outside of the top coat. The frosting dropped down low into a swift, yet elegant 'u', coming back up and dropping down from a narrow arch. He carefully dropped one hand to spin the cake on its pedestal, continuing the swoops until there was one row, two, three, up to the final one that he finished with a flick of his wrist. Switching the tips, he set in to start the lavender rosettes on the top. His eyes glanced at the clock. Twenty minutes later and he was nearly done. "Who's working the counter, today?"

"Mostly Mickey," Phichit replied.

"So no Sara," he said more than asked. "How come they never work on the same shifts anymore?"

Minami popped up beside him, his sudden presence at his side startling him into twisting his rosette too much. "I don't know. Maybe she's tired of her brother cock blocking her whenever there's a cute customer."

Phichit gawked at the vulgar words coming from such a seemingly innocent boy, before laughter bubbled up at the truth in the suggestion. "That last time was hilarious. He thought he could talk down that burly man, all 6'2" with two hundred pounds of pure muscle on him. He's lucky he didn't get walloped in the face."

Glaring over at the youngest baker, Yuri scooped off the failed rosette and placed a fresh one. "Probably for the best. His, um… odd affection has been scaring away some of our customers." Quickly switching out the lavender, he grabbed his prepped bag of black frosting. The letter 'h' was half written before he felt a terribly familiar prickling sensation come over him. He paused, his eyes warily glancing over at Minami who was still beside him. The boy was frozen in place, eyes wide with his gaze fixed on the cake in front of them. "Minami, w-what are you doing?"

"Just watching," he responded, eyes still glued to Yuuri's work.

The raven haired man began to feel uncomfortably hot as he stood there, thinking about what was on Minami's mind. What he was looking at. How he was looking at it. Why he was looking at it. Was there something wrong? Had he made a mistake? I had to have made a mistake. He's staring at it, critiquing it. There must be something wrong. He's just too polite to say anything.

Yuuri began to second guess his work, his thin veneer of confidence cracking more and more as the blond stared. He took a moment to step back and look, eyes glimpsing over every inch. The color was fine, a crisp white that stood out with a pure glow, the lavender warming the otherwise sterile color. The cake wasn't crooked or anything. It stood tall, proud on its pedestal. Maybe it's the decorations? He tilted his head to the right, taking in every swoop and rosette. Oh god, it's crooked. The swoops on the middle cake are crooked. Crap, I should swipe them off and start over. But then I should do the bottom, too. If the middle's crooked, then I should definitely redo the bottom, too. A small whine escaped Yuuri's throat as he froze. But what if I make it worse?!

"It looks wonderful, Yuuri."

Phichit's voice bulldozed over his thoughts, bringing him back to his task. "But!"

"No buts. It's great," he assured, putting a hand on his shoulder and giving it a small squeeze. He narrowed his eyes as he looked over at Minami. "Don't you have work to do?"

Minami deflated at the accusatory stare. "But it's so pretty! I wanted to watch the great Katsuki-sensei at work! How else am I gonna learn?"

"We've talked about this."

Minami pushed his lips out into a pout, stomping away. "Fine."

"It's crooked," Yuuri muttered, mostly to himself. He pushed up his glasses, pinching the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. "What can't I just-"

"Yuuri," Phichit started, voice calm as he turned the other toward him with a firm grip on his shoulders. "There's nothing wrong with the cake."

"But it's-"

"It's not crooked. Nothing's crooked. Look at it again." He turned Yuuri back around, using some force as Yuuri didn't want to keep staring at his own mistakes. "It's gorgeous. I wish I could make a cake like that. I hate decorating cakes. You know why?" Yuuri shook his head, even though he did know. He'd heard it before. In the same situations in many different places. "Because mine would be completely crooked. I despise piping intricate designs. I have no talent. But you, my dear," he looked back over at the cake, a proud gleam in his eyes, "that's talent."

Yuuri huffed. "You're sure it's not crooked?"

"Not a single swoop out of place. Now go on and finish the address."

Giving a determined nod, Yuuri stepped back in front of it and brought the bag back up. He attempted to start the next letter, but the tip was all over the place. His hands were shaking, his palms beginning to sweat around the plastic, causing it to slide from his grip. Come on, Yuuri. Just do it. Any average baker can write a proper address on a cake. It's just the word 'happy'. You want that for them, right? You want your customers to be happy. There was too much tension in his shoulders, too much pressure stiffening his fingers to where they couldn't move, only twitch along the outside of the bag.

Minami was no longer there, his analytic stare gone. Phichit was beside him, but Yuuri was fine with Phichit. He was comfortable performing before Phichit. The man wasn't even looking anymore, anyway. But the interruption was enough. The added attention was enough. He couldn't do it. He was in the wrong headspace. His nerves were taking over, making his nice cursive turn into a lazy, squiggly scrawl.

He let out a heavy breath and tossed the piping bag to the side. "Can…" He swallowed down his disappointment, his anger. "Can you put this in the fridge, Phichit? I'm going to take a break and finish it after."

Giving him a sympathetic smile, he nodded, carefully picking up the cake and putting it up. Yuuri watched it go, a knot in his throat as he watched it disappear. He felt conflicted, wanting to grab the cake back and finish it, but also wanting to run away from it and the disaster it could become. He needed to have it done by three, and he would have had it done already, had he not let his stupid worries mess him up. He knew it was his anxiety that was screwing with him. He'd been doing just fine up until he started second guessing himself, worrying nonsense paralyzing his body.

It'd been the same problem he had back in culinary school. Having people watching him, other students, his teachers, he'd been a knotted ball of stress. But when he was left alone, it was like he could breathe again. All pressures to be perfect, to use the perfect techniques, to execute them perfectly, to come up with a perfect product, pushed to the back of his mind. You'd think that after so many years of experience, and after finishing school, that he would have a handle on it.

Nope, I'm still just the stupid kid with stage fright. Turning back, he washed his hands and wet a towel with cold water under the sink. He brought it to his face, wiping away the sweat and any remnants of flour.

Stepping out to the front of the store, he met the sight of the day's first couple of customers over at a corner table. Mickey was at the register, brows stressed as he stared down at his phone. He caught sight of Yuuri after a few moments, relief crossing his features.

"Yuuri, can you cover for me for a few? I really need to make a call."

Torn, Yuuri only stared back at the darker skinned man, lips parted as he readied his reply. He didn't want to work the counter. He really wasn't one to deal with customers. Sara knew that, that's why she never put him there. He was the lead baker, the behind the scenes guy. The one no one needed to see, or wanted to see, for that matter. He didn't have the winning smile or the effortless charm. His looks were sub-par, at best and he stuttered too much when he got flustered. Plus, after the incident with the cake, he just wanted to find a nice hole to bury himself in.

"Please?"

The pleading tones to his voice had Yuuri reluctantly agreeing before he could think better of it. Mickey grinned, practically flinging himself out the entrance with words of gratitude tossed over his shoulder.

Resigned to his fate, Yuuri crossed the threshold into his least favorite spot in the bakery. He took his glasses off, cleaning them with his towel, before placing them back on his nose and slinging the towel over his shoulder. A few quick customers came and went, Yuuri awkwardly handling them as best he could. He rearranged some of the pastries in the display during the downtime, and idly ran his hand over the counter to catch crumbs. Mostly, he was just mentally counting the seconds until Mickey came back. It was a slow day, at least. Tuesdays usually were. He could take comfort in that.

You can do this, Yuuri, he pep-talked himself. They're just people. People that want to order their food and go. They don't care about you. You don't exist beyond making their desserts and giving them to them. Yuuri sunk a little in his stance. That was a depressing thought. Mickey will be back soon and then you'll be back to your cake. He sunk down even lower. Right, the cake. The one your trembly little fingers have no right to touch.

The door chimed. Yuuri barely looked up, his body lethargic with annoyance. That better be Mickey, or I swear-

It wasn't Mickey. Just customers.

Yeah, right, just customers.

One man came in, laughing and huffing as he held the door open for another that had yet to make it. He was attractive. Tall with two-toned blonde and brown hair styled in an undercut. His face held noticeable stubble and his long lashes were apparent even from the distance between them. Tanned skin and evenly toned muscles were carelessly shown off with an open shirt and tight shorts. "And you said I couldn't beat you to the door," the man gloated in heavily accented English before the other finally stepped inside.

Yuuri's heart did a little jump, followed by racing palpitations that he was sure were the signals of a coming heart attack. If he thought the other man was attractive, then this one was downright gorgeous. A light tank top and shorts were all that covered beautifully pale, sweat slicked skin, his own muscles nicely pronounced in his attire. His hair was a glimmering silver, long fringe covering one eye, small, errant strands sticking to the sweat at his temples. There was a gentle slope to his nose, a light sunburn spread across it and the tops of his cheeks. His angular jawline was clean, well-shaven, the skin looking cake flour soft. But what stuck out the most were his eyes. Stunning blue-green eyes that reminded Yuuri of the resting sea on a clear day. Of glittering waters that sparkled with life, an unknown depth hidden behind soft reflection.

"Please, Chris. You wouldn't be talking like that if we were on the ice."

"But we aren't skating, now are we?"

The silveret shook his head at the other, shoving him away before he looked up at Yuuri, his eyes widening a fraction. And then they were walking to the counter. And Yuuri had to speak. "W-Welcome," he blurted. Yuuri inwardly cursed himself. Heh, and you thought you were stuttering before.

"Hiiii~" And his voice! That accent! Yuuri felt a shiver go down his spine at the smooth purr that slid through his eardrums. He ignored it. The man stared at him, like he was expecting a reply or more of a reaction. Yuuri just wanted to disappear.

The other man, Chris, whistled at the menu. "You've got a nice selection."

Yuuri was going to reply. He was supposed to reply. The man paid their place a compliment, so why wasn't he replying? Because I'm too busy staring at this god-like creature. Normally, he would have snapped himself out of it by now. It was rude to stare. Except… he actually wasn't the only one staring. The beautiful specimen of man, is he even mortal?, was staring at him, his eyes roving over his own form. Yuuri wilted at the attention, a reaction similar to the incident with Minami stirring in his mind. He knew he looked like a mess. His coat and skin were stained from a full morning in the kitchen. His clothes clung to him oddly, sticking to his own sweaty skin. The long morning had pulled pieces of his carefully gelled back hair out to lay haphazardly on his forehead. He was sure he looked nothing like a respectable employee, let alone an attractive person.

Yuuri dropped his gaze to compose himself as he stared at his shoes, noticing now that even they hadn't escaped the fray clean. He pulled in a shaky breath, reminding himself that the man was just a customer, and yanked his gaze back up. He was still looking at him, eyes bright with something like excitement.

"Found you."

Yuuri blinked, stare going blank, before confusion descended upon his brow and a tiny frown pulled at his features. Whaaaat? There had to be a mistake. He couldn't have said that. What would this silver haired Adonis want with him? Maybe he heard him wrong. He had to have heard him wrong.

"Hey, Yuuri? I think the cookies-"

Yuuri hadn't yet managed to pull his eyes away to acknowledge Minami when there was a deafening bang, like metal clattering to the floor, little thuds following. This time, Yuuri winced. That was the sound of a cookie tray, wasn't it? So much for happy faces. He slowly turned to find Minami, mouth agape as he stood there, his arms still in the air as if they'd yet to notice the lessening of the burden, and broken sugar cookies piled on his shoes.

"Y-You're… Viktor N-Nikiforov!"

Chapter Text

An ear shattering squeal echoed throughout the bakery as Minami rushed forward, stumbling over his instantly forgotten mess to make it to the man's side. "And you're Christophe Giacometti! Oh my god, you guys are freaking awesome. Can I hug you?" he asked, his voice going timid as his eyes flicked between the two of them.

"Of course," Viktor replied, all smiles, although Yuuri thought his expression looked a little hollow. "Anything for a fan."

There was another squeal, making Yuuri wish he'd brought ear plugs to work. Surprisingly, this wasn't the first time he'd made that wish. "Thank you so much! I watched your last competition. Your free skate brought me to tears." His eyes began to water, out of remembrance of the event or in his excitement, Yuuri wasn't sure. The two hugged briefly before Chris stepped in.

"Don't hog the adorable little one, Viktor. We both know I'm the star he wants to see." Minami eagerly switched as Chris winked over the young man's shoulder at Viktor. "Besides, you have some business here, don't you?" He tilted his head in Yuuri's direction.

Giving him a smile of gratitude, Viktor turned back to the raven behind the counter. Yuuri hadn't moved, too shocked by the scene to do anything but spectate, but now as the other man focused back on him, he felt his nerves crawl up his throat and stick there. He could only manage a tiny "eep" as the man's gaze, filled with drive and purpose, sunk into him and gripped onto his heart. He didn't know what to do. What was one supposed to do when receiving such a look? When in such a position? His knee-jerk reaction was to hide under the counter. But that would be a new level of rude, wouldn't it? So why does the idea still feel so enticing?

"Were you never going to call?"

So maybe he hadn't heard him wrong, but then this was just a case of mistaken identity, right? The man was about to say something else, but Yuuri beat him to the punch. He cleared his throat and summoned up his courage, trying to deal with this mishap like a responsible employee. Somebody had to. Minami was too busy getting the other man to sign his shirt. "I'm sorry, sir. I t-think you have me mistaken for somebody else. Would you like to order anything?"

He smirked, leaning over the counter as he brought a hand up under Yuuri's chin, tilting his face up so they could meet eye to eye. "Trying to play hard to get, are we?"

Wrenching himself from the man's grasp, he scrambled backwards into the wall, practically splaying himself against it. His voice quivered when he spoke next, quiet and startled. "I r-really think you h-have… have the wrong p-pers-son…"

The silver haired man fell back onto his feet, his smirk slowly drifting from his face. "Are you trying to pretend like we've never met?"

Now that was a look Yuuri had absolutely no idea how to deal with. There was annoyance crinkled between his brows, but mostly there was an overwhelming amount of hurt dampening his expression. Yuuri almost hated himself for it. But he wasn't in the wrong here. Why did he feel so bad when it wasn't his fault?

"Yuuri?"

Brown eyes widened at the utterance of his name. He just said his name. He quickly checked himself over for a nametag. There was none. He wasn't supposed to be working the counter today and he rarely wore one when back in the kitchen. So how did this complete stranger know his name? Unless, it wasn't a mistake. At that thought, Yuuri began to freak out. What do I do! I don't know this person. But I obviously should know this person. What do I do? What do I do?!

And then Mickey came back. "What is going on here?" His voice boomed over the rest, his eyes glancing from the crumbled cookies scattered on the floor, over to Minami who was posing for a picture with a customer, and finally over to Yuuri who was practically trembling against a wall in front of another. He scowled. "Honestly, I'm gone for fifteen minutes," he muttered darkly.

Yuuri took advantage of the distraction and ran. He didn't wait for Mickey to take up his position. He didn't stop to pick up the cookies that crunched under his feet. He just bolted back to the kitchen before he could be stopped. The door swayed and slammed behind him. His heart was beating wildly in his chest and he nearly collided with Phichit as he came around a corner.

"Woah, Yuuri!" he exclaimed, trying to balance the tray in his hand as he held his friend in place with the other. "What is going on out there? There was banging and squealing and now Mickey's yelling. I figured it was just Minami's usual antics but now you're here and, oh dear." Phichit stopped and quickly placed the tray down on the counter. "You look like you're going to puke."

"No, no, not gonna puke, just-" He shook his hands in front of his face, trying to draw in air as he recapped to Phichit. "There's a guy here that thinks-knows me but Phichit I have no idea who he is but when I said that he looked like I killed his cat and he held my face like held my face and he said my name Phichit I don't know him but he said my name how does he know my name ohgodwhatdoIdo-"

"Yuuri," Phichit's calm voice hit him like a hammer, flattening his raging anxiety. "Slow down. You're rambling. There's a guy here that knows you?"

He drew in such a deep breath that all the air puffed out his chest before he let it all out in one swoop. He felt light headed. Actually, his head kind of hurt. He wondered if a hangover could last for longer than a day, or if this was just his nerves giving him another migraine. "That's why Minami was flipping out and broke my cookies-"

"He broke more cookies?"

"His name is Viktor Nikifor… something."

"Viktor Nikiforov?!"

"Yeah, that. He said he knows me and-"

"One of the most talented figure skaters in the world knows you?!"

Yuuri whined, the sound catching in his throat when the door to the kitchen burst open, revealing the one person he had been hiding from.

"Sir! You can't-" Mickey was behind him, his expression furious. Not being one for nonsense, Mickey hated when things went awry at work. They all knew that. They usually had to keep Minami's accidents to themselves so the boy wouldn't have to endure Mickey's scolding.

Caught completely off guard, Yuuri found himself cowering behind Phichit. "You can't be back here!"

Phichit was stiff as a board as he took in the fact that it was Viktor freaking Nikiforov in their bakery, and that he was chasing his best friend around with what appeared to be desperation. "Uh, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do here, but," he threw his hands out, guarding Yuuri with his body. "If Yuuri doesn't want to see you, he's not seeing you."

Mickey, fed up, tried to grab the man by his jacket. "I don't care who you are, you can't just-"

Viktor held up a hand to the man's face, stopping him cold. "Yuuri, can we just talk?"

The room went quiet at the distress in his voice. Phichit and Mickey side-eyed each other, having some odd, silent conversation between themselves while Yuuri peeked over his friend's shoulder at Viktor. The confidence that the man had entered the bakery with was all but gone, his shoulders sagging and his bottom lip caught between perfect teeth. Yuuri almost wanted to know the man, to somehow alleviate the ache in Viktor's expression, to be the one that was sought out, but he was just a person. Just Yuuri. Whoever this man was desperately searching for was not him.

That fact curled into his stomach and made him want to vomit.

No one ever wanted Yuuri.

It had to be a misunderstanding.

Phichit spoke up. "Where do you supposedly know Yuuri from, exactly?"

"I met him on Saturday." He turned to Yuuri, his look softening. "It was the best night of my life."

Even Phichit blushed at that. "Yuuri, didn't you go out to Spritz & Drop with Mari on Saturday?"

A gasp escaped Yuuri and he looked back over at Viktor, the other man's eyes gleaming with hope. "Oh, no."


Yuuri pinched the bridge of his nose, hard enough to be painful. He couldn't believe it. The one time in two years that he allowed himself to get shit-faced drunk and party, he ended up meeting someone who found him afterwards. Why didn't he stay closer to Mari that night? Why did he even go out at all? A sharp, phantom pain on his thigh quickly reminded him. Right, that.

He had reluctantly agreed to speak with Viktor, though he knew nothing good would come from it. They were both outside, sitting at one of the few tables that sat out front. He hid himself from the sweltering sun, its rays eclipsed by the table's umbrella. The bakery sat on Judah street, just a skip over a couple of highways until one met the beach, and Yuuri let his gaze stray out towards the ocean. A part of him wanted to just run off, throw himself into the water and never return. Maybe then he wouldn't have to have such a horrible conversation.

But he couldn't. He was here. This was now. He had to suck it up. Clasping his hands together, he put them on the table before him as he finally faced the other man. Viktor was watching him, body now tense with hesitation, like he was walking on egg shells. Yuuri felt that was fitting. He'd fallen a long time ago. Just unlike Humpty Dumpty, no one had bothered to help him pick up the pieces.

"Look," they both started.

Yuuri snapped his mouth shut.

Viktor just chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck. "I take it… you actually don't remember me, do you?"

Yuuri shook his head. Even though he felt less frazzled now that he knew that the man wasn't a total stranger, he just felt more awkward and embarrassed. Whatever he'd done Saturday night, he was obviously paying for it now. He was going to kill Mari after this.

"Man, I knew you were piss drunk, but not that drunk. I would have at least thought I had left an impression." His fingers reached out towards Yuuri's hands, but he stopped himself. "I must look like a total fool to you…"

Yuuri swallowed, his saliva going down slowly, harshly. His head started to throb anew as he sat there. That odd tang of green apple was back, resting on his tongue like it never left. A memorable beat clung to his ears, but he shook it all away. He didn't need that here. He didn't need to remember what stupid, idiotic things he'd done when he was smashed.

"I waited for you to call, you know?" Viktor's voice was light, wistful. "Waited all day Sunday and the better part of Monday. Chris was begging me to stop pining. And to stop talking about you." He laughed. Yuuri's stomach flipped at the sound. "I thought he was going to find a muzzle for me." His smile faded until it waned, like the sun sitting on the horizon, still there, but slowly dying out into the night. "When you never called I decided I was going to find you. You told me you worked at a bakery, so I google searched and decided to check each and every one until I found the man I was looking for. And here I am."

Yuuri just stared down at his hands, clenching them together tighter. He'd left an impression on Viktor, that was for sure. Whatever spell drunk-Yuuri cast on this man was a strong one, but he knew it wouldn't take much to break it. Drunk-Yuuri was fun Yuuri, especially when he couldn't remember anything afterwards. He'd heard it from people before. He would dance and sing, talk and connect, make out and break free from all worries. He was wildfire personified, that's what his sister had said.

But that Yuuri wasn't him. He was just a disappointment. Same face. Same name. Completely different personality. Viktor should see that now, right? This shy, timid thing, that couldn't even properly address him at work, wasn't worth his time. He was going to be sorry that he spent so much time on him already.

Yuuri knew how this would play out. He could foresee the realization hitting Viktor's face, him politely apologizing and leaving, never to be see again except on TV during the next ice competition. Yuuri would be left as the loser in the scenario. Because he was just Yuuri. Always just plain Yuuri.

"I don't know what happened at Spritz," he started quietly, his words slow and calculated, "but… that guy you met wasn't me-"

"Of course, it was-"

Yuuri gave him a look. "I'm not the same person when I'm drunk. Obviously you can see that now." He waited, letting the man, this exotic creature, look him over once more. "I just make cakes for a living. That's what I do. That's who I am. Whoever you're looking for…" The words built up, but wouldn't come out, stuck and jumbled in a traffic jam in his throat. "…got left behind at Spritz that night." He quickly got up and left, not giving Viktor time to reply. Not allowing him to give him the look Yuuri knew was coming.

He passed Chris on his way in, the man sitting at a corner table and eating something Yuuri didn't care to recognize. Disappearing into the kitchen, Yuuri switched mindsets. He waved off Phichit's concern, ignored Minami's questions, and just worked.

The cake was easy after that. The words glided off the tip of his piping bag like they'd slipped right off of his fingers, left elegant and shining. He didn't mess with the rest of it, sliding it back into the fridge without another glance. He went back to his cookies, relieved that he'd made more than enough to make up for Minami's earlier spill. He made the icing, the powdered sugar, meringue powder and water mixing into a glossy finish. Splitting it up into separate bowls, he mixed in the dyes, some splattering on the plastic gloves on his hands and dripping on the counter. When the cookies were all covered in their base coat, most a sunshine, but not quite golden yellow, others a frustrated red, some a sorrowful blue, he let them dry, focusing his mind on the baking of other goods and cleaning up some random messes.

Phichit attempted to talk to him in the in between stage. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"No," he stated, tone tepid as he spray rinsed one of their cake pans. The water was hot, turning his skin an irritated red. The steam fogged up his glasses, but he was only going through the motions, not quite seeing anyways.

"You need to talk about it."

"We're working, Phichit. At least I am."

He left it at that, going back to what were going to be bright, happy faces. He could have laughed. Of course on one of his worst days he had to focus on making shining expressions. Most of them were varying degrees of happiness. A grinning face. A silly face with swirling eyes and its tongue sticking out. One was laughing. Another was laughing so hard that tears were in the corners of its eyes. One was licking its lips. One had hearts for eyes. Another wore sunglasses, but its smile still shined below. He felt emotionally drained when he finished the happy ones, like they'd sapped the happiness he'd had left. The angry faces were easier. The sad ones even easier than those.

He went through the rest of the day in a daze. He didn't know why the strange encounter bothered him so much. Probably because it reminded him of what he was. What he wasn't. What he could have, if he was different. If he was drunk-Yurri, outgoing, charismatic, and enchanting, he wondered how happy he would be. Would his expression be glowing like those smiling cookies?

Phichit came back up to him around five, clapping a hand on his shoulder. "You should head home. You've already been here for twelve hours. We close in like an hour, anyway."

Nodding, Yuuri walked towards the office to grab his coat. "Good luck with your class. Be careful on the way home." He was in a sour mood, but he wasn't a shitty friend. He could at least spare the usual few words.

"Always."

He left the kitchen, stepping out onto a newly mopped floor. The cookies and fallen tray were gone, all remnants of the morning gone and forgotten. His eyes looked out, seeing some lingering customers enjoying the quiet evening. Chris and Viktor were gone. Unsurprising, but the reality stung him in a way Yuuri wasn't comfortable with. He grumbled out a goodbye to Mickey and Minami on his way out.

The walk to his apartment was uneventful. Passing people. Passing cars. His apartment was only a block away, so it wasn't much of a journey. He made it into the building without much difficulty, the door protesting as he pulled it open. It snapped shut behind him and he trudged up the stairs. Four flights and he was at his door, slipping in the key and making his way inside. The apartment was ordinary. Quaint, if not run down. It wasn't much, just enough for two young adults who were paying off student loans and saving the rest of their money for their dream.

The only sound in the apartment was the hamster wheel, slowly churning in Phichit's room. Outside of it was a different story. He could hear the children of his neighbors running and jumping in the apartment above them, each thump louder than the last. Yuuri used to think that one of them would eventually come crashing down through the ceiling. With how old the building was, he figured it would probably happen someday soon. The Gresettis across the way were arguing again, their loud yelling known for reaching the building across the street. They were a nice couple, when they weren't at each other's throats. Yuuri and Phichit had been asked over for dinner on multiple occasions. They had yet to accept, but the gesture was nice.

Not knowing what to do with his spare time, Yuuri hand washed the dishes that had begun to stack up. It was Phichit's night to hand wash, but Yuuri didn't want him to have to do anything after his night class. When that was done, he looked for something to eat. His eyes glimpsed the cabinets and the refrigerator, but nothing they had looked particularly pleasing. He needed to go shopping, but he didn't feel like it.

He went to bed that night feeling weary. He was sure he'd feel better in the morning. Not so lethargic and pathetic. He would start out the day with a new round of baking. He would make his customers happy. And that would make him happy.

Right?


He was feeling exceptionally better the next day. Back to baking his pastries and pies and muffins and breads. Back to agonizing over another cake that Phichit had to pull him away from before he could destroy it. Back to being Yuuri. Back to being proud of what he'd become, instead of worrying over what he wasn't.

Everything was back to normal, though Sara was in this time, half behind the counter and half checking the books. She was their manager, the one who took care of the organizing, ordering, and anything that had to do with numbers. She was the person that kept the place afloat. The bakery may have relied heavily on Yuuri's baking skills, but the business side of things was handled by Sara. She enjoyed it. She was good at it. Both at handling the books and dealing with customers. She was a people person through and through, and she shined in customer service.

Yuuri was fond of Sara, more so than he was of Mickey. Her twin brother could be a bit too tense when Sara wasn't around. She was a hugger, though. Yuuri wasn't much of a hugger.

"Scones are ready to go!" Phichit called out, taking a tray to fill the display case.

"You look so proud," Yuuri teased.

"I am proud. These are my babies. And now I get to present them to the world."

"To be eaten."

He glared back at the older man. "Must you put such a damper on my day?" He kicked the kitchen door open behind him, still glaring as he exited.

Yuuri was about to continue his work when Phichit quickly shuffled back inside, babies still in hand. "What, beginning to regret the cruel fate of your children?" His smile fell at the serious look of concern on his friend's face.

"Yuuri."

He really didn't like the sound of that.

Phichit set the tray aside, wiping his hands on his apron before meeting Yuuri's questioning gaze. He looked uncertain, and Yuuri decided that he really didn't like that either. "I think you have a stalker."

"What?"

"Viktor's back."

Yuuri just stared back blankly before what Phichit said sunk into his head. "Eh?!!!" He bolted for the door. Opening it just a hair, he peeked out, Phichit leaning over him to see as well. Sure enough, there was Viktor, that same smile in place as he posed for a picture with a couple of customers.

As if he could feel the eyes on him, Viktor turned from facing the camera and caught a glimpse of Yuuri's one showing eyeball. He grinned, his hand waving dramatically towards him. "Hey, Yuuuuriiiii!"

Yuuri was really regretting not throwing himself into the ocean.

Chapter Text

He ducked back into the kitchen, holding the door shut so it couldn't swing back and reveal any more of him. Not knowing what else to do, he closed his eyes and counted to three in his head. It was all a dream, right? After a few moments, the realization would set in. He could open his eyes and the man would be gone. Viktor was just an illusion. A gorgeous, downright sinful illusion, but an illusion nonetheless.

Opening his eyes, he looked back out. The man was still there. Still smiling. Still staring. Phichit began cackling behind him. Swinging the door back shut, he whipped around to face him. "What about this is funny?"

"You. I can't believe you thought that would work."

Yuuri's face reddened and he pouted at having been caught. Leave it to Phichit to know exactly what he was attempting. The man knew him too well. "What else am I supposed to do?"

"I don't know, talk to him?" he answered, sarcastic, sassy smile in place.

"I tried that, remember?"

He clicked his tongue, eyes glancing at Yuuri before they rested on the door. "I get you being a little uncomfortable here, Yuuri, I do. But… what's so wrong with him?"

Yuuri flinched back, betrayed. "I thought you had my back here."

"We're not going to war," Phichit replied, a little exasperated by the other's actions. "Sure I have your back, but I'm having a hard time figuring out why I need to right now." Phichit opened the door with his palm, widening the view just enough so Viktor was visible to both of them. "So what if you don't remember him? Obviously you guys hit it off really well. So well that he not only sought you out, he came back when you tried to dismiss him. He's smitten with you." Phichit smiled, and Yuuri was caught off guard by its sincerity, his eyes shining as bright as his teeth. His friend hadn't smiled like that in a while. "Why can't you let him be?"

Yuuri took the opportunity to look at Viktor from his position in the kitchen. The man wasn't looking at him this time, his expression dulled down and bare, lacking the enthusiasm and excitement he had when facing Yuuri. It was calmer now, more serene as he stared out the window beside his table. His body language was casual, long legs crossed, his posture slack as he rested his elbows on the table, drink poised at his lips as something out in his view caught his eye. Yuuri could only imagine what was behind those eyes, what thoughts swirled in his mind. What was he thinking of in that very moment?

Viktor looked stunning in such an average, every day scene. The baker kind of wanted to save that image of the man in the back of his mind. Store it away for further study. There was an air of mystery surrounding the figure skater. It called to him, beckoning him to figure the man out. To find all of the pieces and solve the puzzle that was Viktor's life. A part of him even wanted to be one of the puzzle pieces. To be a part of someone who was so vibrant and daring. But he had no right. The longer he stared, the more it became apparent.

"He wants to know you," Phichit continued gently, like he knew he was pushing too much. His voice prodded at Yuuri's skin with concern. Yuuri wanted him to stop, because it was starting to bruise. "And it's not like he's bad to look at. I mean, come on. And he's talented. If you'd seen him skate, you-"

"You can stop now." Yuuri turned away, the scene becoming painful to look at. Phichit didn't get it. He couldn't make him get it. So he just wandered off back into the kitchen. He had work to do and he didn't have time for celebrity men and fanciful dreams. He had cream cheese frosting to make and he was going to make it. With all he had. And then some.

He was stirring the vanilla into the cream mixture when his Thai friend came back up to him again, eyes a little sad. Yuuri hated it when Phichit looked at him like that. Like he was pitying him. Like he was being stupid and childish and in need of being pitied. So he began to stir harder, his spoon going around and around in tight circles, whipping the frosting with stern, concentrated strokes.

"You really don't have to stir that so… vigorously."

"Bite me."

"I'd really rather not."

"Why is he here? I thought…" Yuuri started, the words running through his mind finally breaking free. He stirred harder, if that was possible. "I thought he got it. That he understood that he wasn't getting what he came here for. What, does he think I can flip a switch and be the fun me again?" The spoon hit the bowl at the beginning of every rotation, cracking harshly against the glass in a way that was surely going to break it. He kept going, his arm snapping back and forth with the movement. It was kind of painful, but that was fine. The small distraction was pleasant in a way that it probably shouldn't have been. "Why!? Why can't he just-"

"O-kay!" Phichit had finally had enough, his hand snatching the spoon from his grasp as he gently pried the bowl from the curve of Yuuri's arm. "That's enough with the stirring." He safely tucked them away on the counter behind him, ready to bodily block Yuuri from it if he had to. But as he faced him again, he didn't find that seething determination that had been present before. Instead, there was a heartbreaking sorrow.

"Doesn't he know that I would if I could?" The tears fell without his consent. He tried to shove them back with a curled fist, but it did little to stem the flow. "If I could be drunk-Yuuri every day I would do so gladly. If I could, I wouldn't be so horrible with customers. I wouldn't second guess every fucking decision I make in this kitchen and in my life. I wouldn't need to drink to party and I wouldn't forget meeting someone so dedica-" He hiccupped in a harsh breath as Phichit embraced him, his arms coming around him as his face smashed against his shoulder. He took a moment, allowing himself to just cry, to just let it all out in tears and snot that stained the white coat of his best friend's. It had been awhile since he'd let himself cry. And never at work. He had gotten better at scheduling his breakdowns, or at least with finding a private place to do so. Sometimes, he just couldn't help it. "If I could, I wouldn't be this much of a fucking disaster!"

They stood there until Yuuri calmed down, until his sobs devolved into snuffles and crude puffs of air. He wouldn't look at Phichit as he pulled away, frustrated with himself at falling apart so easily. All because some guy dropped into his life and made him question his self-worth.

"You feel a little better now?"

The laughter that bubbled up out of him felt light and genuine, even if he still felt off kilter. "Yeah…but now do you see why I can't just fall into the guy's arms? He doesn't want me. He wants some version of me that I can't become unless I become an alcoholic."

Phichit snorted, though there was little amusement behind it. "Please, don't do that."

"Well?"

"What makes you think that he won't want this Yuuri?"

Yuuri's mind raced with the question, his memories and insecurities quick to remind him of all of his faults. Of all of the ways he wasn't what Viktor thought he was. Of how he wasn't what a person like Viktor deserved. "He won't."

The younger man sighed, lifting a shoulder in a lazy half-shrug. "Well, he'll probably be gone tomorrow." He pushed off from the counter he'd been leaning against and went back to his task.

Yuuri did the same, pushing Viktor out of his thoughts. If Viktor couldn't see that he wasn't worth his time, then he would just ignore him until he went away.

It worked. Viktor eventually left.

But he kept coming back.


Sara got suspicious on Friday. They had regular customers, sure, but none that came in the minute the closed sign switched to open and only left when it switched back to closed. None that were there every day, their gaze stuck to the kitchen door, looking at it with a concerning amount of longing. He took dedication to a whole new level. When she figured out who he was there for, though, she found it charming, if not a bit creepy.

The man approached the counter again, his eyes glimpsing the display case, wallet in hand, and Sara just smiled. "Let me guess, something our baker lead made, correct?"

He chuckled briefly before he brought the back of his hand to his forehead, his face contorting into a look of despair. "Have I truly become so obvious?" He flopped down onto the counter, now on his knees, as he regarded the woman with a lifeless stare. "Whatever shall I do?"

Sara was unimpressed, crossing her arms on her chest as she cocked a hip. "Ah, yes, a flair for the dramatic. After seeing some of your interviews and watching you skate, it's pretty easy to see that you're one hell of a drama queen, but I didn't know you were such a ham."

Viktor jolted up off the counter, his face pained as if having been physically struck by her words. "Me? A ham? Never!"

She shook her head at his antics. "Do you like double chocolate chip muffins? Yuuri makes the best muffins. You have to try one."

"How could I possibly resist after hearing a glowing review from an expert such as yourself?" he asked, picking himself up off the floor.

"And a filthy flatterer," she replied as she took his money and set the muffin on the counter before him. "How could I forget that?"

The man just smirked, taking his muffin and bowing as he made his way back to his usual table. "I am forever in your debt, miss. I shall never forget your kindness."

She waited and watched as he took a bite. He chewed for a few moments before he paused, features pensive. His expression soon melted into one of bliss as let out a particularly sinful groan of satisfaction. She gave an amused huff and rolled her eyes at the scene before making her way into the kitchen.

The pace was mild as she joined the others, the three bakers on staff settled into the ease of the afternoon shift. They were all engrossed in their own duties, but she was bored and wanted to gossip. They could afford a little interruption. "So I think our new regular just had an orgasm to one of Yuuri's muffins." There was a loud thunk from somewhere behind the ovens where Sara couldn't see. She struggled not to laugh, knowing who it was. Minami wasn't working. "I don't know if our other customers were more weirded out or turned on."

Yuuri poked his head out from around the corner, a mixing bowl in his hands and his face five shades of embarrassed. "Must you?"

"Oh, Yuuri!" She ran over to him and squeezed him to her chest, mixing bowl and all. "You have an admirer. This is so exciting!"

The man only grumbled as he extricated himself from her grasp. "Exciting isn't the word I would use."

"I had a feeling his perfect attendance had to do with you. Not hard to figure out since any time he orders it's something you made."

Confusion glazed over his look of displeasure. "How does he know what I make?"

"Because I tell him," she replied without an ounce of shame as she clasped her hands behind her back, rocking herself back and forth from heel to toe.

Yuuri got the feeling that she was enjoying this.

"He usually asks what you made in the display and picks from there."

"It's like he's getting to know you through your food," Phichit remarked. "That's kind of cute."

"Phichit!" Everyone was conspiring against him and it was totally unfair.

"You should be happy," Sara continued, "He's always very pleased." Her smile widened as she lifted a finger in the air, as if struck with a wondrous thought. "You've turned the number one skating champ into your number one fan! I'm so proud of you."

She went in for a hug only for Yuuri's hand to hold her back by the face, her arms stuck outstretched and her hands grasping at air. He heaved a sigh, setting his bowl to the side. "No he's a distraction. I'll take care of it." As soon as I get myself prepared for it. He really didn't want to face the man again. He really, really didn't want to. It was the reason he'd been leaving later every day, making sure Viktor had already departed before exiting the kitchen. Coming into work wasn't a problem. Yuuri was always in three or four hours before the bakery opened. It would take a different kind of dedication and an insider source to get him there then.

"I wasn't suggesting that…" Sara grew confused, trying to stop Yuuri from leaving, but he slipped away before she could.

Yuuri emerged from the back room, Viktor's attention immediately snapping to him.

"Yuur-" the exclamation of the baker's name was cut off in a yelp as he was grabbed by the collar and yanked outside into the summer heat. He followed the other obediently, even as he had to walk hunched over, his body bent awkwardly to accommodate Yuuri's height. The grip eased off when they made it behind the bakery. "If you wanted some time alone, you could have just asked. Picking up where we left off?" he suggested as he waggled his eyebrows.

Yuuri's cheeks flared, the feeling of a 5.0 earthquake rumbling in his chest. He reacted before he could stop himself. He stomped on Viktor's foot with all the intention he could muster.

"Shit," Viktor gasped as he held his aching foot. "Going after a skater's feet. Now that's just monstrous."

"Are you going to be serious, now?" Yuuri was in no mood. Not for games or flirty behavior, not even for the admittedly cute way the man was still cradling his half eaten muffin in his one hand like it was precious to him. He wasn't even in the mood to get flustered. He was just tired, so very tired, and he wanted the cause of his eternal exhaustion out of his life. The sooner the better. It hurt less that way. "Why are you stalking me?"

Viktor looked like he wanted to laugh, his lips pressed together as he kept it barely contained, but he quickly composed himself. "Stalking, huh?" Yuuri nodded. "I just can't stand letting the man of my dreams get away from me so easily," he purred, leaning in to cup the other's face.

Yuuri didn't let him get far. He rose his foot up threateningly, and that was all it took for Viktor to snap his hands away.

"Wait, no, okay, I won't touch you."

Yuuri settled and only then did Viktor pull himself back, staring down at the brunet as he ran a hand through his silver hair. Brown orbs watched the action, entranced as the sunlight shimmered across each silken strand. He swallowed thickly and mentally berated himself. He really hated how physically attractive this man was.

"You're a hard man to woo."

A scoff escaped him as he turned and leaned his back against the bakery wall. "You call this wooing?"

"No, you won't let me near enough to try."

There was something to that statement, something embedded into the wounded way in which he said it. Has he figured it out yet? That Yuuri's difficult. That he's trying. That he's not what Viktor wants, so he should leave. That would make things infinitely easier for him.

But as he glanced up, brown eyes staring into glacial blue, all he could see was the challenge coloring his irises, and Yuuri entertained the thought of bashing his head into the wall. Or calling the police. Because this guy wasn't getting it.

He groaned out in frustration, tugging his hair with enough force to pull some decently sized tufts out, and stared back at the man, hard. "Why me? Why out of everyone in this goddamn universe do you choose me to want? That's not even me! What did we do, huh? Did we dance? Did we kiss? Did I give you some stupid impression that I was somebody? Because I'm not and I never will be!" Yuuri panted as he collected his lost air back into his lungs. Viktor didn't look offended or annoyed, despite being yelled at. He just quietly observed Yuuri and his shaking, huffing form.

"Well, at least you aren't stuttering anymore. That's an improvement."

His eyes widened, and he realized that Viktor was right. He actually hadn't had any problems talking to him since their conversation in front of the bakery on Tuesday. Not that the realization helped at all. Now it was like his mind reverted, drawing him back into his shell as he grew overly conscious of himself. "I… I just…"

"No, no, don't." He waved his hand in front of Yuuri's face, brows drawn into worry. "Don't go back to that."

Yuuri just closed his eyes and let out a rush of air through his nose. "It's bad for business, you know? And-And morale, too. So if you could just-"

"Business is bad? Hold on." He reached down into his pocket and whipped out his phone, the case covered in an odd outfit design.

"That…" Yuuri started. Viktor held up a finger from the side of his phone, typing out something on the screen, before he brought the phone up and posed, half-eaten chocolate muffin in his mouth. There was a loud click like the shutter of a camera. Yuuri could only stare, face an impassive mask as he watched. "…isn't what I meant."

"There," Victor announced, turning his phone so Yuuri could see his picture, now posted to Instagram and already collecting views and comments like crazy. "That shouldn't be a problem, now. Once you get some more customers, your goods will speak for themselves. Business will be booming in no time," he added, tone peppy, and perky, and exhausting.

He didn't know what to say in response except, "Thanks for the free advertising, I guess," he drawled, too tired to be agitated.

"Anytime!"

Yuuri just walked away and slipped back inside.

He made it through the rest of the day sans Viktor. The man hadn't come back into the bakery since their talk, and Yuuri started to think that maybe this would be the last of him. Sara seemed disappointed and thumped him on the head for it, saying something he was sure was offensive in Italian under her breath.

He went to bed that night feeling heavier than usual.


Yuuri found himself jostled from his sleep by an impatient hand. He tried to bat it away, but the other was insistent.

"Yuuri," a whispered voice hissed, "I think there's someone outside our door."

Yuuri jolted up into a sitting position, his eyes wildly taking in the darkness of the room. He glanced at his alarm clock, the neon green numbers announcing the dreadful time at which he'd been awoken. His hand flailed out from his side, groping for the lamp on his bedside table, only to be blinded as he finally turned the switch. "What do you mean someone's outside the door?"

Phichit was then in his space, grabbing his shoulders and pulling him out of his room. Yuuri stumbled, still half asleep. "There have been sounds. I thought it was just our neighbors, but-"

There was a heavy thump against their door. Yuuri stared at it, wide-eyed and horrified. Little scratches followed, another odd bump hitting the wood. A loud gulp emitted from Yuuri's throat and he tip toed his way to the front door. As quiet as he could, he leaned towards the peep hole, balanced on his toes, careful to not touch the door and alert whatever was on the other side. He looked out, his brows bunching at the sight. What the…? All he could see were two legs tangled on the ground, the rest of the person presumably too close to the door to see.

Yuuri eased himself back down onto his feet, worry creasing his expression. He turned back to Phichit. "Get me something," he whispered, barely audible.

"What?"

"Get me something," he spoke a little louder, flinching as a low moan sounded out from the other side of the door.

"Like what?"

"Just get me something to protect us with," he ground out.

Phichit's dark form sprang up from his spot in the corner and ran into the kitchen. They were in the dark, the only light being his bedside lamp that filtered into the hallway. He returned within seconds, sliding something solid and wooden into his palm. It took him a moment to register what it was. "A broom?" he asked in an incredulous whisper.

"You said something."

Yuuri choked back a sharp retort and lifted his hand to the door. He sucked in a quick breath before he threw open the locks and jerked the door open, raising his weapon above his head as he took in the sight before him.

It was Viktor. Viktor was at his door, half lying against the frame, expression dazed, a bouquet of white lilies and red roses bundled against his chest almost protectively. The shock to Yuuri's system had the broom slipping from his palms instantly, the wood smacking down onto the floor.

The sound jolted Viktor out of whatever state he was in and he looked up. "Yuuri!"

Yuuri wasn't as happy to see him. "What are you doing? I could have just killed you."

The silver haired man looked down at the fallen weapon. "With a broom?"

A blush crept up his cheeks. Undeterred, he bent down and snatched it up, holding it against himself. "You have no idea how dangerous I can be with household objects."

Viktor laughed, a wheezy little giggle, and Yuuri went back to questioning the man's mental state. "Sorry. I was just going to knock, but…" He brought his hand up in front of his face, eyes inspecting it like he was trying to figure out what was wrong with it. "…then my hand blurred and I fell and I was trying to get up but-"

"Are those flowers?" Yuuri didn't allow him to finish. It was horribly apparent that the man was drunk.

"Ah! Yes," he brought them out from where they'd been half tucked into his jacket and looked at them for a moment, blinking once, twice, before thrusting them out at Yuuri, a grin plastered onto his features, "these are for you!"

"You came here to give me flowers?" he deadpanned. "At two in the morning?"

Viktor seemed to consider Yuuri's questions, taking a great deal of time to answer. "Yeah, that… seemed like a good idea at the time."

Yuuri let out a long, suffering sigh, bending down to be more at the man's level. He carefully gripped them, having to tug them to get them out of the man's grasp. "Where'd you even get them? It's two in the morning." He stared down at the bouquet. The flowers looked like he'd had them in his possession for a while. The petals were scrunched and the stems were bent and twisted, like they'd been wrung out between anxious palms. Yuuri eyed Viktor, noticing that his hands looked quite green. A thought popped into his head then, causing him to pause his observations. "Wait. How do you know where I live?"

There was a suspicious cough that echoed from inside his apartment.

"Phichit!? You're conspiring with him now?"

"He asked! And I thought it was adorable." Phichit came up beside Yuuri, taking in the pitiful puddle that was Viktor. "Truthfully, though, I didn't know he was going to be coming at two in the morning… but it's definitely a surprise."

"Surprise!" Viktor hoarsely shouted, jazz hands in the air.

There was some thumping that alerted them all to the stairs. One of the neighbors glared at them from over the railing, an older woman tucked into a ragged bath robe, her red curls a tangled mess around her haggard face. "You mind taking your little party inside? You're going to wake my kids."

"Yes, yes, I'm so sorry!" He bowed in apology towards the woman, three times just to be safe, before he and Phichit began tugging Viktor inside their apartment. "Come on before we get evicted."

Chapter Text

Phichit and Yuuri grabbed beneath the man's arms and tugged him back into the apartment. Viktor's backside slid along the linoleum of the hallway as he was pulled backwards, his legs dragging before him. His jeans caught on the metal bar separating the two floors, but it was a minor hiccup, easily remedied by the younger men giving an extra tug. Yuuri stuck his leg out as he paused, kicking the door shut and wincing at the echoed slam, before going back to their task. Viktor was like a doll, body limp in their hold, except his body was heavy, and Yuuri felt the strain spreading through his shoulders and down his back.

He looked down at the crown of Viktor's head. "You could help, you know? You do have legs."

Viktor dropped his head back, a sloppy grin on his features, like this was fun. Like this was what anyone would want to do in the wee hours of the morning. "But then my Yuuri would stop carrying me."

Yuuri's heart jolted, his body reacting again without considering his feelings on the matter.

Oblivious to his words' effects, Viktor just looked back down at himself. "Plus, I think they're dead." He watched his legs drag along in front of him before giving an experimental kick. His leg reacted, spazzing out to the side. "Nope! Still alive!"

Phichit grunted as they finally got to the couch. "For someone in such good shape, you're a boatload to drag." The darker skinned male went around to the other side of Viktor, grabbing his feet and lifting as Yuuri did the same with Viktor's top half. Together they heaved the man's body up onto the couch, its springs protesting the new addition.

Yuuri and Phichit both caught their breath, the latter going over to turn the light on in the corner before he shuffled back. Yuuri was about to grumble something towards the skater, but hesitated as he caught sight of his expression. Gone was the goofy smile. In its place was a petulant frown, his arms crossed tightly in front of him as he glowered at Yuuri.

"I want my gum back, Yuuri!" The shout would have been intimidating, if there hadn't been a tease of a whine at the end. "If you're never going to call, you could at least give me back my gum!"

Phichit gave him a side-long glance. Yuuri wasn't quite sure what to say to either of them. "…What?"

"Yuuri~!" Viktor stopped suddenly, smile coming back full blaze. As if just uttering his name brought sunshine back into his drunken world. His lips quickly tilted back downwards, remembering that he was supposed to be mad. "Why don't yalike me no more?"

He almost laughed at the slurred speech and the error in grammar, but Viktor's eyes were so sincere, full of blue sorrow and shattered bits of green. It caused his laughter to whither back into his chest, a dying animal crawling back in shame.

"I thought we were good. I thought you wanted to see me. Said you wanted to see me," Viktor said, frustrated arms tossed in the air before they fell back down against his thighs. "You shouldn't lie, Yuuri. I don't like liars."

Yuuri cast his gaze away, struck with vivid pain that left a colorful mark somewhere deep inside him. He didn't remember saying that, but that didn't mean that he hadn't. Regret sunk into him again, for going out, for drinking until he was blind to his actions, for captivating this man and forgetting about him in such an unforgivable way. And for the first time he wondered if maybe things had been mutual, if drunk-Yuuri had fallen as hard as Viktor had seemed to. If what Viktor was saying was true, it seemed like it. Drunk-Yuuri had never made the effort to keep the people that he encountered.

Phichit stole him from his thoughts with a nudge to the arm. "He's asleep," he spoke, tone low.

Yuuri's eyebrows shot up in surprise. Viktor had been so upset, but apparently he'd passed out before being able to resolve anything.

"A five time world champion is asleep on our couch." There was wonder in his eyes, toned down amazement, before it transformed into something hinting at bitter. "A five time world champion has fallen head over heels for you."

"No, he hasn't."

His best friend looked back at him like he was an idiot. "Well, he's here now." He gave a yawn and began making his way to his room. "We've still got two hours. Best make the most of them and get the rest of our beauty sleep."

Yuuri watched the bedroom door close behind him. He briefly thought to follow his example, but as his gaze settled back onto their new house guest, he knew he wouldn't be sleeping a wink anyway. Viktor was sprawled out on their gaudy yellow sofa, one arm thrown off the side, the back of his hand cradled on the carpet. His head was tilted down to the right, silver fringe tossed across his forehead.

Yuuri swallowed. He had questions. Many questions kept cropping up like weeds, unwanted and unbidden in his mind. The man that held the answers laid comatose in front of him, so he sought out some answers from a different source. He couldn't find out about Saturday night or their previous interaction, but he could find out a little more about Viktor. Finally sating his curiosity, Yuuri walked back to his room, tripping in the near darkness of the hallway, and snatched up his beaten up laptop. He took it back to the living room and sat cross-legged on the floor, fingers instantly typing in the name he was now too familiar with into his search after it finally booted up.

Viktor Nikiforov

He got more than he thought he would from one name alone. Viktor Nikiforov, the skater, the star, the legend. It was all there. Pictures, videos, interviews, articles upon articles singing his praises, speculating on his life, crying out for his return. It was all a little much for him, but he trudged through it, insistent on finding out more about the man crashed on his couch.

The videos of his skating were enough to keep him enthralled for a good hour. The man had a swan-like grace on the ice, as if the blades on his feet were merely an extension of his body, and the ice a part of his soul. He skated with such confidence, such feeling, that it sunk down inside him, building, budding. Yuuri lost himself in Viktor's moves, the flow of his body imprinting itself in his mind. As he watched, he felt his own body move to the music of his skate, his breath hitching as Viktor skated up into a jump, his breathing only returning when his skates met the ice once again. When Viktor bowed to the audience, his tired form met with screaming cries of adoration, Yuuri felt compelled to cheer for him, too. Ice skating was a sport Yuuri had never given thought to. But now, he could see it for the art that it was. The art that Viktor made it become.

He noticed something as he watched the videos, something subtle, at first. He watched more of his older skates, a young Viktor bubbling with excitement, every breath and ponytail swish filled with abundant joy. His more recent skates lacked that. There was a misery locked into each step, a silent suffocation evoked in the music his moves created. Yuuri could see it clearly in his expression, one so akin to the one he'd seen that night on his couch.

The interviews told him little. Viktor spoke animatedly about his skating. His fans. His Makkachin. His coach. His home country. His accomplishments. He spoke very little of himself., the man hidden behind glittery costumes and passionate performances. There was nothing about the sorrow seeping slowly into his irises year after year.

So engrossed into his research he was that he didn't notice Phichit until the man spoke over his shoulder. "Took you long enough."

Yuuri jumped, his laptop flung from his lap and hitting the floor like an upside-down 'v'. The raven haired man somehow kept his shout contained, lips locking as he looked over to the still slumbering man before he looked back up at Phichit. "Low," was all he could whisper out.

"Sorry, it was too easy. What took you so long?" he asked, gesturing to the fallen computer.

Yuuri glanced at it, embarrassed by his curiosity. "I-I… didn't think it was necessary. He was just going to leave anyway, so…"

"But he didn't." The man collected his laptop, and looked upon one of the interviews Yuuri had been reading. "Minami was the only one who knew anything about him. I'd seen some of his performances on Minami's phone before, because when he wants you to see something, you're going to see it. From that alone, I could tell Minami's fangirling wasn't for nothing."

"How come he never showed me?"

"Too intimidated, probably. You are the great Katsuki-sensei, after all." Yuuri shoved him and his big grinning mug. "Seriously, though. I can't believe you waited to look into him until now. Even Sara looked him up after hearing from Mickey about the big incident on Tuesday."

Yuuri didn't reply. He looked down at the picture of a young Viktor, eyes bright, hair carelessly long, and felt something tug as he looked to the couch.

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know, Phichit." Viktor twitched in his sleep, his face scrunching for a millisecond. It calmed back into sleep-induced blandness. "I really don't know."


Viktor opened his eyes, his gaze stuck to the ceiling as he let the remnants of his dream settle into his memory. For a week straight it had been the same thing. A relentless beat that knocked against his bones. A wide smile that was as inviting as it was entrancing. Cocoa eyes that turned an alluring purple in the hazy lights. He closed his eyes to the picture as he brought a palm to his forehead. He didn't know why his dreams felt the need to remind him of that night. Every moment of it was already branded into the insides of his eyelids, unforgettable and constantly replaying.

He turned his gaze to the wall, remembering late that he was now inside that man's home. Inside another place that was a very real part of Yuuri's life. His eyes widened as he looked over and found Yuuri in the center of the living room. His legs were crossed as he sat straight, hands resting on his knees with the palms up, eyes closed to the open world.

Viktor sat up and cleared his throat, completely aware of the fool he'd made of himself only hours before. He'd shown up on Yuuri's doorstep in the middle of the night, drunk and weary. He'd done little, but he said things that probably could have remained unsaid. Still, he could hardly regret any of it. He was here now. And Yuuri had even preserved his flowers. He cocked a brow at the coffee tin that they'd been placed in, but at least they hadn't been dismissed along with his feelings. He warmed instantly to that. Along with the fact that there was a green wool blanket on his legs and a glass of water and a tablet of pills on the corner of the coffee table, meant for him.

He smiled over towards the adorable young man. He had yet to move, making Viktor wonder if he'd fallen asleep in such a stiff position. He took a moment to take in his surroundings. To peek into a bit of the Yuuri that he couldn't otherwise see.

The apartment… had seen better days. The walls were covered in putrid green wallpaper, spots torn and chipped. The carpet looked barren and harsh, though he couldn't feel it in his shoes. There wasn't much furniture to speak of. The couch beneath him was yellow, faded and old, if the spring in his side had anything to say about it. Flowers danced along it, and Viktor felt sorry for them, trapped in a dilapidated piece of furniture. There was a small, wooden table by the door, its life marked by a multitude of scratches and dents. The only thing that looked even remotely new in the place was the coffee table in front of the couch. It was built of a rough metal, the top an amalgamation of welded together license plates. There were no curtains, only ragged blankets tacked to the walls to cover the windows. One of the blankets had small holes where the light rebelled, breaking through its confines and streaking through into the living room.

It was different from what Viktor was used to. But it was Yuuri's. It had its charms, with its lived in atmosphere and unknown heritage. Everything felt homey and raw. Real in a way his own home hadn't felt for some time.

His eyes eventually found their way back down to Yuuri. He could feel the way his expression eased at the sight. The young man was unlike anything he'd encountered. A small, unassuming person that housed an electrifying soul that lit up when he danced.

He understood Yuuri's worries. When Viktor had first recognized Yuuri at the bakery, he and his drunk self seemed as different as night and day. But as he got closer, he found the comparisons outweighed the differences. Even as he'd stuttered and shook and denied his advances adamantly, Viktor could see him in there, the Yuuri he'd fallen for, bundled beneath thick, thorny nerves that kept everyone else out.

He could see him now as Yuuri sat poised, his posture assured like that of the dancer he was. The sharp shards of escaped light cast him in a dazzling glow, his porcelain skin and relaxed features sunlit and beautiful. But there was still a thick fog around the young man, keeping his best qualities eclipsed from intruding eyes. It was odd how he could see Yuuri so clearly in the dim, traveling lights of the club, but here in the morning sun he still held such mystery.

A dull vibration caught him off guard. A cell phone buzzed its way along the coffee table until a hand shot out and gripped it, instantly clicking it off. He glanced up to see Yuuri staring at him owlishly.

"Y-You're up," he croaked.

He blinked back until his brain caught up with him, allowing him to finally smile back. "Hey," he replied, voice rather subdued. He staved off the automatic flirtatious batting of the eyelashes or the fluttery fingered wave that usually accompanied his greetings. He was so used to acting superficial and playful for those around him that it felt wholly abnormal to talk so seriously. But Yuuri was different from his adoring fans, the media, and even his previous lovers. Even from just his minute interactions with the man, it was easy to tell that Yuuri needed to be handled carefully. Viktor's usual attitude would probably earn him an aching foot, anyway. "What were you doing?"

"Meditating, it-it helps with my…" Yuuri trailed off, eyes falling to the floor. "…anxiousness," he finished in an embarrassed mumble.

Viktor glanced around the apartment, trying to find a way to start off a good conversation, something that could act as a gateway into something deeper, more heartfelt. "You have wallpaper." Yeah, that's a perfect conversation starter. Great going, Nikiforov.

Yuuri's cheeks reddened and Viktor wanted to take it back, but Yuuri's posture fell, resigned to giving a bland response in a falsely uncaring way. "Yup."

"It's peeling," he commented idly, like Yuuri didn't know.

"Yup."

"To the same wallpaper…" Now you just sound like a snob. Viktor stared back at Yuuri, the man getting smaller with the words. He didn't know why he couldn't just talk about something else. But it was like he couldn't think, the words that came so easily in front of the camera leaving him when he needed them most. He wondered if anxiety was contagious, because it had been a long time since he'd become this acquainted with his nerves. Probably since his first professional skate, he supposed.

Before Viktor could make much more of an ass of himself, Yuuri spoke again. "Y-your phone's… been vibrating. You should check it." More mumbling, but Viktor caught most of it. He fished out his phone from his pocket, several notifications from Chris flashing on his screen. The man had been worried, if the passive aggressive French of his last text was anything to go by. He decided to deal with it later.

"You aren't… going to answer it?"

His tone was getting stronger, less intimidated. Viktor wanted to continue the trend. He tossed his phone over to another cushion in a careless gesture. "Nah, I have more important matters to attend to right now," he answered, staring directly at Yuuri. Now that's an adorable blush. "Where's your friend? Phichit, was it?"

"He…" The raven gave a loud huff, like even he was tired of talking like a cornered child. "He left for work. We usually start at five."

"Am I keeping you from the bakery?"

"No, but…" his leg bounced with nervous energy, and Viktor could tell that was a lie. "Don't you need to be somewhere more, I don't know, important?"

"Where could be more important than here?"

"Yeah, because this place is so great," he replied dryly. "You don't need to be polite. You probably want to get as far away from me as possible now…"

He took offense to that, but he was a pro at not letting his emotions show. He could thank his career for that one. "I'm not judging you based on your apartment, Yuuri."

Yuuri's head whipped around and there was that dangerous flare of anger he'd shown off the day before. The anger that made him honest and bold. Viktor liked angering Yuuri, only because it caused Yuuri to step out long enough for him to really see him. "Stop using my name so casually like you know me. You obviously don't or you wouldn't be here."

He'd concede to that one. For as much as it felt like he'd known him forever, like his soul had found its other half that night, he didn't truly know Yuuri at all. He gave a small pout before he could think better of the action. "But I want to know you."

"And you think that the best way to do that is by invading my workplace and my home? By literally forcing yourself into my life?"

"How else am I supposed to get to know you?" Yuuri flinched at the frustration evident in his tone. He might have, too. It had been a while since he'd expressed anything like that so openly. "Any time I try to talk to you, you run away or say ridiculous things."

"Yeah, I'm the ridiculous one."

"You even tried to throw me out of the bakery."

Yuuri clenched his teeth, his jaw tight with words he didn't seem to know how to express. They burst out of him, like a roaring fire that had been contained for too long. "Doesn't that just tell you that I'm not interested?"

"No, it tells me that you don't think that I should be interested in you." The fire instantly died out, leaving only glittering embers behind. Yuuri gaped like a fish. Viktor resisted the urge to lift his delicate jaw up and close it for him. "You think that I haven't been listening to what you're saying, but I have."

"Why me? Did I give you some stupid impression that I was somebody? Because I'm not and I never will be!"

The words rang very clearly in his ears. Yuuri didn't think he was worthy of him. Of anyone, for that matter.

"You're Viktor Nikiforov."

Yuuri said his name now like it suddenly had meaning. Viktor recognized the tone, so similar to his more timid fans. Yuuri had done some research, he assumed. Viktor wished that he hadn't. It would have been easier if he'd remained a little more anonymous. Now Yuuri would feel like even less in his presence. He didn't want that. He never wanted that.

"What would the world's ice skating treasure want with someone like me?"

It broke his heart to hear that, the words quivering from trembling lips. "You think you know me," he sat forward, waiting for their gazes to connect, "what I want, what I deserve, but you don't. I'm not making snap judgments here. Why are you so quick to?" Yuuri's face blanched, like he realized his hypocrisy, before it fell back into pitiful self-deprecation. Don't. Don't do that. I know what you're thinking, Yuuri. Stop.

"Why do you care about me? Someone you don't even know. Someone you spent a quick minute with at a seedy club."

This wasn't working. They were just going around and around in circles, dizzying each other. "You think I'm going to leave, right? That if you give me a chance, I'm going to find something I don't like about you and leave?"

Yuuri grew stiff and choked on his words, but they came out eventually. "You're just blinded by drunk-Yuuri. You wouldn't be here if you knew me."

Viktor found it curious the way he referred to his inebriated self like an alter ego. Curious and irksome, but he was sure Yuuri had his reasons. "Well, I've seen enough of you by now, haven't I?" Yuuri paused, eyes wide. "If I was, as you say, blinded by him, why am I still here wanting you?" A slow smile tugged at Viktor's lips, happy that he'd found a way to stop Yuuri's deflection.

He stood up and made his way around the coffee table. Sitting at Yuuri's side, he carefully went to tuck his fingers into Yuuri's clenched palms. The man hesitated, but ultimately let him do as he wanted. "I see you, Yuuri. The baker you. The anxious you. The angry you. The sad you." He brought a hand to the man's cheek and caressed away a stray tear, his fingers lingering before they fell back into Yuuri's hand. "I want to see more of you, if you'll let me."

"I-I-I-I…" He shook his head, his bangs brushing messily across the rim of his glasses in a way that was weirdly endearing. "I don't-" He stared down at their connected hands, seeing them for the first time. Viktor waited patiently, cautious, not wanting to startle the bird he'd spent so much time coaxing in.

Yuuri's phone buzzed again and his hands slipped out of his grasp before he could protest. He answered in startled Japanese, and Viktor found that endearing, too.

Yuuri got up, putting distance between them as he talked on the phone, quickly switching back into English for whomever called. "Y-Yeah, I'll be in. Sorry, I know. It's my fault. I'll handle it."

Yuuri hung up and peered over his shoulder, checking to see if Viktor was still there. He was, now standing, ready and waiting.

Yuuri took a moment, tapping his phone against his hand, visibly weighing his options. A tiny, lopsided smirk developed as he turned back around. "That was Phichit. Apparently the bakery's crazy busy because of somebody's little Instagram post."

Viktor grinned, because this was the Yuuri he'd been seeking. Teasing and amused, the traces of his anxiety still there, because they were a part of him, too, but relaxed in a way that made Viktor hopeful again. "Oh, I wonder who could have done that…" he said, tapping a finger against his chin.

Yuuri grumbled, "We didn't really need any more customers-"

"I know. I sat in your bakery for three days. I know how well it was doing. That doesn't mean that I didn't still want to make it better."

Although obviously surprised, Yuuri gave him a pointed stare for cutting him off. "-but I appreciate it. I've got to get in the shower. Oh," he exclaimed, spinning around, "I left you some water and pills in case you need them they're Excedrin but if you need something stronger or weaker I'm sure I can find something and I can make you some tea though you look fine so I don't know what I'm saying…" Yuuri slowed to a stop as he came to the realization.

Viktor was just stunned that he could say so much in one breath. "Yeah, I don't really get hung over. Chris says I've got a steel gut and a thick head."

"You suck."

"He said that, too, but with more colorful language."

"I'll bet. D-Do you need me to call you a cab or anything?"

"I'm fine, Yuuri." He was touched by his thoughtfulness. But Yuuri was a genuinely nice person.

Yuuri gave a small nod before dashing off down the hallway. Viktor stood there for a full minute as he closed his eyes, listening to the hurried slamming of drawers and doors, the squeak of a water faucet and the rush of water. This was Yuuri's life, and he was so close to becoming a part of it.

His gaze fell over to the door, wondering what he should do. If he left now, how would he be able to continue making progress? Would he have to keep showing up at the bakery and his apartment where he was unwanted? Yuuri seemed to accept his feelings a little more now, but that wasn't enough for Viktor. He wanted something more solid. Something better than a promise made with gum and ink.

Viktor waited in front of the door. Yuuri came rushing out, dressed with his hair slicked back for work, but there was a heated flush to his cheeks from his shower, drops of water still trailing down the smooth column of his neck. Yuuri stopped and stared at him, toothbrush half hanging out of his mouth and his glasses crooked on his nose.

"Y-You're still here."

"Look," Viktor started, "I know this is all really sudden for you and you have your reservations. That's easy to see." Yuuri looked lost as he slowly went back to brushing his teeth. "But I'd like an answer from you now, so that I know what to do from here."

"An… a-answer?" he asked, toothbrush jammed between his teeth. He scrunched up his face in a cute look of confusion. He took the brush out of his mouth and swallowed before giving him a look of urgency. "I really, really have to go."

Yuuri tossed his toothbrush on the coffee table and Viktor's head screamed 'germs', but he ignored it. The baker went to move around him, but Viktor sidestepped so he was in front of the door once more, arms spread, so Yuuri couldn't escape. "Just tell me if I have a chance. If you want me to leave, I'll go. The last thing I want is to be a burden to you."

Yuuri instantly stilled and Viktor had no idea if that was a good thing or not. He was taking a gamble, he knew that. Yuuri's feelings on him were already iffy, but he needed Yuuri to know that he wasn't going to force himself on him, despite how the last few days had played out. Ultimately, it was in Yuuri's hands.

Yuuri's face grew contemplative as his fingers tugged at each other in front of him. His eyes looked at the door, then back at Viktor, then back at the door, then back at Viktor. He drew in a breath, letting his answer out in a sentence almost too quick to catch. "Youhaveachance." And then he darted around Viktor and was gone.

The Russian stood there for some moments. Did he just say…? When the words fully processed, he beamed, his arm shooting up into the air in elation.

Yuuri, you won't regret this. I'll make you understand my feelings for you. I'll show you how incredible you are.


Yuuri didn't stop running until he was outside of the apartment building. Out on the sidewalk, secured at the edge and away from the passers-by, Yuuri looked down at his hands, watching them shake. They hadn't stopped since Viktor held them, his body responding to some feeling Yuuri didn't recognize, but felt he should.

I can't believe I said that. I can't believe I… It had been his chance at a clean break. To make sure that he got out of this messy situation unbroken, because there was no way he wasn't coming out of this in any shape other than marred and unrecognizable unless Viktor left now. But he'd told him to stay. He'd told him he had a chance.

Some part of Yuuri wanted him to stay.

He made it to the bakery and gawked at the explosion of people. There was a long line of men, women and children curling around and down the street. Yuuri had to use the back entrance just to get inside. Everyone was on staff, Sara and Mickey out front, Phichit, Minami, and Leo busy bustling in the back. Yuuri instantly joined the fray, slipping into his post easily.

He could do this. Baking was who he was. It was what he did best. Casting away everything else from his thoughts, he took over the salted caramel tarts from Leo, the man thanking him profusely. Leo didn't like tart crusts, and they didn't seem to like him either. They always ended up too doughy or crunchy in Leo's hands, but Yuuri didn't mind. Leo was still one of the best at making cookies and breads.

He prepared the chocolate dough, combining the butter, powdered sugar and cocoa into the large mixing bowl. He switched the beaters on, watching as they beat the ingredients into a light brown cream. The egg yolk and vanilla came next, and were easily blended in within seconds. Sifting the flour into the dough mixture, he beat it once more on low speed until it all combined into a solid ball that had the beaters straining.

He was splitting the dough up into the prepared pans when Phichit came up to him. He could see his giant grin from the corner of his eyes, but he refused to stop, his fingers lining the pans with foil with little thought behind the action. "What are you smiling for?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing. I didn't know that tarts made you this happy." He turned, looking at Phichit, the man's eyes lighting up like he knew what had transpired that morning. It was only then that Yuuri felt the grin on his face, his cheeks pained by the weight of his happiness.

Phichit began laughing and Yuuri sucked his cheeks in, but it did little to skew the smile that was still very much present.

"Shut up."


Viktor arrived at his temporary house, taking in an armful of Makkachin as he opened the door. "Hey, Makka! Guess what? I did it! Aren't you proud of your papa?" he asked, ruffling the fur on his dog's cheeks with affection. Makkachin barked back, body wriggling in his hold. "Did Chris feed you?"

"Yes, I did, in spite of my better judgement." The younger man entered the room, expression displeased. "I don't much care for being reduced to a pet sitter, Viktor. This body is too gorgeous for the nanny lifestyle."

"I was gone for one night. I didn't know that was enough to give you worry wrinkles and love handles."

"Love handles? Honey, you must be joking." All jests aside, Chris still held a stern air. "I called you."

Viktor sighed, not ready to deal with hovering and lectures. He got that enough from Yakov. If he wanted to be handled, he could just call his coach. "I know and I'm sorry. I just went out to ask Yuuri to dinner, but I, uh… got a little nervous."

Chris's eyes looked like they were going to escape from their sockets. "Nervous? You? Over a man?" Viktor made his way into the living room, his flabbergasted friend following. "Don't get me wrong, your little baker looks scrumptious, but aren't you taking this puppy love thing a little far? The pining was one thing. Scouting out bakeries was even fun, at first. I thought you were seeking some sort of adventure. A distraction, maybe. But this?"

He eyed him at that, miffed at Chris's attitude. He sat down on the couch, Makkachin jumping up and laying down beside him, his head and front paws in his lap. Chris sat on the arm of the chair in front of him. Viktor waited for it, the question he'd been asked almost nonstop since he decided to take off.

"Are you sure this isn't some sort of crisis? I mean first you quit skating-" Viktor opened his mouth, ready to correct him. "- Excuse me. Sorry. You take an extended vacation, saying the unthinkable. Viktor Nikiforov is taking some time off for an indefinite amount of time. Lord, what next? I'm suddenly going to be attracted to women?"

"Don't you have a flight to be packing for?" It wasn't that he didn't get why Chris was concerned. It was the same concern shared by his coach and many of his beloved competitors. At this point in his life, taking time off was tantamount to retiring. Chris was worried about losing the only person he truly considered a rival. If he were in Chris's shoes, he probably would have been in a similar state of distress.

"Come back, Viktor. As it stands, you've only lost a few weeks of training. You had to have satisfied your more whimsical desires, by now."

"Whimsical desires, huh?" That never would have been enough to steal him from the ice, but if that's what Chris thought, then there was no real point in explaining himself. He got up, announcing that he needed some beauty rest - that couch had been atrocious, really - and made his way up the stairs. He turned back around briefly. "You should put on a firming mask, hon. I wasn't kidding about those wrinkles."

He escaped into the master bedroom, the whole place still dreadfully foreign to him, and collapsed on the bed, Makkachin cuddling up on the pillows. He heard the signs of Chris milling about around the house, and Makkachin's light breathing in his ear, before it all fell away, the world becoming muted, colorless, indistinct. Laying there, he found himself engulfed in silence.

It terrified him. Everything was so quiet around him, his world, his thoughts, his heart. It was like he woke up one morning to an aching dullness within his body and it just grew with every passing day. Suddenly, skating became a passing interest, something he did to reach his old goals and satisfy his sponsors and fans. It was nothing like it used to be.

He used to breathe the ice. It was his home. His family when he'd been left behind. The ice spoke to him in ways people couldn't. He learned to speak its language, channeling all of his feelings into every skate. So consumed he became by his skating that it would dominate his thoughts. Every song he listened to inspired a new routine. Every person he watched, every performance he witnessed, gave him new moves. The ice motivated him. It moved him. It was the most devoted partner he'd ever had. His heart used to beat for the ice.

And then it was like it didn't beat at all.

The crowd would cheer, but he couldn't hear them. He would dance to the music, but there was no music in his body. He lost the Viktor Nikiforov, champion skater, Russia's pride and joy, that everyone knew him as. In his place was someone new, someone he couldn't recognize.

Maybe Chris had been right. Maybe this was some sort of crisis, existential, identity, or otherwise, because he didn't feel right anymore. Like he no longer belonged in his world. So he ran away.

The world thought he was taking a break. He was just a coward seeking solace in a time of uncertainty.

Chris had come with him, saying that he deserved a vacation and that Viktor needed someone to keep a leash on his wilder tendencies. Viktor joked, saying that he just wanted an excuse to tie him up. They spent time traipsing around the states before settling at their destination, one of the houses his family kept on the side, left furnished for no one.

They focused on having fun. As Chris had said, distracted.

Chris begged him to skate with him. Even just once since they'd left. He couldn't. Not when he no longer had a voice. Not when he'd lost the ability to articulate his feelings into the moves that once came so easily.

He began to drift.

Then they heard about this little club. It was less a hole in the wall and more a hole in the ground. Only those told about it, knew about it. It laid beneath an unassuming building that was half dance studio and half tattoo parlor. During the day, it was just another basement that ran larger than most. At night, it came alive. Viktor and Chris had felt the need to go almost immediately, beyond intrigued.

Viktor didn't think he could have made a better decision in his life.

There he met Yuuri. There he came back to life. There his heart learned to beat once more.

Viktor chuckled to himself as he thought about their encounter, their time together like a movie in his mind. He watched, curling himself small, face hidden in Makkachin's fur.

This time Yuuri would call. He was sure of it.


Yuuri made it home from the bakery at a little past eight. The day had run long and his body ached from the rounds and rounds of nonstop baking he'd endured. His fingers felt stiff from being wrapped around a rolling pin for hours and his wrists cracked and popped in bitter relief. His eyes burned, lack of sleep blurring his vision. But he had enjoyed the day. Every part of it.

He went to draw himself a bath, hoping that the water heater would grant him mercy for just one night at least, when he was stopped by a sight in the corner of his eye. There was no longer a coffee tin on the table. In its place was a crystal clear vase, etched with intricate swirl patterns, holding his bouquet of lilies and roses. In front of it was a note, the handwriting an effortlessly elegant scrawl that he didn't recognize. The name and the number beneath it brought a small, trembly smile to his face.

I hope I'm not intruding on any more boundaries here, but your vase was horrific. I'm assuming that you didn't have a real one? So I bought this one for you. Think of it as a part two to the flowers I gave you.

I apologize for my behavior early this morning. That was not how I had envisioned our next meeting, but I can't say that I regret it. Any time spent by your side is magical to me, Yuuri. No, I'm not exaggerating nor am I simply being polite. I will only ever be honest with you.

I just want to spend time with you, Yuuri. If you'll allow me to. We can forget about our time at Spritz, if you wish. We can start over, like two strangers meeting for the first time.

I'll be awaiting your call. Please don't make me wait too long.

~Viktor

Chapter Text

Chris's flight left the next day. The man had refused to let Viktor see him off at the airport, seeing as it would have been unnecessary and a waste of Viktor's time. They said their goodbyes in the foyer of his house and Viktor felt powerful pangs of sadness as he saw his friend out. This wouldn't be like all the other times they said goodbye, where they both would leave with an unspoken promise to see each other at the next competition. Viktor didn't know when he would be back, or when he would be competing against Chris again. He was suddenly overcome with an odd form of loss, and he despised himself for not giving into Chris's wishes to skate with him when the man had asked.

Chris's face looked equally regretful, though for what, Viktor wasn't sure. Their talk the previous morning had been glossed over by laughs and good old fun as they spent the rest of the day preparing for the inevitable. Chris would be leaving, going off to train and prep for the next competition. Viktor would be staying behind, left as the unknown variable in their friendship. For a bitter moment, he felt like he was betraying Chris somehow. They always talked about meeting at the next competition, and the next after that, until Chris would finally yank the gold from his hands.

They stood in silence, neither knowing what to say. It wasn't like they would never see each other again. Viktor would be coming back, eventually. Chris said he would visit. Thanks to the technology of their generation, they could still talk anytime they desired. But it was still a heavy moment as they gave their final hugs when the cab pulled up in the driveway. Chris was his best friend, the only other skater Viktor truly let in. The only other person Viktor felt completely comfortable with. And here he was, abandoning him.

In spite of his feelings, he pulled back from his friend's hold with a showy smile, pained as it may have been. "Go make love to the ice for all your adoring fans."

Chris didn't say anything back, just stared at Viktor, eyes taking in the man like he had to keep an impression of him in his mind. But then he put on his own smile, the expression lacking sincerity, but not effort. It reminded Viktor of just how alike they were. "You sure I can't convince you to come back? I'm sure your beloved misses you."

The ice… Viktor felt another pang. He thought briefly to his skates that sat packed in his bag, laying untouched for so long. He hadn't ever gone this long without skating. A part of him felt relieved to leave the ice, to not have to put on another smiling façade when all he felt was misery. Another part felt like he was slowly ripping out his own wings, feather by feather, until he would no longer be able to fly. "She's a loyal mistress. I'm sure she'll wait for me. Besides, I have a new beloved to tend to here." Chris pursed his lips, and Viktor was sure he'd be hearing more notes of his disapproval. He was shocked to a see his lips twist into a rueful grin.

"Be careful, Viktor," he said with a small pat to the other's bicep. "When you commit to something, you tend to barrel forward, consequences be damned. He looks like a shy one. Don't pounce on the poor thing."

Viktor simply brushed his bangs off to the side with a flutter of fingers, expression denoting little shame. "Too late."

Shaking his head, Chris turned and opened the door, tossing a wave out to the cab as it sat idling. He stepped outside briefly before he leaned back in against the door, his duffel hanging precariously off one shoulder. "And call Yakov. The old man's heart's probably ready to give out."

Viktor hung his head and made a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat. "Please, if this was enough, my actions would have put him in the ground years ago. That man's organs are as indestructible as the rest of him." When Chris didn't reply, he glanced up, seeing the man's expression turn contemplative.

"Is your hair thinning?"

Viktor blanched, his hands flying to the part in his hair, like he could cover any bald patches with his frantic fingers.

"Gotcha," Chris laughed at the sour look he received. "Pay back for the wrinkle comment."

He could have throttled him. "You wretched man."

Chris only continued to chuckle as he waved his way out. The door closed behind him, but he still yelled back inside. "I want updates! This pâtissier better be worth it if he's stealing you from the rest of us!"

Viktor couldn't resist calling back out, his hands bracketing his mouth as he shouted, "You can count on it!" Chris's laughter faded as he heard a door shut, the cab leaving soon afterward.

It was quiet, then. Viktor stood still for a while, taking in his current status. He was alone in America. Just him and boundless time for self-reflection. Makkachin knocked against his knees, jumping up and leaning on him with her paws on his stomach, lending him reassurance. "Just you and me now, Makka. Just you and me."


Phichit teased him mercilessly about the note. Yuuri knew it would happen, and in hindsight he sort of regretted not tossing it in a drawer and away from prying eyes, but he knew in his heart that he could never keep anything from his best friend. The man may have been insufferable in the worst ways at times, but Yuuri wouldn't have wanted him any other way.

"I'm calling him," Phichit announced, evil Grinch smile in place.

Never mind. You are the absolute worst, Phichit. "Don't you dare." He didn't heed Yuuri's words, didn't even acknowledge that he'd spoken. He just kept glancing between the paper and his phone, typing in Viktor's number at an agonizingly slow pace, dragging it out along with Yuuri's frustration. "You do that and I'll have to call that guy from our Advanced Pastry Arts class," Yuuri threatened. "Last I saw him, he was still dying to have your number."

"You wouldn't."

Yuuri whipped out his own phone and clicked through to his contacts, his finger hovering over the number he kept for moments just like this. "Dave always did have a thing for your marzipan…"

Phichit bit his lip as his troubled gaze flicked back and forth between the two phones. He finally flopped back onto the couch after a beat, his cell slipping from his fingers and bouncing on the cushion beside him. "That's just cruel, Yuuri. His innuendos were the grossest things to ever enter my ears. Marzipan," he snorted with a hand on his forehead, "right."

"You have to admit," Yuuri started, relaxing now that the danger seemed to have been averted, "you do make great marzipan flowers."

"That's not what he meant and you know it."

"Aw, come on." The older baker gave him a nudge with his shoulder as he sat beside him. "He just wanted to sample your… what did he call it?" Yuuri tapped a slender finger against his temple, recalling their old classmate's words. Phichit's face begged him not to continue. "Oh! Your moist and luscious cream."

Phichit instantly trapped his ears with his hands, shrieking out a "Your disgusting, Yuuri!" while the other just cackled beside him. "I have nightmares about that guy. He's like the boogeyman, except instead of trying to kill me, he just wanted to shove cake down my throat."

"He was pretty insistent on having you try out his pastries," he agreed with a nod. "Amongst other things…"

"Stooooop!" Phichit glowered over at his best friend's giggling form. Yuuri was on his side, gripping his stomach and shaking with the force of his amusement. In an attempt to stop his laughter, he brought up his foot and kicked Yuuri off the couch, the man falling over the side with a sudden cry. He landed with an "oomf" before resuming his giggling. "Fine. I won't call Viktor."

Yuuri sat up from his place on the floor as he blew his messy bangs from his eyes and fixed his glasses. "I thought so."

"That doesn't mean that you shouldn't."

That instantly sobered him back up, stealing the smile from his face. Yuuri glanced over at the note that sat innocently on the coffee table, his eyes tracing over every number at the bottom of the page. He'd be lying if he said that he wasn't interested in the man. Watching and reading about him on the internet just made him more intrigued. He wanted to know more, to see the man that the cameras couldn't capture. The man that simple words couldn't describe.

This was his chance to be a piece, even if it was just a small, temporary one.

But there were so many reasons why he shouldn't, couldn't, wouldn't call him. Viktor was ten classes above his own. He was talented, driven, successful, adored, the list went on. He was more than just a professional ice skater, though that alone would have put him leagues above Yuuri. He was a world class skater, with so many medals and wins under his belt that Yuuri couldn't hope to keep track. He belonged in his own world, with Olympian athletes and people that could string cohesive sentences together. He didn't belong in Yuuri's world, where the average and mundane kept him sane. And Yuuri certainly didn't belong in his. Someone that gifted and beautiful couldn't possibly be happy with someone like him.

Yuuri was a nobody. He couldn't understand what Viktor would want with normal, nobody Katsuki. Sure, he'd met him when he was drunk, and maybe that might have been enough to catch the Russian's eye, but he couldn't figure out why he was still around. Viktor said that he had seen pieces of him, the real him, and that he wanted to see more. Yuuri doubted that. He doubted that very much. Even if the man stuck around long enough to get to know him, he wouldn't stay. He'd get tired of dysfunctional Yuuri and his boring life.

Phichit coughed into his hand, earning Yuuri's attention. His roommate looked concerned, his eyebrows knitting and his fingers twisting in the bottom of his shirt. "I don't mean to push too much. You know that, right, Yuuri?"

Yuuri nodded, not trusting his words to be able to combat his friend's newly distressed look.

"I figured this was just you thinking too little of yourself again, and that someone like Viktor might be good for you, but…" Phichit's eyes caught on the flowers before he looked away guiltily. "If there was something else going on here, you'd tell me, right?"

He had to think on that one, wondering what his friend might have been implying. There was nothing else. He couldn't remember anything else.

And it hit him. The reason for his friend's nervousness and uneasiness. Phichit thought that Saturday night might have been one of those times. Where drunk-Yuuri got out of hand. Where drunk-Yuuri took advantage of his lack of control and forced him into situations he was happy to not remember.

His friend's concern just brought up a new worry to the forefront of Yuuri's mind.

He hadn't given it much thought. He'd woken up at Mari's on Sunday. Other than feeling like his head was going to implode, his body felt fine, whole and intact. There was no bitter taste on his tongue, just the tingling apple that had settled on his uvula. He'd assumed that he'd done nothing, just passed out on his sister's couch. But maybe there had been more… Maybe he and Viktor had-

"Yuuri?" Phichit's uncertain voice called to him, and Yuuri filed all of his worries away for a better time. Probably never. "I'm sorry. I should have thought about how uncomfortable this would make you, or how much you may have regretted whatever happened at Spritz. I didn't even think when I gave him our address. He just seemed so earnest that I didn't think you-"

"Don't worry about it, Phichit." He clasped a hand over his friend's, forming a solid hand lock on the arm rest of the couch. He didn't allow the shakiness of his heart to spread to the rest of his limbs. "Nothing happened."

There was doubt swimming in his grey irises, and something else Yuuri couldn't quite pin down. Fear, his mind told him. He'd seen it there before. He hated seeing it there now.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm fine. It's not… that. Viktor's just… he'll find someone better soon, I'm sure. I'm not interested, is all."

Phichit nodded. Yuuri resisted the urge to retch.


A week. It had been almost an entire week since Viktor had left that note, written in the ink of his hopes and desperation, and left with a lighter heart. He'd been so sure Yuuri would call, that it would only be a matter of hours, a day at the most, until he would hear his voice again. It was now Friday and Viktor wasn't sure what to do now.

It wasn't like he could have missed the call. His cell had been glued to his side the entire time. He hadn't even taken a shower without his phone within earshot, the volume maxed, his most annoying and agitating ring on to assure that not even sleep could keep him from answering. He spent hours upon hours lounging on his bed, staring at the phone and waiting for it to light up. It stayed dull, like his eyes.

So, no, he couldn't have missed his call. There wasn't a single message, text, or voicemail. He thought that maybe he wrote his number wrong, or maybe he should have written the note in a plainer handwriting, not overdone it in another attempt to impress. Although, he had written the note three times, until he was sure his handwriting was legible to even a five-year-old. He'd lost count of how many times he'd double checked his number.

Maybe Yuuri just hadn't seen it? The note could have fallen, slipped under the couch to be eaten by the treacherous darkness. Or his roommate could have taken it, having deemed Viktor unworthy of his best friend's affection. Viktor stopped himself there. Now he was just grasping at straws.

The loss of those possibilities left him with only one conclusion that he wasn't ready to accept. Yuuri was choosing to ignore him. He saw the note, could read his number just fine, and had decided that Viktor wasn't worth it. Or even worse, that he himself was still unworthy of Viktor. That was a possibility Viktor struggled greatly with. He didn't know what to do, how to act, so he just stayed still.

It was at these times, when Viktor was left with nothing to do but wait, that he realized how stupid he was. He left skating, his art, his dream, his love, because why? Just because he was feeling a bit of melancholy? Because he had the trite idea to go out and find some inspiration? He'd never had to seek out inspiration before. It had always just appeared before him, well within reach and found even when he wasn't searching.

He was betraying so many people by coming out here, but it wasn't like they didn't all know he was selfish. He'd read the articles, the ones that couldn't help but focus on his less than stellar qualities. The spotlight shined on him at all times of the day, highlighting his bad sides just as much as it showcased his good. He was forgetful and flighty and impulsive and… Viktor tired of the rest. Point was, it wasn't like people didn't expect this of him.

The scariest thought that his self-reflection brought him was the possibility that it could all be for nothing. That he would search and search and find nothing, only to lose his reason for living in the process. He would become too old for his love and be unable to say goodbye.

He looked down at the cell in his hands, his fingers grasping the plastic so hard that it hurt. It wasn't fair of him to put so much on Yuuri, but he could see it there within him. The inspiration he'd been searching for, and something else entirely that he didn't even know he'd been missing.

He laid there for another hour before he went to start his day, steps slow and his heart in his throat. He decided to go on a run with Makkachin, maybe spend the day at the beach with her, sight see in places where dogs were allowed. Anything to get his mind off of Yuuri.

Anything to get away from the lingering feelings of uncertainty that bore down on him like lead weights around his ankles.


The back of Yuuri's hand gently rapped on the office door before he peered in, finding Sara at her desk. His eyes glanced over her form, taking in her stressed appearance, the discoloration beneath her eyes, her hands in her hair as her manicured nails gripped her scalp. "You wanted to see me?"

The young woman didn't even look at him, just urged him forward with a wave of her hand. Yuuri closed the door behind himself and settled in the chair before her desk. When her eyes lifted, they were a tired violet streaked with worry. "I hate going over our budget."

"Phichit and I just went over ours," he replied with a grimace. "It was ugly. I can't even imagine having to work the books here. You have my undying appreciation." He bowed in his chair, hand over his heart.

That brought a small smile to her face, before her lips bent back downward in one strained motion. "I'm not sure what to do here, Yuuri. We can't take many more financial losses and setbacks, especially if we want to get that delivery truck at any point in the near future."

"Are we doing that badly?"

"Not especially, no. That little bump in numbers from your boyfriend did us well, too." Yuuri squirmed uncomfortably in his chair, but Sara seemed too preoccupied to notice. "It's just that I'm not sure I can cover for all of the mishaps anymore. Between the broken dishes, damaged equipment, and the wasted food… We lost two cases of cream last week because they were improperly stored. Want to take a guess at the culprit?"

Yuuri easily knew who she was referring to. He lowered his eyes, Sara's distress quickly becoming his own. Minami… What are we going to do?

"Something has to happen before the books make it back to the boss man. I mean, we all know Minami. We love and adore him and his energy, but-"

"Celestino doesn't know him. He won't want a liability he doesn't know. He won't give him a chance. Or at least not many more."

Sara answered with a solemn nod. She looked back down at the books in front of her, pen tap, tap, tapping against the desk, and Yuuri could see her eyes become glassy. It hurt to see her so torn and he didn't want to even imagine how this would affect their youngest. They couldn't lose Minami. He was a part of their little family now, their baby brother that just got too excited and a little careless. It would be wrong to let him go due to his clumsiness, something that could be helped with some time and training. He couldn't imagine what it would be like to lose his job because of his anxiety…

"I'll take the hit."

Sara met his announcement with confusion. "Huh?"

"Take it out of my check. Whatever losses Minami accumulates, just take it from me. I can handle it."

"No, Yuuri. You need the money, I know you do. Maybe I can take the cut-"

Yuuri leaned forward, settling his hand on her tense shoulder. "It's alright. You still have your business classes to pay for and trust me, you don't want to have to worry about loans. Just take it from my pay. I can make less and still get by. We'll just have to train him better. He's got a lot of potential and we shouldn't give up on him."

Her eyes began to water even more and she jumped up from her chair, circling around her desk to take Yuuri into her arms. He felt moderately uncomfortable as his face was scrunched against her chest, his glasses digging into his eyebrow. "You are such a wonderful person, Yuuri. Minami has no idea how lucky he is to have a guardian angel like you."

"I'm nothing special. And don't discount yourself," he said, voice muffled. "Most managers would have just fired him, not agonized over his well-being."

"Psh, I never would have even thought of taking on the financial burden myself." She pulled back and ruffled his hair before making her way back to her seat. "Now get going, you're supposed to be off already. Rest up. You have those champagne cupcakes to make tomorrow."

Yuuri heaved a sigh, already exhausted just thinking about it, but he was pretty excited, too. "All seventy-two of them. The flutes came in already, I hope?"

"Yup. I had Leo put them in the stockroom. He's going to take pictures when you're done, by the way. I want to put them up in your special orders section on our website."

That made him even more nervous about the order, but it just cemented the fact that he couldn't mess up. He had people to please. "O-Okay."


Yuuri got off early, mostly due to Sara's urging.

"You're here more than any of us and you work ten times harder. Take a break, for Christ's sake."

He smiled as he thought about it, having been literally shoved out the door. He made his way out, keen on taking advantage of the extra time to do some of the chores that had begun to pile up. He started with the market, using what little money he and Phichit had left over to purchase some groceries. They'd been surviving on macaroni and cheese and ramen for the past week, along with whatever leftovers they had from the bakery.

He got back home after an hour and went to unload his bags into the kitchen. Once that was done, he did some light cleaning. He hand washed dishes, vacuumed, dusted, paid a couple of bills online, all while pointedly keeping his gaze away from the note that still sat within the confines of the living room, next to the wilting flowers.

Yuuri had already convinced himself that he wasn't going to call. He and Viktor were too different, both caught in worlds of their own design that couldn't ever hope to overlap. Eventually Viktor would go back to his life and be just fine without Yuuri. Hell, maybe he already had and Yuuri was worrying about it all for no reason. But he couldn't give up the note. No matter what he told himself, or how many times he'd picked it up with the intention of throwing it away and out of his life, he couldn't rid himself of it. His mind kept flashing back to Viktor's soft hold on his hands, the look in his eyes, the honeyed words on his tongue, and Yuuri could feel something stirring inside him, willing him to call.

He didn't dare.

He didn't want this. He didn't want this deep sense of uncertainty. He didn't know why Viktor had to come into his life and upset its balance. His life had been far from perfect, but everything had its place, its time, chaos organized into a practiced schedule that allowed him to stay calm and pleased with himself and his life choices. Now, Viktor made him second guess everything. Who he was. What he wanted. If he was truly happy with the way his life was unfolding.

If drunk-Yuuri was trying to tell him that he wanted more. If he'd already taken more…

Yuuri slammed his laptop shut and tried to calm his now erratic breathing. Dark spots were creeping into the edges of his vision and attempting to blink them away only made them more vengeful. The darkness crept around him, curling around his form and suffocating any light that tried to bleed through. It was too dark and he couldn't see through the inkiness, couldn't breathe enough to fight back. The air didn't take pity on his predicament, leaving him to wheeze and writhe on the couch in vain.

His hand flopped onto the coffee table, his fingers fumbling for his cell phone. They searched blindly, nails scratching along dented metal. There was a thud that rang dully in his ears, and he felt water against his skin, but nothing mattered as he sought out his lifeline.

He finally found it, gripping onto it with the last of his strength. Without so much as a glance, he speed dialed, seeking a voice that never failed to bring him back.

"Well, if it isn't my baby bro. How ya doin', kid?"

His sister's Japanese drawl was soothing and served to smooth out some of the frayed edges of his gnarled nerves, but it wasn't enough. He couldn't speak, his tongue lethargic in his mouth and his words a jumble in his mind. There was just so much. Too much and it was all choking him until eventually the darkness would win. As it had many times before.

"Yuuri?" There was a concerned edge to her voice. Yuuri pressed a button to indicate that he was there, the low beep acting as a cry for help. "Are you having an anxiety attack?" Another beep and his sister drew in a steady breath. "Yuuri, you have to calm down. Just breathe, okay? Listen to my breathing." Her respirations were loud and exaggerated so Yuuri could hear them with perfect clarity, even over the slight static that echoed through the receiver. He clung to them, trying to get his own breathing to sync with his sister's.

She began to talk, speaking of a memory both broken and heartfelt. "Remember the trees back in Hasetsu, the way the cherry blossoms would almost glow in the early morning light. We always loved watching the petals drift along the floorboards, dancing on our feet." Mari laughed, though it was taut, pulled tight with unease. "You used to try to dance with them, swirling around and stepping to their silent song. I thought you were nuts, dancing with flowers. You would try to get me to join you, but there was no way in hell I was going to be caught dead doing that." There was a pause, and her breath hitched with worry. "It was beautiful, though. I don't know how you managed to make something so idiotic look so damn fun."

The fond memory brought him back. His shallow breaths began to gain strength, until he could tell that even Mari could hear them as she let out a relieved curse. Only then did he feel the wetness on his cheeks. "Mari-nee-chan?" he croaked, words rough.

"Jesus, Yuuri, you really know how to give a girl a heart attack, you know that? You alright? Did something trigger this or… Do I need to punch someone in the throat?"

He gave a coarse laugh. "Just my thoughts getting ahead of me again, Mari. D-don't," he choked in a breath, "worry so much."

"You're telling me not to worry? Hah, that's rich."

It grew quiet and Yuuri wasn't sure what to say. He hated involving others in his attacks, but sometimes it was the only way to set him straight. There were times when seclusion helped and times when only Phichit or Mari could ground him. "You lied, you know?"

"Heh?"

"You said you wouldn't be caught dead dancing with cherry blossom petals. I recall one night when I finally got you to dance with them. You looked like you were enjoying yourself, too."

"Is this how you thank me, brat?" Mari halted and switched back into English for a quick moment, speaking to a voice in the background. "I don't think you want to start this, Yuuri. We both know what embarrassing skeletons I can pull out of your closet…"

Yuuri shuddered and conceded. "Let's not. How's the shop? You're working right now, right?"

Mari sighed, like she knew he was avoiding talking about himself and his problems. "Things are good. A whole slew of newly graduated high school kids are out looking for ink now, so that's been fun," she said, sarcasm dripping from her words. "If I have to do another anchor or feather tattoo, I swear I'm going to stick the needle in my eye. Like, where's the creativity?" Yuuri laughed. "And we have some fresh meat. He's not very talkative, but when he does say something, it's obvious that his terse wit is like no other."

"A new tattoo artist? Is he any good?" Yuuri inquired. "You like him?"

"He's definitely talented and he's got the technical skills of a boss. His art's very clean. Do I like him? Well… he's always got a pretty grim expression. I've never been one for stoic men, but I wouldn't mind doing a little something to that body of his."

