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all the dragons we have slain

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Yuuri has no idea how he and Phichit have gotten this far.

 

The odds of their victory are vanishing rapidly. Yuuri’s mana isn’t refilling fast enough; the dragon is breathing fire far faster than he can cast spells. He’s fairly certain Phichit is crying into his headset. His hunter is still waiting to regenerate, leaving Yuuri helpless.

 

Just half a year ago, Yuuri had a life. He even left the onsen, sometimes. Now, it’s past midnight—a little earlier for Phichit—and they are dying on the same quest they’ve done twelve times this week. It’s a losing battle.

 

“I think,” Yuuri says, dodging blue flame narrowly, “we should look for a group.”

 

Phichit makes a groan that almost sounds like agreement.

 


 

        [phichit+chu]: lfg to beat undyss dragon quest! lvl 37 hunter and priest stuck on final battle. need TANK

 

        [v-nikiforov] whispers: that’s a lvl 50 quest at minimum. how is that possible??

 

        [phichit+chu] whispers: are you a tank or what?

 


 

When v-nikiforov joins their group, he brings a yuri-plisetsky and makes it clear he won’t play without him. Yuuri is impressed. They don’t beat the quest, of course—Victor beat down any expectations they could have done it at all, not without some levels under their belt—but playing Everguard seems bright and new again.

 

Victor Nikiforov is a walking conundrum. He’s good, obviously, nearly too good to be playing with the likes of Yuuri and Phichit, who prefer Google to guidebooks. But Victor’s also dense. Yuuri was incredulous during their first encounter.

 

        [katsudonkatsuki]: wait

        [katsudonkatsuki]: are you our tank

 

        [v-nikiforov]: yes! i am victor! ^^ what’s your name?

 

        [katsudonkatsuki]: paladins are healers

 

        [v-nikiforov]: not this one!!!

 

Victor’s character moves with grace and wields a massive hammer. He’s a paladin without all the honour. His murder count is massacre. He ends nearly all his sentences with a string of exclamation points. Yuuri finds himself fascinated. He’s always had something of an affinity for contradictions.

 


 

The first time Yuuri plays Everguard with Victor alone is simultaneously awkward and the most fun he’s ever had. Sometimes the language barrier gets the best of them, idioms lost somewhere from Russian to English to Japanese. It makes communication difficult. He still likes it when Victor says “neither fur nor feather” to mean “good luck; have fun.”

 

Victor has the tendency to go into danger headfirst. He insists it’s not impulse: all part of his master plan. Yuuri giggles when Victor exits a cave with barely any health and a curse upon him. He feels important nursing him back to life.

 

The thing is, Victor is good. He’s a little too hard and fast with his attacks, but Victor knows his controls like the Cyrillic alphabet. He’s a whirlwind of movement. Victor never stays still, always doing something with his army of hot keys that Yuuri didn’t know to exist prior. Where Yuuri fumbles with the grind of it, can barely accumulate enough gold to buy a chest piece, Victor is thriving, his inventory constantly full.

 

People just gift Victor random items, is what he insists. But this idea makes Yuuri feel worse, somehow. Victor has an easy charm that leads his inbox overflowing with requests to join guilds. And Yuuri gets it—he chose him, too, after all. The whole thing makes his chest hurt for reasons he can’t quite explain.

 

        [katsudonkatsuki] whispers: why don’t you ever accept those guild offers?

 

         [v-nikiforov] whispers: 'cause i like gaming with you :)

 

And that’s that, Yuuri supposes, hiding a grin behind his palm.

 


 

Yuuri’s not sure he’s ever had this much gold in his account ever, not even when Phichit had roped him into Everguard and paid him handsomely for his trouble. This time, it’s all on his own merit. When he’s not helping his parents around at the onsen, washing dishes and sweeping floors, he’s either playing Everguard or strategizing for it. He’s even seen the game in his dreams, fully immersed in its world. When he wakes, he’s reaching for a staff that isn’t there.

 

The whole matter is getting a bit ridiculous. Then again, he’s having the time of his life. It’s a relief, one that he didn’t anticipate, that Phichit seems happier too. Yuuri loses all the worry he held for Phichit: those unwanted stomach knots wondering if he’s okay. Phichit is easier to make laugh during their calls. He’s thriving in a team with their chemistry. It’s a bonus that Phichit thinks Yuri is hilarious, and Yuuri is inclined to agree; he has the sort of mean-spiritedness only really present in those going through puberty. He reminds Yuuri spiked leather coats and profound vulnerability. It’s the latter that makes Yuuri feel protective.

 

Victor is in a league of his own making. A part of Yuuri regrets majoring in Game Design. He regrets all those days he’s wasted on scoring systems and fight mechanics. It’s incomparable when Victor is infinitely more complex. He could write a thesis on the speed at which Victor messages when Yuuri comes online, the exact linguistic implications of his ‘hey’ with two ys, the absolute impossibility of his typed words per minute. He wants to take Victor apart by the seams.

 


 

They win quest after quest. Despite some conflicts—

 

        [yuri-plisetsky]: there’s only room for one yuri

 

        [katsudonkatsuki]: good thing my name’s completely different, it’s yuuri!

 

        [v-nikiforov]: too confusing!!! yura, you’re yurio now

 

        [yuri-plisetsky]: watch it vit’ka

 

their levels rise as fast as their friendship grows. Yuuri is the one to suggest voice chat, on a particularly arduous quest where his fingers couldn’t possibly move over the keyboard for more than just shortcuts.

 

The first word Victor breathes is: “Yuuri.”

 

Victor’s voice is heavily accented. It’s rough like he hasn’t had anything to drink in hours, and carries the same zeal of his messages. Yuuri thinks he would follow that voice anywhere. When Victor compliments him on a kill, he isn’t turned on. Not even a little bit.

 


 

It’s something of a guild, Yuuri realises. They game all day Saturday, and nearly every weeknight, too, when Victor forgets to tease Yurio that it’s past his bedtime. Yuuri is elated. He no longer has to worry that he’s not so great a gamer after all, or that Phichit may have just been carrying him out of pity this whole time. He discovers that he’s halfway decent. Their chemistry in the last team was all wrong. Now, the composition is perfect.

 

“Go west,” Yurio says into the mic, “the orcs should be hiding there. Victor should go first, and Yuuri, stay by his side. They’ll do him a lot of damage, but Yuuri’s a good healer .”

 

“Did—did you just compliment me?” Yuuri sputters.

 

“No. And if I did, it’s because Victor’s the only idiot in the world who doesn’t play paladin as a healing role.”

 

“I can heal?” Victor interjects. Oh god, Yuuri thinks, he’s stupid and it’s cute. He puts that thought aside. Aloud, he directs Victor to move west with a pointed groan.

