Every Victor Nikiforov fan has three things in common.
1. They have unrealistic expectations for romance.
2. They mark their calendars with the dates of his newest book releases and the premieres of his latest movie adaptations.
3. They either passionately hate or love his greatest rival, a mysterious author whose pseudonym is only two letters: “KY.”
(Ironically, every KY fan shares these same three traits.)
“Again?” Victor hisses, refreshing Twitter for the umpteenth time, because surely, surely this cannot be happening. He’d announced the release of his next novel only yesterday, and of course KY had chosen today to announce the release of his next novel. Fans are already scrambling to decide which book to preorder and writing Twitter rants that are hardly viable with a 140 character limit.
Yakov peers at Victor’s computer screen. Yakov’s publishing office is small, but effective—there are a few dozen employees under his supervision. Yurio Plisetsky interns there, and he’s often one of the first people to read over the rough drafts of Victor’s novels. His negative thoughts on dulcet romance are well-known to all, but Victor genuinely appreciates the objective opinions.
Right now, though, Yurio is snickering from in front of Yakov’s desk, legs propped up on it as he reclines in a chair. He’s chewing a wad of bubblegum—Victor figures he must be munching on at least five pieces—and watching them, amused. “Is something funny?” Victor inquires, pinching the bridge of his nose.
Yurio shrugs. “Do you think KY is sitting at his computer right now, thinking the exact same thing that you are?”
Yakov spares the blond a glance. Victor looks at him, too.
The intern shifts, seeming to revel in the response. “Think about it. It’s not like KY chooses to announce his books on the day of. I’m sure it’s a planned out thing, so it’s just unfortunate irony. I bet he’s just as annoyed about you two doofuses planning your release for mid-March as you are about him planning his release.”
They both stare at him for an instant, and then Victor huffs, turns back to his computer screen. He pulls open the Facebook comments on his last post.
How will I decide which book to buy? Why do they keep doing this? lol
He tries to dampen the urge to respond with simply: buy my book. Of course this happened. Of course. It happens every single time, without fail. At this point, countless fans have accused them of coordinating their book releases to maximize profits. KY has been silent on the matter, as he is on every matter, because nobody knows who the hell he is.
Victor has met his publisher before—a man named Celestino. Yakov and him are old friends, but even Celestino won’t release any information about his prized author. Victor, on the other hand, takes photos, does interviews, attends movie premieres. Emma Stone had been in his last movie adaptation, for crying out loud. But nobody even knows KY’s preferred pronouns.
(Victor has always thought of him as a him. He’s not sure why. In fact, whenever people address KY as anything but, it throws him off for a second.)
He licks his lips as he scrolls down. The official announcement of KY’s novel, courtesy of Celestino’s publishing company’s Facebook page, is there. Victor clicks on it. He reads the summary for his rival’s upcoming novel, History Maker.
Marcus Lloyd has, for as long as he can remember, loved the ice. It feels like a second home to him, even as he collapses to it, fingers splayed, after his failure at the Grand Prix Final. Can a mystifying, unpredictable world champion lead him to love and victory?
“I think that it sounds cheesy,” Yurio mutters.
Yurio has a limited edition collection of all of KY’s novels hidden underneath his bed. Victor knows that, but Yurio doesn’t know that Victor knows that. So he keeps his mouth shut. He’s saving that knowledge for a special occasion.
(Besides, Victor, too, owns every KY novel. Purely to research his competition.)
(Purely for research, he had told himself as he’d cried over the last one, titled On Love: Eros. Purely for research, he had told himself as he’d driven to the nearest Walmart to buy five more boxes of tissues and clung to his dog for the rest of the night, thinking about the character development and the plot and the perfect descriptions and—)
Purely for research.
“So he’s writing about figure skating,” Victor muses, shutting his eyes.
(Why hadn’t he thought of that first?)
Yakov seems to be able to read his thoughts, touching his shoulder and offering a sympathetic smile. “You’ll outsell him, Vitya.”
“I didn’t last year.”
“This one is a seller, I can tell.”
Victor’s newest novel is entitled Stammi Vicino, or, alternatively, Stay Close to Me. It’s about a man who is lost in life, aimless, and meets somebody at a party who changes his life for the better. It’s fantastical, a touch unrealistic, but Victor figures perhaps that is why it seems to come straight from the heart.
Either way, he can’t deal with this right now. He has a book signing for his last novel, Fragile as Glass, tomorrow. It’s at a large library in Detroit, of all places, and he’ll need to be at the airport first thing tomorrow morning. Therefore, he really doesn’t have time to dwell on KY’s incredible summary, which is still chilling Victor’s heart. It may have been cheesy, as Yurio had implied, but everyone is all too aware of KY’s abilities to spin emotions out of words, to make characters come to life.
Victor heads back to his apartment, throws his suitcase on his bed and begins haphazardly tossing clothes and items into it. This book signing is a large one—he’s already anticipating his cramped hand. He has a love of meeting fans, yes, but this love is often at war with his never-ending fear of carpal tunnel.
First, he packs his small notebook. It’s black, filled to the brim with sticky notes and ideas. Yurio, who had flipped through it once, had commented that it looked like what a monkey would write if he were trapped in a box and given nothing but pens and paper. Then, he packs his trusty laptop for heavy-duty writing. Victor always writes in monospace. Nothing but monospace. Twelve point font. Double spaced.
(He wonders, briefly, how KY writes.)
Then moves on.
He walks over to his bookshelf. The flight is fifteen hours, so he’ll need to stock up on books and movies. A familiar, internal war occurs, resulting from the fact that half of the books occupying his shelf happen to be written by his arch nemesis. The man who overshadows his every book release, every movie adaptation, who never comes out into the public and never, never comments on Victor.
He plucks Stay by My Side by KY off of the shelf. One of his favorites.
(Purely for research.)
(But the moment it’s in his hands, he can’t wait until the plane, so he sits down cross-legged on his bed, opening the worn pages and starting with chapter one.)