He gave an uncomfortable cough. "That sounds a bit suggestive…"

"It was supposed to."

He could hear the grin in her voice. "Yeah, okay, no thank you. You can keep your fantasies about…"

"We call him Bek."

"Him to yourself."

"Fair. Anyway, I've been meaning to call you since you were over. You got pretty hammered last Saturday, I wasn't much better, but you were fine after I took you home, right?"

His sister had done well at calming him. He'd even begun to slip into a normal conversation with her, like nothing had been wrong in the first place. But just talking about Saturday night caused his heart to seize tightly in his chest. He was going to ignore it, tell her he'd been fine, no harm done, but his curiosity poked its ugly head in. "Mari, did you… see me with anyone that night."

"Better question would probably be who did I not see you with that night. You were all over the place." She gave a huff of a laugh. "You calmed down a bit with this silver haired guy." His heart seized painfully again. "I didn't see much of him before I headed back to talk to Minako about something. When I came back, you were by yourself, looking for me."

"Nothing else happened? You didn't see… anything else?"

Mari seemed to catch onto the nervousness in his voice. "Should I have?"

"No. No, it was nothing."

"If you're sure." She sounded skeptical, but moved on. She was always good at respecting his boundaries. "I was kind of disappointed when you found me. I thought you and Silver looked pretty good together. You get his number?"

He realized then that Mari didn't know about his lack of memory. He never told her about his blackouts, just played it off in the past. Only Phichit knew, due to unfortunate circumstances. "Yeah, but honestly I don't think we hit it off very well."

"So? Have some fun. Get laid, baby brother." Yuuri sputtered at his sister, which only caused her to laugh. "He doesn't have to be anything serious. A good lay never hurt anyone."

He didn't allow that to spark any old thoughts. "You're terrible."

They talked for a little while longer before Mari finally had to hang up, a client having come in. He got up from the couch to notice the mess he'd made in his haste for his cell phone. The vase was now on the ground, laying in a puddle of water, the flowers escaping onto the floor. There was some water on the coffee table, too, seeping into the crevices and dampening Viktor's note.

Yuuri quickly snatched up the paper, blowing on it as the water dripped off into small tears. The ink was a little runny, but still surprisingly readable. Before he knew what he was doing, he typed in Viktor's number into his phone, preserving it from further incidents. The note was then carefully laid onto the kitchen counter to air dry and he went to work cleaning up the flowers.

They weren't in the best shape, having sat neglected for so long, wallowing in Yuuri's denial along with him, but like the note, he was attached. He put them back in the vase and gave them some water, this time setting them safely on the counter as well.

When all of that was dealt with, he resumed his tasks. His index finger pulled back the blanket that covered their window as he checked outside. Dusk had descended, the sky awash with vermillion hues and a lucid orange horizon. Not too late to get to the laundry mat and back. He collected his and Phichit's bagged clothes and heaved them onto his shoulder with a weary wheeze and started out.

It was surprisingly empty for a Friday night, but that was just fine with him. There was only one other person inside, an older man that looked content on his own. Yuuri was happy that he wouldn't have to make the usual small talk. He started a load before he tossed himself onto a chair, his bag of coins jingling in his pocket. He closed his eyes and calmed himself further to the casual rhythm of the running machines. The current of water and the thumping of clothes set the night at peace.

He pulled out his phone, his eyes widening at what had been left on his screen. There was Viktor's number staring back at him again. Beckoning him. He wanted to call. Sitting there in the grungy laundry mat two buildings down, while waiting for his clothes to cycle, he found that he absolutely wanted to call. There was something about Viktor, his conviction, the mystery behind their meeting, that compelled his finger forward.

He didn't listen to all of his doubts and fears, the ones that kept him from even entertaining the idea that he and Viktor could be something. That he could be enough for someone else.

He wanted to give him a chance. Like he owed Viktor the call, that he had earned it the way Minami had earned his place at the bakery, in his life. He couldn't help but feel like he was slowly losing something as every day passed, something bright and poignant and there. Without another thought, he clicked the 'call' button. He could try at least, right? That's what his parents had taught him. Always try and never give up. What was the harm in giving it a shot? In believing in Viktor and trusting his words?

In finding out just what happened between them already.

The phone rang deep into his soul, and he stamped down the urge to hang up and shove his cell into the nearest machine. Mari's words stopped him, her voice so confident and assured. "Have some fun... He doesn't have to be anything serious..."

But what if he wanted it to mean something? What if Viktor didn't?

Someone answered too soon, their greeting rushed and breathless.

Yuuri gripped the plastic chair beneath him, knuckles turning white. He stared forward, mind numbing as he watched the colors spin through the window.

"Viktor? It's Yuuri."

Chapter Text

Viktor got back from his day of distractions and fell back onto the bed, the plush covers cushioning his fall. Makkachin followed him into the room, but only stared up at him curiously as the man took his covers and rolled himself up into a whining Vikturrito. "Makka, I did well, didn't I? I was smooth and suave… well, after the passing out at his apartment part…" He burrowed his head into his wrap of blankets, a turtle hiding in his shell. "Ugh, I've never had to do this before. A dazzling smile here, a flirty wave there. It's always been so easy." He frowned at himself, shaded and hidden from the world. "Why hasn't he called?"

But Viktor knew why. Yuuri wasn't like the rest of his partners that practically threw themselves down at his feet. And maybe that was part of the reason why he was so smitten with the young man. He was a challenge. He was different. He actually made Viktor feel. He wasn't just a distraction to bide the time and take his mind off of his frustrations and vulnerabilities. Viktor spent less time with Yuuri than he had with any of his lovers, and Yuuri had managed to leave a deeper and more striking impression than any of them could have ever hoped to.

That was why Viktor couldn't give up. He couldn't leave and go back to his old life, even if he could conjure up the will to skate again.

He was just about to submit himself to another night of mourning his future when his phone let out an almost violent shriek. He instantly sprang into action, as easily as one could spring while trapped in a cocoon of blankets, that is. His frantic movements were too rushed, too hurried to be effective in relieving him of his predicament. He managed to get a hand out before falling gracelessly onto the floor in a flurry of limbs and tangled fabric.

He had a moment to reorient himself, the fall having served to finally extricate him. Smooth and suave, indeed. He didn't allow himself any more time before rushing to where his phone, too, had fallen to the floor. He clicked before he looked, answering with little air left in his lungs and hope settled in his chest.

"Viktor? It's Yuuri."

He let out a rush of air into the receiver and sat himself a little easier on the carpet, covers placidly rumpled around his waist. "Yuuri," he answered back. It was Yuuri. Yuuri had finally called him. It took everything in him to restrain his excitement. "I thought you weren't going to call." His honesty slipped through, but he hardly cared.

Yuuri hummed low, thinking. "S-Sorry, I just… wanted to be sure… of what I wanted to say."

"Oh? And what is it that you wanted to say?"

There was a strangled sound on the other end of the line, followed by a brief period of fortified quiet. Either Yuuri was still unsure, or he'd never known what he was going to say in the first place. Regardless, Viktor remained patient, his free hand roaming through Makkachin's curls. He'd waited so long for this call, he could wait for a few more unsettling minutes.

"I, uh…" Yuuri's voice came back, and Viktor's ears perked, "never thanked you for the flowers? So, um, thank you. And the vase! The vase, too. How much did you pay for that? Too much, huh? I'll pay you back for it. You really didn't need to buy me one, so-"

Viktor couldn't help it as he began laughing. Yuuri had taken a week to respond to his note and all he came back with was a thank you and an offer to repay him for his gift. Viktor laughed, because it was funny. Yuuri's innocence was funny, and a tad frustrating. The depth of his own disappointment was funny, and quite humiliating. "My, my. You are very welcome, Yuuri, but please tell me that this isn't the only reason you called."

"What, um… What else am I supposed to say?"

Supposed to say… That was an interesting way to phrase it. "How about…" he gave a dramatic pause, letting Yuuri ponder his answer as he waited, "asking me out on a date?"

He could practically hear Yuuri's brain short-circuit and see the deep red now residing on his features. "A D-D-D-Date!!?" Viktor winced and pulled the phone away at the cry, before gingerly bringing it back to his ear. Yuuri seemed to notice how loud he'd been as well, as he repeated, "A date?" in a more concealed whisper.

"You act like you weren't expecting that. I thought I was pretty obvious about my interest."

"Well… sure, but I didn't think you were that serious."

Running an exasperated hand through his hair, Viktor tried another approach. "We can just go out as friends… or as acquaintances seeking to become friends, if that would make you more comfortable." It physically hurt him to make such a suggestion. A friend date was far from what he desired, but he could do so. For Yuuri. Taking things slow was good. Even if it went against his impulsive nature, slow meant he could truly get to know Yuuri, make him see what he saw in him, and hope that they could become more than passing interests.

They'd had a whirlwind of a first meeting, so it was probably time to slow things down, he supposed. That was the proper way to date, right?

"No, I think…" Viktor paused his movements at the sudden, bold tone, "I think a date would be fine? Yes, a date would be fine," he continued, assuring himself of the answer.

That was something he hadn't expected. His heart leapt, but he didn't let it get far. "Are you sure?"

Another break came between them and this time it was Viktor's leg bouncing as he couldn't sit still. He was so close to Yuuri, and he berated himself for questioning his decision, but he didn't want this to be a one sided thing forever. He wanted to go out with Yuuri, yes. But he also hoped that Yuuri would want to date him, too. If that was a stretch, well, everyone knew he was greedy and selfish. He couldn't help wanting more.

"I'm sure," he replied, quiet as a mouse tiptoeing through unknown territory. "Are you sure?"

It was at that moment, as he gave another breathless laugh, that he found that he may have been falling for this side of Yuuri just as much as he was for the more gregarious dancer side. "Yes," he exhaled before more of his voice came back to him. "Yes. A million times, yes."

"Okay."

"Tomorrow night?"

"You want to go out that soon!?"

He chuckled lowly. "I've already waited a week, Yuuri," he pressed, doing the exact opposite of what he'd told himself to do. He was supposed to give Yuuri space, allow him time to adjust, but he was just so excited. He already had the whole thing planned out and he was bursting at the seams with anticipation. "How much more time do you need?" He tried not to sound impatient, he really did, his tone gentle with only a hint of longing.

Yuuri gave another strangled noise. "That doesn't, um, really give me a lot of time to get ready… like with clothes and stuff."

"Whatever you have will be perfect, I'm sure. I'll have a car pick you up around seven. It's just dinner, but wear something formal, yes?"

"Hai," he responded in tired Japanese before quickly switching back to English. "I mean, Yes. Yes, okay."

"Okay, I'll let you go then. It's rather late." His eyes glimpsed the time, loathe to hang up. He knew Yuuri had early mornings at the bakery.

"Viktor!" he called out, stopping him from leaving.

His name from those lips made his skin tingle pleasantly, just like it had that night, even if Yuuri's voice now sounded strangely desperate. "Yes?"

There was a loud breath before he continued, hesitant. "What did we do on Saturday? Can you just tell me if we…? Did we do anything that-"

Yuuri choked on the question and Viktor didn't like the panic that had hitched into his voice. So he replied calmly, putting his own newfound questions on hold. "We danced, Yuuri. And we kissed, just once. That was all." That was all it took for you to steal this iced over heart. He wondered what else Yuuri was imagining, what he could have thought occurred between them. He knew Yuuri couldn't remember anything of him, but surely he wouldn't think-

"Alright," came his tentative reply. "Tomorrow, then."

Yuuri hung up, leaving Viktor with a tangled web of thoughts.


 

Through baking, Yuuri once again kept his mind off of anything unpleasant. Like how awkward he had been over the phone the previous night. Or on how nervous/anxious/excited/scared/worried he was about his date that was in just a matter of hours.

"I get to help you with an order!?" Minami's eyes sparkled as he stared up at Yuuri, his hands clasped tightly against his chest.

Yuuri nodded, a little wary of the boy's enthusiasm, though it also brought a smile to his face. Minami loved working at the bakery and this just cemented his decision to help the boy out. "But," he began with a finger in the air, halting any excited squees the boy might let out, "you have to be extremely careful. We can't afford any accidents today, okay? We have a short time frame, as it is."

Minami eagerly nodded his head and bounced in his spot, nearly knocking over a measuring cup as he flailed his arm out. Minami instantly steadied the glass cup, giving Yuuri an apologetic smile. He was more cautious this time, bringing his hand up slowly to his forehead and saluting the baker lead. "Of course, Katsuki-sensei. I'll be on my best behavior. Promise!"

Yuuri swallowed his sigh and handed the blond the recipe he'd written up. "Look this over and familiarize yourself with it. I'm going to get the oven turned down and line the pans. When you think you're mentally prepared and steady on your feet, gather the ingredients for the cupcake batter and start it in the floor mixer, okay?"

Minami jumped right to it, his eyes scanning over the paper. "Um, this only makes fourteen mini cupcakes."

Yuuri smiled, having purposefully left out the conversion for the ingredients. "Nice catch. So that means you have to…"

"Multiply everything by… a little over five?"

"You can go ahead and do five and a half. Sara gave me the go ahead for some extras since she wants pictures."

They both then separated. Yuuri kept Minami in the corner of his eye, watching as the boy worked a little slower than normal, but was much more careful in his actions, handling each ingredient one at a time and making sure that his path to the counter and mixer was clear every time he went back and forth.

Yuuri divied up the cupcake liners into the tins, his fingers working skillfully and efficiently like that of a card dealer. Phichit sauntered over to his side as Yuuri watched Minami when he finished.

"I thought you weren't his sensei."

"I'm not."

"Mhm. This looks a lot like teaching to me…"

Yuuri rolled his eyes. "I'm just giving him some guidance. No one needs a teacher like me. I could never even properly give a demonstration in school."

He knew he should have been more nervous about this. Even without demonstrating anything, he had Minami's attention and trust. If Minami messed up, it was on him. Everything would be his fault. The cupcakes would be ruined. The client would be dissatisfied, the event they were celebrating no doubt ruined, as well. The bakery would probably get left with a nasty review online, which would put a black mark on their record. Sara and Celestino would be disappointed. And Yuuri would hate himself for screwing up something as simple as cupcakes. No one would be left happy in that scenario.

Yuuri didn't let himself think about that. He was too wound up about his date that night to worry too much about cupcakes. Oh, god. I have a date in like… five hours! He didn't let himself think any more on the subject, it just stewed in his stomach instead.

He walked to Minami's side as the younger baker whisked together the dry ingredients. "You doing alright?"

"Yup! I'm going to add the rest of the ingredients in a bit." He turned, giving Yuuri a sheepish smile. "Could you open the champagne for me, though? I'm really nervous about that. Last time I tried to open a glass bottle of grape soda… well, I didn't get my soda that day."

"Sure," Yuuri responded. "No problem. Opening champagne can be tricky, anyway. I had to consult the internet on how to do so when I was testing out this recipe. Phichit almost ended up with a black eye on my first try. Those corks are nasty," he added, cheeks flushing with embarrassment.

The rest of the batter came together without a hitch, though Minami stared down into the mixer with concern. "The butter isn't mixing out," he complained, tugging on Yuuri's sleeve, "but the recipe stresses to not overmix."

"There's a note at the bottom about that."

The blond glanced down, red tinging his features as he read. "'There will likely be bits of butter in the cupcake batter, but don't try to mix it out. It will melt in as it bakes.' I'm so sorry, sensei!" he bowed. "I should have read that."

Yuuri patted his shoulder. "It's okay. The bits of butter will bake out, as it says. It makes it moist and have a better flavor."

He should have expected Phichit's comment. Somehow, he didn't.

"That's what he said."

Minami erupted into a small fit of giggles.

Yuuri just thumped his head down onto the counter, his encouraging smile flattening into a disturbed line. "Why must you desecrate our art with such jokes?"

"Asks the man who brought up my moist and luscious cream."

Minami nearly fell over in his laughter, almost taking the batter with him.

Yuuri and Phichit both jumped into action. "Minami!"

After the cupcakes were baked and allowed to cool, Minami continued on making the champagne icing. All went well, the young man concentrating with all he had. He ended up having some trouble icing them. "It's too thick for the bag, Yuuri."

Yuuri stood off to the side, hip against the counter as he watched. "You may have to kneed the bag some. Not too much, or it will get too warm. Then just gently squeeze and it'll come out on its own." This time Yuuri was ready. Phichit's head popped out from around the corner, surely with another inappropriate comment, but he didn't get a chance to speak. "Don't, Phichit! Don't make me bring Dave into this. You won't like it." Phichit hurriedly scurried off.

"Who's Dave?" Minami asked as he iced, his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth as he focused on twirling the piping bag.

"A man you never want to meet."

Yuuri took over when Minami's fingers began to get tired. He didn't blame the kid for needing a break. Icing seventy-seven cupcakes was a lot of work and made the finger muscles sting after a while. This was where his stamina and perseverance came in handy.

When he finished, he put them in the refrigerator to chill and took out the flutes. He filled all seventy-seven of them with white and gold m&ms to just about two inches below the rim. He then began placing the cupcakes on top of the m&ms so just the frosting remained above the rim of the flutes. Seventy-two cupcakes then went in the fridge for the client and four went to Leo, one left on the side.

"Dang, Yuuri," Leo said, awed by the creation. Four cupcakes sat on a tray on a cleared counter while the man took pictures. "These look awesome. You made this recipe yourself?"

"It's more a compilation of other recipes," he replied, waving off the compliment. "And it was a team effort. Minami did most of the baking."

"Still." Leo stepped back, bushy brows bunching as he leaned over to adjust the placement of one of the flutes before snapping another picture. "I'm impressed and inspired. I kind of want to make something super fantastic now, but I'm hanging out with Guang-Hong after this."

Yuuri's eyes widened and he looked at the clock, suddenly reminded of his own plans. It's six already?

"You've been staring at the clock an awful lot today." Yuuri sucked his lips up against his teeth as Phichit saddled up to him with a lopsided smirk. "And if I didn't know any better, I'd say you looked nervous. But what could you possibly be nervous about on a Saturday night, hmmmm?"

Phichit didn't even have to pry much. Yuuri gave in to his best friend, as usual, wondering how he'd even kept it from him for as long as he had. "I… sort of have a date with Viktor. Well, had. I'm supposed to be ready in an hour, but," Yuuri glanced down at himself, stained and splattered beyond recognition. "Yeah, no. I don't have time to get ready. This is stupid. I'll just call it off."

Phichit frowned and was going to sharply disagree, but everyone seemed to like cutting him off that day.

Sara burst through the kitchen door, her smile so wide, Yuuri was kind of afraid of it. "You have a date!?"

Yuuri shrunk under the new stares as Sara's outburst caught Leo's and Minami's attention. "How did you even hear that?"

Sara ignored the question and instantly arrested him by the arm to drag him away from the kitchen. She kept him in an iron grip, assuring that he couldn't escape. Yuuri knew the woman was strong, but jesus. "An hour is more than enough time to get ready. I can help doll you up, if you like?"

She was way too eager with the suggestion. He politely declined before continuing to try to get out of it. "But Sara! I just- He wouldn't- This is so dumb." Yuuri finished, staring at the ground as his forehead fell into his palm.

There were his nerves again, unsettling him, riling him up and telling him to just hide in his room until it was all over. Why was he going out with Viktor again? On a date, no less? He'd squandered another way out that Viktor had given him. It could have just been a friendly outing, but he'd been stupidly stubborn, not wanting to back down. He didn't want to be the pitiful, timid Katsuki Yuuri that never reached out of his comfort zone. He wanted to be brave, dammit, and prove to himself that he could do it without alcohol. That he could be the fun and spontaneous Yuuri and remember it afterwards. But, that all sounded good in theory. Now, as time ticked by and his impending date with a man who was practically a stranger approached, Yuuri really, really disliked the new 'fun and spontaneous' him.

Alcohol was sounding really good right about then.

Sara yanked his chin up until he was looking into her stern expression. "It's not dumb, Yuuri. You deserve to have someone special in your life. It's Viktor, right?" Yuuri hummed the affirmative. "Thank god, I thought I was going to have to force you both into a broom closet somewhere." Yuuri gave her a horrified look, to which she just winked back. "That boy sat in our bakery for three days straight waiting on you. And then he brought you flowers. Not in the classiest of ways, I'll admit, but it's still romantic."

Yuuri rose an unamused brow, starting to question just how she knew about Viktor's little visit, when he remembered who his roommate was. "Phichit told you."

"My point is, you need to listen to me and Phichit when we say, you can do this," she said, speaking straight to into the heart of his desire to escape. "Viktor already likes you, so that's not a worry. Just go and have fun. There's no way you're cancelling." The bell on the door jingled, prompting them to look as Phichit emerged, a champagne cupcake in hand. "And there's my back-up. He'll tell you the exact same thing. You deserve this. Now go."

She made it back inside, leaving Yuuri with his roommate under the dusking sky. "She ships you guys so hard."

Yuuri didn't find Phichit's comment funny. "I know you guys think this is a no brainer. That I should just go, have a good time, and fall in love. But it's not that simple, Phichit! It really, really isn't."

"You don't have to, you know? You've been forced through enough stuff you didn't want to do. I agree with Sara, but this is your decision, and yours alone."

Yuuri looked into his best friend's eyes, the man's gaze clouded with what he knew of his uneasy history. Yuuri was grateful for Phichit. He knew when to push, when to be supportive, when to console. He knew when Yuuri was feeling tied down by the restraints of too many yesterdays, and needed a reminder that he was firmly in the present. That this was his life and he had control over it.

"I want to." He realized then that he really, truly did. Otherwise, he wouldn't have let Viktor into his life. He wouldn't have told him he had a chance. He wouldn't have saved his flowers or his note or his number. He wouldn't have called. He wouldn't have insisted that they go on a date, instead of having a friendly dinner.

A series of his own decisions led him to this point and the question of why sprang up in his mind. Maybe it was because he wanted to be bolder. Maybe it was because he was tired of his life revolving around work. Maybe it was because he found Viktor and his life fascinating and wanted to know more.

Or maybe it was because of the way his heart stuttered to life when his mind fell back to startling blue-green eyes that were lost in a breath of time he couldn't quite recall.

He wasn't sure why he wanted to, just that he really did.


 

Yuuri raced around his apartment, not knowing what to do with himself. He bounced back and forth from his bedroom to the bathroom. It wasn't his first date, per se, but it might as well have been.

Frantic thoughts led him into fond as a memory embedded in another lifetime surged forward. His first date had been more of a mock one, with his childhood friend Yuuko on his arm. They'd both dressed in their best outfits and had a picnic out in the tender grass. Everything was weirdly awkward until Yuuko tried to hand feed him a rice ball. "It's romantic," she'd exclaimed, as if either of them were old enough to understand what romance was. "I watch mom do it for dad all the time." She leaned forward towards his awaiting mouth, only for it to slip from her tiny fingers, the ball rolling into his lap and leaving rice pieces to decorate his front. They dissolved into chuckles from there. They'd been nine and silly, the date filled with laughs and born from a love built on childish innocence.

It had been their one and only 'date', something he hoped Yuuko still remembered with as much care as he did. Yuuri had left Japan shortly after that and hadn't kept in touch much since.

Yuuri drew himself away from those thoughts and quickly showered, scrubbing away every lick of food that could have coated him during the day. The last thing he wanted was to look like a slob. He brushed his teeth five times, mostly because he wasn't sure of what else to do. He slipped on his one and only suit, the one he'd had for graduation and interviews. It was loose on his frame, a bit ill-fitting. He'd lost weight over the years, between diligently working and his three days a week at the studio, but he hadn't known that it would show so drastically. His suit was wrinkled, despite his best attempts to fix it with a garment steamer the night before.

Yuuri groaned at himself in the mirror, feeling way worse than he had when he began. He sent rapid-fire texts to Phichit, praying the man could offer some guidance.

Do I gel back my hair?

Contacts???

Should I wear a scent?

I have that cologne from Mari…

And the body spray from Minako-sensei

Oh, god, why am I so nervous?

What if I puke in the car?

What if I puke on Viktor?

Phichit, HELP ME!!!

After Yuuri had managed to rile himself up into a tizzy, Phichit finally replied.

Yuuri, sit down. You aren't going to throw up. Just breathe.

Just dress like you're going out. Gel, contacts, the whole shebang.

Don't wear Mari's cologne. That stuff has enough spice to attract all of mankind.

The body spray's good.

Don't be nervous

Remember, you're in control, here. You could be wearing a trash bag and Viktor would be drooling.

Have fun.

Luv u!

Yuuri breathed himself into a calm, sending Phichit his eternal appreciation via text, and did as suggested. He felt moderately better this time as he stood before the mirror, but he couldn't get his stomach to stop feeling like an empty pit filled with vicious, ravenous butterflies that were tearing at his insides.

He got a text from Viktor, saying that his car should be out front. Yuuri breathed in deeply, snatched up his champagne cupcake that Phichit had given him, and made his way out.

There was a limo waiting for him, the driver holding the back door open for him, his gaze averted. Yuuri gaped before laughing low into his palm. It was way over the top, especially for a first date, but that seemed to be Viktor. Yuuri was only worried about what else Viktor had planned for the night as he swiftly entered the vehicle.

Chapter Text

Viktor waited, heart calm in his chest, like this entire situation wasn't new to him. Like he hadn't been waiting for this, or something close to this, since their fated meeting two weeks before. He sat confidently on the stone bench a block away from the restaurant, enjoying the bustle of the city around him, a stark contrast to the serene calm of night that hung over the city dwellers. Viktor looked down at himself, his pressed suit, his shoes shined four times over, his hands and fingers that looked tired with how many times he'd wrung them that day. He'd been an utter mess, but now he was eerily settled, a feeling known to him only within the scant seconds before he entered the rink. He wanted this. He was sure of this. That feeling served to take all of the jitters and uncertainties away.

Yuuri seemed to be calming, too, from his place within the car as it waded through traffic. Except his was a feeling akin to resignation that stagnated his own nerves. He was in the car, on his way there, trapped within a situation he'd never imagined happening to him.

Yuuri countered that thought. He wasn't trapped. He'd chosen to get in the car. He was here now. No regrets. No turning back.

Brown orbs stared down at the cream colored cupcake in his grasp, his hand clammy around the stem of the glass flute. He had half a second to wonder if he should abandon his idea and toss the thing out the window before the car came to a stop, smooth and easy by the curb. Yuuri glanced out and his eyes caught Viktor through the window, the tinted glass shading his form into more subdued colors, softening his bright radiance. With his kind eyes that crinkled in the corners and his smile that was as innocent as ever, he found that Viktor wasn't so scary. The idea of Viktor was scary. The idea of a date with a man that was so well known, so successful, so powerful in his element, was terrifying. But the man, on his own out in the open, shrunken into a world so much bigger than either of them, was hardly someone worthy of fear.

The driver got out, ready to escort Yuuri from the vehicle. He was halted by a hand as Viktor came to the door himself. There was a quiet click and then Viktor was standing in front of him, hand extended, a look so much like surprise swirling in his irises. It helped Yuuri remember how excited Viktor had been to find him at the bakery, how desperate he'd been at his door, and how relieved he'd sounded when he answered his call. Tucked within that practiced smile that Viktor held like a warrior's shield was a simple boyish charm. There was a fear hidden in there, as well, and Yuuri came to the sharp realization that Viktor may have been scared, too. It was ridiculous to Yuuri, who couldn't understand how anyone could be afraid of him, someone so small and unimportant, but as he really looked at Viktor, he found a simple man standing there. Not the legend. Not the untouchable ice skater. Just a man.

Yuuri took the hand and exited the car. He tripped on the edge because, of course, the second he managed to gain any confidence, the universe just wanted to find another way to take it from him. Viktor steadied him with a hand and a stifled chuckle. Yuuri slipped an apology beneath his breath, cheeks tinged. Neither of them really spoke until the driver eased off into the night.

Yuuri took a step back, claiming some distance after his near fall and holding his champagne flute to his chest like a cross, warding the evilness away. But there was no evil here, no need to guard himself. The warmth in Viktor's expression told him as much.

Stunning blue-green eyes looked him over and Yuuri wished he'd made the cupcakes big enough to hide himself in. He knew what he looked like, that his horrid appearance couldn't hold a candle to the polished form before him, so he distracted them by bowing deeply and nearly shoving the cupcake out towards the other man. The parallel between this and a drunken Viktor thrusting his flowers towards him was not lost on him and he wondered if Viktor picked it up, too.

"You brought me a cupcake?"

There was no teasing lilt to the question, no haughty flare, just bare surprise, and Yuuri's chest swelled with it. He waited until the burden was lifted from his fingers before he stood back up to capture Viktor's expression. It was even softer than before, glittering like the gold sprinkles atop the frosting. "You gave me flowers, so I thought… that I should return the gesture."

"You made this?"

"We had an order for cupcakes that would look and taste like champagne. I mean… I put the recipe together, but it was a joint effort in making them."

"It's beautiful." Viktor wasted no time in plucking the cupcake from its perch. He placed the flute off to the side and peeled back the liner before taking a bite. Yuuri held his breath, insides twisting. The older man's eyes rolled up in pleasure and he groaned deeply, causing Yuuri to nearly choke. He was used to his pastries being well received, but not that well received. "This is heavenly."

His lips turned up into a tiny smile even as heat flushed up his neck. "I'm glad," he squeaked out.

Viktor finished his cupcake before turning to Yuuri. "Now I feel shown up. My flowers were hardly an equivalent to that."

"They were sweet."

"But not nearly as sweet as something you handmade, Yuuri. And certainly not as sweet as that," he replied, licking his lips like he was savoring the flavor in every taste bud on his tongue.

Yuuri watched the action before he turned away, fiddling with his fingers in front of him. In the time that had past, he had almost forgotten how ardently attractive the man was. Almost. "Let's head on to dinner, shall we?" Did he stutter? No? Well, that was a pleasant surprise.

"We shall." Viktor quickly confiscated Yuuri's hand from his own grip and began walking off towards the east, steps buoyant, but unhurried. Yuuri trailed after, staring down at the handhold like it was an exotic creature, unknown to him and the world around them. After a moment, he forced himself to keep pace, to stand beside Viktor instead of gawking at him like an awkward child.

They made it to the restaurant before long, but Yuuri stopped short as he caught sight of it. He dug his heels into the concrete, the force jerking Viktor into a stop, though he stubbornly held tight to his hand.

"Something wrong?"

Yuuri's wide eyes caught on the brick building, its elegant architecture and large archway entrance. It was a French restaurant many talked about within the city, one Mari had wanted to take them to after his graduation, but the place had been far out of their price range. Yuuri had insisted he wasn't good enough for such a place, anyway. He still held on to that sentiment. "I am not fancy French restaurant ready."

Viktor frowned at that, his eyes glimpsing back down his form. "You look gorgeous."

He didn't even allow himself to get embarrassed. "I do not."

"I think so," he said simply and it ruffled Yuuri's feathers because it was far from true. It had to be far from true.

"You either have poor taste or you're a slick liar. Either way, I don't trust you." Yuuri looked down at himself and curled in further into his too-big suit jacket. "I look frumpy."

The left corner of Viktor's mouth tweaked a bit in irritation, but there was a sad form of sympathy in his eyes and he relented to the smaller man's insecurities. "Okay, fine." Before Yuuri could question him, he whipped off his suit jacket, tossing it over into the bushes with an uncaring hand. Deft fingers undid his tie, the slip of fabric left loose and dangling from his neck. When he went to untuck his shirt, Yuuri sputtered, words lost, and brought his hands up to cover his eyes, only slightly peeking through the slits in his fingers. Viktor laughed, popping the first two buttons of his shirt, and the last one, for good measure. "We'll look frumpy together," he declared, mussing up his hair until he deemed it to be in a proper disarray. Yuuri's fingers fanned out, allowing him a better view. "I don't know what naughty things you were thinking of, Yuuri, but we'll save that for later."

Yuuri gave another squeak, but largely ignored that last comment. "I don't know what your definition of frumpy is." His eyes took in the man's now freshly ravished look. "Now you just look hotter."

Viktor belted out a laugh and took Yuuri by the shoulders, guiding him in even as the raven haired man dragged his feet in a lazy show of resistance. "Come on. I doubt they'll say anything."

"That hardly matters!" Yuuri flailed. "They'll still think things!"


Viktor's hypothesis was proven correct. No one said a thing about their appearances, certainly not after he'd given his name for their reservation. There was still a look of disapproval steeped into the crease of their waiter's forehead, but Viktor was used to such stares. He couldn't flaunt himself in the limelight and be Yakov's most troublesome pupil and not know how to snub snooty expressions.

Instead, he focused on Yuuri, how the man's eyes lit up at the area around them. His brown orbs bounced from the rustic edge of the brick walls, to the sparkling chandeliers above, and to the large wall of fine wines. Yuuri seemed awed by the energy of the place, the atmosphere was quiet, but all of the patrons and music set everything to a fine mood, one of sophisticated elegance. They passed many long tables and were escorted to the back right corner. It was a private table, a black wall blocking off the rest of the restaurant with only a brown curtain left to allow entry to the servers. The walls within were a tasteful burnt orange that grew vivid in the candlelight. The table was set with a white linen tablecloth, cream colored chairs pulled out for their guests.

Yuuri paused, unsure. "We're sitting here?" he whispered, as if just speaking might be considered taboo in such a place.

Viktor hummed and guided him to his seat with a gentle hand on his lower back. "I thought you might like to sit away from prying eyes. I know I would."

The smaller man settled a bit more after that, sitting down carefully in the chair, eyes once again trying to take everything in at once. He looked horribly overwhelmed and Viktor worried that he might have brought Yuuri a tad too far out of his comfort zone. He knew the man wasn't used to such places, his expression outside of the restaurant told him as much, but he wanted Yuuri to feel special. He wanted their date to be memorable, while not stepping over the line.

The server left them with their menus and Yuuri made a startled sound, light in his throat. His brows drew together as he found that he not only couldn't read or pronounce over half of the dishes, but that there were no prices anywhere.

"Don't worry about the price." Viktor spoke up, guessing at his distress.

Yuuri dropped the menu down, eyeing him for his ridiculous comment. "I'm paying for my food."

Viktor glanced up, his expression denoting that no such thing would be happening. When the waiter came, he made sure of it as he ordered for them both, in French. The server looked pleasantly surprised and the two struck up an amicable conversation, none of which Yuuri understood. Yuuri scowled as the man trotted off, not even giving him a sideways glance as the curtain slid closed. Viktor's gaze was a hair apologetic, but all too cocksure. "You'll like it, I promise."

Yuuri grumbled. "Yeah, all four hundred dollars' worth of it, I'm sure."

"It's not four hundred dollars," Viktor said, though it hardly mattered. He'd spend every dollar he had if it meant Yuuri enjoyed himself in his company.

"It's more, isn't it? I feel like the air I'm breathing is worth that much alone." Viktor just gave a wry smile, settling his chin on his hand as he stared. Yuuri wilted under the stare, powerful eyes gleaming as they watched him. "You probably take your dates here to show off your fancy French words," he joked, trying to pry the attention away from himself.

His eyes flickered in good humor. "Would it be inappropriate for me to try and impress you, mon petit chou? We are on a date, after all."

"You have to do little to impress me, Viktor."

"All the more reason to try my hardest to." He continued to stare, watching the smaller man as he looked at everything but Viktor. He loved that he could see Yuuri's eyes now, the view unhindered by the usual glass barrier. He also enjoyed the way his hair was pushed back, clear of his face, giving him a rakish sensuality he recognized from their first meeting. Even as Yuuri fidgeted in what Viktor had to admit was a rather drab and old suit, he knew there was nothing else he'd rather gaze at. "Tell me about yourself."

Yuuri's head whipped back around to face him, but his expression dulled, eyes counting the swirls on a cloth napkin. "There's not much to tell. I'm a… pretty boring person."

Viktor bit back the need to deny his statement, knowing that it would lead them nowhere. Their first course came and they ate quietly. Yuuri hummed in approval, and Viktor was happy with his choosing. "Well, I know you work as a pastry chef-"

"I'm hardly deserving of that title-"

"-and that you greatly enjoy it. Your pastries certainly taste like home baked love." Yuuri ducked his head down, but a small smile came to his face as he twirled the fork in his hand. "I know that you are close with your coworkers and that they think very highly of their baker lead. I know that you live in an apartment with one of your coworkers, your best friend, if I was to hazard a guess. You two remind me of me and Chris. I know that your dancing is on par with many professionals I've met, which is highly impressive for a 'pretty boring person'. I know you have a sister, because you talked about her at Spritz & Drop."

"I talked about Mari?"

Viktor smirked as Yuuri finally began to engage. "I remember that you said she's one of your favorite people in the world, because it made me jealous," his smirk wilted into an embarrassed smile as he rubbed the back of his neck. "I hoped that you would one day talk about me that way. With such reverence."

Yuuri took his napkin and wiped his mouth, more in a gesture of thought rather than out of necessity. "I owe my sister everything. She put on a tie just to protect me. That's enough of an explanation."

Viktor quirked a brow in question. "A tie? I don't get it."

"My sister hates ties, thinks they're the collar for the slaves of the nine-to-five. That every second you wear one is another piece of your soul consumed." Yuuri seemed to consider what he said. "She's a little odd."

"She sounds like my kind of woman, actually." A little eccentric. Those were the best people.

"Yeah, well. Due to certain circumstances… we were on our own. I was about eleven, my sister was seventeen. She quit school to work, had three jobs for a while, while I just… went to school."

"You were still a child, Yuuri." He could see the shame highlighted in his features, pain kept in the shadow beneath his eyes. "You shouldn't feel guilty."

"She was still a child, too…"

He felt indebted to his sister. She had his utmost respect and love. Viktor felt their sibling bond without even having met the woman. It was like a tangible string wrapped tightly around Yuuri's finger. It stung him a little, because he'd never had that. A sibling to protect and care for, or one to look up to and idolize. With a practiced nonchalance, he cast that ugly feeling away and made a mental note that he would have to win over Yuuri's sister. If Mari had to take care of Yuuri… What happened to their parents…? "She's a tattoo artist, right?"

Yuuri's mood flipped from there. "Yeah! She's amazingly talented. She didn't really get into it until Minako-sensei, my dance instructor," he supplied, helpfully, "came back into our lives, but she's a natural. She works at the parlor above Spritz."

Viktor found his enthusiasm about his sister's success adorable. "Do you have a tattoo?" It was meant to be an offhand question. He didn't expect anything to come out of it. By Yuuri's blush and him practically crawling into his second course, he got more than he thought he would. "I'll take that as a yes."

"…Maybe one."

"Wow~ I'm surprised."

Yuuri went on like he had to explain himself. "I was drunk when my sister asked. Apparently I consented? I don't remember any of it. The following ones, where she had to finish and color it, those I definitely remember. But not the original outlining and all."

Viktor was kind of impressed and his smile showed it. Of all of the people he'd have thought to have a tattoo, Yuuri wouldn't have made the list. When he'd met him on Saturday, sure. But not now that he knew more of him. "Aren't you not supposed to…"

"Get tattoos when drunk? That's what I asked. In my sister's words 'It didn't kill ya, did it?'" Yuuri laughed and Viktor did, too.

"What is it?" Yuuri got quiet again, bashful, toying with a stray piece of hair that mingled beside his eye. "Where is it?" He inquired, smile curling.

"… I guess you'll have to wait and find out."

Yuuri still wasn't looking at him, but he didn't have to. Viktor felt that statement right down into his bones. A small promise of more time together. "Challenge accepted."

They waded through their next course, a lull in their conversation forming. It was nice to not have to talk, though he found it strange how the silence just settled beside them. He was used to it being an intrusive third party. He liked not feeling the need to fill the silence with idle chatter.

"Maybe I should get one," he thought aloud. He didn't expect Yuuri to practically pounce on him.

"No! You shouldn't-" Yuuri quieted, lips tucking into each other, knowing that he couldn't turn back, but regretting that he'd started, "cover such beautiful skin…"

Viktor beamed, practically glowing, a flame brighter than the candle illuminating the small room. "Yuuri thinks my skin's beautiful~"

"Okay. Okay." Yuuri laughed, even though it was at his own expense. "What about you? I want to know about you, too, you know."

Viktor thought for a moment, finger at his chin. Yuuri had spoken about his sister and about a part of himself no one saw. He wanted to say something genuine, too.

Yuuri picked up his indecision. "I know you ice skate," he started, smirk quirking his lips as he took Viktor's lead, "and that you live for the sport. Your skating sure feels like passion and devotion. I know that you're close to your coach and your dog and Christophe. I know that you live in Russia with your dog. I know that you have the occasional fling, but the media is sketch on any particulars because they don't last long." At this Yuuri hesitated, fingers pinching the tablecloth just as his words were pinching at Viktor. "I know that something's wrong. Your skating is… off. Or, no, your skating is as superb as ever, but you are lacking that flare, that drive that lights up your eyes and impresses itself on the ice. The young you, even the losing you, looked more lively than you did in your last two years of competitions."

Viktor felt his throat tighten, his eyes stunned open and his lips parted. He was startled by a tear falling from one eye, escaping down his cheek and hiding somewhere beneath his ear. Yuuri saw him, saw past his impeccable jumps and high scores. He saw his pain and his struggle. He saw his aching sorrow and his grief, all from back when the man hadn't even known him. Yuuri didn't know the words, he didn't know the reason, but he saw, and that was amazing enough on its own. Even the media had yet to catch on. Some of his more devoted fans, yes, but Yuuri. Yuuri felt Viktor, and he couldn't help the emotion that welled up within him.

"I didn't mean to make you cry." Yuuri leaned forward, brushing away the wetness with a careful thumb. Viktor grasped that hand before it could get too far and kissed its palm.

"This is why I was so insistent, Yuuri. You see me. Just like you saw me that night."

Yuuri blinked back as Viktor let go, the younger man slowly sitting back down in his seat with a dumbfounded expression.

The skater gave a laugh as he collected himself. "Let's get out of here."


They walked down the city sidewalks, hand-in-hand. They listened to the seagulls, the cars, and the laughs from neighboring bars and businesses as the city was slowly smothered by the fog that sank in from the San Franciscan bay. Yuuri found a new appreciation for such a mundane moment as he stared down at their connected hands. It no longer felt strange or unbelievable because Viktor's hand was clasped just as tightly around his fingers as his was around Viktor's. It was liberating to not give into his worries that drifted somewhere in the back of his mind. Firmly placed in the moment, his self-consciousness couldn't touch him.

It was a few blocks before they came to a stop in a more abandoned district, the buildings old and worn down, factories that looked to be torn down soon. It wasn't a street Yuuri knew of, and it had an eerie feeling that was hard to ignore, despite the streetlights that helped illuminate everything in a fluorescent glow. "What are we doing?"

Viktor let go of his hand and walked over to a nearby bench, confusing him further. The silver haired man fiddled with his phone, the buttons click-clacking a little too loudly in the air. A slow song, soothing in its melody, began to drift through the speakers. Viktor set his phone down on the bench, the song still playing. Yuuri just stared as the man came up to him, taking his limp hand and wrapping an arm around his waist. Viktor leaned in and Yuuri felt a shiver go down his spine.

"Dance with me."

The words were a whisper in his ear, tickling the fine hairs on his neck and the tender cells in his brain. "What?"

"Dance with me," Viktor said again, an invitation begging to be accepted.

"Here? Now!?" Yuuri frantically glanced around, noting the very open spot they were in.

"Yeah. It's a deserted street. We'll hear or see anyone before they get to us." Yuuri was still uneasy about the idea, even as they'd already began a slow step to the song. Yuuri held back, his other hand only a tentative touch upon his shoulder. "So, come on. What? Have you never danced in a street before?"

"No. Only looney tunes do that."

Viktor grinned. "We'll have to watch for falling anvils, then."

Yuuri gave in with a sigh. He should have known that a simple dinner date was too blasé of an idea for Viktor. He didn't feel comfortable, though, out in the street with so many unknown variables. His thoughts were caught up in who could be watching, if they were doing something wrong, and Viktor's eyes as they studied his movements. His body grew stiff, legs stilted as he focused only on the basics of not stepping on Viktor's feet and keeping time with the song. Viktor was displeased with his distracted mind as he moved his face in towards his neck, nose trailing a hot line up his skin.

"C'mon, Yuuri. You can do better than that."

He jolted at the touch, but the words and the look he received after served as a powerful provocation. He gripped Viktor with firm hands and set his mind blank. The song sank into his muscles and bones, guiding his movements more than his thoughts. Yuuri took the lead from there and Viktor seemed all too happy to let him. They danced together in perfect harmony, the streetlight a spotlight on them and them alone. Yuuri felt freer as he held tight to Viktor, their bodies swirling and twirling in the fine mist. The half of his brain that told him it was ridiculous was silenced by Viktor's shining eyes and perfect laugh as he dipped the man.


Viktor felt the energy vibrate between them, a live, pulsating thing birthed by their intimate dance. Every step and sway made Viktor fall for the man hopelessly all over again. He felt an unstoppable tug pull him to Yuuri, a gravitational force that kept them joined and unified as one. Their dance an effortless rhythm of push and pull, give and take. It was magical. It was unbelievable. Viktor had never felt so alive, so whole as he had in that moment. The ice had always been his one, most enthralling, most inspiring partner, but that no longer held true.

As he watched Yuuri give himself to the music, it was like a transformation happening before his eyes, one he'd seen only once before. Viktor couldn't help it as his movements slowed ever so slightly, taking in all that Yuuri was when he allowed himself to shine. The man was caught in a blissful abandon and as their eyes met, gorgeous cocoa orbs holding his gaze like a reverent prayer, he knew that there was no going back.

See, Yuuri. One and the same. Sober or drunk, you're still the guy I met. You're the man I'm in love with.

Yuuri let go of his hand to smack his arm with a mostly amused, but slightly embarrassed laugh. "Hey, you're supposed to be dancing with me. Not just watching and following along."

"Sorry. Sorry." Viktor tightened his hold on the other, smiling brightly as he brought their bodies tighter together, chest to chest and closer than they'd been all evening. "I am dancing with you. Can't you feel it? My heart's dancing right beside yours."

Chapter Text

The stars were locked behind a sea of fog by the time they made the trek back to Yuuri's. They decided to walk back, being only fifteen blocks from the street where they danced. Businesses were dark, tidied up and tucked into sleep as night turned to early morning. The bar crowds were still up and roaring, but were largely ignored by the couple that walked together through the nearly empty streets. They stumbled up the hills, laughing, uncaring. Their hands were still hinged together, only separating for periods of adjustment.

Yuuri's unoccupied hand adjusted Viktor's suit jacket around his shoulders. After plucking it out of the brambles after their dinner, and their brief escapade in the abandoned district, Viktor had thought Yuuri to be cold and insisted on him wearing his jacket. Yuuri wasn't all that concerned by the decline of the temperature, having been shivering for an entirely different reason. His body was vibrating with untamed feeling, joy bursting from every pore. It had been a while since he'd felt that way so naturally and his body didn't know what to do with such an antique emotion.

Viktor looked equally happy. Although, to be fair, Viktor loved to exhibit his priceless smile to anyone who asked. He was a showman, after all. But this one seemed more genuine than Yuuri could have imagined. Two parts euphoric and one part something Yuuri couldn't quite identify. He was so relaxed, untroubled, and it reminded him of that day in the bakery as Viktor had stared out the window, lost in a moment where he was just himself. Where Viktor could openly be Viktor, nothing more, nothing less.

"Okay," Viktor began, finger against his lips in thought. His face instantly morphed with an epiphany and he stared back down at the younger man. "Most embarrassing injury."

The walk home had started out quiet until Yuuri realized that he had yet to get any real information from the man. Viktor was good at steering the attention away from himself, but he was determined to learn more. So they'd begun a little game. One would ask a question that they would both have to answer, then the other would get to ask a new question, and they'd continue back and forth until they got to Yuuri's place. It was fair and simple, both revealing pieces of themselves to each other, little by little. It started out innocent enough. Their favorite colors, movies, animals, until they were talking about secrets that no one else knew and embarrassing moments that no one should ever know.

Yuuri paled at the question, tripping over his feet momentarily as a memory surfaced in his brain. "Nuh-uh." He kept on walking, like the snickering man at his side would let it go.

"Come now. You can't do that," he reprimanded lightly. Yuuri stuck his chin out in defiance, but it did little to sway the man. "I'll just have to get it out of you somehow." Viktor let go of the other's hand, staring down at him with a menacing smile in place, his hands in front of him and his fingers wiggling at him in threat. Yuuri almost wanted to laugh from that action alone. "I know your tickle spot now, thanks to number nine."

"You've been counting?"

"Of course. And don't think you can distract me away from the question." Viktor dove in, ready to persuade the answers out of him with prodding fingertips, but Yuuri jumped out of his reach before conceding.

"Fine…" Yuuri replied, chuckling even as his smile shied down. He thought briefly about lying, concocting some stupid incident from his imagination that he could insert himself into, but he couldn't do it. Viktor had faced him with nothing but honesty, at least from what he could tell. Yuuri didn't want to hide himself behind a shell of lies, though it was tempting. He kept his eyes forward as he spoke, "I found my sister's vibrator."

There was a gasp of a laugh at his side and he chanced a glance out of the corner of his eye. Viktor was looking at him, bemused, probably because that seemed like an odd start to a retelling of an old injury. "Don't tell me you-"

His face pinched in disgust. "Gross, no. I was like twelve." Viktor simply shrugged at his revolted expression, and Yuuri had to wonder what kind of twelve year old Viktor had been if he didn't find the suggestion all that strange. "I didn't know what it was. I turned it on and the vibration startled me so bad that I fell and hit my head on her bedside table." He was stopped as the silver haired man began laughing hysterically. Yuuri probably should have felt offended, but he had to admit, it was pretty funny. Still, he refused to give into the chuckles rattling around somewhere in his ribs. The incident had hurt, quite a lot. "I lost consciousness, okay?" He spoke down to the top of Viktor's head as the man was bent over in laughter. Yuuri's tone conveyed seriousness, but he was trying not to erupt, too. "I had to get three stitches b-because I found my sister's s-sex toy." That did him in and he started laughing earnestly beside his date.

They kept walking as soon as their laughing died down, though they were still chuckling for the last couple blocks. Viktor didn't reply until they were outside of Yuuri's apartment building, his fingers wiping the tears from the corners of his eyes. "Now I have to meet Mari."

Yuuri smiled wide, touched by the man's interest. His stomach hurt from the laughter, but it was a good ache that seared his insides, a burning in his muscles that his memory would always recall. Then he realized that their time together had come to an end. They were standing outside his entrance, just the two of them and the hum of the powerlines sounding out through the quiet. Yuuri stood there, again adjusting the jacket on his shoulders until he realized that he would need to return it to its rightful owner. He began to take it off to do just that, but Viktor hurriedly stopped him.

"No, no, wait!" Yuuri was startled into a pause as Viktor brought his cell phone out of his pocket, taking a picture before he could voice any objections. "Because this time is really real and now we'll both remember it."

There was so much to that sentence that Yuuri could only stare back, numbly relieving himself of Viktor's coat. He thought about what that could mean, how Viktor felt the need to have physical proof of their time together, like their first time had been clouded by so much doubt on Yuuri's end that even Viktor had begun to feel a distinct disconnect from it. The picture didn't bother him so much as he thought about that, though he was sure that he looked ridiculous bulked up in two suit jackets with his face an after-laughter pink.

And then they were just standing there, suspended in a wait for something unknown. Yuuri grew flustered, wondering what Viktor was hoping for. It was the end of a date. Was he supposed to invite Viktor up? Was that what first dates entailed? Especially ones that had left him feeling so pleasantly open and content? Or was that too forward? It was, wasn't it? Yuuri tried to contain his blush, like the idea of first date sex, or sex of any kind, didn't make his body nearly explode into hives. So how was all of this supposed to end? A kiss? A hug? A handshake? Yes, a handshake, you dunce. End it like a business transaction. Thanks for taking pity on me, I hope I didn't bore you too much. The middle ground was definitely a kiss. But was he ready for that? Was he ready to prance right into the territory of kissing? Of all of this becoming something more with a symbol as heartfelt and trusting as that?

Viktor leaned in and Yuuri started to sweat in places that were hardly acceptable. He closed his eyes, screwing them shut so tight that the darkness crossed his vision in static. But there was only a brush of lips on his forehead, a glide so soft that it felt like the innocence of a butterfly's kiss. The feel of it still shuddered down his body, quaking down his small form like everything else had that night.

"Goodnight, Yuuri."

Yuuri opened his eyes to watch him walk away, a wave given towards him as Viktor walked backwards a few paces, blue-green eyes watching him until he turned back around, wandering off and out of sight. The raven stood there for a few moments, the buzz of the powerlines now a tight vibration in his ear that stung like a bee. He made his way up, every movement made out of muscle memory and little thought. He greeted his door with a small head-butt, resting his now sizzling forehead on its smooth surface.

Phichit was still up when he entered their apartment. He looked ready to pounce on him out of curiosity and barely contained excitement. Until he saw Yuuri's expression. That had him leaning right back down against the counter.

"I think I messed up."

"Why?"

"…He kissed me on the forehead."

His lips thinned into a line, a noticeable twitch of a wince flickering across his expression. "Ouch… he doesn't seem like a forehead kisser. Maybe he was trying to be nice? You know, taking things slowly?" Phichit pulled that thought back. "But he doesn't seem like the type…"

That did little to soothe his wounded pride and he threw himself down onto their couch, his face firmly planted into one of their dingy couch pillows.

"I thought you weren't really into him?"

The question was meant as a tease, because it was pretty damn obvious that he was. His freak out before the date was more than enough of a hint. Is there really anyone on the planet who isn't into that man? Yuuri gave a response into the pillow, but all that sounded out was a muffled noise.

"Pardon?"

He spoke again, more garbled gibberish that Phichit couldn't possibly have understood.

"I don't speak pillow."

"I'm not," he said stubbornly, finally resurrecting his face from the fabric.

His roommate cocked a knowing brow, but played along. "Then why are you all huffy?"

It took him a long time to find a suitable answer, one that would not only satisfy Phichit, but himself, too. It took him so long that the other man had already been making his way to bed before the answer stopped him in his tracks.

"I don't want to like him."


Yuuri was rampaging all over the kitchen. He didn't pay much attention to what he was doing, what he was making, but his body usually had a pretty good sense as to what to do when his mind was off somewhere else. Right then was one of those times as he couldn't stop thinking about his and Viktor's date, how great he thought it had been, how horrible it must have been, and why Viktor had yet to contact him over the past three days.

"Yuuri, what are you making?" Phichit was next to him, working on his own pastries.

"The custard filling. Why?"

"…Because that doesn't look like custard."

Yuuri glanced down, his eyes bulging as he looked upon his creation. He jumped back away from it like it was about to attack. "Ack! Why is it purple!?" Considering it was supposed to be a creamy yellow, it was kind of a cause for concern.

"Took the question right out of my mouth." Phichit leaned over the bowl, staring down into it like it was some weird science experiment, even sniffing it in examination, before he looked at Yuuri. "Honestly, just call the man."

Of course Phichit knew what was eating at him. He slumped over his workstation, not paying mind to the powder that streaked across his cheek. "There's no point. It happened like I thought it would. He got to see the real me and he ran for the hills. I suppose I should just be happy that he didn't shove me away like some kind of germ."

"You're reading way too much into a forehead kiss."

"Am I? Then how come I haven't heard from him?"

"Maybe he's waiting for you to call?"

"Why would he do that? I called him last. It's his turn, right?" Phichit levelled him with a stare. "Or not?"

Sighing, the other baker snatched up his failed custard and went to wash it down the sink. "I'm going to get rid of this while you contemplate your idiotic thoughts."

"Hey!" Yuuri cried, but it was a weak protest, because he knew Phichit was right. He was being stupid. He should just call Viktor. Instead of filling in the gaps himself, it would be more appropriate to have the man answer his questions. That was what a normal person would have done.

But he couldn't. It was too hard. The one time he tried, he'd picked up his cell and simply stared down at Viktor's number, finger shaking above the call button. He sat there for an entire forty minutes, going over every variation of how the call might play out until he was a shivering, anxiety-ridden mess that never wanted to touch his phone again. Calling him had become equated with a death sentence.

In his younger days, he would have wished to be normal, to be the type of person that could call someone like it was easy. A simple call with simple words. No real attachment. No risk of having his heart shattered just because a date didn't go well.

But now that he was older, he knew that normal was out of his range, a word that could never apply to him. He couldn't do anything right, not without the approval and constant coddling of his coworkers and friends. He was a joke that couldn't even handle criticism, that took every word of advice like a stab to his soul. He was just a loser that couldn't even solve his own anxiety attacks without bothering his sister. He couldn't even be someone without drowning his sorrows in alcohol.

It was easy to remember why he was not right for Viktor, and why he didn't want the man anywhere near him in the beginning. But even as he recognized those feelings, of not being enough, of being insignificant next to someone so dazzling, he couldn't forget how it felt to dance in Viktor's arms.

The day went on from there and Yuuri focused himself back on his job, knocking out each order as easily as breathing. He went home alone, Phichit staying behind to help Sara with something. It left him to his thoughts, a dangerous place most days, but he traversed his mind's corridors never the less.

When he reached his floor, he was halted by a sight he'd honestly thought he'd never see again.


Viktor sat outside of Yuuri's apartment, knowing that the man would be home soon. He'd asked Sara about his hours and she was all too pleased to give them to him. He'd come by with Makkachin, his loyal dog sitting on his feet. He idly ran his hands through her fur for the first twenty minutes or so, thinking of what he was going to say. He smiled brightly at the neighbors as they eyed him with suspicion. Yuuri had been running late, but Viktor waited.

When the sun began to set outside, the skylight up above darkening and the hallway lights flickering on, the figure skater brought his nose to his precious poodle's. A thought struck him, and he pulled back with wide eyes. "I didn't ask if he likes dogs… I don't think I can date someone who isn't a dog person…" There was only a moment of panic, before Viktor rationalized, "Yuuri's my soulmate. He can't not like dogs." Makkachin nuzzled into his chest in agreement.

The surprise was clear on Yuuri's face when he finally arrived home. He stood still at the top of the stairs, mouth open, eyes unblinking. He took some steps after a moment, but didn't get far. Makkachin ran up to him and easily bowled him over, pawing him and licking him with instant loyalty. Yuuri laughed and the chime to it had Viktor's heart warming. Makkachin approved of Yuuri and Yuuri liked Makka. All was right in his universe.

"Now, now, Makka. I think I should be able to welcome him home first." Responding to his tone, the dog jumped off of Yuuri and sat beside him, her tail swishing against the floorboards. Yuuri was still on the floor, staring at Viktor like he was a specter ready to vanish at any moment. "Aren't you going to invite me in?"

Yuuri hopped up, shakily unlocking the door and pushing it open. Makkachin went in first, venturing in to sniff everything in her path.

Viktor waited, noticing how Yuuri wouldn't look him in the eye, but took his cue. "Arigatou." He let his hand sweep down Yuuri's arm, feeling him tense, before he went in, sitting down on the sofa.

Yuuri continued to stand there, a strange glint to his eye that Viktor didn't like. There was uncertainty there, but towards what he wasn't sure. By the time Yuuri closed the door and came to stand in front of him, Viktor knew something was wrong. This was more than just the glass-hearted Yuuri that he'd come to know.

Yuuri worried his lip, one hand rubbing his arm. A question finally came from him, and Viktor was glad that it wasn't cloaked in the usual run around words Yuuri liked to hide behind. "Where have you been? I thought…"

Viktor grimaced and patted the spot beside him, waiting until Yuuri sat down. The baker sat cautiously on the edge until Viktor turned toward him, gently guiding him back with a hand to sit a little deeper, a little more relaxed. The words were written plainly on Yuuri's face and Viktor bit his cheek as a punishment for his miscalculation. He thought giving Yuuri a little space after their first date had been the right choice, but he'd just been thinking for Yuuri again. He should have contacted him, inquired as to where they were going to go from there. But things had also been happening and he'd come back to Yuuri as soon as he was sorted back out.

"I talked to Yakov."

Yuuri's gaze grew bolder, meeting his. "Your coach?" He could tell Yuuri got the meaning behind his words. He'd told Yuuri, during their bout of back and forth questions, that he hadn't spoken to Yakov since he'd left, that he probably wouldn't for his entire time away.

"Yeah." He was going to go on, but noticed how Yuuri was rubbing his shoulder like it pained him. It was then that he noticed how tired the smaller man was, his expression leeched by the days that had come to pass. "Here, turn around." Yuuri threw him a questioning glance, but he just pushed him into position before he began massaging his fingertips into Yuuri's muscles. He hummed in approval, leaning back into his ministrations after a few awkward moments of hesitation, and Viktor continued. "I finally felt the urge to skate, thanks to you, but I needed time at the rink to do so. I got off my high horse and finally called him. Long story short, he's reserved me some ice time while I'm here, so that's what I've been doing. Skating." His shoulders deflated at the false truth hidden within. "Trying to skate, anyway."

It had been a disaster. He'd been so ready, so eclipsed in his rekindled passion after his time with Yuuri. He had a hard time sitting still long enough to lace up his skates, soon racing out onto the ice with all of the eagerness of a child. But all of the feeling rinsed right off of him as he took that first step. Everything fell away from him and he was just the living legend again. Out there alone. He could feel Yuuri there with him, a presence in his soul, but it wasn't enough.

Still he tried. He tried to dance, to twirl, to spin, to jump. Despite his time away, his skating was unimpaired, but it was still as soulless as ever. He didn't understand why. He had Yuuri in his grasp, maybe not completely, but that was fine. These kinds of things take time, he'd told himself in his frustration, Yuuri will learn to trust me. He won't grow ill of me and my obsessive personality. He'll remember me…

The doubt only made his skating worse.

It wasn't until the day before, when he focused his thoughts on the feel of Yuuri around him, dancing with him in the fog, the sound of his laughter echoing in the silent streets, that he found his rhythm. It was shaky, and unpolished, but there was a melody beginning inside of him. It was just a tangle of plucked strings and the wavering whistle of wind instruments, but it was there, seeping out of him with every memory of Yuuri he had, every feeling.

"Viktor?" Yuuri looked back at him, awkwardly glancing over his shoulder as the man still kneaded the muscles in his shoulders and back. "What do you mean 'felt the urge to skate again'? Is that why you took a vacation? You didn't want to skate anymore?"

He could have smacked himself in his stupidity. Yuuri still didn't know. Why he'd taken time off. Why he'd looked so adrift on the ice for the past few years. Why he'd initially been attracted to Yuuri. "That's… not important right now. What is important is that I didn't mean to disappear and worry you. I've been at the rink for the past few days. I just got a little lost in my skating world, is all."

Yuuri sagged down with the words and it worried Viktor a little, until he heard the raspy, whisper of a laugh coming from him. "I thought…" He chuckled some more before he shook his head, like he was reordering his thoughts. "So you aren't repulsed by me?"

Viktor wasn't sure Yuuri actually meant to say that aloud, but he couldn't keep the astonishment from his expression. "What?"

"Everything was going well… At least I thought so but you kissed me on the forehead which is like what you do to your sick grandmother and didn't call me after that so I-"

"God, Yuuri. No. Of course not. I didn't want to pressure you so I thought a forehead kiss would be a perfect ending to a perfect date." He'd seen how nervous Yuuri was getting as they'd stood there, all sweaty palms and strung out nerves. But he couldn't not kiss him, that angel engulfed in the amber glow of the streetlamp above them, cautious eyes turning into cinnamon hues. So he'd compromised with a genuine peck to his skin, but apparently that had only made Yuuri feel worse. "And in all fairness, you could have called me, too, you know?"

"But I… I just…" Yuuri stammered and Viktor loved how at a loss he was.

"Does this mean that you missed me?" His skin instantly darkened and Viktor grinned, all shining teeth and joy and he thought that maybe something good had come out of their short time apart. "Aw, Yuuri missed me!" He went in to hug him, but Yuuri jumped off the couch with the speed of a flea, leaving Viktor to fall gracelessly into the cushions.

"Sh-shush, you!"

Viktor just chuckled, pushing himself up and rubbing his nose. "There is something I'd like to ask you, now that we're here. What is it that you want from this?" Yuuri tilted his head to the side, unsure of what he was being asked. "I've made my feelings pretty clear here. What I'd like you to be to me… but what do you want me to be? What are we to each other?" He wondered if Yuuri was going to shy away from the question, as he tended to. Or if he was going to run away, hide in his room until Viktor left. But he did neither of those things. Instead he calmly sat down, taking Viktor's hand and brushing slowly over his fingertips. The pad of his thumb traced every crease, every line, and over again as the man's thoughts warred visibly on his face. Viktor felt like time had stopped, like he was caught in a limbo where his existence was held in the balance, decided by Yuuri's next words.

"We don't really have to label this, do we? You're just Viktor and I'm just Yuuri. We're just… together." Yuuri looked displeased with how his words came out, but Viktor was overjoyed. This time when Viktor went in for a hug, Yuuri let him, even circling his own arms around the man.

Viktor held on tight, breathing him in. There was a sweet scent emanating from Yuuri, one of the man's constants, but it was even more vivid fresh from the bakery. There was a musk to him, too, something distinctly masculine, a hard edge to ever giving softness.

Viktor rattled out the stirrings in his mind as soon as they broke away. "We can spend every second together! Ah, every second I'm not on the ice together," he corrected, voice tight with the thought. "And every second you're not at the bakery together…" He grasped his chin, trying to find a way to fit more couple time into their schedule. "I wonder if I can get a job at the bakery…"

Yuuri waved off his suggestion, though he looked rather amused by it, if the twinkle in his eye said anything. "Viktor, we don't have to spend every second together."

"But we do! We absolutely have to. I've missed out on twenty-three years of your life. There's so much I still don't know about you," he spoke, caressing the delicate sweep of his jaw, "my sweet Yuuri."

The skin of Yuuri's jaw pulled as he clenched his teeth, leading Viktor to back off. He was overwhelming him again, the stress of Viktor's closeness causing a not unkind push that the older man listened to. "Why don't we have a date day? Just you and me all tomorrow after work?" Viktor asked as he sat back against the arm of the couch, placing a comfortable distance between them, a space that Yuuri could scurry into, or away from.

"I actually have a thing with my coworkers tomorrow," Yuuri stated, apology written in the bow of his brow. "Celestino's giving us the day off tomorrow so we were all going to go to the beach together…"

Viktor jumped at the suggestion on the tip of Yuuri's tongue. He might have imagined that, actually, but he was still intent on asking. "Can I come?" The baffled look that Yuuri gave him was enough to tell him that, yes, he had imagined it.

"I'd have to ask, but I don't see why not. Leo's friend Guang-Hong is coming, so it should be fine."

The prospect of spending more time with Yuuri and his friends, getting to know the ins and outs of the man's close relationships, excited him and he practically bounced in his seat.

"I think I need to buy new swim trunks…" Yuuri muttered out to the side, catching Viktor's attention.

"Let me dress you!" In his excitement, he might have come off as a little manic. Just a bit.

Instead of blushing, as Viktor expected, he regarded the man with a flat stare. Like that was such a ludicrous suggestion that he wasn't even fazed by the possibility.

"I mean pick out your clothes," Viktor amended instantly, not that the idea wasn't settling into his mind for later.

Yuuri looked like he was going to decline, but nodded with a sigh, turning sheepish. "I don't have a lot of money to spend on my wardrobe, but I suppose I could still get a few things." He looked off to the side, fingers fiddling with the seam of his jeans, a tell of thought that travelled to Viktor about his insecurities towards his clothing, his financial situation, himself.

"Don't worry a hair on your pretty little head." He patted the top of his head pointedly, fingers plucking through stiffly gelled locks. "I've got you covered."


Viktor returned the next morning and they set out, venturing into clothing stores Yuuri had obviously never set foot into. He'd voiced his displeasure, rather adamantly, about Viktor buying anything for him. He wasn't a charity case, he'd stated, all puffed up and annoyed, but Viktor had given him his giant eyes brimming with hope and neediness, saying that he just wanted to buy him a few things, make up for the little misstep, and Yuuri reluctantly complied.

"Fine, but I really only need shorts."

"And a new suit."

"No, Viktor."

"Aw, but I have to!"

Viktor made him try everything on, even the things Yuuri had glared at him for, either over the price or the ridiculousness of the piece. It didn't take long for Viktor to find that he loved dressing the man up in whatever he could find, fawning over Yuuri's huggable curves and sun shy skin. Yuuri was edgy and uncomfortable and mortified, at first, even out right refusing to come out of the stall to show Viktor what he was wearing. But he slowly grew more accustomed to his new audience once he knew Viktor wasn't there to judge him, to laugh at him. Okay, he laughed, because some things he tried on were unbelievably laugh-worthy – a pair of shorts that said sweet cheeks on the ass being one of them – but Yuuri was right there with him, laughing at his image in the mirror before flinging himself away from the view of others. Yuuri wouldn't let him buy the shorts, but Viktor made sure to remember the name of the store. For other purposes, of course.

They made it to Ocean Beach around noon after making a pit stop back at Yuuri's to change into their swim attire. Viktor got to become reacquainted with everyone, Sara, Phichit, and Minami most notably, Mickey glaring him down somewhere in the background. He even got to meet some new faces he'd yet to encounter. Leo was sweet, almost entirely too polite and took pictures of everything in sight. Guang-Hong seemed shy, but his smile shown like the tipped rays of sunlight when he was amicably chattering with his friends.

They set up everything in their claimed spot by some driftwood, setting out towels and umbrellas. When Sara, Viktor, and Yuuri sat beneath the shade, taking a few moments to just chat while the others scurried along the beach, Viktor realized that Yuuri wasn't looking at him. Even when clearly speaking to him, he was resolutely not speaking towards him or anywhere in his general direction. He hadn't since they'd left the apartment. Sara even caught on when Yuuri was staring somewhere over her shoulder instead of at Viktor.

She gave a light giggle that only meant trouble. "Don't worry, Viktor. Yuuri's just trying not to stare at your gorgeous nipples. Right, Yuuri?"

Yuuri about died and Viktor could only laugh.

"Sara!" came a distressed cry over his shoulder. Viktor tipped his head back, finding Mickey aghast as he stared at his sister. "You didn't just- My sister doesn't say that word. You can't-"

"What? Nipples?"

"No! No, no, no." Mickey's face twisted and he went to cover his ears. "Sara!" he scolded. "You can't!"

"I can say whatever I damn well please, Mickey. I'm not six anymore." She rolled her eyes before her grin turned malicious. "You want to know what else I say? Huh? Do ya?" Viktor wanted to know, mostly because her brother's reactions were downright comical. Yuuri looked like he knew what was coming, like this wasn't new at all and it physically pained him. "PENIS!"

"Oh my god!"

Yuuri slapped a hand to his face, a thorough smack that did nothing but leave a faint impression on his skin.

"That sounded like it hurt," Viktor commented, hand over his mouth to cover his amusement.

"It did."

"PENIS!" Sara shouted again and it took the life out of her twin, his body crashing into the sand as he continued to deny his sister's cries. "I can spell it, too. P-E-N-I-S!" She stood up, hands clapped together, as if ready to cheer it out.

Yuuri weakly tried to stop her. "Sara, there are children here." But she was roaring, murdering her brother's spirit with profanity that made even Viktor blush.

Minami came up to them, as he'd previously been burying Guang-Hong in a sand pile, and asked with a wide smile, "Are we playing the penis game?"

"What's that?" Viktor asked.

"Oh no." Yuuri put a hand on his forehead like the day had already been long and his troubles arduous.

Minami quickly whispered the details of the game to him. The explanation, and Yuuri's subsequent stare of dread, served to pique his interest. "Oh~ Sounds fun." He drew in a deep inhale, readying himself for a shout to shake the mountains, when Yuuri clapped a hand over his mouth.

"Seriously, guys. Have you no decency?" Sara's scream of 'clitoris' made the question look foolish. Yuuri flopped back onto the sand, giving up with a laugh of a sigh. His head landed in line with the edge of the umbrella, face half-shadowed, half-glowing with vivid light. The sun bathed over his features and glinted off his lenses, the ocean glittering bright white spots across his form.

Viktor looked down at him and stared for as long as he was able. "Content?"

"I would be if my friends weren't so weird. I'm sorry," he apologized with a scrunched face, but it was half-hearted, at best. Viktor understood that. They were his friends, and even though they embarrassed him, he was hardly truly sorry for it. Viktor didn't expect him to be.

"I think they're a riot," he replied as he reclined his body down beside Yuuri, cushioning his head on his arms. "You should see when all of us get together at competitions. Chris and I aren't the only saucy devils in the figure skating world."

That seemed to calm Yuuri some and he gazed back over at Viktor with a lazy curl to his mouth. "I don't know... I don't think I can handle any more people like you."

Viktor put a hand over his chest, expression devastated as he gaped at Yuuri. "Now that's just rude!"

The day went by incredibly fast, far faster than he appreciated. They spent the bulk of their time in the water, chasing the cold waves that rumbled against the shore, swimming and splashing each other in battles of who could create the best waves. They even had a race to the edge of a far dock and back. It came down to Mickey, Viktor, and Yuuri. Yuuri was a slower swimmer, so Viktor and Mickey were focused on each other, battling it out in a silent match as they both breathed in the sea, pushing their muscles on overdrive. They both made it to the dock at the same time, but their bodies forced them to slow down on their return trip. While Yuuri was slower, he held out the longest and managed to sustain his pace there and back. Yuuri won, much to Mickey and Viktor's disbelief, but he nearly passed out once they made it back to shore.

Guang-Hong had brought them all lunch in a compact cooler. They regained their strength with sandwiches and watermelon, a famished Yuuri eating his lunch in record time before collapsing back onto a towel. Viktor had offered to massage his sore muscles again, though he suggested that it would be easier without Yuuri's tank top on. A stuttering Yuuri had rejected the offer, bolting from the blanket and acting like he didn't have an ache to his name. The older man wasn't surprised. A massage fully clothed was different than with skin-to-skin contact. He was still a little disappointed.

Another group challenged them to a game of beach volleyball. Most of them accepted with a shrug. Minami was all about it, exclaiming that he had been the libero on his school's volleyball team in the past. Yuuri sat out, waving away any attempts to get him to participate.

"Really, guys, it's alright. I suck, so no one would want me on their team. All I'll be able to do is keep the ball up with my face. It's like it's magnetized to my nose."

Leo sat out beside him, since the other group only had six players and the brunet preferred to take pictures.

The game had been going pretty well. Mickey and Viktor were their best blockers, though they knew little of how to play the rest of the game. Guang-Hong had a nice power serve and Phichit acted as a setter. Minami flew all over the sand, saving the ball from certain death multiple times. Sara worked surprisingly well as their ace, smashing the ball down with all her might and scoring quite a few points. They won the first game by a narrow two points. After being challenged again, they lost, and they kept playing until one team could win two games in a row.

Things went a little haywire during the fifth game.

True to Yuuri's statement, the ball gained an attraction for him. Guang-Hong went for the ball, but it only grazed his knuckles, curving off of the ball of his hands and right towards Yuuri's face. The bespectacled man hadn't been paying attention, too caught up in a conversation with his companion. It bashed him in the face, dead-center, and Yuuri went down with a squawk, glasses flying.

Everyone flocked to Yuuri, gathering around to help him like a poor baby chick that had scuffed his wing. Viktor made it to him first, fretting instantly over his bleeding nose and reddening skin. Yuuri had yet to speak, expression dazed and out of sorts as he held his face.

"There should still be some ice in the cooler!" Leo shouted, running off to grab some from their spot. A few of the other group offered to get towels and a first aid kit, following shortly after Leo.

Guang-Hong came over to Yuuri with his glasses. "I'm so sorry!" The short brunet crouched down, eyes misted and biting his lip.

Viktor felt bad for the kid, but he was too caught up in making sure Yuuri stayed conscious to feel too much for him. He kept a hand at his back, watching the movement of his pupils. Head injuries were no joke, no matter the kind, and he kept himself ready to run to the nearest hospital if he had to. Come on, Yuuri, be okay. Please be okay. He could feel his heart in his throat as he tried to call out to Yuuri, looking for a response. "Yuuri? Yuuri, do you know where you are? What day it is?"

Phichit held two trembling fingers up. "How many fingers do you see?"

Yuuri startled them all by laughing, a deep-bellied laugh that shook his body. "I told you guys! The volleyball just loves me!" Viktor didn't have to worry much, apparently. His eyes were fine, no broken glass, and all teeth were accounted for. Yuuri held strong and batted all invasive hands away. "Don't worry about it," Yuuri replied to Guang-Hong, staring at the other with sincerity. "I've had a lot worse and you didn't mean to."

They managed to get the bleeding to stop, and after a brief check, they found that it wasn't broken. Yuuri said that the ice helped a lot. His nose began to purple, though, and it hardly made any of them feel better. Viktor offered to take him to the hospital, but Yuuri refused, saying that he wanted to finish out the day with his friends.

When the sun began to hang over the horizon, slowly dipping itself into the water, they made their way over to stairwell 16 to find a fire pit. Leo and Phichit got a fire going and soon they were all sitting on logs and in the sand, watching day give way to night. Viktor sat next to Yuuri, still fretting even as Yuuri rolled his eyes.

"You really don't need to hover over me like this. I've done worse." Yuuri leaned over, an ice-filled towel shoved against his nose, and whispered, "Remember number eighteen?"

Viktor couldn't help the chuckle as he thought about Yuuri's three stitches, but it didn't ease his concern. "I'd still feel better if you got checked out. Or if I could do something about it…" Viktor honestly didn't know why it bothered him so much. He'd seen a lot nastier injuries on and off the ice, some of them his own, and he wasn't usually so affected. He supposed that it was because it was Yuuri. Everything affected him more when Yuuri was involved.

"I'm sorry." Yuuri looked guilt-ridden with his words, but that hadn't been his intention.

Don't feel bad for me, Yuuri. You're the one that got clobbered in the face. "Don't be." He ran his hand gently through silken black locks and pulled him closer until his head was cradled on his shoulder. He was happy when Yuuri didn't pull away. Surprised, but happy. In fact, he seemed to only settle into him more. "You could always let me buy you more stuff?"

"You bought me enough," Yuuri insisted.

"You only let me buy you like five things."

"Five things. Five incredibly overpriced things. That's a lot."

"Whatever you say…"

"Well, I could use some more ice?" Yuuri looked at him from beneath full lashes, smile showing even from behind his towel.

"Got it." Yuuri sat up and Viktor made his way over to the cooler, it being a good few paces away. He bent down and scooped up some more ice into a new towel before shaking his hands out from the cold. He closed the lid and got up to return, but was stopped as he looked back over. Yuuri was bracketed by Minami and Guang-Hong, lost in a laughter that had him nearly falling off the log. The other boys kept him in place, protective hands on his shoulders and back. Viktor could only stare.

Yuuri looked radiant, captured in the shadow of the dying sun, hues of salmon and magenta a backdrop to his smile. His lithe form glowed with joy, surrounded by the people he cared for. The towel dropped from his face as he tried to suck in air. Minami brought a hand up to cover his mouth, whispering something to the other two with shifty eyes, and both Yuuri and Guang-Hong fell into peals of laughter once more. Yuuri's glasses nearly fell off his nose as he tipped forward, fingers clutching the log to stay upright through his cackles. The glow of the fire made the purple of his nose stand out, a dried line of blood still clinging to his chin. The evidence of Yuuri's pain struck Viktor, but Yuuri's image still held him there, a creature beyond words entrancing him without even trying.

It amazed him how easily Yuuri could captivate him. Viktor had spent so much time on his own, isolating himself to the cool partnership of the ice. It was only at times like this, when he watched Yuuri and felt the natural pull drawing him to the younger man, that he realized what he'd been missing in his life. It was like he'd been waiting his whole life to find Yuuri, and now he never wanted to give him up.

"You look like a creep." Mickey came to his side, drawing a soda out from the cooler.

"Sorry, love will do that to a person," he said, heart-shaped smile taking over his visage.

Mickey made a face. "You really love him?" Viktor nodded, eyes finding their target easily. "You sure about that? You've only known him for a quick minute."

Viktor wasn't sure if the other man was disbelieving or just testing him, but it made no difference. "More than anything, Mickey."

"That's Michele, to you." The man stared at him icily, violet eyes challenging like the man had been all day. "Hurt him and I'll break your face."

"Mmm, you don't have to worry about that." Viktor was hardly bothered by the threat. Truthfully, it made him happy. Yuuri had so many good friends, all wrapped and coiled around him in a protective barrier.

Mickey blocked his view, skin prickled in agitation. "I mean it. I'll take you down, grandpa."

Sara, who had been approaching with Phichit at her side, sputtered at her brother's comment. "M-Mickey!" He beat a hasty retreat. "You get back here," she called, but made no move to go after him. "He can be such an asshole."

"I'm decrepit!" Viktor cried, staring down at his hand, waiting for his skin to turn to ash at any moment.

Sara and Phichit simply giggled at his reaction. "Hey, you mind if we talk to you for a sec?" Sara asked before Phichit pitched in.

"If you're done mourning your youth, of course." He stole a glance at the group around the fire, standing close and talking under his breath. "It's about Yuuri."


Yuuri hated having the attention on himself. He absolutely abhorred it. After he'd fallen down the stairs in fourth grade, earning the stares of half the school, he'd run and hidden himself in the janitor's closet, scraped knees hardly slowing him down. After he'd messed up his routine during a performance in high school, spinning into another club member and taking them both down, he racked up more absences than he'd ever accumulated in his life. That was his trademark reaction. Run away.

But as he stared up into all of the faces surrounding him, some familiar, some very much not, he found himself rooted in place, held down by Viktor's and Phichit's steadying hands. None of them were laughing at him, not even the strangers they'd met. All of them just wanted to help. So Yuuri made sure to try and get the attention off of himself by playing it off. He blurted out his words, shoving people away, because he wasn't worth the concern and he certainly didn't deserve it. God, I'm so stupid. Couldn't even duck a volleyball. He hadn't even been playing and it still managed to take him out. He didn't think he'd be able to live down the humiliation of this one. And everyone was so worried about him. Viktor hadn't taken his eyes off of him since it happened. It made him feel even more self-conscious.

But it also made him feel treasured. These people really cared about him and his well-being.

Minami and Guang-Hong were giggling again, but Yuuri tried to tune some of it out. The two were hilarious, but laughing kind of hurt his nose. The thing had swollen, feeling bulbous and tender, and he didn't even want to know what he looked like. He brought the cloth back to his face, but it was just a warm pressure, the ice having melted awhile before. He looked up, eyes searching for silver hair and bright eyes.

I didn't mean to chase you off, but… Of all of the stares, Viktor's had hit him the most. He'd wanted it gone before even meeting it. He wanted to just bury himself in the sand and never have to see his expression. But the look in his eyes, tinged with fear and trepidation, had not been what he was expecting. Viktor cared. He still wasn't sure why. But he did.

He caught sight of him whispering with Sara and Phichit. They were huddled together, occasionally stealing looks his way, and Yuuri eyed them all warily. The least subtle people on the planet. Yuuri fidgeted, uncomfortable with the thought of his friends talking about him. By the time Viktor made it back, he felt paranoid.

"The boyfriend's back!" Minami declared, "Time to skedaddle." The two giggled as they ran away. Yuuri was too tired to react. Though, to be honest, he wasn't sure what he would have said.

"Did you get lost?" Yuuri asked as Viktor sat back down, handing him a new towel. "Or just too busy gossiping? I could see you all, you know?" The man regarded him with a suspicious grin. "You're not going to tell me what it was about, are you?" Viktor gave him a wink. "A guy gets viciously mauled by a volleyball and he can't even trust his friends to not laugh at him afterwards."

"We weren't laughing at you. How could you think such a thing?" Viktor chided, putting an arm around his already stiff shoulders. Oddly enough, Yuuri appreciated the close contact, though it still made his mind fritz and his heart stutter. "And I thought you said that you were alright? If you were so viciously attacked, do I need to kiss it to make it better?"

Yuuri's eyes instantly widened, and he bopped him on the nose with a nervous chuckle. "Gently mauled, then." He brought the towel away from his face, going cross eyed to stare at his own nose. "Does it look bad?"

Viktor frowned and took the towel from Yuuri to apply the ice himself. "It looks like it hurts."

"I'm fine, Viktor."

"You say that, but…"

Long, slender fingers dabbed the ice against his skin with the utmost care. Yuuri met his eyes, taking in an expression he had yet to see in the small time he'd known the man. It built something inside of him, an urge blossoming from deep within. Yuuri didn't know what it was that caused it. Viktor's expression. The careful coddling. His previous suggestion. The way the man's features burned with the soft licks of firelight. The minimal distance between them. The memory of the brush of his lips against his skin.

Yuuri gripped the skater's wrist and pulled his hand away until the towel was no longer a barrier. Viktor's brow furrowed, protest written in the tug of his lips, but Yuuri captured those lips before they could make a sound. It wasn't long and it wasn't deep, but Yuuri could still taste the salt of the sea and the hint of watermelon. Somewhere in the back of his mind registered a distinct taste of green apple, but it was like a phantom, resurrected from a time he could never quite grasp.

Viktor took hold of his arms and deepened the kiss before pulling back, expression beyond stunned. He looked like he didn't know what to say and Yuuri took pleasure in that. The carefully composed Viktor Nikiforov, that always had a word to spare, had effectively had his words stolen from him with one lone kiss.

"Thought I'd surprise you, for once." Viktor pulled him in for a hug and Yuuri tried to memorize the feel of him. He wasn't going to lose any more of this. Because for some reason this man was precious to him. He wouldn't have suffered through trying on hellacious outfits or getting sucker punched by a volleyball if he wasn't.

That's when it clicked for him. On that beach surrounded by all of his friends and cradled in Viktor's arms, Yuuri realized that this felt right. No matter how new it was, no matter how strange it was, it was what he wanted. He was ready for this.

He was ready for Viktor Nikiforov.

Chapter Text

"It's… so beautiful…" Phichit looked at the cake before him, visibly touched. Yuuri didn't understand why his friend liked it so much. There were so many things that still needed to be fixed. The gum paste tiger lilies looked wilted. The piped vines looked less like vines and more like indecent squiggles. Even the square base of the cake looked like it was sagging. It was all wrong. He had so much to do still- "Don't do it, Yuuri."

"But I think I should-"

"Nope."

"But it could use some-"

"Nope," Phichit said again, grabbing him by the shoulders and dragging him away from it, "nope, nope, nope, nope." It was like a sing song. One that had been memorized and rehearsed during all of the identical moments that had come before.

"You don't understand! This isn't just any old cake. It's a wedding cake. It has to be perfect. If I ruin this for them it could ruin their entire wedding!"

Phichit dropped him and went to pack up the cake and keep it out of Yuuri's reach. "I'm doing you a favor, really. You lay one more finger on this cake and you will ruin it. It is exactly as the bride described. She'll be thrilled."

"I doubt that."

"You should be thanking me. Your bestest friend in the whole world just saved you from wrecking one of your most beautiful creations." Phichit winked, throwing a peace sign up in the air towards Yuuri as he stuck out his tongue.

"This isn't a selfie you're posing for, you know?" But then he looked again and found Phichit really was posing for a picture… with his cake. That got Yuuri to laugh. "You are so weird."

"I'm appreciating a work of art. How is that weird?"

"Should I go pose with your fruit tarts, then?"

"Only if I get to take the picture."

"Oooo! Oooo!" Minami jumped out from behind the oven wall, bouncing on his toes as he waved his hand in the air. "I want a picture with Katsuki-sensei's cake, too!"

"At least call me Yuuri-sensei if you're going to insist on calling me that here." Truthfully, the name didn't bother him all that much, he just found that he didn't really deserve such a title or the adoration that their youngest baker faced him with.

"Okay, Yuuri-sensei, but I still want a picture."

"How long were you hiding back there?" Phichit asked Minami, a brow raised in suspicion.

Minami glanced off to the side, toeing the floor as he gave a light hum. "Ten… maybe twenty minutes…"

"He's been gawking at you for like a half an hour," said Leo as he passed by, tray of pumpkin loaves in hand.

"Traitor!"

Phichit and Yuuri both gaped. "What have you been working on?"

"My… observation skills?"

"Minami."

"I'm sorry! I was watching you mold the tiger lilies and next thing I knew *BAM*," he smashed his hands together with a loud clap, "it'd been thirty minutes."

"Alright, alright," Yuuri said. "You were working on the blueberry muffins, right? I'll help you get them on track."

"I don't think so, lover boy." Phichit halted him with a hand on his chest. "You have a skating sesh with the Viktor Nikiforov, don't you?"

"Well, yeah, but I can be a little late. He probably won't even notice I'm missing."

"I don't think so. No excuses. Go have fun. Get your terribly talented face out of my sight."

"… I have a talented face?"

"You know what I mean. I take it you won't be meeting me at the gym tonight?"

Yuuri's bottom lip tugged to the side. "Probably not. Though I do need to go soon. Make it up tomorrow?"

"Oh, yeah, you so need to hit the gym," Phichit deadpanned. "You're just packing on the pounds." He jabbed a finger into the slight flab at Yuuri's hips.

"Don't pudge-poke me!" He slapped his hand away, giggling when the man only went for his other side. "That tickles." Phichit got that look in his eye, and Yuuri regretted speaking. Oh boy… He fell to the floor as Phichit attacked him, the man poking and tickling his stomach and sides.

"Maybe you can laugh it off," Phichit suggested with a grin before moving his attention to his biceps. "Look at these arms. They're just atrocious."

Yuuri couldn't breathe because he was laughing so hard. He squirmed and rolled on the floor, trying to get out from under Phichit. A flash went off and he barely caught a glimpse of the culprit out of the corner of his eye. "Leo! Don't t-take… pictures-" A particularly targeted poke had him doubling back over, covering his arms in a futile attempt to get Phichit to stop.

"Gotta capture the moment."

"There," Phichit said, smiling in triumph. "Your workout for the day."

Yuuri huffed in his breaths, sitting up as he pushed Phichit off of him. "Gee, thanks."

"Seriously, though. I don't know why you go three times a week. You aren't fat, Yuuri. Your body's stunning."

"Such a comely man," the youngest baker praised with a nod.

Phichit held in a laugh. "Stop talking, Minami."

Yuuri pulled himself off the floor, chuckling off their comments. "You know how easily I gain weight. And it's not like our profession doesn't pack on the pounds for you. I taste tested Leo's cinnamon dough the other day and felt ten pounds hit my thighs." He looked down at his legs with pity in his eyes.

Phichit scoffed even as his gaze lingered on his own thighs. "Just get going. I'll go with you tomorrow if it'll get you going faster. Your lover's not going to wait forever." He blinked. "Actually, knowing him-"

"He's not my-"

"Whatever you guys are, just go!"


"Thought I'd surprise you, for once."

The moment swirled in Viktor's mind as he moved on the ice. Every movement and every jump was inspired by the young man that he'd become so close to. His skates hissed against the ice, the sound joining the light melody humming through him. The air swished around him, fluttering the fringe of his bangs and catching the fabric of his clothes. He let himself float backwards, mind lost in every experience he'd had over what amounted to only a matter of weeks. It moved him, propelling him forward with feelings he'd never before given thought to. Feelings he never thought he needed.

Yuuri was his new muse, his new inspiration. Just the thought of the man allowed Viktor to glide freely, uncaring towards his routine, choreography a minute detail that fell to the back of his thoughts. He just moved, dancing to everything that whirred inside of him. It was so easy, so right, and Viktor wondered why this had been so terrifying for him in the first place. He'd been as afraid of the ice as he had been eager to greet it. After so long away, he had thought that the ice would reject him. That it would no longer be his loyal companion and leave him behind, just as he had so heartlessly left it.

Viktor skated to a stop by the rink wall. His gloved hands caught the side and he took a drink of his water bottle before he glanced toward his phone. It was dark, quiet, but he picked it up anyway. Yuuri was running late and he was about to call when the cell jumped to life in his hands.

"I was just about to call you," he answered in Russian.

"To tell me you are skating, I hope."

Viktor nodded, turning to rest his back against the barrier. "Of course. I'm breaking my ankles for you, as we speak."

"No nonsense, Vitya." He rose a brow at the tone. Yakov was always a bit of a grouch, it was a part of his charm, but he sounded exceptionally exasperated. "I mean it. You are going to destroy your form if you take too much time off, not to mention your feet. And what's this I hear about sweets? That ass better be in top form when you get back here."

"I've only had two, maybe three pastries since I left," he lied smoothly. A part of him wanted to know how his coach found out, but the man had ears and eyes everywhere. Even his own rink mates worked as his little spies. Mila probably showed Yakov Viktor's Instagram that was now like a shrine to Yuuri's chosen art form.

"Right and I'm still married. I swear, you and Georgi. That boy's been holed up in his room writing sonnets, for Christ's sake. You would think he'd be used to the cold hearts of women by now. Gah, you're both determined to take every hair I have left."

"Don't forget about Mila. She barely made it back for Worlds last year after flying off for a shopping spree in Paris with that Latvian skater."

"Ungrateful brats, the lot of you," he groused.

"We're your precious children, Yakov. We live to torment you."

There was a weary sigh, like the man didn't have the will to argue, but even his disappointed sighs couldn't hide his affection for his skaters. "And do you have any clue about what's wrong with Yura? Dare I say he's angrier than usual-" before the man could continue there was a loud, echoed yell that Viktor recognized.

"Fuck you, old man! Talking about me like I'm not here. Is that Viktor!? Tell him he's a worthless asshole! He can shove those gold medals up his-"

"What did I tell you about that mouth?" There was another sigh and Viktor almost felt bad for his coach. "Anyway, Vitya, there was something important that caught my attention when I was checking on you. There's someone-"

Viktor chuckled. "I knew it. You do know that I'm a grown man, right?"

"A man?" Yakov scoffed and Viktor pouted, kicking his skate against the ice. "You will forever be a stupid boy, Vitya. You whiling away your time in America just proves it. Your sponsors have been-" there was a gasp and then Yakov yelled beyond the phone, "Yuri, don't you dare-" There was a moment of silence and Viktor knew that Yakov was boiling into a rage. "That's it! God damn it, Yuri, I told you not to-"

The line went dead and Viktor pulled the phone back to stare into it fondly. It was a wonder how Yakov had any time to worry about him when he had a full house of rowdy children on his hands. It tugged at his heart, listening to the goings on at his home rink. But he was here for a reason. With that in mind, Viktor skated back out, tossing his phone back onto his jacket.

He skated into the center and let himself unfurl from there. This time he worked all of his feelings into the routine he'd put together for the next season. He kicked off and let himself free, skating backwards with his arms spread, catching the wind like he was catching waves. His feet moved without much thought, gliding and prancing through what he'd created. He could feel it coming back to him. The excitement, the elation, the pure drive to delve deeper into himself. All because of one person.

"Youhaveachance."

He spun himself into a quad lutz, rushing out with the momentum. He felt an upbeat tick start in his muscles that urged him forward faster until was flowing with a familiar beat in his body. His arm extended forward, like he was reaching out towards a pale hand, asking for a dance in the gray fog, before he pulled his hand back to himself. He skated back away, bent down and nearly on one knee.

"You gave me flowers, so I thought… that I should return the gesture."

Circling his bent leg out, he spun up until he was standing, gliding forward on the ice, but he was no longer seeing the ice. He closed his eyes, shutting everything else away but the one person that now gave his life meaning. There was a smile, a laugh, a kiss, that tightened his chest.

Triple flip and a triple toe loop.

"We don't really have to label this, do we? You're just Viktor and I'm just Yuuri. We're just… together."

He wasn't even sure he was skating to his routine anymore, but it didn't matter. He was free from his chains, from a life of isolation. He'd never even known he'd been caged. But now that he knew what the sky looked like, he wondered if he could ever return home.

"You're just blinded by drunk-Yuuri. You wouldn't be here if you knew me."

Something shifted and he wobbled as he went into a spin. Something overcame him, something turbulent and wild that shook him at his core. He nearly lost his balance as he came out into a harsh glide. His eyes opened back up and everything around him was wrong. He was no longer soaring, he was falling, diving, ready for a crash that he couldn't recover from.

He skated up into a triple axel and even in his odd frame of mind he could tell that he over rotated.

"Whoever you're looking for… got left behind at Spritz that night."

He fell. His hip collided harshly with the ice, and he slid against it until he came to a stop. Viktor breathed down into the scratched and shattered surface. It was cold and hard, catching his body with indifference. "B`lyad'!" Viktor swore as his fist met the ice. His hand stung from the action, and he could imagine his scorned mistress laughing at his pain.

I can't believe I messed up a triple axel, of all things... I actually fell this time. Why!? Why can't I skate anymore? I have what I want. What I need.

Are you sure?

The milky surface before him echoed a thought back at him. It spoke from Yuuri's uncertainty, his fear and his hesitation. Mostly, it spoke from Viktor's own fear, that he really was alone. As he always had been.


Yuuri watched Viktor. The older man was completely absorbed in his element, so Yuuri just stayed quiet on the sidelines, in awe at the beauty before him. Viktor shined out on the ice, a man that didn't need a show-stopping outfit or daring routine to capture people's attention. His personality and devotion did it for him, shown in every elegant turn and twist on the ice. His techniques and the ease with which he moved would never fail to amaze Yuuri. It was so different seeing him in person than on the screen. Though he'd only seen him skate on his laptop a handful of times, he was already a fan, even when Viktor wasn't skating his best. Like now.

All Yuuri could see was desperation. It was like Viktor was reaching out for something that he could never attain and it was killing him. Even his most flawless movements seemed rushed and fraught with frustration. Viktor quickly became panicked, but he kept going. He attempted a triple something – Yuuri really needed to study the types of jumps – but he didn't make it. He crashed so hard that it worried Yuuri. His body jumped forward a few steps, ready to run to the man's aid. The angry Russian echoing out stopped him and he stayed where he was as Viktor melted into the ice.

Yuuri observed, fascinated by the new emotions he was witnessing from Viktor. His struggle was vivid and Yuuri found himself pained by it. I don't think I'm supposed to see this. It was a private moment, he was sure. Something someone as successful and assured as Viktor wouldn't want anyone to see. Yuuri wouldn't want anyone to see his own failure, so he was about to slip away until a better time. But then Viktor got back up. He continued on, working through his pain.

Yuuri couldn't move, even as his mind told him that it was rude to spy on Viktor's practice time. It was just so inspiring to see Viktor keep going, keep fighting, even as his struggle never stopped. A good twenty minutes passed before he finally managed to move.

Viktor stopped abruptly, catching the new movement and Yuuri froze. But Viktor's smile was wide and he waved Yuuri over to the barrier. "Sorry I'm late. I had to take the muni to get here and traffic's terrible."

"It's okay. I know this place is kind of far from yours."

Yuuri was caught off guard by the happiness radiating off of Viktor considering what he'd just seen. Even with the smile, he was noticeably tired, sweat on his cheeks and panting out breaths. Yuuri reached down and grabbed what he assumed was the man's water bottle and held it out to him. "Need a break?"

"If you insist."

They sat down together and Viktor calmed as he put on his guards, but Yuuri didn't. He kept thinking about what he witnessed. He wanted to know. His curiosity sought out the reasons for Viktor's skating block, and even after so long, Yuuri had yet to find out from the man. "I've been here for a while, actually," Yuuri started. "How's your side? That looked like a pretty bad fall. Are you okay?"