 


 

On their next call, Phichit says, “it looks like you’re getting pretty close with Victor” without preamble.

 

“You could say ‘hi’, you know.”

 

“Or I could confront you about your crush.”

 

“It’s not a crush.” The denial is too fast to be a hundred percent true. Yuuri’s face is burning like a fever. He falls into a pillow dramatically.

 

Yet.”

 

“Yet,” Yuuri admits. It might happen. He can feel the tell-tale anticipation whenever he boots up his computer. It’s not all pre-gaming jitters. “I miss when you just talked about Everguard and cooking and The King and the Skater.”

 

“It was a simpler time. But how ripped do you think Victor must be, really? I bet he has a good ass.”

 

Perhaps Yuuri was in need of a new best friend.

 


 

        [v-nikiforov] whispers: what’s your number?

 

Yuuri nearly spills his green tea in reaching for his keyboard. He types it in, of course. Not two minutes later, his phone lights up in his hand. It isn’t like he was waiting for a message eagerly or anything. At first glance, the call is from a foreign area code.

 

“Hey,” Victor says, and is it possible for voices to be even more seductive on the phone? Yuuri tugs at his shirt collar absently. The room feels like it’s raised degrees.

 

“Are you aware that international calling costs me 15 yen per minute?”

 

“Are you aware I am shockingly uncultured and have no concept of what that figure means?”

 

“You’re ridiculous,” Yuuri replies, but he says it with a smile. “We have Discord, you know. And Skype. And TeamSpeak. The internet doesn’t exactly have a dearth of communication options.”

 

“Isn’t that what people do, though? Ask someone for their number?”

 

“When?”

 

“When they’re asking them out.”

 

Yuuri screams into his phone, an unintelligible mixture of Japanese, English, and abstractly angry noises. His face is so red that he’s thankful they didn’t use Skype after all.

 


 

Victor sends him an endless array of selfies. They’re ridiculous, and only tangentially related to gaming, even if Yuuri squints. I bought the expansion pack today! Victor will text, but instead of sending a screencap of the receipt like any sane person, he will instead send a picture of his face, smiling like he’s just discovered a new element.

 

Yuuri ends up scrolling through the pictures absently. His phone’s photo album is littered with them now. Victor, cheek squished against an incredibly grumpy Yurio. Victor, pulling his dog Makkachin’s earflaps up like a pilot’s hat. Victor, eyes like sea glass, lying exhausted on his bed. The last picture makes Yuuri’s breath hitch. Victor’s shirt has ridden up to show the barest hint of hipbone. It’s so threadbare he can make out the outlines of Victor’s chest. The smile Victor gives to the camera is like he’s just divulged his innermost secret. As if Yuuri is the only one he’d trust it with.

 

“Who’s that?” Mari asks, curiously peeking over his shoulder.

 

“No one!” Yuuri squeaks. His sister arches her eyebrow and says, “doesn’t look like no one.”

 


 

It’s two months into knowing Victor when Yuuri finally breaks the level 50 barrier. He calls Phichit up to confirm they can game tonight.

 

“Yes! Finally! That dragon is going to eat my bow.”

 

“Technically, he’s going to eat your arrows.”

 

Technically, he’s not going to eat at all. Don’t fight me right now, Yuuri; can’t you see I’m happy? Ah, I’ve got to go—” Phichit says, apologetically, “I think the kitchen is on fire.” With a click, the restaurant chatter shifts to silence. The excitement Yuuri holds lasts long past the end tone.

 


 

That night, Yuuri boots up his computer with a mixed sense of anticipation and dread. He’d gotten used to meeting up with his ragtag group of adventurers to the point where he turns on his mic like instinct. It’s not the last time, couldn’t be, but it somehow feels like the end of an era.

 

When he hears Victor’s squeal at his entrance, he forgets he was worried at all.

 

“Today is the day. The culmination of my career! Everything I have worked for in life!” Victor talks exactly like he types, like what a puppy might yelp, having discovered it could speak. Yuuri can’t help the smile that spreads across his face. He begins to fret over the quest.

 

“Make sure you have enough healing potions in your inventory, okay? And don’t forget to equip the Quicksilver Boots that monster dropped last week. The speed stat increase is better than your usual Cursed Sandals. And be careful—”

 

“Thanks, mom,” Yurio interjects. Yuuri didn’t even notice that he was online, easily swept up in Victor. Even the thief Yurio plays as looks sarcastic. It’s, oddly enough, tiger-based, wearing a cloak of pelt. “You know this isn’t our last game, right, Katsudon? It won’t change anything.”

 

Yuuri feels a little touched at that, but protests anyway. “You’re fifteen. After this quest you’re going to study. And not touch Everguard until summer.”

 

“I take back every nice thing I’ve ever said to you.”

 

Victor gives an offended little “Yura! Be nice!” at that. Yuuri preens at the attention, and lets the two bicker as he goes over the quest objectives one last time.

 

        [phichit+chu] has come online.

 

“Are you nerds ready to crush?” Phichit whoops. Yuuri can hear him excitedly vibrating, the way he does whenever he gets nervous.

 

Yuuri is, in fact, ready to crush. (And this time, maybe not on Victor.)

 


 

Yuuri’s hands fly over the keyboard. Vaguely encouraging sound effects come through his headset. A shower of colour washes over the screen, of spells being cast and countered. His computer’s graphics card lags at the spectacle. A pack of monsters is respawning fast. Yuuri’s character wasn’t made to fight alone—or fight at all, really.

 

“Victor, I’m going to need some back up here. Can you see me on the map? I’m at the Dread Plains, to the left.”

 

“I got you,” Victor says, and his voice is so soft it sends Yuuri’s head spinning. The computer screen casts a pale light over Yuuri’s face. Despite his glasses, he’s squinting hard. He refuses to believe that the growing brightness from the window could be sunrise. In game, Victor’s fighting off a horde of dire apes with some difficulty. 

 

        [victor-nikiforov] is under attack!

 

“Shit, shit, shit,” Yurio curses. Yuuri isn't too tired to reprimand him for his swearing. His focus falters only slightly. Yurio’s thief runs across the screen, enchanted daggers in each hand, and makes quick work of the monsters. He’s by his side to heal in the span of a second. Phichit is still at the boss, the same stupid dragon they’d been working on for months.

 

         [phichit+chu] is under attack!

 

“A little help here, guys,” Phichit says, the strain evident in his voice.

 

“We’re on our way,” Yuuri replies. The three of them stumble across the forest to Phichit, fighting off any stragglers as they go. Yuuri drinks three mana potions in quick succession. It isn’t long before Undyss’ form takes up his whole screen, mighty and terrible. Her tail is large enough that it could knock down a row of trees. Cerulean fire curls from her jaws like waves, bringing them under. Yuuri tells himself he isn’t afraid at all.