He exhales, can’t help the smile that works its way onto his lips. The way that KY describes things is melodic, relaxing in a way that Victor strives for his own writing to emulate. It’s as though the reader is captivated, is there with him, as though one is reading about genuine experiences instead of just a fantasy.
Somehow, along the way, KY manages to make readers fall in love with the characters. Victor feels for the protagonist, his friends, his romantic interest—lets himself be devoured by the world that the author had spun. He has read this book several times before, but he manages to notice new things each time, easter eggs or little bits of dialogue that hadn’t stuck out to him the first time around.
He finishes it that night, at three in the morning.
So much for reading it on the plane.
Victor groans and rolls out of bed. It’s seven in the morning and he still hasn’t showered. His flight is in an hour. What a terrible, terrible idea. Yet he regrets nothing.
He grabs clothes out of his suitcase, revealing the tempting edge of his laptop. He pauses, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. After a brief hesitation, he picks his laptop up. He sets the clothes on top of his suitcase and opens the device, settling on the floor with his back against the edge of the bed, not wanting to fall asleep again by accident. The screen is ridiculously luminous, and he winces, lowering the brightness setting immediately.
Victor enjoys reading. Perhaps that is inevitable, as he is an author himself.
Therefore, he has two blogs for it.
Firstly, there’s his official blog. He posts comprehensive reviews of novels written by colleagues and strangers, answers fan questions, and poses his thoughts carefully, using proper grammar. He reads every post once, twice, three times before sending it out to the world for his fans to properly devour.
And then there’s his second blog.
He doesn’t have an explanation, really.
That blog, suffice to say, has a dramatic drop in poise.
Either way, he logs onto it now. He writes a long rant about how he'd just reread Stay By My Side, listing thoughts about the characters, the plot, the writing, his favorite parts, about how he cannot fathom living a life without having read this novel. KY-fan1990 has two thousand followers. Not bad, Victor thinks. However, he’s not in it for the fame, never has been—no, this blog really is for his own personal pleasure.
The moment he hits post, the replies start piling up.
There are people squealing along with him, and he starts typing out responses, no longer paying attention to the time. He finds himself grinning as he discusses characters, why they’d done what they’d done at the end of the novel, how KY had so perfectly crafted the story around the central theme of intimacy.
One comment in particular is like a pebble stuck in his shoe. It’s not an annoyance, necessarily, but a constant presence that is always prominent, that doesn’t seem to disappear no matter how hard one shakes. He has seen it before, of course. Plenty of times. Daily, at this point—if not hourly.
Who do you think they are?
He blinks, fingers drifting across the keys. Normally words come easily to him, but now he just licks his lips, thinks. Who is KY? It’s obviously something he has thought of countless times before, something he has pondered over. He imagines…
He imagines a nice smile.
That’s the easiest part to picture, for some reason. The rest he isn’t so sure about. Attractive, obviously. What sort of attractive, Victor isn’t sure. But he bets he’s beautiful in the same way that his mind is beautiful, in the way that he crafts scenes and artfully builds characters from reality, not fantasy. In the way that he’s an artisan, melding and mixing and creating pure escapism.
Victor ponders who KY is, yes, but he doesn’t ponder his response to the comment.
I think he’s a genius.
He hits post, then goes to shower.
Victor almost misses his flight.
A few fans stop him at the airport, and he takes hurried, low-quality selfies with them before making his way onto the plane, sweat evident on his forehead. The lady beside him on the plane is trapped in her own little world, a pink neck pillow behind her head and earphones plugged into her ears, some sort of movie playing in front of her.
He puts his backpack underneath the seat in front of him, reaches down and pulls out A Dream Too Large to Bear Alone. For a second, he glances around, self-conscious, because it’d be hard to explain press photos of Victor Nikiforov reading his arch enemy’s novel on a plane trip. But within minutes he’s devoured by the calloused pages, worn and torn with love and admiration.
When he takes a break, he pulls out his laptop, stares at his current work in progress. It’s good, but it’s not as good as KY’s content. Victor’s writing has good dialogue, solid descriptions, but that’s just it: it’s normal. Expected.
KY always manages to surprise him.
Detroit is cold.
(That’s his first impression, anyway.)
It occurs to him briefly that Celestino’s publishing office is somewhere in this city. He wonders if that means that KY lives around here, too. Pushing that thought away, he heads to the baggage claim, searches for his dark blue suitcase until it comes swiveling around. Victor grabs it and plops it down on the ground, scanning the crowd of drivers for a sign with his own name on it.
There’s a man holding a sign reading Nikiforov on it and it turns out he’s a fan, too, so he practically gushes about Victor’s works during the entire ride. Victor doesn’t mind, though. He’s used to the attention, takes the compliments in his grand stride, gives him a few details about his upcoming work. He calls them exclusive details, but, really, said ‘exclusive details’ are given to anyone and everyone who asks. A marketing strategy, of sorts.
Victor heads into the hotel, finds his room and lays down on the bed instantly. He has been here five minutes and he’s already exhausted. Then again, long flights have never failed to suck the life out of him. He yawns, pulling out his laptop and checking the activity feed for KY-fan1990 once again. There are about a dozen new comments. One in particular stands out to him.
Have you read any of Victor Nikiforov’s stuff?
He has gotten messages like these before. He deletes it. The last thing he wants to talk about on this blog is himself. No, this blog is dedicated entirely and unashamedly to KY. And that's that. So he responds to the other messages, droning on and on and on about the protagonist’s best friend in Stay by My Side.
Before he leaves for the book signing, he logs out of the blog, as is his tradition. The last thing he’d want is for somebody to trace his guilty pleasure account back to him.
Then he’s off. He hadn’t brought Makkachin to Detroit, as the plane ride is too much trouble for the poodle, but he knows that Yakov and Yurio are taking good care of him back home. He wears formal attire to the book signing—a black suit jacket and pants matched with a white dress shirt and a vibrant, floral tie. There are silver cufflinks that glitter in the sunlight, and as he walks he can see eyes turn to them.