Viktor winced and rubbed the sore spot. "You saw that, huh? Must have looked pretty rough, but it's not really anything new." He laughed, flipping the hair from his eyes. "I just-"

Yuuri could tell where Viktor was going, but it wasn't what he wanted to hear. Yuuri stopped him and scooted a little closer, his tone stronger and more demanding. "Are you okay?" He might not have known him long, but Yuuri could tell when Viktor was preparing to veer off track and talk his way around an issue. "Talk to me, Viktor. Don't treat me like everyone else." He didn't want something skimmed from the surface, words easily prepared for the media or his fans. "You wanted me to open up. You have to, too. That's what people who are together do, right?" Viktor just stared down at him and Yuuri thought that maybe he'd crossed a line. They hadn't been 'together' long and maybe he was expecting too much out of something so small and new. He should have just kept his mouth shut. Why would Viktor even want to open up to him of all people?

It grew quiet, so Yuuri just stared down at his shoes.


Viktor was caught off guard by the assertiveness that Yuuri faced him with. He swallowed, unsure of what to say. Yuuri wasn't everyone else. Not even close.

Viktor was rather glad for Yuuri's sudden insistence. It meant that he cared to get to know him. He wanted to see Viktor, stripped bare of the shining lights and puff pieces, down to the sore ankles and calloused toes. But there was a fear in that. It was one of the things Viktor failed spectacularly at, especially as a lover. He didn't want to lose Yuuri, but this was usually where his partners tired of him. When they found that he was simply a slave to the ice and that there was no room in his heart for them.

But this was different. Yuuri was different. Yuuri was already deeply embedded into his heart, a thorn he could never remove and honestly never wanted to. He didn't want to treat Yuuri like everyone else. He had to show him that.

"I just feel like it should be as effortless as it used to be, being on the ice. I'm missing my spark," Viktor fisted his shirt over his heart, eyes scrunched shut, before he looked back at Yuuri, "my flare, as you called it. My muse left me, Yuuri, and now I don't know what to do with myself. I… I don't even know who I am anymore." The words were harder to say than he thought they'd be, coming out a little twisted and broken. He hadn't told anyone, so he'd never had to put words to those feelings. It felt all too revealing, like each word plucked a feather from his skin and now he was left barer than even pure nakedness could rival.

Yuuri shyly took his hand, thumb rubbing a soothing circle into its back. "You are more than just your skating, Viktor."

The words, so familiar, so deeply ingrained in his favorite memory, tossed him back in time and suddenly he was there in Spritz again where he was bowled over by a tiny, wondrous man.

There was a drink in his hand and a daring curl of fingertips in the other. A low breath in his ear accompanied the words. "You are more than just a figure skater. You know that, right?"

Yuuri continued speaking because he didn't know. Didn't remember. But that was okay, Viktor tried to tell himself. Because Yuuri's message didn't change. He still saw Viktor. Better than he saw himself, these days.

"It's not all you are. It's a part of you, a very large, undeniable part of you, but it isn't all of you. There's so much more to you than sparkling sequins, triple jumps, and bleeding toes. I can see that. You just have to find that for yourself."

Just a handful of sentences careened Viktor into a sea of devotion once more. No one saw him as anything but the world renowned figure skater he was. He'd lost himself to the thought that it was true, that the ice and his heart were one in the same. Yuuri's denial of that nearly drove him to tears. Somewhere, deep inside, where he knew that his time with the ice was limited, where loneliness divested him of every medal he'd ever earned, he found that he wanted to know something more than the world he lived in so concretely. "And this, Yuuri, this feeling you grant me…" Words failed him, because he wasn't sure how to word the emotions that exploded into a constellation of bright stars in his chest. "My inspiration, my muse, my Yuuri. You give me everything I used to have and more."

"Surely you jest," Yuuri said weakly, tucking his chin into the scarf lightly wrapped around his neck.

Viktor wanted to destroy such a cruel dismissal. He wanted to lavish more praises and affections upon the man, but Yuuri squirmed, obviously discomforted. Viktor ended up couching the desire.

"So, how did you get into skating, anyway?"

"Ah, you want to know my origin story. A tale of a heated and possessive romance between boy and ice."

Yuuri's brow scrunched as his smile squirmed, confused between amusement and contemplation. "I guess?"

Viktor thought for a moment. His past. It wasn't something he dwelled upon. There were some roads that deserved less travel and for him, that part of memory lane was one of them. But Yuuri gazed upon him expectantly, eyes and ears open to everything Viktor was willing to give. He could never deny Yuuri, so it was with passive reluctance that he went about sharing something he'd denied even the most daring and persistent reporters.

"Well, my parents weren't the… happiest couple. As you've probably found out online, my parents are Valeriya and Dmitry Nikiforov, distinguished prima ballerina and relatively unknown artist respectively."

Yuuri nodded, his eyes rolling up to the side, as if accessing that part of his brain. "Minako-sensei has spoken of your mother before, if I remember correctly. She said she's quite, um, intense."

Viktor laughed. How kind of the infamous dance instructor of his beloved. "Intense would be a word for her. She and Lilia get along like sisters. It's scary. But, my parents were always arguing. They were polar opposites. My mother loved the limelight and was always out amongst the stars. She could be unpleasant and brusque and too critical of my father. She's always thought the world of herself." He couldn't control the bitterness that roiled along his words. His mother rarely inspired much cheer in him.

"My father, well, he was rather like you." Viktor turned to the man at his side, fingers immediately seeking a sense of comfort as they pet Yuuri. They stroked a strand of his ruffled bangs from his lenses, smoothed down a reddening cheek, before settling on the hand that held his other. "Always fretting and worrying. He was at his most comfortable when he was arting, as I called it when I was small. He liked to lock himself away with his work and preferred the company of a dear few. He always feared that he wasn't good enough as an artist, and a father, and a person." As opposed to his mother, Viktor leant dear thoughts to his father. The man worked hard through tears and triumphs, and Viktor loved to gaze at the fruit of his labor. Even when such labor took him from him.

"Suffice to say they didn't get along. When their spats would get particularly brutal, I would run away outside. We had this large pond practically in our backyard that was almost always iced over. It was my wonderland. The only place I felt truly at home. Out there on that pond, I found my calling. Yakov saw me one day when he and Lilia were visiting and said that he could see a champion skater in me. I've been following his direction ever since."

Viktor washed those thoughts over as he led himself back to the bleachers they dwelled upon. Yuuri was simply gazing at him, a kind smile on his face, though concern toiled at its edges. "And you, Yuuri? Why baking?"

His smile grew crooked, giving Viktor a stare like he detected a sleight of hand. "You mean, why don't I dance?"

"You caught me." He raised both his hands in surrender. There was a slightly haunted look in Yuuri's eyes, like the question taunted him from the depths of time, so Viktor tried to dial himself back. "I don't mean to discount your profession. I'm just curious."

"It's alright. I've gotten questioned about it quite a bit, is all." Pale lips puffed out a breath and Viktor watched it dissipate into the air as he let Yuuri ruminate with his thoughts. "I guess it's sort of like you. The kitchen was my haven when everything went awry. I've always been a rather anxious person. Some days the world just seemed so big and intimidating that I just couldn't get myself to enter it. On other days the kids at school would just… and I couldn't go back for a while. I would hide myself in my room." Yuuri kicked a foot down at the concrete as he paused, rubber skidding with a stuttered noise. Viktor leant his head into the palm of his hand as he listened, thoughts of a young Yuuri so callously handled by others tearing at his being.

"Eventually my mother would coax me out. She never looked down on me or punished me for it. She said that I just felt more than anyone else," Yuuri's expression warmed, voice gentled by memories of a woman that meant much to him, "and that it wasn't anything to be ashamed of. She would have me help around Yu-Topia, the inn my parents own, mostly in the kitchen. Even when there wasn't anything that needed to be made, she would bake treats with me.

"I just always felt so warm and safe when I was baking. Even when I'm worrying about whether it's good enough or whether I'm good enough, it's worth the anxiety, you know? With dancing, all of the hassles of worrying and watching my weight and memorizing routines and performing just never seemed worth it in the end. It stopped… being fun, I guess. But baking has never ceased being fun for me. Even with the long hours and the hand cramps and the desire to make everything perfect, I love being in the kitchen."

"I think you made the right choice, then," Viktor said with a squeeze of his hands on Yuuri's. "Do you think you're better at baking?"

"I don't think I'm particularly talented at one or the other. I'm just more passionate and at home in the kitchen."

"Don't be so modest. Your dancing is phenomenal and your desserts are exquisite. You disappoint in neither areas."

"I'm not being modest. My skills are the product of time and attention, and I still have a lot to learn." Viktor wished Yuuri saw more of his dazzling self, but Rome wasn't built in a day. He would just have to keep reminding Yuuri of his captivating qualities. "Sorry, I'm sure that was all pretty boring."

"Don't do that, Yuuri." He tilted the man's chin up so sea green eyes could meet cocoa colored irises. "I enjoy getting to know you and sharing my life with you." Viktor hopped up and gripped Yuuri by the hips as he lifted him up and brought him in for a hug. Yuuri shrieked and kicked his feet where they'd yet to meet the ground, but Viktor held steady. "My darling Yuuri."

The raven gave in and returned the embrace. "Can you put me down now?"

He did as asked. "Time to skate," he announced with a clap.

"Huh?"

"You didn't think you would just watch me skate, did you? Just think of it like ice dancing."

"Yeah, no. That's not a good idea."

"Yuuri, pretty please."


Yuuri was weak to Viktor's begging and soft expression of want. That became apparent as he walked, stilted and barely balanced, out towards the ice on a pair of rental blades. When he finally reached the barrier, Viktor whipped off his guards and met the ice with avid exuberance. He went straight out and executed a flawless jump of some complicated nature.

Yuuri glowered as he slid back in front of him. "Showboat."

Viktor's grin was cataclysmic to the goings on in his heart. "I can't help it. I get to show you my world." Viktor gave an alluring flex of his hand, palm welcoming Yuuri's. "May I have this dance?"

Yuuri bit the side of his cheek, trying not to laugh at the cheesiness while grumbling internally about how horribly he was sure to perform next to a brilliant figure skater, currently slumped or not. "Dancing? More like greeting the ice with my face."

He took the hand after losing his skate guards. He took cautious steps out first until Viktor coaxed him into a glide. It didn't go well. His legs started to slide out to the sides in some comical form of a half split. Yuuri panicked, holding firmly onto Viktor's hands as the man continued to guide him on the ice despite his troubles. "Ohgodohgodohgod. Don't let go, Viktor."

With one swift motion of his arm, he brought Yuuri up against him and the younger male steadied himself, cheek boldly pressed against a broad chest. "I wouldn't dream of it." The look he received from the man would have served to intimidate him had his ear not caught the racing palpitations of Viktor's heart. He was affecting Viktor, too. That emboldened him into treating him a little less like a buoy saving a drowning man at sea, and more like a partner simply keeping him afloat in tame waters.

He was a helpless fawn flailing about on new legs, but Viktor was there, ever doting. After enough time allowed him to gain some sense of his bearings - he could never retain any grace standing on stabby knives - Viktor came around him and stood behind him. His hands burrowed beneath the cuffs of Yuuri's shirt, fingers enflaming Yuuri's tender, frosted skin as he held his wrists up and out, body in a position parallel to the man's own. Viktor talked, something about balance and instinct and moving without too much thought – as if Yuuri could ever do something without thought – but he barely heard anything but the soothing cadence of Viktor's voice. It was calm and friendly, but held an authoritative edge that rumbled in his chest and into Yuuri's back.

They moved together as one on the ice, Viktor leading and Yuuri a slow, trembling follower. Viktor moved pieces of Yuuri's body for slight turns, a nudge to his thigh, a steadying grip around his waist. Every touch was calculated, meticulous, keeping them from knocking into each other and colliding with the ice, but all Yuuri could feel were the trails of electricity left behind.

Yuuri kept his eyes forward, Viktor a presence at his back, and it was like his soul was picked up by those hands. They slowly made rounds, around and around the rink until Yuuri no longer felt like he was on foreign soil. It was a smooth slide, nothing complicated, a beginner's jaunt, but he smiled. He felt lighter for a moment and there was Viktor's laugh in his ear.

"You're a natural at everything, Yuuri."

Yuuri craned his neck to see that Viktor was no longer holding him, hands just barely caressing the air around his form. He was gliding along all on his own. Until he thought about that.

He tipped forward, skates clicking together as he started to fall, but Viktor caught him again, an assured yank on his limbs like the strings of a puppet. "I think you should reevaluate that opinion…"

Viktor cooled down with some pacing around the ice and last stretches. Yuuri stood in the center of the rink as Viktor whipped around him. He took in the ice in all its glory, along with the lights and the stands, and tried to imagine it bigger, the space filled with roars and faces and cameras. This was Viktor's stage. This was what Viktor broke his body and his soul for. And Yuuri was a part of it, the ice cool on his skin and the skates swelling his ankles.

"My inspiration, my muse, my Yuuri. You give me everything I used to have and more."

Yuuri swallowed.

What if he wasn't enough?

They made their way to Viktor's, stopping at a market on the way to pick up a few things. Yuuri wasn't sure about the prospect of spending the evening at Viktor's house, but the man had insisted. He wanted to cook for Yuuri, and Yuuri agreed as long as he was allowed to chip in and make dessert, too.

Viktor lived in one of the many large townhouses that lined the north shore. Yuuri was amazed by it and its three stories, considering his cramped apartment, but Viktor didn't seem to care much for it, saying it was just a collection of the family's. Makkachin greeted them at the door, pouncing upon Yuuri again, although this time he was prepared. He caught the large poodle in his arms, laughing at the new saliva he collected on his cheeks.

The inside of the house looked just as amazing as the outside of it, but nothing trumped the kitchen. His feet instantly halted as he stared at the wide space and open countertops, the top of the line refrigerator, double oven and dishwasher. There were so many cabinets and little drawers. There was even an island counter in the center, lined shelves beneath it, just asking to be decorated with cookbooks and gadgets. Yuuri lost his breath in such a culinary wonderland.

"You have… the most gorgeous kitchen… I have ever seen… I-I-I… Is this what heaven looks like?" Viktor openly laughed, deep from his chest and Yuuri blushed at what a dork he must have sounded like.

Viktor did most of the cooking, though Yuuri was no slacker. He pitched in, showing that his culinary prowess extended beyond sugary confections. They laughed and bumped hips as they cooked and continued their earlier talk of their beginnings in their careers over dinner. It was leisurely and sweet and Yuuri was convinced that somewhere in the past few weeks he'd fallen into a coma. This had to be a dream.

They'd chosen to have strawberry shortcake for dessert since both of them had a thing for strawberries and angel food cake. Yuuri whipped up most of the cake while Viktor worked to wash, cut and sugar the strawberries. When the cake was in the oven, Yuuri worked to mix up a batch of whipped cream. He'd just managed to get the cream and sugar to form stiff peaks when he realized Viktor had grown quiet. He looked up and found the man across the counter, leaning on his elbows and staring at Yuuri with his expressive blue-green eyes.

"Viktor, you're doing it again."

"Doing what, solntse moye?"

Though he wasn't sure what Viktor had just called him, the tenderness with which he said it made scolding the man hard. All he wanted to do was smile. "Watching when you should be working."

The man gave a pout, "But I like watching Yuuri. And I'm done with my duties. See," he presented his bowl of freshly sliced and sweetened fruit with a flourish of his hand. "Ready and yearning for their mate to come out of the oven."

"All of the strawberries have one mate?"

"A marriage made in heaven."

Yuuri chuckled and didn't even have time to be exasperated before Viktor was on to the next thing. "What are you doing?" Viktor dug out a spoon and poured some of the vanilla extract into it. "Um, Viktor, I wouldn't do that."

"Why not? I've always wondered what bottled vanilla tastes like." He took a sip… and promptly spat it out into the sink. "Ugh. That is a vanilla imposter."

Yuuri couldn't help it. He laughed. "Yeah, extracts don't generally taste very good on their own."

"Why didn't you warn me?" he whined, hands snapping paper towels off the bar. He began wiping his tongue off with them and the sight of Viktor trying to rub the flavor off his taste buds with paper towels had Yuuri falling into a mess of giggles. Viktor pursed his lips. "Laughing at my pain? How could you?"

"I don't think licking a paper towel is going to help."

"Fine," Viktor conceded, tossing the paper towels away into the sink, "what if I lick you?" Yuuri was too busy still chuckling to process the sentence. Not until the man licked a wet stripe up his cheek.

"Ew! Gross!" he exclaimed, cheeks flaming as he tried to rub the new saliva off.

Viktor rolled his tongue in his mouth, like he was testing out the new taste. "Nope, still there. Getting better though. I need more Yuuri flavor."

"Heck no!" But Viktor went for him, so Yuuri ran. They went in circles around the kitchen and even as grossed out as he was, Yuuri couldn't stop laughing. He bounced from counter to counter, trying to keep himself out of the other man's reach.

"Lemme ick oo!" Viktor said, tongue lolled out of his mouth.

"Do you realize how creepy that sounds!?"

Viktor grasped his arm just in time for Yuuri to lose his footing. They crashed to the floor, Yuuri splayed out on the linoleum with Viktor on his chest. Yuuri groaned, but still laughed, rubbing his head that had taken a good smack.

After taking a moment to recover, Viktor was up on his forearms, instantly apologizing. "Oh god, Yuuri, are you okay? I didn't hurt you, did I?" Viktor's hand was on his face, feeling along his skin.

Only then did Yuuri realize just how close together they were. Viktor's body, solid and strong, was smashed against his from their chests to their toes. His face, a sculpted beauty so magnificent was right there, perked with concern for him and his needs. Deft and graceful fingers tendered the skin of his cheek. Yuuri once again found the air hard to pull in, a shallow staccato of breath leaving him and it had nothing to do with the game of chase they'd just played.

"Yuuri?" A kiss of his name lilted into the air between them. The worry was gone from his voice, his eyes now half-lidded as he drew their faces closer. His hands slid down into Yuuri's palms, gently caressing them before he brought them up beside Yuuri's head. He turned, kissing his fingers, before he rested his forehead upon Yuuri's. Their bodies were aligned, Viktor's toes innocently toying with his, the action completely at odds with the smoldering look the man was sending his way. "May I kiss you?"

Yuuri wordlessly nodded and when Viktor kissed him it was all sensation. It was deep, full of passion and rich with everything Viktor Nikiforov was. It was like a lingering promise that went deeper and deeper and deeper until it was branded into his soul. One kiss molded into two, then three, until they couldn't stop and Yuuri couldn't dream of keeping count. They tasted each other, giving and taking all that the other had to offer. Viktor's hand went into his hair and they separated for only a moment, Viktor's breath shuddering down his throat before their lips connected again. It was a little gentler, but no less frenzied with need.

Yuuri felt like he was going to explode as Viktor drove them forward. Yuuri gave a tentative nip at Viktor's tongue, not entirely sure what he was doing but relying on instinct to take the reins. Their mouths were connected so sloppily that Yuuri wasn't quite sure what he bit. It earned him a strained groan though, so he counted that as a win. The way Viktor's hand tightened in his hair was a bonus, too.

Viktor kissed and sucked and bit down his throat and Yuuri was allowed to breathe. It wasn't an easy endeavor, not with Viktor's sensual touches and sinful tongue lapping at his pulse. The man was well versed in this art, as well. He worked Yuuri with polished precision. They were just kissing and Yuuri already felt like he'd lost his brain somewhere with his sensibility. They were on the kitchen floor, for crying out loud. Viktor didn't let him dwell on that for long as the man returned his attention to his mouth, sucking on Yuuri's tongue and bruising his lips.

Yuuri didn't think much of anything as they continued, his fingers settling along the fine hairs of Viktor's nape. But then Viktor ground his hips down into Yuuri's, his hands pushing up his shirt and feeling along his abdomen. It was too much. Too soon. Yuuri gripped onto Viktor's arms and tried to extricate his mouth to voice his concerns, but he ended up not having to.

A new voice entered the room, words guised in another language that even a clear headed Yuuri wouldn't have been able to make out.

Yuuri jerked away, his head smacking against the ground again and he was sure that the sparks in his vision weren't supposed to be there. He blinked his eyes clear of them and pulled himself back from Viktor. The man had jolted away from his as well, staring at the entryway to the kitchen with wide, disbelieving eyes.

Yuuri looked towards the voice and felt any and all desire shrivel up inside of him. It was an older woman, tall and slender, standing proud on four inch heels that looked prime for murder at this angle. She had on a slip of a dress that hugged muscular curves. Her face seemed unnaturally tight, her expression tighter with what had to be disapproval. None of that really bothered Yuuri. What nearly sent him into a panic attack was her long silvery hair and familiar sea colored eyes.

No… Tell me that's not-

She said something more, and even in another language, he could tell that her words were articulated with disgust. The language was Russian. When that realization hit Yuuri, the dinging of the oven timer barely registered to his mind.

It was Viktor's mother.

Chapter Text

[Well, well, well. This isn't what I thought I would come home to.]

Viktor's world stilled. That voice, curled cruel, was entirely too familiar for his liking. It boiled beneath his skin, burning him with taunts from the past, with ancient memories he harbored like knives in his muscles. It was his mother. Valeriya Nikiforova had decided to grace him with her presence. And he was tightly twined with another man on the floor.

Yuuri moved first, pulling away from him in a way that made his chest ache. But it wasn't the time to focus on Yuuri, on the oh so right things that had been occurring up until then. He turned and took in the woman he hadn't seen in years. She looked as disapproving as ever, gaze harsh and words harsher.

[So this is how you've chosen to waste your time…]

Fire burned on his tongue as he saw how her gaze lingered on Yuuri, her eyes turned toward the younger man like sharpened weapons. Viktor immediately acted as a shield, protective, impenetrable, as he leaned over to put himself in front of him. Yuuri didn't deserve anything his mother was primed to inflict. His mother didn't deserve the right to even lick Yuuri's shoes, let alone hurl insults at him, even if Yuuri couldn't understand them.

[What are you doing here?] He tried to sound intimidating, growling out the words, but they were smeared thin, his tone betraying him as the woman leered down at them.

[What am I doing here? This is my house, is it not? It may be in your father's name, but it's still first and foremost my house. I picked it out, furnished it, live in it occasionally. What are you doing here? Besides the obvious of fornicating with a-]

He could hear the offensive names before they were out of her mouth. [Don't you dare.]

She looked amused, silver brows lifted and thin lips perked. [Why? It's not like he knows a lick of Russian.] She glanced at Yuuri over his shoulder. "Right, little one?"

He was extremely aware of Yuuri behind him, almost overtly so. Yuuri shook with her words and Viktor turned, laying a steadying hand upon his forearm until Yuuri's gaze finally fled from the woman and grounded on him. "Yuuri, you should get the cake out of the oven. I'm just going to take this outside, alright?"

"But, Viktor, it's-" Yuuri eyed her for a moment before meeting his eyes once again. "Isn't that-"

Viktor nodded as he drew himself up, lifting Yuuri easily by the wrist. "It'll be fine. Just tend to the angel cake, okay? The strawberries are waiting most desperately for their love by now, I'm sure." He smiled, not entirely faked, but strained with urgency. He wanted his mom as far from Yuuri as possible.

Yuuri escaped to the oven and Viktor faced the woman, now standing up to his full height. It didn't have the effect he was hoping for. His mother had always been an imposing woman and her height added to it. She was only two inches shorter than him on even ground. Her heels gave her the advantage. She always had the advantage.

[Outside, hm? Like trash you don't want to be associated with. Am I being thrown out out of my own house?]

[Now, mother] He gripped her upper arm and pulled. She came willingly, to his surprise. The air was cool when he stepped out, the sky clear, but the night smudged with fog. There was a man over on the side, leaning on a car with a cigarette poking between his lips. He was young and with the way his eyes traveled over his mother, Viktor knew exactly what he was there for. [Really?] Viktor asked as the door shut behind them. [You brought a man here?]

[Like you can talk, Vitya.]

[Don't call me that. Don't.] It hurt his ears coming from her. He only allowed his closest to call him that. While his mother gave him the name, she'd lost her rights to it long ago.

She stood, hip cocked as she rested a hand on it. [What am I to call you then?]

[I don't know. I didn't know cockroaches could talk.]

She smacked him. It was as abrupt as it was expected. She didn't stop there, even as his eyes warned her off. She gripped his chin, shiny, manicured nails stabbing into him, and stared into his face. When he was younger, such a move paralyzed him. He would be a deer caught in headlights, a bunny going still in the presence of a predator, but he wasn't so easily controlled anymore. He ripped himself from her grasp and stepped back, steeling his desire to respond in kind.

She smiled a proud smile, like she enjoyed pissing him off, driving him to the edge just to see if he would jump, if he would fight or flee. [There's my little Vitya.] Before he could bark at her again, she called out to the man just beyond him. "Thank you for the ride, darling. Call me tomorrow." She blew a kiss in his direction and Viktor wanted to gag. The man didn't say anything and Viktor didn't look to catch any other form of response that may have been given.

[He doesn't even have your number, does he?]

[Poor boy will realize that eventually.]

Viktor laughed, because his mom was as true to herself as ever. If he was known as a heartbreaking prince, she was undoubtedly the queen. [Why the show? I know screwing men your son's age isn't the reason you're here.]

A delicate brow arched, drawing lines across her forehead. [Just a bonus. I figured you needed me to talk some sense into that thick skull of yours. Why else would you quit at the height of your career and come out to one of my houses?]

[Ha, needed you? I honestly didn't think you even cared about this house. How was I supposed to know it would act as a beacon to you?]

[Nevertheless, I'm here now.] She paused, staring at him, appraising him. Viktor recognized that look. It was a calm before the storm. She always gave him and his father that look before tearing into them. [Why? Why are you taking a vacation, now, Viktor? You are so strong and perfect on the ice. With Yakov as your guide, you've reached heights only the greats could hope to achieve. Are you just giving up? Is this your way of backing out quietly into the night? After all you've accomplished? I don't understand why. You still have years of skating in you. You aren't quitting, Viktor. I won't stand for it. No son of mine is going to back down when he still has both legs. Every minute you spend like this is an insult to our family, to me. The Nikiforov name-]

[And here it is. The speech.] He drew in a breath, teeth clicking shut as he clenched his jaw. [I was wondering when it would come to that. All you care about is our fortune and our fame and our legacy. You didn't even care about me until I became something in the junior division. Then I was your pride and joy, enough to be talked about in your interviews. Before that I was just a bastard mistake!]

She glared at him. [You don't know what you're doing. You're squandering time that is precious. You can never get this time back. Soon you'll be unable to compete and wish you'd listened.] She stopped and sighed, clicking a heel down into the pavement. [I don't know if this is rebellion or boredom or just another one of your idiotic whims, Viktor, but you are our name now. I gave your father's name meaning with my dance, you have to continue with your skating, and someday your children will carry on our legacy.]

God forbid. He would never give his children such a burden. Her words pierced him, like Yakov's, like Chris's. They didn't know. They didn't understand. It frustrated him to no end. [I can't skate anymore] he spoke between gritted teeth.

[You aren't hurt are you?] She didn't even look concerned. [Yakov knows the best doctors and physical therapists. He could get you healed up with a snap of his fingers. Which is why I'm certain that's not it. Not even a lost limb could have kept you from the ice before.]

He didn't want to say it. It had taken everything in him to tell Yuuri. But he was sick of being spoken for. [I can't skate if I no longer feel out on the ice. My inspiration-]

[Inspiration?] She scoffed. [You left for that? Don't be ridiculous. Only amateurs work from inspiration. We are molded to breathe our craft, Viktor. We don't have to feel to perform.]

Her mockery of his plight sank into his gut. Yes, she was true to form, a frigid gust in a room of warm colors. Her ballet had always been about precision and perfection. Feeling her work, letting it burn into her soul and excite her audience, was not a part of her job description. The woman, who danced through the bulk of her pregnancy, didn't know hurdles or slumps. [I'm finding my way, mother. I don't need your approval for that.]

[Finding your way cavorting around with a Japanese man? Really? All that can possibly do is ruin your image.]

[You don't get to talk about Yuuri.]

[It almost sounds like you care. Since when do you let your dalliances get under your skin? I didn't teach you to care.]

[He is more than a dalliance. Keep your tainted thoughts to yourself.]

She tilted her head, observing him with something like distress in her eyes. [Don't do it, Viktor. Don't let a man hold you back. Especially not one like that. You can do so much better than some no name groupie-]

[Yuuri isn't-]

[What is he? A fan? Some nobody you picked up off the street? All he'll do is take from you, Viktor. Leech away your fame and your money and your happiness. Don't be like that. Don't fall for the same traps I did. You can't feel for him. That will be your first and last mistake.]

His anger heightened. She didn't know Yuuri, couldn't know how terribly wrong she was about a man that held such a genuine heart and soul. [Yuuri gives me more than you'll ever know,] his tone was low, dangerous and on the verge of pouncing. [And dad didn't take a thing from you. He didn't kill your career, as you love to spout. You did that yourself. You're cold and unfeeling like glass, only something you can gaze through, not at. And when you break, all that's left are jagged shards that will cut and hurt.]

She snarled, not having expected something quite like that from her son. He wasn't used to fighting her, but this mattered to him, his fight, his Yuuri. [I want you out of my house.]

[Done.] He began to walk away, back to Yuuri, but she couldn't just let it go.

[You didn't know your father like I did.] Her voice wavered, losing some of its stony hardness.

He stopped and faced her. [Why do you still have his name? If you hate him so much, why are you still a Nikiforov?] His ring still shined on her finger, an antique with little meaning.

[Love and hate are much more intertwined than you think.]

He continued walking. [Stay away from me.]


 

Yuuri stared down at the cake in his hands and wrestled with what to do next. Makkachin was at the door, staring at it, a little whine sounding out from her throat as she waited for Viktor. Yuuri almost felt like doing the same. His head spun with feelings of embarrassment and shame, but there were still the lingering feelings of Viktor draped over him, feeling him, wandering through him. The back of his mind ached with thoughts, his skull from the floor. But his concern drew most of his energy. There'd been so much inside their eyes, a story of raw anger and crippling pain clashing between them. Yuuri knew what Viktor had told him, which was apparently very little.

Viktor came back, a rush in the quiet. There was more Russian, but it was aimed at Makkachin, the sound soft and syllables rounded into a coo, much better than the earlier caustic gnash of teeth that had grated against his insides.

"Viktor?" Yuuri let his name ask the questions, because he was at a loss of which ones to ask. Or whether he should. Viktor looked up at him and his expression was hardened, barricaded. Yuuri drew back some. Something had changed all too quickly.

"We need to get going, Yuuri. I'm sorry, but I can't stay here. Can you pack up the shortcake while I grab some things? I'll meet you at the door." He offered no other words or explanation. Yuuri thought to protest, to insist something more, but he was still shaken. The eyes of the ocean lingered, but it was not the same ocean he remembered.

Valeriya had been nowhere in sight when they came out of the house. Yuuri was relieved. He didn't really know the woman, not enough to judge her, but she had affected Viktor in the worst of ways. They were in Viktor's rental car. He drove with his stuff and Makka in the back, Yuuri a nearly transparent companion in the passenger seat. Other than the fact that they were driving to Yuuri's apartment, he couldn't tell if Viktor remembered he was in the car with him.

Yuuri could see a battle in his eyes, against what, he didn't know. A storm brewed, turning the depths of his irises choppy, the usually calm current troubled. He didn't want to disturb it any further, but there was at least one question that he had the will to voice. "Are you leaving?" He didn't know why that question came out so empty. Viktor looked at him and Yuuri just glanced at his bags in the backseat. "Are you going back?"

Viktor's eyes widened, like that conclusion had never occurred to him. "Nyet," he clicked his tongue at the word. "I'm not going anywhere, Yuuri." He reached between them, a gap that had grown since they'd separated in the kitchen, and took his hand, fingering the spirals of his knuckles. "I just can't stay at that house anymore. I'll find a hotel or something until I can find something more permanent."

Yuuri breathed a deathly silent sigh, because Viktor was staying. He would still be there. Still wanted to be there. Still held his hand like he still cared. He obviously didn't want to talk, stewing in silence, but he didn't want to let go, either. Yuuri studied his face, wanted him to smile. He had been wanting something more, something deeper, to sink beneath the surface of the man's emotions for some time, but now he wanted that unflinching, cartoonish happiness back. He wanted Viktor to ask him to let him lick him again. Yuuri would have said yes. He would have said yes to about anything.

Viktor pulled up, but Yuuri didn't get out. He stayed sitting, and turned his hand to grip at Viktor's. A yearning tugged at him, pulling something out of him that he wasn't sure he was ready for. He couldn't let Viktor leave. Not like this. Not when he looked a hair-trigger away from snapping. "Stay." What was he doing!? His mind raced, his heart hammered, but he was oddly content with the idea. He looked at Viktor, seeing the man gawking at him like he'd just ripped off a wig and pulled out his teeth. A gag so shocking it couldn't be taken seriously. "Stay here tonight. Or for-" he licked his lips, "for however long you need."

"Yuuri-"

It didn't take long for all of the insecurity to catch up with him. "Sorry, that's a dumb idea. You wouldn't be comfortable at our place. God, you wouldn't even have a bed. And there's another person, and the squeaky hamster wheel, and the neighbors, and the wallpaper-"

Viktor leaned over the space and kissed him quiet. "I'd love to stay at your place, Yuuri. It would bring me so much pleasure. Just tell me where to park."

"Are you sure about this?" he asked again as he helped Viktor with his bags up the stairs. There wasn't much and Yuuri wondered how all of a person like Viktor could be reduced down into his arms. Makkachin was already up the flight, waiting for them at each turn.

"Are you taking your proposal back?" Viktor jutted out his bottom lip, face eclipsed in disappointment.

"No, just-"

"Good, because I'm staying!" He said it with a surge of excitement, dancing up the stairs, all traces of gloom and seriousness fluttering away with the wind.

"You really are going to get me evicted." But it was good to see Viktor back to himself, with that smile and radiant happiness. Yuuri knew that things still weren't okay. Even as Viktor did some weird form of a cha-cha outside his door, eagerly waiting for Yuuri to unlock it, there was an unmistakable hitch in his demeanor. Yuuri didn't press. Viktor would talk about it when he was ready. Or he wouldn't.

Phichit was on the couch as he made his way in. He instantly laughed at him and Yuuri paused, Viktor and Makkachin still hidden behind the half open door. "Somebody had a little somethin' going on tonight." Yuuri looked at him, puzzled. Phichit grinned, pointing a finger at his own neck. "You got a little tattletale on your throat."

Yuuri clapped a hand against the evidence of their session on the floor. He'd vaguely noticed it before, catching his reflection while Viktor was out, but he hadn't been thinking about anything but the conversation outside. Viktor prodded him with the edge of a suitcase at his hip and Yuuri moved aside to let them in.

"And brought that somethin' home..." He looked stunned, but waggled his eyebrows approvingly. "Should I give you some privacy?" Then he took notice of the bags. "Or a room maybe? Are you moving in?"

"It's a long story." Phichit wasn't satisfied with such a half-assed answer, so Yuuri told, first looking to Viktor for permission, which he gave. His best friend was practically praising him with laughter when he finished, looking guilty, but fond.

"Ha! Viktor's mama caught you on the kitchen floor? Good lord." He slung an arm around Yuuri, eyes still staring at the welted trail. "How do these things happen to you?"

Yuuri shrugged the arm off and attempted to tent his collar up over his neck. Judging by the look Phichit gave him, it did very little to help. Viktor was now in the bathroom and the two had some privacy to speak. "I don't know what happened between them, Phichit, but Viktor's been really off since it happened."

"Well, not everyone has perfectly loving parents like you, Yuuri. They probably have issues. Even famous people have normal people problems like little tiffs with their parents."

Yuuri worried at his lip, nipping and biting. Phichit wasn't helping stem off his anxiousness. Yuuri didn't know what Valeriya was there for. What she wanted from Viktor. Was Viktor hiding from her? Was that why he had to split? But why would he have to hide from his mother? What was said? What had been done?

"Yuuri," Phichit chided, "this isn't your problem. I know how you get, worrying so much about things that you even worry about other people's problems, but this is Viktor's worry. Now, he can totally stay here, but…" Phichit's eyes roamed their apartment, taking in the space as he stooped to rub Makkachin. "Where is he going to sleep?"

"Don't worry about it," Viktor said as he entered the room. Yuuri was already firmly in worry mode. "I'll take the couch tonight and buy a cot or futon in the morning. If you guys really don't mind."

"No, I'll take the couch," Yuuri offered. "You can sleep in my room until we get this more sorted out."

"As appealing as that sounds, sleeping between my lovers sheets," He slipped a finger beneath Yuuri's chin, drawing him closer as their noses bumped, "I'm already taking advantage of your kindness, Yuuri. I won't take any more."

Phichit cleared his throat from his place at their side as Yuuri's face heated up twenty degrees. "Um, okay. So I'm just going to head to bed. Make sure you ice that head, okay, Yuuri? It's good to see you, Viktor. Make yourself at home."

"What did he mean ice your head?" The question broke Viktor's entrancing look, though the finger curled more beneath his face, a tender stroke. Yuuri finally came back to himself, to his earlier thoughts.

Yuuri groaned and made his way to the kitchen. He set the bag with the shortcake stuff down on the counter before pulling an ice pack out of the freezer and gingerly applying it. "I may have been so startled by the, um, interruption that I hit my head on the floor. Kind of hard, actually." He felt around the spot with an inspecting finger. Nothing gave, nothing bled, but he hissed at the soreness.

"Oh, my Yuuri," Viktor came in close, like he wanted to help, heal, something. Yuuri eyed him.

"Don't 'oh, my Yuuri' me. Somehow I always end up taking head shots around you." Viktor's face visibly sank, but Yuuri's expression gave him away and he finally chuckled. "It's not that bad. It feels like a bruise, there but too dull to mean anything." Yuuri leaned against the fridge and watched Viktor for a moment. "And you? Did everything with your mom…?" He'd told himself not to ask. Viktor had wanted a private conversation for a reason. But just like at the ice rink, Yuuri wanted to know, this time, Yuuri asked with the intention to soothe.

Viktor's nose twitched, a hint of frustration burrowed beneath neutral features. "It's her house, technically. She was just checking in. At the worst time. As always. She wants to stay there. I no longer do. So I left."

It was horribly oversimplified. Yuuri could discern that even without reading the tightness of his cheeks, the tiredness of his eyes. But, as Phichit said, it wasn't his worry. Such a statement never stopped him, though. "So… what do you want to do? Are you tired?"


 

Viktor grunted and squeezed his features in denial. "Sleep is actually the last thing I want right now." He walked out to the living room and fwumped his body down onto the couch. It made an awful shriek, but they both pretended it remained silent like furniture was supposed to be. "We could go out to a club. Go dancing. We could go to Spritz?" Viktor suggested. He didn't really know how he felt at that moment. He wasn't sure what emotions were where. They'd scattered inside him, lost children hiding in dark crevices and he was at a loss as to how to coax them out. He wanted to get out, get excited, just be. In the moment. As a whole instead of as one. With Yuuri.

But Yuuri blanched at the suggestion. Right. Spritz. Are we still pretending like that never happened?

"Or there's this club uptown that Chris and I heard about, Vortex. They say it's the best if you want to stay unknown." After being reminded of everything he was and what he was supposed to be, the Nikiforov name plastered like a gaudy brand on his chest, the last thing he wanted was to be regarded by the public eye. No, anonymity sounded nice. Where he could just be with Yuuri. Just the two of them crushed together in a nameless, faceless crowd. That sounded better than nice. That sounded perfect.

"No, that's alright." Yuuri smiled, lips pulled tight and quirked awkwardly at the corners, body tense in all the wrong places. It drew a frown from Viktor.

"What did we do on Saturday? Can you just tell me if we…? Did we do anything that-"

Maybe it was less about the club and more about being alone with Viktor at a place where he would be drunk and vulnerable. Did Yuuri think something more happened between them? That Viktor was hiding such a damning detail from Yuuri and couldn't trust him? Did Yuuri really think that Viktor was the type of person to take advantage of someone who was beyond wasted? Yuuri had been exceptionally intoxicated and Viktor knew that. It was why things had ended with a kiss despite every fiber of Viktor's being singing for Yuuri. Of course, Yuuri had vanished before Viktor could assure the man of his intentions.

"Though I don't have a headache now, I'm sure the lights and noise and people would surely surface something terrible. Maybe next time?" The offer didn't sound genuine. Neither did the excuse. It seemed that they were both hiding between sentences tonight.

"Ah, right, sorry. Wasn't thinking." He was thinking too much. He was supposed to leave that to Yuuri. And Yakov. Oh. The thought dropped a little late in his mind. Was Yakov calling me about mom? "What do you want to do?" The way Yuuri relaxed wasn't lost on him, and he supposed that he would think on Yuuri's earlier actions more later.

"A movie in?"

Viktor beamed. Simple. Normal. Now that sounded "Perfect."

Yuuri nodded, giving his own self-assured smile. "You still want that shortcake?"

"Mhm, need any help?"

"Nope. You can pick out a movie in the cabinet by the window. It's a small selection, but pick whatever you want."

Yuuri hurried away into the kitchen, busying himself with his task. Viktor watched for a self-indulgent moment before picking out something from the designated area like a good, non-ogling Viktor.

He managed to get the TV on, which was like a relic from the humble beginnings of the technology age. It had a bright shimmy in the corner of the screen, pixels that swirled and probably weren't supposed to be noticeable. He struggled with the DVD player, but got it to start the movie just as Yuuri walked back in.

"One strawberry shortcake, sir. My sincerest apologies for the delay."

"Thank you, Yuuri." The angel food had been cut into precise squares and stacked into a pile. His sliced strawberries were piled on top of those with a swirl of whipped cream. Yuuri had even drizzled some chocolate over the mound and Viktor was sure that the man was trying to kill him with sugar. It was a small portion, at least. He took a bite and all of the flavor melted easily over his tongue, pure bliss dancing on his taste buds. It was divine. Could Yuuri ever make something that tasted bad? Or even so-so? If not, he wasn't going to be able to fit into any of his skating costumes. "I love your work, Yuuri, but this has to stop."

"What's wrong?" Yuuri looked between his downcast gaze and the plate. Viktor poked his midsection with the tail end of his fork and Yuuri got it. "I'm so sorry! I didn't even- If I'd eaten this much while dancing I would have ballooned past the point of no return."

"It's alright. My metabolism allows me to have a decently indulgent diet. I'll just have to space it out more. And maybe no chocolate next time… or whipped topping…"

"Or cake?" Yuuri chuckled. Viktor let out a pitiful puff of air. "What are we watching?"

They both sat on the ground between the couch and the coffee table with their legs tucked beneath it. Viktor brought up the case and flashed it at Yuuri.

"I think that's Phichit's…" Viktor waited for the dread to hit his face. One… two… three… "It's not the one with ghosts, is it?" There it was.

"Yes?"

"Do we have to?" he asked in a whine.

"But you love paranormal movies. You said so yourself. Number eleven." He stated it like a fact, etched in his bones.

"I said that they freak me out. I shriek at jump scares and this movie has a crap-ton of jump scares."

"Oops. I forgot."

"Uh-huh." Yuuri didn't buy it, crossing his arms and giving him that look over the rim of his glasses. They slid down his nose, to the very tip, and he looked like a librarian scolding Viktor for disturbing his patrons.

Viktor sought to remedy his concerns with a smooth slide of his arm around Yuuri's shoulders and patted his leg. "You'll be fine, Yuuri. I'll protect you from the ghosties. You can even sit in my lap."

"So you can get off on me having a heart attack every five minutes?"

Yuuri knew him too well.

The movie… was probably not the best choice. Yuuri was practically hiding in his own shirt as the haunting parts started, nails gripping the thick of his jeans. Viktor leaned the man into him, tucking his head onto the slope of his shoulder. Yuuri had just begun to ease when one particular scene made him jump some feet in the air, his head bashing into Viktor's chin. It caused the older man to clamp his teeth down on his tongue. Yuuri apologized over and over, red faced and checking his chin with trembly hands.

He was fine. His tongue throbbed and his chin ached only a little, but he played it up a bit, getting an ice pack and ice water and a few apologetic hugs in return. He could get used to a doting Yuuri.

They switched to a comedy after that. Yuuri made it half way through before exhaustion dampened him into blissful oblivion. Viktor felt a lump fall on his shoulder and looked over to find Yuuri asleep. He paused the movie and laid Yuuri gently down on his lap, preferring to watch his slumbering partner over the raunchiness on the screen. Viktor took the glasses from his nose, setting them atop the table, before his hand traveled aimlessly through silky, mussed up locks.

Viktor shrank all of his thoughts down to that moment where there were no life decisions. No familial obligations. No wavering trust or hidden meanings. Yuuri was in his lap wrapped in a precarious peace. Viktor coveted the movement of his chest, his pulse, the slight twitch to his fingers, the shape of his mouth as little puffs of air drew in and out, all signs of Yuuri's life held so preciously in his hands.

Viktor almost felt burdened by the meaning locked in his chest. It was heavy and it hurt in a way that left mottled bruises on his ribs, each new sensation leaving a new mark. He loved Yuuri. He loved Yuuri so much that just the thought of his career, of his mother, of his old life and the too real world made him curl in closer to Yuuri, cradling his head gently to his chest. He'd never felt love before, so he couldn't be sure that this feeling was truly love, but he'd never felt anything like the emotion that was currently constricting all of his organs. It had to be love. Or something damn near close that it didn't matter if it wasn't.

Viktor stared down at Yuuri, all shiny and new, still wrapped in plastic and shackled in place by twist ties. A rare prize that wasn't given a chance to bloom, wasn't guided to promise like he was. Yuuri wasn't a nobody. He wasn't a leech. Yuuri was everything. Viktor could see worlds in his eyes, galaxies of potential just waiting to be explored. He was a treasure trove sitting in the depths of a bottomless sea. Viktor just needed to find him, foster him, help him flourish. Then everyone would see what he saw. Yuuri would see what he saw.

Nothing mattered more to Viktor. He found life and love in Yuuri. He wanted Yuuri to find that in him, too.

Chapter Text

Yuuri remained in bed after waking, eyes freshly peeled apart and staring at the ceiling. His limbs were spread out, lifeless and puddled on the sheets. The day before thumped against his mind, like a hammer driving in a nail, or a woodpecker in search of a new home. Phichit had already knocked on his door, assuring he was awake. He knew the real reason was to check if he was okay. Ever knowing Phichit understood what things like this did to him. But he was fine. Fine, always fine. He just needed his life to stay still for a moment. Everything had sped up into such a fast, rampaging motion that it was making him feel dizzy and nauseous and too, too exposed.

He needed time to adjust, to let the new pieces of his life settle after such an eventful day. It was the next morning, a bright and shiny new day, the sun soaking in a new heat into his bones through the barely blanketed window, but Yuuri couldn't let the day before slip out of his thoughts. It had been a whirlwind and he'd let himself accept everything rather easily, but as he laid there, with nothing but his thoughts and his mind now fully alert after a night's sleep, the meaning behind everything began to sink into him.

I met Viktor's mom… It was hardly a meeting as the woman had done little more than scowl at him and speak words that were beyond his comprehension. She didn't like him, that was easy to tell. He supposed that she shouldn't. He was an average, unworthy man caught in a compromising position with her son, the treasure of Russia and a hero in the figure skating world. Yuuri inwardly groaned at the impression that he must have left. He didn't want to be seen as one of Viktor's 'caught on camera' sexual encounters, someone that was little more than a good night swept into a carefully concealed pocket. That's all she surely thought of him. The look on her face was proof enough. But Yuuri knew that there was more to the story than that. Viktor's reaction was not unlike a guard dog, getting between Yuuri and his mother like the man was afraid of what the woman would do. Did Viktor really see his mom as some kind of threat? Didn't he care about his mother? Of what she thought of him? Of what she thought of Yuuri?

And then there's Viktor… Yuuri flopped himself over and stared at his bedroom door, eyes mapping the fake wood patterns that trailed its exterior. Viktor was living with them. Temporarily? Until he returned to Russia? He didn't know. The situation was left undefined. Like their relationship. Everything was up in the air until gravity decided to drag it all back down on top of their heads.

I don't know how I feel about having Viktor here. It complicates things. In more ways than one. We hardly have the space. Not that it's a good enough space to begin with. Viktor doesn't belong in my apartment any more than he belongs in my life. It's not that I'm ashamed of my life, I've crafted something safe and right for myself. It's just that Viktor can't be happy here. Surely, this place can't satisfy him. I can't satisfy him. He called me his inspiration, but what happens if I'm not enough to sustain him? What if I end up being nothing more than a distraction until he finds something better? Something more inspiring?

Yuuri shut his thoughts down as he finally clambered out of bed. His doubts were heavy and they remained stitched into his skin like all the rest, left frayed and half open. Putting his hand on his door knob, Yuuri took a deep breath and walked out. Everything would be fine. Viktor cared about him. Enough to try to break through his barriers. Enough to try to protect him from something Yuuri still wasn't sure of. Enough to stay with him even though he was inadequate as a partner.

"Oh, Yuuri, you're up."

Yuuri looked up to address Viktor, but immediately stumbled over his toes until he came to an abrupt halt. Yuuri merely stared for a long moment. Viktor was in front of him, fresh from the shower as droplets dripped from silver strands and down his form. Yuuri's eyes watched the water slide down a sturdy shoulder and off a sharp collar bone as it trailed along the smooth skin and thick muscle of a torso, over a thin line of hair that led down to-

Yuuri clasped a hand over his eyes before he could witness the destination of that innocent little drop. "Viktor…" He licked his lips, throat now incredibly parched as his face felt scorched. "P-please put on some clothes."

"But I'm air drying."

Yuuri slid his hand down just enough so that Viktor was only exposed to the base of his neck, all other sinful features tucked behind carefully placed fingers. The man had on a sunny smile, an impish innocence attempting to cleanse his intentions. Yuuri glared over his hand. "Air drying," he deadpanned.

"Yes. I didn't intend on putting on a show while doing so, but I don't mind if it's for you." He batted his eyelashes as he put an arm around Yuuri and brought him close.

His raging blush intensified. Viktor was so close, slippery skin bleeding warmth into his form. He smelled heavenly. The scent wafting off of him was of a crisp spring and the openness of a valley at dawn, a paradise in secret seclusion. It drew Yuuri in, a captivating and touchable aroma, but he grit his teeth and stepped out of the man's arms, hand still resolutely kept up. It wasn't like he hadn't seen other naked men before. He lived with Phichit and they were both pretty open with each other by now. Open showers after gym class had been an awkward reality. He'd been raised at an onsen where men were even less reserved. But this was Viktor. The nakedness had meaning.

"Please."

Viktor's grin drooped and he was about to say something, but Phichit came into the hall.

"Wow. Yuuri, your boyfriend is hu-"

Yuuri smacked a hand against Phichit's face, not sure if he was aiming for his eyes or his mouth, but he got a bit of both with a palm full of a scrunched nose. "Stop looking. Viktor, please get dressed. You are horrible for my blood pressure."

Viktor gave a meek nod and went back into the bathroom.

"Yuuri's getting all possessive," Phichit said as he pinched Yuuri's cheek. "Fine, fine." He dropped Yuuri's hand but kept his eyes closed as he retreated from the hall.

Yuuri bit the side of his cheek as he heard the rumple of clothes until Viktor came out fully dressed. With a sigh, he gripped the younger man's hand and held it to his now clothed chest and leaned forward to peck Yuuri's lips. "I apologize if I made you uncomfortable, Yuuri. It's good to know that you're attracted to me, though." Lips brushed up to the tips of his cheeks, along the burning skin and over an eyebrow. Yuuri felt his pulse race. He wasn't kidding about that blood pressure.

"As if that was ever a question," Yuuri grumbled as he retreated into the bathroom. "I'm going to take a shower."

Yuuri calmed himself down in the rushing water, letting the stirrings of embarrassment and arousal fade through time and rough cleansing. He emerged to Phichit laughing over a bowl of corn flakes at the bar counter and Viktor lounging on the living room floor with Makkachin. Yuuri stayed hidden in the dark of the hall as he looked at Viktor. The man had a wide smile on his face and his casual nature somehow blended well into their home. He looked… comfortable and pleased, stretched out on his back with his large puppy on his chest. Makkachin snuggled her nose down into the collar of Viktor's shirt and Viktor let out a high laugh in response.

Phichit pointed his spoon at Viktor, mouth in a sloped line. "I know your game, Nikiforov. I see what you're doing. You're a sly one, hiding your plotting nature behind an act of harebrained absurdity. Always acting like you're an old, forgetful idiot."

"I have no idea what you're talking about. I am a forgetful idiot."

"I think you forgot a word there." Viktor sent an evil eye his way. "Yeah, okay. So you want me to send you the video afterwards? Sara's already got the menu switched around."

"What video?" Yuuri asked as he entered, running a towel through his hair.

"Nothing," the two said in stereo before Phichit returned his attention to his cereal and Viktor to Makkachin. Yuuri looked between the two of them.

"Why does that immediately sound like something?"


"Crap." The word came two seconds before a crash of dishes, accompanied by a large puff of flour in the air. Yuuri slipped away from his station to find Minami crumbled on his backside, cradling a hand in his lap. His eyes widened at the blood and he yelled to Leo to nab the first aid kit.

"Minami," Yuuri crouched down and tried to look at the youngest baker, but all he could see was a hint of scrunched brows and downturned lips beneath a mess of blond hair. "We'll get your hand fixed, just wait-"

"I can't do anything right," Minami mumbled, a slight lift to his voice. There was a hiccup and then tears fell. "I'm just a hazard around here. I-I don't know why I'm even here anymore. I'll never be a good baker."

Yuuri didn't say anything, too caught off guard by the hopeless words that came from the least likely source. Minami was always their ray of sunshine, but today he remained a pitiful heap, a cloud ready to pour down its sorrows. It reminded him of himself when he was younger. And even now as he had to constantly remind himself that he was enough.

The cut wasn't too deep, but enough to be mildly concerning. Leo bandaged up his hand. They all kept quiet through it. Sara came in and suggested that Minami take the rest of the day off. He accepted with a silent bob of his head, gaze on the floor. Yuuri thought to say something before the boy left. He wanted to. His body even moved before his brain was ready, settling a hand between Minami's shoulder blades.

"I just want to be like Yuuri-sensei."

It was a dull proclamation, fully clasped in misery. Yuuri felt it grip onto him and found his words. "You'll get there, Minami. You have a lot of potential."

"But I just keep-" he sniffed, dragging his uninjured hand up beneath watering eyes, "messing everything up."

"Not true. Sure, you have a lot of accidents and some minor failures with the recipes, but you've had very little training compared to the rest of us. I'd be surprised if you were as good as me already." He scratched his cheek with a chuckle. "And pretty jealous and resentful, if I was honest." Minami stared up at him, eyes big and full of sparkling hope. Yuuri swallowed, reminded of his influence over this person. His friend. One wrong word, one wrong instruction, and Minami's career, his heart, would be in shambles. That was why Yuuri couldn't be a teacher. He had enough worries over his own failings. He couldn't handle another's. "Just keep working, Minami. Everything will fall into place when it's meant to. I'm sure you'll be stealing my spot on the team in no time."

Minami's expression rose like the sun and he hugged Yuuri around his middle before taking off. Yuuri felt his own mood lift and he smiled at the younger baker's retreating back.

"Big words. You sure Minami can live up to them?" Phichit asked.

"Yeah. He'll get there."

"I think so, too. Now, Cinnamon Stitch Bread." Phichit gestured over to Yuuri's counter with a 'get a move on' wave. "It's not going to bake itself and it is one of your specialty breads."

"Why is this back on the menu?" Yuuri asked as he went back to his dough. It sat in the proofing oven, left to warm and raise. "We usually keep it for fall."

"I don't know."

He sighed at his unhelpful friend and thought to ask the woman behind it all later. He sank his fingers back into the dough and kneaded it smoothly on the counter, breathing in the smoky-sweet scent. When it was thoroughly puffed, he divided it up into designated piles and placed them into the prepared loaf pans. In each form, he tore a seam into the top and began braiding the dough, shaping them into different stitch patterns. His slender fingers pulled and tugged through the plump mixture. The movement was calming, known, a relaxing motion that threaded ease into his mind. Before placing them in the oven, he drizzled a cinnamon butter glaze on top and it melted easily into each unbaked loaf.

Once they were in the oven he turned to find Phichit with his phone up and aimed at Yuuri. There was a suspicious light on in the corner and Yuuri felt a harsh fluttering in his stomach. "Are you… recording me!?"

Phichit flailed, his phone falling from his hands. He tried to catch it and it bounced from palm to palm until Yuuri finally swiped it out of the air. He looked down at the phone to find that he had indeed been recording him. His process of braiding and stitching the bread dough was perfectly shown on the screen.

"I'm sending it to Viktor," the other said, hands in the air, a criminal caught in the act.

"What are you stalking for him now?"

Phichit bit his lip in stifled laughter. "Sure. If that lets me continue recording this."

"Phichit…"

"Yuuri…" he said in the same bothered drawl. "It's just a video."

Yuuri let it slide with a fond roll of the eyes, though his annoyance crouched low in his jaw as he continued. Phichit kept recording him, his bread as it baked in the oven, and even the ending process as he popped them out of their pans and drizzled more butter over the warm loaves. Phichit stood in the corner, a wary observer that felt more like a pesky voyeur. It was a bother, but Yuuri ignored it. It's just Phichit and Viktor, he told himself. He kind of felt charmed by the fact that Viktor wanted to see what he was working on at the bakery. If he thought about it, it was no different than him wanting to see Viktor when he skated.

Phichit drew in a languid breath through his nose. "Ah," he said in an exhale, "Almost smells better than a man fresh out of the shower, neh, Yuuri?"

He smacked him with a hand towel.

Phichit was still on his phone when he returned from putting the loaves on display. His fingers sped on the screen, powered by revved up excitement.

"Aren't you working?" He tilted himself to look over his friend's shoulder.

"I'm just-"

He expected to see a message to Viktor containing the video, maybe some witty repartee between the odd new friends, not a clip of his bread-making posted on Viktor's Instagram. He snatched the phone back with a whip of his hand.

It was condensed. The part of his twisting and threading the dough was sped up, as was the process of the bread baking in the oven, but the last part, as the warm butter oozed over each loaf, was left as an excruciatingly, mouthwatering, slow motion.

Yuuri just stared owl-eyed at the screen, looking at himself, with his hand clasped over his open mouth. There were already comments. Much too many comments written in a world of languages outside of him. At least a good number were in English and Phichit's phone translated some of the rest.

Why is Viktor posting a video of bread???

I've never been so attracted to bread in my life

Breeeeeaaaaadddddd!!!!!!!!!!

Channeling my inner Oprah.

i just drooled all over myself. and my keyboard. one of my keys isnt working now

Viktor, who is this beautiful boy? Where are you hiding him?

excuse me while I go gorge myself on bread now…

DUH! It's Yuuri. He's all over Viktor's account. I've been salivating over his food and adorableness for weeks now.

"I'm all over his WHAT?" Yuuri swiped the screen to find the rest of the hidden posts of himself. There were pictures. A lot of pictures. Of him. Ice skating. Making shortcake. Sitting on a log at the beach. LAYING IN VIKTOR'S LAP. "W-Wh… When did he… How did he…" Yuuri could feel his cells frying in his brain, each one snapping and popping with crude indignation. "He's been posting pictures of me!?"

"Yuuri," Phichit started.

"Why? Why does he want to plaster me all over his Instagram? Is this some kind of joke?"

Phichit took his phone from Yuuri's furious hands before he gripped them tightly. "Yuuri, breathe, think, and calm down. You know Viktor wouldn't joke about you. He just wants to share his happiness with the world and that happiness is you. Some of his followers asked to see a video of you making something and we all got an idea."

"But people are-"

"Completely enamored with you. Did you read any of those comments? They think your pastries look delicious and many of them aren't shy about saying that they think you do, too."

"But I'm… and he…" Yuuri stuttered as he couldn't comprehend such statements. People liked him? Online people, complete strangers, liked him. They complimented him and wanted to see more of him. So Viktor was, essentially, bragging about him? Showing him off to the world? While he'd remained completely oblivious. A part of him felt flattered. But a part of him felt more than a little betrayed by the invasion of privacy. And so much more exposed than he'd ever wished to be. "Why didn't he ask me before parading me and my work in front of his fans?"

Phichit put his hands on his hips. "Because you would have said…"

"Heck no!"

"Uh-huh. Viktor… We allfigured a surprise was the best way to do this. You would have outright refused over some stupid worry about what people would think of you, but look," he flashed the screen with even more comments and praise, "there was nothing to be afraid of."

"That's not the point, Phichit, I- Wait, you all… You all planned this?"

"Just me, Sara, and Viktor. Look, I know your new internet presence must come as a shock and this might seem like some kind of underhanded deception, but we care about you. We just wanted to show you that it wouldn't hurt to put yourself out there. We think you could be really successful if you tried."

"Tried what? I already am successful. I'm good at my job. What else am I-" Yuuri braced himself against a counter and took Phichit's earlier advice. He breathed. He reached for a fortitude of calm inside of him, though it was deep and he could barely grasp it.

His friends meant well, they always did, always trying to carefully push him out of his comfort zone to let him fly free. Even when he really didn't want to. Viktor probably thought nothing of a few pictures and posts, too. He probably didn't think much of what something like this could do to someone like him. He didn't understand. Viktor was used to the attention, to having his life invaded and dissected by the public. Yuuri didn't want that, in any size or form. He couldn't handle it. Just the thought of all of those people, some he couldn't even understand… It made him want to vomit and he fought against the roar of anxiety that shortened his breath.

Still, he couldn't find it in him to be truly angry. He was mad that his friends decided to expose him to the world without his knowledge, but their intentions were pure. None of them meant him harm.

He just had to reconcile those thoughts with the ones that were making his world spin.

"You're pissed," Phichit said, slipping his phone into his pocket as if it needed protection.

"I'm not pissed. I just wish you-"

"Hey, Yuuri," Sara leaned in the doorway. "There's a scary looking woman here to see you."

Can I get five minutes to breathe?

"A scary woman?"

"Yeah, and she looks a hell of a lot like Viktor."

Yuuri paled in an instant. "It wouldn't happen to be Valeriya Nikiforova, would it?"

"She wouldn't give me her name." Sara paused before her expression lit up with shock. "Wait, as in Viktor's mother?"

Phichit and Sara both ran back to the door and poked their heads out, searching out the woman to see if it really was her.

"Woah," Phichit said as they pulled back. "She's like a fierce and terrifying feminine version of Viktor. But what is she doing here? You sure she doesn't want to see Viktor?"

"No, she specifically asked for Yuuri. She wouldn't tell me what she wanted, just that she needed to speak with him about his future."

"That sounds ominous," Phichit concluded with an uneasy twist to his mouth before turning to Yuuri. "What are you going to do?"

Hide. No, that would just make this infinitely worse.

What choice did he have? He couldn't ignore the woman. He already left her with a sour impression the night before. Maybe he could mend her idea of him. Or at least explain himself and his intentions. Or something. Who was he kidding? Even he didn't know what he and Viktor were doing. All he knew was that he had to talk to the woman.

It couldn't be too hard, right? He was sure she was just like any other mother that was concerned for her son. Just like his friends, she just wanted what was best here. Even if she didn't fully accept Yuuri, he thought that he could at least get her to see that he didn't mean Viktor any harm. He cared for Viktor. Very much. He just had to tell her that.

"Talk to her, I guess…"


Yuuri resisted the urge to squirm. They stood out behind the bakery, one of the calmest spots in the area, and stared each other down. Well, she was staring him down, her eyes pinpointed on each and every part of him, picking him apart like a vulture would a dead corpse. He told himself that the woman was just a person. Despite her fame, despite her biting, razor-edged presence, she was just a person. The mother of the man he was with. A woman that deserved respect and politeness. He didn't need to worry. He didn't need to sweat.

He was, though. Holy hell, he was sweating horribly and he wished that he'd brought in his other uniform because he was going to be disgusting by the time he was done here. It would be like the time before his last presentation in school where he'd spent the entire hour before it beneath a blow dryer in the restroom so at least he would look a little less like a sweating pig.

"So," the word came out crisp, a cleanly practiced and honed English that didn't try to mask her native tongue, but utilized its shape. It wasn't like Viktor's, lilting and tendered, a breeze that could lift him away with little trouble. No, just that lone word made Yuuri feel cold. "How much is this going to cost me?"

"E-Excuse me?"

She tapped a heel along the pavement, impatient and bored with Yuuri already. "Let's just cut to the chase, shall we, Yuuri Katsuki?" His name hissed off her tongue, expelled poison. "There must be something I can give you to make this little affair end."

"I… I don't think-"

"Money, right? It's always about money. The only question is how much." She reached into her purse, which had been snuggly situated in the bend of her arm, and pulled out a strapped stack of pristine bills. A wad of hundreds that she brandished in the air. She waved it before him, and Yuuri got the feeling that she expected him to be on his knees for it. A dog drooling over coveted meat. "There's plenty more of it. I can even write you a check. Just name your price."

Yuuri couldn't help but feel the sting. She was trying to… buy him off? And it seemed well-rehearsed, all too easy for her. "Please don't insult me, Ms. Nikiforova. I don't want your money. I'm…" pissed that you would even think that I would stoop so low "not interested in any deal you're offering me." He remained polite, even as his posture retained a protective rigidness.

"You have your debts," she suggested, a wicked gleam in her eyes as she noticed him twitch. How does she know about- "Your sister still owes some to that Okukawa woman for her part of that distasteful shop. Your parents' inn is still recovering and I'm certain that it could use all the financial cushioning it could get." Yuuri tried to hold form, but he didn't expect this. He didn't think the woman would know anything about him, or his family. It caused a deep quiver to tingle along his nerves. "Don't be foolish here, dear. This money can do more than just get you all back on your feet. Imagine what you could do with this. Your own house. Your own shop. Your own school. Your own life free of work, even. It's a dream and all you have to do is take it." Her long nails tapped against the fold. "It's not like you haven't already been taking from Viktor, right? How much has he given you already?"

The vase. The dinners. The clothes. Why, oh why did he let Viktor buy him clothes? It made him look like the gold digger she was accusing him of being.

"So don't act like you don't desire it."

Yuuri leaned back as she held the clip of money back out to him. Sure, he needed the money, but he didn't want it. Not from her. Not for this. Viktor was worth so much more than this. "I won't be paid to end my relationship with Viktor. I apologize, ma'am," he bowed, though he no longer found that she deserved it, "but you're wasting your time."

A flicker of the eyes and a tsk of the tongue had her tucking the money back against her bosom. "What do you want, then? Some minutes in the spotlight? Fame by association? One call from me and you can have all the popularity and prominence you could dream of. You don't need my son for that."

"There's nothing you can offer-"

"You're nothing to him, you know?" It was a hook, sinking into his stomach and ripping out his insides. "My son likes to engage in meaningless trysts. His brief entanglements have earned him quite the reputation. The charmer, the playboy, the ice cold prince. He's dated other skaters, celebrities, reporters, even a fan, despite his better judgement. You see any of them around? You really think you're something different than all the rest? You're just a fad, a bad fashion trend that he'll discard once he regains his senses."

That… hit home more than it should have. She knew it, too.

What if I'm just like everyone else?

A fling. A fan. Or worse.

A nobody.

"What makes you think that you even deserve him?" She kept talking, kept sharpening her claws just to rip them through him over and over. "I have nothing against your kind, but…" His kind? What because he was Japanese? Of a much lower station? A man that was dating another man? She was going to have to be a little more specific, not that the insinuation to any of those didn't scorch his stomach. "Don't you think Viktor deserves better? Someone extraordinary like him? He needs someone who can meet him at his level. Not someone who works to live in a shack of an apartment and can barely scrape up a living. Not someone who's so scarred that he seeks solace in alcohol. Does Viktor even know about your medications or your own sexual escapades in back alleys?"

Yuuri's eyes widened and he felt tears nip at the backs of his eyes, the burn in his nostrils as he fought to keep himself together. His diaphragm was sucked tight as he didn't dare breathe. He would fall apart if he breathed.

"How is your aunt, by the way? And your cousins? The death of your uncle hit all of you quite hard, as I understand."

How does she know all of this? How does she know!? It was like she stuck a scalpel in his brain and was scraping up every cell she could use to manipulate him while watching him scream beneath her. She probably wouldn't even care to put his head back together. She'd just leave him there. Scarred and disfigured. This woman was not just a simple person. He'd underestimated her and her intentions.

"Think about it, Yuuri. Do what's best. For you and for Viktor."

Yuuri swallowed past the gunk of saliva clogging his throat. It threatened to choke him, keep him quiet and small. But he refused to break apart at the hands of someone who only thought she knew him. Who had no idea about his relationship with Viktor. About his feelings that lay deeper than even he could fathom.

"I don't really know what's best here, or if this with Viktor is meant to last, but I know that I care deeply for him and… I want to stay by his side. I can't speak for Viktor, but… I want him to stay by my side, too."

"Even if it costs him his career?"

Yuuri stared hard at the pavement, hot and shimmering in the sizzling heat.

"Fine. If you love him, leave him. He doesn't need distractions. Some pitiful thing parading as love. He needs to skate until he can't anymore. If he goes until he breaks, well that will just show how devoted he is." Yuuri's head jerked up at that, fists clenching at his sides. Until he… breaks? "The media loves that crap. A tragic end to their favorite hero. At least Viktor will have done what he loved, what he was born to do, until the very end. Then he can retire and have a family. A dedicated wife that will take care of him. She will be from a notable family to bear him exceptional children who will carry on our legacy."

"He's not a machine. You can't talk about Viktor's body like it's some offering for a cause. Don't you care about your son? As more than just a trophy you can exhibit?" Yuuri's blood burned hot, and it rushed to his brain, a searing rage firing him up. It surpassed his worries, his manners, and ran far past any fears and doubts Valeriya might have awakened.

"You've made all these plans for him, but what about what he wants? Does he want a family? A wife? A tragic end that could cripple him? I firmly believe that he should keep skating. Once he figures himself out, I hope he does. I will be right there cheering for him. But he has to decide these things for himself. You and I… we don't have that right."

She hardly looked moved, but her lips slipped open and she looked back over Yuuri briefly before recovering. "This was decided long before you were around, dear. Don't screw up his life. Do yourself a favor. Take the money." She tossed it at him. The wad unfolded in the air and the paper splashed against his face, raining down his skin. Yuuri felt like he'd been doused with ice water.

He could feel his breathing start to increase, a rush of stress in and tension out, frustration in, anger out. It was too much and he lashed out. "I don't want it!" Yuuri cried. "The fact that you want to buy off his partners shows just how little you care about Viktor's happiness. He's your son! How can you treat him like this!?" The tears finally fell, out of frustration, out of sorrow for Viktor, he didn't know. He didn't care. "Aren't you supposed to support him? He needs guidance and love and respect from the people closest to him and all you want is to run him into the ground. To use him for your gains. To breed more Viktors out of him... Viktor deserves better. You're right. But you should look in the mirror before you judge me."

Valeriya stood there. She didn't speak further, didn't move. A stillness eclipsed her, and suddenly she seemed like the small one.

The realization came. Yuuri felt regret hit him, shame tightening every muscle in his body. He just yelled and screamed at the woman, at Viktor's mother. He bowed and stuttered out a surely insignificant apology. "I-I'm so sorry. I don't know what came over me, I just couldn't- I'm sorry. I'm so, so terribly sorry."

She moved and Yuuri waited for something to happen.

"Not another step, mother!"

Yuuri turned and there was Viktor, huffing in breaths like he'd just turned out a 5k. His face was maddening with anger, but all Yuuri felt was relief.

Chapter Text

All of his grueling training sessions, every routine that bled him dry of sweat and sanity, hadn't prepared him for the sprint he'd endured to make it to Yuuri.

Phichit had called him, concerned and at a loss with how to help. Something about the look on the woman's face and the sickly pallor to Yuuri's skin had made him dial up Viktor's number real fast. All Viktor had to hear was his mother's name. He was gone, torn from his hazy-lazy walk with Makkachin. He left her at the apartment and bolted. Because Yuuri couldn't handle someone like her. His precious Yuuri wasn't prepared for the torrent he was surely facing. The torrent that would push Yuuri away from him.

He couldn't allow the one saving grace in his life, the only foothold he had left in this steep climb, to be swallowed into the unforgiving hole that was 'the Nikiforov name.'

Hard earned muscles pumped him up the steep slope until the bakery was in sight, and then his mother's back, and just beyond her was his Yuuri. Viktor took notice of the flecked green that littered the ground and he knew just where it came from, its purpose. A puddle of bills lay at Yuuri's feet, a mockery to a man that had a hardened dignity and pride that wouldn't bend to a bribe. Yuuri would never. Even if he didn't love Viktor, didn't feel for him the way Viktor undoubtedly did for him, Yuuri wouldn't succumb to such an empty temptation.

Would he?

Yuuri's shout called out to him. Heartfelt, enraged words narrowed everything around him. The area was stamped quiet, pressurized into a concrete silence that focused Viktor past his worries and onto Yuuri. Yuuri's eyes were stung red, his form more than a little shaken. He spluttered out an apology, frightened and appalled out of his determination. All Viktor could really hear, though, were the echoes of Yuuri's quick refusal. He didn't want the money. He wasn't leaving Viktor, not for anything Valeriya was willing to offer.

When his mother advanced, it snapped him out of his stupor and Viktor made himself known. He walked quickly, steps taking on even more purpose, and swung around in front of his beloved. Yuuri noticed him, but his body was still and when Viktor tried to move him, heave him away from any further onslaughts, he appeared too rattled to move. "Yuuri," Viktor tried, hands squeezing his upper arms in a plea for him to look at him, see him and only him, but Yuuri was lost in his head. Probably suffocating in the thoughts his mother forced down his throat.

Viktor turned around to face her, his voice positively venomous. [I told you to stay away.]

Valeriya hit a lag as her eyes slowly shifted from Yuuri to him. It was odd, for a woman who was always sharp and pointed, ready to strike out, a scorpion with an impossible to deflect tail. She seemed to be stewing in something. Not anger. Never defeat. What it was eluded him, but it didn't last longer than a drawn out breath. [I did. From you. Just as instructed. I just figured a little chat with… him was in order.]

[What makes you think you have any right to talk to him!?] Viktor roared, his body quaking with anger. He wanted to do something, throw something, hit something, but all he could do was yell. Every violent urge formed into words that shot out like bullets. [Why do you do this? Why do you only involve yourself in my life just to ruin it!?]

[Ruin it? I'm trying to save it. You just don't understand what you're giving up for… for… this.] She waved a dismissive hand towards Yuuri, like he inspired little, insignificant thoughts, and didn't even deserve to be spoken of by name. Valeriya glanced in his direction as she gave a sigh, but her eyes didn't immediately flee back to Viktor as was expected. Her gaze clung to his body for a disconcerting moment and it only heightened Viktor's anger. Was she still trying to intimidate Yuuri even as he was right there?

He stepped more resolutely in front of Yuuri, casting him in a shadow of preservation. [You're trying to drive a wedge between me and Yuuri, but it won't work.]

She pursed her lips, the hint of a smirk curving their edges, though it wavered the tiniest bit. Her eyes were on Viktor, but it was like she was looking through him, gaze honing in on Yuuri's distressed expression even through Viktor's body. [Are you sure?]

The question shouldn't have given him pause, but it did. His stern expression faltered, and he turned to look at the raven, still immobile, still silent. No, Yuuri, please don't let her do this to you. To us… He jabbed a finger at her, tongue thick behind his teeth. [Leave Yuuri alone. You don't get to talk to him, look at him, or even speak about him. I mean it, mother. You say nothing. I won't have you slandering his good name. If I hear one word about him or his family or friends, I'll pull every skeleton out of the Nikiforov closet and parade them in front of the cameras. No one will come out clean, especially you.]

Valeriya rolled her eyes, not taking him seriously in the slightest. He could imagine what she thought. That he was just being stubborn. Obstinate. Dramatic. But he was dead serious. [Be sensible, Viktor. This is all-]

[Love.] The word was heavy, weighing down the air between them. He'd spoken it softly, the syllable cushioned by the feelings it stood for, but it still sounded out like a popped balloon. It startled Viktor. He almost couldn't believe that he'd be willing to say it openly to his mother. Valeriya looked like she couldn't comprehend what he'd just said.

[I beg your pardon?]

[Love. I love him and nothing you say or do can change that. He is the sun that warms me. The earth that grounds me. The air that keeps me alive. If Yuuri leaves me, I'll die. Is that really what you want for me?]

Valeriya took a step back, gaze downcast as her eyes frantically searched the ground for answers, downright panicked by his proclamation. Her arms fell to her sides, her small handbag slipping down and plopping on the ground by her pinched heels. She didn't try to grab it. She didn't seem to even notice, or care. She looked up at Viktor and sadness shimmered in her eyes. She looked damn near ready to cry.

Viktor didn't understand it. What was so wrong with him being in love? Why couldn't she be happy for him? Why couldn't she see that Yuuri was what he wanted in his life, that he mattered above all else? Instead, she was driven to tears. Just because he wasn't following the Nikiforov plan. Because he was insisting on being with someone she wouldn't approve of. Viktor hated this. Hated her. He couldn't forgive this. [I'm done. I don't want to be a part of this family anymore.]

A tear flew free, and Viktor couldn't believe that it still managed to have an impact on him. [V-Vitya!]

[No!] He said with finality. A pregnant pause descended as he stared her down. Her expression eventually tightened back into normalcy, washed out with dissatisfaction.

She dabbed her eyes dry and bent to pick up her bag. The money remained. [Whether or not you wish to be a part of this family matters little. You are a Nikiforov. It's your blood. You can't change that.] She made her way back to the small parking lot before the bakery where a chauffeured Benz laid waiting. Her back was to him, straight, dignified, but the air around her was huffy in a near childish way. [We'll see what your grandmother thinks of your proposal.]


The comfort Yuuri gained from Viktor's presence died away the second his eyes met the ground. No, he didn't want Viktor here. He didn't want him to see or hear any of this. The money littered the ground and stickered his feet. He wanted it off of him. It burned him just like the reminders of his sad, insignificant existence.

He felt Viktor touching him, fingers prodding for his attention, warm eyes seeking his, but Yuuri couldn't look up. Benjamin Franklin stared back at him, judging him as he hugged Yuuri's ankles. Yuuri could hear the exchange of words, the Russian spoken in bites and snaps. Even if he could have understood it, it wouldn't have mattered. The sounds around him turned to static, his ears filling with cotton, preventing him from hearing anything but his own racing thoughts.

He didn't deserve Viktor. He'd always known that. From the minute the man had stepped into their shop, all gorgeous and desperate for his attention, he'd known. He'd kept Viktor at arm's length because of that fact. But Viktor had insisted that it didn't matter. Viktor wanted to be with him, even if Viktor had the world in his back pocket and Yuuri could barely even see it on the horizon. But Viktor didn't know him. Not like Valeriya apparently did. Yuuri felt his tears come anew as he thought about what the woman could be saying. What dastardly, but true, things she could be telling her son. Would Viktor still want to be by his side? Would he even look at him?

Of course he will. He'll stay. You know he'll stay.

Viktor wouldn't have stuck around anyway. Just like all of his past partners, Yuuri probably meant little. Yuuri was simply a diversion meant to entertain him until he got back on his feet, or until someone shinier, brighter, better came along.

Stop it. Why are you thinking this?

Why not? Yuuri wasn't anything special. Why would Viktor choose him when he had the attention of the entire world? Yuuri was trash, in comparison. A bottom feeder. How could he compete with all of the fish that swam in Viktor's circles? He couldn't. So why was he deluding himself that he could? Viktor didn't even care about him.

You know that's a lie.

He was just twirling Yuuri around his thumb, playing with him until he grew bored. He was like a top that Viktor watched spin around him. Once a top stops spinning, it's no more than a dull object. Boring, rejected, and tossed away. Viktor would go looking for a more enduring, glamorous toy.

If Viktor could hear you right now, he'd be devastated by what you think of him.

His vision blurred, a mess of packed, watery circles, until there was nothing but the ocean in front of him, staring back at him. It was perfect, soothing, and not what he needed right now. Viktor was trying to talk to him again, and Yuuri couldn't handle any more of this. His limit had been reached. "I'm not a distraction!" His voice broke, coming out raw and jagged, like he swallowed glass. "Something to tide you over with until you find what you're looking for…"

"Yuuri, what are you…" Yuuri's vision cleared some as he furiously tried to blink it all away. Viktor encompassed his focus then. The man's eyes appeared confused by his words, but they softened with a certain understanding. "I've never thought that of you, Yuuri. Not once." His hands were on his shoulders, thumbs running circles into his collar bone. The touch reassured him more than the words. The press of his fingers familiar, so sure and simple. His hands were steady, as was his gaze, like he meant it.

"I'm sorry." Yuuri gave a rough laugh at himself, the situation. He fought the urge to pull away. After everything he'd thought, he found himself undeserving of those hands. "I know you don't, but I… I just, I'm sorry for doubting you. I'm sorry I yelled at your mom. I should have handled it better. I was dumb." His laugh worsened in roughness, soggy as he continued to try to stem off his stubborn insecurities.

"You did just fine, Yuuri. Whatever you said, she deserved it ten times over."

How can you be so understanding? "Why are you with me?" He didn't think much of the question. It just slipped from his mind and out of his throat. Viktor didn't face it with the same aloofness he did. Yuuri was suddenly moved up against the bakery wall, arms trapping him in as Viktor dove into the space between them. He kissed Yuuri, catching the raven's gasp and latching onto him with all of his strength. This kiss tugged something out of him, a feeling that grew taut between them, unwilling to bend even as Yuuri tried to remove himself. Viktor was insistent, dragging the kiss on until breath was just a fleeting memory.

Words were poised on his tongue, but they vanished as Viktor continued kissing him, moving along tendered lips, rounded cheeks, and onto the flat of his nose. Each kiss grew mellower until Viktor finally stopped, leaving Yuuri a mess. "Because I can no longer imagine a day without you."

That inspired Yuuri to yank Viktor back in, hands, clammy from the heat and nervousness, clamping onto Viktor's neck to pull him in further. It was an apologetic kiss, born from his regret and mistrust. The next one was more reverent as Viktor's fingers drifted against his feverish pallor and tugged at his gelled hair.

"I'm sorry." He couldn't say it enough. He knew it changed nothing. He'd let his thoughts run amuck.

Viktor shook his head, like there was nothing to forgive, and stared into his face as if he were admiring a work of art. "I love your eyes," he said, and Yuuri's mind clogged up with the sudden, new topic. The tip of Viktor's finger caressed the skin beside his right eye. "Such a delicate gradation." He pressed his lips to his again, and Yuuri almost followed him away as he pulled back. "Every time I kiss you… I never wish to stop, my beautiful, beautiful man."

"You think I'm beautiful… That's a lot from someone like you." But he was done doubting Viktor's words. He hardly found himself much to look at, but if Viktor did, he could learn to accept that.

Viktor cuddled in close, leaning his sharp chin on Yuuri's shoulder. "Thank you for not leaving me."

"Thank you for staying…" Yuuri kissed the curve of his jaw, the flat of his tongue gracing down his throat. Viktor groaned as he tightened his hold on him.

"I don't want anything to come between us, surely not my mother. She won't be around anymore. I'll make sure of it."

"Did she say… no, nevermind." He no longer wanted to know if she told Viktor. Just the possibility made Yuuri want to grab onto Viktor and never let go. He was afraid of Viktor finding out the details of his life, because Viktor leaving was more than just a possibility. But he also wanted Viktor to know, to see into all of the nooks and crannies of his life and still stay. Yuuri wanted Viktor to know him, to be with him because of who he was, because of everything he was. Just as Yuuri would with Viktor.

I want this, Viktor. I want to know you. All of you. And I want you to eventually know me. Not just the smooth curves, but the rough edges and deep gouges. We should be able to see each other in ways no one else can. To clear away the brush that everyone else sees us through.

Everything is still a mystery, like the night we met. Why did I have to forget that?

I want to remember.

Yuuri got caught up in the intensity of that thought.

He released his hold on the other man as he stepped back against the wall. "I should go back to work."

Viktor stubbornly held onto the fabric of his coat. "No," he said, petulant and curt, before he kissed at his neck. "Can't you just run away with me."

Yuuri's voice congealed in his throat. "Playing hooky sounds nice, but I really have to get back. We'll continue this at home, yes?" Viktor's head swiftly buoyed up from the curve of his neck, eyes wide at the unexpected question, but he nodded in approval. "And don't think we won't be discussing a certain Instagram account."

He gave him a goofy grin that was about as apologetic as it wasn't. "Please don't be angry with me."

He didn't have the energy even if he truly was. "Hmph. I really have to go," he said, half-heartedly pushing the man back. "You're getting Makka curls on me. Did you brush her or something?"

"Yeah, it's her grooming day."

"Well," Yuuri said as he plucked one of the hairs from his uniform, "I don't think my customers will appreciate the added texture."

"Everyone needs a healthy dose of Makkachin in their lives."

"Sure, but not in their food."

"You're just trying to get rid of me."

"Maybe," but his hands didn't get the message. They were already back to being curled into Viktor's shirt.


Yuuri said that they would spend time together after work, but Yuuri locked himself in his room. Viktor hadn't been home, neither had Makkachin, so he assumed that they were out on a walk. Whatever the reason, Yuuri was glad for it. It gave him the time to think and really consider his earlier thoughts.

Did he want to remember that night?

He hadn't made the effort to remember any of his other drunken blackouts. Most of the time he could catch the gist of the story from someone else, or guess at some of his actions, or a few flashbacks would scare him away from even wanting to remember. But he wanted something to cling to this time, some form of certainty in what he and Viktor had. Viktor and he had connected upon that first meeting, in a way neither of them had experienced before. Yuuri had to know why, how, in what ways did they bond? What kind of connection did they share? Why had one meeting impacted Viktor so much? Enough that he would search him out?

Had drunk Yuuri cared, too? Enough to leave him the little snippets of memories he'd retained?

He needed to know.

It was like this open hole in their relationship. There were many. They both still knew so little about each other. Their future was still unforeseeable. They were so different, in personality, in nature. But this seemed like the first step. The first hole that needed to be filled before they could reach any that lay beyond.

Yuuri sat up on his bed, legs crossed, shoulders squared. He closed his eyes. He tried to remember.

He got more than he asked for.


Viktor spent the rest of his afternoon talking to Yakov. He wanted to put up as many firewalls as possible to block his family from meddling into his and Yuuri's affairs. Yakov had grumbled that this wouldn't have happened had he just remained in Russia or came back, but as long as Viktor was still skating and the new season was relatively far off, he would help all he could. Viktor just had to stay true to his promise…

Viktor walked in with Makkachin, the old poodle immediately going up to Phichit and snuggling up to his side. The man was on the floor in front of the coffee table, papers spread out as he worked. One of Phichit's hamsters, tiny and chubby cheeked, sat on his shoulder. Makkachin sniffed it and the hamster seemed to sniff back before Makkachin nosed it in approval.

"Careful, Makka, you might give him a heart attack." The hamster didn't look scared at all. In fact it looked mildly curious, balancing itself with a chestnut paw on her nose and sniffing at her eye.

"Yuuri in?" Viktor asked as he collapsed onto his new futon, positioned in the corner of the room and nearly hugging the couch.

Phichit barely looked up, scissors snipping the paper in his grasp. "I think he's resting. It was… kind of a big day for him," he added gloomily. "I feel bad. If I'd known your mom was going to show up and throw him in a funk, I would have put the video off until another day. This is way too much for anyone, let alone him."

Viktor's ears perked. "Funk? He's okay, right? I thought… He seemed better before he went back to work."

"He's fine. He was distracted, but it didn't hinder his duties. He just needs some time to himself. Yuuri told me a bit about what went down. After hearing about it, I can easily say that I'm glad I called you."

"Thanks for that, by the way." Viktor turned his body to better see the younger man, assuring that their eyes connected so he could see that Viktor meant it.

"I can't believe she threw money at him…"

Viktor could. It hadn't been the first time she'd tried to bribe off one of his lovers. It was the first time it actually affected him, though. Viktor didn't want to talk about this anymore. It was beginning to chafe at his skin, his insides, and down deep where the past resided. "What are you doing?"

"Coupons."

"Coupons?"

"Yup. We actually save a lot of money with these things." Phichit grinned, leaning over the coffee table and waving piece of flimsy paper in the air. "One time we bought like two hundred and thirty dollars' worth of groceries for only twenty-seven bucks. I didn't really pay attention to coupons before I moved in with Yuuri, but it is a lifesaver. He said it made buying nonessential items possible when he was living with Mari."

Viktor chewed on that little bit of information, the wad of his mother's money putting on new weight in his pocket. He had also never given thought to things like coupons. Money had never been an issue for him, not even when he was growing up. It was always there, from his parents' work to his own, so he didn't have to want for much. He admired Yuuri's struggle, as he'd undoubtedly come from less, worked from the ground up on his own, and it was why he wanted to help as best he could. "You don't have to do that. I can buy your groceries." It wasn't like he expected Phichit to jump at the suggestion, but the levelled look he received, with Phichit's mouth twisted into a wry line, wasn't what he'd been expecting either.

"No thank you."

"You guys won't even let me pay rent."

"You could help me cut these, if you're feeling so generous."

Viktor rolled his eyes, but plopped himself down on the opposite side of Phichit with his own pair of scissors. Viktor waited patiently for Yuuri to emerge from his room, his eyes glancing towards the hall every other minute. But it was nice, cutting and organizing coupons with Phichit. They talked about this and that, subjects spanning from current life events to past exploits. He even got a few good stories about some of Yuuri's old adventures.

"And Sara's so happy that she kisses Yuuri, right on the lips. Like a full blown pucker-up," Phichit said, his lips pushed out like he's taking a fish lip selfie, "and Yuuri burns. He's just blistering red and almost swerves into the next lane – she really shouldn't have done that when he was driving – and Mickey gets pissed. He just starts roaring and tearing into Yuuri. Yuuri starts sputtering about how he's so sorry, like tearing up because he doesn't feel that way about her. Sara starts acting crushed, teasing him and stuff, which sets Mickey off on a new tirade, which causes Yuuri to miss a turn and then there's a cop behind us, all lights and sirens, and Minami starts freaking out, because the cake is tipping and we aren't going to make it and he doesn't want his precious Katsuki-sensei to go to prison. And then there are two cops, one swerving in front of Yuuri to stop us. Yuuri hits the brakes and I closed my eyes because I knew what was going to happen. There was a deafening squish and that was the end of the cake. We all had to get pulled out of the car, Yuuri and Sara covered in cake bits and frosting, the windshield just coated. I was trying not to laugh, but man, I could only imagine how it must have looked to the people passing us-"

They didn't talk about anything serious, the subjects kept lighthearted and upbeat. Bonding with Phichit was fun and talking to him was as easy as pie. He was relatable, funny, and super charismatic, always quick with retorts and breathing out laughs, a source of sunshine whose brightness was both blinding and contagious. He welcomed Viktor easily into his life, but it was apparent how loyal the man was to Yuuri. If Viktor did anything untoward, slighted Yuuri even an inch, he would be out on his ass in an instant, Phichit wholly unforgiving. It only cemented the fact that Phichit was a good companion for Yuuri, a friend Viktor was glad to inherit through their relationship.

"A dollar off kumquats? Who even eats kumquats?" Phichit started laughing in earnest, and Viktor didn't understand. The man was bubbly, but the giggling seemed provoked. "What?"

"Just makes me think of cum squats."

Viktor choked on his own saliva. "I'm sorry, what now?"

"It was a stretch Yuuri used to do for dance. They were squats that bent your body so low and stuck your ass out so far that it supposedly could make anyone standing behind you cum in an instant. And let me tell you, when Yuuri used to do it, I could believe it. I mean, jesus, Yuuri can move. He can make any man question his sexuality," Phichit finished before laughing again. "Kumquats… What a beckoning name for a fruit." He looked up, catching the slightly aroused tinge that had surely crawled up Viktor's features, because just imagining Yuuri like that was enough to provoke a significant reaction from him. "Should I give you and your hand some alone time?"

Viktor flicked the coupon at him with a wink. "As if you wouldn't love to watch." But something about Phichit's statement caught up with him. Any man, huh? Including you? He let that go as soon as it came to him.

They were in the homestretch of the thick stack of coupons when Viktor decided to bring up a thought that had been bothering him for longer than he cared to admit. "Do you think I'm good for Yuuri?"

"I wouldn't let you within a block of him if I didn't." Phichit was hardly phased by the question, his reply honest, rolling off his tongue without a second of contemplation.

Viktor found it reassuring, but it hardly put a dent in the niggling thought taking over his mind. "Does he think something happened between us at Spritz that he doesn't remember?" The sound of Phichit's snipping abruptly stopped. Viktor stared at the paper in his hands, a two for one on milk shaking in his grasp. "He's uneasy about it whenever I bring it up."

The sound continued. "It doesn't have to do with you."

"You sure?"

Phichit paused again before putting his things down entirely. "Yuuri doesn't go out much… or drink often. He doesn't like what happens when he does, so… That night was an exception. I didn't even want him to go." Grey eyes met blue-green, his gaze leading Viktor to feel even more unbalanced. "He and Mari were in pretty bad shape so I wasn't going to stop them, but…"

Bad shape? Yuuri looked drunk, but he was a happy drunk. Almost deliriously so…

Phichit hissed in a breath, a sharp pull of air between his teeth that were firmly cushioned by his bottom lip. "He probably had a great time with you, and his reservations towards going back out have nothing to do with you and everything to do with him. As much as Yuuri admires and envies his drunk self, he's also scared of him. He has little boundaries when he's inebriated, you know what I mean?" he asked with a wave of his hand. "He's woken up in a couple bad situations and… He made me promise to stay by him and watch out for him when he gets like that, which has been pretty rare since last time." Phichit made a face, pained and agitated, and Viktor wanted to know why. He wanted to know what happened. What happened to his Yuuri? Not knowing caused his stomach to curl into itself, churning as he imagined the worst.

"He hasn't wanted to go out and drink. Not with anyone. That day was different. I just… you should know that. I don't… I don't want to lose him, so in my opinion, the less he goes out the better. Last time was bad enough. And I don't want you to think that Yuuri's afraid of you or anything. He's unpredictable when he drinks. It goes far past doing embarrassing things… no, he does dangerous things. If you guys ever do go out," Phichit reached across the table between them, the action so sudden that it nearly threw his hamster off balance on his shoulder, the poor thing giving a squeak, and gripped his wrist. "look out for him. Because whatever he does may not stick in his memory, but it will tear him apart just the same."


Yuuri wanted out of his head. Images remained, flashing into his field of vision, and he could feel the memories, fresh on his skin, soaking him with sweat. It was gross. It was disgusting. Just the mere taste of his repressed memories made his throat tighten and he had to stifle down the urge to gag.

He sought out something, anything that could push those thoughts away and ground him into the present. Make him remember who he was now, that everything that had happened was then, in a different time, happening to a different person. He wasn't Drunk-Yuuri. He wasn't.

Viktor was reclined on his futon in the living room, his upper body slouched against the back wall. His eyes were closed, earbuds tucked into his ears, some Euro synth-pop playing loud enough that Yuuri could catch it. He had one leg crossed over the other, foot bopping about in the air. Makkachin was between him and the wall, laying on her back with her legs spread out as she slept, but still tucked against her favorite human.

Yuuri couldn't help the sloppy smile that surfaced on his face. He climbed onto the futon next to Viktor, seeking out some of the normal, mundane Viktor that had found a home in his life. The space was small, but the snug fit suited the moment. He wanted this closeness, desired a compact intensity that was as undeniable as it was unthinkable.

Yuuri was already well and buried into his side by the time Viktor began sitting up, tugging his headphones out of his ears. "Yuuri?"

Yuuri shook his head, forehead pressed into the clothed arch of a hipbone. He felt Viktor's uncertain hand begin to card slowly through his hair. The light scratch of his nails along his scalp centered him, made it easier to look up into the other man's worried expression.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Viktor's voice was heavy in his ears, and there was a thread in it that urged Yuuri to speak, but his eyes promised patience and understanding.

He shook his head again, but drew himself up after a time, situating himself in Viktor's lap. He stared at the older man, Viktor just watching back, his silver brows pinched. Yuuri reached out, his hand wandering across the peaks of his cheekbones and soothing down his cheeks. Viktor leaned into the touch, eyes drifting shut. His fingertips continued over thin lips and down the abrupt edge of his chin. They strayed down the column of his throat, pausing to apply pressure, the barest squeeze, as if in test. Viktor didn't budge, didn't question. Yuuri carried on. He felt up Viktor's arms, into a smooth glide down his chest, over the dips and curves that mapped out the strength Viktor had built up inside of him.

His hands discovered what he already knew. Viktor was too strong, too solid to break. He was firm where Yuuri would always be soft. Valeriya's words were just that, words. As Yuuri touched him, cherished his body and all that it housed, it became obvious that the only brittle, breakable thing was himself. Viktor was stable, finite, present.

Yuuri shimmied up further over Viktor's legs, palms seeking and resting on the man's heartbeat. The powerful rhythm brought peace to Yuuri, for a reason unknown to him. He peeked up at Viktor, finding the man's features strained. He seemed almost… flustered, rosy cheeked with fingers twitching at his sides, like they wanted to move, but didn't know what to do.

"I'm sorry," Yuuri said, immediately pulling back and away. "I'm making you uncomfortable." Yuuri floundered to get off of him, toe catching in the blanket and tipping him dangerously off the futon. But Viktor caught him and drew him back, arm wrapping around a hip to bring him forth until their foreheads met. Viktor's hands meshed behind him, locking him in position.

"In the best way possible, I assure you." There was that indescribable warmth in his eyes again, pacifying Yuuri's worries with one look alone, an instant salve for his soul.

Yuuri rested against him for a moment, arms around Viktor's neck, Viktor's arms around his waist, rounded and connected, until he slunk down. Viktor was loathe to let him go, hands running up his sides and attempting to tug him back, but Yuuri desired to curl into his side. To be apart, but together. He was confusing Viktor, surely. He was confusing himself. There was an all-consuming want to be near Viktor, to feel him, know him. To adventure deep inside the man and chart out every unseen piece of him, unearth everything he could find.

Such desire scared him.

"Your mom hates me, doesn't she?" Yuuri let slip, as if that was his only worry. As if that was enough to reduce him into this needy, oddball mess. Valeriya was certainly a factor, but she hardly had that much power over him. Yuuri had met enough people like her over the course of his life. They underestimated Yuuri. He was weak, but he wasn't as weak as he once was. He'd grown stronger, his old wounds covered in scar tissue, his skin becoming calloused, not quite impenetrable, but hard to truly break. He wasn't as sturdy or assured as Viktor, but he wasn't crumbling anytime soon. Not over what Valeriya had to say.

Not even with the addition of a few mismatched memories.

A slow dance of fingers began on his wrist. They tapped along to some unknown rhythm, down the track of a vein, and then another. The touch tingled pleasantly along his skin. "She doesn't hate you. She just doesn't understand you. Or us."

"Us…" Yuuri felt that word, as it bounced from the back of his throat and hissed through the air. It became tangible through their closeness, their locked knees, Yuuri's head against his chest, the two step swirling against his pulse.

