Viktor studies the flowers for a pensive few moments, then looks up at Yuuri with a smile that lights up his whole face.
“They’re blue,” he declares.
Yuuri nods encouragingly.
When Viktor doesn’t elaborate, Yuuri gingerly takes the woven crown from him, lifts it, and places it atop Viktor’s head. He tilts the mirror to show him how he looks.
“They’re a good colour on you,” he tells him.
Viktor considers his reflection. “Blue,” he says again, contentedly.
Yurio comes by in the afternoon. Viktor still has on the flower crown.
The younger man waves to get his attention. “Happy birthday, old man!”
Viktor smiles at him pleasantly enough, but turns to look at Yuuri with just a hint of uncertainty. To Yurio’s credit, his own smile doesn’t slip by much.
“Brought you my favourite,” Yurio says, quickly changing the subject to circumvent Viktor’s confusion. “Katsudon pirozhki!”
He plops a bag of the custom-made treats on the table. Yuuri sends him a grateful look for not implicating Viktor again even though the dish also used to be his favourite.
“Viktor, set those out on a plate, would you?” Yuuri says, and pulls Yurio into the next room.
Yurio can barely tear his gaze off Viktor. When he does he finds Yuuri watching him intently. “What?” he almost snaps.
The other man shrugs. “Thanks for being here. It being Christmas and all.”
Yurio narrows his eyes. “Your family doesn’t celebrate Christmas? Not even pigging out on turkey?”
“I didn’t want to go home and leave him alone,” Yuuri admits after a pause. “Besides, I think he likes being back in Petersburg for the holidays.”
Yurio snorts, but not derisively; it’s just the sound he makes to brush off sentimentality. He has grown up lean but intensely muscled, keeping his hair long and in recent years embracing a particular shade of leather jacket lined with a tasteful amount of nevertheless dramatic faux fur. Only their longstanding familiarity keeps his trademark scowl from being intimidating.
“Next time, call me. You can’t isolate yourself to take care of him.”
He meets Yuuri’s eyes and finds a hard edge in them. Stubborn old Katsudon. The look rapidly softens, however, as the older man glances back through the doorway, in Viktor’s direction.
There are subtle crow’s feet around his eyes now, but they’re only prominent when he smiles. It suits him, that kindly crinkle. He would never admit it, but it reminds Yurio of the beige paper bags that the candy his grandfather bought him used to come in. Little pockets of sweetness and charm in the cold Russian winters. His childish sticky fingers.
“I’m not alone,” Yuuri murmurs. “Everyone keeps reminding me about self-care for caregivers, but — how could I ever be lonely when I’m with Viktor?”
Yurio thinks, reflexively, that Viktor hasn’t completely been mentally present for some time. The superstar Viktor they remember from their halcyon days as competitive figure skaters, who whined vainly about his graying, thinning hair, who was the life of the party… that live-out-loud man is now placid most days, quietly contented instead of outrageous and over the top.
He doesn’t say any of this out loud, but it must show on his face, because Yuuri continues to muse. “The key is not to think about the Viktor I’m losing,” he says, “but the Viktor I still have.”
“Yuri’s, come and have katsudon pirozhki!” Viktor calls from the next room. He could almost be a voice from the past, endearingly muffled by the wooden floors and sliding doors of the Katsuuki family home.
So they sit at the table together, laugh, eat. Viktor remembers in due course that it’s Christmas, and his birthday. With all the deadpan humour he’s picked up from Otabek, Yurio puns about his presence being his present — which he finds funny right up until Viktor sticks a bow on his head and asks Yuuri to get out the spare wrapping paper.
There are times, there are days, when Viktor seems to remember, when he is irreverent and perky and vivacious, a collection of saturated colours roving about the apartment, putting on music (only Viktor would have a gramophone, really) and tugging Yuuri into a clumsy dance right in the middle of the kitchen. And if Yuuri ever wonders, betrayed by his own rational mind, if Viktor really understands who he’s dancing with, he just has to look in the other man’s eyes to lose himself all over again in their love.
There are days when Viktor is muted, when his smile hesitates. Hello, it seems to greet Yuuri. I know you, from somewhere. Then he is a figure seen through a stained-glass window, reclining in his chair with a mug of tea that he will sip from at irregular intervals, even long after it’s gone cold. And each time, his eyebrows shoot up in pleasant surprise, and he stares at Yuuri. “How did you know how I like my tea?” he asks in wonderment. His voice soft and vague as the clouds, his eyes like the sky.
“I know you,” Yuuri replies each time, and if a furrow appears between Viktor’s eyebrows, he marks his page in his book, gets up, and goes to smooth a hand over it.
He does this as many times as Viktor seems to need it.
The rare silver lining of early onset dementia: Viktor never stops being surprised when Yuuri remembers his favourite things.
There are rough times to come. There will be an accumulation of moments over which Viktor will grow more listless, more confused, repetitive of the same tired old stories. Sleepless nights, terse one-sided frustrations. There is heartache waiting at the end that looms, a dark grove at the end of their winding path.
These last days of the year after Christmas always ring too much of endings. In the evenings, they wrap up warm.
As Viktor begins to doze off, Yuuri sets the gramophone playing Stay Close to Me. He thinks he sees him smile.