 

It’s a mess. Victor takes way more damage than necessary. Yurio’s curses are as constant as the strikes of his daggers. Phichit’s attacks are poorly timed, often missing Undyss entirely. And Yuuri is barely managing to hop between the three of them fast enough, healing as best he can.

 

Somehow, they win. The beast falls to the ground, dropping several rare items that Yuuri knows would sell for several thousand gold at the market. This is why Yuuri loves gaming—the victory of it, the easy camaraderie amongst his guild, the sense that he’s part of something greater.

 

Victor tells him, “you were incredible,” and maybe he loves that a little, too.

 

“Holy shit,” Yurio says. This time, Yuuri doesn’t point out the profanity at all.

 


 

“I think I’m going to start working full time,” Phichit says.

 

“I’m failing math,” Yurio admits.

 

And that’s how Yuuri ends up gaming with Victor Nikiforov alone.

 


 

Yuuri would never, ever admit this to Phichit, but he and Victor make the better team. Victor quells Yuuri’s anxiety with every “amazing!” at his healing. Victor encourages Yuuri when he thinks he’s not good enough for a quest. Victor thanks Yuuri for playing with him, as though Victor isn’t three levels higher and hundreds of ranks above him on the Russia server. Yuuri has a hard time not to feeling in awe of him.

 

It’s not that they’re completely alone now. Sometimes, Phichit takes a “sick day” off work. Those days are fun. Other days, Yurio ignores his bedtime (“I am actually in high school and able to sleep when I wish,” he grumbles) and games excessively late with them. But mostly, it’s just Victor and Yuuri.

 

Victor, who insists they Skype.

 

“Your face is so cute, Yuuri.”

 

“You say that as if you haven’t found Phichit’s Instagram and liked every picture I’ve ever been in.”

 

“But it’s different to see it moving! Your smile is like—”

 

“Shut up! You have a heart smile!”

 

And so they settle into a routine. They grind for experience, trade for items, and giggle over stupid Everguard memes. Sometimes the gaming is just an excuse to talk, their characters idling while Skype is fullscreen. Victor is much too comfortable with his body, often in various states of undress. Today, he’s wearing boxers and mismatched socks and little else.

 

It makes Yuuri’s throat tight.

 

Victor teaches Yuuri Russian that isn’t just cyka blyat. Yuuri eats katsudon in front of Victor and promises to cook it for him someday. Makkachin bounds into Victor’s lap while they game, his barks interspersed with the dramatic soundtrack. Victor’s messages continue relentlessly, and sometimes, Yuuri even responds. It’s a contentedness Yuuri could spend his whole life basking in.

 

“I want to see you in person,” Victor admits. Neither of them are logged into Everguard at all. In the dim light of Yuuri’s room, Victor’s pixelated face is ethereal. His apartment is larger than life, just like its owner. Behind him, through the window, St. Petersburg’s nightlife is thriving. Yuuri doesn’t have enough breath to form a response.

 

“You’re probably prettier in real life. I want to know what your hair feels like. It looks so soft. And I want to game with you! And I want to see the hot springs you live in. And meet your parents. What kind of perfect people must they be to create someone like you? And I want to…”

 

Yuuri falls asleep, laptop still open on his bed, right as Victor says, “kiss you.”

 


 

He’s asleep when the news comes out. Or, was asleep—the phone on his bedside table is working hard to prevent that. It rings, shrill through the early morning air. Yuuri swipes to answer through bleary eyes.

 

“They just announced a huge Everguard con in Tokyo!” Phichit says. He’s entirely too cheery for hell o’clock in the morning.

 

“Mmph,” Yuuri replies, intelligently. He’s lowering the phone volume with his eyes closed.

 

“Victor already bought the plane tickets.”

 

That wakes him up. He sits up in bed, staring accusingly at his phone. The smiling selfie of Phichit offers no answers. “What? Why?”

 

“Because he’s in love with you, and it’s an excuse to drool over you in person.”

 

“Victor doesn’t—Victor isn’t in love with me.”

 

“Then explain why he just texted me asking what he should wear when meeting you three months from now. Explain why he has a Google alert set up for ‘Everguard + Japan’. Explain why he has personally approached me, your best friend Phichit Chulanont, just to know your favourite colour. Explain why when I answered ‘blue’, he muttered ‘that’s all wrong’, then hung up without explanation.”

 

“Those all seem like reasonable, platonic interactions,” Yuuri says. His defense is shaky even to himself. “I didn’t think he was serious when he said he wanted to see me in person.”

 

He wants to see you in person?” Phichit screeches, and Yuuri knows that sleep is off the table for the next two hours at least.

 


 

Yuuri eventually agrees to Victor’s visit on the condition that Yurio comes along too. Victor agrees happily to his request but doesn’t seem like he’s really listening. Yuuri also consents to being asked seemingly irrelevant questions about Japan and the trip.

 

“Should I bring my Speedo?” Victor asks.

 

“You’re visiting in February. It'll be winter here.”

 

“Ah, then should I bring another portable heater?”

 

Another?”

 

“I get cold.” Victor wraps three comforters around himself petulantly. Then, he adds, “are there dogs in Japan?”

 


 

When Victor arrives at Haneda Airport, the first thing Yuuri thinks is, oh no, he’s beautiful. And Victor is—broader than Yuuri had expected, hopelessly tall against the Japanese crowd, hair a colour he couldn’t quite name. It looks like stars. Victor looks incongruous but at ease, leaning against his three suitcases. Of course he brought three suitcases for a week long trip.

 

The second thing Yuuri thinks, he voices aloud. “Where is Yurio?”

 

“Yuuri, you’re here!” Victor pulls him into a hug. Yuuri resists the urge to close his eyes. He’s surrounded by Victor, who smells like airplane oxygen and expensive cologne. It would be so easy to get lost in him. “Don’t mention Yurio first. You forgot to even say hi!”

 

“Oh my god,” Yuuri says, pulling away. “You forgot to invite Yurio. This is why he acted all confused when I reminded him to pack. I thought he was just being sassy!”

 

“‘Forgot’ is a strong term,” Victor starts, Yuuri would be more inclined to believe him had an airport attendant not handed Victor a crate. Had Victor not exclaimed “Makka!” Had an armful of dog not come tumbling out.

 

“Is it, now?”

 

“Yes, why would I invite Yurio to our date?” Victor has the nerve to be casual about this. Yuuri would stand his ground. He would not get excited. This was not a date.

 

“But you would invite Makkachin?”

 

“Don’t listen to the bad man,” Victor says, scandalised. He covers the dog’s ears with both hands.

