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Lumos Duo

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Despite it being the middle of the night, the tent was loud. There was a huge, electric fan that blasted cool air throughout the area, alleviating the muggy humidity so it was possible for everyone to even sleep, but it made so much noise that Victor found it distracting. This, combined with Georgi and Mila’s snoring, were making it impossible for Victor to sleep.

It wasn’t usually like this. Victor had been doing this for years, and it’s not as if the snoring and the fans were new. Outside he heard the light patter of rain, although their heavy-duty camping equipment made it so he remained dry if he stayed in the tent. It splashed on top of the tarp they’d erected over the tent and he heard it dripping down in a stream onto the forest floor.

But tonight, was different, and it had been the same the previous few nights as well. Victor had only been able to get a couple hours of fitful sleep every evening during this expedition, and he thought, if he didn’t manage to sleep tonight, he might just collapse of exhaustion during filming the next day.

The season finale of the fifth series of Wild About Nature (featuring Victor Nikiforov) was a one hour special on Kakemega Forest, Kenya’s last remaining forest. Victor and his crew had been working on the special for the last month, and this part of the expedition was to be the last. Originally they’d been attempting to capture footage of the shy and elusive Potto, a tiny primate that Victor thought rather resembled an arboreal teddy bear, but they hadn’t had much luck. As such, they’d settled on an area of the forest where tree pangolins had been spotted and decided to use the last part of filming to cover them.

But this part of the forest had been oddly desolate since they’d set up their camp four days before, and it was beginning to irritate an already irritable Victor.

Victor hid his irritability with the situation well, behind his television ready smile and charismatic attitude, but, and maybe it was the rain or maybe it was how fruitless the filming had been (he knew it was neither), it was like a constant pressure, and he wanted to get out.

Perhaps he would take a break after this season finale had finished filming. He hadn’t renewed his contract yet, and it would be nice to go home and spend more time with Makkachin…

The pressure in his head increased, and he wondered how it was possible for it to almost feel like something physical, despite it being only a mental thing.

Mila let out a particularly loud snore, and Georgi followed it up with a snort and a dramatic sounding sigh.

He could go sleep in the small trailer where they kept their cameras and other delicate equipment. He was sure there was at least one extra fan in there if he needed it.

But Victor knew it wouldn’t help. Would taking a break after filming help either?

He loved his job, or at least, theoretically he did. Victor had adored animals since he was a child, and it was his dream to be a naturalist or a biologist or a veterinarian or any number of careers when he was growing up. He’d moved from his home city of St. Petersburg, Russia at eighteen and achieved a master of science in wildlife from a top US school, and immediately upon graduating, had been recruited for an internship with Animal Planet.

Within a year he had his own show. He had a face ‘made for television’, he’d been told, and although he didn’t particularly understand how that made him a better naturalist, it certainly helped bring in the ratings. And thank heaven, in addition to his face (and his figure), that his accent was present enough to be an attractive bonus, but not too heavy as to make him difficult to understand for the ‘average viewer’ as the higher ups at the station had put it. Victor had remembered cringing at that but keeping silent because he didn’t want to lose what was probably a once in a life time opportunity.  

 He sighed and worried his lip a bit. Perhaps he was lonely. His crew was friendly enough, and Mila and Georgi had become decently close to him throughout the last few years, but he’d always had difficulty forming connections with people, and even now there remained a palpable distance between them. There was Chris, his agent back home, who always dragged him out for drinks and dinner when he could, and Victor truly did appreciate it, but even when he was out with Chris, who he found genuinely likable, much of the time he spent thinking about how he’d rather be back at his apartment with Makkachin.

 There was Yakov Feltsman, a retired naturalist who worked management at the channel and produced his show. He was somewhat of a mentor figure to Victor, but not someone he could exactly spend a lonely Saturday with. There was nineteen-year-old Yuri Plisetsky, an intern on the show who Victor felt protective of, but they barely knew each other. He was new to the show and rarely came on the more in depth expeditions yet. Right now, he was back in Nairobi with some other crew members taking care of Makkachin and working post-production on some other segments of the episode.

 Victor frowned and shook his head. He needed some air.

 He slid on a pair of shoes, unzipped the tent and stepped outside, the humid, almost sticky night air greeting him. The rain was starting to let up, but the water that had congregated on the tarp streamed down it onto the ground below and his foot almost got stuck in the resulting mud. It smelled like petrichor and the crispness of flourishing trees, and he breathed it in, feeling his mind relax, just a little. He could hear the trickling of one of the forest’s many creeks and streams nearby.