Yuuri asked tentatively for Viktor to speak to him in Russian. To say anything and nothing all at once. He wanted to hear how it was supposed to be spoken. Not the sound that had been birthed by hurt, ripped away from Viktor in justifiable anger as he'd parried his mother's advances, but by the kind, gentleness that melted down every syllable into his usual quirky happiness.

"You won't be able to understand anything…"

"Doesn't matter."

Viktor started out slow, thoughtful, a hum here and a flash of doubtfulness there. Everything came out in a careful garble of words as if he were thinking out what should be spoken. It soon relaxed as did he, and Viktor went on.

The request had come from a whim, a want to be sidetracked by something outside of himself, but Yuuri instantly became fascinated by the unfiltered catalogue of sounds and the odd articulation of syllables he'd never heard before. His curiosity peaked as he watched from his place on top of him, his arms surrounding his rib cage and feeling the rumble in Viktor's body. Since he couldn't understand a thing, in the dark about whatever subject Viktor deemed appropriate, all Yuuri could do was analyze. Without words to absorb, Yuuri took in the slope of his voice, every eased mannerism, even the nuances to his most basic expressions.

He watched how his face brightened when he spoke of something with happiness, all out joviality deepening the tone of his irises and creasing the corners of his eyes.

How his entire aura softened when he spoke of something with fondness, the catch of his tongue causing his r's to lull.

How pain and sorrow pushed his lips tighter, words slinking out in quiet solitude.

How anger burrowed into the set of his jaw, flaring his nostrals and tugging at his throat.

Yuuri kept hold of each new finding, cataloguing it all into his brain. He could always remember the little bits of the Viktor he'd come to know. Because this was the man he'd remember when he was gone. When he was back to being the Nikiforov his mother was so keen on him being. When he was center stage once more, unfurling into the magnificent creature that everyone adored, but never understood.

Viktor continued to speak and Yuuri's body began to utilize it like a melodious lullaby. It lulled him into darkness, quiet and dreamless. The last thing he heard was solntse moye, 'my sun', as he would later learn. The last thing he felt was the briefest brush of lips against his wrist.

"Goodnight, solntse moye, my brightest, sweetest star."

Chapter Text

Viktor had yet to meet Minako, though his head was filled with Yuuri's stories of her. She was like a mythical goddess etched into reality as a statue that the villagers all met beneath to praise and glorify, to project flesh onto stone. Except instead of villagers there was just Yuuri and instead of a broad sculpture there were giant pink letters, MINAKO scrawled along the studio walls in shimmering satin. The woman's presence swallowed the room even when she wasn't in it.

Yuuri held one of the few keys to Minako's studio, in which they sat. They'd crept in at the indecent hour of three in the morning, the only time Yuuri had been able to schedule with Viktor lately. Yuuri had to sacrifice sleep before his early shift for this little rendezvous and he wore that sacrifice on his skin. Viktor felt the early air like a child cozying back into his arms. It burst energy within him, the slowly lightening sky brightening him along with the valley. Yuuri less so. He was still groggy, crooked indents beneath his eyes and his hair ruffled around his ears. Coffee helped. The studio helped more. An instant mindset shook him alive. Yuuri opened the doors, felt the barre beneath his palms, and reached a level of shine.

In only a matter of moments, after Yuuri had stretched, wrapped up his feet and stopped fidgeting in nervous, maddening fear because someone was watching, because Viktor was watching - and he was no good, surely rusty, and had never been very good in the first place – he danced in a splendid display of dominance. He owned the floor on which he swept his feet across. It was an outstanding show that Viktor couldn't have bought with all of the wealth the world offered.

After the incident with Valeriya, it only took a short while before Viktor remembered an earlier agreement they'd shared, an 'I'll show you mine if you show me yours' deal that he had been ready to cash in on. He'd shown Yuuri his skating, even yanked him out onto the ice, and now it was time for Yuuri to reciprocate. It was a payment Viktor fully enjoyed. Yuuri indulged him with dance, with fluid movements and deliberate steps. Viktor adored watching Yuuri bake, but it was a secret he'd take to his grave that he enjoyed watching Yuuri dance much more.

He marveled at the length of his body, at the shape it could take on as he danced to different beats, took on different personas, and showed off the wide girth of knowledge in dance styles he had housed in his mind. His dance held no hesitation, authentic in its delight.

Ballet kept Yuuri regal and true, too royal for meager peasants to touch. His feet were arched, his toes strong, and Viktor felt that sting he knew when he was on the ice, every kilogram of his body weighted on the tip of his toes, like an ant that carries its own weight and more. The mere length of time Yuuri could hold himself there, on the precipice of true height and falling, while keeping his face a serene composure, spinning on toe nails that could split with the wrong amount of pressure, was enough to leave him stunned.

There appeared to be no limits to the way Yuuri's body could move as he danced right into each style with the simple change of the song. One moment he was an elegant swan, reaching for the limitless sky, the next he was spinning his body on his thumb. A Latin number had Yuuri using every curve his body had to offer. Viktor was all for that one.

Yuuri gave a suggestive bop of his hips and Viktor couldn't help it as he interrupted. "Do that move again, Yuuri."

"This?"

"…Yeah, that."

He strutted across the floor in a way that had Viktor salivating. Yuuri was oblivious to his sex appeal, as usual. But that was just fine with Viktor. It made it all the more charming and genuine. Besides, if Yuuri actually tried… Viktor shivered at the thought. Yuuri could have him begging and lavishing his feet with devotion after one look alone.

When Viktor's mind didn't wander away with Yuuri's hips or his muscled thighs that spoke volumes of desire, he observed Yuuri's steps the most. His feet spoke stories of their own, carving out words into the floor as Yuuri's body voiced it into the air. Viktor tried to translate it down, worked it into a language he could understand and convert into his own routine. It was the first time he'd taken notes in months. It had been too long since he'd felt moved enough to replicate and incorporate the movements of another's into his sport.

Viktor halted his scribbles when the entrancing steps suddenly came to a stop. "You aren't done, are you?" He sounded devastated in his own ears, and he found it funny, reminded him of when his father would finish a painting, all smiling and proud of the outcome, but all Viktor wanted was to keep watching the strokes of the brush.

"I just thought that it was time you joined me."

Viktor gave a tilt of the head, pouting, "but I… it… Yuuri~" He stretched out the vowels, the name a pearl in his mouth. He gestured to Yuuri's feet, which were still delectably bent. "Those steps would look gorgeous on the ice. I must see more of them."

Yuuri flushed with a small squirm that had him tugging at the tights over his thigh, on the lobe of his ear. But he composed himself, quick enough to cause whiplash, and held out his hand in a show much like Viktor had done at the rink. "But this dance requires a partner, my Viktor."

Wide eyed and at a maximum high, Viktor clicked out of his notepad app and dropped his phone without ceremony, the cell saved by its case alone, before taking the hand he could never resist. "As you wish, my Yuuri."

They danced. And danced. And danced. Viktor could never tire of feeling Yuuri's chest against his, his body entwined with his, powerful thighs locked around his waist, guiding hands on his shoulders, arms, hips, ankles, as Yuuri and he pieced themselves together on the dance floor. But his body tired. He was by no means a bad dancer, nor was he particularly inexperienced. He was one of the best ice dancers the world had come to know. But when dancing next to Yuuri, on land instead of a winter-thickened lake, he couldn't compare. He was clumsy on his feet, improperly balanced with his weight in one move, tripping into Yuuri's space in the next. It wasn't like Yuuri's beginning on the ice, but it was bad enough that even he felt a little embarrassed for himself, laughing and huffing when one move was particularly tricky. Yuuri was sweet as always, tender in his explanations. Viktor picked it up quickly enough, but his body ached with a new soreness that a comparable amount of time at the rink couldn't manage. He slumped down onto the floor, laughing as Yuuri still danced circles around him.

Yuuri finished with a twirl that brought him directly behind Viktor's sitting form. He bent forward, curving around Viktor and sliding his fingers along the edge of Viktor's hairline to tilt his head back and greet him again, this time with a kiss. It was just lips and strong gusts of breaths. Their mouths didn't match the angle and Viktor's neck stiffened after a time, but it was a heaven he didn't think he deserved.

Yuuri sat down beside Viktor, his ass sinking heavily onto the wood as his legs nearly gave out beneath him. "I haven't danced that much in ages. I think I might have thrown something," he said as he rubbed his calf.

"I am honored to get to see dancer Yuuri. Your dance speaks of trial and triumph, just the way your pastries do."

"Liar," Yuuri said, pinning Viktor down with his eyes. "That can't have been that entertaining. I'm not even in shape."

Viktor knocked his tongue against the roof of his mouth as he spun on his ass before laying his head down on Yuuri's lap. "I happen to be particularly fond of your shape." He leaned in and nipped at the give of Yuuri's stomach. Yuuri shrieked at the sensation, expression scandalized like such a thing wasn't expected from him.

"How can you just… like it's so natural for you, too." He dissolved into laughter, now rubbing at the teeth marks and the wet spot left behind on his tank top.

"Oh, but it is." He turned and nuzzled himself into Yuuri's middle, nosing the hardness of muscle and the round of indulgence. "I can't help but want to devour what I admire."

Yuuri snorted, but the flare to his irises told that it hit a smooth spot inside him. "Too much. That one was too much, even for you." Yuuri fell back, arms flopping to his sides as he laid out on the floor. Viktor stayed where he was, perfectly cushioned on those damned dance-hardened thighs. Left perpendicular to each other, in a formed T of exhaustion, they stared at the ceiling, counting the tiny poke holes in the tiles and listening to the light buzz of the studio bulbs.

"What are your dreams, Yuuri?" He felt Yuuri's discomfort as his thighs tensed, muscles twitching with the cool down.

"I'm not sure I have any."

"Nonsense. Surely, you've dreamt of something, now or as a child. Even something silly, like being a fairy that gets swept up in an illicit love affair with a human prince."

"That is silly."

"I was eleven," Viktor grumbled with a pointed sniff. It was a dream that half came true. While he hadn't been blessed with fairy blood, he'd been swept off his feet by his very own prince. Yuuri had yet to put him down.

"I… suppose I've always wanted to own my own bakery… where I could serve whatever I want. My customers could enjoy flavors from all over the world. I could even give them a taste of my home." Viktor smiled at how Yuuri's voice was so open and wondrous at the prospect. It was a dream Yuuri wanted, and Viktor wanted to help make it come true. "But I could never do that. I'm not…" He held his hands up in front of his face. Viktor watched how the fluorescent light filtered through his fingers before his arms fell back at his sides. "I could never," he finished, defeat dulling his fire.

Viktor sprang up and turned to Yuuri, eyes burning seriousness into his placid form. "You could so have your own bakery! You could even have a chain," he emphasized with his arms spread wide as if his arm span could encompass the grandness of his ideas, the breadth of possibility, "and a line like Cake Boss. Ooooh, and a show like," He grasped the underside of his chin, pinching and stretching the skin in thought, "Yuuri on Baking! I would watch-"

"Viktor-"

"-it every day. And all night long," he continued with a suggestive baritone before flipping back into untamable excitement. "You could enter competitions and tournaments. You could even host them! Give others the opportunity to become like you. Teach your own gaggle of students to master the fine arts of salt and sugar-"

"Are we even talking about baking anymore?"

"Imagine my amazing pastry chef Yuuri with his own fans and lights and-"

"Viktor." Yuuri sat up and cupped his jaw, easing him out of his fevered fantasy. Viktor took note of the wariness in his eyes, the insecurity swallowing his expression and keeping him confined.

"Don't be afraid to dream, Yuuri."

"Dreaming is one thing. Hoping is another."

"You can start out small, as we all do. Everyone loved your clip on my account. We could start with videos online. Little tutorials that teach viewers, and also ones that showcase your skill. Think about it. Phichit doesn't think your boss would mind if we used the bakery after hours-"

"Aha!" Yuuri exclaimed as he flicked Viktor on the nose. "So this is your guys' end game. What, you want me to become an internet sensation? A youtuber or something?"

"Nothing so trite or temporary," Viktor reasoned, protecting his nose with a fence of fingers. "But it's a stepping stone to bigger things. Gives your culinary expertise its due exposure and also brings more business to the bakery. C'mon, Yuuri." He shook Yuuri and his overwhelmed, ghastly face. Was it too much to hope that one, simple action could decimate his reservations, his bone deep anxieties, and make him see his potential? Probably. No, definitely. But Viktor couldn't stop himself. He wanted this for Yuuri. So much so that his fingers were indenting the other's arms.

"I-"

"And here I thought I'd come to find my little dancer ready to grovel at my feet, begging me to continue his tutelage. Instead, I see he's canoodling on my dance floor." A woman entered behind Viktor, voice a mixture of disappointment and affection. He could guess by the words, and Yuuri's 'kill me now, I'll die anyway' expression, that it was the famed Minako-sensei.

Viktor spun around, charm and appeal oozing from his pores as he slipped into his practiced, media-winning self, even as his head was still lost in the musk of sweat and joy. "I finally get to meet Yuuri's most esteemed teacher. Only a true master can instill such elegance and proficiency into their students. I have witnessed as much in Yuuri this morning." Viktor stood tall before bowing low. "I am without a doubt in the presence of one of the greats."

Minako narrowed her eyes at him and Viktor thought that maybe his approach had been a tad too saccharine, he had heard from Yuuri that the woman could call bull shit in any form, but then she gawped at him, jaw low and eyes popped out as she pointed a sharp finger at him. "You! You're-" her finger swung over to Yuuri, who flinched back, "and you! You two were-!" The finger fell as her shock fizzled out. "So… I suppose the rumors are true. What a way to find out, Yuuri." She sent an accusatory look his way, one that was reminiscent of a mother who'd been denied a customary meet-the-family dinner with a new suitor. Viktor opened his mouth to continue his greeting, but Minako swiped her hand at him. "Cut the crap, little Nikiforov. You can take those schmoozing words and direct them at the wall. The son of Valeriya Nikiforova praising me? Hah. You can reserve that sly tongue for servicing Yuuri."

"M-Minako!" Yuuri scolded, hiding his face behind a hand, but Viktor only laughed.

"It's alright." Viktor relaxed back, easing himself into the mirrored wall. "Means my sly tongue can take a break between requests."

"You are both going to give me gray hair."

"Knocking your lover's hair color, Yuuri? My, my, you're already at that stage?"

Viktor scoffed and jumped to defend one of his most prized assets, which was also one of his most insecure areas. "It's silver. Like starlight."

Minako full on cracked up before she made her way over to him and tugged on his fringed bangs, hip checking him into the mirror. "Whatever you say, old man."

Minako was like a typhoon crashing onto land. She swept Yuuri up off the floor, demanding that he prove his aforementioned prowess, even as Yuuri whined about his soreness. Minako just parried back by grabbing a finger full of the squish at his hips.

"And what is this, Yuuri? This is not the build of a dancer. How dare you speak about being under my instruction when you showcase such laziness. Up! Up! You aren't leaving until I see blood."

For a woman in her fifties, she was in excellent condition, her body long and nimble. She was beautiful. Beautifully terrifying. He no longer questioned Yuuri's previous statements of her being dragon-like. Flying high in the clouds with her grace, but spewing venom like fire. She had the feminine mystique that Viktor could see in Yuuri, but she utilized it like a whip, keeping those beneath her in line. She was a vicious instructor, and one could almost feel sorry for Yuuri. Almost. Hidden beneath the strict coach-student exterior was an attachment and familial bond that Viktor felt instantly. It was like looking at his relationship with Yakov from an outsider's point of view. Both coaches knew exactly what they were doing with their students. For as heavy handed as Minako seemed, those hands caressed Yuuri's needs with expert care.

"I thought I heard death throes."

Viktor turned around to find another woman, much younger and much, much different than Minako. She looked at each of them with a passive expression, talking with a cigarette between her lips.

"How many times have I told you to keep your death sticks out of my studio? I don't need my dancers losing their stamina to cancerous smoke, no thank you," said Minako as she shoved her hands over Yuuri's nose and mouth.

Yuuri said something to the newcomer, but it was garbled behind Minako's protective hands. He gently removed himself as he stepped away. "Mari nee-chan, you're already up?"

Mari… wait, as in… his sister, Mari!? Viktor's gaze oscillated between the two of them. They looked nothing alike. Mari was tall, especially for a woman. Her hair, while matching Yuuri's at the roots, was bleach blonde and shoved behind a purple head band. Her clothes showed a lot of skin, displaying mismatched tan lines and an extensive collection of tattoos. Her ears and the bridge of her nose were pierced. Even when discounting all of that, from their facial structures down to the way they carried themselves, there was very little resemblance.

"Unfortunately. I have an early client coming in. It's step three of four on his tattoo so I'm in for a long sit." She took her vice from her lips and blew the smoke directly in Minako's direction with a smirk. The older woman fanned the air in front of her face with voracious intensity before glowering back. "It's not like you to be in here this early, Yuuri. What gives? And who's the newbie?" Before anyone could answer, she stopped, cigarette paused to her lips, "Ah! Silver!"

"Silver?" Minako and Viktor parroted.

Yuuri's eyes widened and he ran over to Mari faster than a bullet. There were conspiratorial whispers before their language shifted and Viktor couldn't dream of understanding what they were saying.

Minako walked over to him with a dancer's grace that kept her gait light and her hips asway. He could see where Yuuri's more feminine dancing came from. "So, pretty boy," she started with a gruff pat on the back, "how's your mother? Still stabbing her heals into the hearts of men?"

Viktor acted like he wasn't still livid over the stunt she tried to pull with Yuuri. "You know her too well."

"She was always the woman to beat, I'll give her that. And now I hear you've taken over that title in the figure skating circuit. Congratulations. I hope all that fame and adulation hasn't gone to your head. I've heard things, but tabloid gossip is garbage." She turned to more fully take him in. Viktor didn't meet her piqued stare. "I won't question Yuuri's choice in men, but he doesn't need some selfish prick who's only in for a good romp on a layover."

That pill was hard to swallow, mostly because it hit a spot inside of him that hadn't healed over yet. "I used to be one."

"Huh?"

"A selfish prick who slept with anyone interesting and met my adoring fans with haughty smiles. Always acting too pretty and conceited for my own good. I enjoyed the company of many, spent whatever I had, and lived high. The tabloids aren't always right, but they aren't always wrong." Minako stared, head tilted at the blunt honesty. He gave a flash of bright teeth like it was easy to admit. He'd been an ass hole in his youth, possessed by the idea that he was superior, a bright star that outshone the galaxy, but he liked to think that he'd grown better. "Did you know that it's been six years since I've been with anyone? Everyone thinks that I've just gotten better at hiding my affairs... And you, Mrs. Okukawa? Yuuri didn't mention that you were married."

Her hand twitched, fingers toying with the ring on her finger. "Married is a strong word."

"Not a good one?"

She scrunched her lips over to the side, glancing at Viktor as she considered her words. "Marriage is complex, little Nikiforov," she patted his cheek with the demeaning name. "Very complex… and there are many motives behind it. I wanted to secure my livelihood and save my family." Her eyes shined as she looked on at Mari and Yuuri, the two now squabbling over something in Mari's hand. "He wanted a trophy wife, someone with a title and a name. We both got what we wanted, in the end."

Spat now over, Yuuri made his way back over to him, the word hesitant describing his every movement. Beneath full lashes, Yuuri looked up at him and Viktor felt the ba-dump of his heart with startling intensity. "Would you like to meet my sister?"

He ignored the jittery twitch of his nerves. "I would love to."

Mari soon stood in front of Viktor, eyeing him much like Minako had, though her face was harder to read. Viktor matched her disinterested expression with one of his own as his insides roiled unpleasantly. Meeting Minako was all well and good, but this was Mari. Yuuri's beloved sister. Viktor had a feeling that her impression of him would weigh greatly on Yuuri's decision to be with him. That was a deeply concerning thought.

"I like him," she said with a pat to his face. Viktor wondered if that was a Japanese thing, or if the two women shared some mannerisms out of closeness. "You gotta tell kaasan and tousan, though, Yuuri."

"Speaking of your parents, they've been worried about you. You better get to calling them," Minako warned.

"Hai, hai, I will," Yuuri replied sheepishly from Viktor's side, but he was beaming. Viktor liked to think that it was because he'd been more formally accepted into Yuuri's life. It was why Viktor suddenly felt more spirited.

"Okay! Back to work," Minako exclaimed.

"Hah!?" Yuuri collapsed right there and refused to get off the ground. "I have to get ready for work in an hour, Minako~" She was already hefting him off the floor and putting him in position before her name had even formed in Yuuri's mouth.

"While they deal with that, why don't I show you around the parlor, Silver?" Viktor rose a brow at the name that Mari seemed so keen on using and the devious smirk that accompanied it. He still had no idea why she called him that or why it drew such a reaction from Yuuri. It was most likely about his hair, so at least the name wasn't gray… "Ever think about getting some ink?"

They left through the doors, Yuuri's call of "Don't you dare think about tattooing him, Mari!" fading out.


It was hot. It was hotter than hot. Yuuri felt like a bug frying on sun-bleached pavement. He was currently laid out flat on the kitchen floor of his apartment, the only cool place left as the heat sank in from all sides, air left stagnate around them. Phichit was next to him, his face squashed into the floor for relief. Viktor sat against the cabinets, one of their last ice packs stuck to his forehead. Yuuri had two under his arm pits, already warm and useless. Phichit had one somewhere in his clothing.

"Isn't San Francisco supposed to be one of the cooler cities in the summer?" Viktor asked.

"Our average," Yuuri started, before sloshing his tongue around in his mouth. It felt like a desert wasteland. "On average we're in the high sixties, but we get a few horrible, sweltering, blistering days every once in a while. It's uncharacteristic, but with the heat wave hitting most of California… it was only a matter of time."

"I was hoping we'd stay out of the nineties," Phichit complained.

"Be grateful we haven't hit triple digits." Yuuri tried to pool the saliva in his mouth to moisten his tongue. It didn't do the trick. He stared longingly at the sink from his position on the floor. Nope, too far. Toooooo hot. "My mouth tastes like ash."

Phichit bubbled up with laughter and Yuuri wondered where he found the energy. "Your mouth tastes like ass? Dude, what have you guys been doing?"

"I said ash!" He could barely rouse up a blush, his skin already flushed.

They were a pretty picture. We should put up a sign. Dead Fish Frying. We could be an exhibit. God, was the heat making him delirious?

"I heard that people in L.A. fill their baths with ice to cool down. We could try that," Phichit suggested.

Yuuri flopped onto his back, cringing at the way his clothes stuck like another layer of his skin. "Have you seen the price of ice lately? Besides, the ocean is right there. We could jump in that if we wanted."

"Right."

Viktor's ice pack plopped onto the floor with a warm water squelch as he sat up more only to slouch back down. "Anyone up for a trip to the beach?"

Three seconds passed before they gave a collective groan.

"Way too far," Yuuri said.

Phichit chimed in with false cheer. "We have a shift in forty minutes to look forward to. No time for the beach when you have a hot oven waiting! ...Wait." His voice dramatically changed, lowered before the big reveal. "The walk in fridge!"

"Please. Yes. Now." Was Yuuri's response as they both roused themselves up, slow and zombie like. The ice packs fell off of Yuuri. He didn't bother with them. He slunk over to the sink and shoved his head under the faucet. The water was warm. Of course.

"Here, I'll slick your hair for you."

Yuuri watched Viktor retrieve his gel and comb from the bathroom before he settled on the couch, the man waiting for Yuuri to take up residence on the floor in front of him. Yuuri did so, as had become their little routine. Viktor liked styling Yuuri's hair for some odd reason. Yuuri didn't question it. He kind of liked it.

These were the moments that brought realization to Yuuri. Viktor was buried into their lives, effortlessly and completely. He could navigate around their home like he owned it. He no longer had to ask where the silverware was kept, or open four different cabinets just to find a cup. He knew where Yuuri kept his hair styling supplies, batteries, light bulbs, anything necessary and even trivial. He cooked meals and helped with chores when he wasn't at the rink. He'd already cleaned out Phichit's hamster cage once, becoming acquainted with each of them, though not as well as Makkachin. They all snuggled up against her while the cleaning had been done.

Yuuri stared at the vase that still sat on the bar counter, a new bouquet of flowers feeling the heat just as much as the rest of them. Viktor liked to keep it full and lively. Whenever the flowers would wilt away, petals spilling their life onto the floor, he'd buy more. "Something beautiful for someone even more beautiful," as Viktor said.

When fingers descended from his hair, having fully fulfilled their duty, Yuuri looked back. Viktor looked dashing, as always, even as the weight of summer dampened his skin, leaving him disheveled and exhausted. He could have been lost in the cold wonderland of the ice rink hours before, but he'd waited around. For Yuuri.

Viktor saw them off and Yuuri and Phichit made their way to work. The weather hit them like a wall when they opened the doors, all smiley sunshine promising a slow and painful death. Yuuri loved the fact that he lived a hop, skip, and a jump away from the bakery, but it felt like miles under the murderous sun. He wiped the sweat from his brow, realizing that it did nothing as more just dripped down in its place, and glanced at his strangely silent companion. Phichit was tapping away on his phone. "Screaming about hamsters on Instagram again?"

Phichit got weirdly serious as he dropped his phone from his vision. "I'm going to be home late tonight."

"You don't have class. Did someone cancel their shift?" Yuuri took his phone out from his back pocket and scrolled through the notifications. "Sara didn't notify me of anything. If they did, I can take it for you."

"It's not that."

They walked at a slant to make it up the hill to the bakery, bodies practically at a forty-five degree angle with the pavement. Both of them looked too worn out from a simple jaunt down the street. To be fair, so did everyone that they passed. Yuuri was still feeling the previous day's dance sessions with Viktor and Minako.

"I have a date," Phichit announced with a bop of his chin in the air.

Yuuri missed a step. "But I thought you said you were over dating. That 'a hamster's love is all I need.'" Yuuri said, cutting the air with his fingers. "What changed?"

"You."

Yuuri stopped. They were right outside of the bakery, just a mere twenty steps from blissful cold, but Yuuri's brain couldn't compute the movement. "What do you mean?"

"Well…" Phichit began slowly with too much thought behind the lone word. "It's just that seeing you so happy now has made me realize that I kind of want that, too. I mean, sure, I don't need someone to make me happy; I'm happy as I am right now," he said, putting a hand on his chest and looking fully self-assured and self-respected. Phichit always carried himself well, put together and radiating good will. It was something Yuuri admired, and was more than a little envious of considering he was a broken mess on his best day. "But it would be nice to have a companion. Someone that could make me happier, or someone that I could share my happiness with."

"So… You want a Viktor in your life. Is that what you're saying?"

"I suppose."

Yuuri thought back to how he'd been before Viktor. He didn't think too much had changed about himself. He hadn't gone through a metamorphosis or anything drastic like that. He was still the same caterpillar climbing up the same leaf, but there was no doubt that he was happier. Viktor makes me happy. Phichit deserves to have someone who brings light into his life, too.

"I've been talking to this guy over the phone and I figured that I should just go for it. He's as in love with his dog as I am with my hamsters, so at least we share a love for our pets. His picture is even one of him and his dog, which is adorable. I haven't gotten too good a read on him over text. He's nice, a little serious, and we agreed easily on a restaurant. He's got odd shift hours, though… And he doesn't understand sarcasm over text at all. Emojis just confuse him. And he can be dour when he's… how should I put it? It's like-"

Yuuri put a hand on Phichit's arm, stopping him from his nervous babbling. It was like he was looking for Yuuri to tell him no. That it wasn't smart. That the guy wasn't right. That he really didn't need anyone new in his life. But Yuuri didn't believe any of that. This was a great thing for Phichit. He might not have been lonely, and he certainly didn't need a romantic partner, but it wasn't wrong of Phichit to want one. Yuuri brought him in for a hug. It came naturally to him, comforting Phichit this way. Yuuri wasn't a hugger, but he couldn't think of a time when hugging Phichit felt wrong like it did with other people. "I'm happy for you. He sounds… well he sounds pretty generic, but I hope it goes well." Phichit gave an off-key chuckle and hugged him tighter. Yuuri could feel the mixed emotions coming from his best friend, and even from himself. He tried to ease it away with humor. "Dave will just have to wallow in sadness as the love of his life goes off the market."

"Oh, hush."

"Maybe he'll make another fondant figure of you to catch your attention."

Phichit made a gagging noise that tickled his ear. "Now you've reminded me of why I hate fondant. Thanks, Yuuri. Thanks."

"Okay, okay. I'm dying in this heat and you're only making it worse. We're going to get stuck together, at this rate." They laughed as they let go, both cringing at the way their skin peeled apart.

"You act like that's a bad thing." Phichit smiled before he stuck out his tongue.

"Meh," Yuuri added with a shoulder bump, "You'll always be stuck with me."

Chapter Text

Viktor didn't let the tutorial video thing go. At every open opportunity, Viktor was there with it, in subtle jabs and obvious slices. "Just one time, Yuuri. Let's just see what happens," was usually what every approach dissolved into, obligatory begging. Yuuri was baffled as to why Viktor was so gung ho about it. He could only speculate, but his reasonings seemed thin, at best. Yuuri thought to ask, but the true answer seemed scarier than his own musings. It was nice to think that Viktor only wanted some sort of fame for him to better his future, but Yuuri couldn't help but suspect an ulterior motive.

They were at the laundry mat when Viktor pounced on him again. The idea was always fresh in Viktor's mind, but it was only rotting and festering in mold in Yuuri's. He'd entertained the thought of just giving it a try and relenting to Viktor's most recent whim, but he knew he'd never be able to stomach it. Working in front of people, teaching people, putting his knowledge, his skills, his entire being out there for the world to tease and pick apart wasn't even remotely doable. He'd be no better than a defenseless carcass laid out for the vultures. Viktor could bring up the last video all he wanted. Those few comments praising him weren't going to change his mind. He hardly believed that they were real. Neither Phichit nor Viktor spoke of the negative comments, and Yuuri was sure that there were many more of those. It took everything in him to not search out those negative comments and use them as some horrible form of validation for his protests. He knew that would just make him feel worse.

It was a quiet night that was slowly dying out into early morning. Summer was unrelenting with its presence. Even the night air was humid, rousing his hair up into small, frizzed curls. Viktor toyed with them, to Yuuri's annoyance. There were box fans in the windows, squeaky with age and gray with dust. They did nothing but circulate the hot air around the room.

Yuuri straightened Phichit's shirt with a snap and began folding it. There was a flash, entirely noticeable in the dim of the twitching lights, and Yuuri bristled. "Did you just take a picture of me?

Viktor was leaning on the other side of the dryer, face conveniently hidden behind his phone, but Yuuri could hear the grin snapping into place. "Yes?" he asked, as if the proof hadn't provided Yuuri's vision with white spots.

Yuuri just stared at the back of the man's phone case, which now featured a caricature of Yuuri holding one of his chocolate muffins out in offering – art from a fan, Viktor had explained before. "I doubt Instagram wants to bear witness to my folding techniques at eleven at night, Viktor. Why you insist on taking pictures of me doing the most mundane tasks is beyond me." The cell finally dropped from Viktor's face only to reveal his smile widening. "Don't you grin at me, I'm serious."

"Why hello, Serious. I'm Lovestruck. Nice to meet-"

Yuuri reached over the distance and shoved a pair of Viktor's training pants in his mouth. He pushed the clean laundry into Viktor's space before turning to what was in the wash. "If you have time to crack hideous jokes, you have time to work."

Viktor's stunned expression warmed into a smile as he pulled the fabric from his teeth. "But my fans are hungry, Yuuri. I must give them more of what they crave."

"Then why don't you, I don't know, post something of your skating? I'm pretty sure that's the reason why they follow Russia's five time world champion figure skater. You know, to see someone skate."

"But it appears that I have some competition, as of late. Something to do with an incredible little pastry chef that refuses to see his appeal." He ducked the next article of clothing that Yuuri tossed his way. "I do believe that you're missing the point of cleaning clothes."

"Really? I thought you were the captain of obliviousness here."

"Only when I'm being blinded by your radiant countenance, dear."

Yuuri bit back a sigh.

When Viktor wasn't being a flattering fool, he was usually steeped in quiet contemplation. Yuuri caught him in one of those moments as Viktor focused down on the task at hand. Yuuri loved watching Viktor's thoughts percolate over his expression, his bright edges softened by domesticity as his fingers picked at the pilly fabric of Yuuri's favorite hoodie. It served to remind him of the human that Viktor was. Beneath all of the lights and titles and gold was flesh and bone. Such moments reaffirmed Yuuri's thoughts that this was right. He may not be the brilliant star that Russia's darling deserved, or that Viktor wanted him to become, but he was at least enough to stand by Viktor's side.

Viktor caught him staring and Yuuri ducked his head quickly into the wash machine until his blush had been maintained. He emerged to a close press of Viktor at his back.

"Yuuri…" Viktor tugged him closer, away from his laundry and any hopes of ignoring his tactile partner. Since Yuuri had slowly become more accepting of the physical intimacy Viktor had been so quick to bestow upon him, such contact came as no surprise, though Yuuri still had to fight against his instinct to turn away and hide himself. But Viktor was still careful with him. He hadn't pushed any boundaries since their time on his kitchen floor. He was attentive to Yuuri's every movement, every possible sign of discomfort.

"Yes?" Yuuri enjoyed every bit of it, the constant contact and incessant neediness. He could just reach out and Viktor's caressing touch would be there.

"It doesn't have to be very long." Viktor kissed a line down his jaw and neck, tasting Yuuri as he teased his next approach. "Five… ten minutes, tops."

Yuuri wasn't so fond of his stubbornness. "Viktor," he said, exasperation stretching his name. "The length of time will not entice me to change my answer. I don't want to be in any videos. I'm already unhappy about all of the pictures you post of me." Viktor's face fell, but Yuuri carried on. "They make you happy, so that's fine. I've accepted it. But I don't want to be a feature on the internet, okay? Now if you would kindly stop pestering me, I have another load to fold."

Viktor didn't stop. Even as Yuuri tried to focus his gaze away from the man, he kept ducking into Yuuri's line of sight. Despite Yuuri's stern stance, it was amusing watching Viktor jump around him, an annoying puppy crying for attention. It was especially hilarious when Viktor snagged his shirt on the corner of a washing machine and fell, spilling himself into another woman's laundry.

"Serves you right," Yuuri stated between chuckles.

Viktor apologized profusely to the lady, giving her his thousand percent boyish charm smile as he handed her the purple bra from his hair. She nearly fainted from the sight.

"Figures," Yuuri grumbled. "Doesn't anyone get mad at you?" Viktor fumbled with his phone and sat himself on top of the dryer, swinging his legs in front of the door and halting Yuuri's progress. "What is it now?"

"You told me once that you like making your customers happy, right? That's what you want? To make people happy?"

"More than anything."

"So don't think of this as an opportunity to become famous or as a gateway to furthering your career, since you supposedly don't much care for those things, but think of this as a way to make others happy. Despite what you think, people want to see you. They want to get to know you. They even want to learn from you."

With that, Viktor brandished his phone screen in front of Yuuri's face, hand underlining it in some imitation of Vanna White. Apparently Viktor had posted yet another picture of Yuuri with a question to his followers.

What would you guys think if this genius pastry chef decided to start up a YouTube channel to teach others to bake? I don't know about you, but I could use a lesson or two.

"Viktor!" Yuuri squeaked, voice small and very, very intimidated. How could Viktor even think of doing something like that? It was about as good as pushing him off a plank and into the jaws of a giant alligator. Before Yuuri could say anything else, Viktor shoved the phone closer to Yuuri's face, almost bashing him in the nose, so he would take it and focus on the comments beneath the post.

There was a world of support, many easily agreeing to watch should a channel emerge. They were mixed with some simple comments of disinterest, but most of the people that had replied were pretty jazzed about the idea. There were even comments from a couple of people that had been inspired to try and make the cinnamon stitch bread. They had posted pictures of their attempts, none of them looking quite like his, with pleas for Yuuri's recipe and tips on how to make it. One comment - that Viktor was especially eager to point out by tapping impatiently on the screen as he all but fell off of the dryer - was from a young girl who was maybe twelve or thirteen. There was a picture of her, dark green eyes shining beneath a puff of curly red hair, dusted freckles around a pouting face. She was holding a cup of mush in her hand.

Could he teach me how to make a chocolate soufflé? Mine keeps turning into mud and I want to make it for my papa. It's his favorite.

Yuuri's heart melted into a goop much like her soufflé and he scowled at Viktor for it.

"A soufflé could be your first video…" he suggested, leaning back and flipping through his phone, face full of knowing smugness. "Or I guess she could just make something else for her papa. She'll never learn how to make a soufflé. All her hopes and dreams of making her papa happy with his favorite dessert dashed. Along with her smile."

"You're impossible."

Viktor peaked up from his phone. "Does that mean you'll do it?"

Yuuri pushed the cell away and gripped onto the back of Viktor's neck, pulling him forward. "I'll do it," Yuuri whispered, kissing him roughly before letting him go. "But for clara_bee87, not for you."

"Yes!" Viktor shouted, startling the other occupants of the laundry mat and causing a flush of embarrassment to rush up Yuuri's cheeks. He pulled Yuuri back in, swift hands on his cheeks, and kissed him, hard and happy.

Yuuri laughed into the kiss as Viktor's body jittered with the shake of the dryer, their lips messily mushing together. "Get down. I can't kiss you when you're up there…"


Yuuri was all nerves. A rattled ball that just stared into the eye of the camera like it was a flaming projectile ready to be hurled at his head by the devil himself. He couldn't do this. There were so many people that were going to watch and see him. They would see all of his little mistakes, every issue that proved how much of a novice he really was. He wasn't pastry chef, as Viktor so lovingly called him, he was just a simple baker. Someone that could easily hide and fix his work's imperfections behind a closed kitchen door. He didn't deserve the honor of the title of pastry chef. He wasn't a chef of anything. Yuuri's head burrowed down into his shoulders, shying away from the camera that was glowering at him from over the island counter in their bakery. He was going to make a complete and utter clown of himself. He just knew it. What made him think that he had the right to teach anyone? What did he know? Oh. God. What did he know?

The recipe flew from his mind. He stared down at the ingredients, the prepared cocoa, chopped chocolate and egg whites and his mind went blank. What was he making again? He stared down at the ramekin, eyes glued to the sugar coating its inside. He stared and stared and stared.

Why was he doing this? He couldn't do this.

He couldn't not do this.

He had people waiting on him. They wanted to see what he could do and learn how to do it themselves. He had clara_bee87 waiting to make her father's favorite dessert. He had Leo, adjusting his camera in place and putting his name right along there's in the video. Sara and Phichit had done so much to make this happen, their biggest part having been getting approval from Celestino to use the bakery. Even Celestino was counting on him. He'd called Yuuri up, his booming, boisterous voice telling him to make him proud. The business was all his to use after hours as long as he respected its reputation and advertised it to show his sponsorship.

Most of all, there was Viktor. Yuuri looked over at him, the skater pulling on his own work coat and plastic gloves. He was so excited, his eyes glittering, just like when he was on the ice in his younger days - that same fiery glow in his eyes that shined bright under the lights and gleamed with the gold of his skates and his flowing mane of hair. Viktor wanted to do this with Yuuri, had bought himself a coat so he could look the part of the 'perfect chef's assistant' as he'd called himself. The fabric was a soft green to match his eyes, Viktor embroidered in pink cursive on the breast. His smile was overwhelming, but Yuuri loved how real it was, breaking across the celebrity mask he usually wore.

Maybe he was also doing this for Viktor. Just a little.

The repetition had eaten at Yuuri, bit by bit. He hadn't been willing to admit it, but Viktor's pleas had almost had him there, an enduring current against the flow of his worries. Clara_bee87 had just cinched the decision.

He could do this. He had to do this. But his shaky resolve didn't help him solve the big question.

What was he making?

With little more than a quick check to make sure everything was in place, they started filming. Yuuri's mouth kicked into gear, his words coming out faster than his brain could fully process them. He shook. He stuttered. He spilt vanilla on the floor. He was worse than Minami and he couldn't even stop himself. Viktor and Leo exchanged glances, both frowning as Viktor tried to ease Yuuri into a calm. They started over three times, but each new take, every retry just emphasized how much of a screw up he was. He was wasting time, energy, and ingredients. He wasn't cut out for this, so why, why were Leo and Viktor still trying.

When Yuuri scorched his finger on a burner, yelping right in the middle of the whisking process because he thoughtlessly brought his hand down too close, Viktor finally put a stop to it. Leo quit filming and hurriedly ran for the first aid kit while Viktor took Yuuri over to the sink.

"Ah, Viktor, I'm-I'm fine… It really doesn't h-hurt that much-Youch!" He jolted at the sting as the water swallowed his finger, Viktor holding his hand in place with stern, but gentle pressure.

"I thought you might get a touch of stage fright, but I didn't know you'd be this scared, Yuuri. What do you think is going to happen? Are you that afraid that you'll look bad?" Viktor looked at him and Yuuri could see it, the tiny quirk to his mouth, lips thick with disapproval.

Yuuri felt his own features tighten and he tried to pull away, needing to flee before he could see any more. Viktor had been so excited and look at what Yuuri had done. Swept that right off his face without even trying. "It's more than just appearances, Viktor. I… I just don't want to be a disappointment. Everyone's counting on me and… I'm stupid. It's stupid."

Gripping onto his wrist harder, Viktor drew him in. "It's not stupid, Yuuri. You're feeling pressure, that's normal. I remember my first sponsored photo shoot, my gangly, still growing self trying to flaunt a new pair of training spandex for the camera. I was all over the place, letting my mouth run over my anxiety, complimenting the photographer and chatting up the makeup crew from across the room. I couldn't shut up for the first hour. Yakov was ready to beat me senseless."

Yuuri stared openly at Viktor, hardly aware of his burn at all anymore. Viktor's confidence seemed so natural to him, the ease with which he handled life ingrained into Yuuri's very idea of him. Viktor being nervous in front of a camera was something he couldn't imagine. "What happened? How did you finish?"

"Yakov taped my mouth shut."

"What?"

"Yup. They photoshopped the brand name right over the tape so it looked like it was on purpose. 'The name speaks for itself' was the tagline, or something like that. The photographer actually thanked Yakov later for the idea. They ended up doing it with all of their other featured athletes that season."

Yuuri giggled and made a mental note to go find that very photo later on. "Heh, now I know what works to shut you up."

"Don't get any funny ideas," Viktor said, smirk curving his face. "But I eventually got over it. Each shoot, interview, and commercial was easier than the last. Now I don't even think about it."

"But that's you. You're Viktor Nikiforov. You're in a league of your own."

Leo bandaged up his finger, giving Yuuri his own small words of encouragement. The words, 'You can do this, Yuuri. We believe in you,' never sounded so daunting, the color of Leo's cheer graying with Yuuri's mood. When they were back in front of the camera, all cleaned up and ready for round four, Yuuri still felt fear tearing at his skin.

"Just focus on me," Viktor cut in, gripping his uninjured hand beneath the counter and catching the light in his eyes. "Just me."

Yuuri filled the overworked spots in his mind with Viktor's smooth baritone, drowning his worries in Viktor. He kept his focus on his friends, the camera nothing but a black spot in his vision. With Viktor, in his kitchen, in his domain, Yuuri finally relaxed and worked, just adding the extra of narrating what he was doing as if he were teaching Viktor how to make a soufflé.

Viktor worked beside him, doing his part in engaging the 'audience' with little comments and questions as he made his own soufflé while following Yuuri's lead. They joked and laughed. Viktor got sticky with chocolate as he whisked too hard. He pouted, having gotten a glob of chocolate in his eyebrow. But he played it off, as usual. "I almost match Leo. I think it just needs to be a bit thicker."

"Hey!"

Viktor got quiet for a moment, and Yuuri heard a muffled choke of a laugh come from Leo. A bad sign. Viktor was scooping up some cocoa powder into a tablespoon.

"Viktor… Please tell me you aren't testing out new flavors again."

"I'm just curious, is all, Yuuri." He smiled mischievously at the camera. "Haven't you guys ever tried cocoa powder? What is it like?"

"I wouldn't-" But Yuuri was too slow, too busy actually working while Viktor was being a goof.

Viktor shoved the spoon in his mouth and let out a rough cough into the sink, a puff of cocoa released into the air. He coughed more, with scratchy chokes of air and scooped some water into his hand to drink from. "Dirt," he croaked when he could speak again. "It's like dusty dirt."

"You need a paper towel?" was Yuuri's snarky answer.

Viktor tried to splash him with water, but he was too far. The camera shook in Leo's hands as he continued to laugh.

Viktor messed up a couple more times, but Yuuri suspected that he was doing most of it on purpose. He was having fun for the camera. And probably Yuuri, too.

After Viktor almost poured vinegar into the pot instead of olive oil, Leo turned the camera on himself. "Public service announcement for all of the ladies and gents at home, don't eat anything Viktor bakes."

"I heard that."

Viktor was lost in dizzying enthusiasm and he wrapped Yuuri up in it with him. Yuuri could hardly control his laughter, and he was surprised at how easily he could be himself in front of a camera with so much at stake.

When the soufflés were done, out of the oven and perfectly puffed, a deep drizzle of chocolate sauce poured through the cracks, Viktor stared at it and Yuuri laughed at the drool coming from the corner of his mouth.

"Can I eat all of them?" Viktor asked, fork already in hand.

"Your body is a temple," Leo reminded, but he looked ready to drop his camera and dive right into the nearest dish.

"Pfft. No one's body is holy." Yuuri took up his own fork with a proud smile.

They were cleaning up the mess when gravity sank down onto him, piling all of its triple-ton weight onto his now surging emotions. I can't. I can't do this. It's stupid. I'm going to make everyone look so- "Erase it," Yuuri whispered, low and hidden in the soapy bubbles of the dish water. With his shoulders hitched up to his ears, he stared down at his hands, horrified at himself. He could only think back to everything he could have done better. What he should have said. How he should have chopped the chocolate finer, mixed the sauce more, let the souffles gain more of a crust.

He was

and always would be

a failure.

"Erase it," Yuuri said louder, and this time Viktor stopped and peered at him with bewilderment.

"Erase what?"

"Just erase the video!" he yelled, because no one heard him. Because no one understood it. This fear. This quaking, gripping, gnawing fear. This painful regret that hit him in waves, the aftershocks only growing more violent. "Please, just, please make it go away." The video. This feeling. All of it. Yuuri started crying, hot tears of frustration. He shouldn't be acting this way, crying, losing a grip on his emotions just because of a little insecurity. Why did he have to feel like this?

Viktor was at a loss with how to help. His hands shuffled around Yuuri's face, his arms, his hair. Assuaging words tripped off his tongue. None of it helped.

"Just erase it. I don't need to do this. Why did I think I could do this? I'm so unbelievabl-"

"Yuuri," Viktor admonished, like Yuuri was overreacting. Like he could help how he felt. Like he didn't know that he was being impossible and stubborn and a god damn freak about everything.

So Yuuri got pissed, defensive, like he was being rejected by the one person that seemed to accept all of him. His frustration quickly enflamed into anger, so much anger. If he didn't get angry, he would just fall apart. "I can't do this, Viktor! I'm not like you. I don't want to be the center of attention. I can't just smile through the filth stirring in my gut and talk about my work like I'm an expert because I'm not, Viktor, god, I'm not. Little clara_bee87 is going to watch this and make worse than mush and it will be all my fault and your fans will hate me. And the bakery. And you. And I JUST CAN'T DO THIS," The words came out wrecked from his throat and he had his fists clamped to his sides, keeping him weighted into place so he couldn't run and hide in a persona that only made things worse.

Yuuri stood there. The clinking in the kitchen returned as Leo hurriedly went back to work. He was far too nice to say anything, but Yuuri could only cringe at the thought of what the younger man thought of him now. Yuuri tried to take deep breaths, each one more ragged than the last. Viktor still fluttered around him uselessly.

"Yuuri, I don't know what to say." His face still seemed too bright, even as it was tempered with worry and a deep disquiet. "What can I do? Let me help you."

Yuuri yanked on his hair, tangling the gel up until it stuck out oddly. "You don't need to do anything. You just need to be here for me, OKAY!? Just be here. Sit through my rants. Breathe with me. JUST!" Yuuri stopped and weakly reached out, gripping onto the thick of Viktor's coat, fingers finding the chalk of drying chocolate. "Be here."

He didn't erase the video. He allowed himself to be persuaded. It was done. Set in stone. Leo would edit it and Phichit would post it to Yuuri's new channel and time would tell. Yuuri scrounged up enough courage to say a little something to those who would be watching and gave a couple of tips to clara_bee87 about how to avoid the dreaded soufflé mud. Something in Viktor's heartbeat, his utter presence, had finally made Yuuri feel… okay.

The next day's worth of comments helped, too.

No one's body is holy? He says that as I'm staring at the bodies of GODS. Lord baby Jesus. I be sacrificin' my Sundays and first born child to those temples. Can I get an amen?

That LAUGH I could bathe in it for days

I'm so trying this once my paycheck comes in.

Who's the hottie behind the camera? Leo de la Iglesia, huh? More like Leo de la licious.

Oh my glob, I want that kind of attention.

Would you be Yuuri in this situation or the soufflé? Because I feel conflicted now…

Viktor is life!!! But baby Yuuri is my new world.

Can I have him? Please???

I want baking sessions, too! Teach me, oh masterful one.

Viktor is so extra. Yuuri is the cinnamon roll of the century. Ohmygodmakecinnamonrollsplease.

Wouldn't that be like cannibalism? O.O

he doesn't have to eat them… but please do *.*

I have never been so into food porn and self-propagation in my life.

One specific comment sated his soul.

It still took me a couple of tries but papa is so happy! Thank you! Youre my hero Yuuri! Please post more videos! I want to learn more!


Viktor's phone rang out once more. It went unanswered. Again. Yuuri looked up at Viktor from his place snuggled beside him on the couch. Viktor didn't seem to care. It rang again, and Yuuri finally paused his VHS copy of "The Tigger Movie." There was silence when the ringer died out. Viktor ignored him, the blatant pause in their happy peace, until Yuuri beady eyed him.

"It's only Yakov. Ready to berate me into leaving you for the heartless ice. I do not wish for her cold seduction right now, Yuuri."

Viktor's likening of the ice to a woman had become commonplace for Yuuri, though he still found it peculiar. He had once asked Viktor if he should refer to his oven at the bakery as his own form of mistress, but Viktor had said, seriously and with heat, that he would take a bat to the trampy bitch should he ever take on a side squeeze. A terrible hypocrite, that one. "He's right to be angry. I'm keeping you from practice. You should go."

"Nooooo," Viktor flailed as Yuuri attempted to get up. He sprawled himself atop Yuuri, locking him in with his long limbs. "I am comforting you. Let me comfort you."

While he had originally thought it sweet that Viktor had wanted to spend some quality time with him to get Yuuri out of his head and away from the new mob of reporters outside of the bakery, Yuuri now suspected a double motive. "Are you comforting me or procrastinating on your practice?"

"Maybe a bit of both? Procrastinating with an emphasis on comforting, I assure you."

"More like an emphasis on suffocating," Yuuri said with a wheeze against Viktor's ear as he was bear hugged into the couch cushions. "I don't want to keep you from your skating, Viktor. I never want that. You should at least answer your coach. It could be urgent."

Reluctantly, Viktor sat up and glared over at his phone as it sang again. "Everything is urgent with Yakov. Trust me when I say that he just wants an excuse to treat me like an idiot child."

"You are an idiot child."

"Oh, I see how it is," Yuuri's eyes grew huge as Viktor jumped back on him, fingers skittering across his sides as he tickled Yuuri into a laughing fit. He coughed out giggles until the sound was stolen from him by Viktor's mouth. He was sucked back in, falling victim to mindless oblivion until his own phone began to ring.

Yuuri resurrected himself from the couch, tugging himself from Viktor's grip. He begged him not to answer with needy hands and puppyish eyes. "A responsible adult answers when they're called." He was too preoccupied with trying to keep his phone away from grabby fingertips that he didn't pay attention to the unknown number on his screen. When he answered, nearly stumbling off the couch and into the coffee table, giving a muffled hello that sounded too boisterous and carefree, he hadn't expected it to be the man that it was.

"Katsuki Yuuri, I presume? Yakov Feltsman, Viktor Nikiforov's coach."

He stilled, heart giving a start as he was addressed in a familiar accent, his name huffed out like an ill remark. He had enough wherewithal to duck Viktor's newest tactic, and Viktor sailed over him to land behind the couch, but Yuuri didn't know what to do. He cleared his throat and straightened himself out, back a rod and his knees knocked forward. "Yes-Yes this is him," he answered, clenching his eyes shut at how small he sounded. "It-It… is an honor M-Mr. Feltsman… sir." He gripped his phone too hard and his toes curled uncomfortably in the scratchy fibers of the carpet. Viktor's head surfaced from behind the couch and Yuuri gave him a helpless glance. He could hardly process the gruff words given through the phone and he hated how his speech wavered while speaking to Viktor's coach, one of the most important people in Viktor's life, his guiding hand in his career, but it wasn't long before Yuuri was able to hand his cell off to Viktor. "Uh, okay, yes. V-Viktor's right, um… here, Viktor, it's," he sighed, long and tired and worn, "please, just take it."

Viktor snagged it out of his hand. He only got one word out before the rest were trampled by an onslaught of Russian on the other end. Yuuri could hear the loud fury, see Viktor's features go from irritation to shock to alarm. He heard his name spoken, over and over, edged out with an articulation Viktor had never addressed him with before, and Yuuri felt his insides tumble, intestines speeding around as he imagined a conversation around himself that could put such an expression on Viktor's face.

Viktor sprang into action when he ended the call, whistling Makkachin into attention and snatching his keys up. Yuuri's mind rambled with questions. What happened? Did I do something? Am I supposed to do something? Is he leaving now? Was it that easy to convince him to leave? What can I say to stop him? Should I stop him? But he didn't dare ask for an answer. His lips didn't move. Neither did his body as he was glued to the couch, hands buried in flowers that no longer danced, but wilted in yellow. Viktor looked torn, staring at the door, Makkachin sitting at his side, her own gaze curious at her human's uncertainty.

It was a tense minute before Viktor turned back to him, running a hand through his hair and wearily looking to Yuuri. His features relaxed as he looked him over, and Yuuri thought that maybe he was overreacting. He was prone to that sort of thing. Viktor didn't look like he was leaving, at least not for good. And he hardly looked happy about whatever he was going to do. His tight smile spoke of vague amusement, but not happiness.

"It would seem that a little kitten has followed me here from Russia. Mind helping me pick up a stray?"

Chapter Text

During his time in San Francisco, Viktor had wondered about the goings on at his home rink. He imagined that things had progressed normally. Yakov showing his love with harsh words and red-faced critiques. Georgi splitting his time between crafting his lost-love-sorrows into a formidable routine and weeping on the sidelines. Mila shimmering like a bright beam across the ice, her focus only sullied by her frequent trips to attend to her phone. And Yuri. Young, intense, spitfire Yuri would shatter the ice with his impressive spirit and the impact of his anger. All of Yakov's other ducklings worked equally hard, but only amounted to fizzled sparks in comparison.

Viktor missed his rink mates in a way he'd never experienced while away at competitions or during vacations. It warmed his heart to find that they missed him, too. Yakov rung him at least once every day. Mila loved to call him up with the latest gossip from those at home and their mutual friends from around the world. Even Georgi messaged him long rants about Anya, and Viktor would be there to discourage him from sending her another one of his long, gut-wrenching poems.

The only one who hadn't contacted him was little Yuri. It wasn't strange. Viktor didn't expect anything from him. He was entering the senior division. His sole focus should have been on skating. So Viktor couldn't figure out why Yuri would have trailed him across the Pacific. Yakov said that he had been getting increasingly agitated and hard to deal with over the past few weeks. Last anyone had seen of him, he'd been on his phone at the rink before he suddenly threw it across the ice, tripping up Mila's practice with his shattered cell, and storming out with his skates still on, muttering something about an asshat's promise.

Viktor couldn't say he was surprised. Yuri was a tangled weave of teenage hormones, brows in a permanent furrow and fuck in every sentence, so eager to please but acting like he didn't give a care, teeth bared and knuckles out when anyone dared to cross him. He wasn't known as the Russian Punk for nothing. The clip of him knocking a reporter in the jaw for implying that he looked like a girl had still been on repeat at the after party at Worlds. He was dangerous on his own, mostly because he thought too much of himself. He could easily get himself into a situation that he couldn't fight his way out of.

So when Yakov called Yuuri, terse detachment hiding genuine worry, Viktor had been more than ready to find the kid. He had a duty to the boy. Yuri was a part of his ice family, same as Yakov, as Mila, as Chris. And he knew what it was like to be young and proud and so far out of rationality, to drop himself into stupid-crazy moments that earned him a reputation he grimaced at nowadays.

His eyes cut over to Yuuri as he drove, and he thought that maybe he shouldn't have dragged him out. Yuuri was still a clog of wrung out nerves, tightly wound by the newness of being known, recognized. People had been coming to the bakery to see him now. Gushing about his work and everything they'd loved about him online. Viktor had been spending extra time at the bakery to act as a speed bump for the floored fans. It worked for some, but Viktor came to know his own new sensation, the coldness of being passed by for someone else. He couldn't even be bothered to be jealous as he watched Yuuri accrue his own selection of fans outside of him. Yuuri who floundered and stammered while half hiding himself behind a menu.

Subjecting him to Yuri, right after Valeriya and Yakov, might not have been the smartest decision, but he didn't want to leave Yuuri, even for a moment. He wanted to keep him close, tucked under his wing, for comfort, for protection, for something.

Yakov had called ahead of time and they were allowed a key from the front desk clerk. They made their way up and Viktor asked Yuuri for a moment, which Yuuri, bless his heart, gave with a curt nod, concern turning his hands over in front of him. Viktor had told Yuuri a little about younger Yuri. Mostly that he was another skater in Yakov's flock, a friend, maybe a pseudo little brother in the best of times. It wasn't enough to set Yuuri on edge like this, but while Viktor understood little of Yuuri's anxieties, he knew that sometimes it didn't take much, or anything at all.

He pet Yuuri's arm soothingly, eyes a clear focus of calm. "Thank you, solntse moye." The key slid, the door clicked with a flash of green and Viktor ducked inside. He left the door ajar, a slip of space allowing him a peek of blue glasses and wide brown eyes. He turned to find a fuming kitten.

[V-Viktor…] It was a split-second of shock before his features catapulted into fury. [What the hell are you doing here!?]

[Yakov called. Said there was a cat on the loose. I,] he gave a sweeping bow, because he couldn't help it, [am here as the local animal control.] He narrowly avoided a hair dryer to the shoulder as Yuri hurled it at him. It smacked smartly against the wall, leaving a rounded dent behind.

[As if I needed a dumb ass like you! Fuck you and fuck Yakov! I don't need a god damn babysitter. I'm not a chi-] Yuri went silent as the door slipped open, Yuuri peaking in much like a frantic mouse, checking on the damage even as he seemed to want to bolt from it entirely. Viktor wished that he would have stayed outside. This was obviously the wrong time for his two Yuris to meet.


Yuuri dutifully waited outside for all of thirty seconds before he heard cross yelling, and only a minute more before a startling bang had him jumping back from the room. He glanced in from his spot, because getting closer sparked danger up his spine and he wasn't one to waltz into flames, but he had to check on Viktor. All he could see was a slip of the bed, highlighted by the glow of the lamp beside it. The yelling continued and he couldn't just stand there. Viktor had asked him to stay, but an urge surged him forward until he was standing in the room with the other two, his presence severing their conversation.

Yuuri looked over at Viktor, who supplied him with an eased smile. He stood solidly, his form untouched and Yuuri was happy to find that everything appeared alright. Until he looked down and found the hair dryer on the floor, the outer plastic pieces scattered at Viktor's feet. His shaky gaze found Yuri, whose form quaked in front of him.

Yuri was smaller than he had imagined, though he supposed that he was about average for fifteen. His long blond hair was in ratty bunches, torn through by frustrated hands, and he looked starved for more than just a good meal. There was an edge to him, sharp like a blade but unnaturally jagged, like it'd been improperly maintained. He looked… far more enraged than any normal fifteen year old he'd met before. Was it just him, or did Yuri look like he wanted to toss him out the window? Yuuri didn't let himself imagine the thirteen story drop, but he did side-step closer to Viktor. Yuri's upper lip was curled in disgust, eyes a dart on him since he'd entered the room. The blond said something in his native tongue, words a crackle of intensity.

"English, Yuri, or Yuuri won't understand."

"Who gives a shit if this dolt doesn't understand!?" Yuri fired back. "What does an outsider need to be in this conversation for? Yakov sent you, right? Not… that."

Yuuri recoiled at the bite, that of a snapping turtle that refused to ease off. Yuri was roaring. He was like salt rubbed in a wound and Yuuri tried to disregard the sting. He had no idea what he'd done to earn such an expression of revulsion, but he tried not to take any of it to heart. It was hard, but he'd grown used to the feeling of not being wanted.

The blond accepted the request, despite his previous protests, and continued to speak in terse English that clipped off his teeth unpleasantly. He glowered over at Viktor. "The fuck are you doing here, Viktor? Playing house with that pig…"

"Excuse me?" Yuuri said in quick reaction, an instant reflex because it had been awhile since he'd heard that name. Not long enough that it didn't conjure up old thoughts.

Yuri didn't even deign to look back at him. "Don't fucking talk to me. I have no time to listen to an animal's snorts and squeals."

"What?"

"I said shut the fuck up before I cook you for breakfast-"

"Yuri!" Viktor finally stepped forward, voice booming in the room and taking authority over both of them. Yuuri was grateful for Viktor's intervention, his appalled face and clear disapproval. Because Yuuri didn't know how to react or feel. In the face of this gritty fifteen year old, Yuuri just stood slack-jawed. "I don't care what kind of high horse you think you're on right now, but you will show Yuuri the respect he deserves."

Yuri grew quiet and tense, expression stunned at Viktor's bark. The regret that had manifested in the widening of his eyes and the loosening of his lips disappeared as he puffed out his chest. "Respect. He makes bread and donuts for a living. That earns him respect? Ha. What a laugh." And he laughed, outright, manic and unconvincing.

To Yuuri, he just looked like he was about to cry. It was hard to take him seriously when he looked like he was self-destructing. Oddly enough, Yuuri felt pity tugging at his insides, even as he still felt wounded by the boy's words. Yuuri applied easy pressure into the crook of Viktor's elbow, a slight attempt to ease him back as the man began his next round of defense. "It's alright. He doesn't-"

"Apologize, Yuri. You don't get to disrespect the people that I care about. I will leave you here by yourself if you don't. Yakov can come and pick you up himself."

Something in Yuri snapped. Yuuri saw it, some sort of realization shattering across Yuri's face. His smile grew cold, eyes going glassy and piercing back into Yuuri. He didn't think Viktor, in his own agitated state, could see it. But it was there, the beginnings of a storm. "An apology!? Here's an apology!" His hand whipped out to the side and gripped the first thing it came upon. The lamp on the bedside table flew at Viktor. He ducked it. Yuuri freaked, jumping as it shattered, the bulb crackling out a bright white pop. Yuuri stared at the charred smear on the paint, and then down at the frayed end of the cord. The lamp had literally been ripped from the wall, leaving the plug behind. Viktor hardly looked surprised.

"He should be the one apologizing! He stole from me!"

Yuri wasn't done, and Yuuri looked back just in time to be assaulted by a pillow to the face, downy fabric blinding him momentarily until it dropped down to the floor. Yuuri was dizzied by the force of it, Yuri a fuzzy stain in his vision as his glasses cricked up into his brow.

"At least you got a pillow," was Viktor's ill-timed quip. Yuuri side-eyed him and fixed his glasses, but didn't have time to voice any of his clear complaints before Viktor pulled him down by his shoulder. Yuuri watched as an alarm clock splattered against the wall right where his head had been.

Yuri huffed out breaths and his hands scrambled for something else to throw, fingers scratching across the bed's comforter and yanking uselessly at the post of the headboard. Yuuri watched during the intermission, crouched low and arms over his head.

Yuri was young and angry, a terrible caustic mix that could explode one minute and fall into pieces the next. A firecracker with lit, flaming sparks. They were still only watching the buildup of the mixture; Yuri had much more stored inside of him. Maybe sailing out the window wasn't such a bad idea.

Viktor stood back up from Yuuri's side. Yuuri tried to reach for him, keep him back because the idiot was grinning, like this was some kind of game. Like Yuri wasn't out to actually hurt him and the boy's feelings bared no actual merit. Yuuri himself would have been enraged with Viktor if he'd been faced with that stupid expression while being that pissed, Viktor so blithely flaunting his lack of care. "Are you paying for your room?" he asked as broken glass crunched under his feet. He picked a piece up, evaluating it in his hand.

"Who else?"

"Oh, well then." He threw it over his shoulder before stepping fully in front of Yuuri. "Toss away."

"Like I need your goddamn permission." But once Viktor had given it, Yuri stopped, shoulders falling and body crumbling onto the bed. He curled up there, and Yuuri in contrast opened himself up out of his protective ball as he watched the firecracker fizzle out.

Quiet descended and none of them moved. The room was half destroyed. Yuuri winced at the destruction. Everything looked terribly expensive. He couldn't imagine breaking, let alone buying, any of the items Yuri had so thoughtlessly tossed around. Yuuri felt sorry for those that would have to clean it up and guilty for being a part of the cause. "I'm sorry," Yuuri said and he bowed low. It caught Viktor off guard, as he swiveled back to look at him. "If I have offended you in any way, I apologize."

"Moron." Yuri still refused to speak towards him. "Real winner you got there, Viktor. Some docile doe. Bet he bends over real easy for you-"

"Yuri!" This time a vein popped out in Viktor's neck, accompanying the low bellow that struck out like a reprimanding smack. Before Viktor could say anything more, a knock resounded at the door. Yuuri glanced down at the mess at his feet then back at the door.

Boy, were they going to be in trouble.

Viktor ran a frustrated hand down his face and did his best to walk around the bits and pieces glinting on the carpet. He answered the door to a sharply dressed employee, the manager, Yuuri noted with a gulp, who rose an unimpressed brow at them all.

"The card on this room has been cancelled, sir, though the current hour has been paid for, along with any…" he glanced down at the dead eights on the clock's face by Viktor's feet, "possible damages. But I'm going to have to ask you to leave within the next twenty minutes."

Viktor nodded and agreed, sending the manager off with their key cards and a guarantee that they would be leaving and taking their problem child with them.

"You're lucky Yakov foresaw this because I wasn't about to pay for one of your tantrums."

"Where does that old fart get off? Doesn't he know that I'll just go find another place to stay?"

"I'm sure he blocked your money along with it, Yuri. Give Yakov some credit. You certainly don't have any."

If steam could have come from Yuri's ears, Yuuri was sure that it would have. His face turned a purplish red and he banged his fist against the mattress. "But that's my money. I earned it! He can't just take it from me. He didn't fucking take your money and you broke ranks and ran after some piggy's tail!"

"I got permission," Viktor responded, bending down to Yuri's height, his spine angled in a way that screamed pretentious and smug. "And I'm not a minor. Yakov doesn't have a hold on my earnings anymore."

Yuri's face scrunched up, but he yanked himself up from his place and whipped up his studded backpack from the floor. "Whatever, this place blows, anyway." He bumped into Yuuri on his way out, a purposeful shove with his shoulder that had Yuuri tripping into the vanity. "Out of my way, four-eyed, hog-faced bastard."

Yuuri stayed against the vanity, his gut curved around the blunt edge. Viktor blew out a sigh and came over to him, wrapping his arms around his middle as he drew Yuuri back into him. His fingers stroked the dip of his stomach in a way that was usually calming, but was unwelcome this time. "Please don't take anything he said to heart, Yuuri. He doesn't even understand half the things he says and he doesn't mean them. Well," he grimaced as his gaze crossed the southern part of the suite, "most of them."

Yuuri looked up into the mirror hanging over the desk, stared at his pitiful, four-eyed, hog face, and swallowed. He himself knew that Yuri had no right to judge him, because he didn't know anything of him. Besides, Yuri wasn't just cruel to him, if the things he said to Viktor and about their coach were anything to go by. Yuri was all vinegar and sour lemons with a peppery aftertaste. But the logic didn't stop the words from digging in and ripping open an old scab that Viktor had helped close.

Their forms in the mirror only supported his insecurities. Yuuri's plump boyishness next to Viktor's god-like physique. Yuuri's timid clumsiness in the face of Viktor's confident charms. They painted a completely incongruent picture.

Yeah, there was nothing to his words at all.


"I'm not staying with you dickbags, if that's where you're going," Yuri said from Viktor's back seat.

"Where exactly are you going to stay, then?" Viktor asked with feigned nonchalance, as if he didn't care. The glance he shared with Yuuri said otherwise. He'd already begged Yuuri to let the teen stay with them. He said that it would only be for a bit until he got Yuri home, and that he wouldn't allow Yuri to talk to him the way he had. Yuuri didn't mind either way. While Yuri's words hurt, he knew that the sting came from his own self-loathing, and not Yuri's careless comments.

"With the homeless on the street, I guess. I'm sure they've got better amenities than whatever you ass holes have to offer."

"Language," Viktor sang, but there was little heat to back it. Beating a dead corpse would have been more productive, at that point.

"Suck a cock."

Viktor's foot hit the brakes, the tires shrieking as their bodies smacked against their seat belts. Cars honked at them from behind, but Viktor just unbuckled himself and shoved his upper half past Yuri in the backseat, flicking the door open with a hard smack of his hand. "Then go find your new home, Yuri."

Yuri's jaw dropped. He looked out the door at the street, passersby glancing in as they passed, and back at Viktor who refused to meet his eyes. "Fuck it. Fine!" He staggered out of the car, bag hugged against his chest. "You can go die, for all I care!" He slammed the door shut, but didn't go anywhere.

Ready to pull off the curb, Viktor put the car into gear, but stopped as Yuuri eased his fingers into a careful circle around his wrist. "Viktor, you can't just leave him here."

"I know," Viktor said, and Yuuri was surprised at how sad it sounded. Viktor obviously didn't like being the heavy with Yuri. Yuuri wondered if he had ever had to before. The teen's reactions suggested that it was a rare occurrence.

Viktor's foot was still on the brake pedal, hand frozen on the gear shift. Yuri stood outside. "He can stay with my sister."

"You don't have to do that, Yuuri. I don't want him putting anyone else out."

"He won't be," Yuuri assured. "My apartment's not big enough for another person and I don't want to ask Phichit. He'll say yes, I know he will, but he shouldn't have to. Mari lives in a small apartment above the parlor, but she has spare rooms in the back of the shop. One of her new employees is sleeping in one. She wouldn't mind letting Yuri in, too. Just let me call her."

He was in the middle of dialing when Viktor smacked a kiss across his cheek. "Thank you, Yuuri. You're a saint and Yuri doesn't deserve to have you in his life. Neither of us do."

A smile wrenched his responsible adult face apart and he kissed Viktor back. "Let Yuri back inside."

"Do I have to?"

"Guh, your kissy faces are giving me hives!" Yuri yelled through the closed window.

"Then why are you still here?" Viktor yelled back. His eyes met Yuuri's. "You sure you want to subject your sister to that?"

"I'm sure they'll get along swimmingly."


Mari was standing outside as they pulled up to the curb, her body leaned casually on a street lamp. The smoke of her cigarette swiveled in the air around her. Darkness danced under her eyes, but her irises shined with renewed vigor as Yuuri came out to greet her.

"Gomennasai, nee-san. I wasn't sure where else to go."

She gave a brief wave of her hand in the thinning night air. "No problem. Getting woken up at all hours of the night to take on another person's problems is what I live for. What are sister's for?"

"I'm so sorry. If I'd known-"

"Relax, baby bro. I'm just teasing." She craned her neck around Yuuri to catch a glimpse of the teen fuming outside of Viktor's vehicle. "So, who's the sour puss?"

"He's… a rink mate of Viktor's… kind of like a brother to him… I think." They had a complicated relationship, to say the least. If yelling, name-calling and throwing things at each other were parts of brotherhood, Yuuri was glad he had a sister. Even if the two weren't blood related, it looked less than thrilling.

"Hmm," she blew the smoke out through her nose before smashing the butt into the pavement beneath her shoe. "He looks like Takao."

"From that boy band you listen to?" Yuuri's brows scrunched as he looked over at Yuri who was too busy ignoring Viktor's stern lecture to notice. Yuri turned his head to the side, the thick of blond strands falling away from his surprisingly pouty expression. The pull of his lips accompanied by the curve of his cheekbones and curt brow made him look like an exact replica. "Oh, man, he does!" Yuuri said with chuckle. He quickly hid it behind his hand, turning his back to the boy. Mari wasn't so cautious with her own mirth.

"He has the perfect doll face."

"Don't let him hear you say that!" Yuuri hissed, though the comment served to rouse up more laughs.

Yuri unfortunately took this time to notice the two giggling siblings. "What are you freaks laughing at?" Viktor jabbed an elbow into his side for the name and Yuri gave an 'oomph' at the unexpected action.

Mari was undeterred. "Absolutely nothing. Let's get you situated, Dollface. I've got a cot with your name on it."

Yuri paused, twitching as his mouth moved with retorts that were halted before they could begin. The blush that crawled up his cheeks drove the laughter right out of Yuuri. Huh. That was an interesting development.

Mari's other guest was on the couch in the main room when they entered. Dressed in his loungewear, sweats and an A-shirt, he sat eating what smelled like reheated delivery pizza while the TV droned in the background. Mari stopped in front of him and gave his sturdy shoulder a pat. "This here's Otabek, one of my men," she announced to Yuri, as if she were talking about a veteran soldier under her command. "He's staying here until he finds a suitable place in the city. Dollface, you'll be right across from him," Otabek about choked on his pizza as he swallowed, "so play nice. Bek, you want to show him his room?"

Otabek simply nodded, expression betraying the amusement that had surely been present before, and stood.

Yuri was having none of it this time. "Dollface? The hell!?

"What? I think it's appropriate," Viktor added with a smirk. "Just look at those delicate, little eyelashes." Before Viktor's hand could make its descent towards Yuri's face, it was smacked away.

"Keep your mitts to yourself, geezer. I have a name and it's Yuri. Use it."

Mari clicked her tongue, gesturing over to her brother. "No luck. We've already got one of those." She snapped her finger as if the thought dropped into her hands. "We'll call you Yurio!"

"No! Nuh-uh. No fuck-" Viktor flicked his ear, causing Yuri to mutter and rub at the sting, "flipping way," he finished. "I'm not losing my name to some-" Another warning flick with more muttering, "wonderful human being who I have no intention of liking!" He stuck out his tongue at Viktor as he clasped his hands protectively over his ears and gave a baleful look over toward Yuuri.

Yuuri felt shrunken again. Under that gaze, he was like a bug on a windshield, dead and smeared and ready to be cleared and polished away. Again, he tried not to dwell on the roiling negativity that clung like static to his skin. But he couldn't help wanting to be liked. Yuri was one of Viktor's tight knit circle. Practically family. A critical piece in the puzzle of his life. The rejection from him coupled with Valeriya's made him feel like a paltry piece of the world, unwelcome in their lives and certainly not accepted as a part of Viktor's.

"Don't you think Viktor deserves better? Someone extraordinary like him? He needs someone who can meet him at his level."

The words succeeded, he felt weak and stupid and insignificant. Disgusting. He couldn't even stand himself.

"Yurio or Dollface. Your choice," was Mari's quick comeback, cutting right across the tension. Her tone was relaxed and there was a lighthearted grin on her features, but Yuuri could see the irritation lit in the firmness of her spine. His sister was sticking up for him, in her own way.

He didn't deserve it.

"Guh," Yuri gave in as his features swiveled between astonishment, annoyance and displeasure. "Old people suck. Come on, Ota-whatever. I'm exhausted. I had to sit across from an annoying baby for my entire second flight and now I have to deal with this. Fuck, I need sleep." Otabek didn't reply, but walked towards the blackness of the hall. Yuri followed after the stoic teen, giving Yuuri one last nasty look over his shoulder. "I'm done with these losers, anyway."

"What crawled up his ass and died?" Mari asked once the two were out of earshot.

Viktor heaved a sigh. "I'm very sorry to inconvenience you like this, nee-san."

"Nee-san?" Mari looked startled as she took up a spot on the couch. Viktor flashed her one of his winning smiles, and her lip twitched with amusement. "Eh, I guess you can be my brother. I obviously enjoy adopting handfuls," she replied as she looked over towards the spare rooms, a strange melancholy about her. "But you treat my Yuuri right, you hear me?" She sat up on her knees and leaned up, yanking on his cheek.

"Of courf, ya have nofing ta wrry bouf."

With a nod of approval, she eased her grip off. Viktor rubbed his cheek as he stood back up, his expression sparkling just like it had when they'd been making soufflés. It was almost like he and Mari were friends. A family.

Yuuri watched and felt heated emotion welling up in his chest. To watch Viktor and Mari get along… it helped. At least his family accepted Viktor. He was going to have to be appeased with that, since it didn't look like he was getting the Nikiforov stamp of approval anytime soon. He certainly wasn't on his way to earning one from Yuri.

Viktor's ringtone lilted into the air and he gave a sheepish smile as he looked at the caller. "I'll have to take this."

"That's fine. I need to have a little chat with my brother, anyway." She bounced up and arrested Yuuri around the neck, knuckles coming down to rub harshly into his scalp.

"Wah! That hurts!"

Viktor laughed, light and airy, as he stepped out, leaving Yuuri at the mercy of his sister.

"Dumping a babysitting job on me, brat. Who taught you your manners?"

Yuuri tried to dislodge himself with firm yanks with his body. She wasn't budging. "I give! I give!" She finally set him free and he heaved in a huffed breath as he smoothed down the ruffled tufts of his hair. "I think that would have been my lovely big sister. I'm surprised I didn't turn out worse, actually."

"Oi! I'm a fine role model!"

Yuuri regarded her with a bland look. "You sometimes eat with your chopsticks between your toes."

"That's not bad manners. That's talent."

"You rub your clothes down with dryer sheets when they smell."

"They're perfectly clean otherwise."

"You sometimes pick your teeth with your credit card."

"Alright, 'cause you're such a classy guy and all. Enlighten me on the ways of being an exemplary citizen, Mr. Perfect."

Any retorts he had evaporated on his tongue. He stood there, ignoring a fidget that jingled in his bones. "I'm not perfect. Not perfect at all."

Mari sighed before giving him a sharp whap to the back of the head. Yuuri's hands immediately flailed out to protect the abused spot.

"What was that for!?"

"Yuuri, don't let a little prick stomp all over you. Put him in his place. I get that you're non-confrontational and you probably don't want to start anything with someone close to Viktor, but you can't accept abuse. Not in any form. Not anymore." She ruffled his hair back up into disarray, and didn't take notice as to how those words affected her little brother. How it conjured up even more memories he had never been able to truly vanquish. "I need a drink."

"You sound like Minako-sensei."

"When I start slurring and tripping over myself, then you can tell me that." She disappeared into a side room, and Yuuri listened to the jerk of the refrigerator door and the clinking of cans before she rejoined him, soon settling back into her spot on the couch as she tossed him his own can of beer.

He popped the tab and waited until the hiss died out before taking a drink. The bitterness stewed on his tongue, a welcome sensation that was both at war and at one with the feelings lingering there.

"You still haven't talked to mom and dad?"

Yuuri flinched and coughed around the swallow of alcohol. "No. Not... Not yet." He drew the back of his hand across his lips. Despite the drink, his mouth felt dry, of all proper words, of coherent sentences. Heaviness weighed down on him. He took another sip.

"They're worried about you, you know. You never call. Never visit. They're beginning to think you hate them."

"I don't!" he blurted, voice uneven. "I could never hate them."

"I know that. But… Why are you avoiding them?"

That was the question, wasn't it? He'd been ducking calls and visits for so long he'd forgotten the true reason why he'd drifted from his family in the first place. Originally, it was because he didn't want to burden them. They were still trying to resurrect the family business from the smoldering ashes of the past and Hasetsu's dying economy. They didn't need to bother with worrying over him and his needs and issues. Now, it was that same age old problem that kept him trapped within the confines of his own anxiety. He didn't want to disappoint them.

He knew that he would. After everything that had happened, after everything that he had done, after everything that he hadn't done, he just knew.

The silence grew between them like thick vines that became healthy in size, soon to be untamable, unbreachable. He plucked at the tab of his beer, thumb idly strumming an unknown tune until Mari cleared her throat to gain his attention. The vines began to decay with the small disruption and he lifted his gaze to meet hers. Mari was always good at barging through his shields.

"Yuuri?"

"I… I don't know."

"They want to see us - you," she amended, not a trace of hurt or envy within the lone word. "I'm going out in a couple of weeks. Come with me."

"I don't really have the-"

"Minako's paying for it. Don't say you won't take her money, because you know she will just buy your ticket and toss you on the plane herself. And don't even try me with that work crap. Celestino would gladly give you the time off."

With all of the normal excuses out of the way, Yuuri had nothing to say.

He couldn't go. It wasn't about the money. It wasn't about his job. Or any other form of obligation or hardship. He just couldn't go.

He wanted to. His heart ached for home. For the salty air that refreshed the senses, the stink of fish that allowed their town to thrive. For the shore that was so very different from the San Franciscan bay. For the beautiful chaos that was mornings at Yu-Topia. For the warm hugs of his mother and the deep, hearty laugh of his father.

Too much had changed. He wasn't the same little boy that grew up there. He couldn't go back.

"I know that things with Yuusuke," the name growled out of her mouth, acidic and resentful, his title as a part of their family purposely lopped off like a decayed branch, "and your anxiety make you feel unworthy of happiness, but it's not true, baby brother. Mom and Dad love you, Yuuri. They always have. Just like me."

He knew that. On some level. But that knowledge didn't ease him. It sank down into him and reminded him of what he had to lose and why he was still hiding away. If he remained in his little part of the world, his parents could still love the boy who left to America, and not lose him to the man he'd grown into.

Guilt stumbled onto her face and she wordlessly sat forward, placing a hand on his knee cap. The touch was tender, but searching. Like she could reach into him and find his emotions, adopt them as her own. Take them on and fight them away.

"Just give it some thought. I won't force you, but I do want you to come."

"I know, Mari. Thanks."


"I trust that you'll look after Yura while he's there."

A noise of irritation scraped out of the back of Viktor's throat as he leaned into the front railing of the parlor's entrance. "I'll get him back to you soon. I don't even know why he came to me in the first place." To irritate me. That seemed like the only plausible conclusion to draw. He was obviously irritated with Viktor for leaving, but nothing the boy had said revealed his motives for coming to America. It irked him. Mostly because instead of just talking to Viktor like a normal, civil human being, he'd stormed into an enraged spiral and yelled obscenities and vile things at his poor Yuuri. Viktor probably could have handled himself better when facing him, but he'd acted as he'd always had with the boy.

He didn't know how else to deal with him. It became harder once Yuri had begun to viciously tear into Yuuri. Viktor had to swallow down his instinctive, almost violent urge to protect Yuuri, even though he knew that what he'd told him was true. Yuri didn't mean it. He was just pissy at Viktor, at the world, and Yuuri was an accessible punching bag. It didn't mean that Viktor had to stand for it. He'd finally gotten Yuuri comfortable with himself. With him.

Yuri just had to spout off his usual garbage and jab into Yuuri's sore spots.

"Seriously, why would he come all the way out here? Just to yell at me?"

"And yet you still don't see how much of an airhead you are, Vitya."

"I'm sure you didn't call me to insult me."

"Let him come home on his own. He needs something from you and he is of no use to me until he gets it."

"What exactly could he need from me?" he asked, narrowing his eyes at the ground. A growly hum was all he received and it was all he was going to receive, he realized, as the quiet dragged on.

"Just make sure he still practices."

"I wouldn't worry about that one. I don't think anything can keep that kid off the ice."

"…I used to say the same about you."

Viktor gripped onto the railing of the stairs, fingers trembling with the tension as he stared at the thick clouds that passed over head. A storm looked like it was brewing, clouds ready to quench the thirst of the city in its post heatwave state. The moon was low, its golden glow just barely visible as it hung over the foamy fog that engulfed the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a beautiful sight, and it was funny how it immediately made him think of how much he wanted to share the moment with Yuuri. It seemed that nowadays, everything made him think of Yuuri. Even the ice and all its splendors couldn't keep his thoughts from returning to the endearing baker.

"Goodnight, Yakov."

Viktor came back into the parlor, but stopped just shy of the lounge area, witnessing a quiet exchange between Yuuri and his sister. There was so much to that lone scene, such emotion that Viktor couldn't readily categorize. Mari was consoling Yuuri, about what, he couldn't be sure, but it looked beyond troubling with the way the radiant light of his beloved's irises were dulled in reflection.

What happened after I left?

The moment shattered as soon as Mari took notice of him in the doorway. She sat up, relieving Yuuri of her touch while alerting him to Viktor's presence at the same time. Yuuri's eyes widened and his thoughts visibly scrambled over his face as he looked for something to say, to cover over the gloomy mood that had arrested the room.

Viktor defaulted into obliviousness. He swung an arm around Yuuri's shoulders and nestled himself into him, pecking him on the cheek.

"Honestly." Mari got up with a stretch, taking a swift swig of beer as Yuuri hid inside of his own with a new red smearing his cheeks. "The unending drama you bring me, Yuuri."

Yuuri seemed to rein in some semblance of himself as he sputtered into his can. "Me? He's the one who brings the drama!" He pointed at Viktor who didn't deny it. Why try at this point?

"Is he the reason I had to constantly take you to the ER for snooping around?" The blush intensified. "Yeah, I didn't think so."

Viktor could only chuckle at the new information. "It happened more than once? Do tell."

Mari opened her mouth, but Yuuri bolted forward, smacking a hand against anything more. "Nope. Sorry to run out, sis. We have work in the morning." He set his beer down on the coffee table and gripped Viktor by his shoulders, steering him out of the shop. "Lots and lots of work. Bye."

"Aw, but Yuuri!" Viktor protested. "I wanna know!"

"Yeah, come on, Yuuri. We haven't even gotten to the baby pictures yet!"

The door slammed on her cackles.


Yuuri disengaged in the car. He rolled down the window and stuck his hand out, let it catch the waves until his fingers were numb with the whipping night air. He'd asked Viktor to drive around a little, allow him to clear his head with the smooth rumble of the car and the peace of the night passing by. Viktor obliged, and he was pleased with how the man didn't even question it.

Yuuri needed a break from the talking. The yelling and the remembering. It felt like a yawning chasm of past haunts had opened up beneath his feet and it was slowly sucking him in. His skin crawled and a renewed burning sensation hissed into his thigh, his stomach. It was too much. Entirely too much.

I can't believe I was stupid enough to think that things could get better, that I dared to think that I deserved more than what I have. I'm an idiot. A total-

Yuuri's inner ranting was stemmed off by Viktor softly taking his left hand with his right, thumb driving over the mountains of Yuuri's knuckles. Yuuri glanced in his direction, but Viktor's attention laid on the road ahead. There was a quiet intensity to his expression, eyes focused, but accented with worry. It was undoubtedly about him. Yuuri wished he wouldn't bother with the emotion. It wasn't necessary. Not for him. Viktor didn't need to kick up a fuss over his off state.

He tried to gently dislodge his hand, but Viktor held firm, even bringing the back of it up to his mouth. His lips peppered it with warmth and concern, every kiss a question mark upon his skin.

"I'm fine, Viktor," he answered, concealing himself behind a false flash of teeth. "Let's go home now."

"Whatever you desire, solntse moye."

Yuuri had never questioned the little nickname. It had always been spoken with honest affection, so he'd never felt the need to. As the chasm continued to grow beneath him, an undeniable tear in the fabric stretching, he found that he wanted to know. He needed something to stick himself to. To ground him as his thoughts wanted to pull him away. "What does that mean?"

"My sun."

"My… sun…? I don't get it."

"My sun was always the spotlight. It warmed me when I was down, helped me soar with the roaring cheers of my fans… but it was never enough." He gripped onto Yuuri's hand and pulled it into his chest, its beat pulsing into his palm. "You're my warmth. The center of my universe. My sun."

He said it so simply, like he had no idea how unraveled it would make Yuuri. It choked a gasp out of him and as Viktor parked, Yuuri leaned in. Viktor met him easily. The press of lips was light, nothing but a simple peck, but it was filled with such an intimate reverence that it halted the wild scribbles in Yuuri's mind.


"Holy shit."

They came home to an odd sight. The entire living room was cluttered with hamster stuffed animals. Rather poorly crafted hamster stuffed animals. There were dozens of small ones, a few medium sized ones, one large one that Makkachin was currently dozing contentedly on, and a ginormous one sitting in the middle, staring at them with its bulbous, beady eyes.

"Ah! Hi, Yuuri! Viktor!" Phichit came out of his room, his face brighter than Yuuri had seen in months. He practically vibrated with energy as he hugged yet another soft hamster toy to his chest.

Viktor looked around at the mass of stuffed rodents with clear confusion. "What is…?"

"I suppose things are going well with your guy?" Yuuri cut in, his own vibrant smile taking over his visage. He knew that Phichit had had plans for a date that night, though he'd already been long gone when Yuuri had finished his shift. Yuuri hadn't been able to find out much about it before then, except that they were spending the bulk of the day at the festival down at the pier.

Phichit nodded, the elation within the action giving him a full body tilt. "I might have gotten very excited when I saw the hamster plushes."

"Well, go on. Spill."

Phichit did, jumping up and down half the time as he took Yuuri's hands and made him bounce with him. The glee was infectious and even Viktor was jumping in with joy. Yuuri was so happy for his best friend, and it helped to lock away his earlier turmoil. He allowed himself to fully take in what this could mean for Phichit. That he had someone who really cared about him, even if it was only their third date.

"For the first hour, he could only win the small ones, but he made it his personal mission to get the biggest one they had. That mission came with lots more small ones…" Phichit finished as he looked around, dizzied by all of the fluffed up versions of his favorite animal.

"How did you get them all home?" Yuuri asked with a laugh.

"That was an awkward car ride."

"Are you going to keep all of them?"

"God, yes," Phichit instantly replied, smooshing his cheeks up and down and around. "Although Makka is welcome to that one," he added, pointing to her new bed. "Ugh and his face, Yuuri. His face was so cute when he lost. He was so sad, but his pouty face is the most adorable thing I've ever witnessed. Wait! Wait. I took a picture. Come see." Yuuri and Viktor gathered around Phichit's phone to see the picture of his new beau.

"So… do I get to know his name now, or are you still unsure about him?" Yuuri inquired, pushing his face into Phichit's.

"His name is Seung Gil." Phichit put his fingers on his lips as he smiled into them. "And look. I won him a big husky plush. He said he didn't want one since he had no idea what he would do with it, but look at that smile. He totally loved it."

Yuuri gave his best friend a hug, a quick side squeeze as Phichit's finger continued to slide through photo after photo. "He is pretty cute, Phichit. He's got a charming smile, too." Even if it was just the tiniest lilt at the corners.

Phichit beamed as he pulled his phone up against his chest, snuggling it into his shirt. "Mine."

"Wait. Who's cute?" Viktor frowned down at Yuuri, hands on his hips. "Yuuri~. How could you?"

Yuuri tip toed up to his height and arrested his cheeks, smoothing out the distressed lines. "So dramatic. You're the cutest, most charming prince in all the land, Viktor. No one can take that title from you."

"Damn straight," Viktor grumbled as he pecked him on the lips. The telltale chirp of Phichit's phone alerted them to the picture being taken.

Yuuri turned to serve him a glare. "Not you, too."

"You guys are so disastrously perfect. I can't help it!"

"Oooo, send it to me!" Viktor exclaimed as he leaned over Phichit's form.

Yuuri fell silent, thoughts sinking back in.

Perfect, huh? He didn't feel perfect.

Chapter Text

Yuri didn't like this.

This wasn't how he imagined himself when he left for America, left to sit in the back of a disheveled storage room that had been hastily converted into his current living space. The sunlight groped his eyelids, dust glistening within the shuttered streams. Yuri sneezed once, twice, and pinched his nose to avoid losing his brain through his nostrils. The dust was going to eat him alive.

What was I thinking coming here?

He hadn't been. He just got so pissed. First Viktor disappeared, vanished right after practice. No word. No note. Yakov didn't hint why or where to. He remained tight lipped, though his disapproval was stark in the aging creases of his face. Then this… this… joke ended up all over Viktor's Instagram. And then the video. Yuri watched, fist clenching tighter and tighter at his side as Mila giggled and commented.

"Aw, aren't they cute?"

No. They most certainly weren't cute. They were disgusting. The whole thing was atrocious. What did Viktor think he was doing? Skating season was over, sure, but they still trained. No number of gold medals or adoring fans allowed a skater to just slack off. He should have been building up a new routine. For himself. For Yuri. Instead he was making gushy heart eyes at the Pillsbury dough boy. Yuri couldn't help it. He exploded. He threw the video as far away from himself as he could and flew out to America.

To do what? Punch that dopey smile off of Viktor's face? Scream at him for what a worthless idiot he was? Tell him how much Yuri regretted idolizing him? Training with him? Caring about him?

No. Yuri didn't care about stupid, perfect Viktor Nikiforov. He could fall off the planet and die for all Yuri cared. That pretty smile and those impeccable jumps and that brilliant mind meant nothing to Yuri. Just like all of those hours spent training by Viktor's side and that one promise that Yuri clung to all throughout juniors obviously meant nothing to Viktor.

Yuri really didn't like this.

Scratch that.

Yuri hated this.

With a groan, he slipped himself off the stiff cot and ripped the musty blankets off of his body. He sat in the strange room in a place he'd never been before. All by himself. In San Franfuckingcisco.

He was stuck there. In America. With no one but the one person he wanted to hate so badly, but never could. And first thing he did was throw the contents of his hotel room at him. Everything he could get his fingers on. He couldn't help it. All Yuri could see was Viktor's newly birthed happiness, hear his cool detachment towards Yuri's arrival, and then that thing was there and Yuri completely lost it. Anger burst open his veins and he just let it out.

But it wasn't enough. His limbs were still shaking, still trembling with ill will and so much untamed hurt. He would never allow it to show, but he was hurt. He felt beyond wounded by Viktor's disregard for him and his efforts. He'd become something. Made himself burn brighter than his body could handle. But Viktor still couldn't see him. All Yuri was left with was an empty space at the rink and melted skin.

There was a light buzz humming through the shop when Yuri made it out to the lounge area. He peeked around a wall to see Otabek tracing a needle on some woman's bare back. Yuri jolted back as Otabek cast a glance over his shoulder. It was a few minutes of Yuri staring hard at the scuffed floor boards before the buzzing stopped.

"One sec," and Otabek rounded the corner. Without looking at Yuri, he beckoned him with a toss of his hand. Yuri grit his teeth, but followed into a small break room. From what he could gather, Otabek was the only one currently working, though it was only six in the morning. Yuri hadn't slept well. He never did.

Otabek gestured to the fridge, the coffee pot, and a note on the table before leaving back to his client. Yuri glared at his back, because the guy could have at least offered a word. The note was from Viktor, some moronic, gleeful jumble of words telling him that Viktor would pick him up on his way to the ice rink.

As if I'd ever want to skate with you again.

With a growl, Yuri crumpled the note and tossed it towards the wastebasket.

It missed.


Yuri could only stare. In astonishment. In revulsion. In blatant confusion. Viktor fell. And fell again. And kept falling. He looked like he was just bumbling around on the ice, focus gone. Where was that deadly precision? That flawless grace? This was not Viktor Nikiforov. Yuri couldn't recognize this sham of a person.

Viktor had to be messing around. Playing one of his poorly thought out tricks on him.

Viktor slid to a stop, and even that was sloppy. His skates skidded, and he sloped down to catch himself with a hand as he laughed. He laughed. He practically flopped a stop, and he was laughing. Yuri really wanted to smack some sense back into him. This was not the man that Yuri had spent years working to surpass. He was not worthy of being anyone's competition, let alone Yuri's.

"What the fuck are you doing?"

Viktor shrugged a shoulder, sipping from his water bottle.

"That's not figure skating. That… That… I don't even know what to call whatever that was," Yuri spat.

Viktor didn't look disturbed by his comment, nor his own performance. Yuri was astounded. The Viktor he knew would have never been satisfied with something like that. Not even when drunk. Yuri had seen him skate drunk. Christ, the man had won gold while hung over. The Viktor he knew would have picked himself up and done better. So much better. He would have skated and skated until his toes were battered beyond repair and his body could no longer function. He would have found a new way to incorporate a spin or turn a triple into a quad at last minute or for the love of god do anything but stare at the ice like it was a foreign creature.

"I'm having fun, Yurochka. You should try it sometime. You're too serious."

Yuri didn't even know where to start with that. Too serious? He was going to be a world champion. In his debut year into seniors, at that. There was no such thing as too serious. "Don't you 'Yurochka' me." Didn't Viktor care about skating anymore? Or was he too busy fluffing his new pet? "I don't have time for fun. I have a medal to claim. Unlike some people."

There was that stupid smile again. Except this time it was just a little lilted, just a little sad.

Yuri continued to watch Viktor skate while he should have been practicing himself. Viktor was currently doing some dancey step sequence off in the corner. It was awful and uncoordinated. A duck trying to waddle on water.

Yuri did notice something, though.

He really did look like he was having fun. More fun than Yuri had seen him have on the ice in a while.

A long while.

Yuri bit down on his clashing emotions and focused down on himself. Viktor hadn't said much to him, just pat him on the back as they separated on the ice to work on their own. Viktor just ran off to play like a toddler. He really didn't care that Yuri was there. Just like all those times at the rink where it was just Viktor shining in the center, a brilliant rose that sucked out all of the nutrients the world had to offer, leaving nothing for the rest.

Yuri hated the feral waves of jealousy that collided in his veins. That man was not worthy of his jealousy.

But Yuri still longed for his perfection.

They were clearing the ice when the words tumbled out. "You are coming back, right?"

Viktor turned toward him, visibly caught off guard as he wiped the dripping remnants of the ice from his skates. "Is someone worried about little old me?"

A dreadful heat climbed Yuri's cheeks. "Don't flatter yourself! I mean…" he mumbled through scrunched lips, "you promised to choreograph for me and I'm not letting you off the hook just because you went on vacation."

With a snap of his fingers, Viktor gasped. "So that's what it was!"

"I knew it! You totally forgot!"

Viktor smoothed out a chuckle, slinging an arm around Yuri's bristling shoulders. "Don't worry. I'll give you a short program that the world won't forget."

The announcement should have filled his belly with happiness. His mentor finally agreed to fulfill his promise. That was the real reason Yuri had stormed off to America, wasn't it? But a part of him felt woefully off center about the idea. Could he trust this lovesick, San Franciscan Viktor to make his routine?

Yuri just wanted to drag him home, pull the unparalleled skater's head out of his ass and force him to skate so he could beat him at the next competition.

But would that even work?

If Viktor skated like this now, would beating him even be worth it?

Something was wrong with him. There had to be something wrong with him. Was he sick? Concussed?

No, this had to be fat Yuuri's fault. Viktor didn't get this way until he met him. He could at least skate before he'd gone on this shitty vacation. Viktor's magnificence had to still be in there somewhere, right? Yuri just had to focus Viktor back on his love of skating and away from the poison that was crippling the legend he needed.