 


 

Yuuri left Hasetsu only yesterday, and still felt exhausted. It must have been fraction of Victor’s travel time. Victor remains unaffected, saying “wow! amazing!” at every tourist attraction the kind taxi driver pointed out to him on the way to the hotel. Victor has one arm hanging out of the window. His other arm is around Yuuri, like they’ve been doing that the whole time.

 

Victor is just as effervescent in person as he is online. Maybe even more. Because in person, Yuuri can feel the full force of the hurricane that is Victor Nikiforov. He can watch as he squeezes Makkachin tight in the middle of conversations for no reason at all, marvel at his seemingly colourless eyes, and feel every centimetre of their touching bodies. Victor is warm against him, sweater falling off his left shoulder, tantalizing.

 

It’s a wonder that Yuuri didn’t kiss there even once.

 

“I’m sorry for him,” Yuuri says to the driver after Victor had thrown her an excessive amount of yen and rushed to the hotel doors. All three luggages and one Makkachin behind scramble him.

 

“Don’t worry, my boyfriend is the same way,” she laughs, and drives off before he can protest.

 


 

“I’m sorry,” the receptionist says. “We’re fully booked for the next few days. Your room yesterday was one of our last. That big gaming convention, you know?” Oh, Yuuri knows.

 

“I understand. Please give me a call if something changes.”

 

“Absolutely.” He bows in apology. Yuuri relays the news to Victor, who looks overjoyed and then has the decency to look sorry about the whole matter.

 

“Oh, there aren’t any rooms?” Victor says, the picture of false innocence, “I guess we’ll have to sleep together. I am heartbroken over this affair.” It’s not a particularly convincing lamentation. Yuuri drags the suitcases into the elevator and presses the button for the fifth floor. When they arrive, he swipes the key card with some frustration.

 

“It’s fine. I’ll sleep on the couch.” Yuuri would rather die than sleep on the couch. But he figures he has to act at least a little reluctant. It’s not like he’s imagined sleeping with Victor before, somewhere between dreams. He’s never, not even once, pretended that the blanket clumped under his finger tips was Victor’s threadbare shirt.

 

“Nonsense.” Victor proceeds to flop down face first onto the bed. Makkachin automatically curls around him. The sight makes something in Yuuri’s chest ache with fondness. Then Victor turns his head to look at him, eyelashes long and tempting. He says, “care to join me?” with low voice that goes straight to Yuuri’s groin. Yuuri looks away. He wonders if the couch was a good option, after all.

 

But there are Victor’s arms around him, pulling him in. They’re facing each other, sheets tangled around their legs, foreheads touching. It’s so intimate he immediately wants to confess everything to Victor, wants to say exactly how much he means to Yuuri. Victor’s breath ghosts on his face. And Victor looks at him like that, like Yuuri’s existence was the source of all good in the world. It’s only natural that his eyelids flutter closed.

 

I am going to kiss Victor Nikiforov, Yuuri thinks.

 

And Victor, the idiot, falls asleep.

 


 

When Yuuri opens his eyes, Victor’s moved closer, body flush against his. They’re practically hugging. Every point of contact makes Yuuri’s veins burn with want: hot, needy, and entirely inappropriate. His chin is tucked into where Victor’s neck meets his shoulder. Victor smells like dryer sheets and good coffee.

 

Yuuri knows that he should untangle himself from the warmth beside him. But Makkachin is just above his head, and he’d hate to disturb his sleep. That’s the only reason he stays. It’s not to spend ages looking at the shape of Victor’s mouth. Those lips he had nearly kissed.

 

Before he can restrain himself, he runs his hand through Victor’s hair. Victor shifts in his sleep, and Yuuri recoils.

 

“Don’t stop,” Victor says. His voice is sleep-rough and affectionate. And how could Yuuri refuse?

 

“I thought you wanted to touch my hair,” Yuuri teases. There’s no bite to his words.

 

Victor’s eyes snap open. “I did.” He smiles, almost predatory. He shifts so that his legs straddle Yuuri. Victor hangs over him, hair hanging dramatically over his face. Yuuri prays that he doesn’t move any closer. And yet. It takes everything in him not to jerk his hips upwards. Victor reaches for the top of his head, pupils blown wide with an emotion he’s afraid to name. His nails scratch gently at Yuuri’s scalp. It’s a curious, unsure touch, that grows in certainty over minutes.

 

“Softer than I imagined.”

 

“You imagined?” Yuuri asks. He’s not really expecting a response. It’s easier like this, the place between confessions. Here, he can imagine a universe where Victor might love him.

 

He thinks he hears Victor whisper, “of course.”

 


 

The convention is tomorrow. Yuuri insists they can’t just spend all day talking in the hotel room, against Victor’s wishes. They leave Makkachin with the hotel’s pet sitter, Victor cooing in regret over his whines. He takes Victor around Tokyo, laughing every time Victor presses his face up against some shop window in wonder. At some point, Victor has taken his hand. Yuuri doesn’t have it in him to let go.

 

Yuuri loves cities, but tires of them easily. Sometimes the crowds make anxiety rise up like bile in his throat. In contrast, Victor belongs in cities. He’s just like one—his words like the infinite patter of footsteps, his eyes like dancing skylights. Yuuri brings him through the shopping district, where Victor buys eight scarves at one shop and doesn’t bother to haggle. The cashier looks delighted. Yuuri brings him to the metro, where Victor gapes at the speed and grips Yuuri’s hand tight the whole time. He lets Victor play with the claw machines, where he wins a Hello Kitty plush that he claims is for Yurio. And when Yuuri feels that familiar panic begin, he brings him somewhere quieter.

 

“It’s a shrine,” Yuuri says. “Please take off your shoes.”

 

Victor is painfully respectful. He follows Yuuri’s example and bows before entering. He carefully rinses both hands. He even tosses a coin in as an offering, completely unprompted. Victor carefully copies his steps, the ringing of the gong, the claps interspersed with right-angle bows. This Victor is quieter than the one in the city. He moves slower, smiles more.

 

Yuuri loves him a bit for it. He buys Victor an amulet—kaiun, for good fortune. Victor beams like Yuuri bought the sun. Yuuri doesn’t need the amulet. After all, he’s lucky enough.

 


 

“I missed you!” Victor says, fingers carding through Makkachin’s fur. He squeezes Makkachin like they’ve been separated for years. Yuuri would roll his eyes at Victor’s dramatics if he didn’t sort of miss Makkachin too. Makkachin settles into Yuuri’s lap, begging for his attention through soft yelps. The betrayed look on Victor’s face Yuuri begins to pet him is hilarious.

 

“Let’s get take out for dinner. It was a long day.”