 He pulled his phone out of his pocket and flicked on the flashlight feature. If they didn’t find the tree pangolin soon, he knew they’d give up and wrap up on location filming. They were running out of time, and they’d already discussed collaborating with the Cincinnati Zoo, which had a Potto exhibit, if they needed to.

 Victor wondered how Makkachin was doing. And he wondered why despite it being the middle of the night, when every nocturnal animal in the forest should be up, he could hear none of them. It was even quieter tonight than it had been the previous couple nights, and he’d found those nights eerily silent. The sound of the departing rain and the little stream nearby were all he could make out now.

 He frowned again. He didn’t like it. Not only because it meant he couldn’t get his job done, but because it was wrong, uncanny. Something was off. Something had been off since they got here, and it left a coiling feeling in his gut.

Perhaps I should go back in the tent… or go sleep in the trailer.

 He suspected that he’d need to go tell Mila and Georgi first if he decided to do the latter.

But before he could make up his mind, he heard something, and it sounded like it wasn’t very close, but despite that, it was loud. A rustle in the brush, in the woods, and the sound of a beast’s footsteps (four legged, a mammal, from what he could tell), but how could it not be close if it were this loud?

 There were no elephants in the area, and Victor thought, as absurd as it seemed, that this sounded bigger than that anyway.

 He tightened his grip on his phone and unthinkingly, opened the camera app. Victor knew better than to move, to try and find and approach the animal in the middle of the night by himself, but---

 He gasped, his eyes widening, and his hand over his throat, as he was interrupted by the sudden assault of a scent unlike anything he’d ever experienced. Victor had been susceptible to a whole list of awful nature related smells; stinkbirds and stink bugs, the corpse flower and the rafflesia, and he’d even been sprayed by a zorilla once, a cute little polecat that smelled at least three times as awful as a skunk.

 None of them compared to this. While the other scents were horrible, this felt--- dangerous. He felt himself gasping for air, and his eyes were watering and they stung. It wasn’t just a bad smell, something to scare predators away, he was sure it was literal poison.

 Victor’s chest heaved and he felt beads of sweat form on his forehead, and his eyes stung now and he knew he needed to get Mila and Georgi out of there, because whatever was going on, it was dangerous. But his hand was shaking now and his legs felt like jelly, and the moment he tried to turn around to go back in the tent, he collapsed.

 His phone fell on the muddy ground in front of him, the flashlight still on, and Victor’s entire body felt as if it was seizing up; all his muscles tightening to the point they were unable to move. His eyes were wide and he opened and closed his mouth, trying to gape for air but his throat was almost squeezed to the point where none was going in or out.

 And the air that was, was just filled with more of… whatever that was.

 He’d hardly had a chance to notice how close the animal’s footsteps were, and he thought, how could it be so near already? It clearly wasn’t running, and it would have to be massive to have crossed that kind of distance so quickly. There was nothing, in the whole of Kenya, hell, in the whole of Africa, that could have done that.

 I just wanted a break from the show. I don’t want to die.

 Victor felt a sardonic smile cross his lips, and half-wondered if he’d discovered (or rather, was about to be discovered), by some impossible cryptid. Or perhaps, he had managed to fall asleep and this was the strangest dream he’d had in years and certainly the most vivid.

 There was a growl, and Victor thought ‘leopard’, but, so, so much louder than any leopard could ever be. His fingers shaking, he dug them into the mud as much as he could with the minimal movement he could manage, and his breath left him completely when the beast finally came into view.

 Because it was impossible.

 His flashlight was bright, and there was a light on the trailer that remained on all night, and that was enough.

 The beast must have been fifteen feet tall, taller than any elephant, and it couldn’t have been shorter than thirty feet long, even without the tail. It’s eyes flashed gold, and it did have the shape of a leopard and the color scheme, from what he could tell in the dark, but—it was covered in deadly looking spikes, and Victor thought, if he were to guess, they were tipped with poison, and—the area around its head puffed up like a mane when it growled. But it wasn’t a mane, it was the beast’s actual body, it’s skin, deflating and reflating.

 There was nothing, absolutely nothing, even in the prehistoric record, that compared to this beast. And Victor, naturalist that he was, couldn’t even bring himself to feel excitement over discovering it.

 He was terrified. It was as if the beast exuded horror, dripped it from each of its spines or from its massive canines, which flashed white in the darkness. No wonder this part of the forest had been empty of wildlife.

 I don’t want to die…

 But if he moved, even if he could move, he’d just draw more attention to himself.

 The beast, the monster, for what else could he call it, stepped closer, and even though it was a good fifteen meters away, Victor braced himself for the end, closing his eyes and saying a prayer to who only knew who.