"C'mon, Yurio! Let's get lunch! We'll get you a new phone on the way."

"The name's Yuri, you old coot!"


Viktor despised himself for forgetting. It wasn't like he actively snubbed the memory from his brain, but it had been a promise he'd made so long ago. When he'd made it, Viktor had honestly thought Yuri would forget about their agreement, with time, as Yuri won and continued winning. Yuri never acted like he needed anything from Viktor. He never acted like he needed anything from anyone. Yuri usually skated alone. When he did want some pointers, or some advice on a jump here or a tweak to an element there, he would begrudgingly ask. Viktor would gladly step in. But not until he knew Yuri wanted him to.

So Viktor had left him alone, even as they'd started their day off at the rink. Viktor acted as he always did around Yuri, skated on his own until Yuri approached him with whatever it was he'd come to San Francisco for.

He wasn't ready for Yuri's snide comments about his performance. Had Viktor really looked that bad? He just wasn't in the right mindset, that was all. Even as he tried to incorporate pieces of his Yuuri into his routine, Viktor couldn't hit his stride. It was a little frustrating, if he was honest with himself. Yuri's constant gawking hardly helped.

A distraction from all the tension was what they needed, Viktor decided. Until he could remember himself. Until he could fit his proper shoes back onto his feet. He'd asked Yuri where he'd like to eat, what kind of cuisine he'd prefer, but had only gotten a petulant grumble in response.

"Why are we here?" Yuri asked, face a scowl as Viktor pulled up in front of the bakery. "I don't want any of your piggy's food."

Viktor sighed. "I'm just checking in, Yuri. We'll head out in a bit."

"Why not just get yourself a collar. It can say, whipped pup-"

Viktor slammed the door on his comments.

The bakery was bustling, busy with a constantly chiming door and heavy with body traffic. But there was such an ease to it all. The air was filled with freshly loved sweetness. Flowing in its wake was a harmony of relaxation. Satisfaction nestled on the taste buds of every customer. The employees radiated a charm that oozed care, a family unit that welcomed all. The bakery was like a little home. A person could step right in through its doors and feel like they were a part of a sweeter, safer home.

Viktor adored being a part of such a place. As he'd spent his first days attempting to court Yuuri right at the first table by the window, Viktor found that he could fall in love with this little home Yuuri had made. And he had. This was what Yuuri wanted, to create a home with his talents. To craft happiness.

You have, Yuuri. You've given so many people happiness. Including me.

Yuri might not have been able to grasp Yuuri's appeal, but Viktor supposed that he didn't need to.

Viktor wanted them to get along. Viktor wanted some part of his life to mesh with Yuuri. The feeling splintered into him, hissing wounds along his body. He didn't know why he was so desperate to link Yuuri to his world. Viktor got to have this. A beautiful home with his Yuuri, filled with Yuuri's quirky friends and even quirkier family. He didn't need anything else.

"Yuuri's in the back, Viktor," Sara quickly supplied over a loaf she was wrapping. "Hiding, no doubt." She smiled wryly over at a gaggle of girls whispering amongst themselves. One of them stared so hard at the kitchen door that she easily singled herself out as the lookout.

Viktor made his way over to the counter, excusing himself around a customer. "Some of Yuuri's overeager fans?"

"I would think you would know better than anyone what that would look like," she quipped with a flutter of her lashes. "I had to watch you swoon at that table for over a week. It's like déjà vu."

"I wasn't that bad."

Sara shot his words apart with a sharp look of 'oh really?' He couldn't even dispute it. He totally had been.

"But he's doing better with the extra attention, right?"

"Oh, he's fine." Sara turned to her current customer and handed him a daintily wrapped, mint green box, tied neatly with a bow so perfect, it looked like she'd been making them right out of the cradle. "Thank you so much for your patronage, sir. Have a fantastic rest of your day." Her smile was as genuine as ever, as warm as the bread being exchanged. "He's actually gotten a little more accustomed to it, I think. He's more distracted than usual, but I don't think it has to do with the giggling school girls or soccer dads."

"Soccer… dads?"

Sara choked on a laugh, face contorted with grossed out amusement. "Some come to get recipe tips. Some want to check out his ass. One of them a little of both. Seriously, though. A handful of Instagram photos and one video and it's like we're the only watering hole in the jungle. I didn't expect this."

"A lot of people just like the fame by association," Viktor quibbled with pursed lips. He was ecstatic that others were recognizing Yuuri for the amazing person he was. Yuuri was beautiful and he crafted that beauty into everything he made. He deserved to have rabid fans… but he could do without some of the attention. Viktor really didn't like the idea of his boyfriend getting perved on.

"Don't be like that."

"Huh?"

Sara slapped a hand down on his shoulder with an eye roll. "The jealous boyfriend smelling fire when there's not even smoke. Don't. It's not like we're gonna let any skeeves touch Yuuri, anyway. Mickey would have the man, or woman, out on their ass before the rest of us would even notice." She gave his back a comforting rub, right between the shoulder blades, and Viktor had a flash of Mila cross his mind. "We got him. Now go do whatever it is you lovebirds do. But remember, we are a quality eating establishment. I'm not having our food license revoked just because you decide to get hot and heavy by the ovens."

"As if that would stop your customers. I'm sure they'd love a bite out of whatever we had to offer." He blew a kiss over to the girls practically drooling on their table. It produced the expected squeaks and squeals.

"Ick. Don't remind me of how perverted your fan base is, okay? Some of those YouTube comments were disturbing."

"That fan base is Yuuri's now, too. And it's only going to grow. Especially as he keeps making videos."

Sara groaned as she pinched her annoyance between her brows. "We're going to have to lock him in the kitchen to keep him away from all of them."

"Spoken like a true mother hen."

Viktor stopped as soon as he caught sight of Yuuri. He was content to just lean against one of the pillars and stare at the master at work. Leo and Minami instantly noticed him, Minami already jumping to squeak out some excited babble, but Viktor stopped him with a hushed finger to his lips. Leo gave him a knowing smile. Minami dumped flour all over himself as he smacked the bag over in his attempt to mime zipping his lips shut.

Yuuri was oblivious to the whole thing.

He was thoroughly burrowed in his world. Too busy mashing and stretching dough beneath his gloved palms. Sprinkling chocolate chips into a batter on the side. Watching a pot simmer from the corner of his eyes. Scooping out dough into pristine orbs upon a baking sheet. He was hard at work, home with himself and the goings on around him. Viktor had never seen Yuuri as confident as when he was fully ingrained in his baking. Not even when he'd worked his body into a flawless flamenco all on his own.

Yuuri hummed to himself as he pressed the pads of his fingers into pastry cups. Viktor recognized the song from all of the times he had watched Yuuri in his element. It was some soft, nameless tune that never failed to meld itself into Viktor's ears and had him humming while he skated. It was so simple, subdued, but it produced the most powerful tremolo in his chest.

Yuuri startled as he turned, but his expert training kept his alarm from affecting the tray in his grasp. "Viktor?! How long have you been standing there?"

"Only forever."

Yuuri chuckled, expression bemused as he ducked his head. "That sounds really creepy." He turned to put the tray in the oven, pressing a button or two on the panel on the front before he closed the large door. Viktor seized the moment when Yuuri became idle and hugged the man from behind.

"I'm the only one who gets to creep on you."

"Um, thanks, but no thanks. What's with you?"

"Don't worry about it." Yuuri only hummed a response back, but Viktor felt Yuuri's weight more heavily given into his chest, plastic crumpling against his fingers as Yuuri held the hands cradling his waist. It was more than they should have done in the kitchen during Yuuri's work day, but it didn't feel like enough.

"I've got to get back to work, Viktor." Yuuri sounded embarrassed, but Viktor was too busy memorizing his scent to care. Yuuri smelled different every day. His scent was never anything but sweet, but it was always some new mixture from what he baked. That day, it was almonds accented with honey. Even the pomegranate scented hair gel Yuuri used couldn't cover it up. Viktor nuzzled his nose behind Yuuri's ear, intoxicated.

"That tickles." Yuuri wriggled in his hold and attempted to turn around. Viktor gave him up with a whine. "Not that I mind too much," he admitted with a blush as he side-eyed the others. Minami gave him a thumbs up and Yuuri hid his face in the palm of his hand. "But what are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be practicing with Yuri?"

"We're taking a lunch break. He's in the car."

"You left him in the car?! How long ago was that?"

"I don't know… ten, twenty… thirty minutes ago."

"Viktor."

"What?" Viktor smirked at Yuuri's disapproving frown. The way it pinched his features was way too cute for his heart. "He didn't want to come in here. And I just wanted to see you. Things at the rink have been… tense. And I just-" scrubbing a hand against his cheek, Viktor paused as Yuuri started laughing.

"You have batter on your face now."

Viktor glimpsed his palm, seeing a smear of whatever it was that decorated Yuuri's apron. "Oops," he laughed. "Does it look as handsome on me as it does you?"

Yuuri flicked him on the forehead. "Goof." But he cut his gaze left and right. When he caught no sight of anyone else, he leaned forward and licked a long, slow stripe up Viktor's cheek. "There. All gone. Tastes good, if I may say so myself. A little too much Viktor flavor, though."

Viktor remained dazed, absorbed in the sudden feeling of Yuuri's tongue on his skin, caught up in the boldness of his beloved, before he gathered his wits. "Hypocrite."

Yuuri held a satisfied grin, but his cheeks were an explosion of color. "About Yuri…"

"Ah, I should get back to him, shouldn't I?"

"It's, uh," Yuuri glanced up at the clock hanging over the door as he began slipping his fingers into the knots of his apron. "I'm taking my break now, too. Wanna have lunch together?"

"Are you sure that's…" Viktor stopped himself, because of course he'd love to have lunch with Yuuri. He'd be more than happy to just continue where things had been going and screw the food all together. But Yuri… Was it wise to have the two around each other? After Yuri had torn into Yuuri so thoroughly before?

"A good idea?" Yuuri pinched his lips to the side. He hung his apron on the hook and snapped his gloves off. "Probably not, but I don't think we got off on the right foot. I'd like to try again."

"I can't control what he says. I don't want him to hurt you."

"I appreciate the sentiment." Yuuri smiled, rewarding him with a quick peck on the lips. "I'm not so fragile that I can't handle a little name-calling. As long as we keep any clocks out of his reach, I should be fine."

"If you're sure."

"He's important to you, so I want to get to know him. Unless… Unless you don't want me to come…" Yuuri shrunk down, fingers stumbling in their descent down the buttons of his work coat.

Viktor quickly worked to remedy his words. "I'd love for you to join us."

Except he really didn't feel good about this.


Yuri didn't even look up from his phone when they entered the car. Maybe that was a good thing. Maybe he wouldn't notice Yuuri and things could go smoothly for at least a little while. Viktor could only hope.

[What took you so long? Need a walker in your old age?] But then a second car door slammed. Yuri gave a confused glance over his shoulder. "What are you doing here?"

Before Viktor could wrangle out an answer, Yuuri shined a bright smile, seemingly taking no offense at all to the snap of Yuri's tone. "I decided to join you two for lunch. I brought you a muffin, too. I hope you like chocolate."

Yuri, surprisingly, took the offered tissue-wrapped muffin into his bewildered hands. "Why?"

Yuri looked ready to snarl, so Viktor chimed out. "You're so lucky! His muffins are like a slice of heaven. I'm jealous." He hurriedly started the ignition and pulled out. "So, Yuuri," he caught Yuuri's face in his rearview, "the little kitten-"

"I will gouge your eyes out if you call me that one more-"

"-doesn't care where we eat, so what do you recommend?"

Yuuri glanced between the two of them, smile dimming. "There's a good Vietnamese place-"

"I hate that pho shit."

"Yuri," Viktor warned, a beleaguered breath passing through puffed cheeks.

"I'm eating, too. I get to have a say, right?"

"It's alright, Viktor. I'm sure we can agree on something."

If Yuri hadn't been so hardheaded and stubborn, Yuuri probably would have been right. Every time Yuuri finished recommending a place, Yuri was right there with some bull shit vote against it. Viktor was about ready to slam his face into the steering wheel.

He could do this.

"Alright! I'm choosing! Look! I've been wanting to go there since Yuuri recommended it weeks ago." Viktor jerked the car into the parking spot a little harsher than he'd intended.

Yuuri was actually the first to object. "I'm not so sure Japanese cuisine is the right choice here."

"But I've been dying to try something from your homeland, Yuuri."

"Yeah, but-"

Yuri was ready to voice yet another veto, staring out through the windshield like just the sight spoiled his stomach. "For once, he's right. I ha-"

Viktor snapped his seat belt away from himself. It clinked horrendously loud against the window, summoning a silence that neither of the Yuris wanted to break. "We can always go to that Vietnamese place, if you'd prefer?" Viktor's voice was outwardly amicable, but it was tinged challenging in a way he knew Yuri wouldn't rise to. It was a voice Viktor hated using. His mother's thick tongue knocked against his ears.

"…Whatever."


Yuri glowered down at his meal. He could kill Viktor for ordering for him. Viktor hadn't even spared Yuri a thought on his opinion. The obnoxious jerk had just jumped on that guy's recommendation, ordering himself and Yuri the same while Yuri had been in the bathroom. Yuri wanted to splash the foul smelling liquid into the grinning fool's face. By the time Yuri had picked up what he could only surmise was egg, Viktor was already heaving glowing compliments around a mouthful of pork.

"Vkusno," Viktor moaned, all heart eyes with a heart mouth to boot.

"Is that… Does that mean you like it?" Yuuri asked.

Yuri rolled his eyes. The question was stupid. Viktor had never been so blatant about his feelings in his life. He loved it. And that just made Yuri hate it, hate him all the more. Viktor excitedly nodded, stuffing his face with gusto. Yuri wanted to stab himself in the eye with a fork. But he couldn't. He had chopsticks. Yuri glared at the offending items in his palm. Well, he could take out both eyes in one move, at least. Then he wouldn't have to watch this.

"Yuuri, you didn't tell me it would be this delicious."

Yuuri gave a timid smile, pride turning up the corners of his lips as he swirled his food amongst the broth. "It's nothing like my mother's, but it's about as close as you can get in this city. Whenever I feel homesick, Phichit and I come by and order katsudon. He says I'm lucky, because the best Thai place around here tastes like watered down snot compared to his home country's cuisine." Yuuri laughed, a short giggle muffled by a hand. Yuuri's eyes widened as he looked back at Viktor and he leaned over with a napkin. "You have a little," he dabbed a smear of rice off of Viktor's chin, "there."

God, they were like a sickly sweet elderly couple. Were they going to eat off each other's chopsticks next?

"Thank you," Viktor said, pleased, but then there was a glint to his eyes that Yuri didn't like. "You could have just licked it off." The suggestive jerk of his brow finally did it and Yuri gagged into his dish. That was it. He was going to stick the chopsticks down Viktor's throat! "Oh, Yurio. Forgot you were there."

"Yeah," Yuri replied, recovering as he ran a napkin over the spill of his broth. "I'm sure you did."

Yuuri went silent at his side, a reddish tinge of mortification climbing up his skin. That's right. Be ashamed. You two are sickening. But then he coughed into a hand and turned his attention to Yuri.

"So, Yuri, you skate."

No shit. Aren't you the observant one? Before the words could make it out of his mouth, Viktor's foot rammed into his shin. Yuri hissed, but made no other outward show of the assault. Viktor's face was blank, but the pull to his eyebrows was the same as Yakov's when Yuri was in front of the press. Expectant, and promising of swift punishment should he misbehave. Whatever. Viktor wasn't his coach. He couldn't order him around.

"That's right," Viktor spoke, back to sunshiny smiles at Yuuri. "Yurio wants me to help choreograph one of his programs, too. Isn't that right, Yurio? But I told him that he has to be polite when asking things of others."

Oh, that was low. Yuri could feel a tick of muscle in his jaw. "Right," Yuri bit out, roiling resentment locked in his teeth "And I told him that I'm going to get what was promised to me whether I'm nice or not."

"Yuri," Viktor growled.

Yuuri shot himself up straight, waving his hands in the air between the two. "Let's just change the subject."

"Let's."

Yuri went back to observing as he ate. As much as he hated to admit it, he actually… really… enjoyed the food. He didn't dare let it be known as he took measured bites and tiny nips, but it sat pleasantly in his stomach, unlike the sight before him.

Yuri could tell that they were holding hands beneath the table. The way they talked as they scooted closer to each other throughout the meal, Viktor pressing his face to Yuuri's shoulder while he watched Yuuri with such intensity of focus, made Yuri send them a potent glare. Neither of them cared. Or even noticed. Yuri, after his fifth clipped reply, had been snubbed in the conversation. Effectively shoved off into a goddamn playpen.

Viktor leaned over to whisper something in Yuuri's ear, and Yuri snapped a bite off of his chopsticks, nearly splintering the wood with his displeasure. Even when Viktor wasn't talking to Yuuri, he was talking about Yuuri. It was just like his freak show of an Instagram page. It was always Yuuri this, Yuuri that, Yuuri friggin' everything to him. What, did the little pork roll brainwash him?

Yuri had to stop this. He was watching Viktor get pulled farther and farther away from who he was and Yuri wanted it to stop. He needed it to stop. Yuri had never seen Viktor act like this towards someone. He'd never seen Viktor with anyone, really. Not romantically. But this had to stop.

"The new season's coming up," Yuri began, barely containing his glee at the sweet sound of silence his opening caused. "Yakov hasn't said when you're coming back, but you have to at least be back by September. No current competitor in their right mind would be gone for longer than that." Yuri glanced up, wicked grin hidden behind a look of simple interest. Yuuri had gone sheet white, as expected, quietly picking at the remnants of his drowned rice. That's right, piggy, you're just temporary. The look on Viktor's face, however, clamped a tight fist over Yuri's grin and refused to let go.

"Honestly, I'm not sure when I'm coming back."

"Huh?!" The word cut sharply from Yuri's throat as he stood, slamming his hands down on the table so hard the dishes rattled. A few other customers gave him wary glances, but he hardly cared. Sure, he was causing a scene. He wanted to cause a scene. He would cause a scene so big it would finally scare off the last few hairs on Yakov's head. "You-! What is wrong with you? You're a professional figure skater! Not this… this…" The words stumbled in his mouth, crashing against his incredulity. He couldn't take this anymore. It had been one day, but he'd had enough of brainwashed, lovey dovey Viktor. He had to know what was up. What went wrong? Why? "You just left! Why? I finally make it to seniors and you're what? Quitting? Retiring?" The word pained him, each syllable iterated with an ache that had been growing exponentially with every day that passed since Viktor ran away.

"Yuri," Viktor tried, a tired hand pinching his nose.

"No! Tell me, is this it? Do I just get to remain in your shadow forever? You promised me, promised me, that you would choreograph for me. Do you understand how excited I was? I trained harder than anyone on the junior circuit. I breathed the ice, shattered my body to pieces against it so I could perform whatever you gave me. I wanted to skate against you. I wanted to beat you. I wanted to prove that I could take you on and come out victorious." Yuri could feel a sting tugging against the backs of his eyes, a grief finally rising with the tide of his anger, but Yuri wouldn't-couldn't show weakness. Not now. Not when Viktor was finally seeing him. "But you were gone. I made it and you were gone. How am I supposed to compete now? Tell me that, Viktor! Tell me what I'm supposed to do now that my reason for skating has vanished. Tell me." Yuri's voice had long since turned horse, his last words forced out in struggling rasps.

He opened his eyes -when did I close them?- and found Viktor. Viktor was staring at him, another one of his constant masks betraying nothing. Yuri wanted to take his chopsticks and shatter the porcelain visage. He wanted Viktor to feel hurt, feel something. But as Yuri should have figured out long ago, Viktor felt nothing for him. He didn't care about him. Never had.

The pause that followed crippled his raging energy, and pushed him lifelessly to his seat where he went back to eating the pebbles of rice left in his bowl. Viktor pulled in an audible breath. Yuuri spoke first.

"Viktor, would you mind giving me and Yuri a moment?"

That swept the neutrality right off of Viktor's face. It produced another slash against Yuri's emotions. Yuuri could summon the real Viktor so easily.

"But, Yuuri-" Yuuri turned to him, mouthing nothing but a silent 'please', and Viktor obeyed. "Yeah. I'll be in the washroom, alright?"

Viktor slowly made his way to the bathroom, not without a couple pauses and a handful of quick backwards glances, but then he was gone. Yuri looked up, ready to throw out some snide comment, but was halted by a startling look of disapproval. A surge of anger sparked off the usually unimposing man.

"This isn't about you."

"Hah?"

"This isn't about you," Yuuri restated cleanly, concern pinching his brows as anger set in his jaw. His hands were primly folded together on the table, body bent forward, admonishing. He donned the facade of a counselor reprimanding a child. The prick. "This is about Viktor. You come here, rampaging about how much of an inconvenience his leaving is for you, for your career. He promised you something-"

"How dare you-"

"-and he didn't deliver. I get you being angry. I'd be angry, too. You feel betrayed. Abandoned. But Viktor didn't leave to betray or abandon you. He left because he felt he had to. This is about Viktor, not you."

"What do you know about Viktor?" Yuri asked, his rage reigniting. "You're just his little side dish. You've known him for what? A month? Two? That makes you an expert on him? Che. I've seen fans that know more about him than you do. And while we're on the subject, what the fuck do you know about me!?" Yuuri flinched at the profanity spewed, at the crack of his voice. Yuuri wanted to talk. Yuri would talk. He would crush him. Yuri would leave him dead and decayed like a delicate flower withered in a cold snap.

"Gather up all of the intelligence you have, bread boy, and listen up. We are top tier world champion athletes. You are a dime a dozen donut maker. You are the one who doesn't understand anything here. You couldn't even hope to understand the lives we live. Viktor doesn't need you. He needs to go back to his work, his passion-"

"He doesn't-"

"You're ruining him!" Yuri blurted. He wasn't going to be talked over. Not now. Not ever. He was always underestimated, downgraded because he was younger, because he was smaller, weaker, lesser. Not against this trash. He would put him in his place like he'd done all the rest. Viktor would come back and see that Yuri was finally worthy of his care. Things would be right again.

Fire raged in the wisps of Yuri's aura. He took a simmering breath, and he could taste the smoke. "I watched him this morning and- That's not Viktor. He could never even hope to qualify in the state he's in, let alone place. You're taking the ice from him. Is that what you want? You want him all to yourself, a flawless figure skater reduced to your begging dog? Must make you feel real great, real powerful. He can be your pet while his skates rust."

A tear scurried down Yuuri's chin, cowardly like the man in front of him. Yuri relished it, an electric sensation of accomplishment zipping through him. The feeling was sapped from him the minute Yuuri spoke.

"I want Viktor to be happy. Is that what you want for him?"

Yuri faltered. His gaze shot over to the restrooms, like the man would suddenly appear. Happiness. Happiness was a gold medal. It was winning. It was spitting in the faces of all of the people who told him he couldn't. It was soaring to the top of his career, proving he was enough, more than enough.

Figure skating brought happiness. Of course he wanted Viktor to be happy.

"Because it looks like you only want Viktor to make you happy."

Yuri ran out of the restaurant. He tore out of the door, distantly hearing the bell ping loudly after him. He pushed his way through the crush of incoming customers and ran to the car in the parking lot behind the building. His fingers tugged on the handle, but it snapped from his hold. He grabbed at it again, but the door didn't open.

Yuri kicked the shiny, useless door and fell against it, turning to regard the darkening clouds. It was drizzling, a light sprinkle of rain that hit just hard enough to sting his retinas. Or was that the tears? Yuri didn't know why he was crying or why he was so shaken. He scrubbed his wrists across his eyes, sniffed his dignity back into place. He was better than this. He wasn't sad. He was angry. So angry. What did fat Yuuri know?

A dull roar echoed within the rampage of gray above. Yuri felt its scorn in his heart. The air felt charged, electrified like the current travelling in his blood. The wind shivered against him in pale sighs that mimicked his fatigue, his utter doneness with this day and these people. He went to wrench Viktor's car door open, even as he knew his efforts were futile, but his hand brushed against a lump in his pocket.

The muffin.

Yuri whipped it out only to crush it. It crumbled between savage fingers, staining his hands and falling like dirt turned mud on the wet concrete. When it was all gone, Yuri stared at the remnants decorating his palms. The smears of chocolate darkened the creases. A decimated chocolate chip was skewered on the nail of his pinky.

He didn't feel better.

Yuri dropped his hands and watched the clouds. There was a weight to their raging forms that Yuri felt akin to. Tiny droplets prickled against his skin and stuck to his eyelashes, creating an odd mesh of rainbow-sheened dots in his vision. It didn't make the dull gray any brighter, any prettier.

He stood there for a long while until Viktor finally appeared, Yuuri-less and with an uneven harshness set into his expression. Yuri wished that it would rain harder.

Maybe then it could wash the stormy feelings away.

Chapter Text

Practice was tiring in a way Yuri felt only from within. Rather than in his bones or the tips of his toes where his exhaustion usually resided, this time it struck deeper, colder. Viktor said nothing of lunch, drove in silence, and dove into instructing Yuri the minute they stepped on the ice. He was in full on coach mode, leading with adept precision in his commands, hands and skates embedded in Yuri and only Yuri. Yuri, for once, kept his mouth shut and simply followed. This was what Yuri wanted. Viktor helping him. Viktor giving him a routine gilded in gold. Yuri could feel it in his skates as he spun and jumped and flew. This was Viktor's brilliance coursing through him. Viktor had finally summoned forth the brain behind the glitz.

Yuri couldn't shoo away the ill tremble at the back of his mind. All throughout the rest of the day, the feeling pressed upon him, stalked him through his elation until it was all that was left. He couldn't stop thinking about that one tear, the only one that hadn't been his own. Why wasn't Viktor yelling at him? Why wasn't he shipping him back to Russia with express delivery? Bread boy had to have run crying to Viktor, ratted Yuri out while selfishly clinging to him. Yet Viktor was here. He was carrying out his promise. Not punishing him. Not comforting Yuuri.

Why?

The question bounced around in Yuri's mouth, stung his cheeks, hissed against his tongue, but it never made it out. His teeth remained steel bars, his lips a prison.

The parlor was busy when he entered. Three employees Yuri had never seen before worked into the night on thorny roses and snakes and whatever else it was these people wanted bled into their skin. Tinny music grated against his ears from a Bluetooth speaker in the corner and the incense that wafted through the air stung his retinas, lingering uncomfortably in his nostrils. A couple ate at each other's faces on the couch. The girl's new tramp stamp outlined in an irritated red hung out from over her shorts as she ground down against her partner. Yuri… was not in the mood for any of this.

He turned up his nose as one girl tried to talk to him, some inane babble about which would look better: a pink goldfish on her hip or a crow mid-flight on her shoulder. Her face pinched in shock as he'd snapped, "How about a corkscrew in your pretty little eyeballs?" She stopped talking to him after that.

He never thought of that tiny back room as a haven until then. He trudged through the lounge and was already fantasizing about veiling himself in the dark of his room as he binge-watched old skating programs until he came upon Otabek.

The bastard was in his room, violating the precious space that was his.

"What the hell do you think you're doing in here?" he ground out.

Or he would have, had his observations not plugged his words. Otabek was squeaking circles into the glass of his window, a roll of paper towels tucked into the curve of his armpit as the chemical tang of cleaner clung to the air. There was an old grocery bag full of dirt-splotched paper towels at his feet, a ratty, torn up pillowcase clumped with dust at its side. Yuri's eyes swept over the room that almost shined with its sterility. Okay, so the guy wasn't just dicking around in his room, but still. He went to snap that this was an invasion of his privacy, but his bag still sat slumped against the bedframe, his bedclothes a tossed heap on his pillow. So Yuri was left to just stare stupidly as Otabek finished up.

He'd gathered his wits enough by the time Otabek was tying off the bag of towels. "I can do it myself, you know?"

"You don't have to." Otabek didn't look at him as he shuffled off with the trash and supplies, leaving into the smoke-haze.

Otabek's quiet reply stained Yuri's ears. It clung to him like the puffs of green smoke. Like words once brushed by with a casual glance.

"Who needs rink mates? I can make it by myself!"

"You don't have to."

There was a filter over the words, scratchy and warped by time. Viktor hadn't been an overwhelming presence in his life, just a shadow he stood in, a back he stared at as he inched and pounced closer. But there were moments that came back to Yuri that reminded him that Viktor was there. That he had taken the time to guide him with tips and urge him with advice.

Such a reminder, now of all times, clawed irritation into his skin.

Yuri slammed the door on the world.


 

Yuuri hadn't been himself when Viktor had reentered the scene. Yuri was gone and Yuuri just sat there, an overcast stare directed at a spilled drop on the tabletop. When Yuuri had noticed him, he attempted an expression of warmth, but something troubling bubbled beneath.

Yuuri wouldn't tell him a lick of their conversation.

"Yuri needs you," he had said, emotions drawn into a corner Viktor couldn't reach. "Go give him a routine that will stun the stars. We'll talk later." And then he left. No kiss or smile or goodbye. Just a simple squeeze to his hand and Yuuri had gone.

Viktor wasn't stupid. Something had happened. He had half a mind to tug the story out of Yuri, but… Yuuri had said that they'd 'talk later.' There was sense of importance in his eyes, unwavering stone that commanded Viktor to let it go. To trust. And then Viktor had seen Yuri, more shaken than he'd been after his utter wash out two years before in juniors. (That look as Yuri had trembled at the announcement of his score of less than he had earned in his entry year, his gaze horrified as he saw Viktor at Yakov's back.) The memory scrabbled against Viktor's brain, cat-scratched against his nerves. Something told Viktor that this was between the two of them and Viktor needed to play his part. The oblivious, obedient boyfriend, and the steadfast coach. He could do that. As long as he had a mold to fill, he'd gladly putty himself to fit it.

Coming up with a routine for Yuri had been startlingly easy. With how much difficulty he'd been having at piecing together his own, he'd feared he'd lost his wits. Viktor adjusted his internal visions to accommodate Yuri in the spotlight, his figure, his form, his style, his strengths and weaknesses. It all became such a cohesive performance in his mind's eye that he knew with a lightened heart that he hadn't lost his touch.

He devoted his every synapse, his every atom, to Yuri from then on. It was easier than thinking back on Yuuri's abrupt parting or the wetness to Yuri's cheeks. It was easier than placing himself in those skates, in that position, beneath that spotlight. In Russia.

He couldn't get to the bakery fast enough. He wanted a hug. He wanted a hug so warm, so soft, it could only come from one person. The only stop he made was at the florist two blocks from the bakery. Yuuri's flowers had started to droop past the point of no return. The usual woman was fluffing a bushel behind the counter. Her bright eyes softened as she caught Viktor's entrance, beyond acquainted with him as a regular. Viktor didn't strike up the usual conversation, but he did leave with a bouquet that was just a little bigger, just a little livelier. It was like the florist could sense his mood, the feelings he wanted his flowers to speak.

He left the flowers cradled on the passenger seat and nearly hopped out of his car. The bakery was closed, counters cleared, chairs up, door locked. Phichit was at the counter, index cards spread like flashcards between his fingers. Viktor caught a look from Phichit as he knocked and waited to be let in. There was a clench at the corner of his lips, a deep unease settled into his brow.

"Yuuri… isn't done yet, Viktor."

The pause. It unsettled Viktor almost as much as the look had. Phichit's expression hadn't waned on his trip to the door. Viktor entered to a loud clang in the kitchen, and then the gruff churning of a mixer like static in the background.

"He's still baking? Did you guys fall behind?"

Phichit shook his head, scraping his lip between his teeth only to let it go, re-catch it and scrape his teeth against it again. The repeated action was beginning to swell his lip, plumping it and darkening the tinge.

"What's wrong?" Viktor asked, because there was undoubtedly something wrong with Yuuri if Phichit looked like that.

"I'm not sure. Yuuri should have finished his shift forty-five minutes ago, but he wouldn't stop. Just went right into more prep for tomorrow." Phichit clicked his tongue before going back to abusing his lip with his teeth. "He's stress baking. When he does that, it's usually best to just let him at it. Celestino doesn't mind, as long as it's productive, and it can be cathartic for Yuuri."

The slamming of wood on wood made both Phichit and Viktor flinch. Then there was the screeching grind of what Viktor assumed was a food processor. "That is cathartic?"

"What do you do when you're in a mood and need to let it out?"

"Skate."

Phichit just blinked back at him and, yeah, Viktor didn't really need any more clarification on that. "He's been going non-stop since before I started my shift. I even…" Phichit leaned close, gaze like search lights on the kitchen door as he whispered, "heard that he yelled at Minami."

"What?"

"Yeah. Leo said that it wasn't much, but since it was Yuuri to Minami, Minami didn't take it well."

"But why?"

"Minami idolizes Yuuri, sees him like his teacher so he calls Yuuri his 'sensei.' Apparently Yuuri didn't handle it well today. Leo said that Yuuri snapped at Minami to stop. That he wasn't his sensei. That he would never be his sensei. That Minami should go find someone else to learn from."

Christ. That didn't sound like his Yuuri at all. He couldn't imagine how Minami had felt after that. He didn't want to even think of how it had left Yuuri feeling. Of course, Viktor didn't have to stretch his imagination much as he listened to the cacophony of kitchen gadgets.

But what brought the anger on? Viktor could feel the answer sting into his chest.

Yuuri looked nothing like he had earlier that day. There were the same icing-splattered wrists, the same flour crusted cheeks, but nothing could cover the dourness that rotted Yuuri's expression. He was all over the place, and instead of working with a determination that was tempered by a serene composure, he was frantic. The energy that buzzed in the room soured the delightful scents wafting through the air. It was a sourness that Viktor felt in his teeth.

Viktor called out to Yuuri, but Yuuri was lost to him. He just kept moving, chopping, stirring, pouring, spreading, glazing. Viktor tried to wait until he was finished with one task to disturb Yuuri, but before he could even open his mouth Yuuri was onto the next thing. He called out again. Yuuri's name left his lips, more of a plea than a call. It somehow broke the spell.

Yuuri froze, blinked and gulped in a breath, as if he were surfacing from beneath water. Awareness lit his irises from their dimmed hue and Yuuri turned towards him. "Is it that time already?" Cocoa orbs glimpsed the clock and then Yuuri went back to furiously whipping up something in a bowl. "I should get this in the oven and… but, wait, the bread still needs to be-"

"Yuuri." Viktor gripped his shoulders, yanking him into a stop. The bowl slipped from Yuuri's grasp and skidded around in a circle. It nearly fell off the counter, but Viktor couldn't care less. He would let the whole kitchen burn down if it would get Yuuri to stop. The man was running circles into Viktor's stomach just as much as the floor.

"What?" Yuuri asked, and was there a note of irritation in his voice? Viktor pursed his lips. Yuuri still moved, even when stuck stationary beneath his palms. His fingers skittered against themselves. Fingertips dug into fingernails. Finger pads rubbed into plastic-coated webbing. His fingers bent and twirled into such complex shapes that Yuuri nearly snapped them out of their alignment. Yuuri's eyes wandered around the room, visibly cataloguing all of the tasks that still needed to be accomplished.

Yuuri was a disaster. It was more jarring than a punch to the gut. It disoriented Viktor, but only momentarily.

"Yuuri, we should get home."

"Go ahead without me. I've still got stuff to do."

Viktor was tempted to stop the fingers that flicked and picked at each other, but the unnerving movements might have been all that was keeping Yuuri together. "Phichit said that you finished a long time ago."

"Did he?"

"Yeah, Yuuri, can you talk to me please?"

"I am talking to you."

"No, you're not. Not really."

Yuuri gave a huff. His fingers finally collapsed into themselves before diving into the pockets of his apron. He met Viktor's gaze. "I am talking to you."

"Is something wrong?"

"No."

"Because I think something's wrong." Something stuttered in Yuuri's eyes. His lip wobbled. "And I would like to fix it."

Wrong. That had been the wrong thing to say, apparently.

"Fix it? You want to fix it?" Yuuri asked, words lashing from his tongue. Viktor took a step back. Not out of fear, but because there was a cornered look in Yuuri's eyes. "Well, sorry, Viktor, you can't fix it. No one can fix it, because you'd have to fix me!"

"…"

Viktor didn't know what to say to that, but the sentence scraped against his ribs, left marks. "Fix you? There's nothing to-"

"Nothing to fix, I know," Yuuri quickly covered, scratching against his cheek and shading his eyes beneath scruffy bangs. "Just forget I said that."

But Viktor couldn't. The oblivious, obedient boyfriend suspended his duty, because those words meant more than Viktor could grasp. It wasn't something he could just ignore, bury at the back of his mind with tongue-bitten thoughts and remnants of his past. Viktor tipped forward, ready to envelop Yuuri, crush him in his embrace and avalanche over is overburdened thoughts and feelings. Viktor had to be able to do something. Even if it was only offering comfort, a shoulder, an ear. He wouldn't push or pry. He wanted to. He wanted to pluck out all of the darkness hollowing out his Yuuri, unveil his sunshine from beneath the chaos that twisted and obscured its clarity. It wouldn't work, though, because he knew that face, that hard-set brow and the smile that hurt more than the twisted fingers. It was his own face, cleaved from his bones and hastily covering over what was always so clear and simple.

Yuuri didn't want his pushing, his comfort or his hug. He sidestepped the embrace, leaving Viktor to bang himself into the counter instead. He bashed his foot against the curve of tile, caught his knee on the cupboard, but none of that registered. Just his empty arms, and a feeling billowing in his chest. Yuuri was distancing himself from him. Erecting a wall too tall to climb.

"Yuuri, I just-"

"I'm alright, Viktor. I just have a lot to think about. Okay? This… may seem odd to you." There was that awkward chuckle, lilted with self-loathing as he swiped an arm to gesture at the massacred kitchen around them. "But this is just me sorting out some things. You don't need to worry. I don't need any help. I just need-"

"Space."

His Yuuri, his sunshine, didn't want him. Just days before, when Yuuri had been breaking down, drowned in tears, he had wanted Viktor by his side.

Now he didn't want him.

It hit him, a wooden arrow thunking dead center in his chest. Viktor said it, because he knew it. It echoed in his mind though a loudspeaker. It sang in the purposeful inches between them. Space. Time apart. Yuuri alone. Viktor alone. There was a newness to the concept this time. Viktor could hear it in the dullness to Yuuri's tone. It wouldn't be like after their first date. Not like after the last spat with Valeriya. Had Viktor done something? Had Yuri? He could fix it. He had to fix it. Yuuri didn't mean it. Viktor just had to speak. Object. Do something other than stand there, nodding like it was okay. He couldn't just accept this. Yuuri needed him. He had to need him.

Yuuri sighed some deep and meaningful sigh that Viktor couldn't read. "You should be spending your time at the rink, anyway. Don't you have an early morning? Go. Get some rest. Focus on Yuri's routine. And-and your own. Go skate. Have fun. I'll be fine. I can't wait to see what you come up with."

Viktor stood, teeth hard pressed and hands useless at his sides. His fingers twitched, seeking warmth, filled with willful desires to soothe, heal, fix. It wasn't what Yuuri wanted from him. That's never stopped you before, his heart demanded. Where was that unflinching resolve, that nosy nuisance that nailed himself to Yuuri's side even through Yuuri's own complaints and full-body shoves?

Viktor knew he could pull it out of him. He'd done it before. He could stay. He could plant himself, grow roots and insist. Yuuri was weak to his begging, the blush of silver lashes, and a gentle caress to his skin. Viktor was used to it. He was able to get what he wanted from anyone. With a nudge. A push. A perfectly aimed jab.

The same thread of thought led Viktor down another. To the kinder, wiser side of himself. He wasn't entitled to Yuuri's thoughts. Yuuri shouldn't feel obliged to split himself open at Viktor's command. Viktor could not, would not, did not want to force Yuuri. Just the idea seized control of Viktor's gag reflex, left him ready to hack up all of the ugliness corroding his insides.

So Viktor could only stand there, teetering on the edge between coddling and running. He kissed Yuuri, hard, demanding at first, his last ditch effort to search and destroy the burdens burying his Yuuri. But there was nothing to be found in such a ruthless attack, a manipulative endeavor. He gentled, because he could never be rough with Yuuri. Not even when frustrated with the baker's unyielding shell.

It flickered hope in his breast when Yuuri didn't refuse him or simply withstand his advance. He kissed back, equally hard, desperate. There was something urgent and wrong in Yuuri's kiss. He kissed like he was back against the wall, sand rushing to the bottom, helpless. Yuuri's gloved hands held his face, thumb pads pressing into his cheekbones. His entire body angled toward Viktor, as if he wanted to be caught. Viktor would catch him. Every time.

Yuuri pulled away.

Yuuri licked the last remnants of him from his lips, nodding to himself as he slipped his hands back into their nervous twittering. "Spend time with Yuri. You and he both need it." With that, he turned back, bowl in the curve of his arm, mind back to being fractured and immersed.

Viktor didn't want to leave, to abandon Yuuri, his everything, when Yuuri was tearing at his own seams. Phichit told him he'd stay until Yuuri either worked out his kinks or exhausted himself. Viktor was going to volunteer to keep him company, but the other man nudged him out the door, too.

The walk to his car was short, rain-drenched, but loaded with frayed thoughts. He didn't understand what he had done wrong. If he had done anything wrong. If he hadn't, why was Yuuri fritzing so badly?

"No one can fix it, because you'd have to fix me!"

Viktor didn't understand how a man that sprinkled such stardust on his life could end up like this. How he didn't feel like the moon, the stars, the sun - the universe that he was.

Viktor stared at the flowers in the passenger seat. The flowers stared back.

Not a petal held the answer.


 

His disbelief could have broken walls, destroyed houses.

Yuri was still lacing up his skates, some sort of inborn lethargy making his fingers lazy and his mind wander. What should have been an exciting, heart-racing experience still felt quashed by the previous day. The lunch. He could kill that stupid Yuuri. He had already wrecked Viktor. He couldn't let the jerk set him on a crash course, too.

With newly resolved breaths puffing out his chest, Yuri made quick work of the rest of his laces and stood. He was quickly countered with a forceful sight that nearly shoved him back into his seat. Yuri could feel his heart beating in his face.

Viktor was out there doing much more than warm-ups.

He was sprinting across the ice, poised and refined, yet wild and raging all at once. He was spinning and twirling and jumping without flaw. Every boundary, every hurdle he had crashed and burned against the previous day was left to drift in fluttering ashes in his wake. Yuri couldn't believe it as he watched Viktor perform a pristine jump combination of a triple-axel, triple-toe and into a camel spin without so much of a hitch of a breath in between. A completely different animal was out on that ice. Yuri could hardly pick his jaw up off the ground as Viktor just kept going.

It hyped him. Made his competitive spirit soar like it had all those years ago when he'd watched, glued to his mother's television as Viktor trounced his competition. When he'd been seven and begged his grandfather to take him to the next home event, and then screamed out his excitement from the back stands, going home with his throat hoarse and his soul raw with revelation. He had to get out there. He had to be that amazing.

Viktor had come back. The bottled whirlwind had finally been uncorked once more. He was a sculpted thunderstorm that shook the walls and lit the sky, chaos tightly contained in beautiful, entrancing movements.

Deep beneath his elation, Yuri could tell that there was still something wrong. This was the vivid picturesque skater that Yuri was used to. Not the one he'd built his dreams upon, but the one that he'd watched Viktor become through tireless years on the rink. The one that Yakov and Lilia and hundreds of thousands of fans had etched and scraped him into. He was perfection personified, but Viktor wasn't feeling it, not really. There was a smile on his face, outwardly shining to anyone who didn't know him. Who hadn't watched him for years and years and years. Yuri couldn't recall when that smile first started to appear, when it became normal, its ill conception unseeable because it had crept up so insidiously.

The realization slashed at Yuri like the inside curve of a skate spun in his direction. Unavoidable and painful. Viktor wasn't happy. He was at the top of his sport. The one. The only. But he wasn't happy.

Somehow, that exhilaration that every figure skater felt out on the ice, that pure and endless thrill that Yuri had become so knock-down, drag-out addicted to, had been stolen from Viktor.

The distance in his eyes was worse, so much worse, than the day before. A part of Yuri missed the clown with his sloppy mishandling of moves and melodious laugh. He may have looked like a drunken fool, but he looked how Viktor should have felt now. The illusion of beauty disintegrated before Yuri with simple words lasting in his ears.

"I want Viktor to be happy. Is that what you want for him?"

Viktor finished, heaving life back into his lungs after battling out what had to be three routines back to back. Yuri didn't say anything. Couldn't. Some vitriol insult rolled itself onto his tongue, out of habit, out of anger at Viktor for losing his shine and betraying their sport, out of anger at himself for never noticing that Viktor no longer felt his smile. It died there as they began the day's training.


 

Viktor felt like he was fitting into a heavily laundered identity, some six-hand skin that was ill-fitted and over-used. He knew it too well, a twin brother that was a match in appearance only. The showman. The ice prince. Those titles fit well onto the breast of the outfit. Viktor wore it, along with the mindset. He was Viktor Nikiforov. The figure skater that had turned the world's attention. Made people see figure skating as the sport that it was.

His muscles and tendons knew the movements, his old routines packed tight amongst his blood cells, but his heart lost its momentum, its calling.

"Tell me what I'm supposed to do now that my reason for skating has vanished."

Ah, Yuri. I'd tell you if I knew.

Viktor couldn't tell him. It was a wall Viktor found himself facing. It wasn't like he was learning to skate all over again, but finding a new purpose to do so felt harder. When he fell he didn't tell himself that it was fine, that he would do better next time. He only found himself asking why even bother to try again. There was a pointlessness to his work, his world now that washed the color from his life.

Viktor despised feeling like everything he did was meaningless. He didn't want to lose his passion. Viktor looked over at Yuri, wondering how the boy dealt with the feeling, the loss of purpose after he had left. It made him ache all over again. Viktor vowed to himself that he would give Yuri his best. He may not have been able to summon up the desire to compete beside him, but he could help Yuri become the best.

It was what both Yuris wanted. Viktor would make it happen.

Beside Yuri, Viktor skated, skated, skated on, like he was always supposed to.

As instructed, Viktor spent more time with Yuri. He picked up Makkachin, vaguely, heart-achingly, noticing that nobody was home, and went over to Mari's. The place was loud with music and laughter. A console was hooked up to the television, clients hooting and hollering at Mari and an unknown female as they duked it out in a fighting game that was rife with gore, bulging breasts, and questionable graphics. People were still getting tattooed back in the work spaces, though some of them were shouting out bets even as they couldn't see the fight.

Mari shot up a fist as she won, her heavily-muscled character bearing his opponent's head like a trophy. "Hell yeah! Who's next? Anyone else want to get whooped?"

Another artist came in, snapping off his gloves and cracking his knuckles as he sat down. "Your head's mine, Mar."

"Ha. I had you by your testicles last time. You forget? Or do you just enjoy my sweet touch?"

"Babe, you can grab me by the balls any time."

"Maybe we came at a bad time," Viktor suggested with a humored quirk to his mouth.

"Nope," Yuri replied, "Mari said that Saturdays were like this."

Viktor scooted in, watching on the armrest of the couch as the two brawled it out over the screen. There were pizza boxes seeping grease into the floor boards and beer bottles clattering underfoot. Viktor had to carefully step around the last slices of pepperoni that were half bitten into. Makkachin wasn't as careful, but paid the human food no mind in the roar of excitement around her. Yuri moved beside them, just noticing that Otabek was nearby with a client of his own, looking at the stapled art on the walls – past tattoos and impressive sketches.

"I… like cats?" the new guy suggested, scratching at his arm and looking the very picture of overwhelmed.

Otabek pointed over to the top of the wall. Viktor bent forward to see where there were cats ranging from tiny kittens to ferocious lions, jaguars sunbathing and leopards on fire. Viktor snickered as the topic whipped Yuri's attention from the fight. His eyes glittered as he caught sight of the pictures and he was suddenly right in front of Otabek.

"Dude, is that a tiger?! Otabek, I want that!" Yuri pointed to the head of a white tiger, its stripes outlined in an ethereal blue. He practically jumped in his excitement and Viktor could remember a young Yuri, all bright and new to their home rink. Even then he had never looked quite like that, so innocent and childish. "I'm going to put it right smack center on my back. Over the entire thing! Come on, Otabek, let's go."

Viktor was about to insert himself, as the adult, the pseudo Yakov, into the conversation and give Yuri the bad news that a tattoo was out of the question. But he didn't have to.

"Like I'd run the risk of inking your underage ass." It was said in a joking, but stern manner. Otabek didn't budge. Yuri literally puppy-dog eyed him, a sight never before witnessed by Viktor, and Otabek just chuckled.

"Hey, where's Otabek? I want a real fight." Mari was up and bending around the crowd to find him, her previous opponent thoroughly beaten as he groaned into his hand. She caught Viktor instead. "Oh, hey! I didn't know you guys were here. Why don't you join me?" Her smile was curved with ill intent, twisted like that of a demon. "We can go four-player. Me and Silver versus Bek and Yurio."

Yuri sputtered at the nickname before he developed his own mischievous grin. "You sure you can take us, old hag?"

Mari flicked the fading cigarette from her fingertips. It arced over bodies and littered shoes, landing slam dunk in the ash tray by the small kitchen. "Let me show you how a hag tussles."

That was how Viktor ended up floundering his way over the controls of a game that looked so brainlessly basic, but had a surprisingly hard to navigate combat system. Mari was taking on Otabek and Yuri herself while Viktor managed to whip out his character's sword once or twice. He nicked Otabek's character's arm, but almost got KOed in the process. He mostly just hung back and cheered on the pixelated warrior of his companion.

From the corner of his eye, he watched Yuri. His fingers flew across the controller, and his hunched over body sat cross-legged on the floor, bouncing and turning with his character's movements. He was in full on competitive mode, yelling out insults and goading Mari on. That was to be expected. But the way he was cooperating with Otabek, was not. They were quite the team, matching each other's pace, supporting each other's moves. Yuri wasn't usually a team player.

Mari was still winning.

"Don't you throw that fireball at me," Yuri warned. "Don't you dare-"

Mari threw the fireball. Yuri's busty character was swarmed in balls of orange that Viktor guessed meant she was on fire.

"Now, Viktor!"

Viktor did the only button combination he knew by now, whipping across the controller with rapid jerks of his thumb. His character threw his sword. Otabek dodged, but it was the little distraction Mari needed to knock Otabek's creepy reptile man into the surrounding acid.

"No fair! You were spamming that fireball move! And-and it diverted Otabek's attention. He so would have been able to block Viktor's tortoise-slow move."

"Hmmm," Viktor cut in, hand on his chin as he leaned over towards his partner in crime. "You hear that, Mari? Sounds like someone's a sore loser."

"Yup. Got beat by us elderly folks and now the kid's gonna cry."

"You gonna cry, Yurio?"

Yuri answered him with his shoe. It came flying towards his face, but Viktor deftly tilted his head to the left, avoiding the flying projectile without even looking.

"Oi, punk!" It hit Mari, though. The color drained from Yuri's face as it smacked into her shoulder and fell into her lap. "You gonna complain about my fireball throwing now?" she asked as she spun the shoe around on her index finger, eyes alight with the dare.

"I… I still want a rematch!"

"Fine," Mari shrugged. "But I'm confiscating your shoe until you win it from me."

They had a few more matches, in which Mari and Viktor still remained victorious. He was even learning some new moves and the game became strangely addicting. It helped that everyone was riling each other up, getting along with easy banter and playful ribbing.

"All right, break time," Viktor announced as he curved his spine, allowing it a nice pop, and stood up. "I need a drink."

"Hey! Hey, wait! I still need my shoe."

"Tough luck. I'm sure you can borrow something of Mari's," Otabek joked.

"No way! I'm not wearing girl's shoes! Let me borrow some of yours."

"What?" Mari nudged his arm with her elbow, "Mine aren't good enough for you? I think I have a pair of Minako's heels around here. Oh, and a dress to match!"

"You sure he's tall enough?" Otabek teased, holding up a hand to gauge Yuri's height.

"Go die. Both of you."

Viktor was in the middle of perusing the fridge when Mari came up behind him.

"So how come you're here alone?" Mari asked as she flicked the back of his ear, "Stud."

Viktor didn't let his thoughts, the still whirling feelings running amok in his stomach, manifest in his body language. He nabbed a water before closing the door, facing Mari with a smirk. "Aww, not happy to see me, Mari-neesan?"

Mari gave him a flat look in return. "Course I am," she replied, waving a dismissive hand in the air. "I just figured you guys were attached at the hip by now. You know, finishing each other's sentences, wearing each other's underwear, and doing all of the other things gross couples do."

"Wearing each other's underwear?" Viktor laughed. "Haven't tried that one before. No, Yuuri's… He's…"

"Taking some Yuuri time?"

Mari had that look, the look that Viktor had seen only between siblings. That kind of knowing, insight by blood thing. Her trenchant gaze was loaded with understanding as Viktor seemed at a loss with how to describe this 'space' Yuuri suddenly needed. It was one of the things Viktor was always kind of jealous of, one of the things that made Viktor long for a sibling. It was a stupid desire. His parents probably wouldn't have known what to do with another child. They'd barely known what to do with Viktor.

"Don't take it to heart," Mari continued, grabbing one of the numerous open beers off the counter and taking a swig. "Yuuri gets like that. Things just overwhelm him and he needs to work out all of his feelings on his own. Not all the time. He still calls me when he's having an anxiety attack or worrying himself into the ground." There was concern in the woman words, worry for her brother tinging her tone sour, but there was a warmth to her expression, a softness in the slack of her cheeks. Viktor recognized it, because he'd felt it on his own face before when Yuuri was flipping out over the video and asked him to just be there. Yuuri relied on him in his moment of need. Mari must have been pleased that her brother still came to her, too. "Yuuri will be alright."

"I don't know. Phichit was pretty concerned. He's probably still watching over him."

"Yeah, well, that's Phichit. He worries too much, but that's probably what makes him such a good friend. Plus, I like that he's like that. I know Yuuri's in good hands when I'm not there." Mari grinned, sneaking a glance back over at Viktor. "And now I can rest assured that he has two pairs of hands to help him out."

Viktor hummed noncommittally. His hands had been given indefinite leave, left incompetent and rejected on the sidelines. His left hand gripped his water tighter, crinkling the bottle in his palm.

"I still hope he comes back home with me, though. I think it would be good for him. Our whole family, actually."

"Yuuri sort of mentioned that. You're going back to Japan for a while?"

"Just to visit the 'rents."

"Why did you guys move here? Just you and Yuuri? You both were young, right?"

"It's not much of a story." Mari laid her posture back, resting her elbows on the counter behind her as she stretched out her legs and crossed her ankles. Her posture said relaxed, but with the way she almost instantly reached for a cigarette, it seemed that whatever she was going to say required the aid of a stress reducer. "We didn't come here for school or better opportunities. You know our parents own an onsen?"

Viktor felt his features lighten. "Yuuri's told me some fond memories of the place."

"Our parents hit a rough patch with the inn. There just wasn't enough business. Then the fire happened and…" Mari blew out the smoke from her cigarette like she was expelling poisonous thoughts. "The inn has been in our family for generations. It was our only source of income, too, so they couldn't just give it up. They worked to rebuild it, but they couldn't support us during repairs. They shipped us out here. To live with family."

"But I thought Yuuri said that you pretty much took care of him solo?"

"I did. The family thing didn't work out." Mari punctuated the sentence with a disgruntled flick of ashes onto a discarded paper plate on the counter. The thing was filled with scraps of crust, withered gum stuck to the edge. No one would miss it. "We better get back. The darling Yurio still has a shoe to reclaim."

In a snap, Mari was back to warm from the cool indifference the brief retelling of history had dowsed her in. Viktor watched from his place as she walked back out, absently petting a lazed Makka as she sat in the circle of new faces, calling Yuri a scamp as she held up her controller like a scepter, ready to charge forward and defy all in her way. She rolled back, heaving a full-body laugh that nearly had her tipping into the others behind her, shoving over Otabek for one of his murmured comments. The action caused her shorts to ride up just enough to make another tattoo visible. Large, emboldened Japanese characters ran along the curve of her inner thigh. Viktor would have loved to have known what it said, but while he'd been filling the gaps of his time twirling his tongue to Japanese rhythms, reading Kanji was still a triumph to be taken and mastered later.

Mari was definitely a person Viktor would like to get to know more. So far, she seemed to be everything Yuuri had spoken of her as. The sister Yuuri loved with all of his being. Viktor wouldn't have minded having her as a part of his own family tree. He would have been downright delighted. Mari, Phichit, Sara, Michele, Minami, Leo – They were all family, as far as Viktor was concerned. The thought pinpricked his heart in a way that caused him unknown pain.

"C'mon, Silver! Show me some more of that sword action."

The game continued, round after round until Viktor had been decapitated at least three times. His skin had been seared off with some kind of radioactive, acid-orange spew. He lost count of how many times he had had his spine yanked out from his body. He got better at fighting, at near-dying but surviving long enough to swap Mari back in for the kill shots. They tag-teamed the whole time until they changed games as Yuri complained.

"This game's rigged. Has to be if someone like Viktor can win, even with a monster like Mari as his partner."

"Brat," Viktor protested, trying to flick the boy on the nose and almost having his fingers bitten in the process.

Mari jutted out a smug grin as she held out her controller, bopping it against her partner's. "Can't help it if we got tag-team game."

"Let's play something else. What are you good at, Otabek?"

They tried a racing game. Mari won, cutting off Yuri's luxurious sports car with her rusty metal deathtrap of a truck. It lost two wheels flipping over a barn and it's engine was exposed from a head-on with a tree, but it still rocked its way across the finish line a full eight seconds before Yuri's car. They continued with a basketball game, wrestling, even some golf pro thing that made playing actual golf seem fun. There was another fighting game, characters with gravity-defying hair and swords bigger than their bodies and lengths twice their height. The group eventually cycled back to the first, Yuri stealing Mari's character and still managing to lose with a face full of a flying, bladed fan.

He never won back his shoe.

Nobody cared. The night wore on and people turned in, either leaving for home or collapsing on the stain-spotted sofa. The group grew hungry for something other than stale pizza. The popcorn they used more as ammunition, tossing it in each other's faces to distract from the game. It littered their laps and decorated Yuri's hair. Mari found one in her cleavage as she answered the door for Chinese delivery. She plucked it out and munched on it before handing the boy a five for tip. The boy left with a high blush and a flustered thanks.

They took a break for the food. There was laughter and cackling as Mari showed what her brother called an unsightly, but admirable talent none the less. She moved her toes with adept coordination, chopsticks given life easier than Viktor could pull off with his fingers. Bending her leg to get her foot to her mouth while keeping a straight back was no small feat, either. They all tried it, which only resulted in more food flinging in all directions.

"Okay, so Mari is the weirdo that can eat with her feet," Yuri conceded after stabbing himself in the eye with his chopsticks. He had the lithe body and unparalleled flexibility that allowed him the bend necessary, but the dexterity with his toes he did not. "But, uh… I can unwrap starburst with my tongue!"

It was hilarious how much pride swarmed Yuri's features with that one declaration. Viktor laughed, accidentally flicking a piece of chow mein into his water before he, too, gave up, snatching his chopsticks back up into their proper place. "How do you know that?"

Otabek challenged seconds afterwards with, "Only starburst?"

It turned out that the muscle of Yuri's tongue was as flexible and tightly honed as the rest in his body. He took on the wrappers of mints, Hershey's kisses, those little strawberry candies, tootsie rolls, cough drops, and came out victorious every time. The cherry stem thing was probably child's play to the boy. He could have pretzeled his own tongue into a knot if he wanted, Viktor figured.

Mari snapped the rubber band on her wrist, why it was there Viktor would never know, before saying, "Otabek's the rubber band flinging champion."

"Oh yeah, I can fling them with the best of them." His tone was one of unimpressed amusement. "It's not a big deal. I don't get why you make me do this for your friends all the time. Where do you want it?"

"Careful there. I might get the wrong idea."

Yuri cracked up, but Otabek only pulled his eyebrows into the 'get a move on' gesture. "It would be funny, if you didn't ask it every time."

"Try…" Mari hummed, scratching at her cheek in a move that was painfully Yuuri. Viktor felt the empty space at his side, an aching absence already.

Viktor cut her off. "The button on the speaker." The Bluetooth speaker was still going, twangy, country rap a tiny blip in the background. It wasn't unpleasant, but the genre was not his thing and it wasn't exactly necessary anyway. The break from its constant playing would have been nice, if Otabek could make it.

"Oooh, a serious challenge right from the get-go. I like the way you think," Mari complimented as she tossed the rubber band to her coworker.

"And you can't move from your spot," Yuri added with a snicker. It would be some trick, considering the speaker was behind him, an apple-sized, blue thing all the way by the hall.

Otabek didn't let it stop him. He bent himself backwards. He strung the band between his index and ring finger and took a moment before he let it loose. It shot, a racing streak in the air until there was silence. They cheered, Makkachin even giving an approving bark, before the band bounced off onto one of the guys passed out on the couch, flicking him right on the cheek. He gave a loud snort, rubbing at the area, before slipping back into unconsciousness.

"Wow," Yuri said. "I wanna try."

Mari busted out a stash of rubber bands she had at her workstation. Viktor partook in the occasion. As he usually did when good times were being had. They snapped rubber bands at random objects, eventually snapping them at each other.

"Crap! Dude, watch the eye."

"Okay, you had to have been aiming for there. No way does it just drop into my shirt from the ceiling."

"Crotch shot!"

"No you don't."

"This is the stupidest thing I've done in a while."

"Really? I would think this would be the tip of the ice burg."

"What are you implying?"

"That was like a domino effect of beer cans."

"Damn, I can't get this one to-" The rubber band slingshot backfired, pulling right back into Viktor's face. He would have been embarrassed by the uptick in laughter, if he wasn't guffawing right along with everyone else. "Yeah, okay. That one was defective." He went to grab another one, but paused at the snap he felt on the back of his ear. He immediately locked on to Mari, who was busy aiming for the power button on her console. Yuri was trying to nab back his shoe while she was distracted. That left-

Otabek was whistling to himself, pausing to sip off of a beer. There was the slightest curve to his mouth around the lip of the can, a tiny guilty thing that Viktor zeroed in on. "How did you manage that from in front of me?"

"Manage what?"

Viktor readied a rubber band on his fingers, planning swift retribution. The artist held up the can as a pathetic excuse for a shield. The band never left his hand.

The door to the shop slammed behind him. The group all paused and whipped around to see who had showed up with such a raucous entrance. All laughter died on their tongues. One last rubber band zipped past Viktor's head, flying past a white-faced Phichit and pinging off of the door frame.

Phichit was drawing in breaths, clutching at his chest with one hand and nearly crushing his phone in a desperate possession in the other. His face held fear, an expression stricken with so much terror and panic that Viktor didn't recognize it, had never seen it on the cheery man before.

Viktor's first thought was of Yuuri.

Mari was the first to speak. "What's up?"

"Why aren't any of you answering your phones?!"

That… was a good question. Viktor couldn't remember when he had last seen his phone. He hardly cared as his mind raced with Phichit's look of utter alarm. "Why? What's wrong?"

Phichit managed a final breath, pain tugging at the lines of his face as he spoke.

"Yuuri's missing."


 

Yuuri left by himself.

He didn't have a destination. Some plan. Any thought. He just left.

The shore drew him in. He stood, toes curled in the puddled sand. The wind whipped against his soaked clothes, shirt splattering against his stomach repeatedly, jeans shrunk tight on his skin, weighing him down. Waves roared across the coastline, splashing salt-spray as it mixed with the rain that pelted his face, melting into the lines his tears already made. Deep inside, there was a well in his chest, built during his childhood. It was filled with many instances where he'd held everything back. His pain. His fear. His sadness. During the moments where he was strong and courageous in the face of his anxiety, of his overbearing pains and aches, he relied on the well. It sprung leaks at times like this. Where it just got too worn down, or finally began to overflow.

It was too much. Yuuri couldn't handle it all building up inside of him. The rain shattered against him, and Yuuri felt it like the words that had been tormenting his brain all day. Bashing into him, beating on him. No well could withstand it. No smile or quick assurances such as "I'm fine" could cover it. He was tired of this. He didn't want to feel like this anymore.

A phantom, cruel and taunting, stretched its limbs across his being, reigniting every sickening touch and searing wound from the haunted chasms of his memory. He was tired of that most of all. The rain, the wind, the elements in all their chaotic glory could do nothing to dull the phantom's attack. His mind was using his own self-loathing against him. It knew just what to use to make him feel worse.

Yuuri stared up at the sky over the rims of his rain-hazed glasses, gaze prompted by the squawking cries of fleeing birds. Yuuri envied them. They could soar right through it all, take flight and run away from the darkness.

Yuuri was tired. Tired of himself. Of being this foolish sham that couldn't do anything right. Couldn't have a life without messing everything up. Couldn't love without hurting. He didn't want to be here, be himself, anymore.

As the birds disappeared from sight, their sound lost to the crash of wind and waves, Yuuri decided that it was time to let someone else take the reins.

Chapter Text

It struck in a spine-severing blow. It paralyzed him. Because What? Yuuri is what? ran circles in his mind. He failed to respond while Phichit's gaze focused most profoundly on him and Mari. He was supposed to react.

The way Mari had.

"Missing?"

The way Otabek had.

"What do you mean 'missing'?"

Even a sneering Yuri chimed in with, "How could he go missing? Just call his cell."

But Viktor. Viktor was silent, staring at the phone in Phichit's hand that wasn't Phichit's, mind racing with why, where, how.

Yuuri didn't have his phone. Yuuri was missing.

Yuuri wanted space.

"He-He wasn't home when I got to the apartment. Which was fine, you know, I figured Yuuri just went somewhere. After a while I decided to call, see what he was up to." Phichit frowned down at the cell in his palm. "I found it in his room on his bed. It was just sitting there. Left behind."

"Maybe he forgot it," Yuri suggested, tossing another piece of popcorn back against his throat. "That seems like something the brainless-oof" Yuri coughed as Otabek elbowed him in the stomach. The popcorn came back up, a slimy glob sticking to one of the many game cases strewn across the floor.

Phichit refuted the suggestion with an adamant shake of his head. "Yuuri never leaves his phone. Ever."

"Well, maybe he decided to leave it. Go AWOL." Yuri gave an insouciant shrug, and Viktor felt a distant stab of anger at the action. "I do it sometimes. Gotta get away from my nosy ass coach somehow."

"Yuuri doesn't have a tracker on his phone because he tends to 'go AWOL,'" Viktor bit out, though his voice was still wispy with disbelief. "He wouldn't need to leave his phone behind like you do."

Phichit stared down at Yuuri's cell like it was a hissing ember searing into the skin of his palm. "Yuuri doesn't just disappear, either. He always says something-"

"No," Mari spoke. She was already by the door, slipping her flats on and ripping a jacket from the hook on the wall. "Yuuri's done it before. It's just… been a while."

"Okay, so, um…" Phichit's tone was getting further distressed as he continued, voice picked apart and reedy. He started to shake, his true concern finally breaking open, unfettered and free. His lips were riddled with teeth marks. "Where did he go?"

"The park." Was Mari's simple answer, but the way she eyed Phichit said there was nothing simple to it at all. "He was young. We both were. There weren't many places he could run to. You checked Spritz?"

"Jeremiah said he didn't see him."

"Crap," Mari whispered to herself, fumbling with her stretched-out sleeve. "He's been on the door since it opened tonight. If he didn't see him, then Yuuri isn't there."

"What do we do?" Phichit looked to the group, eyes wide and jittery, gaze vacillating between the others as it begged for help. Phichit was at a loss with what to do with himself, overcome by a sense of anxious dread. Viktor could relate. He still didn't know how to process the statement that Yuuri was missing. "If… If Yuuri just left then where did he go? I just came from the bakery. Nobody answered when I pounded on Minako's studio door or your apartment, Mari. Where is he?" An agitated, desperate noise rolled in Phichit's throat as his hands moved with no real thought, wanting to do something. "I should have left with him. Why didn't I leave with him? I knew he was messed up about something, but I thought he was getting better at handling his emotions. I didn't think he would disappear. At worst I thought he would go to the club, but he's not at Spritz. God, where is he?!"

Mari was by his side, hands on his face, projecting calm stillness into his cheeks with nicotine-stained fingertips. "Panicking isn't helping."

"Oh god. But what if something happened to him? What if he didn't just leave or-or he did and something happened that he didn't make it back? Should-We should call the police!" Phichit was already unlocking Yuuri's screen with deft fingers even as his gaze never strayed from Mari. The plastic case protested, creaking in Phichit's distraught grip as his fingers ripped across the screen.

Mari stopped him. "Phichit. Yuuri's fine, I'm sure. He probably just wanted alone time, right?"

At the question her gaze slipped to Viktor for just a moment, and while Mari was keeping quite a level head considering she didn't know the whereabouts of her brother, there was that same heart-wrenching concern he'd seen in the kitchen. It turned chiding, a silent question tinting the hues of her irises. Viktor's mind translated it to Did you do this? The guilt was freight train crushing.

"We just have to figure out where he would go. I'll kick his ass for running off without telling anyone and leaving his phone behind, but it doesn't mean that Yuuri is in trouble." The clench to Mari's teeth was much less convincing than her words. She pulled away, tossing her pack of cigarettes at the wall as she stalked to the door murmuring, "Stupid Yuuri. In this storm, too."

"Okay," Phichit blew out a purposeful breath, his tense shoulders bowing. "But what do we do?"

At this, Viktor felt the guilt, the fear, the aching need pull his muscles into action. "We go looking." Viktor stood, found his belongings and tossed them on faster than he computed the movement. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I can't just wait until he shows back up. Mari, Phichit and I will head out and search for him. Otabek, you should stay here and Yurio should stay at Yuuri's in case he turns back up there."

A loud crunch sounded throughout the room. Viktor turned to find Yuri with a squashed bag of popcorn between clenched palms. "Excuse me? Piggy decides to traipse off for fun, you all freak out, and I have to help find him. Screw that. I'm going to bed."

"You only have to stay at Yuuri's," Viktor argued, moving to block Yuri as the other made to stalk off to his room. "Is that really too much to ask?"

"Why do I have to-" Otabek slapped a hand over Yuri's mouth. The look on the younger boy's face would have been comical at a different time. Right then, Viktor didn't have the headspace to think much other than have to leave, have to make sure Yuuri is okay, he has to be safe.

Yuri stared down Otabek with his cannon-shot withering stare and attempted to wrench the other's hand off of his face. It didn't work and Yuri yelled incoherent words into his palm while trying to jerk himself away in fury.

"You guys go. Yuri will stay here. I know where you guys live so I'll camp out at your place in case he makes it home," Otabek decided with a flat tone, not an emotion out of place. "Phichit should call up some of the employees from the bakery, check if they've seen or heard anything. Minako's out of the country, but Mari can check with her, too." Viktor envied Otabek's calm, wished that he could project some measure of it. He could feel the loss plaguing his limbs, a newborn emptiness dragging him down when he needed to go.

They were off with no other interruptions. Mari tugged Phichit towards the door by the cuff of his rain slicker. Viktor ducked flung keys as Phichit tossed them to Otabek. Yuri watched incredulously as they all fled to the door before unceremoniously dropping to the floor, arms and legs crossed, petulant, but remaining near the entry.

The weather was less inviting than it had been when Yuri and he had arrived, but Viktor didn't see or feel any of it. They all yelled their planned destinations over the gusts of wind, peeling off in different directions with nods and thumbs raised in the air. Rain splattered beneath Mari's flats as she disappeared below, off to double check Spritz. Phichit's rain slicker billowed behind him, the wind struggling to pull the man back, but doing little to deter him in his stead towards Yuuri's likely hot spots. Otabek was already a speck of black smeared into the drowned out scenery. Viktor, though, remained.

He was suddenly alone again and everything was quiet. Rendered still with the thundering palpitations of his heart.

Viktor stood outside and could do nothing but breathe, a trial in its own right as his body just wanted to break down without its missing piece. Bereft of such an essential cog in his being he was left feeling cored, hollowed out. His insides had been ripped from him because who was he now? Without Yuuri?

Viktor couldn't handle it. Yuuri missing. Yuuri gone.

Yuuri was the one thing that was always supposed to be there.

He had to find him. Even if Yuuri wanted this space, Viktor couldn't allow it. It wasn't right - Yuuri leaving without saying anything, no phone, no message. No attachments. Viktor recalled his conversation with Phichit over a two for one coupon on milk. He remembered Yuuri's look as Viktor had suggested a night at the club. It all conjured one image, and Viktor couldn't vanquish the gnawing sensation burrowed in his gut. Drunk-Yuuri was a very real threat that gripped Yuuri's past and loomed over the present. While Viktor cherished the memory he had with Drunk-Yuuri, and would thank him over and over for giving him and Yuuri a chance to meet and be, he needed to stop Yuuri before 'space' invited danger.

Viktor idly wondered if maybe they all weren't becoming needlessly alarmed. Yuuri could have simply left his phone by accident. Gone to the store, a restaurant, the beach. He would show up, shy smile in place, apologizing for getting everyone worked up over something so stupid. They would laugh about it and Viktor wouldn't let him go for days.

It was a nice hope, but Phichit wasn't the type to make a mountain out of a molehill. Something spoke deep in Viktor's soul that he needed to find Yuuri. If Yuuri was the type to get drunk and dangerous when he was mentally and emotionally broken open, then Viktor should have known, known that this was going to happen. The scene in the bakery the day before was more than a sign. It was a goddamn billboard.

Viktor had simply let Yuuri go.

He was the worst.

But this wasn't helping anything. He needed to suspend his feelings, his regrets, and just go. He could deal with it all when they found Yuuri.

Reality crashed into him once he had a hold on himself. Rain poured in earnest, his surroundings akin to the drenched hues of a watercolor painting. Wind howled, battering his form with its unyielding gusts. It undulated, upturning a forgotten café umbrella and spiriting it away into a stuttered flight down the street. Sounds clashed in Viktor's ears. Wind chimes shattered and clattered together. Thunder crackled above the hills. Streetlamps groaned and swayed as if in a tipsy daze.

This was no environment for Yuuri to lose himself in.

Viktor took off, already soaked to the bone, hair splashing and sticking against the curves of his eye. He ran everywhere he could think of. He went to the only market that was open well into the evening, lingering long in the produce section where the sight of strawberries summoned up the scent of rising angel food cake and the acrid taste of vanilla. He stopped by the laundromat, finding the rhythmic thud of the dryers as soothing as they were wounding. No matter where he quested, the beach, the bus station, the Japanese restaurant, all Viktor found were traces of Yuuri, the past mocking and the present empty.

He had nowhere left to look, standing just off of the curb of some street Viktor couldn't recall the name of. The water was rising, flooding the streets with the lifeblood of the clouds. A discarded soda bottle knocked against his calf. Viktor stared at it, guilt and worry overwhelming forces that threatened to suck him under in an undertow. He would be no better than the soda bottle, garbage swept away in the streets.

"Viktor!"

Mari caught him by the elbow, releasing him from the roots of his despair. Viktor didn't like failure. Losing was crushing and right then Viktor knew he was losing something that mattered. Yuuri was his shiniest, heaviest medal that he flaunted proudly, but he could feel it rusting away against the hollow of his chest.

Mari tugged on him again, but Viktor didn't wish to heave any more accusations upon himself. Yuuri missing was his fault. Even if he wasn't the cause of Yuuri's disappearance, he could have prevented it had he been a little more insistent, been the boyfriend instead of the skater.

"Yuuri would have ran anyway." Mari's voice cracked, yelled out over the surge of the elements.

It drew his gaze back to her and Viktor didn't find an executioner primed to drop her blade or a scolding parent ready to punish. It was just Mari. Maybe he had mistranslated her gaze from over her hold on Phichit. Right then, she looked at him like he was her little brother that needed assurance and care. Viktor swayed a little, and the bottle drifted away with the current.

"If I've learned anything while taking care of my brother, it's that he has a will of his own. He tends to selfishly bear his burdens himself and then hide when he can't anymore. He doesn't want to drag anyone else down with him. No matter what you would have said or done, Yuuri would have ran anyway. Don't beat yourself up. Just find him."

Gratitude choked Viktor and he let the rain soak into the underside of his eyes. "Big sisters really can read minds, can't they?"

She smacked him hard on the back, a thorough, rain-slicing whap. "Nah, we just like to make our little brothers think we can. Makes it that much harder for them to keep secrets from us," she replied with a wink, pinching his side. She caught a thick bunch of his watered-down trench coat rather than skin, but the sentiment was received all the same.

"How can you be so…" Level-headed. Confident. Composed. But Mari wasn't. Her hair was a curled disaster, headband missing. Her mascara was running into dark passageways down her face, trails of misery leading up to eyes that held a glossy sheen. She was breaking down, too. She just refused to let it stop her.

"I'm not. I just know that doing this," she gestured to his person, the flap of her hand a clear articulation of, standing still, freaking out, "won't help us find him. Now, where is Yuuri, Viktor? I have a feeling that you're the one that can find him this time."

Those words alone pressed down into him, and Viktor felt both touched and overwhelmed by the implication hidden there.

Viktor pushed his brain cells into hyper drive to figure out where Yuuri could have gone. Where would Yuuri go if he didn't want to be found? Somewhere no one could find him. Where Phichit and Otabek and Minako-sensei and Mari wouldn't know. Where none of his coworkers and most devoted friends could guess.

A place where Yuuri could leave himself behind. Become a different person. Unknown. Anonymous.

"Or there's this club uptown that Chris and I heard about, Vortex. They say it's the best if you want to stay unknown."

If Viktor could have smacked his past self, he would have.

"I think I know where he went."


A couple of smiles and autographs and he had gotten to the front of the line with little effort. The bouncer, a brute of a man with an overbearing stare, didn't recognize him, but recognized his popularity and worth well enough to let him in with a jut of his chin. Ducking beneath the roped swell of the curtain, Viktor was engulfed in a new assault on his senses. There was a massive surf of people. Streams of brilliant color refracted off of mirrored balls and light beams danced in smoke-clouded twizzles. People bounced and gyrated to the pulse of the club, a beat that resounded deep inside of Viktor's chest, out-pumping the rhythms of his own heart. It was a scene Viktor was accustomed to, one his young self had clung to when needing a reprieve from being 'the skater', one he had utilized only a handful of weeks before to shrink the emptiness metastasizing within him. But now was not the time to go wild with nameless faces and body shots. He had no need for wandering hands, popped pills, or champagne bottle confetti.

He was there for Yuuri.

Yuuri.

It should have been difficult to find him. Bobbing, swaying heads were all he could see. The weather wasn't going to stop anyone from enjoying their Saturday night, apparently, but none of it could reach any of the lost faces anyway. The base roared over the thunder and the rain couldn't compete with the sweat smeared on glittered skin. There was one patch cleared of people, making way for a pair dancing in the middle. The DJ threw her hand out towards it, as if she were just as captivated as those on the sidelines.

Viktor pushed his way forward, casting off any pretense of politeness. He moved with the crowd until it spat him out like rejected sputum, right into the part in the sea. And there, there was Yuuri, in all his inebriated wonder.

Yuuri wasn't missing. He wasn't gone. He was right there.

It was like not a day had passed since the day they had met. The universe must have laughed at him as he stood, a star-struck fool gaping at his destiny once again on a Saturday night in a nightclub. Ever the romantic the cosmic goddess was.

Yuuri was one with the beat. From the elongated slope of his neck to the perfect curl of his feet Yuuri was finite in the moment. A heady sway there to an outright swing there. His dance moves were matched by another woman's and they pushed and pulled off of each other like an interwoven mesh of energy.

Yuuri's hair was slicked back, giving way to the pop of bright, yet drink-glazed eyes and teeth-grazed lips. His crisp button down was more than rumpled, open and crinkled with sweat and his dance partner's hands as red nails gleamed against its edges. There were buttons missing, no doubt popped sacrifices that were lost underfoot, left to be swept away the following day.

Yuuri's belt was around his neck, buckle tightly clinking against the swell of his adam's apple. Yuuri dipped the woman. She dangled from the end of the belt for the briefest moment, enough to constrict with the bob of her body. She buoyed back up to him, leg hidden in the curve of his inner thigh as his hand swept along her hip.

Yuuri was a waking dream. Poetry in motion - if sonnets and haikus had such unadulterated energy within their margins. The life of the place had sucked Yuuri in and he fed it back out to the crowd with his body, soul fuel given freely and eaten savagely.

Viktor was left starved on the sidelines. His lips, the limbs of his body, hungered for Yuuri. His body hummed with the raw want to sidle right up to him, steal him from supple brown skin and curled black locks. He wanted to have a repeat of the night only he had savored, dancing with complete abandon, hands and tongues mingling with maddening want as Yuuri crashed into his heart with all of the force and devastation of a meteor strike. The memory was a painful slip of a dagger, an assassin's strike right to his Achilles' heel. The sight brought to mind his most precious night with Yuuri that had birthed so many more. But it was only precious to him. Forgotten and pushed away by Yuuri.

And now Yuuri was creating new moments with other people.

That hunger in his belly stirred an acute possessiveness in Viktor and with it came a cursory glance to those around the spellbound, cheering circle. His gaze was cautious and wary, but another move that had the crowd raving in a new wave of excitement homed Viktor's gaze back on his beloved.

Yuuri still had yet to notice him.

He was about to make himself known, claim what was his and make everyone witness just who belonged in that circle with Yuuri, when the two finished out in a flashy finale that left them both laughing into each other's necks. They were then drawn away by an admiring, unfamiliar hand. Before Viktor could lunge after them, the parted sea of people crashed back together.

Viktor followed, attempting to at least keep his gaze tethered to his beloved. He caught only glimpses as he bobbed and weaved.

-The girl being brought into an embrace by the unknown man.

-Yuuri laughing hollowly as he inserted himself between them, keeping a firm hand on the other's chest as the girl hugged herself at Yuuri's back.

-Yuuri's smile tightening as his arm straightened with purposeful distance.

-Yuuri's face vanishing from sight as he was pulled forward into the man's persistent reach.

By the time Viktor got out of the never-ending squeeze of movement, Yuuri was struggling to escape the man's exploring fingertips while his cronies urged him on with hoots and hollers. The man held a wolfish smirk, crooked eyes devouring his Yuuri. Grabby hands pulled at Yuuri's jeans and tugged at the belt in a near gag restriction. While Viktor was grateful that Yuuri didn't return the gestures (considering Viktor got the impression that Yuuri became rather friendly when liquored) he was livid to find a man forcing himself on him, mouthing at his ear as Yuuri kept trying to nicely, discreetly pull away. The girl was trying to help, but was flung off to the side, groped at by the guy's slimy friends.

"Hey, don't-" Yuuri tried to protest, hand outstretched towards her, but was yanked again by the belt, choked into submission.

Viktor came barreling towards them. He shoved the guy off as soon as he was within reach, satisfaction a right reward as the guy stumbled back into the half-moon curved booth his friends were occupying. It freed the girl as well, and she fled back to Yuuri's side.

"Viktor!"

Viktor heard Yuuri. The giddy exclamation was undoubtedly Yuuri, not the Drunk-Yuuri he'd been watching all night, and it was an even better reward.

"The fuck you think you're doing? Laying your hands on me?"

Viktor angled himself to keep Yuuri and the girl behind him, eyes daring the man to get up. He wanted to play it cool, grab Yuuri, get out and never let him out of his sight again. A brawl at the club was not his idea of Saturday night fun, but the scene of the man's hands clamped on Yuuri had Viktor burning all the way down to his marrow. Viktor gave a lighthearted shrug, accompanied by a goofy smile. "Just came to get my friends, that's all. Whew," he blew out, drawing a hand across his forehead to swipe away the pretense of sweat, "must have had a bit too much to drink. I could have sworn I meant to punch your molesting face in. Guess I was feeling generous." A flagrant show of teeth had earned him entrance to the club, now it was a territorial reflex. His smile became primal, protective and predacious all at once.

"Viktor, l-let's… just go." Yuuri's hand was on his bicep, and Viktor had to stop himself from swooning at the touch. It felt like it had been an eternity since he'd been with Yuuri, starved without his affection. The simple touch was water given to a desert flower. Yuuri's dazed eyes bounced off of the guy and each of his friends and Viktor could read his thoughts. It was unwise to take on six random leering men, that was for sure. Viktor was a lover not a fighter, but even if he had been, those odds were not in anyone's favor. He was going to give into Yuuri's hands, he always did, but he didn't get the chance.

"What did you say, bastard?!"

Viktor was suddenly tugged back by sharp nails dug into his shoulder. He stumbled to the side and watched as Yuuri surged forward, taking a punch to the jaw aimed for him.

It was a nightmare, a fearsome apparition brought to life. The force snapped Yuuri's head back and he fell. Viktor was stunned still despite him needing to move. Yuuri was falling and Viktor should have been moving. Why wasn't he moving? Viktor was always supposed to catch him.

Yuuri's head struck the table behind him. There was a heavy thunk and Viktor could feel the brain-knocking rattle and the whip of his neck, a secondhand pain blossoming in his own body. Yuuri collapsed to the side, taking glasses and bottles with him and they crashed into glittering shards beneath the club's fritzzed lights. Yuuri's final landing was soft, his cheek cushioned by the plush bounce of the booth as his eyes flickered closed.

Yuuri stilled.

There was a bloody smear along the table's blunt edge.

Everything was quiet though the music played on and the people still danced. The world kept turning, though it felt like it had stopped for Viktor, the ground beneath him jerking violently to a halt that had Viktor's stomach bottoming out. Yuuri wasn't moving. Yuuri wasn't moving and he was bleeding and it was his fault. Again.

The girl behind him screamed, rushing over to Yuuri. Her hands went to his forearms, his shoulders, before checking his pulse. "Yuuri? Yuuri, wake up!"

"Oh, shit," Viktor heard the guy whisper before he and his goons all beat a hasty retreat.

The Earth continued its rotation, spinning back to life. Viktor fled to Yuuri. "Yuuri?" he spoke in a begging whisper as he bent to take his crumbled body into his arms. His mind screamed at Yuuri's limp limbs, the slide of blood and the give at the back of his skull. No, no, Yuuri. Why Yuuri? I was the one that provoked him. Please be okay. I only just found you again. "Solntse moye?"

"Watch his neck!" the girl cried, but Yuuri was already moving, roused by the hands wandering his cheeks.

"Viktor? Is… Is Ketty okay?"

Viktor could have smacked him. Yuuri was half-unconscious with a bloody skull and of course he was asking about the status of someone else.

The girl at Viktor's side sobbed a laugh, gripping Yuuri's fingers. "You big lughead. Of course I'm alright. You made sure of that."

"And Viktor?"

"Stupid Yuuri," Viktor choked. "Stupid, stupid, wonderful Yuuri." Viktor folded Yuuri into him, squeezing his body into his chest. He breathed a ragged sigh into Yuuri's eyebrow, pressing the lightest touch of a kiss to his temple. "You scared me. I've never been so scared in my life. Don't do that to me ever again. Got it? You stay where I can find you. Whatever is going on, I can help you through it, just, please, don't leave me again. Never again." His tears hissed against the flush of his skin, slinking down in snake-like winds across Yuuri's face.

Yuuri dropped his head back, Viktor's arm pillowing the jut of his skull. Viktor suppressed the wince as he felt the cool slip of blood follow the angle and drip off of his hand. Viktor's eyes took swift stock of Yuuri's injuries through the bright flashes of inconsistent light, from the glaring obvious of the blow to his head to the crude tear of his split bottom lip that leaked down his chin. Yuuri smiled, revealing teeth lacquered pink with blood. "Viktor?" They were located near the back of the club where the music was at its dimmest, but it was still a strain to hear the drink-lisped rasp coming from him. "Don't need ta be scared. I… got a lil lost, but… I was here. I was here and found. You found me." Yuuri reached out, hand swinging unsteadily as it went for Viktor's face. His depth perception was off and he missed. Viktor took his hand and guided it to his cheek, pressing Yuuri's fingers close. It would never be close enough. "You found me. Now I'm… I'm… Tadaima, Viktor."

Viktor's heart caught in his throat. "Okaeri, Yuuri." Fingertips lightly caressed along Viktor's cheekbone, moving to messily smear themselves along his lips. "Okaeri."

Yuuri smiled a sunflower smile, bright and tall with a thousand petals, dampened by blood-soaked teeth and unfocused eyes, and then it was gone. "Yuuri?" Yuuri's hand fell from Viktor's face, sinking softly to his chest as Yuuri's consciousness faded out again. "I've got to get him to the hospital," Viktor said, sweeping his arms beneath Yuuri's knees and shoulders, cradling his body against him. Yuuri's face was tucked in the collar of his coat, warm, comforting weight against Viktor's neck.

Yes, Yuuri was home.

The girl stood with him and it was only then that Viktor realized she was still there. "You're his boyfriend, right?" She crossed him with a protective, scrutinizing gaze. She stood unbalanced on a broken heel, the right strap of her dress pulled loose to fall into the locks of her hair. She was a tiny thing, a delicate structure encasing such a young woman. But the look she gave him promised a strength unseen. "Yuuri mentioned a Viktor before, but he didn't say what the guy looked like."

"Yes, I'm his boyfriend," and if Viktor held Yuuri a little closer to his body, cradling him so tightly to his chest that he could have melded right into it, no one would have blamed him. That was a title Viktor could fit onto his skin, stitch into his heart, and burn right over the Nikiforov brand.

"Okay," The girl, Ketty, said with a nod. "Then hurry up and get going."

"What about you?"

"I'll be alright. I have some friends around here. Just make sure he's okay." With a swift swipe of her hand, she brushed back the little wisps of Yuuri's bangs that had slipped free in the scuffle. It was with a tenderness unbefitting of a stranger. "He protected me. We barely know each other and he protected me."

"Yuuri's like that."

Viktor shoved his way through the faceless crowd, a never-ending bank of bodies. He tripped on feet and cursed the sway of the current he was pulled into. He took the brunt of every brush and bump of a shoulder or a knee or a head. He kept staring forward, gaze honed in on the exit, glowing letters only half lit and barely competing with the blinding brightness of the neon spotlights swirling overhead. Sounds crashed together, discordant, and Viktor wanted out. Needed out. Viktor mowed though the crowd, uncaring as he stomped on feet and spilled others' drinks, all while being mindful of the precious cargo in his arms.

The storm was a welcome change. Wading through water didn't seem half as bad as walking through the pandemonium he had just escaped. The car wasn't far, but the trip took time that Viktor knew was ticking down. With an uncoordinated jostle, Viktor surfaced his keys from his pocket, unlocking his door and slipping Yuuri inside. By the time he made it behind the wheel, the both of them were soaked through.

"Viktor…" Yuuri was awake again, stirring, hands searching the leather of Viktor's seat.

Viktor grasped them. "I'm here, Yuuri."

"Mari… and, and Phichit."

"Ah, right. I'll call them. They need to know you're okay. I'll let them know when we get to the hospital."

"Hospital?" With that lone utterance, it was as if the whole night clicked for Yuuri and his mind kicked to life. His eyes widened, and Viktor watched realization destroy the stupefied slack of his expression. "Oh, god, I-" Yuuri licked his lip, wincing as his tongue stuck on ripped skin. His hand went to brush his worst injury, and Yuuri just stared at the brushstroke of blood across his knuckles. "No. No please don't tell them. Don't-"

Panic broke free and Yuuri trembled in his seat, looking much akin to a startled bunny deciding whether to flee or be still. "Yuuri."

Yuuri looked at him. There was fear. And shame. Pure, unfiltered shame. A breath shattered against the backs of Yuuri's clenched teeth. He buried his face into his hand and hunched into the passenger door, about as far away from Viktor as the restriction of his seat belt would allow. "You weren't supposed to find me. You weren't supposed to come."

Each word was a lash against Viktor's skin, but none of it hurt worse than the way Yuuri attempted to hide from him. "You had to know I would come looking for you. I told you, I'm here." His words were unnecessarily harsh, a winter's frost biting off limbs. He needed Yuuri to know. Viktor was trying to understand. "Why wouldn't I come for you?"

Yuuri leaned farther away from the icy torrent. "I told you that this wasn't me and look…" Yuuri fingered the belt around his neck, and Viktor startled to find the beginnings of welts around the buckle. "Look at… the horrid sight I am. Fuck, what was I doing this time? What disgusting, depraved things did you find me doing this time? How can I…? How can I ever face you again? How can I ever face myself again?"

Viktor couldn't handle any more. His hands tightened on the steering wheel, because he knew that if he reached out to Yuuri he would only flinch more from his advance. Viktor couldn't take that, either. "You weren't doing anything-"

"Don't lie to me!" The exclamation echoed in the tight space, louder than the bellow of wind that rocked the car. "Don't…" it seemed to take the last of Yuuri's energy with it, "lie to me."

"I would never."

"Don't tell Mari," he mumbled, tears scrabbling against scrunched eyelids. "I won't… She doesn't…"

"Okay. Let's just get you to the hospital, zolotse."

A hitched breath was his answer. Yuuri lost consciousness again, head sliding against the glass of the window. Viktor undid the belt from Yuuri's neck, tossing it in his backseat and then took his coat and placed it around Yuuri's wet shoulders.

He sent one text before peeling off into the harshness of the storm. He'd left Mari in the middle of the street to find Yuuri. Last he knew she was still out tirelessly looking for her baby brother while he had left on a hunch. He had to tell her something. He owed that to her, his new big sister.

Found him.

But he couldn't betray Yuuri, either.


There was no calm in the storm. Everywhere they went, there seemed to be a different kind of mayhem and disorder inducing craziness. The state of the emergency room was a direct effect of the current weather conditions, and Viktor hated that this had to be the night that Yuuri needed a hospital.

From the moment they stepped into the place, Yuuri more of a slouched drag hanging off of his shoulder, Viktor knew that it was going to be some time before they received care. Again, Viktor could see people everywhere, only now they were limping, bleeding, screaming, crying, and dying. Doctors and nurses were shouting orders over stretchers and gurneys, using acronyms and abbreviations entirely foreign to him. A gurney screeched by, a medic on top of a woman as she continuously gave chest compressions. A man rolled in after with half of his face burnt off and what looked like a rearview mirror sticking out of his arm. In the sitting area alone, a child was crying his eyes out into his mother's bosom, turned away from his own leg that was unnaturally bent, and an elderly man in front of them stared out into space, his body riddled with bruises as he sat in his underwear, seemingly unaware of his lack of dress. Still, Viktor was unprepared for just how long it was going to take to be seen.

It had taken the triage nurse forty-five minutes to get to Yuuri, and her hands were rushed, expression hurried and cold. She didn't answer any of Viktor's questions. He couldn't even read any of the notes she took down, more abbreviations in chicken scratch. She'd told him to watch the bleeding, wake Yuuri every couple of hours, and check in if he got worse. A doctor would see Yuuri soon. Then she was off, a quick lightning bolt to the next filled seat. Viktor's mind could only repeat, 'every couple of hours' because how long were they going to be there? He knew the hospital was busy, the visual proof was all around him, hacking phlegm against his neck and passing out at his feet, but was Yuuri going to be okay? Could he wait that long?

Viktor held Yuuri, watching him. Yuuri was barely awake. His words had become increasingly slurred, but all he appeared to say were different renditions of Viktor's name. He roused with a dripping flush, his forehead hot and clammy beneath Viktor's hand. The bleeding of his lip began to crust over, and his head wound looked a little better. It was when Yuuri's eyelids flickered in rapid-fire blinks and he lunged for the nearby janitor's mopping bucket that Viktor's concern spiked. Yuuri heaved up sick into the yellow bin, the wheels of the bucket swaying Yuuri back and forth and seeming to only make him more nauseous.

Viktor was at his side, holding his shoulders. He looked up and caught a nurse's gaze at the counter. She looked at them, then past them and down at a file.

Viktor had enough.

Yuuri was bleeding. He couldn't see straight and he was bleeding. Wasn't that enough to be seen? Didn't these people care?

Viktor stomped up to the counter, walking around the old man that was now singing in the middle of the hall. The nurse was a haggard, older woman, and she assessed his approach over the rims of her bifocals. He didn't appreciate the sharp look she sent over to Yuuri. "Yuuri is throwing up. He's bleeding and now he's throwing up. Can someone please see him now?"

"Is that the head wound or the booze that I can smell from here?"

Viktor recoiled. "What does that matter? He needs help."

"And we will help him, but we have other patients that require our attention first." Her eyes fell back down to the file in her hands before she passed it off to a white coat and then took up a pile of clipboards to her left. She had dismissed him, didn't even acknowledge the fact that he was still standing there waiting.

What was it going to take to get Yuuri help? He was supposed to check in when Yuuri got worse. Wasn't this worse enough? Was Viktor going to have to wait until Yuuri was in a coma to get him a doctor? Did he have to be dead? No. Viktor had to tell his heart to be still. He wasn't going to let any more harm come to Yuuri. Not from seedy guys in a club, or from careless, judging nurses in the ER.

Viktor hated throwing his name around, but one look at Yuuri had it slipping between his lips with little hesitation. "Do you know who I am?"

If possible, the woman hardened further. "Let me stop you right there. I don't care if you're the duke of France, I don't allow special treatment. Your friend will be seen when it is his turn or if his condition worsens. Now please have a seat. I have emergencies to attend to."

"Can I speak to-"

"I am the head nurse." She looked back up at him, smug smile a seedy thing that made Viktor despise her even more. "All doctors are busy. Have a seat."

Realizing he was getting nowhere, Viktor did so, huddling back up with Yuuri. Yuuri fell asleep over the bucket until another nurse, much kinder, eyes regretful, handed him a more suitable pan he could sit with.

"V-Vikt… Hurts…" and Yuuri puked again, nothing but blood-lined stomach acid now and Viktor found himself back at the counter.

"Can't somebody see him? What… What about you?" He didn't want that women laying a hand on Yuuri, but he would take what he could get.

"I don't have time, currently. Especially not for the wounds of a bar brawl."

"You're going to ignore him out of prejudice? He has a head wound. He's barely conscious! He's vomiting and bleeding. How does that not warrant immediate treatment?" This time, she didn't answer him. The head nurse was on a stool now, writing random patient names and their aliments in the allotted spaces of the whiteboard on the wall. Yuuri needed his skull put back together and he was being ignored. "I will climb over this counter, lady. So help me-"

"Don't make me call security." Another quick scribble. "And it's Nurse Minnow."

At least he had a name to help him destroy her later.

She stepped down from her perch, unruffled by the stony hardness of his face. "Look around you, Mr. Bigshot. I have a GSW to the chest, thirteen patients with severe injuries from an accident on the Golden Gate, more coming from another car accident four blocks from here, a family wounded from a felled powerline on their house, and many, many more-"

Viktor tried to interrupt because that was all horrible and tragic but they couldn't let Yuuri just sit there. Yuuri is important too, dammit.

She threw a hand in his face before he could utter a word. "I'm sorry! But your friend has to wait. A triage nurse has assessed his condition. We will get to him soon."

Fine. If this place isn't going to help him, I'll find somewhere that will.

He looked up other treatment centers on his phone. The two urgent care clinics were down due to the weather and overflow of patients. The only other trauma center was clear across the city and when Viktor went to get the car, a rush of wind brought on a swift crack and a streetlight went down in a spray of sparks, crushing a minivan on its way in.

It was safest to stay put, Viktor decided.