 

Victor hums his agreement. There’s a random restaurant brochure folded neatly on the table, so he dials that number. They eat udon soup in plastic bowls. Their knees knock together on the bed. The TV drones in the background about some far away skate championships. Yuuri doesn’t really follow, too captivated in Victor’s animated babbling about their day.

 

“It was so different! Everybody is so polite here! In Russia, you bump into someone and they just glare at you. Here they’ll apologise to you! I thought you were just extraordinarily kind, Yuuri, but it turns out the whole country is like that.”

 

Victor has this way of sneaking compliments inside what sound like insults. Yuuri shouldn’t find it as charming as he does. Victor finishes up his noodles, declaring them “vkusno!”, and heads into the shower. Yuuri looks over their tickets for the convention and decidedly doesn’t think about water running over Victor’s body.

 

He exits the shower shirtless, because Victor is annoying like that. His sweatpants hang low on his hips like a suggestion. He’s roughing his hair with the towel, shaking off droplets of water.  If it was hard not to think about Victor showering before, it’s impossible now. Victor is more fit than someone who has four hundred hours locked into Everguard on Steam has any right to be.

 

“Whatcha looking at?” Victor says, playfully. As if he can't see Yuuri’s stare, fixated right at him.

 

“Nothing,” Yuuri swallows, and resolutely does not masturbate in the shower to the memory.

 


 

This time, Yuuri wakes with Victor spooning him. It’s somehow more compromising a position  than yesterday. He shifts away. Victor instinctively tugs him closer in his sleep. His breath tickles at Yuuri’s ear. If Yuuri just closes his eyes again, he can pretend they fell asleep after sex, breathless and loose-tongued. That Victor’s arms are around him because they choose to be.

 

There’s definitely something hard pressing against his thighs, but Yuuri chooses not to mention it.

 

Biological reaction, Yuuri reminds himself, as he gets up to get changed. By 7:30, Victor is still asleep. He looks like a wreck, hair splaying in all directions, limbs akimbo. Yuuri hasn’t seen anything more attractive in his life; he isn’t even sure anything has existed before this sight before him. Tearing his eyes away, he leaves to pick up breakfast.

 

When he returns, Victor is fully dressed and brushing his teeth. His toothbrush hangs out of his mouth comically as he grins, “you’re back!”

 

“Yup, and I brought bagels.”

 

“You’re an angel,” Victor says from the bathroom. He spits into the sink. A minute later, he’s back. Victor is wearing a clean button down—when did he get to iron?—and jeans. Every part of Victor looks intentional. Yuuri is a little ashamed of his worn Everguard t-shirt, but hey, it’s a convention. He’s allowed to be nerdy. Encouraged, even.

 

They drop off Makka at the sitter’s again, munching the bagels on the way out of the hotel. Victor is rambling about who’s who at the convention, the autographs and the panels, the meet and greets and the game demos. Yuuri gets the idea that Victor is wholly too excited. It’s infectious. Yuuri finds himself grinning on the Metro ride there.

 

The line up isn’t half as bad as Yuuri anticipates. As they make it in, Victor gasps.

 

“It’s huge!” he exclaims. Yuuri is in awe, too. The ceilings reach sky-high and there are what must be thousands of people milling about every corner of the place. They entered through the Artist’s Alley, so stalls are set up in tight rectangles all around them. Hanging from the tables are intricate paintings of monsters, cute figurines of NPCs, and knitted scarves for each Everguard faction. Yuuri might have been overwhelmed, any other time, but he’s surrounded by the game he loves. Instead, he feels a fierce joy swell in his chest.

 

Victor is already running around, chatting animatedly with the shopkeepers. When Yuuri appears by his side, Victor asks him, “is your favourite colour really blue?”

 

“I’ve never met someone so suspicious of my favourite colour.”

 

“But is it?” Victor is insistent.

 

“No,” Yuuri admits, “it’s grey. But that’s not really a colour.”

 

“Excellent!” Victor turns back to a tattooed girl in cosplay. “Can I get this in grey?” he says, gesturing to an imaginative print of Yuuri’s main weapon—the Many-Jewelled Staff. The girl nods her assent and pulls a rolled-up poster from underneath the table. Before Yuuri can stop him, he’s handing over a fistful of bills. “Ta da!” Victor presents it to Yuuri with a huge grin.

 

“Thank you,” Yuuri says, instead of refusing. Yuuri doesn’t want to seem ungrateful: it’s good art. He can appreciate that. He really should’ve stopped Victor there, because by the end of the night, Yuuri winds up with so many bags of merchandise that he can barely support himself. He’s wearing embroidered hoodie, a bracelet that may be real gold, and eight pins on his left breast that weren’t there earlier.

 

“You’re being too nice to me.”

 

“Yuuri,” Victor says, suddenly serious. He faces him, gripping his shoulders, looking into his eyes as if he’s searching for something in them. They picked up sake at the bar earlier and Yuuri can smell it on his breath, see it in his unfocussed pupils, hear it in the gorgeous slur of his speech. “I literally just had the best day of my life. Voice actors have signed my body.” It’s true, he can see loopy writing peeking underneath Victor’s shirt. He thinks there may be a phone number penned on his hand. “And I would never have had it if it weren’t for you.”

 

Victor inches ever closer, their noses nearly bumping in the chill of the night. They’re on the way back from the Metro. He can see their hotel from here. Yuuri stays transfixed in Victor’s gaze.

 

“I am nice to you because I like you. I wanted to buy you all that stuff, because you are extraordinary, Katsuki Yuuri. You are extraordinary, and you deserve it.”

 

He can barely even feel the winter cold on his cheeks, because they’re flushing hot at Victor’s proximity. Or maybe it’s Victor’s words, unapologetically kind, told through the stupor of alcohol. Incredibly, impossibly gently, Yuuri touches Victor’s face. Victor leans into his fingertips, making the contact more intimate than Yuuri intended.

 

“Come home with me,” Yuuri says. He’s a little drunk too, if he has to admit it. Victor does.

 


  

It’s the third time waking up with Victor beside him, and it still feels like a miracle. Makkachin is licking his face. Yuuri opens his eyes, glad to be in the comfort of his own bed.

 

Of his own bed. “Oh god. Victor, wake up.” Usually, Yuuri would spend a long time staring at Victor asleep, and give him the rest he needs. Today, his hair is mussed clumsily and he’s drooling a little. Yuuri doesn’t have the time right now to notice. He does anyway.

 

“Yuuri?” Victor says. He looks around the bedroom, plainly confused at its pane-style doorway and huge PC set-up. It’s warm and muted, unlike the modern lines of the hotel.

 

“How did we get here?”

 

“Oh!” Victor brightens, “we checked out of the hotel last night.” That much, Yuuri can tell. Victor’s luggages are stacked precariously on top of each other in the far corner of Yuuri’s room. Yuuri’s own overnight duffel bag is shoved in between the bottom two. What Yuuri wants to know is why.