 “STUPEFY!”

 He snapped his eyes open and there were flashing lights, and he could make out—people? There must have been a dozen of them, and they’d all said that strange word at the same time, and they were doing it again, repeatedly.

 “ONE STUNNING SPELL WON’T BE ENOUGH, KEEP GOING,” yelled a woman’s voice.

 “Stupefy!” rang out across the forest a few more times, before—and Victor couldn’t believe it, the great beast fell over onto the ground.

 Was it dead? Was it unconscious? He didn’t know.

 “Deletrius!” someone else yelled, and within moments, Victor could breathe again.

 Whatever the person had done had caused the poison to clear out of the air. He gasped loudly, and attempted with success, to move.

 “How is there a muggle camp here in the first place? This part of the forest is supposed to be unplottable.”

 “I have no idea, but make sure to cast a Protego totalum around the beast before we leave, so it’s safe until we get the Kenyan ministry to reinforce the unplottable spell.”

 “Right, and we’ll need to take care of these muggle memories.”

 “Yes. You three, go to the tent, make sure they’re okay, and obliviate them. Make sure to plant it in their heads to leave immediately.”

 Victor’s eyes widened. “Memories?” he quietly got to his feet, shaking a bit as he did so, and slid to the side of the tent, hiding behind the trailer. These were clearly not park rangers.

 He willed himself to be as quiet as possible, making sure even his breathing was silent. He flicked off the phone’s flashlight.

 They were approaching the tent? Should he go to them? What if they hurt Mila and Georgi? They didn’t seem to want to harm them but…

 “What the hell?” Mila’s voice. “Georgi, Georgi are you okay??”

 “I’m fine Mila. Where’s Vic---“

 “Shhhh. Who are you and what are you doing here?”

 Victor listened in, still unmoving.

 “Miss, we don’t want to hurt you. Are you okay, can you breathe okay?”

 “Anapneo!” a pause. “ Anapneo. Just in case I cleared their airways.”

 “What is going ON. First I feel like I’m going to die, then suddenly you’re---“

 “Miss, Mister. We’ll need you to leave the forest immediately.”

 “What about---“

 “Shut up for a minute, Georgi.”

 “Obliviate .”

 


 

“In conclusion I believe that the illegal trade of Occamy eggs within the United States has little to do with using cross breeding to help restore the diminished Snallygaster population, and everything to do with the desire to use them in pseudo magic. I believe that, as a magizoologist, it is partly my duty to not only discover, but conserve these great beasts, and I think that we are underestimating the threat that the current wave of pseudo magic, that is, magical cures and potions based not on any actual successful studies, but purely on bunk theories, and at most, a placebo effect users may experience while using them, may be. It is imperative that we further regulate Occamy eggs, and seek out another successful way to restore the Snallygaster population. I speak to you, the Body for Protection of Magical Species, as a citizen of Japan, one of the nations that Occamy are native to, in hopes that you’ll instate further protections for this noble beast.”

 Yuuri finished his speaking in a rush, and he hoped that he hadn’t spoken too fast, because he wanted them to listen to him, but he feared his nerves may have gotten the better of him. He could feel sweat trickling down behind the collar of his suit jacket, and his heart was pounding in his chest.

 “Thank you very much.”

 He bowed politely and before he could look up at the audience, filled with bureaucrats and politicians and everyone he didn’t want to interact with, he left the pulpit. And then the building, and he deliberately avoided making eye contact with anyone as he did so.

 He probably should have waited to see if there were any questions; should have stayed around for the rest of the session just in case anyone wanted to talk to him afterwards. But he was Yuuri Katsuki, and he wasn’t particularly brave, or at least he didn’t think he was. Getting through the speech had been difficult enough. He’d thought he was going to throw up at least half a dozen times (note to self: no matter how delicious Phichit’s kai yang is, you shouldn’t eat that much before doing something that you know will cause your anxiety to flare up like this).

Yuuri Katsuki knew animals, but he’d never been able to fully grasp people. Animals, magical beasts, even ones that would terrify most wizards and witches, Yuuri was fine around. He felt a comfort and calm in their presence. But when it came time to confront other people, to speak to them and interact with them, he struggled. It’s not that he disliked people. He didn’t. He just struggled forming connections, and he always had. He adored his family, and he loved his best friend, a pure blood wizard named Phichit who had immigrated from Thailand to New York City when he was a preteen (he bred Puffskeins for a living; tiny adorable, big-eyed balls of fluff that made brilliant pets, and it was a very specific career, but Phichit was successful). He didn’t object to going out and doing things, and he was very fond of the city he lived in, as well as even a lot of the people, but there was still a large part of him, that anxious part that always made him feel as if no one would be legitimately interested in spending time with him, that caused him to have an issue with forming relationships.