There is whistling and cheering as he entires the large library, and he waves to everyone, flashing his best smile. Row after row of individuals waiting to meet him makes his heart giddy, and he sits down at the table, Sharpie in hand. He’s kind to each fan, greets them and takes photos with them. According to his security, he’s not supposed to give hugs—it’ll waste too much time—but he does anyway.
His most common demographic are people in their early twenties, yet there’s a large range at the signing, some younger, some older. It’s a good time, overall, people smiling and meeting and sharing their love of Victor’s novels. His hand hurts, but in the best possible way.
And then it’s over, so he clicks his pen, stretching out his aching bones.
The owner of the library is speaking to him at a million miles per hour, gushing about this and that and this and that, and Victor just smiles, standing up and throwing his suit jacket over his shoulder. He is turning a corner towards the exit of the building when, suddenly, somebody else is turning the corner in the opposite direction, hurried.
There’s a collision, but Victor doesn’t fall, just lands agains the wall with a thump. The individual whom he collided with, however, was less lucky. The man has landed on the floor, dazed. He scrambles back up to his feet, wide-eyed. Victor soaks in the sight of him—he’s absolutely stunning.
(Stunning to the point where it feels like a scene from one of KY’s novels, the protagonist frozen, heart pumping in his ears.)
The man’s hair is black, frazzled from the impact and the cold, and his glasses are wide, framing gorgeous brown eyes. His pupils are dilated to an unbelievable degree and he’s shorter than Victor, but not by much. His breath catches in his throat—Victor hears the noise of it as though it’s being amplified by loudspeakers—and there’s a look of realization crossing his features, changing them, shaping them.
“You’re… You’re you,” the young man mumbles.
Victor smiles. A fan.
Another person turns the corner, then, promptly plowing into the young man’s back. He catches him by his shoulders before he can fall, though, and then the two fans are staring at Victor in disbelief. It's not an unfamiliar scenario for Victor. It is rare, however, that he finds a fan so…
“We woke up late,” the second boy blurts, and he has dark hair, too, but no glasses. His skin is tanner, his eyes alight. Unlike the first boy, he appears confident, though just as surprised. “I’m really sorry.”
Victor blinks. The first man, the shyer of the two, hides behind his friend, looking as though he has just seen a ghost. The second man, the one who had spoken, is chewing the inside of his cheek. Victor glances back towards his security guards, who are giving disapproving looks, and reaches out for the copy of his book in the first man’s hands. “I don't mind giving two more signatures.”
The second man turns to the man with glasses, who is blushing violently now, holding his book in a death-grip as he silently extends it towards Victor. After Victor has signed the first book, the friend gives him a copy, and he signs that, too. Their names are Phichit and Yuuri. He takes more time than usual, writing his terse, usual xx Victor. “We love your books,” the one named Phichit says, making casual conversation.
Yuuri glares at him, then seems to notice that Victor had seen, so he smiles instead, the shock barely concealed behind caramel irises. “Yeah… I’m, um, sort of a big fan.”
“I’m flattered,” Victor responds, and he gives Yuuri a wink.
Yuuri’s breath catches, his eyes immediately glue back to the book, and Victor finds it absolutely adorable. “My favorite part was the ending,” Phichit says, shifting his weight to the balls of his feet. “I really loved the way you tied all of the plot points together. It was like… There was so much going on in the novel, so much that I forgot certain things were happening, but it just made the end so much more satisfying. You could tell it was well thought-out.”
Victor smiles, adjusting his floral tie, an explosion of pinks and yellows and soft oranges.
But then, to his surprise, Yuuri speaks.
“It wasn’t thought-out.”
He isn’t sure who is most surprised by the spontaneous comment—Victor, Phichit, or Yuuri himself.
Even one of the security guards inhales sharply, as though anticipating Victor’s reaction.
“What?” he asks, keeping his tone curious, because that’s what he is. Curious. Not offended, no, because it's obvious that Yuuri hadn’t meant it to be offensive. It seems to have been an observation.
Yuuri glances around, appears to notice that everyone’s attention is now focused solely on him. He’s wearing a scarf, and he tugs on it with one hand, an absent-minded action, Victor supposes. In doing so, he tugs it farther up, covering more of his mouth. “Um… I didn’t mean that like it came out. The book is great. But it’s not thought-out.”
Now Victor’s attention is fully captured. He raises an eyebrow, shoves his hands in his pockets and leans against the wall. “What do you mean?”
He’s blushing again, eyes glued to the library floor. “I just meant, um… If you read it, it’s obvious that you found the story along the way. Fragile as Glass is a story of spontaneity, and I think that in writing it, you were being spontaneous, too. Plot points sort of appear out of nowhere, but it works, because it fits the theme of the story. It’s like… It’s like you started with a basic idea, and you explored as you went along. But it works.”
There’s silence, for a while.
Then Yuuri is pushing up his glasses and looking as though his lip is about to start bleeding with the violent way that he’s biting it. “Sorry, that was stupid.”
“No,” Victor mutters in incredulity, then smiles. “That’s… You’re right.”
“He is?” Phichit blurts.
“I didn’t know where the plot was going,” Victor explains, and he has never admitted this to anyone before, not even Yakov, not even himself. “But it sort of found itself along the way.”
“That’s… That’s what I figured,” Yuuri replies.
“How’d you know?”
Yuuri doesn’t look as though he’d been anticipating that question. He stares at Phichit, long, as though hoping that he’ll answer for him. “Um…” he starts. “I… I’ve just read it a few times, is all.”
“Right,” Victor acknowledges, clicking his tongue.
“Thank you for the autographs,” Yuuri adds, horrified. Victor sees Phichit subtly touch his friend’s arm, comforting.
But Victor doesn’t want him to leave.
“Have you read KY’s work?” he asks, trying to keep the conversation flowing.
