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Gentleman Caller

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“Is a three-piece suit too much for a Sunday brunch?”

Chris had to blink back his initial surprise.  It wasn’t the suit in question that garnered this reaction; after all, this was Victor Nikiforov he was dealing with.  It was the inquiry more than anything that mildly impressed him. To think his friend had the foresight to rein in his excessive personality…

“It might be,” Chris replied noncommittally, feigning interest in the outfit Victor held out to him for examination. He sprawled out a little more on the chaise, mouth cradled in the palm of his hand. “Maybe you’re overthinking things.”

Victor huffed, trying to summon a look of disapproval, but it turned into more of a pout. “Please take this seriously, Chris. My future happiness is at stake here.”

Chris couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “You really like this boy, don’t you?”

In lieu of a proper response, Victor merely stalked back into the wardrobe to locate more appropriate attire.

His mother had always been rather fond of that term—“appropriate”—and had used it often to softly reprimand her child. Victor Nikiforov had always been too something. Too loud. Too much. Too Vitya. “Appropriate” became Mrs. Nikiforov’s go-to phrase—one he didn’t care to take too much to heart despite his mother’s best efforts; God bless her. Even so, in her absence, Victor found himself falling back on her advice as easily as greeting an old friend.

“Is he really all that special?” Chris’s words said one thing; his tone, another. He smirked, anticipating the explosive reaction.

It was more subdued than he had bargained, Victor merely scoffing from inside the wardrobe and droning, “You’ve met him.”

“Indeed, I have.” Chris licked his lips appreciatively—not that his friend could see it with the other’s head buried in fabrics. “He certainly left quite the impression.”

Victor emerged at that particular remark, leveling the younger man with a glare over his shoulder. “I don’t want to duel my best friend over my beloved’s heart, but you may end up forcing my hand with comments such as those.”

Chris sat up from his relaxed position in a hurry, offering his hands in a placating motion. “Easy there! I wouldn’t dream of getting in your way!” He slumped over again—this time in a sitting position—when Victor’s shoulders relaxed. “While we’re on the subject though,” Chris further expounded, his air of nonchalance fully restored, “I would make a move soon if I were you. After that banquet, well… I’d be terribly surprised if he remained single much longer.”

“I’m well aware,” Victor snipped, looking particularly pained at being reminded. Having finally found a potential outfit, he began to pull on the ensemble. “If it were up to me, I’d have proposed marriage by now.”

Chris’s eyebrows shot up at that. “Isn’t it though? Up to you, I mean?” Courting was typically led by the eldest or more societally mature of the couple, and Victor was both, being physically older than his love interest and the head of his own household. Surely, this was more than enough to initiate a relationship, so why then was his friend hesitating?

Victor’s fingers, having been struggling to clasp the last button, abruptly froze. In an act of uncharacteristic reticence, he turned away, facing his standing mirror to ostensibly check his appearance. In doing so, he caught sight of his disheveled hair and idly began fiddling with his bangs. “It’s… complicated,” he decided after a moment.

“What could be so complicated?” Chris probed lightly, not at all used to Victor acting so demure.

Victor dawdled with that final button. “Ah, well… You saw him at the banquet,” he excused poorly.

“I did.” This time, Chris kept his provocative gestures to himself as not to incur his friend’s wrath. “He certainly wasn’t his usual wallflower self.”

“Right.” Victor took on a more determined expression, having found the words with Chris’s assistance. “He completely took charge. And, if I might be so bold as to say it, he was clearly interested in me—in escalating our relationship. I have no qualms in letting him direct further contact on his terms.”

Chris breathed out a quiet laugh. “And yet, you invited yourself to brunch.”

Victor smiled sourly, completing his outfit with a handsome top hat. “It’s been a week. I may be a gentleman, but I am a gentleman with standards, after all.”


 

“Oy, Yuuri! Someone called for you!”

Yuuri, having been bent down to examine the cherry blossom saplings he had been steadfastly stoking to life for months now, straightened his posture to meet his sister’s eyes. “Again?”

“Again,” Mari confirmed, leaning on one of the courtyard’s many columns. Despite her seemingly relaxed stance, her body was positively ridged with agitation.

Yuuri sighed, turning his attention back to the young trees under his care. “That’s the ninth one this week…” he muttered to no one in particular. “I don’t understand…”

Mari tossed her head back with a snarl. “Are you going to call any of them back or not? Because, at the moment, my entire existence entails sending suitors away and making excuses for you.” 