 New York City was a nice place. It had overwhelmed him when he’d moved there four years previously, finding it the best place to serve as a hub for his work due to all the connections with the rest of the wizarding world, but he loved it now. And even if he hadn’t, he traveled so often that it would still be livable.

He was a busy man after all. He was Yuuri Katsuki, esteemed magizoologist who had won the Mathilda Grimblehawk Award for his work in the field at twenty-one. It was the highest award a magizoologist could receive, and he was, by several years, the youngest to ever win it.

He was brilliant. He’d graduated from Mahoutokoro School of Magic in Japan with honors, his robes gleaming gold before he’d even entered his eighth year. At seventeen, he’d published a paper on mooncalf migration that had been deemed ‘historic’.

And he’d done all this as a muggle born, someone who had only discovered that the wizarding world even existed when he was seven years old. Both of Yuuri’s parents, as well as his older sister, were non-magical. In truth, he thought it gave him an advantage. He found it easier to study nature of even the magical variety while he still had one foot firmly planted in the non-magical world, but he knew others would disagree.

Yuuri knew all these things, but it didn’t mean that he believed them. He was just a dime a dozen wizard from Japan, a magic zoologist who perhaps, got lucky a few times, in his own eyes.

 He glanced behind him at the façade of the building he’d just exited and pulled out his cellphone. When he was inside the Magical Congress of the United States of America building, where the magical species protection body met, his phone didn’t work. There was far too much wild magic in the air, and it disrupted electric devices.

 Hi Mom. You told me to text you about the speech. I think it went okay. I didn’t stay around to find out.

 Mom: Oh, Yuuri. I might not know an Occamy from any other snake, but I’m sure you did an amazing job.

 

You’d definitely know the difference between the two if you saw one! Anyway, thanks. I guess I’ll know if they even listened to what I said soon…

 Mom: They’d be foolish not to. ♥

 

He sent her a quick heart in return and pocketed his phone. He appreciated his mother’s enthusiasm and the fact that she believed in him, but the truth was that, in a way he knew it didn’t mean much. Her faith in him was genuine, but she was a muggle who knew little to nothing about the magical world, so how could she even know he was good at his job?

He felt a little guilty for thinking that, but it was true, wasn’t it?

He shook his head, glancing up at the late afternoon New York skyline and frowning. There was rain coming, he could tell, and he didn’t feel like getting wet and he’d left his Metrocard at home again and frankly didn’t want to be crammed in a subway anyway.

 Yuuri stepped between two buildings and squished himself behind a dumpster where he was sure no one would be able to spot him, closed his eyes, and apparated home.

 Apparating wasn’t easy on Yuuri’s already somewhat queasy stomach, as it tended to make him feel like he was being squeezed through a tube, but he wanted to get home fast, and sure enough, he reappeared in his apartment’s living room mere moments later.

 He clutched his stomach for a moment to brace himself and then exhaled deeply, squeezing the handle of his briefcase with his other hand as he did so. Yuuri always felt dizzy for a few moments after apparating, and this was no exception. He plopped down on the couch and curled up, setting his briefcase down next to him and deciding then and there that he wasn’t going to look at it for the rest of the night.

 At least, he recalled, there was one thing to look forward to today. That evening was the season finale of his favorite show, and Phichit thought it so strange that Yuuri watched muggle television, but Phichit hadn’t grown up in a muggle household, so he didn’t get it. It was as much part of his life as the wizarding world, and well, he liked to watch tv. It relaxed him after a long day, and this show relaxed him especially.

 He glanced behind him at the wall the couch leaned against, and he felt himself flushing a bit as his eyes met with a large poster he’d tacked up there. It was a muggle poster, one where the photo in it was frozen solid and didn’t move at all, but Yuuri didn’t care. It’s not as if Victor Nikiforov looked any less gorgeous just because it was a still photo.

 Victor Nikiforov, his silver hair half soaking and his every dip and curve apparent since he was wearing a form fitting, short sleeved wet suit, was waist deep in water with his arms around a juvenile beluga whale. There was a bright, stunning smile on his face, and his blue eyes sparkled even brighter than the ocean he stood in.