If Victor hadn’t been pouring all of his attention onto Yuuri, he may have noticed the way that Phichit tensed slightly, eyes flickering back and forth between them. But, no—instead he just watches Yuuri pale, licking his lips. A nervous gesture. Victor finds it endearing. “KY?” Yuuri asks after an abnormally long pause, so long that Victor had begun to forget about the question.
He holds Fragile as Glass in both hands, toys with the edge of the cover. Victor watches. KY is one of the most famous authors in the world, along with Victor, of course. They’re equally reputable, equally matched. “Surely you’ve heard of him?” he adds, a leading question.
“Right, of course,” Yuuri blurts, nodding. “KY. Aren’t you two…?”
Victor waits for a second. “Aren’t we what?”
There’s another pause.
Phichit clears his throat, breaking the tension. “We’d better get going. Thanks again for the autographs, Mr. Nikiforov. Your work is admirable.”
Yuuri makes eye contact with his friend, and Victor swears that a thousand unspoken words are passed between them in a hundredth of a second. But then Yuuri is mumbling a goodbye, and then they’re both turning around, and Victor needs to do something, something, he doesn’t know why or how or what but he needs to—
“Would you want to get coffee tomorrow?”
(Hurried words, spilling on top of one another like a tap with a broken drain.)
They both stop walking synchronously. Yuuri turns around on his heels, then glances left and right, as though making sure Victor is not talking to some other fans who had snuck in after his book signing. Victor flashes him his best grin, trying to look inviting, and folds his arms across his chest. Say yes, say yes, say yes, he chants internally, trying to will him with his eyes.
Then he remembers Phichit.
“Oh, that… That extends to both of you. I’m not flying back to Russia for a few days, and, well…” He flits his eyes back to Yuuri. “I like to keep good company.”
Phichit stares at Yuuri for a second, puzzled, and then instantly he’s smiling, tilting his head at Victor, the epitome of confidence. “Sorry, I actually have a thing tomorrow morning. Yuuri is free, though.”
“A thing?” Yuuri repeats, giving his friend a look.
“You know, that thing.”
He spares a glance to Victor, apologetic, then turns back to his friend. His voice is low, but not low enough. “What thing?”
“That thing that… The thing that I’ve been talking about for weeks now,” Phichit explains. “Besides, you love coffee.”
“I…” Yuuri starts, and it sounds like he’s about to argue, but then he notices Victor again, and he’s blushing hard, and Victor thinks about writing him, thinks about all the little mannerisms he could describe, thinks about how perfectly he would fit into a novel. He doesn’t know his last name, doesn’t know a single thing about him, but he knows he could write him.
In fact, it has been a while since he’s felt pure inspiration like this.
“Okay,” Yuuri says, like he can’t believe that he’s saying it.
“I can… I know a place, I mean,” Yuuri answers, and it feels like he’s on autopilot, body working before his mind can catch up. “I’m guessing you’re staying at the nearby Marriott?”
Yuuri glances at Phichit again, as though leeching off of his confidence. “Um, I can write down the name of the place, if you…”
“I’ll remember it.”
So Yuuri tells him the name.
And Victor remembers it.
And then they’re gone.
When Victor gets back to his hotel room, he’s grabbing for his laptop, plopping it down on the wooden desk and spinning the chair around so that he can sit. Then, he opens his work in progress, and instantly his fingers are flying over the keys, soaring and typing and creating. And it’s good, he thinks, as he reads over what he’d done so far. Great, actually. Probably better than anything he’d written in ages.
Time passes, the word count grows.
And he thinks of Yuuri, thinks of the mannerisms, thinks of the way he strives to write realism like that, strives to bring his characters to the life in the same way that that Yuuri is alive, full of color and, above everything else, remarkable. Victor doesn’t want to write flat characters that are desperately trying to come off as round, no, he wants to write characters that jump off of the pages.
Characters that will beat KY’s sales, that will give the other author a run for his money.
Yet, at the same time, as he writes he feels like Tantalus, the fruit always too high and the water always too low, an insatiable desire for better, more, better, more, at the tip of his tongue, glazing his every thought. He’s not sure what he needs more of, but he knows he needs more of something, and he knows he can get there.
Yuuri is already at the coffee shop when Victor arrives.
The place is filled to the brim, so he’s sitting at one of taller tables, his jacket on the stool beside him. Victor’s heart does a flip when he realizes that Yuuri must’ve been claiming the seat for him. He hurries to purchase coffee, then remembers that he doesn’t drink coffee. So he stares at the menu, unsure, until a man behind him clears his throat, obviously annoyed. Victor orders a latte. Surely that’s a normal drink?
When the drink is prepared, he sits down beside Yuuri, glancing out of the window.
In his peripheral vision, Yuuri doesn’t recognize him, just reacts to a figure taking the seat. “Oh, sorry, but I’m actually saving—Victor?”
It occurs to him, briefly, that Yuuri is already calling him by his first name. Phichit, on the other hand, had called him Mr. Nikiforov. He has never had particularly strong feelings about his own name one way or the other, but when Yuuri says it, it seems to roll off of his tongue in a way that Victor isn’t accustomed to. He likes it.
“Good morning,” Victor greets, holding his latte in both hands. The soft brown liquid is threatening to spill over the edges, a tiny bit of foam swirled in the middle. It’s warm, but not agonizingly warm, so he brings it to his lips and takes an experimental sip. Without meaning to, he scrunches up his nose at the unfamiliar taste.
Yuuri lets out a dry laugh. “You… You don’t like it?”
“I’m not much of a coffee drinker, actually.”
There’s an unspoken question on Yuuri’s lips, and it takes Victor a moment to realize that it’s probably something along the lines of: then why are we at a coffee shop? He’s glad that the question isn’t verbalized, though, because he’s not sure what his answer would be. Victor takes another sip, tilts his head back and forth, trying to adjust. “It’s an acquired taste,” Yuuri points out.