 

“Wake up, lovebirds,” Mari singsongs from outside the bedroom. Yuuri is mortified. His sister had likely seen Yuuri and Victor’s arrival last night. He opens the door and speaks to her in frantic Japanese.

 

“What happened last night?”

 

Mari wears the long-suffering smile of any older sibling. “You idiots stumbled in way early this morning. I snuck you in without mom and dad noticing, but you’d better tell them you brought home your new boyfriend soon.”

 

“Not my boyfriend,” Yuuri insists through gritted teeth. Wasn’t he, though? Blurry memories of Victor falling asleep on his shoulder on the train ride home resurface.

 

“What are you two talking about?” Victor stumbles from the bedroom, wearing only an onsen bathrobe—where did he get that?—tied around his waist. “Are you Yuuri’s sister? Hello! I am Victor, Yuuri’s friend.”

 

“Is that what the kids call it these days?” Mari says, sardonically. Yuuri elbows her. “Nice to meet you,” she tries again, in English.

 


 

Victor, for the record, does not look any worse for wear. “Russian blood,” he winks. Meanwhile, Yuuri has a hangover that feels like his head is splitting open.

 

They have a decidedly not-awkward late lunch with Yuuri’s family. Victor charms them with wild gesticulating where language doesn’t quite suffice and excessive gratitude for their hospitality. They think Victor is perfect, but Yuuri hadn’t expected anything different. It might run in the family. His mom is delighted at Victor’s reaction to katsudon.

 

Vkusno!” he announces. “Is this what your Everguard username means?”

 

Several realisations occur at once. “Holy shit,” Mari says, “that’s the boy you’ve been obsessing over for ages. The constant stream of selfies boy. The one you play that dumb game with. The one you think is so dreamy.

 

“Mari!”

 

“No, no, it’s cute,” Victor insists. He smiles wide.

 


 

After lunch, his father insists they go to the springs. He seems entirely too satisfied that Yuuri finally has a friend other than Phichit. Victor is thrilled at the prospect. He strips faster than Yuuri thought possible and runs into the steam room. “That’s dangerous!” Yuuri warns, but Victor falls flat on his butt anyway.

 

“Don’t tell Yurio about this,” he whispers, holding an ice pack gingerly. Yuuri assures he won’t, patting him on the head. He’s texting Yurio already with his free hand behind his back.

 

They go into the baths, soaking. Victor’s face is all drama, cheekbones cast with shadow in the moonlight. There are tiny water droplets on his eyelashes. He looks just like a Greek statue. Victor chats happily about how kind Yuuri’s family is, how they’re cute and round just like him, how katsudon is better than he expected (and how he had expected quite a lot). They talk with easy comfort that comes with being friends for years, though Yuuri has only met Victor in person two days ago. It feels like it’s been forever. Like it could be forever still.

 

The night sky is infinite above them. Hasetsu is a small town, its electrical brightness reduced to nothing against the barrage of stars. They swim lazy laps, barely speaking. Yuuri’s always preferred silence. Words are easy to mess up. He can’t afford to lose this.

 

The water is steam-hot and unknots his muscles in a way synonymous with relief. There’s a fountain in the middle of the pool, which gives Yuuri an idea. He cups water in his hands and splashes it straight into Victor’s face.

 

Victor splashes back. The two of them giggle far too loudly for an onsen. It’s after hours, anyway—just the two of them and the expanse of universe they occupy. The splash war gets vicious. By the end of it, Yuuri’s cheeks hurt from grinning and Victor’s are flushed attractively. There’s a small smattering of freckles across his face, one that Yuuri hasn’t noticed before, like the gods had brought constellations down to him.

 

Fingers linked below the water, they breathe in perfect tandem.

 

Victor’s fingers are water-pruned and long around his. As much as Yuuri would like to stay in the moment, stretching it into eternity, they’ve been in for twenty minutes already. His mom would berate him if she knew they’ve stayed this long. Even the cool towels pressed atop their heads won’t stave off the dizzying heat for long.

 

It’s then he asks, “do you want to see my console set up?”

 


 

Yuuri likes waking up next to Victor, sure, but there’s something magic in Victor at night. He supposes it’s because this is how they met: two voices in the darkness. Late night Victor is softer, faster to give compliments, blinks slower, prone to stare owlishly in the distance. Today, he’s especially close. He lets his hands linger when guiding Yuuri’s hands around the controller, legs wrapping around his. They’re not playing Everguard—god know they play that too much already. Instead, Yuuri had chosen some generic shoot-‘em-up.

 

It’s no surprise that Yuuri ends up in Victor’s lap. Victor’s holding his controller with arms looped around Yuuri’s waist. It’s an embrace, undeniably, and somehow more charming with Victor’s occasional rough movements when he’s in a fight. Yuuri likes this, feeling Victor crowding him. It’s possessive and feels like he’s made a home for himself, right here, in Victor’s arms.

 

Victor acknowledges last night first. “I really do like you,” he says, burying his face into Yuuri’s neck. Yuuri nearly drops his controller. He pauses the game. The lilting music of the save screen crescendos in the background.

 

“You can tell me no if you don’t like this.” Victor kisses the line of Yuuri’s throat. At first, it’s just the barest brush of lips. That’s already enough to make Yuuri’s heart beat faster. Then, the kisses lengthen, hints of tongue. Victor grazes his teeth across Yuuri’s shoulder. Yuuri squirms, jeans suddenly feeling tighter. He doesn’t say no.

 

“Aren’t you going to keep gaming?” Victor whispers into Yuuri’s ear, teasing. “I’ll give you a little incentive. If you can kill the next boss, I’ll kiss you.”

 

Yuuri has never fought so quickly in his life. His hands are trembling. He can barely press the buttons. Yuuri is good at gaming and knows it; he’s had a natural knack since Pokémon. Right now, he’s struggling with basic movement. Victor’s hands are pressing insistently at the hem of his shirt, pushing it upwards ever so slightly. The cool air makes Yuuri shiver.

 

“You’re brilliant,” Victor whispers, with every hit he scores on the creature he’s up against. Yuuri couldn’t even tell you its name right now. “You’re amazing, have always been amazing. You’re so good for me.”

 

At that, Yuuri sends the killing blow with a flick of his wrist and takes Victor’s face into his hands. Victor looks a little shocked and more than a little turned on at his bravery, but Yuuri is desperate. “I’ve wanted this for awhile now,” he explains. “I am going to kiss you, if that’s okay.”

 

Victor snorts, as if in no universe would that course of action be unacceptable. Yuuri shuts him up by clumsily pressing his lips against his.