 Lucky whale, Yuuri thought to himself, then smacked his forehead at how embarrassing he was being. He admired Victor for his work, not because he was a hot piece of ass (although he was, Yuuri could hardly deny that). Victor was the kind of naturalist Yuuri wanted to be. He was charismatic and passionate and so, so smart, and everyone loved him. He spoke with such confidence and persuasion, that Yuuri was sure that if he had even a fraction of Victor’s talent, the Occamy regulations issue would have been solved four years ago. All Victor would have to do is smile and say please, and Yuuri would do it in a heartbeat, after all. Surely the stuffy bureaucrats at MACUSA would be the same.  

 He wanted to be even half of what Victor was to the muggle world, to the magical world. Yuuri’s thoughts were interrupted by a loud nasal peent, and he laughed.

 “Viichan,” Yuuri said as a tiny fluff ball of golden yellow landed on his chest. The bird, who closed his wings and made another ‘peent!’, was so small, that if one weren’t careful he could be crushed with your fingers. His minimal weight was a welcome addition. “How have you been today?”

Viichan, a little Golden Snidget that Yuuri had rescued from an unscrupulous breeder a few years previously, was an odd choice for a pet, he knew, but Yuuri adored the tiny creature all the same. Snidgets were generally bashful birds, and who could blame them considering that for decades before the golden snitch was invented, wizards had cruelly used them as balls while playing quidditch, but this one had warmed up to Yuuri and outright enjoyed spending time with him.

Viichan was less a bird and more an orb covered in feathers, and even after years of owning him, he still made Yuuri laugh as he waddled around on his tiny legs or hovered in the air around him or let out one of his silly sounding calls. Yuuri gave the bird a scratch on the chest and he hopped up on his shoulder, ruffling his wings and settling down, content to rest there for now.

“Thanks Viichan…”

 Yuuri pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and looked at the time. 5:30, so I have an hour and a half until Victor’s show starts. He set an alarm, just in case he fell asleep, and within five minutes of doing so, had dozed off on the couch, Viichan still sitting on his shoulder and now softly cooing.


 

 “The Kakemega Forest is the last remaining forest in Kenya. It is, in fact, one of the last remaining strongholds of a forest that once, during ancient times, spanned the entire African continent. Ten thousand years ago, this forest crossed the whole of Central Africa, but now all that remains in Kenya is this beautiful forest that, if not protected, could vanish completely within twenty years’ time. What would we lose with the Kakemega forest? Dozens of plants and animals not found anywhere else in the world, and maybe, in allowing ourselves to destroy it, a little bit of our humanity too.”

 Victor stared out of the television with a rueful expression crossing his features, and Yuuri bit his lip, a tissue in hand. He wasn’t crying. He never cried while watching Victor’s show, except perhaps, a little bit. He thought that Viichan must be judging him right now, but there was something about Victor’s voice and the conviction in which he spoke that just—got to him, made him remember why he loved what he did, because it was the same reasons Victor loved what he did, right? He assumed as much.

 Victor’s expression turned into a smile, as he placed his hand against one of the huge, buttressed trees in the forest. “I’m Victor Nikiforov, and this is Wild About Nature. Perhaps I’ll see you again soon.”

Yuuri blanched. Wait? Perhaps? Victor always ended his shows with ‘see you next time’, even if it was a season finale. Yuuri’s eyes widened and he pulled out his phone, letting out one last sniffle as he did so. He opened his twitter app (Yuuri didn’t use twitter himself, but Victor used it all the time, so he’d downloaded it) and scrolled through the #wildaboutnature hashtag, searching for answers, but everyone else was as confused as him.

 After several minutes of searching, Yuuri saw the notification that there was a new tweet on his timeline.

 Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov – 10s

Thank you to everyone who watched Wild About Nature tonight. For reasons I can’t disclose right now, I’m taking a break from WAN/TV entirely.

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov – 3s

I hope you’ll support me in my next project, whatever it may be. Thank you to all my fans for always being there. xoxoxo

Yuuri’s grip on his phone loosened and he dropped it to his chest, letting out a sharp breath. Victor was… quitting? Or at least quitting for now? He squeezed his hand around the tissue he still held, feeling the soft paper crumple in his grip. It’s not like it should have been that big a deal. It was just a tv show, and he could always go back and watch old episodes or read one of Victor’s books, but…

Maybe it was something serious, like a family member’s illness or, his heart clenched at this, perhaps Victor himself had a health issue.

 He didn’t want it to be something awful like that, but at the same time, if Victor was just taking a leave of absence because he felt like it, did that mean that the man who had inspired Yuuri so much was losing inspiration himself? He hated the idea of that, not only for Victor, but, and he felt selfish for thinking this, also for himself. If even the Victor Nikiforov’s passion was drying up, an unbridled passion that Yuuri yearned to emulate, there’s no way Yuuri Katsuki of all people had greatness in store for him.