“Then maybe I’ll acquire it.”
“Most writers drink coffee.”
Victor sets the cup down. “Have you met a lot of writers, then?”
He’s wearing a blue scarf, different from the one he'd worn yesterday, tugged up to cover his chin, and the same black-rimmed glasses. Loose jeans cover his legs, which are wrapped around the legs of the stool, and a charcoal sweater is tight against his torso.
Victor, on the other hand, is wearing a white, long-sleeved, collared shirt tucked into a pair of black suit pants. He has a meeting later, and he had figured that he could kill two birds with one stone by looking good for Yuuri and for his meeting. He smooths his hands down his thighs, then leans forward and takes another sip of the drink. The taste is already growing on him.
“No, but it’s a stereotype,” Yuuri answers.
“Mmm. That makes sense.”
Yuuri is watching him, his gaze heavy. Victor meets his eyes, and he’s surprised when Yuuri doesn’t look away, maintaining the eye contact. “Can I ask you something? I don’t want this to come off as rude.”
Victor cocks his head to the side, signaling his approval.
“Why did you ask me to get coffee with you?”
“I appreciate an intuitive mind,” Victor answers with ease, because it’s true. “I thought we could talk more. I enjoyed our brief discussion last night.”
Yuuri licks his lips, then takes a sip of his own drink, which has whipped cream and caramel spread across the top. “So did I.”
“Which of KY’s novels have you read?” he asks conversationally.
“Wouldn’t you rather talk about your novels?”
Victor laughs, stirs the latte with a spoon. “Why would I? Do you think I just invited you here to stroke my ego?”
For a second, Yuuri looks scared, but then he seems to realize that it’s a joke, tension leaving his shoulders. He leans down and sips at his straw, readjusting it with two fingers when he doesn’t seem to be getting the results he’d like. “I don’t know. Like I said, I haven’t met many authors—sorry, I don’t mean to say…”
“So a stereotypical author drinks coffee and is arrogant?”
Yuuri laughs, and it makes Victor pause, the sound so shocking, standing out so much among the roar of the rest of the room, the buzz and chatter. “I guess so, yeah. But you don’t drink coffee and you’d rather talk about KY than yourself?”
For whatever reason, he feels defensive. “He’s talented.”
Victor shrugs one shoulder. “I think he’s a he. Of course, everyone has their theories…”
“Why do you think that?” Yuuri asks, glancing around the shop. He appears to be self-conscious, now. Victor makes a mental note to dwell on the potential reasoning behind that later.
“The way that he writes,” he answers. “I could be wrong, but it just… Feels right.”
Yuuri nods, slowly, seeming to let that answer sink in. Then he seems to remember Victor’s original question. “I’ve read all of their works, actually.” There’s careful pronunciation on the their.
“Have you read all of mine?”
(Yes, he knows that he’s supposed to try and not be arrogant, but he can’t help it.)
There’s that flush again. Victor thinks it should be illegal. “I… Yeah, I have.”
The next question doesn’t need to be spoken—no, they both know what it is. Victor leans forward, a teasing smile on his lips, his elbows on the table in front of them. The cafe is small and they’re tucked away in the corner of it, wall-height windows surrounding them. There’s sunlight shining in, accentuating the furniture and people with more shades of gold than Victor had thought possible. There are a few individuals focused on their MacBooks, earphones dug deep in their ears and music so loud they’re oblivious to the world and bustle around them.
Victor recognizes their expressions. Writers, he thinks.
“I like your stuff better,” Yuuri admits, placing a hand on the table and examining his nails. “Your plots are more creative.”
“KY has better characters, better character development.”
“You have more world-building.”
“Debatable,” Yuuri states firmly, and there’s no signs of shyness anymore, and it reminds Victor of how he’d been the night before when he’d been talking about the beauty of spontaneity in regards to plot. A shining in his eyes. Victor glances back and forth between each of his irises, sees the way they’re flaming, ready to argue.
(So Victor argues.)
“You said you’ve read all of his stories?” he prompts.
Victor shifts in his chair. “Remember Stay by My Side? The scene in the alleyway?”
“It wasn’t a bad scene,” Yuuri begins, “but Liam’s motivations shift in that scene in order to advance the plot. At first, he’s driven fully by his love for Eli, but then all of a sudden he’s doing what he’s doing out of fear.”
“It’s possible for a character to have more than one motivation.”
“I know, I know, but Liam was… The way that, um, KY wrote him, he was supposed to have this air of confidence, and that didn’t match him being motivated by fear, I don’t think.” There’s a pause as Victor waits for him to continue. “It just feels like Liam must’ve been based off of somebody in KY’s real life. He was a very dynamic character, but that part didn't quite feel right.”
Victor pulls out his phone.
Yuuri watches, curious.
He taps on the New Contact button, slides the phone towards Yuuri.
Silently, Yuuri enters his information.
Then Victor pulls up his Notes app, types something. “I’m going to reread that part and then get back to you. I need it fresh in my memory.”
“I’ll be waiting. Aren’t you…? Don’t you…?” Yuuri starts a few times, then stops.
“You’ve read all of KY’s novels?”
Victor has. Several times. He nods. Normally, he wouldn’t admit that fact to anyone, but Yuuri seems trustworthy, and it isn’t as though he’s admitting to running a fan account praising his novels like one would a deity.
Yuuri’s gaze drifts back down to his drink, eyes following the trail of the caramel. He looks thoughtful, eyebrows drawn together. “Why?”
“He’s a good author. No matter what pronouns you use, KY is a good author. There’s no doubt about that.”
“But aren’t you…?” Yuuri starts.
(Nemeses? Constantly striving to outdo each other?)
Ever since Victor had arrived on the writing scene with his debut novel years ago, KY has been there. He has always been an unstoppable force in Victor’s life, and they ride parallel, releasing books and influencing each other without meaning to. It’s true that they’ve never met, yet Victor feels like he knows him—knows him through his stories and the unique way that his mind works, the way that he crafts worlds that often feel more real than the one that Victor lives in.