Viktor was rendered powerless. There was nothing he could do but sit and wait. Yuuri started to shake and Viktor drew him into his side, kissed the crown of his head as tears leaked free. Yuuri's hand gripped onto his shirt and didn't let go.

Time ticked away.

Cheek twitching as he chewed on the precious moments passing, Viktor realized that he had one last card to play. Carefully reaching around Yuuri, Viktor pulled out his cell and dialed his second most frequent contact.

"Yakov… please."

Chapter Text

Yuri stewed. He sat in the middle of the room, eyes pinned to the door, stewing. When the snores and sleep chatter of the strangers around him grew into an unignorable din, he kicked everyone out. Woke them up, dragged them out the door, disposed of the trash with curses and boot prints on their asses. He wanted everyone out, away from him. They didn't belong there.

Then again, neither did he.

Why was he there again?

He was beyond irritated. Was Yuuri really worth so much devotion? Yuri doubted it.

"Something happens to the pork roll and everyone jumps to his rescue?" Yuri grumbled to himself. "Why? What makes him so special? Must be some hoodoo magic in those muffins."

There was no way that someone like that could gain so much attention otherwise. So much love.

"Love," Yuri spat. "What a load of garbage. I've had fleabites that I cared for more. Neh, Makka?" Makkachin raised an acknowledging ear, but remained at her place by the door. She'd given up whining within the first half hour. Now she was just a pitiful lump on the welcome mat. "Traitor. Even you want that thing back, huh?"

Yuri was channel surfing, pointedly skipping any and all cooking channels, when the door burst open. Otabek arrived back first. He tossed a look over at Yuri, and even Yuri who had known Otabek for two point two seconds could register the relief in the man's eyes. They must have found the swine.

"Mari got a text from Viktor. He's got him."

Two simple sentences, stated blandly, but there was no hiding the way saying it brought the other man comfort. It appeared that Otabek was under fat Yuuri's spell as well.

Yup. Had to be hoodoo magic.

For some reason the subtle relief on Otabek just irked Yuri all the more. It was the same careful concealment of emotions Yakov faced his most beloved skaters with, like Viktor.

Mari wasn't far behind. She trudged in, flats squishing beneath her feet, hands curled in the pockets of her soggy sweat jacket. She looked worn, toeing off her shoes and splatting her jacket on top. There was a smile on her face, but it was weighed down with brooding thoughts. Saying nothing, she made her way to a desk in one of the still visible rooms to the side. Her body sunk down in the chair and that's where she remained, aggressively combing over papers as her nails scratched against the grain of her scalp. An unlit cigarette bobbed between her lips. There was a tremble to her frame, and whether it was due to the rain drying cold on her skin or her nicotine fix going unsated, Yuri didn't much care. But he watched. As her fingers restlessly folded and unfolded the corners of her papers. As her sighs dove from her chest like silent pleas for answers.

Yuri wondered if anyone ever worried over him that way.

Otabek bumbled around in the kitchen before he sat at the squeaky, foldable kitchen table, pulling some baked good out of the small green box that he had dropped before him. He didn't eat it, just picked it apart. Maybe he didn't want it, didn't like it, was disgusted by it. His face gave no hints. His fingers kept moving, breaking and kneading, working until he had unveiled its atoms to the world, let them feel his woes. Therapy. Yuri felt crumbled chocolate mushed on his fingertips. "You can have one if you like," Otabek said and Yuri tried his best to conceal the way he had been staring. "Phichit sent them over."

Okay, so he got caught. Fine. There was nothing on TV anyway. "Who was that guy?" Yuri asked as he tossed the remote aside and moved to sit across from Otabek. "He got so worked up…" The chair scraped loudly against the rough wood, pulling Otabek's attention from the pastry he was butchering with his fingers.

"Phichit? He's Yuuri's friend. His coworker. Roommate, too."

"Of course he is." It was no wonder, then, if the two were so close. Yuri felt his expression wither. Makka ambled in, plopping down at his side. Yuri rolled his eyes, but still bent down to rub behind her droopy ears. "C'mon girl. Viktor will be back," he said before following up with a murmured "idiot bread boy will, too."

"What's the problem you have with Yuuri anyway?" There was no heat to the question, no anger registering on Otabek's face. Quiet curiosity ruminated there, but Yuri didn't like the question all the same.

He didn't know how to answer it.

Instead he peeked into the box. There were a few other pastries inside, grease spots shadowing their outlines. Yuri nabbed a twisty, oblong shaped one and yanked off a flaky end piece to pop it into his mouth. He hadn't expected much from it, let alone for it to far exceed anything he could have imagined.

It was surprisingly soft and chewy for how crisp and aged it looked on the outside. The exterior was grainy with cinnamon, the bread of it soft enough to melt over his tongue, and hidden within its middle was a nutty cream filling that Yuri couldn't place. It was horribly magnificent and Yuri took an eager bite. Another. Another. He couldn't stop nor could he help himself from voicing his delight.

"Ohmgosh, thish ish delishoush. Yakof's gonna kiw meh fo efen loofing ash thish. Wah ish thish?"

"Yuuri made it-"

Yuri choked mid swallow, smushed dough still hanging from his lips. Otabek laughed and Yuri scowled, coughing around the bite until it dislodged and finally disappeared down his throat. "What are you laughing at? I could have died."

"Just appreciating karma." Otabek peeled off a layer of the pink icing from his crumbled bits and ate it before continuing his previous sentence. "-yesterday, I think. Phichit had overstock at their place. Said I should take some. I have no idea what anything is. Phichit mentioned some names, but… I think yours is a cinnamon-pecan something."

"It's a day old and it tastes like this?"

"Not so bad, huh?"

Yuri pushed the remnants away, thumbing the crumbs from his face with a frown. The cinnamon was stubborn, dotting his upper lip like a puberty stache. "I don't know what you're talking about." He turned up his nose and thought about barfing it all up.

Even if it was good. Stupidly good.

"Give Yuuri a break."

Why should I? What was left of the mangled pastry sat in front of him and Yuri was reminded of the muffin. It had looked good, moist with chocolate chunks that were ten times better than the usual dinky mini chips. It smelled good, like chocolate and sweetness and the heaven that Viktor promised. But it only conjured the face of him and Yuri wanted to pound it into the ground. The flavor of the 'cinnamon-pecan something' mingled on his taste buds and what was once sweet decomposed into waste. Yuri refrained from clawing the taste from his tongue. "I can still smell his softness."

Otabek studied him. Yuri could feel his eyes, cold, penetrating. They were the same judging eyes Yuri had felt all his life. He didn't care. Such a stare was as common as the feeling of wind on his face.

"He's actually the one who got me this job… and temporary residence. Although I doubt he would remember. He was a bit drunk when he suggested it to me."

"Oh, joy. Goody two shoes has another rabid fan. Why don't you disappear from your career to kiss his feet all over social media, too?"

"Not really my style. Besides, I think Viktor would eat me alive."

A chuckle bubbled up before Yuri could help it. He hid it behind his sleeve, still stubbornly rubbing at his face. "Unfortunately he probably would."

"I like Yuuri. He's a nice guy. It's kind of hard to not like him, but I never said that I liked him that much."

Yuri's head bounced up, eyes catching a stare that wasn't judging. Just… looking. Finding something Yuri didn't want found.

"Do you have a friend?"

Yuri scoffed. "Do I need one?"

"Don't answer a question with a question."

Yuri hunched down, subconsciously scraping his teeth along his tongue. "I don't want any. I have my grandfather and my coach. I don't need anyone else."

"That must be lonely."

Yuri went wide eyed, gaze pinned down on his and Otabek's socked feet. They were almost the same size. White parrying black. Two arched with pinched toes burrowed, the other two lazed, ankles crossed.

Lonely?

"Who needs rink mates? I can make it by myself!"

"You don't have to."

Otabek stood, tossing his paper plate in the trash, itty bits of pastry and all. "Well, if you want a friend, I'm here, I guess."

Otabek was in the middle of collecting the stray bottles and cans littering the counters when Yuri asked, "Why?" The word finally surfaced from its cell. Yuri thought he could smuggle it amongst the clinking glass and canned laughter resounding from the television. A jailbreak gone unnoticed.

Otabek's smirk was unexpected. "You're kind of an ass, but that's okay. Your bluntness is refreshing. You're like a-"

"Say grumpy kitten and I will have your tongue."

"I think that makes my point for me."

Yuri muttered dark, incoherent words.

"I was going to say Bengal tiger. I've seen you skate." Otabek was turned away from him, and Yuri couldn't read his face. He was sure he wouldn't have been able to even if it had been transcribed onto the backs of his eyelids, staring at him even in sleep. "Your skating is always ferocious and untamed. A tiger on the prowl. I admire your strength, even if you are too viscious with it at times."

He had seen Yuri skate? Yuri didn't figure Otabek as the type to watch figure skating, or to like it as his appraisal of his performances implied. The other's comment fermented in his mind, but he snapped back with a quick appraisal of his own. "You're like… a pitbull. All short, stocky and broody. But loyal to a fault. You look like you know how to scrap-"

"You're saying I'm like a dog?"

Yuri looked down at Makkachin and her head surfaced from her paws. Her eyes questioned Yuri as she panted, stretching and scraping her nails against the floor as her paws returned to her. Yuri smiled, scratching along her snout. "Yup. I won't hold it against you."


Losing himself was easy. He drank and smiled and drank and danced and drank and laughed until he was nearly gone. A sliver, a fraction, a shadow remained. He watched himself for a time, his body talking away, chit chatting with strangers as if it was his normal, everyday self. Maybe it was. Maybe the shadow he was currently standing in was the sham.

One of the strangers recited his life story as they danced, another whispered soft seduction, promises of the flesh. During a cool down, his body's attention turned to a woman that was heaving her sorrows into shot after shot at a booth, then a man that bellowed out, laughing over his friend's shoulder all the while, that "It's his last night, ladies! Better get at him while you can!"

He was taken with all around him. Sung out a cheers while simultaneously handing the sniveling woman a secondhand napkin stained with a glossy imprint of lips and a phone number. He was everybody's friend, pal, good-time guy.

Yuuri watched as he sat himself on a table, regaling those that could hear him over the music with some colorful tale that was foggy in his mind's eye. Yuuri couldn't focus on anything else but right then. Everything was now. On how he was sitting, open and approachable. On how he could sense all of the eyes on him and not squirm away from the attention. On the feeling in his chest, as weightless as the birds in the sky.

The beat changed and Yuuri watched himself jump up, exclaim, grab at more hands than he should have been able to and tug them all out into the pulse of the night. Then he was gone. It was Drunk-Yuuri's turn. He couldn't see anything, feel anything except that weightlessness.

He was free.

But was that what he wanted? Was it who he was?

Drunk-Yuuri wasn't actually someone else. Yuuri knew that. He wasn't some alternate personality. He was Yuuri without the brakes, without the inhibitions that kept him in line. The Yuuri that had no anxieties to lock him away. He was what Yuuri wanted from himself. To be as friendly as Phichit. To be as wild and unabashed as Viktor.

Drunk-Yuuri scared Yuuri for that reason. Because he was himself, concentrated down to base desires. Yuuri understood what made him. He knew all of the ingredients, and the result that he broiled into. Yuuri knew that every laugh was his own. He danced because he wanted to, sang because he desired to, and fucked because he craved that intimacy, those moments of skin and passion, something more fluttering hope in the wings. He wanted other people. Drunk-Yuuri was always willing to go for it when Yuuri couldn't bring himself to do so.

Yuuri liked the idea of losing himself to the guise of being someone else. It absolved him of the responsibility. Drunk-Yuuri was his to utilize for moments of freedom. The consequences weren't always pleasing, but by the time he needed Drunk-Yuuri again, the consequences seemed like dust beneath his shoes.

Yuuri expected another morning full of regret and blocked memories - alcohol churning to vomit in his stomach, the smell of foreign sheets around him, stumbling out half-dressed and missing a sock as he closed the door gently enough that he wouldn't wake up the person he couldn't bring himself to look at. He expected the look on Viktor's face when he would tell him, the man looking disappointed, or worse, that his face would register that he'd known this would happen all along and Yuuri had only proven him right. The next minute Viktor would be gone to his ice and his Russia. Life would go back to normal. The way he liked it. That was what he wanted. Drunk-Yuuri would grant him his wish.

That was why he was shocked as a world of colors flashed back into his vision. His senses flared to life and there was Viktor. His name jolted out of him. It was Viktor. His Viktor. How could he ever want him gone?

Yuuri didn't understand what was going on. Pieces of moments before crossed his mind, given like some divine revelation, intervention given in a broken recount of the man and Ketty. He heard himself say something as he watched the other men, holding onto Viktor because he looked dangerously close to doing something stupid.

It came to him, a feeling in his core rather than a sense outside of him. Viktor was in trouble.

And then he was pushing himself forward. Pain, so sudden it didn't register. Falling. Everything went by in a wash of colors and he heard the crash more than felt it. There was a thump as his head smacked so hard that the turbulence reverberated through his body. A crash of glass. Gasps, cries, silence. Then the pain, sharper, throbbing pain in the back of his head. The ground rose up, taking his knees. His head bounced. Then he was out again.

He came to to the blackness of his eyelids. Viktor was whispering soft, agonized words and Yuuri could feel the man all around him. Ketty screamed and Yuuri tried desperately to rouse himself up. To make sure she was okay. That Viktor was okay. That throbbing pain in his head threatened to take him away, but he fought its possessive hold. He spoke even as his jaw protested and his teeth rubbed against the bitten skin of his cheek. He didn't know what he was saying, but he said it. Maybe Drunk-Yuuri had taken over again? He felt silken skin beneath his fingertips, a frown twitching into a smile, but his hand fell and he was gone again.

Yuuri came back in the car. "Hospital?" the word was still on his lips. He tasted blood, felt the sting of his lip and the pounding in his head. It was only then that he realized that Viktor's presence wasn't a comfort. Not when Yuuri was like this. He went to lose himself. He had no intention of being found. Mari and Phichit couldn't know. Viktor wasn't supposed to know. He wasn't supposed to be there.

Yuuri heard a clink and looked down. There was a belt around his neck. A belt around his neck. What did that mean? What had Drunk-Yuuri done? What did Yuuri do?

He was speaking again and Viktor wasn't taking it well. The words just spilled out against the glass that became his pillow.

The rest was muddled with black spots and unfocused blurs. He could only call out to Viktor, search blindly for his fingers, arms, hair, anything. It was ironic. The person that he had wanted so badly to hide from just hours, minutes, seconds, lifetimes before was the one person that he needed to keep himself grounded.

Viktor, even just thoughts of Viktor, kept him awake and sustained him through the agony that ripped through him with every thought.

Viktor was there.

Viktor.


All of the energy drained from him and he slid down the wall onto the balls of his feet. His adrenaline, all of the focus he'd had to see Yuuri through to the ER, was gone. He could only sit there, left to wait once again. Only now he couldn't even hold Yuuri. His hands were empty. He brought them to his face, raked them through his hair, clenched them in the folds of his coat. They appeared determined to wander, too full of vapid, restless energy to remain still. Viktor thought of Yuuri's fingers, so full of their own brand of wanderlust.

Were they wandering now?

Viktor stared at the door that separated them. It was full of wood and secrets and oppression. Viktor would have given anything, even his precious baby Cadillac at home, to be in the room with Yuuri. Yuuri needed his privacy, he knew that, but wasn't it privacy and space that led them there? To the hospital? To this brink that brought them to questions that Viktor didn't know how to ask?

Why Yuuri? Why did you run from me? Why did you go to that club? What were you trying to find? What were you hoping to lose?

Why don't you want to remember me?

Viktor knew why the questions were so hard. Questions had answers. He wasn't sure he was ready to face the reality within those answers. Some very small, very selfish part of himself hoped that Yuuri wouldn't answer him. Wouldn't see the questions he had quivering on his lips and therefore wouldn't offer any explanations. Everything could remain how it was.

Coward.

Without any intention behind the action, Viktor began to rock, from the tips of his toes to his heels. Back and forth. Balled up in the hallway, hands searching for their purpose, lips plump with questions, he swayed in an aimless current he could get lost in. It was unbearably familiar, like the push pull of the water beneath the boat his father used to take him on. His inspiration boat, his father called it. The sea would take him, give him his answers, a masterpiece, happiness. Happiness was the boat's name. Because wasn't that the ideal? To sail away on happiness.

The memory of his father's boat lulled him much like the rocking, made him wipe his nose of the nostalgia while hiding back a grin that had no place in a hospital. That boat had been an escape for both of them. Viktor could be with his father, watch his mind come to life in splashes on canvas. He would fall asleep to the tranquil back and forth of the water, counting his father's snores and high on the fumes of paint that clung to everything his father owned. His father laughed louder on Happiness. He was free of her, his failed career forgotten on the shore.

But reality would always come.

Viktor was escorted back to the waiting room as Yuuri was wheeled away for tests. Viktor protested, but it was more of an act than anything, slipping on a mask of the concerned, overbearing boyfriend, adrift without his lover. It was what was expected. What Yuuri needed. Truthfully, it was what Viktor wanted to be, but he didn't know what he was. He didn't know how to feel.

He knew he needed to be strong, a pillar, some support for Yuuri to bolster himself up on, but he just couldn't. All he felt were the coals of anger burning in the floor of his gut, flames fanned as each minute passed. The fire raged and sped, a racecar driving madness through his veins as the scene of the club replayed in his mind's eye. As he thought more and more of Yuuri forgetting him. How easily he was forgotten.

He felt fear, a gnawing fear that chilled his bones. It made him long for the chill of home, because he knew that coldness. This… this desperate, belly-aching freeze was something beyond new. He had to remind himself that Yuuri wasn't missing anymore. He wasn't still in the grips of some lowlife scoundrel. He wasn't unconscious on the dirty club floor. The doctors had him. They would make him better.

He felt needy, groping for air because he was losing something. An essential piece of his life was slipping through his fingers when all he wanted was to yank it back and hold it close. It brought a hopelessness into his chest that Viktor had yet to face.

He felt so much when he needed to feel nothing at all. Yuuri needed him to be calm and reassuring. A steady hand, not a clenched fist or shaky fingertips. Viktor could do that. He could be what Yuuri needed.

Viktor shut himself off and stood up as the doctor came for him, the chief of staff or some other arrogant title that played on the man's lips. This was the man that had come for Yuuri not thirty minutes after he had gotten off the phone with Yakov, had hastened to Yuuri's side, clipboard at the ready. They were hardly being ignored now. Viktor looked past him, to the doors that slammed shut, locking by the clerk's hand. The thought of breaking through the doors and running to Yuuri's side, holding him, yelling at him, chaining him to his wrist so he could never leave him, begging him please, Yuuri, please stay, overtook him briefly. He was sure his newfound VIP status would award him the luxury of a few blind eyes.

"-do a few more tests, but for the most part everything looks clear. It was undoubtedly quite the scare for the both of you." There was a hand on his shoulder, placating. "I'm confident that he'll make a full recovery with no lasting damage." He smiled. Viktor didn't like it.

Viktor decided to indulge no one as he was escorted to Yuuri's room, much less a doctor attempting to apologize for the delay with a litany of shameless excuses. The doctor went on about the shortage on residents due to circumstances unspecified, how their attendings and interns were spread thin, how budget cuts had cost them physician assistants and x-ray technicians, and the storm, "Oh the storms never bring in this many patients, we were underprepared and we will work to remedy it so such a thing doesn't happen in the future, if only we had more fund-"

Viktor held up a hand. If the doctor was looking for a sympathetic or grateful cash cow, Viktor's face told him to look elsewhere. The man was persistent, maybe bordering on pleading with the way his hands gripped the stethoscope around his neck and his lips continued to move to subtly implore Viktor to think of their hospital in the future. The doctor held out his hand. Viktor looked on to Yuuri's door. The doctor didn't seem to take the hint and stood there, hand jutted out and smile slowly slipping.

Viktor's phone rang. "Excuse me," Viktor said as he whipped his cell from his pocket, his glance about as reprimanding as a warden to his prisoners, and the doctor finally left. He had so many reasons to thank Yakov. The doctor should have thanked his coach, too. Any longer and Viktor surely would have done something unpleasant. "Yakov," Viktor exhaled with so much emotion that it was like everything inside of him had been soaked up in a sponge and wrung out the moment he had answered. "Thank you. Whatever you've done… just thank you."

"Vitya, I-"

"I know you don't know Yuuri and that you detest me even breathing in San Francisco, but you still helped him. You have no idea what this means to me."

"I did not do much."

Viktor paused. "What do you mean?" It wasn't like his coach to be humble.

There was a heavy sigh, and Viktor could tell through that billow of air alone that the answer was difficult, as much for Viktor as it was for Yakov. "My reach only extends so far. I had to go to an outside source."

"Who?" Viktor readjusted the phone against his ear, nerves itching. He could hang up. Leave another question unanswered.

"It hardly matters."

Avoidance. That sparked red flags all over Viktor's brain. No hiding now. "Yakov. Who?"

"…My name carries quite the weight, but yours heaves mountains."

"I tried tha-" It clicked. As startling as a door slam and as unsettling as the signs of oncoming food poisoning roiling in his stomach. "You went to mom?!"

"Mmm," was his gravelly reply. Viktor barely heard it.

He couldn't believe it. His mother had made the call to get Yuuri immediate treatment? Within a half an hour of him begging Yakov they had been rushed in. He got a bed, his own exam room, two nurses, an intern, a doctor, the whole nine yards. The chief of emergency medicine had even been there to extend his apologies before Yuuri had donned his gown. Yakov was telling him that his mother did all of that? For a man that she had previously bribed to get away from her son? It didn't make sense.

It startled a laugh out of him. "What did you promise her to help me? My first born child?"

There was an abrupt clink of glass set against wood, the swish of ice against it. Yakov hissed in his next breath and Viktor could smell the whiskey through the phone. "Have you ever seen your mother with children?"

Viktor postured the act of remembering, because acting was far better than being sincere. "Maybe once. A long time ago. Quite the horror story… Oh yeah. That was my childhood."

"Vitya." The seriousness drew Viktor back. The hospital. Yuuri. "Is he worth this?"

Yes.

The answer was immediate in his mind. Yuuri was worth everything. Begging Yakov, his mother, for help. Worrying buttons off of his favorite trench coat. Rocking like a boat steeped in memories that were too painful to keep. Facing answers that Yuuri could use to pluck his heart out, right off the vein, rub it into a shine against his shirt and bite into it, only to discard it, leave it to rot in a wastebasket. Yuuri was worth this. Viktor had no more questions. No more doubts.

"He's my happiness." Viktor knew Yakov would know what that meant. He had happiness too, once, before reality took her away. Viktor chuckled as a tear fell. "He's my sun. The pure consciousness of him dwells within me. The smell of his hair… The taste of his skin-"

"Bah! Alright. Alright." He could see his eyes roll. Hear the chiding Vitya, you twit! Get back into form! "Enough of that. I-" Yakov gave an embarrassed, concealing cough. "Then get back to him."

The line went dead before Viktor could reply. Yakov didn't allow him a goodbye or a chance to comment on the tenderness to his voice in his last sentence.

Viktor wiped the emotion from his cheeks and readied himself to enter Yuuri's room. He cleared his throat, attempted a smile, but failed. The man that had a thousand smiles, couldn't find one for this occasion. There was a silence budding inside of him. Growing and growing, but he chose not to listen to it. He couldn't. Yuuri needed him.


Yuuri plucked and pulled at his gown. His fingers tugged against a small thread in the side, because there was nothing else to do. Because maybe if he pulled hard enough he could unravel the gown, and himself within it. Just one tug and he could undo everything, make the night disappear and vanish with it. Smoke dispersing from sight.

Yuuri still hadn't quite come out of his own personal fog yet. He didn't feel like he was inside of his own body, instead a specter merely searching for shelter. The fog was nice, though. It kept him from feeling the sting of the needle in his arm, or the dull throb beneath the bandages on his head. If he just stayed in the fog, a specter in the night, he wouldn't have to deal with the boyfriend that was staring at him through the glass of the door.

Before he could give it anymore thought, or bury himself inside the tangles of his insecurities, he gestured Viktor in. He had to face this. He'd done this to himself and now he had to face it. It wasn't going to remain something hidden as with Mari or unspoken as with Phichit. Viktor deserved his story. And the Yuuri that wasn't quite Yuuri yet was going to give it to him. If Viktor left in the face of Yuuri bare to his mucky, dirtied soul then so be it.

At least the guilt wouldn't be there anymore.

He had his knees bunched against him, chin crested on them as Viktor entered. He was balled up, an armadillo in his shell ready for any form of reprimand. Nothing came. Viktor faced him cautiously, eyes sterile of all readable emotions, a smile beneath that was filled with everything but happiness. Yuuri hated what he'd done to Viktor, despised how the man was facing him now, like he was a powder keg ready to explode. Yuuri deserved it.

Viktor stood just off the bed and the space between them finally drew words from his parched throat.

"I yelled at Minami."

"I know."

"I pushed you away."

Viktor closed his eyes to the words and Yuuri could hear his thoughts, the silence of the space forced between them. Viktor had said space but it hadn't been what Yuuri wanted. He didn't want space between them. If anything, he wanted to be magnetized to the man, every limb attached with Velcro or superglue, anything that would keep them so unbearably close that they were one and the same. A form from the same mold, completely eclipsed in so much anti-space that they would surely be sick of each other. But Yuri was right. Yuuri was ruining Viktor, keeping him from his world, his dreams. Yuuri didn't want that, so he thought that the distance would grant them clarity.

All it did was lead them to this.

"…I know."

"I made such an ass of myself. I made you rescue me. How pathetic is that? I went and got drunk instead of dealing with my problems. I can't even believe-" A gasp tumbled out and Yuuri watched as his tears blotted the sheets. His eyes hurt from all of the tears previously shed as he'd laid there feeling sorry for himself. He didn't want them, would take anything but this. Yuuri gouged his palms into his eyes and attempted to curl away, burrow back into himself because who was he kidding? He couldn't tell his story. Let Viktor leave. Let them end with some form of what they were still in place. He could have his dignity and Viktor could have his career.

The end.

They lived ever after. Who needed happiness?

His hands, shoving pain and blackness into his eyes to stem off his god-awful sobbing, were pulled from him and Viktor was in his space, simply loitering there, staring at him with so much feeling that Yuuri didn't think he'd ever seen so much expressed on the other man before. "I'm right here, Yuuri."

Something in Yuuri snapped, because that was exactly what he needed to hear. Yuuri cried with renewed vigor, slouched down in Viktor's arms, hiding his face as he rested his forehead on Viktor's chest. Viktor sat beside him, holding his head to him and stayed. Yuuri could feel Viktor's own tears drip into his hair, huffs of gasped air heating his ear.

When they'd calmed, they sat beside each other, resolutely not touching. Yuuri wasn't sure he could get everything out if he felt Viktor around him. He could just say everything to the openness of the room. Like saying it to the ocean, open and limitless before him. Promising everything and nothing.

"You have a concussion." Viktor said it as if it were an accusation, cutting into Yuuri with a lacerating glance. As if he wasn't broken open enough.

"A concussion and a minor neck contusion," Yuuri rattled off, hardly concerned. He was lucky. He had no brain bleeds, no noticeable neurological damage. His spine appeared unbothered. The banana bag, as the nurse had called it, was nursing the hangover instead of him. His vomiting had ceased for the time being. He could have woken up vomiting inside some random person's bed. Or, not even woken up at all.

"This is serious," and Viktor's tone said it all, shaken and still full of pent up emotion that Viktor held back by a thread. Yuuri felt like the needle. "I… I could have lost you."

Yuuri smiled, tired and more obligatory than he meant. He stopped himself from saying that he knew. He didn't know. He had terrified Viktor, and Yuuri couldn't know what it felt like to watch someone you care for self-destruct before you and get knocked out because of it. Viktor looked ready to catch him, hold him down, as if he was still going to vanish at any moment. Balloon up and drift out of reach.

Maybe he would.

He drew himself inwards again, fiddling with that same thread as he pinched his lips between his teeth. "I'm sorry. That guy was going to hit you and I did what I thought was right… Well, I just acted. Thinking was a bit beyond me at the time." Yuuri scratched at his cheek and caught Viktor watching him, staring at him like that was the last time he would ever see him do such a thing.

"I wanted to punch his face in." There was fury broiled into the words, but Viktor said it with that same coolness that Yuuri could see in every smile of his plastered on the internet.

"How gallant of you," Yuuri deadpanned. It would have been the last thing Yuuri wanted of Viktor. He could still feel the man's hands within his shirt, his breath being cut short with the restriction around his neck, the panic of Drunk-Yuuri. Of course Yuuri wanted Viktor, but not in a bloody brawl.

Viktor must have sensed his distaste. "Hmmm, I'm not so certain of that. I probably would have broken my fist on his face."

"Well, I hope my face did a number on him then." It got Viktor to crack a smile, and that, Yuuri figured, was the least he could do. "Maybe my jaw broke a knuckle or something." At least before readying to drop bombshells on him.

Yuuri cushioned the blow before it came. He tugged on Viktor's damp pant leg, urging him closer with silent, insistent hands and Viktor obediently situated himself further in on the bed. Yuuri took Viktor's hands, clammy and cold, but so, so right, and cradled them in his right hand on his lap. His left hand took Viktor's cheek, turned the man's still sanitized gaze to him until it could soften upon meeting his own very apologetic, but readied gaze.

"You've seen what happens when I get overwhelmed. I freak. I hide. Sometimes I can't breathe and I call up my sister, talk to her until I can again. But sometimes, when I really can't handle something, when it folds me inside and out until I can't face myself anymore, I go out and get smashed. I get so sick of myself that I rely on the me that even I can like."

"Drunk-Yuuri," Viktor replied and while Yuuri was glad that Viktor understood where he was going, he pressed a finger to Viktor's lips. If he didn't get it out now, he wouldn't.

"But I do such reckless things when I really lose it. I almost got arrested one night. My drunken sniveling was the only thing that saved me. Another time I almost drove myself and a group of complete strangers into the ocean. There are many nights I don't even remember. Where I woke up in the back of a club or a tree at the park or… in someone else's bed."

He couldn't hold Viktor's gaze anymore, hadn't been able to since he'd started the list. Yuuri heard Viktor say his name, permitting him to stop. Whether it was for Yuuri's sake or Viktor's he didn't know. Didn't want to.

"I'd like to say that what happened tonight is new. That that person isn't me and that I'm not usually tangled up with random people, but… That would be a lie." Yuuri looked up, caught the troubled look in Viktor's eyes, waves of the sea choppy and stormy within. Viktor would know. All too well. Yuuri's finger drifted off of Viktor's lip, falling into the pile of their hands. "I don't want to lie to you."

"Then don't."


Viktor waited. The answers stung, like wasps nesting in his insides. He knew it would hurt, but he had underestimated how the truth would affect him.

Mostly he hurt for Yuuri. Viktor was an expert at hiding himself, and he knew the lengths one could go to do so. Yuuri… he'd been through liquored hell just trying to find a better version of himself. To slip on a costume that he could become.

Yuuri's secrets came charbroiled and served to him like an all you can eat buffet. Each plate was harder to stomach than the last, shoving him closer to the full stomach nausea that only a good vomit could cure. Currently he was hearing about Yuuri's first time, another moment stolen from Yuuri by alcohol and the reality of blackouts.

"I didn't say anything. I was too shocked. Ashamed. Disgusted. Whatever word you want to use. I woke up with this girl at her place. I didn't remember going there. I looked over at her and I didn't even remember her and I felt so bad. For her. For myself. It was my first… I mean, the first time's supposed to matter. It's supposed to have meaning and I ruined that. I left, too. Horrible," Yuuri said to himself, at himself. He tried to pull his hands away, but Viktor tugged them back between them. He was holding on to this Yuuri. To every Yuuri that ever existed. "Didn't say anything. Didn't wake her. Didn't leave a note. Just left her with a used condom in a trash can and an experience she probably wouldn't even want to remember."

Viktor let his logic win over emotion, and it stumbled up over the vomit. "You were scared and too busy mentally dealing with the situation to handle pleasantries. Besides, it's not like you're the first to have a drunken mistake for a first time." His lopsided grin was supposed to be comforting. It said what it needed to say as his first time was hardly something Russia's Darling would have been proud to proclaim to the world. But he understood the betrayal festering in Yuuri's features. At least Viktor remembered his first time, even if at times he really wished he didn't. At least he knew that he had wanted the event to occur, all permissions given and proper precautions taken. At least he knew who he slept with.

"Phichit caught me once," Yuuri countered, chin out and almost proud like he had to prove that what he'd done was worth the shame he carried on himself. Viktor wished he wouldn't. "I woke up at home only to hear from my very perturbed, very unsettled best friend that he'd dragged me home after he caught me in the alley behind Spritz with some guy in my mouth, another guy getting off on the sight." Yuuri flinched, looked about ready to heave up his own insides as his lips curled, suppressing the gag behind them. This time Viktor did pull away, just to get Yuuri the sick bin - he'd all but corked off his own emotions at that point, slipping on his trusty coat of apathy over his shoulders - but Yuuri blindly slapped it to the floor. "Who knows what would have happened if Phichit hadn't intervened."

"You would have been fine." A pretty thought. A nicety people said to push unpleasant things away. A 'move on now, nothing to see here' and Viktor was appalled that it had come from his mouth. He didn't want to think of the what ifs had Phichit, bless his soul, not shown up when he had.

As if in apology, Viktor moved, thumbed away the tears, ruffled Yuuri's bangs up out of the thick wrap circling his head. He kept himself carefully controlled. His movements were slow enough to keep from startling, but quick enough so Yuuri couldn't notice the trembling. He didn't touch too gently or too harshly. There was a purpose behind everything he did but it was all just an excuse to feel Yuuri. To have him under his hands, safe with him. He could feel Yuuri, beneath his lungs, another piece of his anatomy. Some rebel piece of himself that he could not control, but was beyond infatuated with. Needed in order to breathe and live and be.

"I have no words, Yuuri. Nothing to match or console or comfort you with. This is all I can give." Viktor pressed a kiss to the side of his head, gently, like a secret. He wasn't rejecting him or ignoring his past. There was acceptance, care, given in every act. Viktor wasn't sure of a lot of things - some days he would readily accept that his head was full of air as his coach grumbled on the sidelines - but he was sure of his feelings for Yuuri.

Yuuri gaped and Viktor was ready for some barbed comment, a self-deprecating remark meant to push Viktor away again, but he was met with something much more heartbreaking.

"You don't find me revolting now?"

His tiny voice, brittle as a newborn bird's bones, shattered Viktor's heart more than any recollection Yuuri had shared that night. There was a cracking in his chest, and Viktor thought of the time he furiously through a rock at Happiness, how it had bounced off the window, but left a spider web of cracks in its wake.

He pulled Yuuri in, hands obsessively roaming over his neck, fingers purposely lingering on the swollen lumps from the belt as if saying, Yes, I know what you've done, I don't like it, but I accept that it happened, I accept you, and licked him.

"Viktor!" Yuuri shrieked, barely concealing the laugh that Viktor wanted to take to his grave, his one lone prized possession to accompany him to the afterlife.

Viktor pressed on, licking at the tear tracks beneath his eyes, over round cheeks, down the slope of his nose, across the jut of his jaw beneath his ear where Yuuri always, without fail, let out a snort-giggle that Viktor found adorable. Nothing changed between them and that was how Viktor phrased it. They were the same. Just as they were at the bakery before lunch with Yuri. As they were in his parents' kitchen.

They were as they always would be.

"What are you doing?"

"Licking your tears." Yuuri pushed at his chest weakly, no real muscle behind the action, but Viktor stopped all the same. "I thought it would be romantic."

"What is with this fixation you have with licking my face?" Yuuri shook his head at him, face screwed up as he wiped at the saliva that decimated the sorrow it covered.

Viktor went in for another kiss. How could he not kiss that face? A hand nabbed his nose and shoved him away again.

"Get away. I'm all pukey and sweaty and greasy and gross."

Viktor sat forward, taking in a big long whiff of Yuuri's hair before he let it out in a sigh with bliss on his features. "Ah, delicious." He leaned back to find the most weirded out stare he'd ever been faced with. "What?"

"I'm too grossed out to be flattered."

But they were both laughing. Viktor could see that smile again, this time of a thousand sunflowers with millions of petals. He could feel it on his own face, a garden in Eden.

Chapter Text

Yuuri felt tremors teasing their way through his brain. It was as if a mole had made his head its playground and was scrabbling this way and that between his temples. He had woken up to the feeling and allowed himself to lay with it, didn't complain, didn't seek assistance for more medication to exterminate the little critter. He laid there, quiet, musing. The pain kept him focused.

Viktor sat to his side. He had snatched one of the extra coloring books from the pediatric ward, idly doodled through it with broken crayons while he pretended to not pay attention to any more of Yuuri's tests and nurse check ins. Viktor gave him the illusion of privacy, while still maintaining a sense of presence. Yuuri was most appreciative of it.

Viktor must have fallen asleep while Yuuri had been conked out on pain meds. He sat half sprawled on top of Yuuri's legs, a pink crayon caught under his lower lip as he drooled into his pilfered coloring book. Yuuri's lips curled into a smile and he brushed some of the drooped bangs from Viktor's serene expression.

Yuuri laid back and enjoyed the small amount of time to himself. He blinked lazily, unsticking his lashes with a probing finger, digging out the crust of newly revealed secrets. The movement caused the needle in his arm to tug painfully. As he adjusted the tubes to grant him freer range of motion, the constriction of his gown and the heaviness of Viktor on his legs drew a weary sigh out of Yuuri. He slumped against the bed, gave the monitor to his left a dirty look. He couldn't help but feel caged. Trapped inside the room, inside his bed, inside his body.

Yuuri felt like running. He felt like screaming. Tearing himself out so he could do something more. Be something more.

It was like being stuck in a room with the doors and windows nailed shut and all he could do was sit and stare. Too terrified to scream or cry or scrape his nails against the walls until they bled.

Everything just felt so small. Suffocating. Like a coffin buried in the earth. A car sunken into the depths of the ocean. There was no sound. Just darkness.

He was back to being that little boy hidden in the back of a closet.

The rustle of a tree branch against his window drew Yuuri's attention. Behind a pane of glass laid the outside world, alive with air and possibilities. Rain still dribbled from the sky, the last vestiges of the passing storm. The usual fog was nothing but a fine mist obscuring the edges of the city. Buildings surfaced through the whiteness like cracked teeth against a smooth sky. Trolley tracks scrawled their way up the hills and into the stretch of lights that went on forever, glittering into the sea, a broken kaleidoscope of colors that never truly stilled. The Golden Gate was a smudge in the background, an ever-present, always enduring guardian.

Taking in the sight of his home calmed Yuuri and he felt less like an ant caught in a jar. The world was immense, and he was a part of it. As himself, as Yuuri, he could face it. Yuuri clamped a hand on Viktor's as it laid slack against his blankets, a solid, sure weight, and watched the rain dance streaks across the glass.


"So what do we do now?" Yuuri asked, and he couldn't handle the silence as Viktor watched him. He focused on their bodies, curled together on a bed made to fit one. On Viktor's hand on his hip, grip firm in the fibers of his hospital gown. On the other hand that was in Yuuri's hair, fingers sifting through the strands as though they were the pages of a well-loved novel. His gaze was solid, locking Yuuri in space and time. Viktor would say his name, in the quiet of the room, just a low rumble of "Yuuri." The way his lips caressed his name, like it was somehow special, too precious to mishandle, pulled Yuuri in closer. Viktor had his own gravity designed to yank Yuuri into his orbit.

"Viktor?"

As pleasant as it felt to be fawned over, as much as Yuuri wanted to sink into the soft cushion of nothingness Viktor provided him, they still had words buried inside of them. Yuuri wanted to unearth it all, right then. Yank it all out so there was nothing left. Yuuri had to know where this left them. What roads were still open to them? Were they still walking down the same path?

"Hmm?" Viktor answered, lazy and slow, still caught in the warm caress of half-sleep.

Yuuri grumbled, not quite annoyed. Viktor looked far too at peace for Yuuri to be annoyed. "Viktor." His name held purpose in his mouth, and he pulled Viktor's hands from their baseless meandering until Viktor's eyes filled with clarity. "What now?"

His answer was quick, accompanied by a lighthearted glint to his eye. "We move forward."

Yuuri snorted, shoving an elbow in his direction. "Yeah, but how?"

"Does it matter?"

Yuuri was about to snap back that of course it mattered, but it really didn't. They didn't need a carefully crafted plan of how to continue after they left the hospital. Of how to be together. They could take things as they came. Just like this. They could handle it. Yuuri could handle it.

"Don't you have any questions?" Yuuri left the door wide open, inviting any and all inside his head, ready to bare more of his heart to the man that had already skinned it of nearly all of its meat.

The question ruminated over Viktor's face, and he looked about ready to decline, but then mischievousness twisted his lips. Yuuri felt sparks of dread light up his nerves. "Why were you almost arrested?"

The sparks roared into an all-out fire that inflamed Yuuri's cheeks. Viktor was already grinning, and Yuuri knew that his face gave away just how embarrassing his answer was. It wasn't even for something good, or righteous, or hilarious. It just highlighted his dorkiness even when drunk. Puffing out his cheeks, Yuuri spoke through his puckered lips pushed out to the side. It distorted his words, but not enough. "It was going to be attempted theft…"

"You were stealing something?!"

"Borrowing!" Yuuri defended with fierce indignation, shoving a hand over Viktor's mouth as he continued in a hiss. "I was only borrowing it!"

Viktor snorted into his palm, briefly looking away when Yuuri's hands left him. "Borrowing what?"

"It was so pretty, Viktor." Yuuri could feel his expression melt into dreaminess as his vague memories stitched back together. The memory of that night was never something certain enough that he could grasp, a handhold that would crumble at the first tug of true weight, but Yuuri could remember this just fine. "I'd wanted one forever and it was right there, all gorgeous in cobalt blue with five speeds and a five quart bowl. It had so many attachments that I couldn't stop my fingers from dancing over them, the beater, the whisk, the dough hook, and there were accessories! Like a spiralizer and a juicer. I had only used high grade commercial mixers before, but this one could have been mine in my kitchen and I wanted it. I've had a picture of it pinned to my wall since I was like thirteen. I just-" Yuuri stopped just as stuttered laugher poked out from behind Viktor's hand that was clamped over his mouth. It was obvious how hard he was trying not to laugh, his eyes pinched shut as his body practically convulsed. "It's not that funny."

"You tried to steal a mixer?" Viktor laughed out, still attempting to scarf his amusement back down his throat.

"Borrow! I was borrowing the mixer."

Viktor ducked his head beneath Yuuri's chin, smothering his cackles into his pulse. "That is so like you."

"I could have been arrested." Yuuri pouted, ignoring the way Viktor's breathy laughter tickled his throat. "It would have gone on my record and I would have been a criminal if I hadn't started bawling on the security guard and begging and pleading with him."

"Well I shoplifted and I didn't have the excuse of being drunk," Viktor replied, surfacing with a shrug.

"What?"

Viktor gave a wink, hand suggestively sweeping across Yuuri's hip. "I stole some edible panties."

"What?!" Yuuri squeaked.

"Chris and I were roped into this scavenger hunt thing at some celebratory party for another skater," Viktor swished his hand out over Yuuri's head in some vague gesture like the story was only made good by the punchline. "It doesn't matter. Point is, don't sicken yourself over it. You didn't even successfully 'borrow' it, you were drunk, and you obviously feel hideously guilty over it. It's not like you would have normally done it. I'm sure the officer saw that, too."

Yuuri could feel corpse-cold accusation sink into his eyes. "How would you know?" The words came out mean, stabbed out in a quick slice that questioned the foundation of not only Yuuri's character, but how well Viktor knew it.

Viktor didn't take offense, but shock did reverberate over his expression. "Excuse me?"

"How do you know that I wouldn't normally have done it? How do you know that I'm not really the sort of person who would steal and-"

This time it was Viktor's turn to silence Yuuri. He did it with a forceful kiss, an abrupt push of lips that trembled Yuuri until they peeled apart. "What do you really remember?" Viktor whispered, and their faces were mere centimeters apart, Viktor's words drifting along Yuuri's lips. Spoken into him. "Not what you think you did, not how you feel about yourself, but what do you remember?"

Yuuri shivered against the thoughts that peeled off of his brain and the steady shift in the air. He focused on the drill marring the back of his skull. The needle stabbing deeper into his arm. The pinch of the stitches in his cheek. The pain centered his thoughts. "I suppose they would be more like brownouts than blackouts, since I remember flashes, rather than nothing sometimes." Sometimes when he thought about it, really thought about it, he could still feel everything, the moments still alive, breathing against him. Mortification tore into him and he shook his head against himself. He knew, knew, that that wasn't him, but he did those things. He did those things. "I would never do something like that normally, I just…" Yuuri slammed his head back down on his pillow, ignoring Viktor's observing eyes, face hidden in the wrinkles of the sterile white pillow case. There was no good excuse. He couldn't keep hiding behind Drunk-Yuuri. Drunk-Yuuri was him, just let loose and free of inhibition. Yuuri was the body, the brain, the soul.

The kid cowering in the closet.

His eyes clenched shut. The clock ticked in the corner. The muted television buzzed. Rain smacked against the glass.

Viktor's hand fell along the column of his throat, palm resting there. Yuuri could feel their heartbeats, pulsing together.

"What do you remember?"

"I remember people. Faceless, nowhere people." Yuuri licked his lip into his mouth, rolling it between his teeth. "Flashes. A clatter of keys. Catching them. Laughter. I thought I was okay to drive… I was more sober than the rest of them… at least that's what he said… I think he owned the car…" There was a break in his thoughts and different nights, many forgetting sessions, blended together. "We were bar-hopping. Phichit was missing. No. He had exams. Went home. The rest of us danced to music in the park. The sprinklers came on." That was the most vivid part, the sprinklers. Not the people. Not the music. There was the shock of cold water splatting his face. The hiss as the sprinklers came to life. The shrieks and everyone scattering. The wet earthy smell that clung to him until the next day. "We hid in the trees… I remember puking and not seeing where it went." Yuuri paused. He could feel a hand in his, rough, fingers tipped with the callouses of a musician, her nails painted green, or were they purple? No, he was remembering the guy's hair. The guy that he…

"Yuuri? What else?" Viktor teased his way into Yuuri's mind. Yuuri didn't give thought as to why Viktor wanted to know or why he was pushing so much. Yuuri had been the one to open the door. It was his fault.

"We went out to get fresh air. Dizzy. My feet hurt. One of the guys was… A sigh whistled through his teeth. He sat against the dumpster. Offered me his lap. It stank of stale pizza and decomposing trash. The other guy caressed my face. I couldn't see his face, just checkered pants. Everyone looks the same… Faceless… I swerved and I couldn't breathe. I froze. My foot hit the brake so hard my toes were numb… We stood outside the car. Staring. The water was calm, but it looked… menacing. Then we laughed. Uneasy. We just left the car. Walked away. I don't know if he ever went back for it… We were at the store… The girl with peridot eyes, or maybe that was her jacket… She wanted food. Nachos. They cracked and smacked and smelled like jalapenos. We wandered. A different store… I think? There was the mixer." Yuuri felt the smile on his face, wide and big-cheeked. "I remember raving about it to the girl as she munched on nachos. I even… I rubbed my face on it, hugged it, like I could somehow claim it, mark it mine. I told her about it on my wall at home. Staring at it when I went to sleep because it was a dream to own one… I wouldn't leave it… Her eyes rolled… I could hear her voice telling me that if I wanted it so badly, I should just take it." Yuuri opened his eyes and looked back at Viktor who was still staring. Not blinking. Head propped up on his hand. "But that would be stealing, you know? She suggested I just borrow it, and I vaguely remember thinking that that was the BEST idea…"

Viktor's brow bent, kneeling to Yuuri to urge him to finish.

Yuuri scrunched up his face. "Obviously it was not the best idea. I blubbered all over the police officer. I remember getting snot on his badge. I don't know why he let me go. Probably felt sorry for me."

"Where did the girl go?"

Yuuri tilted his head in thought, then flinched. The angle caused the bandage to tug and constrict against his wound. "I don't know…" It bothered him. More than it ever had before. Where did the girl go? The one with the cool colored eyes or jacket. Not the girl with the guitar hands or the guy with the purple hair or the guy with the checkered pants. The more he thought about her, her nacho breath and her upturned nose, the vaguer she became. Yuuri didn't want to think about her anymore. "Does it matter? I tried to steal a household appliance and you want to know what happened to the girl I was with?" He could hear himself getting worked up. Why was he doing this again? Remembering never helped him. He was never able to remember anything worthwhile or satisfying. It all wound into some bad trip that he wanted to keep locked in the back of his head. He could hide it all away. Because then he wouldn't have to face any of it. He wouldn't have to see himself, concentrated down into who he truly was.

"Yuuri. That wasn't you." Yuuri's eyes popped free from the clenched blackness, seeing Viktor's ever clear gaze. It was like he had read his mind, saw his thoughts and Yuuri tried to pull himself away because it was enough to see everything for himself. He didn't need Viktor rummaging around inside of him, too. Viktor scrambled for him, caught him by the forearms before he could flee right off the bed. "You can't carry this on you like this. It's tearing you apart."

Yuuri remained twisted, legs dangling towards the floor as he wanted to leave, though he didn't fight off the hold that kept him facing Viktor. "That wasn't me?" Yuuri didn't like this. Staring into the sea of Viktor's eyes was like staring into his present and his past. He was being forced to face his unwavering reflection. Yuuri didn't want to see who he was. "I did those things. Not some other me. Just me while blackout drunk. Drinking is not a reason. It's just an excuse."

"To some extent, sure. But Yuuri, drinking impairs judgement. Alcohol can't make you do things you're truly morally opposed to, but it can make them seem more okay. It makes them seem a little more harmless." Viktor gave a breathless half-laugh, thumb drifting soothingly along the skin of Yuuri's arm. "Especially if you're only planning on borrowing something, not stealing it."

Yuuri gave a frustrated whine and yanked himself from Viktor's grip to dive under his pillow, replying with a muffled, "Not funny," as Viktor's laughing increased.

It wasn't long before Viktor unburied Yuuri, tugging the pillow from his weak grip. Tossing the pillow aside, Viktor held his face, fingers clipped beneath the edges of his jaw. His expression slackened with soft sweetness, concern a weight at its edges. "And… alcohol makes you more pliable, more apt to suggestion. Yuuri, you… didn't think of taking that mixer yourself… You were probably taken advantage of… during other incidents as well."

Yuuri didn't agree. It didn't sit right with him. He still did those things. Suggested or not. And what if he was remembering wrong? What if even his subconscious was trying to absolve him of the guilt?

"I think that until you… Until we work out some of your deeper issues you should abstain from drinking for a while, okay? This is more a self-esteem problem than a drinking problem, but we'll get to that eventually."

"We?" was the word that jumped free from the many swirling around inside of him. We? This was Yuuri's problem, not Viktor's. Viktor didn't need Yuuri dragging him down any more than he already was.

"Of course, we. Come to me, Yuuri. I know you now. I know your past. Nothing will surprise me. Just trust me." Viktor filled his space again, and it was like this time Viktor was entering his orbit. Without a pull. Without invitation. His hand rested on those welts that felt like distant scars. "Come to me when you're out of sorts about anything. I want to be there for you. Okay?"

"I'll think about it."

"I think you should also tell Mari. Keeping things like this from her isn't protecting her. You're only making yourself feel guiltier by hiding this from someone you love and care about. I can see it on you. When you talk about not telling Mari and Phichit."

"Maybe." He wasn't ready to think about Mari or Phichit yet. Talking like this to Viktor was all he felt capable of. Right then, he just wanted to remain in the hospital room, with Viktor, even if the windows and doors were nailed shut.

But he wasn't supposed to be hiding anymore.

He wasn't tiptoeing around anything anymore. Least of all himself. "I asked to do an STI screening, too. With all the other tests…" Yuuri looked down, throat tight. But Viktor tilted his chin up. A proud smile was not what he expected to be met with. "Just in case."

"You know what? I think I'll get one done, too. You can never be too safe, right?" Instead of distancing himself as Yuuri was sure he would do, he nuzzled their noses and Yuuri felt tears flooding the backs of his eyes again.

"What really drove you to drinking this time? Just usual stress, or…?"

Yuuri blinked. There were a lot of answers, and many ways to phrase them, to gussy them up, make them prettier, easier to hear, or to cleave all of the unnecessary dressings away, make the answers honest and raw. None of them seemed right. "I got overwhelmed. Thinking about things. Remembering things. I wanted to scream, but I held it in. I guess this is the outcome."

Viktor nodded, expression vague, eyes briefly flittering like he was filing the answer away. "Remembering… stuff like what you just told me… or…?"

Now it was Viktor's turn to tiptoe. It touched Yuuri, how careful Viktor was trying to be with him. Viktor wasn't treating him like a doll that might break. He was just handling him with caution because he cared for him.

"Yuuri? What were you thinking about?"

Yuri's outraged face came to mind, with his butchering words.

Viktor in the bakery, reaching for Yuuri, face destroyed by devastation.

Viktor trying to understand and just not getting it.

Someone sitting on his chest. Knees in his collarbone. The smell of sizzling flesh.

No. It was better if he focused on Drunk-Yuuri. Somehow, that was less painful now.

"Just the hazy memories. Sometimes it doesn't even seem like they are my own. Like it all happened to someone else. But the more I reflected, the more I started facing myself and what I'd done before, the more things fell together. Incidents became clearer and I felt even worse about myself, so I just chose to push it all away again."

"Why did you decide to reflect so much?"

Yuuri leaned into the man, reaching for that vast nothingness to envelop them again, swallow them whole. He mouthed the words against Viktor's lips, "I wanted to remember… my time with you," and swallowed his touched gasp.

They melted into each other. Viktor ate at him slowly, parried only by the burning desire that devoured him as he chased Viktor's tongue back into his mouth. Viktor's hands blindly found Yuuri's hips, pulling them more firmly into each other. Yuuri groaned into the anti-space he had been craving, finding solace in every bare connection he had with the man. His cold feet slipped between Viktor's socked ones, ankles tangled beneath scratchy sheets. Yuuri pushed the blankets away because he was too hot to be smothered by them, but at the same time he sought out Viktor's warmth, the only warmth he needed and ever wanted.

Viktor went back to uttering his name between gasps and kisses and nips. Yuuri didn't know what to do with his hands as they traveled to muss through Viktor's rain-curled hair, over his ears and down as he drew his nails through the fine hairs on the back of his neck and into the fibers of his sweater-clad back. Viktor's answering whine sang through Yuuri, left his body buzzing like he was some kind of hive. Yuuri's fingers dipped down into the V of Viktor's sweater, fingers arcing a delicate sweep across his newly found collarbone just as Viktor's hand ventured down from Yuuri's hip and up beneath his gown, to rest and hold the curve of Yuuri's bare thigh. The simple, quiet touch enflamed every inch of Yuuri's skin and Yuuri wanted him. Yuuri wanted the whole of Viktor, every rapid intake of breath, the curl of his fingers. He wanted to feel nothing but him.

Yuuri opened his eyes and met Viktor's fevered gaze, recognizing the same unbridled want idling within his swelling pupils. It was daunting to find that this stunning, talented, sweet, sweet man became a panting mess over Yuuri. Yuuri of all people. He couldn't help but marvel over the flutter of silver lashes, ocean colored eyes, his strong, sculpted face, and the muscles that his fingers groped beneath Viktor's sweater. Yuuri attempted to disengage their mouths, though Viktor was intent to hold onto his lip, teasing it between his teeth as Yuuri spoke.

"Kami-sama, you are so fucking pretty."

Viktor's breath hitched, and he hiked Yuuri up until they were no longer laying side by side, but on their knees, pressed into each other. The movement was so fast that Yuuri's head spun, or maybe that was the dizziness that hadn't quite left him. Viktor kept ahold of him, steadied him until he was in Viktor's lap. The change in position sunk Yuuri's mouth more into Viktor's, tongue going tonsil deep. Yuuri just kept kissing him, seeking safety, answers, finding miracles and perfection in his lips.

The open palms of Viktor's hands bled warmth into Yuuri. They were on his sides, grasping, seizing, but Yuuri felt the warmth dip into his belly and settle in his groin. With how close they were pressed, he was sure Viktor could feel his desire. Settling a useless hand on Viktor's shoulder, Yuuri tried to readjust. All he succeeded in doing was finding Viktor's own desire with his shifting knee. Viktor was surprisingly loud with his gratification, so Yuuri shushed him with his lips. Viktor understood, quieting, but kissing him so hard Yuuri nearly fell backward. If not for the possessive grip holding him, he would have.

Viktor paused. It was so sudden that it jarred Yuuri's mind into realizing their position. He was about to question what was wrong, if he'd done something wrong, until he tasted blood. Yuuri short-circuited briefly, and then scrambled for the tissue box beside his bed. He had barely noticed the stinging of his lip, too content in his world with Viktor. In their fevered ardor they'd apparently broken open the wound on his lip. Yuuri shoved tissues against it, working to stem the flow.

Viktor was cracking up again. His face was screwed up, soured like he'd just swallowed a lemon. Yuuri would have hit him if he hadn't been too appalled by the nauseating amount of blood trailing down Viktor's chin.

"I think I just ate your scab."

Oh my god. Yuuri's eyes grew huge, his tissue paper covered mouth agape. He didn't think he could disgust or humiliate himself any more than in this moment. "Okay. That's it. I'm never kissing you again." He retreated back to his pillow, snatching it up from where it'd been thrown to the floor and barricading his head beneath it. He didn't care if his lip was still open and he was bleeding into the sheets. He was never coming out.

"Yuuri…" Viktor tugged on his gown, but Yuuri kept his head buried beneath his pillow, like a crab seeking shelter beneath a rock, only Yuuri just wanted to curl up and die. His boyfriend just swallowed his scab. He could cross that off the list of things he never wanted to have happen in his life. "Come on, Yuuri. It's not that big of a deal." He could hear the shuffle of Viktor's clothes, the shff of tissue paper as it was drawn from the box and dabbed against Viktor's skin. "Fine. I guess I'll have to take advantage of the rest of you," Viktor said, a note of sly suggestion in his tone.

Yuuri stiffened, wary all the way down to his calves. "What does that mean?"

Yuuri jolted as he felt a tongue weaving its way down his neck, right at his most sensitive tickle spot, at the edge of the gentle slope of muscle atop his shoulder. He bunched his shoulders up, hiding his neck away and biting back laughter. He most certainly wouldn't laugh because this was not funny. Viktor continued on, undeterred. There was a soft squish of suction against his Adam's apple. Yuuri made no sound. It hummed within him, building, wanting. Fingers tugged at his gown, exposing a fair shoulder that was kissed and pinched tenderly between teeth. Following the line of his gown, Viktor licked across the patch of exposed chest, down to the edges of the blue outline. Yuuri squirmed. He wouldn't laugh. He wouldn't let out his pleased sigh even as Viktor's all too sinful mouth sucked impressions into his collarbone, as teeth broke capillaries in his neck, arm, wrist. Viktor's teeth teased along the veins twisting around his wrist. His tongue weaved along the creases of his palm, moving along to suck on every finger, stopping to twist his tongue around the bend of every knuckle.

While this was one of Viktor's spur of the moment ideas, Yuuri imagined that it was all very methodically planned out, the placement of his tongue, every tooth. Yuuri could feel the heaviness of his own breath beaten back against his face. His earlier yearning built, as painful as a physical ailment. This was not fair.

Yuuri twitched, to move against Viktor, to stop this maddening assault, or maybe heighten it, but Yuuri got the feeling that that would be as good as admitting defeat.

Yuuri breathed out, affecting composure. "Are you trying to bathe me in your saliva?" Yuuri asked, even as he knew it would egg the man on. Phichit always joked that he was a glutton for punishment.

"It's better than me bathing in your blood," Viktor replied, injecting some levity into the moment.

"Ulgh," Yuuri groaned into the mattress.

"Too soon?"

"You're such a jerk."

"But I'm your jerk."

Viktor went quiet. All points of contact lifted and Yuuri was left to wonder as his skin dried in the cold ventilated air of the hospital room. "Viktor?" He didn't respond and Yuuri snapped his tongue off of the roof of his mouth as he came out to see what idiotic thing Viktor was doing now. He had just surfaced, squinting through the warm sunlight that prismed through his window, when Viktor pressed a startling kiss to his big toe.

Yuuri barely resisted his automatic reaction of kicking his foot. It was too bad. He kind of wanted to kick Viktor in the face now. "My feet? You- What- What the hell are you kissing my feet for?"

Viktor's smirk was devilishly lascivious, and though Yuuri was repulsed by the thought of someone so close to his feet, he couldn't help how that look accompanied by the languid massage the man was giving to the arch of his foot tingled through every vein in his body. "What? I can't savor this part of you, too?"

Yuuri shivered at the huskiness to his voice. A soft rumble, almost a growl. It stole the humor from him. "You're serious," Yuuri rasped. It was not revulsion lumping in his throat.

"Deadly." With that, Viktor carried on, gently biting a line down the side of his foot, mouthing at his ankles. The steady, torturous drag of his tongue along the ripple of his twitching skin was joined by puffs of molten hot breath. Yuuri found it both incredibly weird, and unbelievably hot.

Viktor looked at him, kissing the salt of dry sand that lingered there, suddenly confused. "Please tell me you were at the beach or something earlier."

Like that, the spell broke, and Yuuri giggled loudly. "Yes. Do I want to know what else you were imagining?"

"Probably not." He went back to lazily rubbing against Yuuri's toe joints as his gaze refocused on Yuuri's face. "Is your lip okay?"

Viktor was poised perfect. The crafted celebrity, like he hadn't been salivating over Yuuri's feet moments before. The devotion was still there, in his lazed smile, his palm on Yuuri's calf.

Yuuri reached for Viktor, pulling him back up to his side and shrinking down into his chest, ear over the lullaby beat. "Much better now."


Night stretched its breath across the sky, blowing out the light of day slowly until it was just a shimmer cradled by the ocean. The air was quiet, stiff and back to a balmy dryness that had been present before the spike in heat. The sky was smeared with clouds of a bruised purple and blue, just as battered by the storm as the people beneath them.

Yuuri didn't get a chance to take in much of it. They left the hospital like a chaotic whirlwind. Once everything was signed and decided, Viktor took his hand and never broke contact. He ran, tugging a groggy Yuuri around by the edges of his fingers.

"Where are we going?" Yuuri asked, above the roar of whooshing cars and the clacks of passerby shoes. His own shoes felt loose, full of sand and Drunk-Yuuri's mistakes. Everything was bright through Yuuri's eyes, and he wondered if running around town, peeling around corners, and getting a three – two – one jump into the open side of the moving cable car was exactly what the doctor meant by strenuous situations. Yuuri was supposed to avoid those.

But Viktor looked giddy. Legs swift with excitement, smile a juvenile kind of innocent. The heady seriousness of the previous night's examinations, their morning talks, the final afternoon check-up, lifted and left this mysterious childishness that pulled Yuuri in by the shoulder, tucking him into Viktor's side, beneath his coat, and they watched the scenery pass by. Viktor twisted their fingers together, one hand meeting his behind Viktor's back, the other in Yuuri's lap. His chin whispered atop Yuuri's head, lingering over the slight dip of his skull.

"You'll see."

It wasn't until they were standing on top of the highest building, on top of the city, the world, that before felt so big, so outside of him, that Viktor explained.

"I got permission from security," Viktor started, kicking the metal door shut behind them. The hinges gave a shy cry, before a metallic bang resounded, knocking in Yuuri's ears. "Nobody really uses the top floors apparently, so… we shouldn't be heard." He looked at Yuuri, who glanced back with eyes narrowed. The roof was empty, littered with styrofoam cups and cigarette butts. Otherwise, nothing but the sounds of the city's lifeblood echoing off the nearest buildings existed up there. Viktor strut himself over to the edge and threw out his arms, embracing everything in sight. The buildings and water and sky beyond. The tiny cars and shuffling people below. He turned to Yuuri, who was busy studying the scant amount of space between Viktor's shoes and the edge. "Scream as loud and as long as you want. Well… they gave us thirty minutes. Then they're gonna call the cops."

"How did you-"

"I said you were dying and that you needed a safe outlet."

The first thing Yuuri thought was Safe? This is a safe outlet? He scratched that thought. "Dying?"

Viktor rubbed the side of his nose, swiveling on the ball of his foot to better look at Yuuri. Yuuri's heart nearly gave out. "Cancer. Just diagnosed. I promised that you weren't coming up here to commit suicide. Don't make me a liar, Yuuri."

The upturned thumb that Viktor gave him was equal parts appalling and outright tacky. Yuuri fought the smile that tugged at the corners of his lips. "You're horrible."

"It worked, right?"

"Everything always works for you."

"Not everything."

The eagerness within Viktor's expression subsided, cheeks going slack as his smile became more subdued. He walked the few steps back to Yuuri. Each step assuaged his racing heart. Yuuri had never been afraid of heights before, but seeing Viktor on the fringe of life and death, teetering over the promise of an early demise, gave him a new respect for solid ground. He longed for that sense of security.

"So go on." Viktor's voice felt like it was carried to him, floating on the wind. His mouth ghosted around the rim of Yuuri's ear. Viktor drew back, fingers toying with the scruff of hair around his glasses. "Scream everything out." Viktor bowed and drew his arm out.

Yuuri followed his arm's line until he was toeing air. The city sparkled beneath him, golden crisscrosses around blue shadowed homes. The lights that had been so distant from his hospital room quivered beneath his toes. Yuuri could feel it all glowing on his face. There was a tiny thrill to it, that zipped up his spine, drew live wire sparks through his legs and arms.

His first yell was quiet, hesitant. He was taught to be polite, courteous to others, conscious of himself in respect to other people. Screaming out in the open, allowed or not, did not come naturally to him. It was little more than a tempered yelp. Yuuri stopped, eyes wide, body ready to bolt.

There was no reprimand. There were no disapproving stares or glaring onlookers. Just him. The city.

The second was louder. Much, much louder. He drew it from his stomach, throwing out the past night into the wind. Reaching inside of himself and throwing the specter, the real shadow, out into the great jaws of the world he always feared.

The third was blown out from deep in his diaphragm. It ached in his belly. Came out horse and shrill and powerful. Yuuri felt his body bend forward, sending out the scream a far as it could go. He released everything into it.

The bruises on his neck. The indent in his skull. The memories of the car, the policeman, the checkered pants, and painted nails. Phichit's distant stare. Mari's apologies. Yuri's disdain. Viktor's devastation. The earthy scent of decay in the cemetery. Musty clothes over his head. The feeling in his heart as he received his last hugs from his parents.

He felt lighter. Letting go of every shame. All of his abuse. His pain, his anxiety, his aching want to compress himself into nothing, his need to become something, to be something he could be proud of, that his family could be proud of. The feelings of failure, regret, abandonment.

Yuuri threw it all out until he wasn't sure if he was making sound anymore. His mouth was stretched taut, throat raw and scraped and sore enough that he could have been throwing up baseballs and not screams. He felt the passage, the cathartic quality of the moment soft in his chest.

Yuuri wished he'd thought of this before.

It seemed so simple. To just go up. Scream. Look out. Take in the view. The drop. Eternity.

"Thank you," Yuuri whispered when he was done. When he felt like a shrunken balloon, burned out of all of its air. He couldn't tell if his gratitude was audible. His ears were still cramped with the aftershocks of his own anguish.

He turned around and met Viktor's stare. It was so genuinely awed, sweetened with feelings Yuuri had felt when Viktor cooed his name. Viktor looked at him like he draped the stars across the sky, gave the moon its luminous glow. As if he were the one who should be grateful for this moment. Yuuri could feel the ghost of Viktor on his skin, the mold of Viktor's teeth permanently indented into his body. Yuuri's face felt fever-bright.

Viktor swooped towards him, gathered the remnants of Yuuri left behind into his arms. Kissing all over his face. "Feel better?"

Better wasn't the word. He was lighter, less burdened, less drowned. He felt more like himself. He'd come out of his little world, the buried coffin, the sunken car.

The closet.

He stood somewhere freer. Liberated.

And he was no longer alone.

Yuuri choked on a wheeze. He cradled his stomach with his forearm, frowning. "I feel kind of nauseous."

Viktor immediately snapped to attention, frenzied hands gripping anything of Yuuri he could reach. "Are you okay? Let's go back to the hospital."

"No." Yuuri pulled Viktor out of his pivoted turn, drawing their foreheads together. Viktor's skin felt a soothing kind of cold, a night flush to his cheeks and nose. His eyes reflected the lights behind him, glimmering golds and greens and blues. A thousand galaxies swirling in the night.

Yet they saw only Yuuri. Screaming, disastrous Yuuri. With white gauze stuck beneath his hair, crooked glasses fogged by his panting breaths, clothes decorated with day old crinkles, and no real voice to speak with. The vapid flutters in Yuuri's stomach worsened, but he never wanted them to stop. He would live with them forever if it meant he got to keep Viktor in his life. Yuuri breathed his words against Viktor, their eyebrows bunched together as he cupped the sides of Viktor's neck.

"It's a good nauseous. A new kind."

Chapter Text

This…

This is what I have always wanted.

It was what Viktor woke up thinking, wrapped in an old blanket, toes sticking through the threads and holes at its edges, Makkachin a puff of warmth at his hip, a purr of breath at his armpit where Yuuri was curled into him. It sung through him throughout the day, like a bolt of lightning that continued to resonate within him, surefire electric currents telling him that he was where he was supposed to be. After years adrift, searching for something unknown, far off on the horizon, unseen but written in his destiny, he'd finally found it.

In the scratchy crunch of the brown carpet beneath him. In the godawful screaming and thumping of the children in the upstairs apartment. In the bright sun spots that dappled light through the blankets over the windows. In the fingers threading through his. In the toes that softly bopped against his beneath the coffee table, provoking him into an offbeat game of foot tag.

It was even in the terrifyingly gory horror movie that had him swallowing back his discomfort every ten seconds.

Yuuri was getting revenge on him for that ghost movie, sipping his tea while Viktor was going into cardiac arrest.

"They're going to eat him, aren't they?" Viktor winced, closing one of his eyes as he hunkered down against Yuuri.

"That is what zombies do."

There was a loud crunch. A gush of blood. The main protagonist screamed, swinging his bat to club at a zombie's head. He managed to bash the undead creature's face in, wrapping the torn flesh of his arm up in a sweatshirt and dragging in breaths. He had just gotten ahold of his faculties, ready to search for his conveniently missing friends, when groans and moans of the undead rose from all around him. The camera swiveled, revealing zombies coming in from every angle, hands groping, reaching, clawing. The jaws of one black-toothed, gaunt-faced zombie closed in and-

"Oh my god. Oh my god. Nope!"

"Viktor! Get out of my shirt."

"Hide me, Yuuri!"

"You goof. Stop clowning."

Viktor grunted, attempting to shove his head further up Yuuri's shirt. It didn't work. The bottom just barely stretched to cover Viktor's forehead, as if he was wearing an ill-fitted bonnet. Yuuri smothered his cackles into his tea, giving up and watching the last few minutes of the movie with Viktor's upper half in his lap and his head a growth on his stomach.

The ending credits rolled. Yuuri clicked the TV off as his cup clinked on the coffee table. Turning his attention back down to Viktor, he jabbed him in the middle. "Viktor, come on. You're stretching out my shirt."

Viktor swatted the offending finger away, snuggling in closer. "Don't you mean Mari's shirt?" Viktor thought it was kind of adorable, the fact that Yuuri had a stash of his sister's ratty band t-shirts to sleep in. "Besides, I can hardly pry myself away from this delectable view." Yuuri could see his next move coming as his stomach muscles knotted up, bellybutton drawing away from him as Yuuri tried to voice a protest, but Viktor paid it all no mind, nipping at the rim of skin at his hips. Yuuri's laughter went pitchy, hiccupped in a burst of unexpectedness. Ah, found another tickle spot.

Yuuri nudged him away with errant swipes of his wrist. Viktor reluctantly sat up, snapping Yuuri's shirt back into place.

When Yuuri's giggles subsided, he leant himself back into the couch, slouched against whirling flowers as he squeezed his eyes shut. "Augh, I'm sooooo bored. Can I just go back to work already?"

Back to the same argument they'd been having for the past two weeks. Did it really kill Yuuri to take time off? "You do work." Getting Yuuri to take a break was like caging a rabid beast. He was told to rest, and what did he do, vacuumed, dusted, did the laundry, the dishes, the shopping. He even reorganized the spices by flavor in the kitchen and began sewing the holes shut in the blanket-curtains. It was bad enough that Viktor was starting to ditch out on skating practice to ensure that Yuuri stopped.

"I'm only allowed to make certain call-in requests." Yuuri peeked beneath an exasperated lid, side-eying Viktor. "Honestly, I don't know who's been worse about this. You or Sara. I tried to fill some eclairs that Leo left neglected and she had Mickey escort me out by my collar!" Yuuri threw his arms up. "It's just a concussion. And I'm feeling fine. No vomiting. No dizziness. No headaches. Besides you two."

Viktor ran a hand down his face, a crazy kind of tension bunching up in his shoulders that could have only been caused by his dearest, most exhausting Yuuri. "Just let your brain heal some. Please? Don't give me that look. You were gone for seven hours last night working on that wedding cake, mister, and I do believe I heard the éclair story. They were hardly neglected. Leo turned his back for one minute-"

"You guys talk about me behind my back now?"

"You've done more than enough!" Viktor yelled, then came back to himself. Yuuri was watching him, a hollow set of pride in his jaw. Viktor yielded, before Yuuri could get any of his odd ideas into his head. No, they weren't bubble wrapping him. No, they didn't think he was too weak or fragile to take care of himself. Yes, they trusted his judgement. But Viktor knew that Yuuri was too strong sometimes. Too strong for his own good, ignoring his own ailments for the sake of others.

And Viktor was weak. He was a weak man. He couldn't handle a broken Yuuri. Not again. Over the passing weeks, Viktor had been ever conscious of Yuuri's injuries. Helping to ice his jaw and neck. Checking his stiches. Taking on night watches as Yuuri slept. Massaging his temples and the stretch of muscles between his shoulders. Holding tight to every bit of information he'd obtained in the hospital.

Viktor wanted his sun to shine again.

Viktor pulled Yuuri towards him, Yuuri's shoulder against his sternum, his chin at rest beside Yuuri's temple. His fingers drifted softly along the hairs that concealed the curved cut beneath. Viktor could almost feel the slickness, smell the copper odor. "There was so much blood."

"The head always bleeds more. I'm fine, Viktor." Yuuri grabbed his hand, pulling it down into his lap, fingertips tracing ticklish patterns into his skin before he abruptly yanked back Viktor's middle finger. "Don't be such a tight ass."

Though Viktor hissed at the burning arch as his finger was not meant to go backward, he couldn't resist his reply. "But you like my tight ass."

Yuuri's expression blanked, complexion turning a scandalized red. He dropped Viktor's hand and it found safety cradled against Viktor's chest. Yuuri was going to punch him, the way he did when he got thoroughly flustered, so Viktor gave him a face full of his trademark boyish charm.

"A cute face doesn't make everything better."

"Mine does."

He was saved by the turning of the deadbolt at the door. The doorknob jiggled and the door opened to reveal a haggard looking Phichit. He ambled in, tossing his bag into the corner, stumbling as he kicked his shoes off mid-shuffle, and closed himself into his room. There was a loud creak, the telltale of Phichit throwing himself on his sprung mattress.

He hadn't given a glance toward Yuuri.

"Still not talking?"

Yuuri's eyes went distant, but he snatched up his cup and made his way to the kitchen. Viktor took that as a yes. Things between Phichit and Yuuri became tense once Yuuri returned from the hospital. Phichit had just stared, eyes watering as he looked Yuuri up and down, teeth grinding down on what was surely an explosive reprimand, and shut himself up in his room. They hadn't spoken since.

Viktor was left shocked. The smiley, bubbly best friend, the person that had been the most distraught by Yuuri's disappearance, wouldn't even glance Yuuri's way. The silence spoke its own words, and every time Yuuri faced it, Viktor could see him cracking. His ears bled with the need to hear something more than this emptiness. This lack of care from his person, the one person who was always on Yuuri's side.

Mari, on the other hand, had plenty of words to lash Yuuri with. She'd smacked him upside the head, hugged him close, and yelled until her voice lost its ferocity, quivered into a helpless whisper that brought tears to even Viktor's eyes. Still, she didn't ask. Nobody asked.

Yuuri's reasoning behind vanishing went unsaid. That didn't mean that the question wasn't still there. Looming over them all.

Viktor came up behind Yuuri, arms encircling his waist and watching over Yuuri's shoulder as he washed and rewashed his cup in the sink. Viktor kissed a line down the side of his head, through his hair, over an ear, down to the acid yellow stain of the healing bruise on his jaw. His hands gripped soapy wrists, easing Yuuri into letting his fixation go so he could turn to face him. Viktor coaxed Yuuri calm, kissing the strain out of his face, instantly intoxicated by the lemon zing of Yuuri's tea frolicking on his tongue.

"Sorry," Yuuri said, hugging Viktor back. He could feel Yuuri's wet hands soak into his shirt with the scent of lavender dish soap.

"Nothing to apologize for."

"You know," Yuuri began, once they were sitting back in front of the couch, a goddamn zombie marathon playing before them. Viktor laid in front of Yuuri, between his legs, head in his lap like it was Viktor being cared for, consoled, and not Yuuri. "I was thinking."

"Overthinking, more like."

"Viktor."

"Sorry, sorry." Viktor reached behind him, blindly rubbing Yuuri's elbow in apology. Viktor nuzzled his cheek against Yuuri's thigh, wondering if he could somehow leave some kind of impression there, a warm indent that Yuuri would think upon as Viktor. His very own possessive stamp. It made Viktor want to leave all kinds of impressions on him. Where Yuuri would look upon his body and find reminders of Viktor everywhere on himself. Within himself. "Go on."

"Makka's birthday is tomorrow, yeah?"

Viktor's eyes went up, meeting his new favorite color. Cocoa orbs stared back. Viktor relished the sight. Yuuri was a vision, so truly beautiful even upside down. "Uh-huh."

"Would it be considered working if I made her a cake?"

Viktor peeked over at Makkachin who was toying with one of her treat puzzles on his futon. His heart caved into itself and Viktor instantly jerked himself up to kiss Yuuri. His lovely Yuuri that loved his pup so much that he was going to make her a cake. Yuuri didn't get the unspoken message, to dip his head forward as Viktor came up, and instead got head-butted in the chin.

"Ow. Okay. Why?" Yuuri rubbed the underside of his jaw, bemused.

"I was trying to kiss you."

"I think you missed. That, or I don't like your new brand of kisses."

"Oh, boo." Viktor pulled Yuuri down by his ears, meeting him this time with a proper kiss, as proper as an upside down kiss could have been. Their mouths were misaligned, tongues a little lost, but Viktor tasted the future in Yuuri's lips. "Can we record it? My fans have been missing you."

Yuuri prodded the inside of his cheek with his tongue, thinking. Viktor knew the feeling, the ribs of Yuuri's cheek's stitches were familiar to his own tongue. "I'm sure Makkachin would love to get some birthday wishes."

Yuuri caved to his request far easier than Viktor had expected. He thought he would have to plead, maybe even use some underhanded goading. Yuuri was doing it for Makka, and Viktor, he knew that. After all, Yuuri was still as strung-out and uncomfortable with the idea of working in front of others as he had always been. But as Yuuri's hands fell into his, so small, so thin, but so damn talented and strong, Viktor found something more than Yuuri's devotion in his pulse.

It was the stirrings of ambition.

Viktor loved his tranquil smile, even as troubling anxiety still settled high in Yuuri's cheeks. There was a new firmness in Yuuri's eyes, where the assurance that he could handle what came his way brought forth a courage that had before been so crudely locked away. Yuuri had it within him all along. The courage. The cage that locked it from his reach. And even the key to calling his courage forth once more. Viktor had witnessed the unlocking of the cage on top of that rooftop.

No, it was more than the simple turn of a key. Yuuri had ripped his way through the cage, pried the bars open with those strong hands that Viktor held now. Viktor couldn't have been more amazed.

Then Yuuri went and thanked him. Viktor didn't deserve the gratitude. It wasn't he who fought Yuuri's battle. Yuuri had done it all on his own.

Viktor could see the difference. He was the same old Yuuri that Viktor cherished above all else, but there was a new spring in his step. He stood straighter. Faced forward. The world was in front of him now, ready to be seen and seized instead of ignored. This was the Yuuri that had always been there, just trapped beneath a monster that needed to be slain.

Yuuri and Viktor went on to plan the cake for Makkachin, the dog none the wiser as she munched away in the corner. Viktor mentally appreciated the moment, so bright and perfect and brief that he felt like he was stealing something. Something that he had finally nabbed all for himself after years of questing. After slaying the dragon and going deep into the dungeon's keep, he found it.

His prince and his castle. His fairy tale happily ever after.

Yes. This is what I want.

A home.

He would be damned if he let anything destroy it. Not even the curse of a long forgotten promise could tear him away.

Yet.


 

"Yosh!" Yuuri exclaimed, slapping his hands to his cheeks. "Let's do this." He was pumped. He was ready. He was going to make their little Makkachin a cake for her fifteenth birthday. In front of a camera. Posted on the internet. For the world to see.

He could do this.

He was so doing this.

Leo gave him a salute over his camera as he started filming.

"Hey, everyone," Yuuri started, hand ruffling the back of his hair, still feeling incredibly awkward. There were going to be so many eyes on him… "Today-"

"Hold it!" Viktor cut in, standing at Yuuri's side. "Just give me one moment," he asked the camera, giving Leo a standing index finger as he disappeared into Sara's office.

The camera recorded on and Yuuri just flashed a tight smile, all by himself with the world in his face. "Viktor," Yuuri called helplessly with one side of his mouth, the other still in a warbled half-smile, "you couldn't have done whatever you're doing before Leo turned on the camera?" He could edit this out. They could start over. But just as Yuuri was drawing his hand across his neck, signaling Leo to cut it, Viktor was back by his side.

Leo burst into laughter, doubling over, though he kept the camera up. From that reaction, Yuuri just knew that he didn't want to look in Viktor's direction. But he did, ready to find whatever bizarre thing Viktor thought up this time. He didn't disappoint.

Viktor was dressed up in a Makkachin onesie. From head to toe he was a human sized, two-legged carbon copy of Makkachin. A collar around his neck and a black smudge on his nose and everything. Yuuri didn't know how he kept himself composed, but he did.

"I'm our test Makka," Viktor began, as if this was all perfectly natural. "We can't have a dog in the kitchen and we want to surprise our pup, so… I'm going to be our puptastic tester."

Yuuri didn't know where to start with that except, "Where were you keeping that?"

"You like?" Viktor smoothed a bashful hand over his tail. "I can have one made for you."

"As tempting as that offer is, I think that one Makka double is enough," Yuuri replied. Leo snorted against his arm, but was calmed down by the time Yuuri faced the camera again. "If it isn't obvious now, we're making a birthday cake for Makkachin-" Viktor woofed, an almost natural sounding gruff bark, and Yuuri broke. He dissolved into a fit of giggles as professionalism sailed out the window.

Well, at least his nerves were gone.

Yuuri was back to it in moments. "So, size. The main flavor of the cake will be peanut butter, with applesauce and pumpkin as the base. But are we doing a layered cake or…"

"Six layers," Viktor announced with little hesitation. "Only the best for our Makkachin."

"Triple tier, it is. Makka won't know what hit her."

"And who says fine dining is only for humans," Leo joined in, adjusting his eye against the camera.

Viktor let out a peppy, dog-like yip. Yuuri stopped pouring his wheat flour, glancing unimpressed out the corner of his eye. "Do you have any pride?"

Viktor tilted his head, panting tongue flopped out of his mouth.

Yuuri was in the process of mixing the cake ingredients together, this time with the control of a hand mixer, while Viktor pondered over how to grease the cake pans with paws for hands, when Viktor asked, "Are these chocolate chips?" He jerked his chin in the direction of a bunch of brown chips measured out to the side. "I thought chocolate is toxic for dogs."

"It is. Those are carob chips instead. They don't taste exactly like chocolate," Yuuri stuck out his tongue at the memory of making the mistake of eating them before, sneaking a taste from the bin in the grocery store with his mother when he was younger, "but they have a kindred, natural sweetness that does the trick and is safe for dogs. We're going to melt them down and freeze them in those little paw print molds over there so we can decorate the outside of the cake with chocolate paw prints."

"Aww, Yuuri. This is so," Viktor inhaled a soggy breath, "so sweet of you to do for her."

"Us." Yuuri smiled over his shoulder as he loosened some of the batter from the sides of his bowl with a spatula. "So sweet of us to do this for her." Yuuri choked on a laugh as Viktor looked about ready to blubber. "You mind starting the melting process? I have the double boiler stuff ready over there. Just follow my instructions."

"Yes. Yes, I would love to." Viktor went to wipe away a stray tear and palmed his eye with his paw instead. He stared down at it for a minute like he had forgotten he was in his Makkachin costume.

"How are you going to bake in that?" Leo asked, taking the question right out of Yuuri's mouth.

Viktor flicked a droopy ear at the camera. "How could I not bake in this?"

"Just don't wander off this time." Yuuri stopped and reached up to pat Viktor's head. Viktor melted under his touch, thumping his leg against the floor like Yuuri was rubbing a good spot. Yuuri wasn't going to lie, that was weird on quite a few levels. Viktor was way more into this dog thing than Yuuri expected. Yuuri was just waiting for the shoe to drop. Hilarity aside, nothing good was going to come from Viktor baking in that thing. As if anything good came from Viktor baking in the first place. "Wouldn't want you gagging on cocoa powder again."

The thumping halted. "That was one time!"

"And we all witnessed that."

Leo smacked a free hand against his thigh with a "Hah. Should I get a leash?"

That… really wasn't a bad idea.

"Don't actually consider it!" Viktor cried.

The laughing and movement ceased when the handle of the food storage room jiggled from the inside.

"Um…" Yuuri started, eyeing the slowly moving knob with an uneasy brow. "I thought it was just us in here."

Leo pulled his face from behind the camera, coming up behind Viktor. "It is. I was the last one here."

"Was there anyone in there when you pulled the ingredients for me?"

"Well, yeah, but it was near the end of my shift. I got everything out while we were still working."

The door jerked hard with a slam, like someone was trying to push the door when it was supposed to be pulled. Yuuri's instincts went on hyper drive. He grabbed the hand mixer, beaters still caked with batter, and wielded it before him. He would have preferred a knife, but those were across the room. The mixer would have to do.

"Yuuri-"

Viktor's words were cut off as Yuuri slid in front of him, free hand holding Viktor behind his back. "Shh."

"You think someone hid in there to attack us?" Leo hissed.

"I don't know. Be-"

The door slowly creaked open. Yuuri held his breath, ready to obliterate whoever was in there with his… well, with his less than impressive weapon. It would at least leave some gashes. There was an abrupt draw of breath, followed by a loud-

Yawn?

"Whoops. Guess I fell asleep doing inventory again." Minami emerged, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He stilled when he came upon the group of them, bleary eyes going wide. "Why do I feel like I should run away?"

"Minami," Yuuri breathed. "What in the world are you still doing here? You gave us all a serious fright."

"I'm just relieved that he's not a zombie," Viktor commented, grunting when Yuuri yanked on his Makka ear. "It's your fault for making me watch those movies all day."

"I'm so sorry!" Minami said, clapping his hands in front of himself and bowing. "I didn't mean to fall asleep! Stocking is just so boring and I- I woke up hearing you guys and I was still so sleepy I couldn't open the door right and- I am so, so sorry, Sense-" Minami bit his cheek, bowing deeper. "Yuuri! And Viktor! And Leo! I… I- I can't apologize enough."

"You have, Minami. Trust me," Yuuri put down the mixer, mentally chiding himself for getting so worked up, of course there wasn't some murderous monster in the food storage closet, and squeezed Minami's shoulder, "you have. Now, want to help?" Yuuri kept his voice light, airy with nonchalance. He'd been walking on egg shells around Minami since that day he had snapped at him. Yuuri hadn't known how to apologize or broach the subject at all. Instead they just worked around each other. Did nothing more than breathe the same air. Like with Phichit.

Boy did paying for his mistakes make his heart ache.

Yuuri tamped down his nerves, afraid Minami was going to decline, skitter out and away. Treat him like the scum that he was for being such a rotten friend.

But Minami beamed. "Can I?"

Yuuri nodded, swallowing his heart.

"Yes!" Minami threw a fist in the air with a jump. "What are we making? Why is Viktor dressed like a dog?"

"I'll explain while you help Viktor with the double boiler. Leo, are you still recording?"

"Like I was going to miss recording that. You were defending us with a mixer. This is so going up as soon as I get home."

Yuuri turned away so the camera couldn't see his quickly flushing face.

It would have been nice if the rest of their baking session had gone on uneventful. Viktor was not an 'uneventful' type of person.

"Viktor!" Leo yelled, "Be careful you don't set yourself on fire in that thing!"

And, of course, he managed to set himself on fire.

Leo brought the camera around to face himself, "Another public service announcement: Wear appropriate attire when in the kitchen. A flaming Makka is a sad Makka." He turned the camera back around to show Minami spraying Viktor with a fire extinguisher, a quick puff of white overtaking the flame.

"My poor baby Makka paw." Viktor flapped his blackened sleeve in the air with a sorrowful howl.

"Wow," Minami put the extinguisher down. Yuuri noticed that he kept it well within reach. "Maybe you were a dog in your past life."

"Yes, but," Yuuri made his way over, his chiding expression in play, "he isn't one in this life. Time to pack up the onesie. It's officially too dangerous."

"Yes, sir," Viktor mumbled, trudging back to Sara's office.

He didn't stay gloomy for long. He was all smiles and back in a chef's coat within minutes.

"Mind getting the oven for me, Viktor?"

Viktor got the door for Yuuri, whose hands were full with yet to be cooked cakes. Viktor opened it with a flourish, bowing. "Your majesty."

Yuuri rolled his eyes, filing the cakes into the oven, followed by a muffin pan. "I put some left over batter into cupcake liners, in case you guys wanted to decorate your own and try it tonight."

Yuuri continued the motions, explaining every step to the camera as he mixed together the peanut butter and Greek yogurt for the frosting.

"I still can't believe I almost got maimed with a mixer," Minami said, eyeing the swirling beaters.

"Right?" Viktor asked, then snapped his mouth shut when Yuuri gave him a scathing look. "I mean, it was very valiant of you, Yuuri. I feel forever safe in your capable hands."

"These hands?" Yuuri felt his lips twist as he turned off the mixer and dabbed a gloved hand into the mixture. He smooshed his hands together until they were well coated in globs of frosting as he closed in on Viktor. "These hands right here?" Viktor went to move but was too late as Yuuri slapped his hands onto Viktor's cheeks, rubbing the frosting in like moisturizer.

Viktor scrunched up his face, taking his due punishment. Until Leo started cackling. Then he turned the attention on him. "Careful. I think Leo feels left out."

Yuuri turned his mischievous gaze over to the camera. "Does Leo want some, too?"

"No," the camera shook with his head, "that's okay."

"What were you saying about my valiant act going up as soon as you got home?"

"No! Hey! Get away from me! My camera!"

Yuuri chased Leo around the kitchen, hands outstretched with globs of sticky golden brown hanging off his fingertips. It was more for fun than revenge. By the time he caught the camera man, Leo got a gunk of it in his hair and half on his cheek before Yuuri gave up, laughing.

"Ooo! Ooo!" Minami excitedly stood up on his toes, waving a hand in the air. "Me! I'll take some."

Viktor swiped his finger against his own cheek to dab some on Minami's mousy nose.

When the cakes were baked and cooled, Yuuri went into frosting mode. Minami helped, applying the initial coating while Yuuri smoothed after him. Yuuri filled a piping bag and set to drawing shells for the borders and writing the birthday message in curvy cursive on top. Minami went on to swirl frosting on cupcakes for himself and Leo.

Viktor garnished his own cupcake, decorating it with jittery little lines and dots that sort of took on the appearance of flowers.

If one squinted.

Minami squinted. Hard. "What is…"

Viktor gave a snort of frustration, "Shut up. It's pretty."

The final touch came with the addition of the carob paw prints scattered along the sides of the cake. Yuuri left the task in Viktor's hands, watching as Viktor stared at the cake with the same intensity he used on the ice before taking it by storm. Viktor was so proud of the final product that he took approximately fifty pictures from all kinds of angles.

Yuuri drew himself back, slipping his gloves into the trash as he watched flashes streak across the cake like lightning. Yuuri felt excitement tingle within his smile, contained in the gaps between his teeth. He couldn't wait to present this craft, this culmination of all of their hard work, to Makkachin for her birthday. He knew, of course, that Makkachin wouldn't quite understand the occasion, and that any other treat would make her excited enough to bowl him over, give him licks and happy puppy squirms of appreciation. But this, this showed Makkachin that she was loved beyond words. Viktor and Yuuri were giving her love with three tiers of cakes, frosting, and sprinkles on top. She was their precious pup.

She was Viktor's dog, but Yuuri liked to think that maybe he could be her second favorite human.

With this happiness, came a dash of pride. He had never made a cake for anything other than humans before. This was entirely new territory for him. He had to consult a few sites, recipe books, and Sara who had experience making treats for her own pups. It was panic-inducing, making something for the first time and teaching it to others. But he did it. He faced it like a pro. Yuuri could feel an ease in his lungs, but something clenched his heart.

Minami stood off to the side, out of camera view. He had his hands clasped in front of his frosting-splotched coat, back against the counter, simply appraising their creation. There was delight in his expression, though it was dimmer than Yuuri was used to.

To anyone other than Yuuri, it would have appeared that the incident with Minami had occurred in a vacuum and therefore no longer existed. Certain tells presented themselves with careful inspection, and Yuuri, with his outstanding eye for detail, could spot them in seconds. Minami was overly aware of himself, especially around Yuuri. The boy was intent on scooting around him, never quite entering his space. The most obvious thing about it was the fact that Minami had gone days without incident. His movements were controlled, measurements spot on, and no equipment had been broken. None. Somehow in his avoidance of Yuuri, Minami had grasped the concept of focus. Then there was eye contact. It was virtually non-existent, bordering on disrespectful. Yuuri could feel Minami's eyes on him as he worked, as worshipful as ever, but then that dart of eyes would swing wide and skitter to the floor when Yuuri would look back.

Yuuri took the moment to make his way over to Minami. He had to be brave. He was facing himself now, and his mistakes. Every break and bend in his past Yuuri was intent on repairing. Even if something seemed beyond repair, shattered with scattered pieces, he was going to mend it, piecing every particle together until he bled out his shame and guilt and the pieces were made whole again.

"About before…"

Minami drew in an audible breath, holding himself like he'd expected this. "I need to focus more. Grow up." Minami nodded it back to himself, steel in his spine and conviction in his chest. "I can't be the hopeless kid forever. Always gripping your tail."

Yuuri reconsidered his earlier observations. Maybe Minami's newfound concentration and deftness weren't due to his outburst. Maybe Minami was growing, all on his own. He just needed a little push, a shove out of the nest. Yuuri just hoped that his shove hadn't left Minami with bruises, or that his landing hadn't been too harsh.

"I'm sorry if I've been a burden," Minami continued, fingers smoothing down the front of his coat like it was invaluable, as if it was about to be torn from his fingers. "I always thought that you were the best. I wanted to learn from the best, so I could one day be the best. I didn't think that I might have been an obstruction keeping you from-"

"Minami, hey," Yuuri ruffled Minami's hair, relieved to see that the boy still brightened at his touch, and didn't shy away. This was worse than he thought. Yuuri had pushed his baby chick out onto his face, instead of helping him learn to soar. "You aren't a burden. I was selfish when I said what I did. I want to be your sensei, I do. I just felt unworthy, like I would be hindering you. My own lack of confidence is the problem here. You see? I think you're a great student. Eager to learn, not afraid to ask questions. I'm the idiot for not appreciating you more. It's an honor to teach you."

"You mean it?"

Minami still didn't look at him, but Yuuri watched as he baby-stepped toward him. The cracks in their relationship were sealing with each word. "You don't need to change. I'll miss this you." Minami sniffed, and it was only then that Yuuri realized he was on the verge of tears. Yuuri's next inhale was unsteady, and he realized that he was tearing up, too. How could Yuuri have done something so thoughtless? He should have known how much he valued Minami, and how much he would have missed having him at his side.

Minami sighed, swiping a knuckle beneath his nose. "Bet you won't miss the broken dishes, though, huh?"

"Maybe not. Just… stay you, Kenjirou."

Minami's breathing stopped. His body tensed under Yuuri's quiet ministrations. Yuuri instantly fretted, ready to apologize, grovel at his feet and offer to do anything to make sure Minami didn't hate him. Yuuri was caught completely off guard as Minami glomped him. He hugged him with such emotion and force that they tumbled to the ground, laughing.

"Alright. Thanks, Sensei."

They were cleaning up when Yuuri was approached by Leo. His hands were turning into themselves, teeth chewing indecision into the side of his cheek. It caused Yuuri to give him his full attention from the get go.

"Hey, can I ask you guys for a favor?"

"You guys?" Yuuri asked, tossing his sponge in the sink and elbowing off the water.

"Yeah…" His gaze skipped over to Viktor, the skater turning to lean on his elbows toward Leo, looking at him with interest. "Viktor, too. I…" He squeezed his eyes shut, warring with himself and Yuuri grew worried. He had never seen Leo like that. Chalk full of tension and nearly anguished by whatever captivated his tongue. Yuuri felt his stomach drop to his feet. Was Leo in some kind of trouble? "I kind of… asked Guang-Hong on a date…"

"Oh." Leo rose a bushy brow and Yuuri wanted to scarf that word back into his mouth the minute it escaped. Oh? That was not reassuring in the slightest. This was obviously something that was troubling Leo right down to the way he was skidding his scuffed sneakers against the linoleum.

"Finally!" Minami didn't have such a hard time forming a response. "You guys are so obvious. Mooning over each other." Minami opened the swinging door with his hip, hollering as he left. "What took you so long?"

"What does that mean?" But Minami was gone, the entrance chiming and slamming shut on his giggles.

"Congratulations," Viktor said, genuine joy in his words despite him not being well acquainted with either of the duo. "Asking is the first step and one of the hardest." Yuuri ignored the way his gaze strayed over to him. "He agreed, I hope."

There was a giddy glow that warmed Leo's face and the traces of anxiety melted away in its wake. "Yeah, but, I- Mmh, we've been friends forever, so doing couple things seems really weird and awkward. I love him. I know I want to be with him. I just don't know how to cross the bridge from being best friends to boyfriends. Does that make sense?"

It did, as Yuuri thought about what it would be like to date Phichit. Hugging him? Sure. Sharing intimate secrets with him? Yeah, they did that all the time. Kissing him and caressing him and- No, just no. But… he hadn't developed romantic feelings for Phichit the way Leo so obviously had for Guang-Hong. Yuuri thought about the few times he'd seen the couple together and, yeah, he could see it. It was kind of hard to unsee it.

"So… we were both wondering if maybe- And you guys can totally say no. We don't want to pressure you into anything. But we thought that… You know, maybe this is-" Leo rubbed the back of his neck, his tongue tripping over itself with words that were trapped in his jaw. "This sounded so much better in my head."