 No. He was probably just projecting. Victor might have another non-tv related project in store, although in that case, wouldn’t he say something about it (even if it was just ‘I’ll have an exciting announcement soon’)? But this was Victor, and...

 Thursday nights were going to be so empty without Victor’s show. There’d probably be reruns, but that wasn’t the same.

 Yuuri pulled his wand out of his pants pocket and realized, oh he was still wearing the dress suit he’d presented in at MACUSA. He was surprised he hadn’t thought to change out of it, as the fitted pants and jacket weren’t near as comfortable as his everyday wear, be he supposed that he’d just been distracted.

 Viichan had flown off to sit on his perch, and he was eating millet when Yuuri glanced over to him.

 “Accio, tea,” Yuuri pointed toward the kitchen counter with his wand, and a bottle of tea he’d left out that morning, half empty, swiftly flew his way. He caught it in his hand and popped it open, drinking it despite it having grown a little too warm throughout the day.

 He’d loved the season finale episode, of course he had, and he thought it may have been one of Victor’s best episodes yet. But even it hadn’t been enough to alleviate the heavy feeling in his chest from the day’s events, and then finding out Victor wasn’t coming back next season…

 Yuuri honestly just wanted to go to sleep. He groaned at his own despondence, because it was only 8:15 pm and it would have just screwed up his schedule to fall asleep now. It’s too bad Phichit said he was going to be busy tonight…

 “I should go for a walk…” He considered the wizarding café only about a half a mile away, which served an incredible no melt ice cream. They even had mint chocolate chip, his favorite flavor (Victor’s favorite flavor of muggle ice cream was mint chocolate chip, Yuuri recalled from an interview years back, but he swore he’d favored the flavor before he’d found out about Victor’s love for it).

 Yuuri thought about changing clothes but decided against it, not feeling like mustering up the energy. He took off his suit jacket though, leaving his white dress shirt and blue tie visible. He glanced over to Viichan on his perch. “Do you want to come? The rain has cleared up,” he asked. Viichan was tiny and unobtrusive and muggles tended to not even notice he was there, so he often accompanied Yuuri when he was out and about.

Viichan let out a ‘peent’ and flew over to land on Yuuri’s shoulder, eliciting a laugh from him as he rubbed his cheek into the bird’s tiny chest.  “I’ll take that as a yes then. Let’s go.”

 


 

After Victor Nikiforov posted his tweets announcing his departure from Wild About Nature (or hiatus? He hardly knew now), he put his phone on silent and immediately left the house to take a walk with Makkachin. He didn’t want to deal with any phone calls, as he hadn’t told anyone but people who worked at the station about him taking a break, and he certainly didn’t want to look at what people on twitter would be saying.

 He’d been back in the states for a month, having wrapped up the season finale, done post-production in Nairobi, then done more post-post production when he’d returned to New York City four weeks ago. His encounter in the forest was still so fresh in his mind, and it ate at him.

 Victor had nightmares about it. He’d woken up in a cold sweat with visions of an enormous spiked mane and huge jaws and poison in the air that had paralyzed him. And maybe it wouldn’t have been quite as bad, but—and this was the strangest part of all, no one else remembered anything even happening.

 He’d remembered the people in the woods, whoever they were, the ones that had downed the beast, saying something about ‘taking care of memories’, and when he’d gone back into the tent after they’d left, Georgi and Mila acted as if nothing had happened at all.

 Victor knew they hadn’t seen the creature, but undoubtedly they’d been affected by its poison. They were less than ten feet away from where he was!

 He’d looked up all the words he’d recalled them saying, and--- anapneo , Greek for ‘I breathe’, obliviate , similar to a Latin word for ‘to forget’, stupefy , he knew that word, to stun, protego totalum , Latin, total protection’, and deletrius , he struggled more with this one, perhaps ‘delete’?

 So, assuming their words had some sort of power, which was absurd, but was it any more absurd than the beast he’d seen in the forest, he’d deduced the following sequence of events. They’d somehow stunned the beast into submission, cleared the air of the poison, put some sort of protection around the area (which was supposed to be ‘unplottable’, however that was to be managed), made sure that Mila and Georgi could breathe okay, and then--- erased their memories of the event.  They appeared to have done something else too, because Mila and Georgi very forcefully said they had to leave the area and give up on filming now, that night. They’d packed up and driven out of the forest before the sun had even risen (after telling Victor he was nuts and what the hell was he talking about).