(Victor supposes he’s like an unquestionable truth, a constant presence. KY is KY like cold is cold, like warmth is warmth, like the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, like hard science, relentless mathematics. Above all: KY simply is.)
“He’s a good author,” Victor just repeats. In interviews, he had never praised the other author quite like this. He’d never shed hate on him before, no, but he’d always just avoided the topic. The fact that KY never says anything about him, never says anything publicly at all…
It wouldn’t feel right to talk about him.
It’s like there’s a silent, mutual pact between them.
“I’m sure he reads your stuff, too,” Yuuri muses.
Victor hums at that thought, glancing out the window. There are people shuffling past—everybody appears to be busy in Detroit, has a deadline and someplace to be. He likes the hustle of it, but he also likes the mellow feeling of St. Petersburg, which is also a large city but feels calmer, somehow. Perhaps it’s a comfort thing.
“Do you think so?” he asks, keeping his tone light.
Yuuri shrugs. “Probably. It makes sense, if you think about it. You were the number one bestselling author last year.”
Yuuri sure seems to know his stuff.
Victor realizes that most of his coffee is gone, now, and he considers the taste successfully acquired. “KY was the number one author the year before that.”
“And you were, the year before that.”
“And he was… And then I was… And then he was… Going off of that pattern, he should be the number one bestselling author this year. I’ve heard he already has a movie deal in place for History Maker, and that book hasn’t even been released yet.”
“I heard that, too, but I heard that he wants to write the screenplay.” There’s something odd about the way that Yuuri is speaking. Victor doesn’t know him well, obviously, so at first he’d just assumed it was the way he spoke, but now he’s certain… He’s holding something back. Like he doesn’t really want to talk about this, but he is, anyway.
“A screenplay, huh? Why would he do that?”
“He’s attached to the characters. Probably.”
“You’re very observant.”
All he receives in response to that is a half-hearted shrug. “Isn’t that why you asked me to have coffee with you? Or do you ask everyone who shows up late to your book signings out to coffee?”
Without missing a beat, Victor answers, “Only the cute ones.”
Last night, he hadn’t gotten a good look at Yuuri’s blush. But now, with the sunlight gleaming on him, he can see the beautiful nuances of it—it spreads to the tips of his ears, down across his cheekbones. He bows his chin, beginning to chew on his bottom lip. A nervous habit, Victor supposes. He watches it carefully, the pearly white teeth and the unconscious movements, subtle yet detailed if one looks close enough.
“I don’t, um…” Yuuri starts, then gives up quickly, fumbling with his hands in his lap, pad of his thumb brushing the knuckle of his index finger. Then he grabs for his drink, as though suddenly remembering that it’s there, and takes a long sip. When he meets Victor’s eyes again, he looks startled to see that he’s watching him. “You think…?”
“That you’re cute?” Victor asks casually, cupping his latte in his hands and taking another long sip. It’s completely empty, now, and he pushes the cup and plate away from him, focusing his full attention on Yuuri. He leans his elbow on the table in front of them, turns on his side so that his legs are facing him. His editors’ common advice rings in his ears. Body language is everything. “I said it, didn’t I?”
Yuuri nods, playing with his straw. He pulls it up, then plunges it into the thickest part of caramel, drinking. His expression is thoughtful, as though he’s letting that information settle. “Thank you, then.”
“That’s it? Just a thank you?” He doesn’t make it demanding, just curious, because he is—he’s curious. Curious about Yuuri with his caramel-flavored drinks and interesting expressions and adorable blush.
“What did you want me to say?” Yuuri asks, genuine.
Victor shrugs one shoulder. “Well, from what I know about you so far, you seem like a very opinionated person. In a good way. In a great way, actually. It has been a while since I’ve met someone with interesting opinions. I just thought you’d have an opinion on me calling you attractive.”
“Isn’t thanking you implying my opinion?”
“Flattered is your opinion, then?”
Yuuri looks slightly wary. “Flattered,” he confirms.
Victor’s gaze darts back and forth between each of Yuuri’s eyes, trying to figure out what he’s thinking. But he doesn’t push the subject. “Would you want to do this again tomorrow? When I’ve refreshed my knowledge of Stay By My Side and can have a proper debate with you on the alleyway scene?”
The change of topic seems to ease Yuuri’s tension. There’s a soft smile that spreads across his features, and it fills the room, sets fire to the sun, makes Victor feel like he could move a mountain if he were given the time and told the place. “I’d love to.”
“You would?” he asks stupidly, because obviously he would, because he’d just said he would love to, but that smile is making Victor’s knees weak and making his breath catch and if only, if only he could write a character like him, if only he could capture an essence like Yuuri’s with words, could even meekly attempt to capture something as alive.
“Yeah,” Yuuri just answers, and he’s laughing now, and that has Victor’s head reeling, has his normally articulate mind and vocal cords at a loss for what to do next. “Same place? Same time?”
Victor clears his throat, doesn’t break eye contact with him, because if his laugh and smile are beautiful, then his eyes are otherworldly, must belong to the cosmos themselves. “Sounds perfect.”
“Idyllic,” Yuuri adds, and his smile turns slightly teasing again. A few minutes ago Victor had been right there in the court with him, ready to tease back, but now he’s just being held captive by a man who doesn’t seem to realize that he’s a captor in the first place, who doesn’t seem to comprehend the effect that he’s having. “That’s what an author would say, isn’t it?”
“Halcyon,” Victor says automatically, trusting his subconscious vocabulary over his conscious mind any day.
Yuuri laughs, sips his drink again. “That’s a little extreme for a date at a coffee shop, don’t you think?”
It takes Yuuri a second.
And then there’s a hand covering his mouth, as though in an attempt to stop himself from saying anything else. “I didn’t… Um… Sorry, I didn’t mean that. I just meant… Not in that way. We just met. Not in that way.” He fumbles to grip his straw, sipping at a part of the cup that no longer has much liquid, horror seizing up his posture.