"Leo," Yuuri couldn't help the amused smile that his lips hinted at. "You kind of have to ask us before we can decide whether we want to help you or not."

Leo's reply came fast as he winced and held his breath like he was cannonballing into the stretched jaws of the ocean. "Wewerehopingtogoonadoubledatewithyou."

Yuuri had to take a second to decipher that sentence. Wait. A double date?

"Why us?" Viktor asked.

Leo looked at him like the answer was appallingly evident. "'Cause, you guys are perfect for each other," Leo said, flapping a hand in their direction. "You have what everyone dreams about. That sparks flying, soul binding love that people would kill for. You guys have what I would like to have with Guang-Hong. Plus… he likes you guys."

The words, bizarrely, made Yuuri think of his parents. He had always thought that they were the perfect match, two halves to a whole, the yin to each other's yang. It was in the way they looked at each other, talked about each other. He'd never seen them kiss, all outward expressions of love kept discreetly hidden in the bedroom, but Yuuri didn't have to see it to know in his heart that they had that once-in-a-lifetime soulmate connection.

Was that what he and Viktor looked like? With all of their misunderstandings, issues, and disastrous mistakes? They were still considered an ideal couple? Leo wanted that?

"How could we say no to that," Viktor replied, stepping around the counter and linking his fingers with Yuuri's. He brought the back of Yuuri's hand to his lips, pressing the answer to all of Yuuri's questions into his knuckles.

Love.

This was what people spent their whole lives searching for. Yuuri had it right there, sinking softly into his palm. It made his heart beat in his throat.

Yuuri wanted that for them. If he could help the two find such a feeling, a love, in each other, then he would do it. Without hesitation. He turned back to Leo, hand squeezing Viktor's. "We'd love to."


 

The video went up the next day with a small clip at the end of Yuuri and Viktor singing happy birthday to Makkachin, the giant cake in front of her, a birthday hat crooked on her head as her eyes danced with the flames of the candles.

To say that the video was a hit would have been an understatement.

Viktor is cosplaying Makka. I can die happy now.

My eyes! I am not worthy!

That cake is magnificent! Happy birthday, Makka! Your daddies obviously wuv you lots!

BAWLING. Im BawLING. I can just taste the pure love.

OHMGOD Pup parents for the win

Leo is just like so done with Viktor's shit. It's hilarious. Even from behind the camera, he's hilarious. I never want this to end.

'Your majesty'? Did he just-? I just-! Ngh. Another nosebleed.

Yuuri should start teaching self-defense classes. Look at that stance!

Yes! I would pay. Mucho dollars. Baking classes with self-defense on the side. Take my money.

As long as they are the instructors, hells yes, I'm already there

I'll take some instructing

Um. If they're the senseis, I don't think much instructing will be getting done.

Tis the point

Minami is a smol angel

Can we all just talk about how Yuuri PUSHED VIKTOR BEHIND HIM???!!!

I wanna make this. I'm making it. Wait. I don't even have a dog. Whatever. Technicalities.

Ugh. I just want to hug Yuuri's adorable little face.

Id pinch his cheeks right off

Same. But his face is too precious to disfigure.

I aint talkin bout those cheeks hon


 

Yuuri came home and his presence alone was enough to throw Phichit from his relaxed position on the couch to the refrigerator where he pretended to consider the leftover spaghetti from three days before. One look at his posture told Yuuri that things were still not forgiven or forgotten. It had been weeks, but the passage of time did not guarantee that problems would pass with it and Yuuri had had enough. Yuuri had been a bad friend. He wouldn't dispute that fact. The silent treatment was warranted. He wouldn't dispute that, either. But he wanted his friend back.

"I thought about having that for breakfast," Yuuri said, entering the kitchen and unloading his reusable shopping bags onto the counter, "but when I saw that it was half frozen, I decided on the soggy Eggo waffles instead. I bought some groceries. Have something fresh."

Acting like Yuuri was a fly buzzing away on the wall, Phichit dismissed him. The plastic container crackled as he tugged off the lid, breaking the ice away. Yuuri wished that a simple tug was all it took to break the ice between him and Phichit.

"Phichit, we need to talk."

"Uh oh. Not the dreaded four words. Are you breaking up with me?" Phichit asked, his voice a sham of despair as he ice-picked the spaghetti with a fork. "Should I sob? I feel like I'm supposed to start sobbing."

"Sensing some sarcasm there, Phi."

Phichit sent him a look, his 'no kidding' face at full force. He glanced at the door, then Makkachin where she was napping on her giant hamster. "Where's Viktor?"

"At the rink with Yuri." Phichit nodded, stabbing harshly into his noodles and sending a spray of crystal shards onto the side of the fridge. Yuuri swallowed. "I'm sorry, okay?! I shouldn't have run off. I was only thinking about myself. Not you or Viktor or Mari. I scared you and I'm sorry. I'm a selfish, irresponsible, sorry excuse for a person and you have every right to hate me."

"I don't hate you," Phichit told the container, then tossed it into the sink with disgust. "I just wish you trusted me enough to tell me when something is wrong. To let me help you."

"I-" Yuuri grasped the handles of his bags, gripping them like they could somehow protect him. Take on the burden of this conversation for him. "It wasn't your problem."

"You're my friend, Yuuri. Your problems are my problems, too."

Yuuri looked over at Phichit, seeing how he was holding himself up in front of the sink with his arms, clenching his anger into the curve of the counter. "If that's the case…" Yuuri dug into one of the bags and pulled free an apple. He knocked it against Phichit's head, dropped it in front of him and watched as Phichit struggled to catch it. "Then I'm in need of my friend right now. I've got a problem that only you can solve."

Phichit's jaw worked to conceal a smile. "Oh yeah? And what's that?"

"Let's talk."

And they did. They worked their way into the same comfortable atmosphere they had always had with each other. Talking. Crying. Hugging. Shoving each other until one of them fell into the coffee table. Laughing until neither of them could breathe because they couldn't stop. They ended up flopped out on the ends of the couch, facing each other, legs in the air, foot wrestling to see who had more leg muscle.

"So where have you been the past couple of nights?"

Phichit grunted, trying to tickle Yuuri's foot with his toes as he pushed out his leg. Yuuri didn't give. "I've been, ugh- Dammit, Yuuri, your thighs are like steel. How am I supposed to compete with that?"

"Have you seen your calves? I'm the one who should be frustrated. Answer the question." Yuuri let go of his foothold for a millisecond to kick in Phichit's direction before resuming their lock.

"I was at Seung Gil's."

Yuuri gasped dramatically, as if he hadn't suspected. "Phichit!"

"What?"

"And here I thought you weren't that kind of woman. What happened to purity? Now you can never marry."

"Like you can talk, whore."

"Slut."

"Bitch."

"Asshole."

"Wanker."

"Hentai."

"Oh no you don't." Phichit gave up the game in favor of sitting up and kicking Yuuri in the face. "Don't make me pull out my Thai."

"Pfft. Wow, Phichit. I didn't know you were that perverted."

"Not that kind of Thai!"

Yuuri pushed himself up, shoving Phichit's foot off of him and readjusting his glasses. "When are you staying over next?"

"I'm going to the zoo with him tomorrow. We're going to see all the animals! They're one of his weaknesses."

"While working on all of those other weaknesses," Yuuri suggested, shouldering him.

"Found some of those already." Phichit winked. "I'm staying over after."

"Ha! Then… would it be possible for you to take Makkachin with you? After the zoo?" Yuuri cringed, sliding himself away from Phichit who had his hands clapped onto his cheeks, encasing an enormous toothy grin that looked painful. "Stop doing that with your face."

"And what is it you and Viktor need this big ol' apartment all to yourselves for? Huh? Huh???" Phichit waggled his brow at him and Yuuri wanted to smack it off his face. "Throwing a bomb ass party and need the adults scarce?"

"No."

"You aren't doing that marijuana again, are you? Do I need to get the pamphlets?"

"Phichit. Don't be weird."

"Don't tell me you want it for se-"

The door clicked shut behind Viktor who stood there, confused at why Yuuri was trying to shove his sock into Phichit's mouth.

"Hewo, Vikor!" Phichit garbled.

Yuuri let him go and Phichit spat the sock out with a bleck. "Done with practice already?"

"Yeah… What's going on here?"

"Nothing!" They both chimed. Phichit started doing that thing with his face again. Yuuri hid his in the collar of his shirt.

"I was just telling Yuuri about how much I'd like to take Makkachin to have a playdate with Seung Gil's dog tomorrow."

"That would be great! Wouldn't it, girl?" Viktor bent down as Makkachin greeted him, nuzzling her nose as he rubbed her floppy ears. "Wanna make a friend?"

"And give your two daddies some alone ti-" Phichit took a pillow to the face. He held it there, cackling into the fabric.

"What?" Viktor asked with a crinkled brow.

"Nothing!"

"I'm," Viktor started, eyeing them both, "going to take a shower. You can totally take Makkachin tomorrow. A playdate would be fun."

Phichit blessedly waited until Viktor was out of ear shot, the shower a downpour in the background, before continuing. "I'm guessing it's a surprise?"

"Kind of?" Yuuri scratched at his elbow, ignoring the way his heart thundered in his ears. It was a new decision, and Yuuri wasn't entirely sure he would go through with it. He just knew that he loved Viktor, and he wanted to express that in the most intimate way he knew how.

"I support you," Phichit said, clapping a hand on his back and hugging his side. He just had to ruin it with, "You dirty dog, you."

Yuuri flicked his cheek. "If Dave could hear you now..."

"Stop." Phichit cut in, going green. Then his eyes took on a note of seriousness. "You know he's going to… see that, though, right?"

"Yeah…" Yuuri stared at his shirt, fingers tracing the pattern hidden beneath. "I'm ready to tell him. I can… I can talk about it. I don't want to hide anymore."

"Yuuri!" Phichit squealed, squeezing the air out of him. "I'm so proud of you. I could cry. I think I am crying."

"Go choke on your frozen spaghetti," Yuuri deadpanned, but he didn't mean it. One look at Phichit's face, broken open with crazy happiness, let Yuuri know that he was finally on the right path. He was becoming closer to those around him, when he hadn't even known that he was keeping them at arm's length. He was recovering.

He felt like his very own hero. Saving himself. And he could thank the people around him for helping him gain the strength. For helping him learn how to fly.

Chapter Text

"…will you share yourself with me?"

The silence sat, all gargantuan weight pressing into Yuuri's chest and he kept his fingers from tumbling into themselves. It was only him. It was only Viktor. And the silence of the house and the space between them and this building pressure that thrummed through his veins and threatened to burst from his ears. Yuuri wanted this to be natural. He'd wanted this to be perfect. He should have known better than to have such lofty expectations. Now, all he was doing was worrying, fumbling with his heart and he was two seconds from dropping it. He could feel it slipping through his fingers, splatting on the floor and gushing out all of his hopes into the carpet.

Not that he was being dramatic or anything.

"Yuuri."

But Viktor was there, the picture of calm. His presence radiated control and clarity.

He poked Yuuri in the side, prompting him to let out a surprised squawk before Viktor took hold of his face. Gentle thumbs projected tranquility into his cheeks. Splayed fingers whispered assuredness along the column of his neck. Yuuri allowed their eyes to meet, didn't wince, didn't flinch. How could he when Viktor was displaying such coolheaded focus in the face of his question.

"Are you asking… what I think you're asking?"

"Yes?"

Yuuri didn't let a moment pass once Phichit had gone off in Seung-Gil's car, Makka all packed up for her playdate in the back. He'd unceremoniously jumped Viktor with the suggestion. The thought. The unbridled want that had been welling up inside of him since he'd thought up this proposal.

He'd thought about being romantic with rose petals and candles and mood music. He'd thought about being funny, maybe utilizing some trite tactic with Viktor walking in to Yuuri making food buck naked in an apron. But none of that was him. He didn't want some well thought out scene, something rehearsed that he'd gone over and over in a rewound tape in his head.

He just wanted Viktor. No expectations. No planning.

But he wanted it to be special the way their first meeting wasn't. He wanted some memory book moment that captured all that they were to each other.

Of course he would screw it up. And here he was getting hopelessly worked up, tangling himself up into a knotted ball over something that he wanted. Something that should be easy by now. Something Viktor handled and digested as easy as air. Viktor wasn't freaking out about this. He wasn't anxious or nervous. Why?! Why was this so hard? Yuuri wanted to smack himself in the face. His hand made it halfway there before-

"Yuuri?"

Viktor's voice wavered and Yuuri felt it. Viktor's uncertainty. His concern. The way he practically vibrated with restless energy. Viktor wasn't unfazed by the prospect. When Yuuri had asked, timidly, with his toes twitching in the frayed ends of his jeans, he hadn't noticed the way Viktor's pupils instantly throbbed with desire, or how his muscles spasmed with the effort to hold himself back, or how nerves jangled across his shoulders. But now he did.

Just the initial question strung Viktor out like a thread that was ready to snap with the slightest pressure.

Viktor wanted this, too. He was equal parts excited and apprehensive, just like Yuuri. Yuuri wasn't sure how he knew it. He just did. It was like he could sense the emotions reeking off of Viktor.

The knowledge gave Yuuri the strength to yank the words from their wary perch in his mind. "I want to share myself with you, Viktor." Yuuri plucked Viktor's fingers off of him, smiling at how much resistance he encountered, before he placed Viktor's hands at his hips. He slid them up his sides and whispered, "Will you share yourself with me?"

Viktor kissed him, long and slow and deep. His hands wasted no time in pulling Yuuri into him, in trailing heated intention up his sides. "Yes," Viktor said, breathing into his teeth and gripping the word into Yuuri's skin. Viktor dove back in. His lips pressed his answer frantically, fervently into Yuuri's cheeks, his chin, and back up until he was pressing it down Yuuri's throat.

All of Yuuri's worry fell from his like weights and he simply floated in Viktor's hands, let Viktor carry the tide. He trusted him down to the depths of his soul. He trusted Viktor with everything in his body and it was suddenly easy. To be kissed and kiss back. To play tug o war with his own lip. To be turned around and pulled towards the couch. Yuuri laughed into Viktor's mouth, following on his tip toes until he fell into Viktor's lap. They rested there for a moment, puddled, gathering thoughts with their breath.

Yuuri held onto Viktor in the calm, chin on his shoulder and cheek to the couch. He watched as sunlight blinked through the blankets, let the heat of the day warm him. Viktor's chest rocked him with the in and out of breaths, and Yuuri didn't understand what he had been so afraid of. This was what they were to each other. Awkward moments delving into funny antics turning into passionate expression.

"As endearing as it is to have you koala me, Yuuri, I really need to see your face."

Yuuri sat himself up, settling on Viktor's knees as Viktor held his thighs. "Hi," Yuuri said with a breathless grin, hands weighing him down on Viktor's shoulders.

"Hey, yourself." Viktor's grin was more subdued than Yuuri's, but no less heated. Words knocked around in his jaw, and Yuuri prompted Viktor to speak with a lilt of his brow. "I'm just… letting this sink in, Yuuri. I'm not having second thoughts. Believe me. I've been ready for this since the night that we met."

Ah. The night they met.

Yuuri's breath stuttered at the sorrow laced in that statement. He shrank a little, cowering under that thundercloud that always gloomed over their sky. Viktor had assured him that their flawed meeting, and Yuuri's subsequent memory loss, didn't matter. He had Yuuri now and all of the memories they made since. Viktor couldn't be happier.

The sentiment never failed to make Yuuri perk up, but it was a lie. About as bald-faced of a lie as he'd ever heard from Viktor and it stuck out of the foundation of their relationship like an upturned nail.

Yuuri felt the sharp sting in his foot as he stepped on it.

Yuuri's inner distress must have played across his face because Viktor went straight into comfort mode, easing little circles into Yuuri's hips. "You may not remember that night, but-"

"Except… I do remember."

Viktor's breathing stopped. Yuuri couldn't look at his face, eyes fixated on Viktor's throbbing Adam's apple. It bobbed with a deep, ungrounded swallow. Yuuri's memories fluttered over his vision in flashes and snaps. Yuuri's chest throbbed because instead of wanting to shove away the memories, instead of wanting to drown them out with alcohol and a better version of himself, he wanted to cradle the memories of that night inside his body. Make them a permanent organ inside of him.

"I remember some things. Little things," Yuuri said, closing his eyes. "Viktor with a 'k'. I remember hearing that. I remember watching little lightning strikes on the dance floor. I remember the smell of sweat and the feel of heavy breathing on my neck, the same weight of hands at my hips. I remember the taste of green apple, dull but powerful on my tongue. And I remember the feel of something tickling my palm, watching the ink dry, but I couldn't read what it said. Everything hazy, dizzy…"

Yuuri stopped as Viktor squeezed his hip hard enough to hurt. The shock of it had Yuuri's eyes shooting open, his heart an open wound as he saw that Viktor's face was covered with a hand. Yuuri bobbed and weaved to try to see around his fingers. Viktor gasped a soggy breath. It was a calming half-laugh that had Yuuri sinking back down with relief.

"You remember me," he said, hand dropping to the couch. Yuuri could have dined on the delight that rounded Viktor's cheeks. "You remember me introducing myself and how you were practically mesmerized, you said, by the swooshes on my shoes moving on the floor. You remember us dancing, the taste of my gum, me leaving my number on your hand…" Viktor trailed off as tears fell. Flustered, Yuuri didn't know what to do, how to soothe, as Viktor broke down. He knew that this had been an issue for them, but Yuuri had miscalculated just how deeply his lapse in memory had wounded Viktor.

"Viktor, don't cry," Yuuri cooed, his smile warbling as he fought to stem off the flood of his own emotions. He thumbed the trails from Viktor's cheeks, wiped away the pain from his face and kissed him until Viktor was calm again.

"You remember me. A part of you remembers me. Recognizes me." Viktor kept talking, awed by this news as if it were some cosmic sign. He pulled Yuuri in, hugging him until Yuuri's ribs were about to snap. "I thought… I was sure that… You never called and-"

Yuuri smothered Viktor's agonized words with his fingers, waited until Viktor smiled softness into them. "You know how smudged that number was by morning? I think I even had some of it on my forehead." Yuuri tugged at Viktor's hand, gripped his fingers and held them to his heart. "I didn't know what it was, Viktor. If I had remembered- If I had known that it was you that was on my hand, that it was you and this and everything that we are smeared across my skin that morning, I would have tried my damnedest to decode it. I promise you that."

Viktor nodded, sniffing back their past demons and swiping his bangs from his eyes. "I believe you, solntse moye, I do. It's just… surprisingly hard to hear what you've been wanting to hear, you know? It's hard to trust that what you're hearing is true."

"More than you know." Yuuri found himself playing with the wide collar of Viktor's shirt, tracing it around to one shoulder and back to the other with the point of his nail. Viktor's clavicle never failed to entrance him. It was why that shirt was not so secretly one of Yuuri's favorites. "Every time you tell me that I'm beautiful, or tell me how much you care for me… I don't doubt you when you say those things, but they seem unreal all the same."

"Oh, Yuuri." Viktor took his fingers, kissed the pads one by one. "I don't just care for you. I love you."

Yuuri had to remind himself to breathe through that one. "And I love you."

"Now, where were we?" Viktor brought Yuuri's index finger to the flat of his tongue, licked it into his mouth and sucked it down to the knuckle. Yuuri felt the rumblings of desire quake into his bones.

Yuuri slowly pulled his finger out, scraping it through Viktor's teeth, dotting Viktor's lips with smears of his quickly cooling saliva. Viktor's tongue reached out to nab it back, but Yuuri was quick to counter it with his own. "Right here." They ate at each other, two flames swaying together, bursting into crackling fire as they met in the middle. Yuuri hugged Viktor's head to him, bruising his teeth into his lips. Viktor pulled Yuuri's legs to his sides, gripping into the meat of Yuuri's thighs as he hoisted him up.

Yuuri squeaked, his kiss mashing into Viktor's cheek as he flung his arms around Viktor's shoulders, hanging on for dear life. "And you thought I was a koala before."

"Don't worry, I've got you."

"No, I can walk, Viktor. I am not light. I can't be easy for you to carry."

"Trust," Viktor said, exasperated, nudging the word under Yuuri's ear with his nose until Yuuri giggled, "me. I have you. You are grossly overestimating your heft."

Yuuri nipped at his retreating nose. "My heft calls bullshit."

Yuuri felt gravity rip him down and his stomach wrenched up into his throat as he was tossed onto his bed. His back met the mattress and he bounced a good foot in the air. The walls swayed with distortions until Yuuri blinked them away. He sat up to glare at Viktor.

"You look betrayed. You were soooo sure that I was going to drop you."

"Asshole."

"Yes, that is exactly how you serenade someone into your bed."

"No, you just throw them into it, apparently," Yuuri grumbled to the ceiling. He felt the bed dip, and then it was the sea taking over his vision again. The waves were wild and clapping together in their excitement. It was hard to be nervous in the face of them.

Hard, not impossible.

Viktor's face grew pensive, eyes lingering over his body like Yuuri was some kind of dish, and he was wondering where to dig into first. There was a look in his eyes that read, 'What do you want of me?'

Yuuri's eyes replied, 'Everything.'

Yuuri leaned up and took his lips as Viktor took his sanity. Yuuri took Viktor's hand, his shoulder, his hair, anything he could grab. He wanted everything. He would have everything. There would be no interrupting mothers. No bleeding lips. Just him. Just Viktor.

Viktor's fingers whispered up Yuuri's shirt, seeking to relieve him of it. Yuuri shook his head, stole it from Viktor's grip and smoothed it back down. Viktor's lips kissed apologies, but Yuuri was having none of it. He slid Viktor's hand down to his pants, made Viktor's thumb undo his button. Viktor took the hint, but was careful, ever cautious with his movements, as if he were approaching a prickly rose, all thorns protecting dignity. Yuuri's zipper fell tooth by tooth, Viktor's hand the lightest touch between them. Yuuri groaned, annoyed at the tease, and shimmied out of his jeans the second he could.

When Yuuri's fingers teased at Viktor's belt buckle, Viktor broke from his mouth. "Are you sure, Yuuri?"

Yuuri flipped them. It stole Viktor's composure and the breath from his lungs. Yuuri gave him his, biting at his lips as he blindly undid Viktor's pants. Yuuri listened to the clink, the rustle as his band loosened and the run of the zipper. It was all kind of outside of him, and Yuuri let his movements run on automatic. He didn't want to sabotage himself with thoughts, so Yuuri freed his mind, let the leash off so it could wander.

He was doing this. He was ready for this next step. There was no need to bare everything, to shed all of his layers and shells and show off the ugly marks that constantly held him down. Viktor didn't need to know. This was supposed to be about them. Yuuri was ready to head forward, no looking back.

Somehow, it felt like he was still running.

Still cowering.

Still letting that man take things from him.

"-but can we take this slower?"

Yuuri felt himself come to a grinding halt. He looked down at Viktor who was much less clothed and a lot more perturbed. He met Yuuri's faltering gaze, hands on Yuuri's knees, staring up at him.

"I'm sorry?"

Viktor laughed, but it sounded wrong. Just the tiniest bit off as it bounced out of his throat. He sat them up and Yuuri had to pep talk himself, calm himself down because he hadn't messed thus up. This didn't mean that Viktor wanted to stop. It didn't mean that Viktor didn't want him. "I said that it's not that I'm not thrilled that you want to get me out of my clothes so quickly, but can we take this slower?"

Yuuri immediately yanked himself away, nearly tumbling off with the comforter in his haste. "I'm sorry- I-I didn't mean…" God, what was wrong with him? Tearing off Viktor's clothes without thinking about what Viktor wanted. He was no better than those hands that never left his own skin.

No better than Drunk-Yuuri, all gung ho with no care for consequences.

"No. No, no. Hey," Viktor fumbled for him, caught the inside of his knee and tugged him closer.

Yuuri settled next to him, eyes firmly studying the alarm clock on his bedside table. It was still three minutes slow, a new layer of dust greying around the buttons. The cord was stretched out from all of the times Yuuri had attempted to toss it across the room.

"I don't want to stop. I want to treasure this, so," Viktor kissed the crown of his head, tucking a flyaway strand of hair back beneath the frame of Yuuri's glasses, "slow."

"Right," Yuuri said, tracking the movement of Viktor's tongue across his lips. "Slow." Yuuri's fluttery heart landed back down. His mind came back to them. To Viktor. He let himself see the phenomenon that was Viktor Nikiforov. Viktor sat there, in the soft, buttery glow of mid-afternoon light, bare before him down to his black briefs. Every sinuous cut and curve of his body was within two inches of Yuuri's reach.

Viktor's words permeated through his stumbling subconscious and Yuuri finally caught up with them. Viktor wanted to treasure this. This moment. With Yuuri. This was probably anything but new to Viktor, peeling apart a person's defenses to lay them into his bed, but Viktor easily made Yuuri feel like more than any of his past conquests.

Because this was different. Yuuri felt it in the way Viktor leaned in. He tasted it off the tip of Viktor's tongue. Felt it in the way Viktor settled his hand on Yuuri's side, fingers placed on top of the fabric and all of the things Yuuri still kept hidden.

Like he was telling Yuuri that it was okay. He didn't have to give all of himself away just yet.

Yuuri cleared his throat, wrenching all of the gunk out of its corners so he could adequately speak.

It wasn't the pants, or even the underwear that Yuuri cared about. The shirt promised to be the worst barrier. Viktor could sense it, waited for Yuuri. He simply stayed and breathed into Yuuri's hair, lips at his ear.

In one fell swoop, Yuuri tugged his shirt up and over his head. He ripped off the band aid, let it sail away with the wind and his worries. He watched Viktor take in the sight, watched surprise morph into shock, watched shock dip into wonder, watched wonder fall into a barely contained ache. Yuuri searched his own torso, deciding how to smuggle so much information, so many feelings, into as little sentences as possible. Speaking was easier in theory, in the safe confines of his mind.

Yuuri startled as Viktor laid him back, fingers already gliding up his stomach, over colors of vivid red and fiery orange, petting feathers and cooling flames.

It was his only tattoo. The one Yuuri had joked about on their first date. The levity to that situation felt worlds away from this.

"A firebird," Viktor spoke, voice almost reverent. It took over most of Yuuri's stomach, stretching out its wings up into Yuuri's chest. "It's beautiful, Yuuri."

Yuuri tested out his reply on his tongue, let it marinate into maturity. "I wanted a fresh start. A new beginning. Mari thought a phoenix was fitting."

At first, Yuuri had been appalled. He'd woken up from a night of drinking with his sister and Minako to find THAT on his skin. It was huge, permanent, always there. Yuuri couldn't look at himself and not see it.

The past that it was meant to cover over.

Viktor's fingertips found the scars. They swirled around them, dancing in smooth circles that were once jagged and bloody. Old wounds that now laid hidden in the body of a bird rebirthed in flame.

"Our aunt… My father's sister took us in here in America." Yuuri's gaze swept across the dingy, popcorn ceiling, a new lens focusing him back to a different time when he was still young, so naïve, but not naïve enough to miss the looks of disdain that crossed his new family's faces whenever he was around. "She already had a family. Our two cousins… our uncle… Our cousins were younger than Mari, older than me. They always acted so polite, so sweet. They even let me wear some of their old clothes, play with their things… Until their parents were gone and Mari was at school. Then they would lock me in the closet. 'Forgotten children don't need rooms,' they would say, 'They don't need clothes or toys.' They would take everything away, anything I had, strip me down and lock me in there. Hours would pass and there was no light, no sound. Just laughter." Yuuri could remember listening to them until the laughs would die out. They would fade and the world would close in. Just him, alone. He would try to keep time, count out the seconds, tally them into the walls with his nails, until the number grew too large for his mind to handle. He would ball himself up, listen to the beat of his heart, remember that he was alive. He was breathing. He would get out. He would. "Eventually someone would come home and my cousins would say that they didn't know why I was in there. That I ch-chose to be in there."

"Did you ever say anything?"

Yuuri ignored the prodding of Viktor's fingertip, the stabbing of his gaze. "I couldn't. I promised my parents that I would be good, that I wouldn't cause a fuss. It was the only place Mari and I had to stay, after the fire. I couldn't jeopardize our new home. Not after everything my parents and Mari had already gone through. Besides, my aunt doted on those boys. They were her precious children, could do no wrong. Going to her would have accomplished nothing… Mari knew, though. She started staying home more, skipping her last period to make it home before our cousins did, and taking me on errands with her. She wanted to say something so many times, but I wouldn't let her. She threatened to beat them up once." Yuuri laughed at the memory, looking up at Viktor. But his face was a blank slate. Processing and purposely not emoting. "It stopped… for a month or so…"

"And your uncle?"

"He despised me."

Yuuri spread his arms out across the covers, let his hands rub into the fabric of his comforter. The movement calmed him. The plush feeling like velour between his fingers helped to regulate his emotions. He utilized his senses to keep him present.

"He called me Sissy Boy. Sometimes Fairy when he would catch me dancing instead of out with his boys practicing whatever sport it was of the season. When he would find me in the closet, he would leave me there."

"Stay where you belong."

Yuuri swiped at the tears before they could form. He wasn't going to cry. He refused to let that man have any more power over him. Yuuri thought that this pain would have eventually faded with time. It was a lie, that time healed all wounds. Time only corroded them deeper.

Healing came with effort. It was accomplished with courage and support. It needed love.

Yuuri had all of that now.

"He didn't understand my anxiety attacks. He would try to pull me out of whatever corner I found or unwind me out of a ball. He would yell and smack me. It didn't work, only wound me up more. So he would get frustrated. Threw things. I don't know why he didn't just leave me alone."

Viktor cuddled down into his stomach, arms snaking around his waist.

"He kept growing more and more frustrated until he finally found something that did it." Yuuri felt Viktor outline one of his scars before he whispered his lips against it, leaving ticklish, butterfly kisses up the five burned craters. "The pain wasn't what jolted me out of my attack. It was the sound, and then the smell." Yuuri burrowed his fingers down into the fabric, attempting to bury the horrid scent of sizzling flesh that remained tangled in his nose hairs. "I tried to bandage them up myself, but… Mari found them. The next day, we left…"

Yuuri watched anger flare in Viktor's nostrils, felt Viktor pull him closer, until Yuuri could have sworn that the man was trying to sink into his skin, become another tattoo. That wouldn't have been so bad, having Viktor as a permanent part of him.

Deep inside, Yuuri already knew that he was.

"It was a long time ago," Yuuri whispered, twirling silver locks around the bend of his knuckles, thumb lazily exploring the swirl of hair at the top of Viktor's head. "He died. Our uncle, I mean. Heart attack. That Saturday- The day I met you was the service. Mari was so angry being there, hated every minute. I… I didn't know how to feel… We went out drinking that night. And now, we're here."

All caught up to the present. It was hard to admit, but if going to that man's funeral, if being related to that man and his bratty children led him to the mistake that brought him to Viktor, then he supposed he should have thanked Yuusuke for putting him through that. For making him stronger.

Yuuri glanced down, watched as the pitter patter of Viktor's fingers walked up his ribs. "Right," Viktor said, features softening from the harsh, stony set of rage. "We're here now. We're here and I get to be with you and love you and…" Viktor's eyes ripped through him, tore their fangs in and remained. "You really are beautiful. You," Viktor paused to punctuate a kiss to his forehead, "your bird," a kiss to his chest, "and every hardship you've endured." Each word was granted its own kiss, applied like a balm to his old wounds. Yuuri was in tears by the time Viktor finished. "You're strong, Yuuri. I wish you could see it."

Yuuri reached up to hold his chin, clipping it in place, staining the sight into his retinas. "You make me like who I am."

Viktor kept staring at him, his body, his chest. Yuuri felt the heat of his stare, the very weight of it as it trailed up to his nipples. Yuuri could have curled into himself. What was it about nipples that made one feel so much more vulnerable? Sara came to mind with her talking about nipples and yelling out PENIS! and Yuuri let out a very ill-timed giggle.

"Care to share?"

"God, no. Just." Yuuri tried to smother his laughs into a knuckle, lips pursed into the spiral. Now he was seeing Mickey's face and he couldn't stop. "He's such a weirdo."

"Thinking about another man while in our bed?" Viktor bit at the underside of his chin.

"Youch!"

He held the skin until it swelled between his teeth. "Are you trying to provoke me?"

The possessiveness clipping off of Viktor's sentence held Yuuri. It oozed want and need and Yuuri could read mine in the curl of his fingers. He could feel the raise of Viktor's bite, the blood rushing beneath his skin. He imagined the color it would turn, reds and purples of ownership. Of belonging. "And what if I am?"

Viktor bit him, again and again, all along his body, sucking and laving his name into Yuuri's skin as he would pen his signature. Autographing, branding his self in. He nipped down Yuuri's neck, along his collarbone, down his torso and up his thighs until Yuuri was sure that it looked like he had erupted in a particularly ugly bout of hives. He was not going to change at work anytime soon.

He could imagine their stares. The gawks and smirks. Bizarrely, Yuuri wouldn't have minded wearing the marks, showing them off. It would be like wearing Viktor on him, their love. The appeal of it grew on him.

Viktor stopped, his scrutinizing gaze wandering over him again, hand in a smooth glide beneath Yuuri's thigh. Just a bit further up and-

"May I kiss you?"

Yuuri was brought back to that night on the kitchen floor, back to all of those other kisses shared between them. Yuuri needed to know what this one would feel like. Viktor's face was above his, breath still mint sharp. Yuuri wanted that taste back in his mouth, craved for the tingle as it cooled his taste buds.

"Please."

It was like losing himself in the depths of a novel. A book that was not that long, but took forever to read because he became absorbed by its pages. Rereading sentences to revel in their emotion. Attached to the words as if they were kin.

It was all of their previous kisses entangled together – ones of uncertainty, of comfort, of happiness, of want, of need.

Of love.

Yuuri would keep it on him always, and wear it like a good luck charm.


Viktor was reluctant to part from him, but progressing further required preparation. He wanted Yuuri, longed to stay and let them forget about responsibility along with the world.

He pulled back slowly. "Just… let me…" Viktor glanced furtively out the door and gave Yuuri a look of apology. "One moment. Stay just like this." He kissed him in parting, and again to emphasize that he was coming back. One minute, seconds, even. Tearing his limbs from Yuuri, he rushed out, eyes already glued to his bag that held the items set back explicitly for this moment.

He planned on being there and back, his body unbearably giddy. He couldn't believe how excited he was about this, couldn't remember the last time just imagining sex with a person strung him out. He had been fully prepared to wait however long for Yuuri, even if the wait was ever lasting. He'd spent his youth traipsing through beds, finding pleasure while seeking little else. Now that he had this, he found that he didn't need anything more.

But now that Yuuri was ready and had so sweetly asked him to share himself with him, Viktor felt all of his well-honed patience rupture in the face of unbearable lust for the man that made him feel everything he never had before.

It wasn't until he had his bag in his hands, digging past a roll of his jeans that his thoughts drifted. His overheated skin cooled, urgent feelings of need ebbing, and as it did, Viktor's mind reflected over Yuuri's reminiscence. Yuuri had laid there, barely hanging onto himself through it all. Viktor couldn't stop himself from clutching onto him as Yuuri's accent had slipped in. Yuuri had been more distressed about that than even his blackouts had accomplished. He kept this secret close, well hidden behind the fires of the failed fresh start on his chest. It resided as a marred wound that he shared with Mari. And now Viktor. He had been let into something so personal and private.

Something so… nightmarish.

Imagining it was the worst. Thinking of a cherub-faced, powerless Yuuri, fractured beneath the strength of a fully grown man. The feeling that Yuuri must have felt when he realized what was happening. As his skin was being-

Viktor still felt the urge to roar at the injustice of it all. Yuuri had just been a kid, a small boy thrown into an entirely different country and made to stay with a family that treated him like trash. Viktor despised them, those strangers that were supposed to be Yuuri's blood. They hurt his Yuuri, the only perfect being on this Earth.

Viktor bit off his anger as it warped and bled toward Mari. A part of him was irritated with her for letting it happen, for not protecting him. It wasn't right. Mari had done her best, it sounded. She got him out of that toxic household and cared for Yuuri all alone when she was still a child herself.

But where were Yuuri's parents? Why would they send him to that house? They had to have known. Did they just not care? And where had Minako been, if she cared for them as much as she had implied in the dance studio that day?

Viktor breathed in. He wasn't supposed to do this. He needed to let the feelings, this anger, go the way Yuuri was. Yuuri told him so that he could know, so he could understand more of the demons that laid inside of him.

Drunk-Yuuri was easier to understand now, along with Yuuri's need for him.

Condoms and lube in hand, Viktor made it back. He closed the door behind him. They were the only ones home, but it was more private that way, more intimate.

Yuuri was more… composed than when he left him. Viktor couldn't tell if that was a good thing.

He was sitting up, relieved of his glasses that sat on the side table.

Viktor had a brief flash of when Yuuri was undressing him, face divorced from the situation. That was not what Viktor wanted. Yuuri indulging him – or rushing through it all to get it over with.

But this was different. This looked like confidence, sharp across his shoulders, palpable in the square of his jaw.

Viktor couldn't wait to touch him, to get his hands back on him and make him feel so good, fill Yuuri's heart to the brim and make his body ache for him.

Viktor turned his hormones down, tried to heel the lustful beast inside of himself. He meant what he said when he said that he wanted to treasure this. He wanted to take this slow, pick Yuuri apart and put him back together piece by piece. Both of them would savor this.

Viktor reached the bed and set the items aside. The way Yuuri stared at Viktor's supplies knotted nervousness in his stomach. He took a moment, asking Yuuri what he wanted. Viktor would give whatever Yuuri desired, and take nothing more.

"Tell me what you want."

Yuuri shook his head, and Viktor felt like he'd been blindsided with a flyswatter to the eager buzz growing inside of him. But then Yuuri's posture straightened, his expression the cutest shade of determined. He motioned for Viktor to lay down, smoothing out the comforter for him and Viktor's body melted along with his heart.

"If you don't mind. I feel like all I've been doing lately is taking from you."

"Yuuri, you haven't-"

Yuuri placed his hand carefully, purposefully on Viktor's chest once the man was outstretched. The backs of his nails stroked his sternum. "You've been taking care of me since the club, listening to all of my past wrongs, helping me with every hiccup in my life. You buy me dinner and give me clothes and flowers and defend my honor to your family. You make me happier than I thought I could be. Happier than I deserve. I want to do something for you now, if I can."

Viktor would have laughed, held him, squeezed him. He was ridiculous. Viktor settled for holding his cheek, thumb brushing over the indent beneath his eye where his glasses usually sat. "You are so, so silly. You have taken nothing. You deserve the world and all of that is the least I can do. I kind of feel like a poor boyfriend, actually, if that's all I've done for you."

Yuuri bopped him with his forehead. His gaze skittered over Viktor's body, obviously overwhelmed and wired with possibilities.

"Just touch me, Yuuri. I desire you more than anything. Anything you do will please me."

"But…"

"Don't think, Yuuri. Feel. Let instinct guide you. If you still feel insecure, just follow the cues of my voice. I'm told that it's quite the guide."

Yuuri reddened and seemed to shake the thought out as he shook his head. He blindly groped for the bottle of lube near Viktor's hip. "Feels pretty well used," Yuuri commented as he popped the tab open and let the liquid spill onto a finger.

"My imagining of this moment could only get me so far." Viktor let the suggestion settle across Yuuri's face. He wasn't as flustered as Viktor thought he would get. There was a pleased grin toying with his face where a blush ought to have been.

Yuuri leaned over him, connecting their gazes. The barest pressure of his index finger skimmed around the line of Viktor's briefs. Viktor felt a whine catch in his throat as Yuuri's fingers dipped in further, outlining him over the fabric with the lightest stroke of his pinky. Viktor's skin felt hyper-sensitive with Yuuri's alluring gaze focused exclusively on him. He felt like the space around him shrank, down to the cocoa orbs that he cherished.

He loved being the center of Yuuri's vision, being peeled apart with those skilled baker hands. He'd dreamed of it, a time or two. Having Yuuri knead at his skin, the way he'd seen him stretch and pull dough. To bring Viktor to mush between his fingers like batter. To spread his spent gratification over himself with the same precision and creativity as Yuuri would with frosting on a cake.

But this was better than any of those dreams.

Yuuri's palm slid over him, and with it, Yuuri mimicked the feeling with the gentle wisps of his lips down his chest. Yuuri's mouth trailed over is muscles, whispering out little words in his home tongue, things Viktor could have maybe translated had his brain not been turned to putty beneath Yuuri's talented fingers. As it was, not knowing made it all the more erotic. He couldn't tell if they were mindless observations, or praises, or little dirty things that Yuuri couldn't bear to let slip in English.

Yuuri's hand began to slip into his underwear, mouth mounting the arch of his hipbone, and Viktor groaned. Viktor glanced down, watching. The flicker in Yuuri's eyes captured him, made want clog in the back of his throat as he swallowed. Yuuri wearing such bold sensuality was new to Viktor. Even in the club his touches and kisses were teasing. In this moment, Yuuri was a revved up engine hitting every note in Viktor's body.

The slide of his fingers, warm and just slick enough to produce an unbearable glide made Viktor's eyes roll. It was too much, but not enough. He needed Yuuri to tighten around him, to pick up a hastened pace. To draw the feeling out just as he was close to release, to dig his fingers in at the base until the pressure drove him insane. To thumb over his tip when he was granted reprieve.

Viktor kept his fingers straight at his sides even as they longed to guide Yuuri.

Yuuri stared at him with something akin to fascination. Yuuri explored him, this new place on Viktor that Yuuri had never ventured before. It was sweet torture as Yuuri took him in, went from a feathery, ticklish touch, to a twisting pull with his fist. Sure enough, with enough surveying and investigating, Yuuri managed to find all of his weak points. He bulldozed through them and unveiled more. Viktor voiced his pleasure, not that it was much of a choice. Just when Viktor thought the feel of Yuuri couldn't get any more rapturous, Yuuri would dip his wrist and find a new spot, or slip his pinky around the oversensitive tip of his head.

Viktor could feel himself come unhinged from the slide of his tongue. It drove him wild, the different, most sinful heat of Yuuri's mouth venturing there. It had been unexpected, and Viktor's gasped breaths revealed his surprise, along with the curl of his toes. When Yuuri took him in fully, he nearly lost it, had to grip onto the fringe of his bangs and scrape his nails down his cheeks so he wouldn't grab at Yuuri. He wanted to. He wanted to sink his fingers into Yuuri's thick hair, pet and pull and scratch his nails into his scalp.

And when Yuuri chuckled, the vibrations echoing down into him, through him, rattling into every organ and bone with a caress so distinctly Yuuri, Viktor came. Right there. No warning.

Viktor had always been exceptional at knowing all of the ins and outs of his body. It was a perk, he supposed, that came with being an athlete.

Yuuri decimated that knowledge, left it gnarled and twisted in the wind.

The aftershocks tingled in his nerves with the ferocity of a torrential downpour until they slowed to a gentle, melancholy hum. His body, so easily wrecked by Yuuri, still searched him out, sought more.

Viktor couldn't fathom how Yuuri had managed to undo him almost effortlessly, with all of the simplicity of unbuttoning a shirt. His mind briefly twitched in the direction of Yuuri's experience – of barely remembered one night stands, a back alley blow job, Yuuri's mouth and hands on others – but he cleaved the thoughts clean. It was all irrelevant. None of it mattered, just as his own past sordid affairs were shut out with the closing of the bedroom door.

They knew, with the collection of their test results and the settling of their hearts, that no one in their pasts could hold them back.

Viktor collected himself, wiped his eyes of the remnants of the euphoric high with his thumb and forefinger. Yuuri waited, off to the side, his hand still massaging Viktor through his end. The touch was light, one of comfort, rather than arousal. "Sorry, Yuuri, that- that was-"

"Okay?"

Viktor couldn't help his guttural laugh. "Okay? Yuuri, you," Viktor drew in another breath, heaving himself back to normalcy as he sat up. "You have no idea. That was amazing."

The once sultry gaze was gone in an instant as Yuuri beamed. "Good, 'cause I … I did what you said. Instinct and all."

"So you're a natural."

"Is that supposed to be a compliment?"

Viktor kissed him, hands rubbing his shoulders. The bitter taste drew him back as he sucked his lips against his teeth, embarrassment filling him at his lack of control. So much for seasoned experience. "Sorry for that, too. I should have warned you. You okay?"

Yuuri stuck out his tongue like it was a foreign body. "I don't want to offend you, but…"

"It's an acquired taste. I'm not offended at all. Go, go," Viktor urged as he patted Yuuri's back and sent him off to the bathroom.

Viktor gathered him back onto the bed when Yuuri returned, licking the toothpaste foam from the corners of his mouth. "Better?"

"Better."

"Now, I don't mean to be presumptuous or impatient, but I would really like to make you feel good now." By the instant swelling between Yuuri's legs, he could tell that Yuuri was beyond ready for that, too.

Yuuri hummed an eager affirmative against his lips, moving to fill in Viktor's cooling indentation on the bed.

Viktor couldn't stop staring, and he felt his teeth dig into his lip at the thoughts that passed through his mind as he gazed down at the beauty before him. He wanted to hold him, caress him, show his crippled trust what it felt like to be loved and worshiped. He wanted to taste every inch of him, to catalogue every unknown. To feel the warmth of his heat, have the firmness of his thighs around him, to hold and map the curves of his stomach, his hips, and buttocks. He could do all of that. Yuuri had opened himself up to Viktor, granted him entry through the toll booth to his heart.

Viktor would do anything for him, his precious Yuuri that had been put through trauma time and again. Viktor would cover over those scars, fill them with promises of a better future.

One at his side.

Viktor drew Yuuri's tongue back into his mouth, sucked on it as his hands roamed and never left Yuuri's skin. Their mouths burned bright, like swallowing starlight. When Viktor let up, breathing in all that was Yuuri, he noted the intensity in Yuuri's eyes, pupils full. He kissed his lips in parting, scooting back down his body. Yuuri was warm beneath his every caress, complexion rosy as Viktor stroked his skin, connected beauty marks with his fingers, and drew shapeless forms with his tongue. It was astounding, how much he yearned for Yuuri, yet how willing he was to submit to Yuuri's cues. Viktor's senses were heightened, listening and feeling for when Yuuri would want more, or when it was too much, or if he needed to stop.

Viktor was beyond himself as he took in Yuuri beneath him, lost in want. He drew his ear to Yuuri's exposed chest, hands still roaming, still seeking to gratify, as Viktor listened.

The rumbling of blood flow moved like molten lava in Yuuri's body. It heaved with all of the dormant power of a volcano. Yuuri's heart was a soft purr beneath Viktor's fingertips, invigorated, but trusting.

This was Yuuri's sound.

Yuuri's smell.

Yuuri's warmth.

His tender love beneath his hands.

"Viktor?" Yuuri questioned, squirming beneath him.

"Forgive me. You are unbearably distracting, Yuuri." Viktor jumped back to work, ever eager to please. He wasted no more time with teasing, relieving Yuuri quickly of his bottoms before settling between the V of his legs and taking him into his mouth.

A silent scream of breath hissed through Yuuri's teeth. Yuuri's hand flopped on the bed, struggling with the acute suddenness of feeling, reaching for him. Viktor took his hand, but remained focused on satisfying his lover. On feeling Yuuri in his mouth. Finding Yuuri's taste.

Viktor moaned at the weight of him on his tongue, the pulsating heat covered with silken skin. At first he simply held him there, jaw stretched and lips pulsing near his base. Yuuri eventually nodded towards him, clenched his hand, and Viktor continued. He licked and stroked with his tongue, sucked until Yuuri's fingernails bit into his wrist. He tilted his head, angling Yuuri and Yuuri's slightly crooked tip into the crook of his mouth. It fit perfectly against his cheek, all wet heat. He alternated between suctioning against Yuuri, drawing him down into his throat, relaxing his muscles around him, and drawing back, sloshing saliva against him as he licked against Yuuri's ridges with his tongue.

He applied special attention to the softest stretch of skin beneath his head, prodding the tip of his tongue into his flesh the way Yuuri loved, if his quivering thighs had anything to say about it.

Yuuri was overwhelmed in no time. He rolled his head to the side, neck bare and flush and if Viktor's mouth wasn't already occupied, he would have sunken his teeth into it.

While Yuuri was cresting in pleasure, Viktor pulled himself back. He popped the lid open on the bottle of lube, quietly, so as not to startle, and spread a fair amount across his fingers. He warmed it in his hand, let it take on the temperature of his own skin, before he came back to Yuuri.

He stroked Yuuri with one hand, ready to prepare him with a probing finger. "Yuuri, babe?" He waited until their gazes met, eyes conveying to Yuuri that he could stop at any moment. "This okay?"

Viktor explained the process, every detail, letting the unsaid be cleaved away, a topiary being clipped into shape. Viktor wanted Yuuri to understand everything, to know what was coming.

Yuuri was breathless, throat dry. His voice was creaky, threaded with impatience, but it was the sexiest thing Viktor had heard in years. "Ye- Yes…" He licked is lips, and Viktor found himself mimicking the action. "Please, yes. God, yes. I need you."

Yuuri turned Viktor's switch on to overload without even trying.

With a grin, Viktor heaved Yuuri's legs up, hooking his knees over his shoulders, and took Yuuri back into his mouth. As Yuuri breathed in a gasp, Viktor worked his first finger inside.

Prep was never an enjoyable thing for Viktor. If he didn't do it himself before an encounter, he was usually left with an unbearable soreness the morning after. He found that his partners usually failed to properly stretch him out first, or they became too frenzied, seized by passion, to prep much at all. It was the most uncomfortable part, even when done right. Viktor didn't generally enjoy it, feeling so vulnerable, being pulled apart in a way that felt wrong and was almost always painful.

Viktor made it his mission to distract Yuuri through the hardest parts. He knew the burn that came with the introduction of a new finger. He knew how the stretch of scissoring fingers could feel like tearing, searing pressure. Viktor attempted to ease him through it all with adept fingers coated in lube. His movements were swift, precise, meticulous, and his mouth never stopped. He licked and sucked against Yuuri's skin, blossomed bruises along the slope of his thigh, against the curve of his ass.

Viktor continued long after he knew Yuuri was ready. He waited until Yuuri's blood fizzed, until Yuuri was moving his hips against him, until Yuuri hid his too-honest face in the crook of his elbow, his wrecked voice begging Viktor for more.

Viktor looked up the length of him, appreciating the sight. Hunger swelled from the deepest parts of him and Viktor realized that he couldn't wait any longer either. How he ached for him. "You are so good. So perfect." Viktor whispered the words across Yuuri's face, smacking a kiss to Yuuri's cheek so hard that it made Yuuri laugh.

Viktor wanted to keep kissing him, couldn't keep his lips off of that face, but he knew what would be easier on Yuuri. Seeing Yuuri's face, delighting in the way arousal would swing sharp across his features, watching how the waves of ecstasy tore through his eyes, would have to wait for another time. Viktor drew his hand to the wing of Yuuri's hipbone, urging him over.

"Turn for me."

Yuuri did as instructed, leaving himself vulnerable on his hands and knees, back to him, legs spread as his feet flexed nervousness into the bed clothes. He couldn't blame Yuuri for the way he wavered, the tiniest bit.

Viktor was quick to slip his condom on, but he was suddenly afraid, crumbling under the pressure of Yuuri's trust. Afraid he would hurt, wound, betray. But he would never. His feelings nagged him, loitering inside of him like a dandelion, innocently growing, until it spread its seeds in his stomach, made him face the possibility that he was ruining something so utterly precious. There was no turning back, he could go only forward. What if this was a misstep? What if it was too early?

"Um…"

"I'm right here." And he was. Viktor draped himself over Yuuri, musing over the way Yuuri's and Viktor's nerves left them at the slide of his chest over Yuuri's spine. Viktor stayed like that, bleeding his warmth into Yuuri's body. "I'm with you. Always. I can't tell you how much I want to see your face." Yuuri wanted that, too. His fists ringing out the fabric told him so. He kissed the nape of Yuuri's neck, nose drifting along the fine hairs there. He smoothed his hand over Yuuri's back, the heel applying guiding pressure to the small of his back so Yuuri could bow his hips a little more. "But this will be easier on you." Viktor took the backs of Yuuri's hands, affectionately squeezing his fingers, and brought them up to the wall. Yuuri's hands were obedient, left splayed against the hideous wallpaper.

"I can take it, you know." The salt to his words gave Viktor pause. Yuuri glanced over his shoulder, nothing but sauce in his expression despite his posture. "I can take whatever you give me."

Viktor held Yuuri's hips, brought his down to meet Yuuri's and made a pleased sound at the feeling of Yuuri against him. His voice was a mumble against the cut of Yuuri's shoulder blade. "This isn't about giving and taking. And I won't do anything that will cause you pain. This is about us joining together. This is about our love."

The first slide in made Viktor breathe a ragged breath into the hollow of Yuuri's shoulder. He'd prepared him well, could feel it in the easy give of Yuuri, in the way there was only pleasure racking Yuuri's frame, not a hint of pain or uneasiness. But Yuuri was incredible around him, tight, wickedly hot. He bottomed out, let Yuuri get accustomed to the width and length of him inside. Really, Viktor took it as an excuse to bring his head back from the clouds, to rid the slosh of water from his ears. The feel of Yuuri was heavenly, and his brain fritzed at the sensory overload of so much of this man overtaking him.

When Yuuri tapped against his thigh, a weak sign that he was good, ready, willing, Viktor let the slow drag of his hips do the rest. There was a potent undercurrent to the way their bodies moved, and Yuuri almost instantly matched his hips, rolling his own in sinuous waves that made fireflies dance beneath Viktor's lids.

Viktor's hands were near bruising on Yuuri's waist, fingers clenching to hold on, bear down weight into something to keep him from slipping. To ground him in Yuuri so he wouldn't lose himself to the heady stroke against Yuuri's insides. Viktor could hear himself, the way his voice left him like a strangled animal. It was alarming when he listened, noticing that it was only him lilting into the air.

But that wasn't quite true.

Yuuri screamed his pleasure with his body, instead of his voice. His back arched as his hips swayed. Fingertips clenched into the decaying green of the wallpaper, the spotted pattern distorting minutely under the tears of Yuuri's fingernails. His toes spazzed against Viktor's calf, his feet left up and dangling with the way he knelt.

Viktor became intoxicated by the words his body said, by the sounds that escaped through Yuuri's breath. A particularly aimed jab had Yuuri give a half-yell half-scream, all startled and pleased so much so that he lost balance momentarily, fingers scrabbling for purchase. Viktor held Yuuri up before he could fall, but he was relentless in his pursuit, gunning for that exquisite spot inside of Yuuri. Yuuri smothered what little sounds cracked out of his throat into the back of his hand.

Viktor bent forward, a particularly nasty thrust leaving Yuuri gasping. Viktor licked at the tears clumping inky lashes. "Should I slow down?" He could taste the tease on his breath, but he was plenty serious.

"I swe-ar, Viktor, if you- hi- Ah! If… Right there. Don-n't stop- mmnh."

"I want to hear you, Yuuri. Yuuri…My Yuuri."

"Viktor- Ah! Guh… Vik-tor…"

Something built between them, something sacred and transcending and Viktor couldn't find words. He was all raw feeling, his usually eloquent speech twisted into passionate grunts, cries of Yuuri's name, and unintelligible noises. Yuuri's hand felt for his, brought it up to Yuuri's stomach. Yuuri held him there, their hands joined beneath him, over the scars, holding onto the bird that soared across Yuuri's skin. Viktor crooned against Yuuri's back, expressing his feelings in any way he could as he kissed along the notches of Yuuri's spine.

It came to a head quickly, before either of them were prepared. They fell together, eclipsed in this world of their own making.

Where they would remain.


Yuuri woke up and his spine hurt. It was preferable to other areas he was sure would be sore after… that. But it was mostly just the length of his spine that had a distant ache in its bones, along with some stiffness in his hips. That and a rather embarrassing stiffness in his jaw. He tested it a few times, knocking his jaw around and popping the hinges in and out of place. He let out a long, unexpected yawn.

Yeah, that was going to sting for a while.

Yuuri could feel his blush run all the way up to his ears.

Luckily for him, Viktor wasn't awake to witness his embarrassment. He was still blissfully asleep, and Yuuri spent the first few moments watching the rise and fall of his chest, the minute flickering behind his eyelids. Viktor was on his side, his arms outstretched, still holding onto Yuuri while he slept, the slow death of day's light at his back. Yuuri couldn't contain his smile, even as it stretched pained muscles. Viktor had been so sweet with him, so considerate and mindful.

There had been such a nebulous feeling between them. Viktor had lit up his insides like nothing had before. Yuuri could still feel him inside of him, prickling under his skin, their connection palpable in the beat of his heart. Yuuri knew, without regret, in the deepest parts of his soul, that they were meant to be together.

Yuuri had bared himself of everything. Viktor knew him, all of him, the gritty and the good. Yuuri didn't know feeling so vulnerable, so defenseless could be so liberating. His tattoo, the scars, they only ever served to make him feel weak. He had been young and powerless during that time in his aunt's home, but he had allowed that time to infect him long after he'd grown. It was as if his bones were cancerous with the memory. His family hurt him, burned him, but now it was a hellfire of his own making that kept him small.

He had to believe that he could get past this. He had the power to heal himself.

"You really are beautiful. You, your bird, and every hardship you've ever endured. You're strong, Yuuri. I wish you could see it."

Viktor helped him free himself of his shackles and emancipate himself of his past. Viktor was his heaven and Earth and everything in between. His salvation. His savior. No, he wasn't there to save him. He was there to help Yuuri save himself.

With that thought, Yuuri wondered.

How could he possibly reciprocate?

Staring across Viktor's outstretched arm, Yuuri thought quietly to himself that he could get used to this. Viktor always beside him, his smell on his sheets, silver hairs in curled crescents on his pillow. Yuuri could have been content with the world as long as Viktor was at his side.

The light pinging of his phone pulled Yuuri out of his musings. He swiftly nabbed it, hoping to shut it off before it woke Viktor. They'd only been sleeping for an hour, but they wouldn't be sleeping for longer than that, it seemed.

We still meeting up?

"Oh, crap," Yuuri whispered, then rose his voice as he began shoving his forearm in Viktor's direction as he typed a reply back. "Crap, crap, crap." Yuuri tossed his phone to the side and turned, more delicately, but urgently tugging at his lover. "Viktor? We kind of forgot something important."

"Nothing is more important than this," Viktor grumbled grumpily as he pulled a squirming Yuuri closer. An instant ripple of affection made its way to Viktor's features as they lightened from the deep folds of sleep. Yuuri wished that Viktor wouldn't do that. It took all of Yuuri's willpower to not give into the promise of more time in Viktor's arms.

"I think you're forgetting the importance of young love." At Viktor's quirked brow, Yuuri elaborated. "Leo and Guang-Hong. Remember? Double date ring any bells?"

"Crap."

"Took the word right out of my mouth."

They both catapulted out of bed. Yuuri danced his pants on while Viktor raced into the shower. Yuuri figured that he could put on some coffee and make a quick bite, maybe toast and jam, and forgo the shower. As the coffee was in the midst of percolating, the rich scent livening the air while Yuuri popped a piece of bread into the toaster, the pipes within the walls made an awful groaning sound. "That can't be good."

"Cold! Cold!" The shrieks came moments before the rushing water came to an abrupt stop, the shower curtain screeching across the bar after. Viktor ran out of the bathroom, bouncing from foot to foot as he toweled at his prickled skin.

"Lose the hot water again?"

Viktor growled in response, shivering as he rubbed vigorously at his body. "I barely managed to clean my hair. You've really got to get your building manager to fix the water heater."

"Yeah, like that will happen in this century."

"I could always-"

"Nope. No pulling any strings." Yuuri came over to him, taking Viktor's towel from his hands and replacing it with a warm mug of coffee. He began toweling off a pouting Viktor, extracting the water from his hair with a few careful squeezes. "Thanks, though." Navigating around Viktor's coffee slurp, Yuuri kissed his nose, smiling. Viktor gave him an odd look and Yuuri felt his bright (probably too bright) smile slip. "Something wrong?"

Viktor went to correct him quickly with a brush of his own lips against Yuuri's forehead. "Nothing wrong. Your smile is dazzling, Yuuri. But… Hmmm."

"I don't think I like that contemplative hum."

Viktor stared down into the murkiness of his coffee, considering. "You're happier than I thought you would be."

Yuuri caught onto the words redacted from his sentence, and the vein of thought they stemmed from. "You thought I would be unhappy?" Yuuri guessed, wrapping the towel around Viktor's waist and folding it to secure it there. "You thought I would regret what we did? Do you regret what we did?"

Viktor almost spat out his mouthful of coffee, but caught himself as he covered his lips with his cup. He swallowed harshly and moved to take hold of Yuuri's face with his unoccupied hand. "Not at all, solntse moye. I love you too much to regret any of my time with you. I enjoyed it. Every moment of it."

"Good." Yuuri pecked his lips, quick and easy. "It- I- I enjoyed myself, too." Yuuri coughed into a hand at the sight of Viktor's dopey smile. The toast popped and Yuuri rushed to grab it. He was slathering jam on it when he finished with, "Thank you for being with me."

Viktor was no longer in the room to hear it.

It took them forty-five minutes to get to the pier where they were meeting up. Thanks to Viktor's crazy, terrorize Yuuri driving, they were only a five minutes late. They met up at Pier 39, where Guang-Hong had suggested since he had surprisingly never been before. The first few minutes were awkward, getting reacquainted, deciding where to go and what to see. Eventually, as the sky rippled with the carnage of sunset, everything fell into place and the nerves of newness fell away.

The group traipsed around Pier 39, showing Guang-Hong and Viktor the sights, seeing as Yuuri and Leo had already been. They spent some time out by the water, watching the sea lions flop in and out of the bay, an entire colony of them lounging about on the marina. They ducked into the aquarium for a while, watching the fish and listening to the interactive displays.

The mirror maze was an interesting attraction, one Yuuri hadn't been in before. Like a fun house, it was full of mirrored trickery, and navigating out of the deceptive maze of reflections proved challenging. Viktor and Yuuri hung back behind Leo and Guang-Hong as the two tried to find their way out.

Yuuri leaned over to Viktor, voice low. "You think they noticed?" Yuuri asked, staring at the two teen's locked hands.

"Not a chance," Viktor murmered, putting his arm around Yuuri, and they walked on.

Another new thing for Yuuri was the laser beam challenge. It was part of the 7D experience attraction where you had to move and contort your body around a continuous crisscross of laser beams set up throughout the room, touching goal points along the way. They all tried it together, bending and laughing and falling through the neon beams.

"It's like twister," Guang-Hong commented, hitting the third goal point mere seconds after Yuuri. "I've always been pretty good at twister."

"I'm good at Twister, this… not so much," Leo responded, huffing as he glared at the red beam millimeters away from his chin. "This is too high level for me. How are you guys so far already?"

"You can probably blame my years of dance." Yuuri twisted around a green laser, grimacing. That one had him bending at a terrible angle and it was not the time to be thinking of his aching spine.

"My Yuuri is very flexible."

The darkness of the room concealed it, but Yuuri just knew that Viktor was smirking. "I'm going to catch up to you and when I do, you aren't going to like it."

"Promise?"

"Okay," Leo said, nearly slipping from his spot. "I don't really want to hear any more."

"I second that," chirped Guang-Hong, giggling.

"I third it," grumbled Yuuri, a stain on his cheeks.

After that it was more meandering under the moonlight. They ate greasy, sugary foods and watched comedians on the carousel stage. They tried on funky hats in a hat shop and had fun on musical stairs.

As much as Yuuri had wanted to curl up, have a lazy afternoon/night with Viktor, he was glad that they'd decided to come. Spending time with Leo and Guang-Hong, laughing and being in the moment was just what he needed. Get out of his head a little.

"You won't even let me on the carousel," Yuuri griped, watching as Leo and Guang-Hong got off their respective horses. Leo looked a little sick, a cupped hand over his mouth as a concerned Guang-Hong held onto Leo's arm and led him over to a bench. Yuuri thought that the unintended display of affection was adorable. "What kind of boyfriend are you?"

"A concerned one," Viktor said, bringing their joined hands together and kissing them. Their hands were sticky, floss sugar hidden in the creases of their fingers. Yuuri could still taste the cinnamon of their earlier elephant ear between his teeth. "Your head, Yuuri."

"Augh, my head is fine, but," Yuuri kissed Viktor's chin, his usual agitation numbed by the events of the day, "thanks for caring."

"Always."

Yuuri and Viktor stayed where they were, slyly watching Guang-Hong take care of Leo, the younger pep talking the man and giving him water. Then Leo and Guang-Hong were laughing. Then there was a quiet moment of staring, watching each other. They both slowly, cautiously leaned in and-

"Aw," Yuuri said before he could stop himself, then clasped his hands over his mouth.

"So proud," Viktor chimed in, pretending to wipe tears from his eyes.

Yuuri ducked his head, glancing away and giving their friends their due privacy. "I feel like snooping parents."

"Should we take a picture for the memory book? Or should I threaten him with a frying pan to stay away from our boy?"

"You are so weird."

Viktor settled for discreetly taking a picture and Yuuri hid his eyes with a hand. "It's so cute and innocent. Nothing like our first kiss." Viktor pulled Yuuri to his side, shoving fish lips in his face. "Should we recreate the moment?"

Viktor's jubilant mood and capricious nature must have contaminated Yuuri. Taking Viktor's hand, Yuuri spun him around and dipped him. Surprise erupted across Viktor's face as he hung from Yuuri's arms, but his smile brightened. Yuuri leaned in close, whispering into Viktor's lips, "Why hello, Viktor with a 'k', I'm Yuuri," and kissed him breathless.

It was a good night.

One that Yuuri would always remember.

Chapter Text

"You're acting weird again. Did Katsudon get another bump on the head?"

The question earned Yuri a glare, because, yes, a concussion is more than a bump on the head. Much more. As an athlete, Yuri knew that. It didn't mean that he had to care. It didn't mean that he felt something the first time that he saw Yuuri after his 'return.' He didn't feel anything when he saw the gauze swiveled around his head. When he saw the ache shattering across Viktor's face as he looked at Yuuri. When Yuri realized, belatedly, and rather reluctantly, how much Viktor truly cared for Yuuri. And how broken Viktor could have been had Yuuri knocked his brain harder, or if his brain had bled, or swelled.

To Yuri, Yuuri was just a pig. A pork roll. Katsudon.

But to Viktor…

Yuri couldn't deny it anymore. To Viktor, Yuuri meant something.

It killed Yuri to admit it.

"How long are you going to call Yuuri that?" Viktor questioned, swiveling to a showy stop in front of Yuri who was taking a breather on the bleachers.

"Huh?"

"Katsudon." When Yuri didn't reply, Viktor grinned. "What? You didn't notice? Is that your new pet name for my Yuuri?"

Yuri took a sip from his water bottle and spat it toward Viktor in a long, fountain-esque arc. Viktor side-skated to avoid the spray. "As if. Your Yuuri," Yuri mocked in a swooning tone, hands holding each other to his chest as he batted his eyelashes "looks like he eats enough katsudon that he might as well turn into it."

Viktor waved off the insult with a sloped half-smile. "I think someone's finally been charmed. Must have been all of those packed lunches he's made us. You looked awfully happy when you saw that cinnamon-pecan twist in your bag the other day. They always say the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

Yuri ignored the heat that instantly pooled into his cheeks. Spitting out more of his water towards Viktor, he sputtered, "I most certainly was not! Katsudon's just trying… trying to… to-to make me fat! That's right! He wants me to eat all of his treats so I can't take his boyfriend away and win!"

"I'm not even going to rectify what you just said with logic. Even if my Yuuri were that type of person," Viktor said, leaning over the boards with his index finger wagging in the air, "you would still need to like his pastries for him to have you eat them."

Yuri growled, ready to pounce on Viktor's mocking face. But Viktor skated away, out of Yuri's reach. He left Yuri to seethe, angered by… what? Viktor's teasing? Yuuri's underhanded tactics? Yuri's unfortunate favoring of Yuuri's baked goods?

His lunches weren't half bad, either.

Yuri let himself breathe. He needed to calm down, not get so irritated. He'd talked to his grandfather the night before, been reminded that he needed to cool himself down. His grandfather told him that he had a temper, a raging inferno that arose from his gut like a beast, his own fire-breathing dragon much akin to his father's. Hearing that only irritated Yuri more. He was nothing like his old man. He would never desert his family. He would never abandon his partner, leave them sick and dying. But despite his best attempts to prove his grandfather wrong, he found that he did snap quicker than he should. He became furious at the smallest things. He would lash out at people for no real reason, hurt people with thoughtless words and accusations. His tongue was a dagger that ripped into other people, made them bleed, and he would think that they deserved it for making him so mad.

He didn't want to always spew fire at people, hurt them. He was just angry. He was just…

Scared.

"What do you see in him?" Yuri asked. He kept his voice from cracking, but he felt a burning behind his eyes that Yuri hated. He wanted to punch something. A wall. A face. Instead he breathed. Like his grandfather taught him. Six seconds in. Six seconds out. Over and over. He didn't need to be a dragon right now. He didn't need to bare his teeth and claws and fight to be heard, respected, understood.

"You know, Yuuri does breathing exercises like that." Yuri's eyes sharply cut into Viktor, but he kept breathing. "For his anxiety…" he trailed off with a shrug.

"That doesn't answer my question."

Viktor tilted his head, gloved hands holding him against the boards as he idly skated in and out. His skates made that scribbling noise on the ice, a sound that Yuri loved and had once worshipped when coming from those blades. Yuri thought it sounded kind of different now. Viktor clenched his hands and Yuri could feel the sincerity, the certainty as he said, "It's not what I see. It's what I feel."

Home

Yuri could read it on him, see it in the light haloing Viktor's irises, as if the sun lived inside of his eyes.

San Francisco was now a home for Viktor.

Yuuri was a home for Viktor.

"So that's why you're all flowery," Yuri said with a scoff, though his expression was empty, blank of anger and rage and fury. "Dope." He punched Viktor as he passed him, slipping back into his new routine.

Viktor, flawless, on point Viktor was back in coach mode as quickly as rotating a dial to the right setting. Like an air conditioner or a dryer. He was a machine, a perfected appliance made with a setting for every occasion.

He had a coach setting.

A skater setting.

A lover setting.

Even a home setting.

Home

Yuri's mind drifted as he set himself into his first spin. His thoughts twirled about with him, but landed in an unexpected area.

The tattoo parlor.

It wasn't the ideal place, surrounded in the smell of cheap cigarettes and stale beer. It stank like a bar, but it was nice. Yuri sort of understood Viktor's sentiment, the unspoken word. It wasn't the home that Yuri always recalled. The smell of his grandfather's cigars. His mother's too-sweet wine. Bread baking in the oven. The beep of his mother's monitor. Nights listening to the thunk of the axe as his grandfather chopped wood that would crackle in their fireplace. His father's woolen scarf, the only thing left of a man he never knew, wrapped around his neck, burned later in righteous anger that died within the embers and birthed only regretful tears.

Here it was the ever present buzzing, like a mosquito in his ear that never landed. The rough scuff of his feet on the floorboards. Watching sand dance across them as the door was pushed open. Mari's putrid, hair-standing-on-end coffee. Leftover pastries in the middle of the table. Parties with missing shoes and rubber band welts. Dollface. Otabek's borderline obsessive cleaning habits.

"Well, if you want a friend, I'm here, I guess."

A home away from home.

Yuri's thoughts came to an abrupt halt with the thud of his body. His limbs were still held tight against him, his body hissing as it slid across the frigid ice. He could feel the forms the bruises would take on his shoulder and hip. His hair was a tangled mess within its tie.

Yuri blinked as he sat up.

"I… fell…"

There was an all-knowing jaunt to Viktor's skating as he made it over to Yuri. "And that, my dear pupil, is what happens when your heart isn't where you want it to be."

"My heart is right where it should be, thank you," Yuri grumbled, picking himself up and wiping off the shards of ice from his attire.

Viktor spun around him, humming some gleeful jingle that made Yuri want to puke. But Yuri was still thinking about the disconnect, that feeling he had for just a moment that left his body out of tune with his mind.

Was… Was he being infected, too?

"Koneko-chan?"

No. No, of course not.

"That's not my name, bastard."

"And yet, you answered."

Yuri flipped Viktor off as he got back into position to start again. "Don't make me throat punch you."

It was later when they were lounging at the tables, giving their feet a rest and eating their lunches from Yuuri, that Viktor was scrolling through his phone and grinning the creepiest grin that Yuri had ever seen, his eyebrow raised in interest. "You're making your forehead wrinkles stand out."

Viktor gasped, slamming a hand to his forehead. "Take that back!"

It was a distraction Yuri used to swipe away Viktor's phone. On it was an Instagram photo of Mila's, a selfie of her and a conked out Georgi on a plane.

'On a kitten stealing mission'

Yuri almost laughed, despite the anger and indignation swelling within his chest. "So… Yakov's finally sent the two of you. Took him long enough."


"No fanfare for the newcomers? I'm disappointed."

Viktor turned from his place on the end of the couch, instantly grinning at the pair that walked through the tattoo parlor's door. "Mila. Georgi. You two made good time."

Yuri's reaction was a lot more explosive. "How the hell did you two find me so quickly?!"

Mila bent to set her bag to the side before sliding her sunglasses back through her hair. "We're dreadfully jetlagged, but the plane ride wasn't bad. Not like some of our flights."

"Our last trip here for Skate America was awful. I thought the turbulence wouldn't end," Georgi groaned, heaving his own bag from his shoulder. Otabek caught it and offered to put their luggage safely in a back room. Mila quickly accepted, not wasting a moment as she pawed a flirtatious hand on his shoulder. Viktor didn't miss how Yuri's eye twitched.

"Hey, hag, don't ignore me. How did you know I was here, of all places?" When no one answered, Yuri's gaze quickly swerved to Viktor.

"Don't stab me with that glare. I didn't say a thing, but it's not like I haven't been checking in with Yakov."

"That treacherous old fart."

"Always so quick to suspect Yakov." Mila giggled, toeing off her flip flops and lounging on the couch, her back against Viktor's side as she stretched out her legs over the tear-streaked cushions. "Coach didn't tell us where you were. He didn't have to."

"Then who?!"

"I told them." The curtain to one of the side rooms swung open, revealing Mari and a man with a pink and puffy dragon scaling up his bicep. Sliding off her gloves, Mari gave the man her thanks for his business before shaking his hand. When the front door closed behind him, she turned her attention back to the room. "Man, I feel like I've adopted the entire Russian figure skating crew."

"Not the entirety of it," Georgi said, eyes glancing up and down the tattoo art on the walls. "Only the skaters that matter. Hey, could you do a name in that font?" he asked Mari, pointing to the word 'Live' drawn in some kind of delicate cursive sans script.

Mari shrugged her mouth, considering. "Yeah, no problem. Where and how big?"

"Don't," Viktor cut in. "Haven't you made enough mistakes because of that girl?"

"HEY!" Yuri yelled, standing up from his place on the floor and practically shaking with anger. "I'm not going back until I get what I came here for. None of you can make me. I don't know what Yakov was thinking when he sent you-"

"Oh, he didn't send us." Mila was turned away from all of them, the back of her hand help up in front of her face as she visibly assessed her nails. They were a glimmering taupe color that looked freshly done. Viktor wondered if she'd done them on the plane. Her nail skills were about as legendary as her figure skating, but Viktor was still impressed that she could paint them without flaw while in moving vehicles. "And not everything is about you, Yura. I wanted a day at the beach. I've been dying for a Cali tan and both of us wanted to meet that cute little number of Viktor's," Mila said with a suggestive bop of her shoulder against Viktor. "Yura is just a prize that we'll wrangle in for Yakov tomorrow."

Viktor couldn't help but smile and playfully push his own shoulder into Mila's back. Mila had always been a little on the clingy side, imposing herself and her opinions on others, but Viktor appreciated that about her. She was open about herself, who she was and what she wanted, in a way that Viktor never felt able to. Like Chris, Mila pushed herself into Viktor's space and didn't back off until she cracked his mask.

She wasn't like Georgi, who just seemed to know. When he was emotionally stable, Georgi could read people. He could look at a person, talk to them, watch them skate, and find the ins and outs of their personality. With Viktor, Georgi could see that there was a loneliness burdening Viktor and fracturing his drive on the ice. It was something akin to Georgi's own profound need to be loved. They didn't talk about it, but it was there like a bond of understanding. Of brotherhood.

That was why Mila and Georgi were two of his favorite people, and why Viktor felt excitement fluttering like hope in his chest.

His family, his true friends came to see Yuuri. Viktor couldn't wait for Yuuri to meet them. Unlike with Valeriya and Yuri, Viktor could count on Mila and Georgi to be open and warm with Yuuri. He just hoped Yuuri would be up for their antics. "Why don't we make tonight a goodbye party for Yuri at the beach?"

"Yes!" Mila exclaimed, bouncing up and hugging Viktor. "So much yes. We can meet everybody!"

"Why?" Yuri snarled.

Mila waved him off. "Shush, darling. This doesn't concern you."

"But it's my goodbye party." Yuri took a minute to process his words while Viktor hid his laugh behind a cough. "Wait, who said I was saying goodbye?!"

"I better text Yuuri," Viktor murmured as he shuffled to get his phone from his pocket.

Mila leaned towards him. "Yes, and show me some more pictures. Your Yuuri is too cute for words."

"With pleasure."

"Don't ignore me!"


"If I have to do another unicorn cake, I'm gonna cry," Yuuri whined as he finished the last purple petal on the fortieth flower of the unicorn's mane of hair. With a last swoop of his wrist, the icing was done and off of his flower nail, ready to be placed precisely at the end of the long trail. Great, he just had to frost the twenty cupcakes that were supposed to continue down from the mane. As if his hands weren't already cramping. "Now I know how Mari feels when she has to do her fourth dreamcatcher of the week."

Phichit came up behind him, patting his back with a sigh. "Trends are evil. Remember when we thought that Nutella was our mortal enemy? People wanted that hazelnut whore spread on everything. One of our customers even named their baby after that stuff."

"Let's not forget the salted caramel craze. There were brownies and truffles and cakes and scones and frostings and by the time I was done, I couldn't look at caramel without imagining it being murdered and mutilated by salt."

Phichit shivered. "Salted caramel is disgusting. All I can ever taste is the salt!"

Minami popped up between them, contemplating Yuuri's cake with a finger itching his temple. The scrutiny still made Yuuri uncomfortable, but he bit his lip against the flow of his anxiety. "It's a beautiful unicorn," Minami began, "but I don't understand why little kids want decapitated unicorn heads for their birthdays."

"Pretty sure it's because they don't put it like that, Minami," Phichit scolded.

"It's the only thing I see!" Minami insisted, throwing out his arms in exasperation. His hand flew out centimeters from knocking into the cake and Yuuri had a glimpse of its swift death. Minami failed to notice. "All I see is a poor unicorn without its body. I think, 'oh god, where is the rest of it? What kind of sick person would do such a thing?' I swear it gives me nightmares," he said, clutching his cheeks around a horrified expression.

Yuuri had always found the unicorn cakes endearing. He thanked god that the body wasn't included because he really didn't want to have to make that over and over. It was a pretty simple cake, all things considered. But now, as he narrowed his eyes at his creation, a lonely unicorn head sitting on a platter, Yuuri could only cringe. "And now I can never make one again."

"But unicorns are adorable!" Phichit protested, his hand drifting over the cake as if he was petting the air around it to give it comfort. "You both are mean. It's not its fault that it doesn't have a body."

Yuuri put down his piping bag a little farther from himself than necessary. "I feel scummy, like a hunter with its trophy."

"Minami agrees," Minami chirped.

"Ugh, you guys just don't appreciate the appeal."

"Of decapitated heads? Sorry, I'm not the queen of hearts."

"Your wise cracks aren't appreciated, Yuuri." Phichit jut his chin out with a huff, picking up his tray of scones. He turned toward the door just as Sara bolted into the kitchen, nearly bowling over Phichit and his pastries.

"Incoming!"

"Christ, Sara," Phichit swore as he swerved to avoid her, losing one of his scones from the end of his tray in the process. It landed on the floor, cracking apart into crumbly bits, and Phichit looked about ready to cry. "My child…"

"Sorry, sorry," Sara winced, but hardly looked broken up over it. She turned, throwing her phone in Yuuri's face as her seams were practically bursting with the anticipation. "More ice skating hotties are on their way in."

"Wha?" The phone was way too close to his glasses and shaking in Sara's hand. Yuuri grabbed her hand around the cell and pulled it back to see a picture of two people on a plane apparently set on nabbing cats. "Am I supposed to know these people?"

"Duh," Sara thumped him on the head with the heel of her hand before flipping the pictures on her screen to show a photo of Viktor with his rink mates. Oh. "See. Viktor's friends are coming here."

"No way," Minami squealed. "I have to get more autographs! You think they'll sign my shirt, too?"

Sara shoved her phone into the pocket of her apron with a giant grin. "This is exciting! Isn't it exciting, Yuuri? Why are you not excited?"

Yuuri turned back to his dead unicorn. He had cupcakes to frost and he still had a horn to mold out of fondant. The cake was due at five, so he needed to speed things up.

"Why are you making that face?"

Sara was still hovering in his periphery, trying to get a closer look at him, but Yuuri was set on his cake.

He smiled, just a little, brittle thing, because this was nice. Viktor's friends were coming, the friends he never really spoke of, but missed in the quiet spaces of his mind. Viktor's life was coming for him, in small increments, yanking him back. Yuuri couldn't help but wonder who it would be that would convince Viktor to return. If these would be the rink mates, the friends, that would remind Viktor of what he was missing and what he wanted to return to.

"Viktor doesn't need you."

"You're nothing to him, you know?"

"You're taking the ice from him. Is that what you want?"

"Don't you think Viktor deserves better? Someone extraordinary like him?"

The words haunted Yuuri, physically paining him as they swirled around his heart, straining against his ribcage. Yuuri was happy for Viktor. There were people in Viktor's corner, people that cared for him outside of the spotlight. Some days, the man really needed to know that. And now, some more of Viktor's inner circle were coming to see him.

But Yuuri knew what was coming. More hatred. More derision. Yuuri was keeping Viktor from them, from the ice and Russia. It was Yuuri's fault that Viktor no longer skated for the world.

It was Yuuri's fault that Viktor was no longer doing what he loved.

Yuuri didn't know why he was still surprised that all of Viktor's closest hated him. He hated himself. If anyone was responsible for ruining Mari's life, or Phichit's, or Minako's, or his parents', he would hate them, too.

His old feelings burbled up to the surface. Feelings of inadequacy, self-loathing, and the fear of being left behind. This was just another reason why they shouldn't be together.

No, he was done letting people interfere with his life. His love. He could face this.

They could face this.

Fear would no longer rule him.

"It's nothing, Sara. I'm sure Yuri is foaming at the mouth about now, though. He hates being referred to as a cat."

"So that's what that means…" Sara was still staring at him, a new heaviness hidden beneath her eyes. "Um, can I talk to you about something, Yuuri?"

Yuuri was already back to piping. He answered with a distracted hum, his hands tightening around his piping bag a little more than necessary.

"I've been meaning to tell you something for a while now…"


"Yuuri! I don't have forehead wrinkles, right?" Viktor came barging in through the swinging door, expression thoroughly distressed, but Yuuri held up a finger.

Yuuri turned his attention back to the person on the other end of the line, pushing the phone further into his ear with his shoulder. "Yes, yes, of course," Yuuri answered, filling out a line on the order form in front of him. "I would actually recommend a whipped vanilla. The buttercream may be overbearing with the fruit."

Viktor squirmed, struggling to catch Yuuri's attention. Yuuri held up another finger, but Viktor didn't like being ignored. He eventually came up to lean on Yuuri's shoulders, hanging off of him like a demanding child.

"It's true, isn't it?"

Yuuri gave him a look, confusion furled in his brows as he honestly wasn't listening to Viktor's cries. Viktor chose to take Yuuri's silence as confirmation.

"I'm so old!"

Yuuri made a bemused sound in the back of his throat, trying not to smile and encourage him, before loudly tapping his pen against the form in front of him.

"You'll leave me because of my aged skin!"

"Hush, would you?" Yuuri said, hanging up and giving Viktor his most unimpressed look. "That was only a client that I was talking to. A very loyal customer, Viktor."

Viktor hunched, pawing at Yuuri in apology as he licked his face.

Yuuri laughed, protecting his glasses as he tried to shoulder the saliva from his cheek. "Why? Why is it always the face?"

"You know that it isn't always your face that I like to lick."

Minami chose that time to come back into the kitchen.

He stared for the longest moment of Yuuri's entire existence, gave an awkward smile, saying, "O-kay, I'll just leave you two alone."

And then quickly jaunted back out.

Yuuri covered his embarrassment with a hand, gritting his teeth with a "Why is it always Minami."

Viktor was entirely unconcerned. He probably enjoyed it. "You're making a unicorn?" Viktor bent down, eyeing it at the cake's level with an impressed quirk to his mouth.

Yuuri sighed, all left over mortification fizzling out. "Don't get me started on the unicorn. What is this about me leaving you because of your forehead wrinkles?"

"Ah," Viktor stood back up, clinging onto Yuuri's shirt more than usual, "Just a smidgen of insecurity, Yuuri. Pay it no mind."

"Says the person that was just whining it at me while I was on the phone."

"I did say that I was sorry about that, right?"

"As a matter of fact, you didn't." Viktor scratched the back of his neck, but didn't look particularly apologetic. Yuuri was annoyed, but still felt a flutter of endearment. He supposed he should have been used to this by now. Viktor really was like a toddler. He tended to try to monopolize Yuuri's time and attention. "I wouldn't dream of it."

"Hmm?"

"Leaving you. You could have as many creases and wrinkles as a pumpkin and I wouldn't care. It's not like I'm with you for your looks."

"Yuuri…" Viktor kissed him, but somehow still looked displeased. "You didn't deny that my wrinkles exist, though…"

Yuuri felt how exasperated his face looked. "What wrinkles?" He got up on his tip-toes, balancing himself with a hand on the counter, and kissed Viktor's forehead. "You texted me about a beach party?"

Viktor told him about his friend's plans, a goodbye party at the beach, and how Yuuri should invite all of his friends. Yuuri felt for Yuri. This really wasn't about the boy at all. "Are you guys trying to piss him off?"

"No."

"Really?"

"It's just too easy."

"Right."

"But… I thought it would be nice for Mila and Georgi to meet you. Mila was practically begging to. Plus, if your friends don't have any plans, we could all meet up and make a thing of it. My friends getting to know yours…"

Yuuri was quiet for a minute, processing. He filed away the order form before tugging at the tie of his apron and popping open the buttons of his coat.

After everything, Viktor still wanted Yuuri to meet his friends? It sounded like he wasn't hesitant in the slightest. In fact, Viktor seemed hopeful, wanting their worlds to intertwine as much as it could for two people who existed across the globe from each other.

"I'm sorry if I overstepped. I should have asked."

The regret to Viktor's tone yanked Yuuri from his inner musings. "No, no," Yuuri quickly tried to rectify, hands spazzing in front of him as he gathered words. "It's just… she… Mila really wants to meet me?"

Viktor's shoulders relaxed, and Yuuri released a breath. "Undoubtedly."

Yuuri's steps picked up after that, lighter, more energetic. He quickly messaged a few people before taking on the task of cleaning up - washing the dishes, wiping down counters, cleaning out the sanitation buckets, and so forth. Viktor remained surprisingly silent through it all, content to simply be in Yuuri's atmosphere.

Viktor was watching him, chin in his hand as he stared dreamily in Yuuri's direction.

Yuuri pinched his glasses between his teeth as he washed his hands. He jumped as Viktor whistled.

"What?" Yuuri asked around the end of his glasses, somewhat uncomfortable with such an intensity of focus.

"That's really hot."

Yuuri shook his head, nudging off the faucet with his elbow and drying his hands before taking his glasses from his mouth. "You think everything I do is hot."

"I can't help it if I have the most attractive boyfriend."

"Psh, you're pushing it, bud. Why are you still here anyway? We can meet at the beach. You could have even texted me the full details before, and met me later."

Viktor quirked a lazy shoulder, still dazedly smiling on top of his knuckles. "I wanted to see you."

"You see me all the time."

"Not like this."

Yuuri looked down at himself, his loosened uniform decorated in a day's worth of work. "Yeah, because the spray of batter just adds to my sex appeal."

"You don't even know."


They got to the beach long after the festivities had started. Night had already fallen, the clear sky smeared with deep blues and purples, flecks of stars blurred and out of focus behind a bright moon. Everyone glowed with the orange of a bonfire that crackled and popped, flames reaching higher than the people that surrounded it. Everyone was laughing, some people singing along to the music that vibrated out of a few well-placed speakers. Yuuri recognized the music as one of Leo's playlists.

Makkachin bolted from their side as soon as Viktor unclipped her. She about pounced right on top of Seung-gil's dog.

Yuuri felt a warmth bud within his chest, and he gripped onto Viktor's hand. Their worlds really were coming together, sinking casually hand in hand. Mila and Sara were already laughing, arms tucked together, close. Georgi was conversing with Mari and Michele while Yuri was pouting off to the side, sitting on a log beside Otabek. Viktor's hand tightened in his. Yuuri looked up, seeing Viktor's eyes shine in the hazy orange light, and knew that even their thoughts were tied together.

"Come on," Viktor said, excited, and tugged Yuuri along.

"Your hair is flawless," Sara admired as she looked at Mila.

"Oh these luscious locks have nothing on that thickness," Mila said, thumbing at the ends of black strands.

"You think? But keeping it styled is the worst-" Sara caught the two of them coming closer, and loudly beckoned them over. "Yuuri!" She let go of Mila, jumping onto Yuuri and pulling at his shoulders. "You've got to meet Mila."

"Have you been drinking?" She smelled vaguely of burnt amber, but it was her fumbling fingers and over-eager demeanor that gave her away.

Sara giggled, stealing a glance at her brother who was too preoccupied to notice. "Only a little." Sara pinched her fingers together, arm sloped around Yuuri. "Right. You haven't had any. There's some beer over here."

She stooped and began to dig through the crackling ice of a cooler, but Yuuri waved a hand. "I'm good, thanks."

Viktor stepped beside him, renewing their handhold. "We both are, actually."

"Oh well. More for me."

"I think you've had enough, dear." Mila tugged the bottle from Sara's grip, who whined and stumbled. Mila caught her beneath an arm. "So you're the cutie Yuuri. I'd hug you, but-" Mila heaved Sara up, adjusting an arm around her neck.

Yuuri felt a pinch of concern at Sara's drunkenness, but he was also glad. It had been awhile since Sara had let herself be so carefree. He could tell her responsibilities were weighing on her. "She'll be better once she pukes."

As if on cue, Sara began heaving behind a hand, and Mila's eyes widened. "We're gonna go find a bush…"

"Yuuri!"

Yuuri turned at the sound of his name only to get an armful of another girl. "Ketty?"

"I was so happy when you messaged me. This looks like a blast!"

She pulled herself from him, smiling a glittering smile, cheeks pinched and eyes alight. It was a welcome change from the last time he remembered seeing her. "I didn't think you would come…"

"Why wouldn't I?" There was a forced cough from behind her and Ketty turned to introduce a new face behind her. "This is Emil. We were working when you texted so I invited him along. Hope you don't mind."

"Not at all." Yuuri brought up his unoccupied hand. "I'm Yuuri-"

"Emil!" he shouted as he pushed past the hand and swallowed Yuuri in his arms. Yuuri was still uncomfortable with hugs, especially from new people, but he apparently needed to get over that in this crowd.

Viktor cleared his throat, swinging their handhold from beneath Emil's arms.

Ketty took notice, peeling Emil, who had begun to nuzzle his and Yuuri's cheeks together, off of Yuuri. "And this is Yuuri's boyfriend." Ketty stepped into Viktor's space, whispering, "He really means no harm. He's the touchy-feely type."

Viktor smiled warmly, but tugged Yuuri closer.


"I don't even know most of these people," Yuri grumbled, leaning his face on his hands and narrowing his eyes at all of the idiots surrounding him. "I feel used. Everyone just wanted an excuse to party."

"I thought you didn't care."

Otabek was next to him, the only person that wasn't agitating Yuri at the present. He had a sparkler fizzling out in his hand, bright white sparks jumping through firelight. It had been lit and handed to him by some smiling face Yuri didn't know. When she had tried to hand one to Yuri, he flicked it out of his face. She shrieked and jumped to avoid it flying into her hair.

"I don't," Yuri replied, kicking at a mound of sand beside his foot. Otabek looked at him, expression flat. "Really, I don't."

There was a guffaw of laughter and Yuri caught a glimpse of Yuuri and Viktor beyond the fire. They were as grotesquely attached as ever, hands locked even as they held their own sparklers, drawing shapes and names with the skittering light. Yuri felt that usual twinge, seeing Viktor's face broken open with an unknown kind of happiness, a natural, unperformed laughter spilling from him. There was a time when Yuri would have given anything to see that, to be the cause of it.

But the ache was distant now, a faded bruise that had all but lost its color. Viktor was happy. Yuuri made him happy.

He had a home.

"I need a beer."

"No you don't." Otabek chucked his dead firework into a nearby bucket, the water dirtied by the ashes and sticks of others. "I don't want to know what a drunk you is like."

"Ugh, you're no fun."

"What are you doing, sourpuss?" Mila came over, body swaying to the music. She was still in a skimpy two piece from her afternoon at the beach, but there was a flowy slip of fabric tied at her waist. At least she had a shred of modesty. "This is your party. Don't be a wallflower." Mila reached for Yuri's hands.

Until Yuri hissed at her and Mila snapped her hands back.

"Fine. I'll just ask this strapping young gentleman instead."

Yuri choked as Mila caught Otabek's hand and yanked him up.

"Uh, I don't really d-"

"Everyone can dance," Mila interrupted, adjusting Otabek's hands at her hips. "Just move with the beat."

Yuri growled. He could see Yuuri and Viktor just beyond them, dancing close together, practically sharing breath as the sand swished around their bare feet. Their eyes reflected only each other.

Yuri continued to sulk.


Yuuri took a breather on a log, telling Viktor to go spend some time with his friends. Yuuri watched as Viktor joined Georgi's and Michele's conversation, Michele grimacing as Emil offered him a hotdog and dangled it in Michele's face. Phichit took a picture just as Michele batted the hotdog away, only for it to sway back and smack him in the face.

"I don't want the damn hotdog!"

"So this is where you wandered off to."

Ketty sat beside him. She sunk her feet into the sand, wiggling her toes between grains. Yuuri followed her example and was surprised at how calming it was. He hadn't even been aware of how tightly wound he was getting until he began to feel his nerves uncoil as the soft sand oozed over his feet.

"You disappeared."

Yuuri scratched at his cheek. "It was getting a bit loud."

"I didn't think I was going to get a moment with you with the way your boyfriend was clinging to you. Viktor, right?"

"Yeah."

Ketty looked over at him, but her face turned serious, warped from airy to troubled. Her hand carefully wrapped around his bicep. "I'm glad you're okay."

Yuuri's tongue grew thick in his mouth, and it was suddenly hard to speak. Flashes of that night came back at him and he remembered the laughter, her scream, the fear. "I… I'm glad you are, too."

"It was… scary. I thought I wasn't going to get away from them…" There was terror in her voice. Yuuri could feel how her hand trembled, the shaking traveling up through his arm, and maybe he was trembling, too. He could vaguely remember feeling her grip being torn from him, the scrape of her nails as she tried to hold onto him. Her scream had been washed out by the blaring music. Nobody paid attention to the girl that was being groped or the boy that was being led around by the belt around his neck. So many things could have happened to them.

Yuuri swallowed, clenching his eyes shut. The music around him bore down on him. He could feel the heat of bodies surrounding him, liquored breath hovering near his mouth. He wanted to puke. Puke it all up until none of it was there anymore.

"Yuuri?"

Nails pinched the skin of his hand and his eyes flew open. He was at the beach. There was sand packed beneath his feet. He smelled of ocean spray and bonfire smoke. The music was soft, lilting, and people were laughing and the fire popped like it wanted to be noticed.

Mari was in front of him, her yellowed nails biting into his knuckles. "You back with me?"

"Yeah… I, uh…"

"I didn't know what to do." Ketty was still beside him, her eyes rimmed with uncertainty.

"I sensed that my little bro still needed me," Mari said, grinning like she didn't mind. Like she didn't care one ounce that she'd had to leave a party behind to tend to her brother. "Do you want me to get Viktor?"

"No, I, er, I'm alright, just…"

Ketty's hand fell to his knee and stayed there. Her eyes said that she knew, as if the trauma of that night haunted her, too. "I'm glad that you're better, Yuuri." Her gaze flickered to his head, no doubt imagining the blow as if it had just occurred. Yuuri couldn't remember the pain, but he could remember the fear. "Thank you for protecting me." Yuuri was going to refute that. He was probably the reason that they had gotten into that mess, and he'd done nothing so heroic as to protect anyone, but she gripped onto his fingers like she'd done that night, squeezing the three middle ones together, before sprinting off to join another group.

"She's a nice girl," Mari commented, a cigarette bobbing between her lips. "You okay now?"

"Okay with what?" Viktor asked as he came up behind her. His face fell as he took Yuuri in. Only then did Yuuri notice how sore his eyes felt. His lashes stuck together as he tried to rub at his eyes with a fist.

"I'll leave you in his hands." Mari gave Viktor a fond smile, patting his shoulder, and walked away.

Viktor's hands tucked themselves against his face. Yuuri relished the action, the emotion, and Viktor's devotion that spoke volumes of their connection. "Yuuri, why are you-"

"I'm okay, really. Let's get back to the party."

Yuuri fell back into the swing of things, past regrets tucked away with the grip he could still feel around his fingers. Ketty was around him more often after that, but they didn't talk about it. They didn't need to. Viktor kept giving him wary looks, but Yuuri erased the wariness from his features with a kiss. Guang-Hong and Minami joined them sometime after that, a bag of marshmallows and skewers in their possession.

"I love roasting marshmallows!" Minami shoved his stick with three marshmallows into the mouth of the fire, then promptly squeaked as they all burst into flames and slid off the skewer. Guang-Hong giggled into a hand, tanning his own marshmallow beside Leo.

Emil burned his marshmallow to a crisp, blew on it and shoved it into his mouth. Yuuri didn't think he blew on it enough.

"Hot! Hot! Hot!" Emil's teary eyes went cross-eyed, staring down at his tongue as he fanned it. "I burnt my tongue…"

Michele barely glanced at him. "That's what you get, idiot."

Emil's eyes turned into big, wounded, puppy dog eyes. "But the marshmallow was just so delicious looking. I couldn't wait."

"Yum, carcinogens," Michele replied dryly.

Phichit handed Emil a water bottle, pity in his eyes. "I feel for you. I love burning my marshmallows, too. Somebody over here," Phichit began, nodding over at Seung-gil who was carefully turning over his marshmallow until it was as tan as his partner, "is disgusted by the thought."

Seung-gil sent him a look. "That's because it's gross. You taste like a smoker after you eat them."

Phichit immediately made a kissy face at his boyfriend. Seung-gil turned his face away, pretending that he didn't know him.