 And the great, horrible beast, whatever it had been, was nowhere in sight. Victor didn’t understand that either, because if it had moved, or if the strange people had somehow moved it, he would have seen and heard that.

 Victor didn’t much believe in omens or signs, but if what happened in Kakemega wasn’t the world telling him, yes, you’re right to not renew your contract and take a break, he didn’t know what was.

 Yakov had been pissed, especially since it was difficult to explain exactly why he wasn’t continuing. Even ignoring his experience in the forest, he didn’t want to disclose the apathy, irritability, and lack of passion he was feeling for the show. He didn’t want to explain that things were empty, flat, like he was living in a world of gray the past couple of years. He’d played it off as some flippant, flighty thing about needing to take a long, deep breath and see the world, in a way not connected to work (and to make Yakov feel better about it, he threw in a line about possibly writing a book, which he’d let the network stamp their name on).

 Victor had not thought about a book at all. He hadn’t thought about much. He’d spent his days since returning walking Makkachin, going out for coffee, and catching up on his Netflix queue.

He reached down and gave Makkachin a pat on the head, ruffling his fur, as they walked down the sidewalk. The sun had set and the city was lit by streetlights, but being that it was this city, the sidewalks were still filled with people. “Makka, do you want to get something to eat?” he asked the dog. “We could go see that bodega cat you like to play with…”

 Victor came to a halt when he heard shouting, and it’s not like shouting was unusual in this city, but---

 “I am telling you Miss; you should let me take care of that Bundimun infestation right now. I won’t even charge I---“

 “It’s fine! It’s not a big deal, and there’s only a few of them,” an older woman’s sharp voice said. She was at least seventy, with a hawkish face and long, gray hair, and her clothing looked more like if you’d turned a carpet bag into a robe than actual fashion.

 Victor couldn’t see the first person that was talking, only his back; short, messy dark hair, a white dress shirt, and black slacks. There was something very small and golden on his shoulder, but it was mostly hidden behind the bits of dark hair that stuck out.

 “I promise it will only take a bit! If it gets much worse the entire building could collapse, and not only would your home be destroyed, but the FBCV will demand to come and obliviate dozens of muggles—err sorry, no-maj.”

 “Now you listen here young man! Unless you have something official from MACUSA themselves, I’m not letting you into my building!” she shouted.

 The dark-haired man leapt back at this, and despite his earlier conviction, seemed startled. Concerned with whatever was going on (and what the hell were they talking about anyway?), Victor walked up beside them and tapped him on the shoulder.

 “Excuse me, is something---“

 The other man swung around, clearly exasperated, and shot Victor a long-suffering look. “This woman is completely ignoring the danger of a Bundimun infestation, can you believe it?”

 “I- ummm--- what’s a Bundimun?” Victor managed, because the man in front of him was much, much lovelier than he’d expected.

 He had bright, russet brown eyes behind blue framed glasses, and his hair, although messy, looked so soft and inviting that Victor wanted to run his fingers through it right there. His skin was light, but warm in tone, and he was slim and athletic looking, clearly muscular even under his dress shirt and (unfortunate looking) tie.

 Scratch that, he was gorgeous.

 “You know, it’s one of those little animals that look sort of like a fungus with eyes--- shoot acid and---“ The man’s eyes grew huge, and he let out a loud gasp that almost sounded more like a squeak. “Oh my god you’re Victor Nikiforov.”

 “Yes…”

 “And I can’t believe I said all that to a muggle, I wasn’t thinking I was just so caught in the moment that I--- shit, shit shit.”

 “Whoa, calm down,” Victor said, and he placed his hand on the other man’s wrist, because he’d started smacking the palm of his hand against his forehead and that wouldn’t do.

 “I’m going to have to obliviate you. I’m going to have to obliviate Victor Nikiforov,” he groaned, and Victor’s blue eyes grew wide.

 “Obliviate?” That word again.

 The man turned to the older woman and frowned. “I’ll contact the FBCV tomorrow. You’re right, they should be the one to take care of it. Knowing my luck, I’d just screw it up anyway,” he murmured the last part under his breath, but Victor heard it. His eyebrows creased in concern. The woman in the carpet bag robe looked wary, but gestured dismissively at them and went back inside.

 “Yes…”

 Victor frowned. “Obliviate. Does that mean you’re going to erase my memories of what happened?” he ventured a guess.

 “H-how do you know?” He had a sudden thought that maybe, Victor Nikiforov was magical himself, and his heart clenched. But if he were, he wouldn’t play unaware like this, would he? Perhaps someone in his immediate family was a witch or wizard?