“Have you heard of a Freudian slip?” Victor teases.
Yuuri sputters on his drink. “That wasn’t…” Then, another look of recognition seems to cross his features. “Are you… Are you messing with me?”
“Partially,” Victor admits. “But you did sort of walk into it.”
“I did,” Yuuri agrees, then gives him another smile. Eased. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”
In and out, Victor coaches himself, because Yuuri seems to have shut down his autonomic functions. In and out, in and out.
He’s having coffee with Yuuri again tomorrow.
(He, Victor Nikiforov, is having coffee with Yuuri…)
“What’s your last name?”
There’s a brief hesitation. So brief that if Victor hadn’t been watching him so carefully, he may have missed it. “Katsuki.”
Victor hums, letting that sink in. “Yuuri Katsuki. YK? That’s ironic.”
Yuuri laughs, but it’s shorter this time, less lively. “Maybe that’s why I’m a fan of theirs.”
There’s a silence, and it takes Victor a moment to realize that neither of them have stood up yet. He certainly doesn’t want to, so he waits until Yuuri grabs his cup, standing and taking one final sip before tossing it into the nearest trash can. “It was great to meet you, Yuuri Katsuki,” Victor tells him, liking the way that his full name feels on his tongue. He wants to see it written, he realizes. Wants to write it down and see how it’d look in cursive, in print, in Russian.
“And it was nice to meet you, Victor Nikiforov.” When Yuuri says his full name, too, it makes his stomach twirl. “This might sound weird,” Yuuri adds, as an afterthought, “but it feels like we’d already met. Through your books, I guess.”
He can’t explain why, but he feels the same way about Yuuri.
There’s something familiar about him, about the way that he speaks. He shrugs it off, gives him his own bright smile, but it can’t even compare to Yuuri’s. “You met me before I met you—how unfair. I’ll see you tomorrow?”
“See you tomorrow,” Yuuri promises.
Victor walks a ways down the street, towards his hotel, but looks over his shoulder before turning a corner. In the distance, he sees Yuuri walking in the opposite direction, his friend from last night glued to his side. Phichit, Victor remembers. He chuckles at the sight, then shoves his hands in his pockets and continues to walk.
There’s a stride in his step.
He has a Skype call with Mila later, and she notices. Of course she notices.
“You’re awfully chipper,” she points out, tapping her pen on the desk. It’s an offbeat rhythm, the type of habit that would normally bother Victor if were trying to focus, but now he can’t seem to mind it at all. “What happened?”
If he’s being honest, he has been waiting for an excuse to bring up the topic. “I met someone.”
Mila’s azure eyes light up, she leans closer to the camera. “You did?” Then, her expression falters. “Oh, Victor, in Detroit?”
He knows it’s inevitable that he’ll have to leave Detroit eventually, but that doesn’t mean he won’t visit again. Doesn’t mean that this can’t work out. Perhaps he’s jumping to conclusions, because yes, they’d only grabbed coffee one time, but Yuuri had been lovely, and Victor finds himself already wanting to talk to him more, wanting to spend more time with him. If he could’ve remained at that coffee shop all day, he would have.
But he doesn’t want to be clingy.
(Except he does.)
“Yes, in Detroit,” he answers.
“Who is he?”
He tells Mila everything—from his blue scarf to his eyes, which Victor is still trying to figure out how to describe, to his hair, to his laugh. She listens intently, chiming in when necessary. At some point, though, Yurio bursts open her office door and chooses to ruin the moment. “Mila, I want—oh. Who are you talking to?”
In a second, Yurio is behind the computer screen, staring at Victor. Mila ruffles his hair. “Victor met someone in Detroit. Isn’t that great?”
Yurio groans. Then he growls, and Victor figures Mila must’ve kicked him in the shin. He gives a fake smile. “Good for you, I guess.”
“Great for him,” Mila corrects, wrapping an arm around Yurio’s shoulders. He rolls his eyes but doesn’t move out of her grasp, and Victor smiles. Mila has essentially taken on Yurio as a little brother ever since she’d come to work for Yakov.
“KY lives in Detroit,” Yurio reminds him. “You should go to Celestino’s building while you’re there, find out who they are once and for all. This whole mysterious pseudonym thing is dumb, if you ask me. Like, why hide if you could be famous?”
“Because everybody wants to know who he is,” Mila points out. “It’s smart. Garners attention and publicity.”
Victor shakes his head. “No, that’s not why he does it.”
They both look at him, confused.
He sighs. “KY isn’t hiding who he is—or who they are—as a publicity stunt. He’s just reserved, probably the type of person who doesn’t want fans pointing him out on the streets.”
“How do you know that?” Yurio asks.
“Just a feeling,” Victor muses, grabbing another pillow from his left and propping his head up with it. He settles on the bed, getting more comfortable. “I feel like I know him, after all of these years. Don’t you?”
Yurio snickers. “I’ve never read KY’s books like you have, Nikiforov. You say that you’re just researching the competition? Yeah, no way. I think you’ve got a crush on a person that you’ve never even met.”
“A crush on him?” Victor scoffs. “That’s ridiculous.”
Despite his outward rejection of the concept, Victor nurtures it in his mind.
(A crush on KY’s writing, maybe.)
(But a crush on KY himself?)
(No—impossible. Victor could never fall in love with someone he has never met.)
“I reread the alley scene,” Victor tells Yuuri the following morning.
He has a latte again.
Yuuri has his same caramel drink. Today, he’s wearing a white sweater, the sleeves cuffed, and the same sort of loose-fitting jeans. No scarf, Victor notices happily, because that just means he can have a better look at his face. “And?” he asks.
“I disagree with you about Liam’s character. I see what you meant about him being based off of somebody in real life, but that’s just it—everyone has fears. Just because there’s another side to his character doesn’t make that scene forced. He was still in love with Eli, and that love led to an underlying feeling of rejection. See, the love and the fear, they were intertwined. Perhaps it felt out of character to you because Liam himself felt out of character.”