 

Yuuri knows there’s a certain sort of magic to late night Victor. It can’t possibly compare to the spell that was kissing late night Victor, or indeed, kissing Victor at all. Kissing Victor Nikiforov is like staying up to see the sunrise, like bringing down the moon, waxing and waning, like the white-hot sear of stars. In another life, Victor must have made galaxies with his kisses. In this one, Yuuri is lucky enough to be a part of a galaxy of their own.

 

All the air around them stills. It’s a B-movie freeze frame, the easy quiet after the kiss. Victor’s hand is cupping his face like he’s holding something special. Yuuri only has to look up at Victor once, his lips as red as strawberry sorbet, and knows he needs to kiss him once more.

 

And another time. And another. There’s that thought again, that far away dream—I am going to kiss Victor Nikiforov. Only this time, it comes true.

 


 

Here’s what Yuuri finds out in his week with Victor: 

 

a)    Victor is an octopus. He’s four limbs short but makes up for it in suction power, what with how he sticks to Yuuri’s side. After their first kiss, Yuuri doesn’t think Victor has gone thirty minutes without touching him. He nuzzles into his neck when Yuuri brushes his teeth, plays with his toes as Yuuri scrolls through Reddit, and holds his hand under the table during dinner. It’s clammy. Yuuri likes it anyway.

b)    Victor is atrocious at Mario Kart. He slips on every banana peel and trips on each spiny shell. He’s bitter about this and will fervently deny any mention of it. Yuuri sends a video to Phichit, who spreads it around the Internet. It becomes a brief sensation.

c)    Victor has cold feet that he enjoys sticking up Yuuri’s pyjama legs while he’s trying to sleep. This may be his only flaw.

d)    Victor’s knowledge of the Japanese language comes solely from MMO games, so he can’t say “tree” but is able to say “I’ll end you.” He decides not to bring this up with his family, who are making a fine effort to remember English conjugation from high school. It comes useful when they game together (see point b.)

e)     Victor, against all odds, likes him back.

 


 

Yuuri crowds Victor up against the wall of his bedroom, right after he places the last of his clothing into the luggage. He isn’t sure why Victor had brought twenty t-shirts—“I need variety, Yuuri!”—but folding them up was a chore. They’re finished not two hours before the train to airport leaves. It’s too soon.

 

“What’s this?” Victor asks, voice husky. Yuuri can feel his chest rising with the palm he has pressed against it.

 

“I’ll miss you, you idiot.” He pushes up on his tiptoes to kiss him. By the end of the week, they’ve had a lot of practise. Victor’s mouth parts readily. He makes a keening noise in the back of his throat, cradling the back of Victor’s head. It’s become familiar in a way that Yuuri guesses will be easy to miss.

 

Victor is insistent, deepening the kiss to something intoxicating. “I’ll miss you too,” he whispers, “more than you know.” The lines of Victor’s body are hard against him, and he can’t help himself. Yuuri is entranced in the whimper Victor makes when he kisses his neck, feather-light pecks. Victor strains his head upwards, a wanton display of want, baring more skin for Yuuri to touch, bite, lick. He wants to leave marks.

 

Remember me, he says with every nip of his teeth. The skin beneath his mouth blossoms merlot. It awakens something ancient and feral within him.

 

“Yuuri, Yuuri, Yuuri,” Victor chants. It’s benediction. It’s release, or lack of it, a shameless begging that Yuuri cannot deny. He’s taking his time, but it’s cruel and he knows it. Yuuri gives into temptation. With a final suck, he tugs the shirt over his head. Stumbling into bed, Yuuri leads Victor by the hand. Victor has taken his shirt off, too, his skin creamy and perfect.

 

There’s a part of Yuuri that wants to destroy him.

 

No—not like this. He knows he’ll see Victor again, could not imagine a lifetime without it. But he doesn’t know when they’ll meet next. Yuuri needs to make their last memory one of love. So he slows down, drawing his fingers across the plane of Victor’s chest, revelling in his gasps. Victor is irresistible when he’s being taken apart.

 

“Let me touch you,” Victor says. Yuuri lets him. (Will always let him.) Victor places his hands on either side of Yuuri. He blows warmly above his nipple, making Yuuri strain. He locks eyes with Yuuri just as he makes a long lick. The noise Yuuri makes isn’t human. His eyes close in pleasure. Victor continues like that, tongue making figure eights like skaters across ice. He can feel his head go fuzzy.

 

He tugs at Victor’s hair, pulling him up to kiss him again. It’s sloppy, all tongue, but the dark look in Victor’s eyes is worth it. For awhile, they simply look at each other. Then he touches Victor’s back, feeling the dip in his spine. Victor shifts upward, the picture of desire. He leans his head into Victor’s abdomen, nibbling at his ribs, trails his hands down…

 

“Next time?” Yuuri asks. There will be a next time, he swears it.

 

Yes,” Victor says. For now, they trade kisses until they can no longer.

 


 

Their departure is about as teary as you might expect. He thinks he might see Mari sneak a bit of rice to Makkachin before they go. His mother is speaking rapid fire Japanese—thank god—insisting that they get married immediately. Yuuri goes fire-red and swats away Victor’s concerned questions. His father smiles and gives Victor a warm hand on the shoulder. Victor chokes up a little at that.

 

Yuuri goes with him all the way to the airport. On the train ride, they alternate resting heads on each other’s shoulders. They talk about Everguard, university, anything but the future. Just before Victor enters security, Yuuri wraps him up in a hug. He leaves Victor’s shirt suspiciously wet. Victor’s kind enough not to mention it.

 

“I’ll come with you, after uni. We’ll live in St. Petersburg with too much in our game room and not enough in our cupboard.”

 

“No, Yuuri.” It nearly breaks his heart. But then—“I’ll come back. We’ll live in the onsen and I’ll make you run in the mornings and you’ll show me that skating rink you like, the one with the girl you used to have a crush on.”

 

“Did not,” Yuuri says, but it’s less effective when his voice is all choked up. “You have to, okay?”

 

“I will.”

 


 

When they first tell Phichit and Yurio, the group chat is a mess. They’re done with the dailies—on Victor’s insistence, despite having just returned from the flight—and the opportunity comes up.

 

        [yuri-plisetsky]: gonna go afk for a bit

        [yuri-plisetsky]: brb

 

        [katsudonkatsuki]: anyway victor and i are dating

 

        [phichit+chu]: wtf the FUCK

        [phichit+chu]: deets or i’ll cut you

 

        [v-nikiforov]: he doesn’t kiss and tell ;)

 

        [phichit+chu]: i wont hesitate bitch!!!

 

        [katsudonkatsuki]: ok well we kissed when he came over

 

        [yuri-plisetsky]: MY E Y E S I HATE THIS GROUP

        [yuri-plisetsky]: goodbye cruel world

        [yuri-plisetsky] has gone offline.