 But all that was second to the fact that Victor Nikiforov was in front of him, and he looked as incredible as he did in the posters; wearing a red v-neck shirt and jeans, with his dog on a leash beside him. He thought that maybe photos and tv would make him look better than he did in real life, but if anything, Victor was even more attractive in the flesh.

 He felt heat rising on his cheeks and knew he was blushing. He vaguely wondered if Victor had noticed Viichan. Most muggles, if they did see him up close, would just assume he was a strange bird. But Victor was a naturalist. He’d know that there was no bird on record that looked like a Golden Snidget.

 “I umm, had a bit of an experience several weeks ago where I heard that word.”

 “And you remember it?” he asked.

 “Well they didn’t know I was there, so I guess they weren’t able to successfully…” He gestured in front of his face. “’Oblivate’ me.”

 “Oh.”

 Victor knew about the wizarding world. Well, sort of. Victor Nikiforov was right in front of him, looking magnificent, and he knew at least something about his world.

 “Your uh, dog is cute,” he managed, and what was that.

“Thank you. His name is Makkachin.”

 Yuuri already knew that.

 “So ah, before you erase my memory, since you know my name, can I know yours?” Victor asked, and there was something soft in his expression, like he enjoyed looking at Yuuri, which was silly, of course.

 “Y-Yuuri, Yuuri Katsuki,” he said, and his cheeks were redder than ever, he knew.

 “Yuuri Katsuki,” Victor repeated. Yuuri loved the way he drew out the ‘u’, loved the way it rolled off his tongue in that pleasant, soothing accent of his. Like his face, it was even better in person. “And who is that on your shoulder?”

 Yuuri started up, gripping his wand tighter in his hand. “It’s Viichan.” Short for Victor, but he wasn’t going to tell him that.

 Victor tapped his chin. “Not like any bird I’ve ever seen…”

 “It wouldn’t be. It’s uh, sort of like the Bundium.”

 “I’m not supposed to know about it?” Victor raised one eyebrow. Yuuri just nodded. He heard Victor take deep breath, then saw him close his eyes for a moment before reopening them. People still crowded the sidewalks all around them, but Yuuri hardly noticed them. “Do you ah, Yuuri, this will probably sound strange but, do you do… magic?” He pointed down to the wand Yuuri held in his hand.

 “Yes,” Yuuri replied simply, and he nodded firmly. “I’m umm, I’m… a wizard.”

 Victor’s mouth stretched into a smile, and was it possible for someone’s grin to be heart-shaped, because his was. “Wow! Amazing. Everything makes so much more sense now. Well… not everything but…”

 “Victor…” Yuuri clenched his wand. He did not want to obliviate this man. He had probably made himself look like a fool in front of his hero, but he still didn’t want his hero to forget him.

 “Yuuri!” Victor grabbed Yuuri’s wrists, leaning forward so he was much closer to Yuuri than he’d ever expected anyone this attractive to be, much less Victor Nikiforov. “Before you ah, ‘obliviate’ me, do you want to go get some coffee?”

 Yuuri froze up, and if he dropped his wand in shock, he could hardly be blamed. Victor leaned down and picked it up, surveying it for a moment (eleven inches, cherry wood with a dragon heartstring core, Yuuri recalled) before handing it back to him. “A magic wand!” he exclaimed, and Yuuri didn’t understand how he was buying all of this so easily. What exactly was his ‘previous experience’?

 He gulped and steeled himself. “Er, how do you like ice cream? Because I was heading somewhere to get ice cream and---“

 “Ice cream sounds great, Yuuri,” Victor interrupted, and the way he said his name caused butterflies to rise in his stomach again. “I have some questions to ask too, so it's opportune that I ran into you.”

 Yuuri let out a nervous laugh and scratched the back of his head. “Yeah I imagine you do, don’t you?” Victor’s expression turned pensive for a moment, and Yuuri frowned. “Say, ah Victor…. or um… Mr. Nikiforov?”

 “Victor is fine.”

 “I was just going to get muggle ice cream since you’re with me, but…” and he really shouldn’t have been doing this, but what other chance was he going to get to impress the Victor Nikiforov, “how does the idea of ice cream that never melts sound to you?”

 Victor let out a pleased gasp and nodded. “I’ve no idea what exactly that would entail, but I love it.” He gripped Makkachin’s leash and bowed down, gesturing in front of him toward Yuuri. “Lead the way, Yuuri.”

 And Yuuri should have cringed, because he’d just invited his muggle crush of at least six years to a magical establishment, which he absolutely shouldn’t have done, but he could not bring himself to care. He smiled brightly. “All right then, follow me.”