Yuuri looks surprised, lips parting before closing again. “That’s… That makes sense.”
Victor can’t help but feel proud. He preens, sips his latte. “Does it?”
“Because when it comes down to it, all of Liam’s strongest emotions revolved around Eli—the only person he ever felt strongly about.”
“Exactly,” Victor agrees. “It’s sweet, a love like that. Don’t you think? KY expresses it well. I wonder if he’s in love himself.”
Yuuri shrugs. “M-maybe. I don’t know.”
“I think he is,” he adds, tracing his finger around the edge of the cup. Yuuri watches the movement, and it makes Victor feel powerful, capturing his attention like this. Makes him giddy with excitement. “Or, he must at least understand something akin to love. Adoration, maybe.”
“What about you?” Yuuri blurts, and then he flushes tomato red, as though he’d begun regretting the words the second they’d left his lips. “No, sorry, I didn’t mean… I just meant… For your writing?”
“Am I in love?” Victor purses his lips, looks out the window and leans his elbow on the table. He looks at Yuuri, keeps his gaze unmistakable. “I suppose it depends.”
Yuuri looks surprised. “Depends on what?”
“Do you believe in love at first sight?”
He just laughs, avoiding eye contact with Victor, retracting both physically and mentally. “Oh. Who… Did you… You saw someone and fell in love? That’s, um, nice.” A nervous tick, he picks up his drink and takes a long sip.
Enchanting, Victor thinks. He could write about him for hours, craft prose about every minuscule detail of his actions, appearance. Who needs endless loops of the same five instrumental songs for inspiration when Yuuri Katsuki exists? He’s eloquent yet clumsy, confident yet shy, an intriguing self-contradiction, perfection in the most imperfect way.
“I was flirting with you,” Victor tells him, purely to see how he’ll react.
(He reacts, apparently, by choking on his coffee.)
“On… On purpose?”
“Do I seem like the type of person who would do that on accident?”
To his surprise, Yuuri doesn’t look quite as flustered as he had before. Instead, he looks interested, as though he’s trying to read something on Victor’s face. Victor desperately wants him to see what he wants to see, but he’s not exactly sure what that is, so he keeps his expression interested, but not too interested. “You do, actually.”
(It’s Victor’s turn to be surprised.)
He tries to figure out what he means by that—tries to come up with a witty response but his mind fails him, leaving him awkwardly staring at Yuuri, trying to compute what had just happened. “I do what?”
“You do seem like the type of person who would flirt on accident,” Yuuri elaborates. As if to qualify the statement, he adds a halfhearted shrug. Qualifying is something that Victor is intimately familiar with—Yakov has always told him that he can tell when Victor isn’t passionate about a scene by constant qualifications to every action and piece of dialogue.
So he can read right through this visage.
“What do you mean?” he asks.
Yuuri does that same shrug. “Just, you’re very, um… Outgoing, I guess? And I could see how people—not me, this is just an objective observation—could see that as, er, coquettish.”
“Coquettish,” Victor repeats, enunciating each syllable. “Has anyone ever told you that you have an excellent vocabulary?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Have you considered writing?”
“No, not really.”
There’s a pause.
A knowing smile from the man sitting beside him.
Something heavy in the air between them.
(Something heavy tied with words and drips of coffee, book titles and eye contact.)
Victor is living off of it, loving every second of it, because he can tell that Yuuri is on the exact same page of the book as he is, that they’re in the exact same ballpark. “Well, I’d like to confirm, for the record, that I’ve never flirted with you accidentally.”
Yuuri’s nervously clenched jaw betrays his calm demeanor. “You have purposefully, then? I must not have picked up on it.”
“So telling you that I may have fallen in love with you at first sight wasn’t obvious?”
“I meant before now,” Yuuri adds, and there’s that qualification again.
Victor smiles, leans forward. “Calling you cute? Asking you out for coffee? Oh, Yuuri Katsuki, for somebody as intellectually inclined as yourself I expected more of you. Of course I’ve been flirting.”
“Oh,” he simply says, sipping his drink.
“Just, oh, as in I hadn’t realized.” Then, he falters. “Not a bad oh, just an oh.”
After he takes another sip of his drink, there’s a dollop of whipped cream on his cheek. Victor reaches out and swipes at it with his thumb, then licks the digit, humming appreciatively. It’s worth it for the way that Yuuri’s pupils go huge, like black holes threatening to swallow his irises whole. “Do you believe in love at first sight, Yuuri?”
He shakes his head, and when he speaks it looks as though he’s not even thinking about it, as though his thoughts are enraptured completely by whatever he’s still trying to find in Victor’s crystalline eyes. “I believe in attraction at first sight.”
“And have you experienced such an attraction?”
A hesitation, then a nod.
“Often?” Victor adds, because he can’t help himself.
A shake of the head.
His heart is pounding, aching, but he needs Yuuri to make the next move, needs to know for sure that he is feeling the same way, that he’s thinking the same things. Luckily, Yuuri speaks next, appeasing Victor’s sudden worries. “Will you still be in town tomorrow?”
“Yes,” Victor answers without hesitation.
Yuuri stands up. “Same time same place?”
“Sounds like a date.”
It doesn’t take long for Yuuri to realize what he’s referencing, and then he’s stammering, trying to find words to say to defend himself but failing miserably, ultimately choosing to throw away his cup so that he has an excuse to cross the cafe. “See you tomorrow,” he decides on, and it makes Victor a little too joyful to see that even the tips of his ears are red.
“See you, YK.”
“YK?” Yuuri asks, holding the door open with one hand.
Victor grins, slipping past him, their shoulders brushing. The touch is electric. “It’s a nickname. Like KY? Get it?”
“Right,” he says, but his smile has faded, doesn’t look quite as genuine. In a flash, though, that look is replaced. He waves. “See you, VN.”