 

        [v-nikiforov]: and then we slept together,

 


 

They don’t game as often anymore. Yurio insists he has better things to do with his time. Regardless, Victor and he end up opening the game once a week. It becomes instinct. They rarely speak over the mic anymore. Its only function is congratulations. At this point, they know each other so well that they can anticipate demands, so that by the time Victor parts his lips, Yuuri is already by his side to support him.

 

When Yurio does decide to play, Victor is extra clingy, heaping praise for basic manoeuvres and making kissy noises over the mic. Yurio threatens to leave constantly but ends up staying through the evening. Phichit, meanwhile, enjoys regaling Victor with stories of his three years with Yuuri in college, before he had transferred his credits back to Japan. Yuuri in Detroit was a mess, often drunk, and obsessed with a certain game walkthrough author by the name of Eros. He had printed copies of his guides in his bedside drawer.

 

“Oh,” Victor says, offhandedly, “that was me.”

 

Phichit doesn’t drop the subject for weeks.

 


 

It’s been three months without Victor. Yuuri distracts himself by going back to dance lessons, to Minako’s pleasure. He’s lost some weight and gained a bit of muscle. Not to mention all his flexibility is back. He can put both feet behind his head again. That last development that has Victor swooning. On their Skype call, Victor exclaims: “my boyfriend is hot.

 

“Ah, don’t say that. You’re the hot one in this relationship and everyone knows it.” Victor’s wearing a dark v-neck and an easy smile. He’s shaking his head as if Yuuri is somehow better. It’s easy for Yuuri to fall further for him. Then Victor squints, a little accusatory.

 

“Is that my hoodie?”

 

Yuuri frowns. “You left it behind. What was I supposed to do with it? Should I take it off?”

 

“No—I mean, yes, but…”

 

Yuuri is already removing the hoodie. Victor’s predictable like that. He can hear Victor whine in want. They haven’t seen each other in what must have been ages. Yuuri thinks stars must have collapsed and cities fallen since he’s last touched him. Evidently, Victor is suffering for it.

 

“Is there anything else you want me to take off?” Yuuri feels emboldened tonight. Maybe he’s aching for a touch he felt too briefly. Maybe he just misses Victor.

 

“Your shirt, please.” Yuuri follows, baring his neck at Victor. Victor hisses. He tugs at his shirt hem, teasing. When he pulls it off, Victor is leaning closer to the camera. It’s not like Yuuri’s never been on stage. He knows how to put on a show. Dragging his hangs over the V of his hips, he begins to unbutton his jeans. Victor makes a groan he’s never heard before. It’s dirty.

 

“And these, too?” he asks, already knowing the answer. He touches himself over his boxers.

 

“Off.” Victor has his hand on the way to do the same, slipping beneath the waistband of his sweatpants. Yuuri can just make out the outline of his hardness through the fabric. For awhile, it’s like this: the quiet rhythm of touching, interrupted solely by breathy pleasure. Yuuri makes sure to vocalise his feelings at every opportunity. The quickened pace of Victor’s strokes is worth the embarrassment. It’s a special thing to take someone apart. Especially when that person is the sort of gorgeous one might write epic poetry about.

 

“You’re so beautiful,” he says, looking straight into the camera. Victor comes with a yell.

 


 

It’s Yuuri’s birthday and he misses Victor. The year mark since their first meeting is quickly approaching. He takes a frustrated breath. Frigid November fills his lungs. Dusk is approaching, and the few citizens of Hasetsu are milling about in bars. It’s only obscured couples looking into the river left in the winter air. He runs past them. On days where the feeling of loneliness gets overwhelming, he’s never known what to do if not this: escape. Pulling the jacket tighter around him, Yuuri pushes aside the keen longing building inside of him.

 

Eventually, he makes his way to the onsen. The lanterns are lit for the evening, casting blurry shadows on the pavement. His steps grow long and heavy. There’s some reluctance to them. Behind this door, he knows his family will have prepared a surprise party for him. He appreciate the effort, but without Victor, he’s not sure he wants to celebrate at all.

 

As soon as he pushes the handle, crossing the threshold, all the breath is knocked out of him. A huge poodle jumps onto his chest. They tumble to the floor together. Yuuri’s back falls hard against the tatami.

 

“Makka!” Yuuri tugs joyfully at the dog’s fur. He didn’t realise it, but Makkachin’s licks became an important part of his day after only a week together. It was a relief to have them back. And where a pet goes, the owner must follow. He looks up expectantly.

 

There he is. A hand reaches out to bring him up. That’s how he’s brought face to face with Victor Nikiforov, who’s currently sporting a smile so fond it makes Yuuri’s toes curl. He immediately wraps Yuuri in an embrace. And oh, how Yuuri missed this. It kept Yuuri up most nights, the memory of Victor’s touch.

 

“Surprise!” his family exclaims, but it’s all background. He can’t notice a thing but for the strong grip Victor holds on him. His fingers are tracing little hearts on Yuuri’s back. Victor is a restored painting, a returning hero, a saviour. Yuuri doesn’t believe in much. He would follow Victor anywhere.

 

“I told you I’d come back,” he whispers, right against his ear. It’s not that Yuuri ever doubted him, but surprise burns sweetly in his chest anyway.

 


 

That night, they dig up Yuuri’s old Game Boy and fumble through the first Pokémon gym. Victor has his arms around him, taking Yuuri in flush against his chest, legs crossed with his. They’re on Yuuri’s bed with a mountain of Victor’s pillows behind them. It’s profoundly domestic. Yuuri thinks he could get used to calling the space between Victor’s arms home.

 

Victor curses something Russian when his Bulbasaur faints. The words tickle at his ear. They’ve come up with a ridiculous system: Victor’s hands are on the A and B keys while Yuuri’s rest on the arrows. The struggle comes mainly from this idea, which Victor resents despite having come up with it. Yuuri enjoys Victor’s frustration with an exasperated sort of sadism. When Brock’s final Pokémon goes down, Victor squeezes Yuuri’s torso tight. The sudden pressure isn’t only reason Yuuri’s breath hitches.

 

In video games, there’s always a clear goal. Save the princess, escape the dungeon, collect more resources than the rest. It’s the sort of simplicity Yuuri appreciates. In life, Yuuri stumbles with the structure of it. Was he to graduate university, get a job, and buy a house?

 

But Yuuri thinks that the real goal might be those arms that cradle him. It’s true: Yuuri doesn’t save the diplomat, figure out the puzzle, or dominate a civilization. But it’s not about all the dragons they have slain. It’s about finding Victor, who mumbles French in his sleep and has five hundred hours on Everguard. Maybe he can’t save the world, but he can save this boy.

 

And if this were a game, he’d be winning.