Most of them were sitting in the sand, roasting marshmallows or hot dogs. Sara had come back to herself after a puking session. Mila then decided to give Yuuri a proper welcome, picking him up and spinning him. Yuuri almost vomited himself, and couldn't believe her strength. Sara was now laughing at Michele's face as he was being pestered by Emil. Emil glomped Michele, full on weighing him down with his body, as if Michele was the type to like such a thing. Michele snarked that Emil needed to get his gangly ass off of him, but he was smiling, just a touch, as Emil apologized with a grin too goofy to believe.

Emil just had to ruin it by asking Sara out to dinner. Michele smacked him upside the head and hugged Sara protectively to his side.

Mila was braiding Yuri's hair. He had given up trying to get away from her and sat like a sullen lump. She ignored the half-hearted swats aimed in her direction. When she was finished, Yuri felt a stare and looked over at Otabek. "What?" he asked in a snap off his tongue, ready to grapple with whoever made the first comment.

"It looks nice."

Yuuri blinked a few times as he noticed the red staining Yuri's cheeks, and then blinked a few more times to see if what he was witnessing was real.

Mila noticed it as well. "…Interesting."

Yuri tugged his hair out of her hands, glowering at her over his shoulder. "Why is your face like that?"

Mila pursed her lips. It didn't help to hide her amusement. "Nothing. My face is doing nothing."

Mari sat forward, kicking a log into the fire. "We're just having fun watching you flirt, Dollface."

"We-! We are not flirting."

Georgi smacked his lips, finishing off the slice of watermelon in his possession. He licked the juice from his fingers, staring at Yuri. "That tastes like a lie."

"You, too?!"

Georgi and Ketty seemed to be getting closer. The two were in an animated conversation, Georgi talking with his hands in a way that had Ketty laughing. Ketty leaned into his space, just an inch, to brush an eyelash from his cheek, and even Yuuri could hear the man's stuttering heartbeat from clear across the firelight.

"Seems that love is in the air," Viktor commented in a conspiratorial whisper.

Mila clapped her hands together in a show of praying. "Thank Satan, she looks nothing like Anya."

"But can Ketty handle Georgi?" Yuuri hesitantly inquired. "You've said that he gets rather… emotionally attached."

Viktor watched the two for a while longer before nodding in approval. "She'll do just fine."

Everything calmed as the night wore on. Viktor's fingers were laced between his again as they basked in the warmth of the crackling fire, listening to their friends gab. Before, Yuuri had had a vague feeling of wanting to skip this. He thought that he could come up with some excuse to avoid meeting Viktor's friends. Then he wouldn't have a chance to be hated.

But he didn't. He didn't avoid his problems, and nothing bad came of it.

Except

"I can't believe someone actually wrote this and pressed send," Mila raged, staring down at her phone.

"What's up," Viktor asked.

Sara glared down at Mila's screen. "There's hate at Yuuri on your Insta."

Yuuri blanched, but wasn't all that shocked, huddling up under Viktor's arm. Surprisingly, it wasn't Viktor that got the most pissed.

"Wait. What?!" Michele scrambled over from his spot, wrenching Mila's phone out of her hand. "Assholes. Let me see."

"I've seen some of it," Phichit admitted, looking at Yuuri like he was breakable and they were all carelessly flinging rocks at him "Makes me want to find the jerks behind those screennames."

"Just let Leo the Internet Detective handle this!" Leo said, puffing out his chest with all of the bravado he didn't have.

Guang-Hong was there to shrink him back to size. "Internet Detective? I thought you were the Internet Sensation, Leo de la Licious?"

Minami laughed around his hotdog, smearing ketchup up his cheek. "Since when did you become a porn star?"

Leo gaped. "You saw that?"

"I see everything that you're in." Guang-Hong patted the mortification from his cheeks. "Some of those comments were hilarious."

"This, though," Sara pointed a sharp finger at her own phone screen as she brought Instagram up, "is far from funny."

Mila clicked her screen off, the glaring blue leaving her face. "Yeah, well it's just the thirsty hoes after Viktor. Don't listen to them, sweetie," Mila said as she winked over at Yuuri. "Let me sharpen my claws and their trampy faces are gonna pay."

"I thought that blond Yuri was the kitten- Ow!" Emil didn't get to finish as Yuri threw a stick at him.

"How do you even know about that?" Yuri snarled. "Who even are you?"

"Oh! Hi there. I'm Emil. Viktor told me it was your nickname."

Yuri reclaimed his stick and looked about ready to jam it into Viktor's eye. "You-"

Emil just looked confused. "So, it's kitten, right? Or is it-"

"I most certainly am not-"

"Who do you think he learned it from?" Mila asked, making a clawing motion with her hand, and Yuri turned his stick on her.

"You taught me nothing, hag."

"Hey," Sara interjected, leaning over to show Mila her phone, "some of the hoes are actually after Yuuri in some of these."

Yuri gagged, but gave Viktor a triumphant grin. "Looks like someone's diehard fans are turning tricks on ya, Viktor."

"Well," Viktor shrugged, but Yuuri could see the seething edge behind his nonchalance, "at least they aren't editing cat ears onto all of my photos."

"Why I oughta-"

"I'm just wondering what took so long," Minami thought aloud while Guang-Hong was trying to scrub the ketchup off of his face. "Viktor has been posting about Yuuri for forever."

"Well… it is getting close to season," Georgi speculated.

Yuuri lost track of the conversation as Viktor snuggled in closely, draping his coat around them both. The night was beginning to get that end of night chill, the breath of sea air icy around the fire. Yuuri hadn't even noticed his teeth beginning to chatter.

"Does it bother you?" Viktor asked, his stare stabbing into the offending phones. "I can-"

"Phichit will have all of their heads by morning. He'll work his magic."

Yuuri didn't know why the comments didn't bother him. He even scrounged up his own phone, flipping through the rough things people were saying about him. People that didn't know anything about him were trash talking him like he lived next door. Again, he reminded himself that it didn't matter. Other people's words and opinions meant nothing. The only person's opinion that he cared about was staring down at him like he was the world.

Viktor hugged him closer. "You've seemed off today. Something on your mind?"

Yuuri could smell the smokiness attached to Viktor's clothing. He nestled down into Viktor's jacket, the zipper jabbing into his cheek. "It's just… I'm realizing how temporary all of this is."

"How temporary all of what is?"

"Sara will be moving on soon. She told me earlier. She got a job offer that she would be a fool to ignore. Mickey will no doubt follow her. Leo is finishing his gap year. He'll be going to university in the fall. Minami will be heading back to school as soon as summer is over. Phichit wants to go into management more than anything else." Yuuri took in all of his friends, watching the faces of every one, and felt like they were all falling away from him, like leaves drifting away from a tree. "Everyone's… leaving." Yuuri looked up at Viktor and felt like he needed to hold onto him, keep the last leaf from being torn away.

"Oh, Yuuri…"

"She also told me about your guys' genius plan."

Viktor stopped, visibly dizzied by the conversation's abrupt change in direction and Yuuri's rueful smile. "Our plan?"

"You guys want me to enter a competition? That's why you started the videos?"

Viktor ducked his head down, guilt in the tilt of his lip, his thumb brushing over the hills of Yuuri's knuckles. "That was the idea, yeah. Phichit thought that getting you online would give you some confidence. I thought it would give you some exposure. I had no idea that this would happen," Viktor hissed, about ready to throw Yuuri's phone into the fire.

"I can handle that," Yuuri said, easing Viktor calm. Viktor's shirt was thin, allowing Yuuri to feel the heat of his body. He wanted to sink against him, listen to the drum of his heart. "Why didn't you all just ask me?"

Viktor's voice quieted, kissed into Yuuri's hair, and Yuuri could hear everyone around them with acute clarity. "You know why. We just want you to see your potential. To see the places you could go. Sara wanted that especially."

Yuuri glanced at Sara, the woman spewing venom as she typed angrily into her phone. He had so many people that cared about him. Yuuri almost couldn't believe it. "I'll think about it."

Viktor pulled back from him, staring down at him like he'd squawked like a bird. "You're like a jack-in-the-box."

"An unpleasant surprise?" Yuri jeered from his place two people away. Mari flicked him in the forehead, but still snickered into her collar.

Yuuri was very aware of everyone around them after that.

"I always loved jack-in-the-boxes," Viktor continued with a curt cut of his eyes at Yuri. His sea-blue gaze then softened, meeting Yuuri's eyes and holding him there. "Except every time that I open you up, I unveil something so new, so startling that I can barely believe it. There isn't a dull moment with you."

Yuuri sniffed. "I think I should be the one saying that."

Yuri made a retching sound. "You're getting your dorkiness on me."


Yuri found Yuuri sitting by himself, staring down at his hands. Yuri glanced around for Viktor, finding him deep in a conversation with Mila and Sara.

"You let him off the leash?" Yuri asked as he slouched down in front of the log Yuuri was on.

Yuuri looked up, his gaze finding Viktor almost instantly. "I don't think he noticed me slip away, honestly."

"Hmph."

"Where's Otabek?"

"We're not Siamese twins like you two," Yuuri snarked, then, quieter, "He's in the restroom."

"Sorry if I implied anything. I didn't mean to."

"Will you grow a goddamn backbone?"

He expected Yuuri to flinch. Hell, Yuri flinched at his own tone. Yuuri just stared owl-eyed at him.

"Christ, you didn't even get mad at all of those people for throwing shade at you. Doesn't that bother you?"

Yuuri pushed his hands into the sleeves of his jacket, Viktor's jacket, Yuri noticed, and shuffled his feet. "It's not that it doesn't bother me, it's that… it doesn't matter to me. Does that make sense?"

"No! What kind of weird shit is that? It bothers you, but it doesn't matter to you? What the hell?" But Yuri turned himself around, tugging at the pulls of his own jacket. "If someone said shit about me and my partner, I would make them eat it."

Like you should have done with me… that day at the restaurant…

"I thought you didn't like me being with Viktor?"

"I…" Yuri found himself staring up at the sky, at the moon and its shine, its too-bright halo that shadowed everything around it. "I used to think that Viktor was like the moon. He didn't need anyone in order to shine."

Yuri could hear a rustle of fabric as Yuuri considered that, turning it over with his hands bunched in Viktor's sleeves. "I think that the moon gets lonely, outshining the stars. What do you think?"

Yuri watched as Otabek walked from the bathroom and headed towards the parking lot. He was supposed to leave soon, had a DJ gig to get to.

"I think that the moon is better now. It's found its other half, the side no one really sees. It's not lonely anymore." Yuri stood up, his back to the pork roll. To Katsudon. To Yuuri. "Call him Vitya. He'll like that."

Yuri walked off, stumbling, feeling slightly fawn-legged after traipsing through so much sand. He left Yuuri and his partying crew behind him. There was an incessant tugging in his stomach, like something was pulling him back.

Ah… I get it.

A home can be the people you meet. Your friends.

Your chosen family.

Yuri had a home here now, too.

Yuri reminded himself to breathe. Six seconds in. Six seconds out. Over and over.

He continued walking forward until he met up with Otabek. The man was slipping his coat on, straddling his motorcycle. He didn't notice Yuri until he hopped on the back and gripped Otabek's waist.

"Isn't that kind of lame?" Otabek asked, "Leaving your own party early?" But he didn't tell Yuuri to get off. To leave. He took off his helmet and handed it over.

Yuri looked at his reflection in the face shield. He smiled before buckling the helmet on, holding onto Otabek tightly as the bike roared to life beneath them.

"Nah, I'm ready to go."

Chapter Text

Yuuri didn't remember much from his and Mari's first flight to America. All he remembered were vague flashes of moments. He remembered holding on to his mother's shirt as his parents saw them off, pushing his nose into the fabric and breathing in the smell of the inn, of cooked rice and fluffy, steamed red bean buns and the mineral scent of the springs. He watched little drips pepper the ground by his feet until he thought it was raining. He didn't realize they were tears until he was on the plane.

He remembered holding onto the pocket of Mari's jacket as she led them to their gate. He held on tight, hand fisted at her hip as he watched his feet trudge against the ground.

He remembered someone bumping into them and Mari dropping their tickets. She didn't pick them up right away. She just stared down at them, and there was such a faraway look in her eyes that it was like she was looking down into a lake, at the water, her reflection, deeper, and deeper until all there was, was an inky blackness.

The most vivid thing that Yuuri remembered was not a visual memory, but a feeling. Just as the plane took off it felt like his stomach turned upside down, rose into his throat and stayed there, like a bat swinging right under his uvula.

It never came back down.

His stomach remained lodged in his throat as they got off of the plane, as they met with their aunt at the airport, as they gazed upon their new home, their new family, as he went to his new American school with his choppy English, and as he sat trapped behind a locked closet door. The feeling choked him, at times. Bullied him into tears. Stole his words when he needed them most. Left him feeling scared and terrified and alone.

That feeling came back to Yuuri in a rush as their plane ascended into the air. He felt like the boy that clenched his eyes shut and nearly screamed when everything shook and his ears were imploding and gravity left him.

He was alone. Drifting in space. Abandoned.

Someone put their hand over his, gingerly pried each finger off of the arm rest between seats, and massaged over his knuckles. It was soothing. The action eased air into his lungs and coaxed his eyes open. Viktor was looking down at him from his seat by the window, eyes soft and actions softer.

"Not fond of flying?"

Yuuri breathed out, swallowing back the bile that threatened to surface. "Flying is fine. I just remembered something."

"Something?"

Yuuri didn't want to say it. He didn't know if he could say it with his stomach still tangled in his vocal chords. "When… I remembered when we first left. When we came to America. I-It feels like I'm leaving everything behind again."

Viktor's eyes fell down to their hands, and he brought Yuuri's up and kissed the curl of his fingers. "You're going home, Yuuri."

Yuuri smiled, but it wobbled, tears webbing his lashes. It had been such a long time. Was Japan still his home? Was Yu-Topia? Would his parents still want him? He wasn't their little boy anymore. He hasn't fit inside of those shoes in years.

But beneath those fears was a stronger feeling and Yuuri leaned over to kiss Viktor's chin. "Thank you for coming with me. I want to share this with you, too."

Yuuri's words lit up Viktor's features, and he nuzzled into Yuuri's neck. "Think your family will like me?"

"I'm not enough for you, Silver?" Mari asked as she leaned forward, smirking at them from her aisle seat. "Sorry to spoil the mood, but I ain't third-wheeling all the way to Fukuoka." She kicked her feet out, accidentally knocking against the seat in front of her. "Oops."

The passenger, a gruff, older man with peppery hair, looked back at her, unamused. "Are you a child?"

Mari's apologetic wince quickly morphed into a challenging grin. "I apologize, kind sir. My childish action seems to have disturbed you. I hope you can forgive me." Mari nodded as if to bow, then cocked her jaw. "Hear that? That's called manners, jackass. That was an accident. Unlike this!" Mari brought her foot back, knee to chin.

"Mari-" Yuuri tried, reaching for her, but his fingers only grazed her calf.

She slammed her foot into the back of the man's chair, square in the middle, and he jerked forward. "Now that, that was childish, and entirely on purpose." The man, now red in the face as a vein throbbed in his forehead, clenched his teeth and whipped back around.

"Seriously?" Yuuri asked. "We've barely gained altitude and you're already antagonizing people? Do I need to carry around two leashes?"

"I have Makkachin's leash," Viktor interrupted.

"I wasn't talking about Makka."

"Excuse you? What did I do?"

"I haven't had a smoke since we made it to the airport. Forgive me if I have no patience for jerks." Mari carefully arranged her feet beneath the seat, kicking her boots off and sticking her tongue out at the back of the man's neck. "And don't put me on the same level as that mutt. I do have some dignity."

"I'm really beginning to take offense over here."

"Please," Mari rolled her head toward him, looking over Yuuri's head. "You love it. You're like his prized pooch. Pretty sure you bought the leash and put it on yourself."

Viktor opened his mouth, but stopped, considering.

"Mari!" Yuuri sputtered with embarrassed laughter, shoving his sister with a shoulder, and he was struck with another memory. He remembered Mari as she held him through the turbulence, talked over the whoosh of the plane as it tore through the air. When they were high enough, Mari pushed up the window cover and Yuuri's jaw fell as he gazed upon a blanket of clouds. There were miles of clouds, but they looked just like the sea below the early morning sun. Like the dark, choppy waters of the Hasetsu bay. Like home.

"The world is a big place, Yuuri," Mari had said, holding onto Yuuri's hand much like Viktor was now, "And sometimes it will be scary. But mom and dad are counting on us to be brave. We have to be brave and face the world and remember everything so we can tell them all about it when we get back."

Mari always knew how to chase away his dark shadows.


This wasn't how Viktor expected his next plane ride to be, or more importantly, where he expected to go. He was supposed to be heading home, back to his coach and his career. His next flight was supposed to be a goodbye to this 'break' as he slipped back into the skates and the costume and the smile. Viktor curled his fingers in Yuuri's hand, teased a feathery touch along Yuuri's joints until Yuuri giggled over his worries and Mari eyed him with a quirked brow. It felt like this was where he was supposed to be. Preordained, destined. He didn't want to say goodbye. Not to this.

But could he say goodbye to figure skating? His first love? His life?

Viktor had never met a lover's family before. Maybe a cousin, once. And a brother after a long weekend riding the high from his Olympic win. It was never like this. Intentional. Important.

Parents.

It was a line that was never crossed. But with Yuuri at his side, and Mari at Yuuri's, it didn't feel like a line. It was another step, moving forward.

Minako picked them up in style, a slim, sleek car that somehow didn't match Minako's personality. Viktor thought he could see sadness flaring her nostrils, distress tightening her lips, but she pushed her sunglasses up into her hair and with it went all of the signs. There was just a grinning woman, standing ballerina-straight and proud.

Yuuri hesitated in his approach. "Sorry we couldn't come with you like we originally planned."

Minako's bright smile fell as quick as it rose. She stared down at Yuuri, Yuuri shrinking with every second beneath stormy gray irises, before she swept him up in her arms. Yuuri flailed, his bag falling from his hold and thudding against the ground. "I understood, Yuuri." She held Yuuri's head, hand cradling the curve of his skull, and checked his eyes as her hands smoothed down his arms. Viktor recognized the concern, the need to make sure everything was in its proper place, unmarred. She deflated once her small check up was finished, and Viktor could feel her exhale of relief like the air left his own lungs. Mischief toiled in the corner of Minako's mouth as she looked at Viktor then back at Yuuri. "Just watch those crazy nights with your boy toy, got it?"

"It wasn't like th-"

Minako picked up Yuuri's bag, went into a croisé devant position, and then pat Viktor's cheek with a, "Let's go, lover boy."

Viktor made a grand bow, gesturing over to the car. "Milady."

Minako wasted no time in slinging Yuuri's bag onto Viktor's outstretched arm, nearly tipping him off balance. "If you insist. You are a man, after all. Wouldn't want to miss any screen time of a nice ass."

"Minako! Wha-! You-!"

Viktor shook his head, amused, and looked over at Mari who was busy sucking her cigarette down to the filter. Makkachin was on her arm, nose snuffling against the concrete and sniffing everywhere her leash allowed.

Minako linked arms with a still stuttering Yuuri and spun him around in the direction of the car. "I was talking about your ass, dear."

"That is even less okay!" Yuuri shouted, covering his behind with his free hand.

"It's nothing I haven't seen before, Yuuri," Viktor said.

Yuuri groaned and Mari cracked up. She stomped down on the filter, heaving her own bag upon Viktor's shoulders. "Let's see you earn that ass, hmm?"

"OH MY GOD!"


Just when Yuuri had finished smoothing down his ruffled feathers, he received a video call. "It's Minami," Yuuri stated, though Viktor could see the screen from where he sat scrunched in the backseat beside him.

"You're taking a break," Viktor scolded, cupping a hand over the screen. "Don't answer it."

"I can ask how the bakery is doing."

"It hasn't even been a day, Yuuri."

"Mleh" Yuuri stuck his tongue out at Viktor, pushing his hand away, and now Viktor could see the resemblance between the two siblings. Stubborn, and childish when they were free to be.

Minami's face popped up, filling the frame. "Yuuuuuuurrriiiii!" Minami practically shouted through the phone, too high pitched and crackly and Viktor went to check his ear drums. "Eep! I forgot." Minami glanced around, then whispered, quietly, like he was sneaking a conversation in class. "Yuuri!" His excitement still translated perfectly through a whisper. Somehow.

"How is everything going?"

"Oh, um, fine. Everyone's working hard… Food's being made…"

"Except by you?" Yuuri teased.

Minami puffed his cheeks. "About that… It doesn't taste the same, Yuuri. Your bread has this unexplainable, sophisticated sweetness and is a thousand, five-million, quituple-billion light years more moist than mine-"

"Heh, he said moist," was Mari's helpful quip from up front.

Yuuri gave her headrest a blank stare. "Because a baker has never heard that one before."

Minami stopped mid-rant. "What?"

"Nothing. Continue."

"I… I don't know what to do, Yuuri-sensei. I've never really done the bread station before and I just know I'm going to break something or burn something or poison someone with half-cooked loaves or the bread won't raise right or-"

"Just be careful, Kenjirou. Pay attention. There are other hands in the kitchen to help you if you make a mistake, and your finished products are checked before they're displayed."

"What about the yeast part?"

"You have a proofing oven. You've taken the classes. You've seen me and Phichit and Leo and Mickey bake bread a thousand, five-million, quintuple… uh-"

"-billion light years," Viktor supplied.

"Yeah, that. And you can double check with any of them to make sure that it's done."

Minami drooped, so much so that it seemed like his little red streak drooped with him. "But what if I… What if I want to do it myself?"

Yuuri paused, mouth open and mid-blink. Viktor leaned forward, watched something flicker within Yuuri's eyes, and then Yuuri smiled. "Until the dough speaks to you."

"Pardon?"

Viktor almost, almost laughed. He was kind of glad that he wasn't the only one that didn't understand that. He briefly considered checking Yuuri's temperature, but Yuuri looked wholly serious. "Bet you didn't think dough whispering was a part of your jo-" Yuuri jabbed Viktor with a sharp elbow to the stomach.

"You wait until the dough speaks to you. Trust me, when it happens, you'll know. The dough will tell you when it's ready. I left you all of my notes."

"But… But…"

"Minami." Yuuri's tone was calm, encouraging, and so full of trust that even Viktor looked up at the call of Minami's name. "I left you with those tasks for a reason. You can do this."

Yuuri's confidence settled across Minami's face and Minami gave a large, phone-tilting nod.

"Minami?" came another voice through receiver.

"Shoot. They found me." Minami's face grew closer until he was just eyes and a nose.

"Is that Phichit?" Viktor asked.

"Why are you squatting in the storeroom?"

"Yup," Yuuri confirmed, "That's Phichit."

"Who are you on the phone with?" There was the sound of a door falling shut and the slap of shoes. "Is that Yuuri?!"

"Maaaaaaybeee…"

"I told you to ask me! Or Leo. Or Mickey. Or Sara! Yuuri is finally on vacation."

"I can hear you, you know?"

"But-! But-!" Minami tried.

The phone was pulled from Minami and then there was Phichit's scolding face. "No buts! Sorry, Yuuri."

"I-" The screen went black. "They hung up."


When they arrived, Viktor drowned himself into the background. He slipped from everyone, disappeared like air as he waited for the family to rejoin together, to make itself whole again. Viktor found it funny, as he waited and observed, that for someone who lived in the spotlight, it was surprisingly easy to become a spectator.

There was a moment just before they reached the entrance that Yuuri stopped, stared. He held the railing carefully beneath his palm, felt the weathered wood sliding beneath skin, trembling fingertips absorbing the place he'd been away from for such a long time. He sucked in a breath, breathing in his home, letting it settle back into his lungs. Nerves jangled along Yuuri's spine. The urge to comfort, to hold seized the heart in Viktor's chest, but Viktor left this to Yuuri and simply watched.

"It's almost exactly the same," Yuuri spoke, his smile dull, but bursting with a melancholic nostalgia.

And Viktor remembered. A fire ate their home. Viktor could see it on Mari's face, how memories soured her expression. Did they watch, Viktor wondered, as the flames consumed their house? He looked at Mari, took note of the pain deep in her eyes. She could see the differences. He watched her eyes zoom in on the little things here and there, saw as her fingers scratched along the pockets on her pants. The flames ate more than just their home. It consumed their childhood, too.

Yuuri's expression brightened, and he sniffed into the air with as much exuberance as Makkachin. "She didn't?" Yuuri stated more than asked as he finally willed himself to open the front door. He drank in a big, long whiff of the smell wafting throughout the building.

"Of course she did," Mari answered, lazy smile patched back on.

"Yuuri! Mari!" A woman bounced right into them, taking both Mari and Yuuri into her arms. Viktor caught, "You're home," but the rest was Japanese too quick and thick to catch.

"Touching, isn't it?" Minako joked from her place beside Viktor, glassy-eyed but lively.

She was right. It was quite the touching scene, and Viktor was glad that Yuuri got to have this time in his mother's arms where she marveled at his height, pinched his stomach and offered him some katsudon. But it stung. Watching the three of them together left Viktor feeling farther away than he actually was. Viktor clenched a hand over his chest, resisting this brutally lonely feeling, and he remembered seeing other skaters' families cheering at competitions. He remembered jogging to the rink and seeing kids get dropped off by their parents with homemade lunches and kisses to their cheeks.

This is a family, Viktor thought, as he waited and watched, as he bumbled around and glimpsed pieces of the home that was Yuuri's. Despite also being a business, Yuuri's home had love etched into its very walls. Viktor loved this, loved Yuuri, but it hurt. Because it was like Viktor's never had been. Viktor belonged to a rotting family tree from the start.

"Don't forget this overgrown son you've got here, Hiroko!"

Viktor was brought back from his thoughts with a heavy whap to the back. Minako gave him a wide smile. And then all eyes were on him.

"Ah!" Yuuri clapped his hands together, embarrassment climbing his cheeks. "Mama, this… This is Viktor. I… I love him." There was happiness perched atop Yuuri's cheeks too, along with a stunning amount of pride.

Viktor felt his heartbeat stutter, and his bag, or rather one of Mari's, fell from his shoulder. Pride. Viktor never thought he'd become a boyfriend someone would be proud to take home. Maybe because he was a world champion figure skater, but not just because of him as a person. Viktor should have known better. That was always how Yuuri saw him.

Yuuri's mother bounced on over to him. "Welcome to our home, Viktor. I'm Hiroko."

Viktor quickly fumbled to divest himself of his bags, nearly taking out Makkachin's tail with a purple one, and bowed. "My pleasure, Katsuki-san. I'm Viktor Nikiforov."

Hiroko blinked at him, then laughed into a sleeve. "It's Mama Hiroko to you, Viktor." Ignoring Viktor's bow and his stunned face, she embraced him. After a moment, Viktor returned the gesture and found himself laughing, too. Hiroko was just as spirited and huggable as her son. "Minako-senpai, show Viktor to his room, please. Yuuri, Mari, you two want to help me finish the katsudon?"

"Yes!"

"Sure."

Viktor felt a little lost once Yuuri was gone from his sight, but Minako steered him away by the arm, Makkachin at his heels. "It's just a formality," Minako began. "Besides, Yuuri's room is too small for the both of you."

Viktor rose a brow.

"Don't act so innocent. I saw the concern in those gray eyebrows of yours. You want to share a room. You were already thinking of ten different ways to have a midnight rendezvous. Hmmm?"

"Silver," Viktor corrected as he cleared his throat. "And you were thinking of ten different ways of catching us for your own amusement."

"Ha! You know me too well. It will probably be a while still before dinner. We'll catch Toshiya. Time to test your drinking skills."


Yuuri couldn't stop taking everything in, looking at the world that he used to know so well, but was now a stranger to. He knew things had changed (some things could never be recreated or replaced) but the structure, the décor, the tenderness behind all of the inn was just the same. Even if he wasn't.

The organization of the kitchen was the same as in his memories, and when Yuuri commented on it, he was surprised by his mother's response.

"We knew you were going to come home someday, Yuuri," she said, jabbing his side with a spatula. It made him huff out a laugh as he bat it away. "A person should never be a stranger in their own home."

"Except, of course," Mari started, "some things have been upgraded and new tools were bought. Hope those differences don't stop you."

"It's a kitchen," Yuuri deadpanned. "Of all of the places for me to know the tools in, it's a kitchen. I think I'll be fine."

"My little Yuuri is all grown up!" Hiroko cheered.

Mari pinched his cheek. "Aww wittle Yuuri."

"I don't think it's a good idea to mess with someone working over a hot stove," Yuuri said. The broth made a threatening pop as Yuuri poured the egg over the pan. "You wanna lose that hand, Mar?"

Mari snapped her hand back to the safety of her chest and Hiroko chuckled. They both turned to see their mom, laughing in her double bow tied apron with a flour-covered hand over her mouth. There was a twinkle in her eyes, and it made every coiled nerve in Yuuri's stomach relax. Yuuri hadn't known how tense he had been until that moment, when just the sight of his kind, caring, most nurturing mother laughing over the antics of her children made him really feel like he was home.

She didn't comment, not a peep, just drew the back of her hand over her perspiring forehead, washed her hands, and set back to work on the guests' dinner. That was how Yuuri remembered his mother. She was a tireless superhero in the kitchen, could whip up anything and everything with a cup of love added to each dish. She had been the guiding hand behind his love of baking. Helped him learn to crack an egg with one hand. Taught him the right wrist movement with a whisk. Taught him how to listen to the whispers of bread as it rose. Most of all, she taught him to have confidence and pride in his work, whatever that work may be. When he made his first loaf of bread, his mother was right at his side, smiling and applauding his achievement, though the bread had turned out a crusty, burnt hockey puck.

When the bread had gone cold, Yuuri cradled it in his hands like it was a dear pet that just died. "I wasted it…" Yuuri sniffled with tears prickling his eyes.

"Every time you do something, Yuuri, you learn," Hiroko encouraged, putting her own hands over the loaf as she held Yuuri's fingers. Yuuri thought it felt like she was holding his heart. "It's never a waste. Now, why don't we try again?"

"Yeah!" Yuuri shouted, beaming. But then he looked back down at the weight of his first failure in his hands. "Can we give Bread-san a proper sendoff first?"

Yuuri felt that memory to the tips of his toes. He regretted not making more memories with his mother, not coming back and visiting and learning more. He let too many unnecessary things come between him and his family. Not anymore, he thought, as he lowered the heat and settled a lid over the pan.

"Hey, mama?"

She hummed in answer as she plopped more pork chops into the breadcrumb mixture.

"Can we make some jam-filled chick manjuu later? I haven't made those in ages."

"Sure."

The kitchen was sizzling hot by the time most of their work was finished. It was a sweltering heat that Yuuri frolicked in when he was by the ovens in Celestino's bakery. It was different than the sweltering heat of the sun. It was like a second home.

Or, Yuuri guessed that it was his first.

Mari came back after serving the last tray to the guests. Yuuri was busy adding the finishing touches to his family's meal.

"Your aunt Akane gave me a call," Hiroko said offhand as she stood off to the side, wiping the cooking grease from her hands with a towel. "She wanted to thank us for the money we sent and the two of you for going to the funeral."

Yuuri froze, tonkatsu pieces hanging off of his tongs. There was a loud clack and Yuuri whipped around to see that Mari's empty tray had slipped from her hands. Her features were bland, but Yuuri could see her body shaking.

"Careful, dear," Hiroko said, oblivious.

"You sent them money?" Mari asked, tone carefully controlled of her anger.

"Well, we sent what we could, but it was nowhere near enough. Your aunt and uncle took care of this family when it was in tatters and they never asked for anything in return. It was the least we could do. Yuusuke was always such a nice man."

"You can't-"

"Mari," Yuuri warned. His body caught her shaking like a virus, only his was born from fear, not anger, and his sank in, infecting him deep into his blood. He couldn't handle those memories, those fears, not then. This wasn't right. "Don't."

Mari stopped, but clenched her fists into the bottom of her top. She bit down on her tongue, hard. Yuuri could see the tension in her jaw before regret stumbled into her expression. She turned around and left the room, the curtain to the kitchen slipping shut as silently as her fury.

Hiroko cocked her head, her eyes following Mari's trail. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing, Mama," Yuuri said, but he couldn't drag his eyes away from the fallen tray. "It… It was a nice service."

They left the conversation within the confines of the kitchen, but it haunted them throughout dinner, wrapped its slithering fingers around his and Mari's throats and kept them from enjoying this. This that Yuuri had felt so fortunate to rekindle, his family's warmth. Didn't he decide that he was going to free himself from the twisting vines that was his past? He thought he had. He thought he'd torched the encroaching memories into ashes.

It seemed that he'd forgotten a few thorns.

The table was lively between those that didn't know, couldn't know, and those that did as they amped up their characters in this charade of a happy family dinner. Minako and Viktor quipped back and forth, their words getting more and more slurred as they matched each other drink for drink. His father was too far gone already; Yuuri was surprised that he still had his pants on. Hiroko watched everything from her spot, contentment written into the lax of her limbs.

Mari excused herself, bowl full and frigid, chopsticks untouched.

Yuuri waited a full minute before he, too, excused himself, Viktor's concern a weight on his back. He found her where he always used to back when she would sneak her cigarettes around the bend of the porch. She was slouched against a beam, one leg hugged to herself and the other dangling over the edge, foot in a trance-like back and forth motion. An elbow was on her raised knee, cigarette burning out between her fingers as it dribbled ashes down her pant leg. Her face was turned away, eyes staring out into the black, moonless night.

Yuuri plopped down beside her, swung his legs like he used to when he was tiny and careless and free. "It would only make them blame themselves."

Mari's foot stopped. "Yeah, well, maybe they should take some of the blame." She snuffed out the last of her cigarette, went to flick it to the side, but stopped, her fingers mid-motion. Yuuri could see the flames in Mari's eyes, smell the smoke.

Yuuri was never told the official cause of the fire.

It was an accident. Yuuri believed that.

Mari set the cigarette gingerly on the porch, then whipped out a new one and lit it without looking at the flame. He waited, until the smoke began to linger on his skin, until ashes coated her lap, until one cigarette turned into a pile. She never breathed it in.

It was then that Yuuri told Mari everything. He recapped it all, what she knew, what she didn't. Their cousins. Kids at school. Yuusuke. The stomach-in-his-throat feeling. The drinking. The black outs. The bare bones of the memories that he had recovered, still fileted of their flesh.

The funeral.

It had been his and Viktor's start. Their beginning. He didn't know how something so exquisite, precious, pure, could come from something so soiled.

"You were oddly composed," Mari let slip, her only words after what felt like an hour-long speech. "I knew something was wrong… but…"

Yuuri's gaze sunk into the ground below his feet. He felt something akin to vertigo as he stared down deep, through grass and earth and rock, like he was looking into a grave. His uncle's coffin. Hell. "I felt like a part of me was buried in there with him."

"I should have been there for you," Mari said lifelessly, her cigarette slipping from stiff fingers to burn a scorch mark into the wood between her thighs. She stared at Yuuri's face the way she stared at the sky, blank, empty. Yuuri didn't want that. He didn't want the guilt and anger and pain to fester within her. He never wanted that. "I should have done something."

He wanted to protect her. The way she protected him.

She fumbled for her pack, but it was empty, full of nothing, nothing to hold onto, to distract. She clenched her hands together, nails biting into the webbing between fingers. "I should have left after he-" Blunt fingernails dug in until Yuuri leaned over, placing a reassuring hand over the tight bridge of fingers. "He tried something… with me. I didn't- I didn't know what was going on, why he was touching me, how to stop-" Mari kept staring forward, unseeing. "We had nowhere to go. I couldn't risk losing another home. Not again. Not you."

Yuuri's stomach rose back up his throat. He had to tell himself not to choke. "Mari… you didn't… Tell me you didn't… Not for me…"

"He didn't get far." There was a humored quirk to Mari's lips and Yuuri felt like he could breathe again. Her tears fell between them, heavy and hot on their hands. "But I should have left then, before he could have hurt you."

Yuuri shook his head, his whole body, adamant as he brought Mari's head to his shoulder, hugging her around the bend of her knee. "You were trying to keep me safe with a roof over my head. He almost… and yet you stayed for me."

"All that's happened. He caused you to- It's because of him that-"

"He hurt me. He hurt you." Yuuri tucked her body closer, her leg against his chest, his cheek on her knee, contorted strangely but together. "Yuusuke may have been a driving factor, but my choices are my own. I didn't handle any of it appropriately. I accept responsibility for what I did. You did what you could for me, Mari. It was more than enough."

They didn't stay like that for long, tugging away as Yuuri gave into the coughing fit he had been holding back after sitting in a pack's worth of smoke.

"Wimp," Mari said with a smile, shouldering the wetness from her cheeks. "You sure you don't want to tell them?" Yuuri traced her gaze to the wall, through it, and he could imagine his parents still sitting at the table, his father still babbling nonsense and his mother calmly watching over everyone. "They'll support you. I know they will. You know it, too."

Yuuri thought of Mari next to him on the plane, showing him the breadth of the sky outside of their window.

He thought of Viktor kissing each and every burned divot in his skin.

He thought of Phichit tickling him on the kitchen floor.

He thought of the usual gang at the beach, new friends tangled with old.

He thought of Ketty squeezing his fingers.

"I think that the moon is better now. It's found its other half, the side no one really sees. It's not lonely anymore."

"I have support. I have more support than I ever thought I was worthy of. C'mon," Yuuri gave her a light tap on the shoulder before he stood up, stretching a hand out, "let's go make some Manjuu."

"Me too?" But Mari grasped onto his hand, let Yuuri carry her weight up.

"Yup!"


The door slid open with a slow hiss as Yuuri made his way into Viktor's guestroom. The room was enshrouded in darkness, only a soft, blue hue filtered in through the window behind the bed. Yuuri scrunched his eyes to catch the form lightly haloed by the light. "Viktor?" Yuuri whispered, closing the door behind himself with a muffled thump. "You awake?"

"Hrrrnng," Viktor groaned, "I am now."

Yuuri giggled, tip-toeing forwards, navigating around the dark shapes of furniture and luggage to slip towards the bed. His eyes adjusted to make out most of Viktor, the man still fully dressed and flopped out on top of the blankets with an arm tossed over his eyes. Makkachin was cuddled against Viktor's side. "Sorry. Should I leave?"

Viktor's arm curled around his back, tugged him forward. "Never." Yuuri yelped as he fell right onto Viktor's chest. "Stay right here."

Yuuri brought his hand up under his nose, mocking a gagging noise. "Drink much?

"Meh."

"You smell like the inside of a shochuu bottle."

"More like…" Viktor brought his hand up in front of his face, fingers attempting to help his brain do the math. "…I lost count."

Yuuri scrunched his lips off to the side, unsure if Viktor could see his unimpressed expression. "At least you had a good time with dad and Minako." Yuuri cuddled up underneath Viktor's chin, pressing a kiss to a crease of skin on his neck. "Do you know why Minako is passed out in the hall?"

Viktor blew out a puff of air that may or may not have been a sigh. "I believe she wanted to catch one of us sneaking around."

Yuuri glared through the wall, as if he could see Minako and stab her with his look alone. "She really needs to get a life."

"You and Mari are her life," Viktor said, running two fingers in a careful caress up and down Yuuri's forearm.

Yuuri hesitated at Viktor's tone, the catch to it, and he watched Viktor's Adam's apple bob with a long swallow. Yuuri was momentarily confused, until he replayed Viktor's words, tasted them on his tongue, and realized how selfish he had sounded when talking about Minako. Viktor probably thought that Yuuri was lucky to have Minako in his corner, odd quirks and nosy behavior included. It meant that she loved him. Like the rest of Yuuri's family.

The way Viktor's mother never seemed to.

Yuuri wished he could rewind himself, stop himself from thoughtlessly poking at the blisters on Viktor's heart.

Yuuri watched Viktor's hand in its back and forth rhythm, slow, easy, just a wisp of a touch like the breath on a whisper. He was left to wonder who the gesture was meant to comfort.

"Anyway, it would have been fun for her. Getting blackmail pictures and such."

Yuuri snorted against Viktor's body, pushing his face into Viktor's arm pit, nosing the seam there. "Is everyone convinced that we're going at it like bunnies? Mom already gave me the talk about how she knows how hormones can get, but to make sure that we don't get too caught up in ourselves and think of the guests."

Viktor let out a loud guffaw of laughter. "Well, you did tell her that you love me…" Viktor glanced down at Yuuri, and Yuuri could feel some of those hormones stirring, building a house and calling his chest a home. Amazement shone in the darkened hues of Viktor's sea-colored gaze, the waves within calm and resting.

I feel uneasy with this peace inside of me, Yuuri's thoughts whirred, but he didn't voice it. Yuuri didn't want to pop the bubble he and Viktor found themselves eclipsed in, sheltered from all talk of his and Viktor's pasts and their future. So he didn't. He tucked the needle away, hid it in the back of his mind for when the bubble's destruction was inevitable.

Bubbles weren't made to be invincible.

"So… tomorrow. I said I was going to show you our ice skating rink, right? You'll get to meet Yuuko."

If Viktor had antennae, they would have twitched. "Yuuko? Old girlfriend?"

"Pfft. Well…"

And Viktor began to sit up, alarmed. "Wait, you know that I was only kidding. She really is- was- is?"

"Relax." Yuuri shifted himself over into Viktor's lap, utilizing his body like a security blanket, except his heavy weight was keeping Viktor from being silly. His hands pressed against Viktor's chest. "Down, boy, down." Viktor reluctantly laid back, pouting.

Yuuri nestled his chin into the V of Viktor's shirt, staring at Viktor from the perch of his sternum. "It was back in grade school. I was getting teased by some other kids. They said my scaredy-cat self couldn't ever get a girlfriend. Yuuko rushed right forward. She put herself between me and the others, her arms out and eyes on fire as she declared that she was my girlfriend. She said that I made the best rice balls in the world and that she'd be proud to have me as a husband. I don't know if she made it better or worse." Yuuri chuckled and so did Viktor. Yuuri felt Viktor's laugh as it rumbled beneath him, made him vibrate as Viktor's arms wound around his waist, one hand finding an exposed patch of skin between Yuuri's shirt and sweats. "But she was always there for me."

Viktor hummed, pushing out a leg as he fell deeper into his pillow, eyes lazy-lidded and closing. "So I have to watch out for this Yuuko, huh? My rival in love."

Yuuri watched as sleep took Viktor, drew his eyelids closed, relaxed his jaw, and slackened his limbs. Yuuri burrowed deeper into the man's warmth and quietly whispered, "There isn't a person out there that can challenge my feelings for you. But you already know that, don't you?"

In his sleep, Viktor smiled.


"We have arrived."

The car pulled to a stop, rousing her from her dozing as the bright rays of dawn yawned across the tinted glass of her window. With a tilt of her head, she glanced outside, bored with her trip already. "I never took much of a liking to this pitiful island." With a toss of her hair, she shook off the stiffness that had settled into her joints and waited for her driver to open her door.

"Will this be all, Nikiforova-san?" her driver asked as he brought forth the last of her luggage and bowed.

"Yes." She smirked, flicking the rim of his cap. "It is time that I had another chat with my lost little boy…"

Chapter Text

There was a dream that Viktor had once.

He had it again, that night.

He was standing in the middle of the pond behind his house. It was a rather large pond, iced over for most of the months and covered in a light dusting of snow. His house was always in view no matter where he skated. There were snowstorms where the blustery gusts of white blurred the surroundings together, but Viktor could always see his home.

Except in this dream.

There was nothing beyond the ice. Just white, white snow.

Viktor wasn't wearing his skates. He wasn't skidding around on his sneakers because his father had hidden his skates again. He was just in his socks. The grey socks that his mother gave him. He hated them because they always bunched uncomfortably at his ankles and the seams dug into his toes, but he smiled when he wore them.

He wasn't smiling now. He couldn't feel the seams digging into his toes. He couldn't feel his toes.

He couldn't feel anything.

He looked out from the pond. He still couldn't see anything. Anyone.

Viktor stood there quietly until he woke.

Viktor hadn't thought about that dream for a long time. He didn't remember how old he was when he had it. Old enough that when he'd awoke, gasping and crying and screaming for his father, Yakov was there to hold him tight. Viktor didn't understand it then.

He understood it less now.

He stared up at the ceiling, wondering why he would have a repeat of that very same dream.

There was a muffled mutter from his side, and Viktor turned, slipping his pretzeled limbs over the blankets, to look down as a sleeping Yuuri tugged at a bunch of the comforter, bundling it up beneath his head. Viktor stifled his chuckle, gently moving to lift Yuuri's head and place a pillow beneath it in one swift, soft movement. Neither of them were covered, but the room was pleasantly warm, like his skin and his mind that was still caught in that mid-sleep, heated drowse.

Viktor gave up on the dream, on its origins and possible connotations, and tucked himself back against Yuuri, falling asleep to Makkachin's snores.


"Can I just… stare for a while?" Yuuko asked, still dazzled by Viktor's presence. Yuuri didn't mind, even if he was still in a half-hug, reuniting with his old best friend after years away. Okay, he was a little bitter.

"Sure, you can," Viktor was all smiles, posing for a picture for the triplets grouped at his feet. His own small gaggle of photographers. "You can touch, too, if you like."

"Really?" But it wasn't Yuuko who answered. It was the children, poking and petting and… smelling Viktor.

"Can I get a lock of hair?" asked the little girl with a bun.

Mortification sunk into Yuuko's expression, and she nabbed the girl before her tiny fingers could get any closer. "Lutz, we don't… we don't ask people for their hair."

Lutz pursed her lips. "So… I shoulda just nabbed it then?"

"No! Absolutely not!"

"It's alright, Yuuko," Viktor said with a laugh, and Yuuko looked about ready to faint when her name slipped through his lips. "I think I'm safe up here."

The little girls chuckled at that, huddling together. "He thinks we're too short," the one with the pigtails said.

The last one, with the wispy pink ponytail, smirked slowly, impishly, and Yuuri felt his skin prickle at the back of his neck. "Challenge accepted."

Yuuri whispered over to Yuuko, only slightly sliding behind her. "Um, Yuuko, I heard that you had kids, but… are you sure that they're yours? They definitely seem like spawns of Takeshi's and they resemble you physically, but-"

"You were expecting angels, right?" she grinned, patting Yuuri's fingers where they held onto her shoulder. "Well, so was I. I got three little hellions instead. The one with the pigtails is Axel. The bun is Lutz. And the ponytail is Loop."

"Do they ever change their hairstyles to confuse you?" Viktor asked.

The kids were quick as they chirped,

"Nope."

"Nuh-uh."

"Never."

Yuuko followed a second later with, "All the time."

Their little smug faces fell. "You knew?" they cried.

"And don't think you're pulling one over on me when you change colors, either. I know my babies."

Loop recovered quickly, popping up next to Yuuri and nearly making him screech. "What's this?" she asked, poking the rumpled paper bag under Yuuri's arm.

"Oh, I, uh," Yuuri coughed into a hand, smothering his reaction in his throat, "brought you guys some manjuu. Mama, Mari and I made them last night. Well, early, early this morning."

"They are divine," Viktor praised as Yuuri unraveled the top of the sack and took some out to divvy them up between them.

"They're little chickies!" Loop yelled, whooping an arm into the air.

"Aw, thanks, Yuuri," Yuuko said, taking a bite out of one. "It's delicious. Good to know your baking skills have only grown since you left. As expected from a professional."

Yuuri scratched the back of his head, cheeks flushing. "You heard about that, huh?"

"How could I not? Hiroko's so proud!" Yuuko hugged him close, and Yuuri took notice of the filling dribbled onto the corner of her mouth. "And my little ones keep a close eye on Viktor's social media. I got to see some of your work on there. Along with plenty of pictures of you~," Yuuko teased, wiggling an elbow into his hip. "Man, Yuuri. You leave me to make sweets and get sweet with the figure skater of the century. So jealous."

Yuuri gave an awkward cough and looked over at Viktor. Said skater was still smiling wide, but there was a slight twitch at the corner of his lips. Yuuri gave him a questioning look, but Viktor was focused on Yuuko. "Yeah, well. Um, Yuuko, you've got a little-" Yuuri scratched at the side of his mouth and Yuuko blushed, jumping to rub at her face.

"That's so embarrassing."

"No, it's-" When Yuuko missed the spot, Yuuri went to thumb it off for her, but Viktor swooped in front of him, licking it off.

"All clean."

Yuuri's eyes went wide, brows pinching as his head swiveled in Viktor's direction. He didn't know what to say, was too blindsided to form coherent sentences, but his mouth moved, opening and closing like the hinge to his jaw was malfunctioning.

That wasn't okay. That wasn't even remotely okay. Yuuri felt like he needed to apologize to Yuuko, like she was a stranger his dog decided to attack with his tongue. But he wanted to reprimand his boyfriend first.

Yuuko blinked a few times, then held her cheek. "I-I-I, um, thank… you…" She swayed a little and Yuuri caught her as her legs gave out beneath her.

"Viktor!" Yuuri found his voice, glaring at Viktor as he fanned Yuuko's face. "Do you just have a condition that compels you to lick faces?"

"Only yours, dear."

"Then what the hell was that?"

Loop let out a hum of delight before Viktor could answer. "Mmmmm! Hot damn! This shit's good." Despite the outburst that left two out of the three adults gaping, Loop smiled, a sweet little thing, as she gobbled on the head of her chick.

"Loop!" Yuuko said as she sprang back up.

"Dad says it all the time about your cooking."

Viktor awed. "Isn't that sweet? I want a husbando that compliments my cooking with expletives." Viktor moved closer and clung to Yuuri, holding onto the edge of his jacket like a child afraid of being separated.

Yuuri rose a brow at him, still miffed. "So you're going to cook dinner?"

"Why, Yuuri. Is that a proposal you just slipped in there?"

"Wow, this shit is good."

"Axel!" Yuuko reprimanded.

"Holy hell-"

Yuuko clapped a hand over Lutz's mouth, giving an apologetic smile toward Yuuri and Viktor. "O-kay, that's enough of that. So sorry, guys."

"They're just taking after their father. It's cute, right?" Viktor patted a munching Lutz on the head. "Especially since they're learning it from his love of your food."

Yuuri scrunched his mouth over to the side, glancing at Yuuko. "I don't know. Yuuko doesn't seem to think it's cute. She looks torn between kissing her husband's face off and homicidal intent."

"Takeshi," Yuuko roared.

"Yup?" Takeshi's voice rang out from the office. "Did I leave my boxers out again?"

Yuuko paled, and made a point to not look anyone in the eye, including her daughters. She smiled, strained. That. That right there was definitely homicidal intent. Yuuri wondered if he should take the kids on a short field trip. "You do know that we're not at home, right?" Yuuko yelled through gritted teeth.

"So?" Takeshi said, his voice nearing as his footsteps closed in.

Yuuko face-palmed, curling up smaller from her place squatting next to Lutz. Viktor laughed behind a hand. The kids continued to munch away, taking after their mother with filling and crumbs encircling their mouths.

Yuuri kind of wanted to sink into the floor beside Yuuko. "I don't want to know the implications behind that 'so'," Yuuri said, trying to gouge out the insides of his ear with a finger.

"So innocent, Yuuri, if you think we contain ourselves to the hou- Oof!" Takeshi emerged just in time for Yuuko's sneaker to hit him in the stomach.

Yuuri and Viktor already had their hands covering over the little ones' ears.

Axel blinked, looking up at Yuuri who smiled back down at her like he wasn't invading her personal space, then she looked over at her sisters. "Why is there a bucket on Loop's head?" Axel shouted.

Viktor winced. "Sorry, Loop. Ran out of hands."

"What?!" All three yelled.

"Ah, the girls are here," Takeshi shrugged, chest out and his grin as big and obnoxious as he ever was. Yuuko was already unlacing her other shoe.

Yuuri let go of his hold on Axel before turning to tug the bucket off of Loop. "Good to see you haven't changed much, Takeshi."


Yuuri watched as Viktor skated. It was different than when Yuuri had seen him skating alone. He wasn't a whirlwind of torn emotions, breaking and shattering himself across the ice, desperate for something that Yuuri still couldn't place.

"What shall my next performance be?" Viktor asked out to the stands, stopping to blow a kiss in Yuuri's direction.

The triplets had their eyes trained from their perch as they took pictures and recorded and updated their social media with frame after frame of the famed skater visiting their humble rink. Viktor kept going, spinning and jumping and twirling with the usual flare for his fans. He took requests from the girls, charming them and the cameras with his princely smile, but the light in his eyes was still dim, burning out slowly like a candle at the last of its wick.

Yuuri swallowed, watching as a dullness seeped into Viktor's expression, into every muscle in his body. Viktor took another request, to perform one of his old routines from his beginning in seniors. He was bubbly and vibrant for the camera, the girls, but when he faced the ice, Yuuri saw vulnerability flash like a lightning strike in his gaze. There and gone.

Viktor looked at the ice like he was lost. Like he was looking to belong.

But the ice was Viktor's home. Had been for so, so long. Yuuri didn't understand why Viktor looked at the ice like an orphan would gaze longingly at a picture of their parents. Viktor said he lacked inspiration, his old spark, but was that really all it was? Wasn't Yuuri supposed to be some sort of replacement for that?

"My inspiration, my muse, my Yuuri. You give me everything I used to have and more."

Was Yuuri doing such a poor job of it that Viktor could barely hide his apprehension anymore? Yuuri held himself, arms tucked against his stomach, as he tried to convince himself that the icy feeling beneath his skin was from the rink. Viktor gave his whole life to his chosen art form, to his fans, and his little dog. But nothing else. No one else.

Until me.

Viktor wasn't enjoying himself. He wasn't skating because he wanted to. He was skating because he was supposed to.

There were cameras. There were spectators.

Yuuri had asked Viktor if he wanted to skate. He had given an emphatic "Of course!" but Yuuri could see what fermented beneath it all.

Why, Viktor? Why do you look so sad when all I want is for you to be happy?

Why aren't you happy?

All Yuuri knew was that Viktor, young and smiling and glittering in front of the cameras, used to love skating. He used to smile with his entire heart. Now it was just teeth and lips and cheeks. A meaningless performance. Drowning himself, his true feelings, deep inside to where no one could find them.

Takeshi eventually pulled the girls away, allowed Viktor some uninterrupted practice time. Takeshi apologized if they were a bit much to handle as he corralled them away, tugging them back by their collars as they whined and dug their heels in. Viktor waved it off, but when they left his view, Viktor only looked more pained as he turned back to the frosted expanse around him.

Yuuri couldn't watch anymore.

"So, where's Minako?" Yuuko asked as they walked into the office in the back, her hands tinkering with the screws of a blade on a rental skate. She mindlessly sat at the desk in the middle of the room. The desk was full of papers and files, but it was combed and groomed into neat stacks with color-coded tags. Yuuko's influence, no doubt. "I thought she was coming with you."

"She decided to check in on her husband today," Yuuri replied, hands in his pockets.

"Check in? What is he? Her husband or her son?" Yuuri glanced down at Yuuko's wedding ring with a telling jerk of his brow, and Yuuko followed his amused gaze. "Aha, yeah. Okay. Fair. Still. Have you ever met the man?"

Yuuri sat down in a chair across from the desk. He wished he had something to occupy his hands, but he settled for toying with the zipper on his jacket. "Not once. She doesn't talk about him much, either. Makes me wonder why they got married."

Yuuko made a small noise in the back of her throat, but was otherwise silent as she stared down at the skate in her hands like her life depended on it. She kept twisting her screwdriver with swiveling fingertips, and each screw dropped, tinkling down onto the desk like the pins and needles Yuuko appeared to be walking on. Yuuko looked torn, like she knew she needed to ask something, but didn't want to. It sat at the edges of her lips, sunk into her eyes.

Yuuri wondered over her hesitation, if this was one of the downsides to his long absence from his hometown. Yuuko never hesitated in expressing herself to Yuuri.

At least, she never used to.

Are we strangers now?

Yuuri had been gone for a long time. He didn't keep contact. Never called, wrote, emailed. Just as he didn't think he was worthy of his parents' love, he didn't think he was worthy of Yuuko's friendship. But somewhere deep inside, past all of the muck and self-doubt, Yuuri still loved Yuuko. She was right there in a special compartment in his heart, stored right beside Phichit.

She had always been that little girl, rattling off skating facts and terrorizing Yuuri's bullies and complimenting his food. She could sing pretty songs and catch the best beetles. When he thought of Yuuko he thought of her long eyelashes, her swishy hair and her warm, tender hands.

Yuuko wasn't a little girl anymore. Now she had babies of her own, followed into her husband's world, worked to support a family. Even with all of those differences, Yuuri thought that she was still the same as ever.

"Catch any beetles lately?"

Yuuko's movements stuttered to a stop. She looked up at him blankly, and then her face cracked with warmth. "We were pretty good at that, weren't we? We could have had our own farm."

"Or a circus."

Yuuko shaded her eyes with a hand, groaning, "You just had to bring that up."

"You wanted to be a figure skating magician, right?" Yuuri asked, knowing full well the answer. Yuuko had wanted to be one badly enough that she made a costume for it, used to skate around the ice with a cape and a top hat and do 'tricks' while trying not to fall on her butt.

"Why didn't somebody stop me?" Yuuko clapped her hands to her face, shaking her head as well as her body in her office chair as she moved left, right, left, right, trying to deny that particular part of her past.

That was how Yuuri remembered her.

"What is it you wanted to ask, Yuu-chan?"

Yuuko stopped. Her hands slipped from her face to fall gracelessly to the desk with a whump. A mangled smile surfaced to her lips. "I… I've been helping out at Yu-Topia some. Did you know that?"

Yuuri didn't know that, but it didn't come as much of a surprise. Hasetsu was still such a small place, the businesses interconnected as they helped to raise each other up. Many business owners and employees worked part time at the family-owned stores, restaurants, and the docks to keep the town running. So it didn't stretch his imagination much.

"It's fun. I enjoy working with your parents. The girls even help out from time to time, but… we're not kids anymore, Yuuri." Yuuko's eyes cut away from Yuuri, falling back to her dismantled skate. She took the blade into her hands, ran a cloth along the metal and Yuuri heard the shfff as the fabric moved. "Your parents- Takeshi took over for his parents already and-"

"Are you asking me if I'm going to take over the inn?"

Yuuko sunk back into her chair, as if Yuuri lifted the burden right off of her chest where it had been squishing her. "I know it's not a simple question. You have a life. You have a job." There was a dull clack as the skate was placed back down and she held one of the last manjuu in her palm. She smelled it, pressing the pastry against her mouth and the sweetness flowed through Yuuko and into her expression. "You're good at it. Terrific, even. Mari has her tattoo parlor. You both have worlds of your own in America. But where does that leave your parents? They will need someone to… What are you going to do, Yuuri?"

Yuuri felt the impact of that question like the closing of a door, a loud, reverberating, wham in his face. It left him feeling numb, his limbs tingling in the aftermath. He'd only just began envisioning a future for himself. With someone at his side. Yuuri looked at the open door, heard the scribbling of Viktor's hard work and progress. "How did Takeshi decide?"

Yuuko closed her lips tight, drew them in and pressed them between her teeth. "Takeshi was prepared for it. He didn't have to give up anything because he knew it would happen. You know Takeshi," Yuuko said, swooping her hand out, "he takes what he's given and works with it. He's never complained. I can't speak for him, but it was probably a relief. He's never had a plan, any dreams. This rink was his future."

The way the inn is supposed to be mine. Right, Yuuko? My obligation. My duty.

"What about you?" Yuuri asked with a ducked head, hoping that he wasn't thoughtlessly wielding words that could injure her. "What happened to the figure skating magician?"

Yuuko smiled an obligatory smile that she didn't mean. Yuuko was good at those. Ever polite.

Yuuri was better at seeing through them.

That conflicted expression revealed itself once more and Yuuri couldn't help but compare Takeshi and Yuuko to himself and Viktor. Yuuko could have been something, travelled, had a career. Maybe she would have become one hell of a figure skating magician.

She could have gone pro. Like Viktor.

Instead, she married Takeshi, took on his future. Was that what she wanted? Or did she choose love over her future?

Was that what Yuuri was doing to Viktor?

Was it right for Yuuri to shackle Viktor to his side? Imprisoned in Yuuri's world away from everyone and everything he loved? Away from the future he could have?

If Yuuri stayed, would Viktor stay with him?

"I love Takeshi," Yuuko stated, voice suddenly stern. Her gaze was solid, unyielding. "I love my kids. Maybe this wasn't the future I was meant to have. Maybe this isn't what I dreamed about. But I love it. I regret none of it."

Yuuri nodded, a little ashamed by his own question. He didn't mean to imply that she didn't care for her family. That she regretted them. He continued twiddling with his zipper as a silence descended, heavy on their heads. He listened to the motion as the zipper rolled up the teeth and then back down.

"I just thought that I should ask what you were planning on doing in the future." Yuuko was still messing with the skate, reattaching a new blade, but she was looking at Yuuri. Through Yuuri. Trying to examine and dissect his true desires. But then Yuuko flinched, jumping a little in her chair as her finger started bleeding. "Shoot."

Yuuri glanced around, floundered after the first aid kit that was tucked into a nearby shelf. Yuuko went to take the case from him, but Yuuri brought over his chair, sat next to her and took her hand into his own. He disinfected the wound before bandaging it.

"Such a novice mistake," Yuuko mumbled.

Yuuri could only grin. "I still burn myself on cookie sheets."

When it was all wrapped up, Yuuko looked down at her finger, bent it up and down. Yuuri was still in front of her, cleaning up the supplies. "You look happy" Yuuko said and Yuuri looked up at her, perched prettily in her office chair before her uninjured hand cupped his neck, "in the videos. I've missed that smile." She fingered along Yuuri's lips, making Yuuri's smile widen even as the child part of his heart stopped. "Don't lose it. Whatever you choose, don't ever lose it."


Viktor spun. And spun and spun and spun. He kept himself going with the right amount of centrifugal force to make himself dizzy, to make himself nauseous and woozy, and he kept spinning. His eyes lost focus. The blend of colors that were the stands, the boards, the ice, the ceiling, congealed together until Viktor didn't see anything at all.

He didn't want to see anything.

Not the ice. Not the rink.

Not the little boy standing in the middle of an iced-over pond.

Alone.

Viktor dropped.

He fell to the ice and kept spinning, his body skidding along the ice's surface. The blades of his skates scraped and chipped deep gouges after him. By the time he stopped, Viktor's skin was flushed red and numb as he knelt on his forearms and knees. Viktor felt his guts clench and ball up tight enough that he could have thrown them. He coughed in breaths, honking them through his nose like a dying duck. He stared as blood dripped from his lips, diluted in faint drops with his saliva. Little dark, brownish-red splotches drip, drip, dripping until they pooled together.

He was literally bleeding on the ice, a splattered crimson blooming into a constellation of pain and exhaustion, and uncertainty.

Viktor could only wonder if this was all worth it.

He couldn't find his answer as he attempted to work out a new routine. As he flipped through song after song on his phone. As he threw his whole body into jumps that he couldn't land once the eyes were gone. This stagnation in his skating felt like more than just a slump. It felt permanent. It felt terminal. Getting back up… It hurt like flexing a torn muscle.

Viktor's mind was in chaos and he couldn't figure out how to stem the flow. He used to be able to do it. The ice was his home, his love. She took Viktor into her arms and showed him a world of love that he'd never known. On the ice, Viktor could shut everything out and skate. Perform. Be. Nothing mattered except skating. He wasn't anything else but a figure skater.

But now…

Viktor sat in the middle of his wonderland.

It looked like ice, nothing more.

It was a relief when Yuuri came for him. Viktor was laying on his back on the ice, limbs stretched out, even his fingers splayed along with his toes that were free of the skates piled beside him. He was staring at the ceiling, the backs of his soaked clothes stuck to the ice like she was trying to tug him back into her world. Viktor attempted a face full of pep as he floated off the rink and into Yuuri's arms, but Yuuri knew. Yuuri's expression reflected how Viktor felt. No performance could crack that mirror, so Viktor didn't try to. He let Yuuri carry some of his exhaustion, his disappointment, and hissed as he walked home on overstressed muscles.

"I think it's time for a good soak," Yuuri said with a half-smile, hefting up Viktor's practice bag on his shoulder as he brought Viktor closer on his other. "How about it?"

Viktor brought a finger to his mouth in a show of thought. "Only if I get to wear one of those jinbei afterwards."

"Why?"

"Why wouldn't I want to be garbed in the clothing of my lover's home country?"

Yuuri chuckled at that, a quick, but full sound, as his fingers circled around Viktor's wrist that dangled near Yuuri's collar. "Next you'll be asking to wear a kimono or something equally ridiculous in this time period."

Viktor bent his neck forward, his lips tickling the shell of Yuuri's ear, "Or I can just stay naked…"

"Viktor!!!"


Viktor stood out on the porch, teasing Makkachin as he tossed a ball up and down into his palm. "You want it, Makka?" Makkachin barked, spun around and sat back on her haunches. Her eyes trailed the ball's movement, her tongue lolled out of her mouth. "Alright, go!" Viktor threw the tennis ball as far as he could, wincing at the stretch of a muscle in his back, and watched as his poodle thundered across the ground in its pursuit.

"Enjoying yourself?" Viktor turned to find Mari coming up behind him. She was lighting a cigarette between her lips before she flicked her lighter shut with a metallic click. "I suppose," she said, muffled with the cigarette bobbing between her lips, "I should be asking Makkachin that."

Viktor looked back out. Makkachin was now on her back, euphorically kicking her paws out as she rolled around in the grass, the tennis ball in her mouth. "I suppose so." Viktor stood back up from his stooped position, the smoke tickling his nose as it wafted off of Mari. "You're looking snazzy," Viktor whistled, pinching the sleeve of Mari's inn uniform.

"You're one to talk." Mari gestured to his own jinbei and he did a little spin, followed by a pose that had her laughing. "I have to at least look the part if I'm going to start working here."

"You talk like it's a permanent thing."

Mari shrugged and an alarm sounded in the back of Viktor's head before there was a clang and the sound of something shattering from behind them.

"No!" Yuuri was mid-stride out the back exit to the inn, an upturned tray with broken cups at his feet. Steaming liquid drooled into the wood, soaked brown stains into Yuuri's socked feet. Yuuri stared at the back of Mari's head like he wasn't being scalded by his own mistake, but by Mari's words. "What about your shop?" Mari kept looking out into the greenery, smoke a haze around her. The cicada's screaming, an almost constant aural trait at that time of day in Japan, only seemed to get louder in Viktor's ears. It scraped against Viktor's eardrums almost as viciously as Yuuri's heart-torn questions. "What about tattooing?"

Mari didn't seem to feel it, appearing impervious to the razor-sharp hurt that Yuuri was displaying. She was as composed as ever, and in that moment it was hard to envision her as the rough girl that stomped on the backs of airplane seats or served grown men their testicles on a platter when battling them in a video game. She wasn't a goofy girl eating with her toes. She wasn't a teary-eyed girl losing her brother in the middle of a storm.

This was the woman that took care of her brother when she still a child herself. The woman that sacrificed everything for Yuuri.

For her family.

"This was always going to happen," Mari said coolly, gazing up at clouds that were singed a burnt amber in the dying light. "Since before the fire. When the onsen was back up and running, I knew it was only a matter of time."

Viktor expected to hear notes of resignation in her voice, and Viktor thought of himself, following a path paved for him.

"Time to grow up." Mari burned out the last of her cigarette on the sole of her shoe, turned and gave Yuuri a smile like a thumbs up. It wasn't an apathetic or enduring smile. But an accepting one.

Viktor was swayed by her words, knew that she meant what she said from the bottom of her heart, that this wasn't some sort of sacrifice, but a tiny, rebellious part of him didn't care. It told him that this wasn't fair. It wasn't right. Why is it that children have to be bogged down by their parent's designs?

Mari could say no.

Just like Viktor told his mother, his entire family, that he wasn't their property. But he was still following that path, wasn't he? By their design or not.

Mari knew she could say no.

She was choosing to stay.

But why?

"I made my dream come true. You still have dreams, little bro." Mari bent down, carefully plucked the bits and shards from Yuuri's feet, set them aside as she turned the tray back over to deposit them there. Yuuri didn't move. He didn't say anything. He stared down at the puff of Mari's hair like his heart was shattering and Mari was too busy picking up the pieces to notice. "You have a happily ever after waiting for you. Don't run from it now."

Viktor felt the revelation like a two-ton brick slamming into the back of his head.

She was doing this for the same reason she did everything else.

For her family. For Yuuri.

She did everything for them.

Yuuri's teeth ground down into each other, hard enough that Viktor could hear the clench, the grating of enamel. Mari went to ruffle his hair, a familiar gesture, one that Yuuri usually treasured, one that Viktor envied, such closeness between two siblings, but Yuuri pushed her hand away, his curled fingers clawing through the air. "You don't need to keep protecting me, Mari. I'll do the job I'm destined for."

"What does that mean? Since when has this been your destiny?"

Viktor wanted to second that question. It burned into his chest, begged to be asked as it began to scar. But neither of them would hear him. Viktor could see that the two were in their own battle, squaring off in a stalemate where even just their glares ate the very air alive between them.

Viktor disappeared again, melded into the background and left Yuuri and Mari to their own discussion. He stepped carefully over the tray and dishes, thinking that he should tidy the mess up, but knowing that now wasn't the time.

"I'll do the job I'm destined for."

Viktor had his own thoughts to face.

Makkachin scurried in after him, deftly maneuvering around the mess as well, and Viktor bent down to scratch her in her favorite spot on her neck, just below her ear in one of her hair's softest areas. He counted the scratches, the amount of times Makkachin's leg thumped on the ground in response, but his mind kept repeating that sentence, and Yuuri's conviction as he said it.

Are… are you going to run the inn, Yuuri?

Viktor felt insecurity burrow inside of him, wiggling and jeering in his ears. Was Yuuri going to leave him, before Viktor had the chance to?

Hiroko came up to Viktor. She adjusted her glasses with a smile, a basket of linens perched at her hip. "Seems my children are occupied." The door was still open, a warm summer breeze wafting in with Mari's and Yuuri's voices. They were far enough inside that they couldn't hear what the two were saying, but Hiroko didn't look at all concerned. Not like Viktor who was trying to grant Yuuri privacy while still attempting to translate the garbled, now Japanese conversation from a non-eavesdropping distance. "Would you like to help me with dinner?"

That rebellious part of Viktor wanted to be angry. He wanted to blame this argument, and everything it represented, on Hiroko, on Toshiya. But Yuuri's parents weren't Viktor's parents. This wasn't the same situation at all. Mari was talking like she had a choice. This wasn't a prison sentence hanging over her head. She could continue her life as it was. She was choosing to stay. For her family. For Yuuri. It didn't matter why, she was making her own decision.

And so would Yuuri.

"Viktor?"

Viktor brightened and about nodded his head off. She pat his elbow lightly and led him to the kitchen. Viktor puttered around, following Hiroko's instructions and loving the trust that wafted off of the woman. She was a very learn-by-doing type of teacher and Viktor was just that type of student. Viktor found himself bouncing a little as he chopped some leeks, his foot tapping away, and it was only after he finished that he found out what he was bouncing to.

Hiroko was humming. It was the same song, over and over, and she didn't seem at all aware that she was doing it, humming this light, delightful little tune.

A smile bloomed across Viktor's face as he was reminded of all of those times listening to Yuuri.

After listening enough times, Viktor began to hum along with her. Something about being in that space, caught between the heat of summer and the heat of the stove, and humming beside Yuuri's mother, roused Viktor from the depths his skating sunk him into. It's welcoming.

It's happiness.

It's where Viktor wanted to stay.

He would follow Yuuri wherever.

To Hasetsu or San Francisco.

I… need you, Yuuri.

In that moment, Viktor came to a decision.

"You mind stirring this, Viktor?"

"Sure, mama."

He would walk in Yuuri's shadow.

Chapter Text

"I found you," Viktor said as he came up behind Yuuri, still a ways away in the sand. Yuuri didn't react, and Viktor figured that he didn't hear him.

Yuuri was out knee-deep in the gentle waves of the Hasetsu bay. The sun was gone, blipped right off of the horizon, leaving the sky a hazy purple. Viktor made himself wait, watched Yuuri breathe in the night air, the waves lapping at Yuuri's legs as the mist blew across his face. His glasses were tucked against the collar of his shirt. Yuuri was beautiful, even when his face was shadowed by night and the complicated emotions that tore through his eyes. Viktor felt cacti prickles in his heart as he watched Yuuri battle with himself in the middle of the water. It was like watching Yuuri yell out into the air on top of that building. But that same sense of pride was there, too. Yuuri was dealing with his problems, with himself, instead of running away.

If only you would run to me.

Viktor walked closer, feet slapping into the soggy grains of sand until he was trudging into the water, putting his arms around Yuuri's waist and pushing himself against Yuuri's back, holding him. "Found you," Viktor voiced again, speaking against the back of Yuuri's shoulder where he pressed a long kiss.

Those cacti prickles grew, longer and sharper, as Yuuri slowly, silently, respectfully stepped away. Viktor didn't let it show, but it was like a gaping wound where Yuuri once was. He tried not to think of the kitchen. The cacophony of gadgets. Wandering fingers.

"No one can fix it, because you'd have to fix me!"

Drunk. Dancing. Fighting. Bleeding.

Dying.

Viktor tried to breathe those thoughts out. It was difficult to let go of that hurt, that worry. He didn't want to feel helpless again. He hated that feeling, would rather have a bazillion family dinners with his mother over feeling like that again. But Yuuri wanted to work things out on his own. Was that the right thing to do? Should Viktor disappear again? Let Yuuri burn himself out like a star? Heaving a giant bang of light and fire, before fading quietly into silence. Viktor wanted to help, but was that selfish?

Viktor stared at Yuuri's back, his thoughts like a patched together prayer.

Reach out to me.

Please.

Don't let this be like last time.

Trust me.

I'll take your hand. Always.

Viktor breathed in every second that passed, bit down on his own indecision. He didn't know what to do. Should he fight and stay? Or should he acquiesce and leave?

What would make him the better boyfriend?

He should have known. He should have known what Yuuri wanted.

In the end, Yuuri was the one to make the decision.

"I didn't mind moving," Yuuri began, the crashing white of seafoam splashing up against his stomach. Yuuri smiled, laughed as the wave tipped his balance. Viktor launched to catch him, but Yuuri found his footing. All on his own. "At least in San Francisco, I still had a beach, waves, the sky." Yuuri's light, whimsical tone changed, sunk like Viktor's feet in the sand. "It's completely different. I can't explain it."

Yuuri put his hands down palm-flat against the water like he was feeling its pulse in his fingertips. Viktor did the same, wanted to feel the same. Feel the bay's, Yuuri's, lifeblood in his hands. Like they were one and the same. The ocean would forever be synonymous with Yuuri. The sun, the sand, the smell, the water's delicate caress and its fierce aggressiveness. All of it belonged to Yuuri.

"Nothing stays the same," Yuuri said as he stood straight, felt the sandy water like silt in his hands as Viktor did the same. "You have to keep moving forward, just like everyone else. I can't keep standing still."

Waves pushed and pulled against their calves, and they slowly sank deeper, were drawn in further, and the ever-changing shapeless whorls of water came time and again to eat them up. Viktor thought that he could let himself get lost in this, this moment of time. Until he stumbled, the waves sweeping him off of his feet, just like Yuuri. And Yuuri laughed. The ebb and flow of the waves held a serene quality, but keeping themselves standing took effort. Viktor still felt his earlier turmoil on the ice low in his calves, on the outskirts of his mind.

But Yuuri's quiet laughter decimated those thoughts.

And Viktor's deep disquiet with it.

"Minako always looks at me like she's sad. Like I'm wasting something." Yuuri took his glasses into his hands, smeared the lenses with water spots and little grains. It was impossible over the background noise of the waves, but Viktor thought he could hear the plastic creak within Yuuri's clenched fingers. "Although I feel her disappointment, I don't feel guilty. I'm doing what I love. I can't feel guilty for that.

"I'm ready to do something more with my life," Yuuri nodded it back to himself, like it was only ever himself that held him back. "Be something more. I'll go. I'll do the competition. I'll try, at least." Yuuri gave him that small, unsure smile that Viktor loved, and scratched his cheek, leaving a trail of sand behind. "Maybe I can at least get some recognition. Some notoriety and money. Eventually have my own place."

Yuuri, Viktor wanted to gush, but he kept it contained inside, that sounds like hope.

"Where you can bake whatever you want," Viktor added as he linked their fingers together, a chain Viktor would never resist. "Wherever you want." Yuuri made a noise, low in the back of his throat, lip curving into something cynical. "Don't doubt this now. You can have the world, Yuuri. And I assure you, it will accept you with all of its heart."

"You're a world champion skater. The concept is easy and natural and normal to you. For me…"

Viktor moved in front of Yuuri, in front of the darkening horizon that looked so distant, so unreachable. He splashed up waves of his own as he walked forward to take Yuuri's glasses out of the ball of his fist and place them in his shirt pocket. He brought Yuuri's hands up and bunched Yuuri's fingers beneath Viktor's chin, focusing his gaze back on Viktor. Tangible, here. "I wasn't born a world champion."

"No but you were always…" Yuuri's hands slipped from Viktor's grip. Viktor let them go, but was surprised to find Yuuri staying, his hands pressing against Viktor's chest. "strong, invincible, driven," his hands stopped, Yuuri's index fingers and thumbs making a triangle where his hands joined together, encasing Viktor's heart. "exhilarating." Viktor felt his heart beat back against Yuuri's hands, his unsteady self. He didn't think he'd ever felt anything more exhilarating than that.

"But you have more of something than I will ever have," Viktor said, plucking Yuuri's hands free to put them on Yuuri's own chest, stiff fingers over the damp folds of his clothing, until they both felt a ba-dump, ba-dump that never failed to shake Viktor with the destructive force of a thunderstorm. Yuuri looked up at him, questioning. "Heart."

That word settled across Yuuri's face, like the quaking aftershocks of thunder's power. Viktor dropped his own hands, let Yuuri feel on his own, witness his own most powerful weapon for himself.

Just like the first breath after a storm, the sun came back, shimmering across Yuuri's face in the form of a smile. Still afraid, but determined. "It's scary. Starting something new. It's like I'm leaving everything behind and making a new life.

"Hey," Viktor took hold of Yuuri's shoulders, knocked him back to Earth, "you're not starting over. You're just continuing on in a new direction."

"Is that what you're doing?"

Viktor didn't expect that. It sank its teeth into his spine, paralyzed him, and he could only stand there as he pieced his brain back together. Leave it to his little jack-in-the-box to make the charming, unflappable, media darling speechless.

Yuuri didn't wait for an answer. It didn't look like he expected one. "The future was always a murky place that I didn't want to enter." Yuuri looked back out at the blackened horizon. It definitely looked bleak, intimidating, but it also looked closer than it ever had before. Viktor thought that he had spent his youth crossing over the horizon, taking the world. Yet only then did it feel like it was within reach. "But it comes, passes by. With you, I think my future is becoming clear enough that I don't mind treading water."

Viktor wanted to pull Yuuri in, hug him and kiss him and love him. He wanted to hold him like he would a teddy bear, glomp him until he had lost all of his stuffing.

But the ocean beat him to it.

The tide had risen before they realized it, as their ankles were buried in the folds of sand. The ocean gushed, attempted to eat them as it swallowed Yuuri whole. Viktor held onto Yuuri through the crash of the waves. Only breathed when Yuuri surfaced with an explosive inhale and he chuckled at himself, holding onto Viktor's forearms bruise-tight as he wobbled until he found his footing.

"I-I think," Yuuri began through trembling lips, trying to pull his soaked clothes away where they were splattered against his skin, "we should head back."

"Definitely."

Viktor held Yuuri under his arm as they staggered back through the sand. He rubbed his hand up and down Yuuri's arm, hoping the friction would help as the night air chilled their waterlogged bodies.

"I'm thinking of going to the festival with Yuuko and her family tomorrow. Want to come with?"

Viktor nodded, hugging Yuuri closer to his side and kissing the crown of his head. It left a salty aftertaste that lingered on his lips, but Viktor rather liked having remnants of their time together to keep. Even if it was for fleeting moments.

Yuuri glanced over to the side, led Viktor's gaze to a nearby tree. "We'll have to come during flower viewing season."

"I saw them bloom one of the times I was here for a competition." Yuuri's face didn't change much, though Viktor caught the flicker of disappointment. "Somehow, I think the view will be much more magical next time."

Yuuri scrunched up his face in dismissal. "Ah, well, once you've seen it..." Yuuri stopped suddenly, put a hand to his stomach as he bit his lip. "I feel sick."

Viktor placed a hand between his shoulder blades, rubbed against his sopping shirt as Yuuri bent over the ground with hand braced against the tree. "That's because you ate four helpings of dinner, dear heart."

"Yeesh," Yuuri squeezed his eyes shut against the embarrassment. "I just didn't want to think about the future anymore."

"I'm just happy that I wasn't the cause this time."

Yuuri lifted his head, his eyes lighting up in remembrance before he glowered back over at Viktor. "You licked her."

Viktor's lips peeled back from his teeth in a wince. He just had to put his foot in his mouth. Could they go back to talking about cherry blossoms? "In hindsight, not my best decision." Viktor shrugged with his hands, trying to be flippant.

"What is?" The paleness to Yuuri's features passed, and he adjusted himself back upright, placing his glasses back on as they continued toward the inn.

"But it was better me than you."

Yuuri stopped. "Really? I wasn't going to lick her! I was just going to wipe it off for her."

"Still too close for comfort," Viktor replied, not a hint of apology on his person.

Yuuri spun back around, his flip flops making a squeegee-screech noise with the movement, and poked a finger into Viktor's chest. "Yeah? And how would you feel if I actually did lick her face?"

"I believe we already had this talk. Do I need to get my bat?"

"Hypocrite."

"The biggest." Viktor brushed a soggy tuft of Yuuri's bangs from his glasses, accidentally thumbing a corner of the frames. "But you love me for it."

Yuuri didn't look amused. "Jealousy isn't cute, you know? Neither is a lack of trust. Don't you trust me to be devoted to you?"

Woah. Viktor felt his emotions do an about face, his humor quickly caving into his stomach where it tumbled into that monster called shame. "Yes…"

"Yuuko is family. And even if she wasn't, I love you. That means everything to me. You are my everything, Viktor. No one else is capable of becoming my world. No one. You can retire that bat. You don't need it."

Again, Yuuri stole his words, left him bereft of a quippy comeback or anything that wasn't the sentimental gush overflowing his insides. Yuuri smiled, pleased. Until Viktor found a response. "I was never very good at baseball anyway."

Yuuri's shoulders dropped with a weighted sigh. "Come on, you dork."

They stayed coated in a comfortable silence as they walked back, drenched through their underwear and clinging in the cold. When Yuuri's hand slid back over Yu-Topia's outer railing, Yuuri's voice broke through.

"Am I abandoning my family, Viktor?" Yuuri braced himself against a gust of wind. Viktor gathered Yuuri into his chest, tried to take the brunt of the cold. "I remember how it felt," Yuuri shivered and it looked like it was against more than just the wind, but the freezing thoughts that dripped with the water along his pebbled skin, "when I thought they abandoned me. I don't want them to feel that way. No one should ever feel that way."

Yuuri's pain ricocheted through Viktor, bullets going this way and that and Viktor had no way to shield himself, no barricade to hide behind. He didn't want one. He would take in Yuuri's hurt, help him through it. "You are doing no such thing, Yuuri. You love them. You'll be living far away, chasing dreams away from their sphere, but you will always be thinking of them. That's not abandonment. That's growing."

"Crap, now I'm crying." Yuuri scrubbed at his eyes with a fist, but Viktor pulled it away.

"Yuuri, solntse moye, you can always cry. Although I do prefer your smile to your tears." Viktor pinched Yuuri's cheek, lifted it to get him to smile.

"Youch!" Yuuri shoved Viktor away with a laugh, rubbing his cheek. "Good. I think we have enough problems without you being a sadist."

"Then keep smiling, Yuuri!" Viktor dove for Yuuri's cheek again. Yuuri squeaked and ran for the door. Viktor paused, felt the eerie, hair-raising, nails on a chalkboard, nerve-grating feeling of being watched. Viktor turned, ignoring Yuuri's inquisitive look. "You head on in without me." Viktor clipped back on his smile, shiny, pristine. Yuuri's eyes said that he didn't believe it, but he allowed Viktor the out. "I'll be in soon."

"Sure… I'll be waiting."


"Done having your quaint little moment in the moonlight?" Valeriya asked as Viktor approached. She stood a ways off from the inn, hidden in the shadow of a tree.

Viktor bristled, hearing that his mother spied on such a private, intimate moment of his and Yuuri's. It made Viktor dislike himself, for a moment. It made him want to grip onto Yuuri, clench his fingers around him like a possession, declare him his and tell his mother that she could not touch his things. But Yuuri wasn't a thing.

She had no right to be here. She had no right to violate Yuuri's precious home with her presence. Viktor let the acid cool on his tongue, let it solidify into a more durable weapon. "Come to collect your due?" Viktor asked, his gaze flickering to the inn and back. He knew there would be consequences to acquiring her assistance with Yuuri in the hospital, but to ambush him in Japan? She was as ruthless as ever.

The branches swayed with the wind, making the spider web of shadows crawl across his mother's face. It was fitting. She had always been a stealthy and poisonous predator. "I don't require anything from you. Is it so preposterous that I would help you out of the kindness of my heart?"

An irritated tsk left his lips before he could stop it. "I don't have time for this. So please. Get on with whatever this is so we can get back to our evenings, yes? You don't do things out of kindness. You only ever work for yourself."

Her lips formed a rueful smile, her eyes… tired beneath thick lashes. Viktor didn't think his mother was capable of being tired. "I rather deserved that." Nor was it in her nature to take punches. "I had hoped to say what I needed to say without prying too deeply into the past, but… I think there are things you need to know before you understand what I have to say."

It's rare," Viktor felt himself bite out, "for you to be sentimental." Viktor kept his face neutral, but his mind faltered, panicking because this was new. He looked her over again, her appearance ever the same, elegantly and sharply dressed, hair back in a coil, heels tall, but her head was not high, chin almost tucked into her chest as she held onto her crossed arms. He didn't allow himself to think on Valeriya's demeanor. "The past is the past, isn't that what you used to say? When we would bump into each other at galas or charity functions as you would hold my arm and show me off to everyone like a prized monkey you trained to perform?"

Her gaze sharpened, warning him from twisting his knife any deeper. That was the mother he knew, with the gestures that meant far more than the words.

"The past is the past, you said. Yet you use the past against anyone in your way. Any enemy or friend or family or even innocent bystanders. You used it against Yuuri. Don't think either of us have forgotten. You used his most troubled times, his family, his goddamn abusive uncle against him and Yuuri has recovered from that because he is strong. Hell, he's probably even forgiven you because he is the kindest person I have ever known. But I am not strong and I am not kind. I will not forgive you."

Valeriya's grip tightened on her arms as her gaze fled over to the tree. Viktor felt a sharp sense of satisfaction as he cowed over his mother. He finally felt taller than her. Bigger than her, as he came to stand over her as she once did to him.

"I don't want to know what you have to say. The past is the past. Nothing more. Now I will pay my debt, because I will not owe anyone, let alone you. What is it that you want?"

The tree branches shifted, the moon surfaced from the bushels of gray clouds, and moonlight streamed down on the two of them. Viktor's shadow covered over his mother. It was taller, bigger, a monster he had always told himself he would never become. He never wanted to be like her. Arrogant, bitter, a terror to hide from.

Viktor bit into his lip, hard enough to sting, hard enough that he pierced his teeth in deep and tasted the memories of that first slap of his mother's hand on his cheek. He remembered the taste, like he sucked on a stack of pennies. It tasted like that now. He also remembered her face, her shock. She had always been good at intimidation, would give him that look that pinned him in place like a dead butterfly on display, and she would hold onto him, nails clawed into his chin until he would give. She never followed up on it. Never until that night. Never again until they were standing on that hill in San Francisco.

He always told himself he wouldn't be like her. That thought left him slumping back as he repeated a strained, "What do you want?"

She held his gaze. "I want you to listen."

"What?"

"That's my price." She firmed herself up, raised her head, and Viktor wondered if she'd played him. Acted vulnerable and he fell face first into it. "You want to pay your due, then I want your ear."

Viktor smiled, felt the laugh slip through his nose. "Can I just cut it off and give it to you?"

She actually looked a little amused. "It would probably be a kindness. You have your father's ears."

"What's wrong with my ears?!" Viktor cried, cuffing his hands over them.

She patted his elbow as she walked past him. "Come along. Let's get a drink. Any good bars in this backwater place?"


"What is that?" Viktor asked as he came back from the bathroom to find Valeriya with a giant glass that held some green slosh that looked like it was a mythical concoction cooked up by a wizard. He quirked his head, secretly thinking that it was as green as he'd imagined her blood to be.

"Something strong and filthy with calories," Valeriya cheered as she clinked her glass against Viktor's, teasing a wink at the bartender from over her shoulder.

Viktor rolled his eyes, sipped at his beer. He could still taste the shochuu from the night before in his throat. "We celebrating something? I'm still pissed. Take care to remember that."

"I won't soon forget," she said, taking a long, heavy drink before dabbing at her upper lip with a napkin. "Have you seen your father lately?"

Viktor's eye twitched right along with his heart. "Come to shade him a darker color?"

Valeriya sat back, posture rod-straight, perfect. She folded her hands, unfolded them. Her eyes stared at a piece of art on the wall, pastels on fabric. "We fell in love during the beginnings of my career. Your father was still full of such hope, then. He said my dancing made his heart beat, made it bleed so many colors that he just had to paint with them. When I watched him give himself to that brush, it drove me deeper into my devotion to dance. We inspired each other, we loved each other, but we hated each other, too.

"We stayed together because I was pregnant. I didn't know what to do, what kind of mother I would be. I didn't think having me for a mother would be fair to her or him, to you." She paused, swallowed another mouthful. Viktor didn't touch his drink again. He was already feeling ill. It was one thing to suspect your mother didn't want you, another to hear it. "Dmitry wanted to keep you. He was ecstatic. His family didn't accept me… but," that same rueful smile was resurrected behind her glass, "they had to because of you. They offered me money, fame, everything, with the promise of a binding contract to never speak of it. Dmitry said no. Even if I signed, he would leave after me, be gone, take their only heir out of the equation. So I signed myself to the Nikiforov name and a caustic marriage.

"We fought like cats and dogs, because that was how we saw each other. I was the conniving cat that only wanted his money. He was the dog that cared for nothing but his work and ignored me. Our love… had all but run dry. We had moments. Even the most tenuous of relationships do, but we weren't made for each other."

Viktor almost stopped her. Almost. There was a crack in his mother's mask, one much like, if not identical to, the one that had splintered forth when Viktor had told her that he loved Yuuri. Viktor didn't want to sympathize with his mother, couldn't. Not after all of this time. Love? If they were so in love, what happened? How could their love spoil just because of a child and a contract?

Viktor could only remember a house full of door slams and shattered dishes. When there weren't explosive arguments, there were silent dinners. Viktor didn't remember love being in the equation at all.

"Love and hate are much more intertwined than you think."

"It was hell. I absorbed the Nikiforov name. Became more of an heir than your father. We hated each other. He said I sapped the happiness and joy from his life, he… well, he bound me to a world that I could not escape from. I do not blame him for leaving."

Her glass clinked back down onto the table. Viktor watched a drop slither down its side. "That was after Yakov took me under his wing."

"He used to yell at us for treating you that way. For yelling at each other, at you. Yakov didn't understand how- Tsk, he and Lilia were trying to conceive back then. When they gave up, I think he looked to you to fill that void."

Viktor brought a hand to his forehead, rested himself against the tabletop. That was… a lot more than he knew. It made him feel the ache of loneliness in his chest again, and such a profound sadness for Yakov. Viktor didn't want to hear this. Every word was like snapping another bone in the foundation of this image Viktor had, in this body Viktor once knew.

"Once you were gone, we hardly saw a need to stay together. Legally, sure. But, he was gone within weeks. I stayed, took up his place in the family, because, well," She sighed followed by another drink that finished her glass. The bartender had already served her another with an indulgent smile. "I hardly had a choice by then."

So, what, I'm supposed to feel sorry for you? Viktor stifled in his throat. He didn't want to feel sorry for her. He didn't want to feel anything but burning hatred for his mother. He wanted to be angry. He wanted to be so angry. And stay angry. He felt that he had a right to that anger. He didn't want those years of flames to be extinguished by a little history lesson at a bar. He didn't want to let his anger go. He'd held onto it for so long. He didn't know what he would do without it.

But he did feel sorry for her. It was like a tiny spark in the pit of his heart. Viktor fought against it with all of his being. "That doesn't explain why you went after Yuuri."

"It was a part of my duty," she said, and it was like fanning the embers back to life or throwing water on a grease fire. "Truthfully, I didn't care. I saw him as just another one of your flings. You didn't care about him. Then you told me off. You defended him. Not once have you defended another person to me. It disturbed me. It scared me. I saw a repeat of the past. I saw myself losing her way, her happiness because of a fake or flawed love and I-" She shut her eyes, squished her lips together, biting down against emotions that were so alien on her face. "When your grandmother asked me to bribe off the Katsuki boy, I did so readily. I was a bad mother, but I thought I could save you."

"You wanted to save yourself," Viktor found himself saying, less heated than he expected, than he wanted, but more stupefied in the face of something so shocking. "The you that you saw in me."

"Perhaps. But then he stood up to me, too. Wouldn't leave and I thought- It startled me, but I didn't want to believe it. Then I saw the videos."

"You watched the videos," Viktor said, then processed what he said. "Yuuri's videos? You watched the baking videos?"

"Yes, I watched you caper about like a moron. Highlight of my motherhood, I tell you." She looked over at him, amusement dancing on her lips, "I do keep up with your life, you know?" and his mother, the one in his mind, fragmented then. He could no longer see her as he always had. She looked so human. Viktor kept trying to imagine green blood, a poisonous spider waiting to drop from its web, but she wasn't a creature in his eyes. Just a very, very flawed human being.

In his mind, the Nikiforov name was a symbol of chains and his keeper was his mother. But it turned out that she was stuck in those chains right along with him. The name was more than his mother. It was his father, his father's mother, and probably much farther up the ladder.

It was Viktor's family. His entire family.

"I saw the love between you two. It is… different than mine and your father's. It is a love that is meant to last."

Viktor felt his throat close, his lungs cease, his heart stop beating. Because as Viktor sat there, listening and listening, he'd almost transplanted himself into his mother's shoes, saw his mother and father like him and Yuuri. It was frightening, like a shadowy forecast over him telling him that all of these feelings, this love, could grow frail and die away. Viktor hurt to think of it. He hurt for his mother, his father, because he didn't know how they felt falling out of love, but he knew that he would never be able to handle falling out of love with Yuuri.

Valeriya was still wearing her ring. Viktor glanced at it, in the same spot it always was, as she looked down at it, too.

"I've been reevaluating myself since I saw those idiotic baking segments." Bending her thumb in, she rubbed against her wedding ring, spun it in stuttered circles around her finger, before slipping it off. "I'm going to leave the family." She placed the ring in the middle of the table, amidst crumbs and leftover drink circles. "But I won't without your permission."

Viktor looked up at his mother, wanted to laugh, like she was joking. A cruel joke he had to endure as his payment for Yuuri's good health. His hands clenched into fists against his damp pants as he only saw sincerity.

"If I leave, I will be disowned… and so will you. I won't make that decision for you. I've made enough decisions for you."

"Even if I say no?" Viktor croaked, wanting to stab himself in the eyes rather than cry, because he knew that what he felt behind his eyes were tears from some unnamable emotion stirring from within. "You'll stay… with them, with that family, for me?"

"It's about time I act like a mother, right?"

The comment wasn't funny. Nothing of this registered as funny. Viktor thought of Yuuri, facing his future, past his demons. Yuuri was forever strong, nearly indestructible to Viktor. Because here Viktor was, facing his future, his biggest demon, and all he wanted was to drown himself again. To melt into the background. Disappear. Forget. He couldn't do this, challenge his thoughts, his feelings, his beliefs. He had spent his life focused on his mother as the enemy. Swore he would surpass her, his name.

And Viktor thought of Yuri. Feral, destructive, powerful, little Yura. How alike they were.

"I was never meant to be a mother," Valeriya said, back to being cold in a clinical sort of way. Viktor fought against rage. She was composed, but she was off, like a dog told to heel against its nature, and Viktor thought that maybe, just maybe, she was drowning herself, too. "Caring for a child, coddling a child with love and affection, it was such a foreign idea to me. I couldn't understand the innocence, the vulnerability of children." Her hands were out, open in the air in front of her. Empty. Waiting to be filled with something that never came. "Even my own child." She met his eyes, unflinching, determined. "For that, I am sorry. You deserved better."

Viktor held her gaze, parried it. "Yes," Viktor hissed, slipping from the impeccable control that he somehow always lost when around his mother, "I did." But he was used to her winning. He had to shake himself free from the hands that gripped him, that pulsed with rage and fury and doubt and resentment and indignation. So many feelings, all of them putrid, and maybe that's what it was. Maybe that was why he couldn't skate. He lost all sense of those pure, ardent feelings he had for the ice, let them be poisoned and buried and all he was left with was grief.

Valeriya's hands were still out, still waiting. Chapped and dry, wrinkled hands that had warped with age. They were barren of the feelings she could never acquire. Of the things she didn't deserve.

"I don't deserve it…" Viktor whispered, and her hands fell. "I don't deserve to skate anymore…" There was a part of him there, stuck inside of him, eclipsed in something Viktor didn't have a name for.

He chose to think of the ocean, its pulse. That just a little over an hour ago he was feeling it beside Yuuri. Relishing Yuuri's trust and affection. His strength. Now Viktor smelled of briny sand, like a fish that sat out under the sun on a boat too long, caught in a net and long dead. He felt the sand like it was crawling all over him. It itched. Viktor wanted to peel off his skin, form a new shell, begin anew.

"Inspiration has never been kind," she replied

"But… you said-"

She gave him that smile that Viktor knew. That he used when guilty of a lie and would shed no apology. "We all, yes we, have moments like that. Your father," Viktor caught her swallow, saw a brief glimpse of that complex emotion he had never recognized in his mother's eyes before, "cursed at his inspiration more often than he praised it. I told myself that that wouldn't be my life. I couldn't allow myself to break down because of something as unpredictable and unstable as inspiration. It happened anyway." She shrugged, took note of the betrayal no doubt seething between Viktor's teeth. "Showing weakness, you get eaten doing that."

With that, she stood. Collected her bag and the light shawl she had been wearing out in the night. She was done. Viktor couldn't believe it. It was like she had delivered a nuke to his head -three nukes- and was walking away in the aftermath.

Still he said, "You have my permission."

She merely paused, before taking her ring and sliding it across the table toward Viktor. "I can't say that Yuuri Katsuki is a good match for you, but you have my blessing, for what it's worth. If you can have the love I couldn't keep, then treasure it. And Viktor," she slipped her shawl back over her shoulders, gave him a pointed look that he would forever be used to, "never, ever wear that dog suit again."

Viktor listened as her heels clacked their way out, bit his lip against a laugh as he realized he was left with the bar tab. He was tired, too tired after volleying himself between emotions at a blink-rapid pace. All he wanted was to slip into bed between his Yuuri and his Makka.

And that was what he would do.