Yuuri flushed at that, abusing his lower lip to the point of irritation. He tore his attention away from his sister’s scrutinizing gaze to reach out and delicately trace a cherry blossom branch with the pads of his fingers. “I’m sorry… I don’t know why it keeps happening…”

“You didn’t answer my question, Yuuri,” Mari observed astutely, crossing the broad sleeves of her yukata over her chest.

“I…” Yuuri’s hand retraced back to his side, visibly trembling as he gripped a handful of his own Japanese attire in a vain attempt to steady himself. “I’m… waiting for someone else. Sorry.”

Silence stretched between the siblings. A strong wind rustled the foliage of the garden as though trying to fill the void with some semblance of sound, but it only served to give Yuuri a full-body shiver.

After several painstaking minutes of Yuuri refusing to return eye contact, Mari finally conceded. “I suppose that will do for now,” she stated, unfolding her arms to push off the column. The message was clear: “I’m giving you time, but I won’t be patient forever.” Yuuri could live with that; he would have to, considering it was the only option allotted to him at this juncture.

Left to his own devices, Yuuri returned his attention to the garden. The cherry blossoms weren’t his only projects, after all. He was making a valiant attempt at hosting a whole cornucopia of Japanese flora. Hopefully, he thought, it would one day succeed in bringing a bit of his homeland to the English countryside.

It was by the pond where the lotus flowers floated languidly that Yuuri noticed some well polished shoes make their way into the reflection of the water. He followed the trajectory of the pant legs accompanying them and found himself suddenly in the presence of one Victor Nikiforov.

“Oh, how interesting,” Victor commented blithely, a smile enlightening his smart features. “I came here looking for some beautiful flowers, but imagine my surprise when I found that the most beautiful thing in this garden is you.”

Yuuri scrambled to his feet, adjusting his glasses with panicked imprecision. “I-I-I thought you came here to talk to my father,” he settled with, finally forcing himself not to indulge in his nervous habit when he had adequately covered the lenses with fingerprints.

Victor’s expression fell for the faintest of moments—almost imperceptible—but he recovered just as quickly. “Officially, yes, but let’s just say there are certain perks to visiting the Japanese ambassador.” He adorned his statement with a wink, drawing another blush from the jumpy man before him.

“Let me…” Yuuri ventured forth before tapering off, and Victor’s traitorous mind filled in the gaps with predictions of grandeur: Let me court you, let me marry you, let me have you forever and ever and ever.

Unfortunately, reality ensued, as it often has the propensity to do; and like a mighty ocean tide, it cruelly dashed his hopes against the crags.

“Let me show you to the parlor.”

To his credit, Victor made a valiant attempt at keeping the disappointment from marring his carefully constructed countenance, but it proved to be a futile effort. “That would be lovely,” he assured, but Yuuri—ever keen at the most inconvenient of times—regarded him with the gentle lifting of an eyebrow.

For propriety’s sake, the other feigned ignorance and turned towards the manor, gesturing behind for Victor to follow.

Surely, if Victor didn’t offer it forward, it wasn't his place to pry, right?

Yuuri’s mother intercepted them in the foyer, and as always, she greeted Victor warmly despite the imposing language barrier between them.

“Yuuri,” she shifted in both subject and tone, casting a playfully stern look at her son’s clothes, “for guests?”

Yuuri made a soft questioning noise in the back of his throat, but the confusion was short lived as embarrassment teared across his face as sudden and vivid as a knife wound.

He had been gardening, and as such, was without shoes—dirt staining his skin in indiscriminate patterns—and his yukata was hiked up to his thighs. It was considered scandalous to so much as show your ankles, and yet, here was Yuuri Katsuki, flouncing around in hardly nothing as though he didn’t have a care in the world. And in front of Mr. Nikiforov, no less!

“I-I-If you’ll excuse me!” Yuuri forced out, voice breaking with the strain as he tore up the stairs.

Once the other man was safely tucked out of sight, Victor dropped the bulk of his façade, sighing forlornly at the woman of the house. “Ah, how cruel you are, Madam Katsuki,” he bemoaned, the protruding of his lower lip only half an exaggeration. “How could you stand to make him change when he looked so ravishing like that?”

Hiroko laughed—but only at the hyperbolic tone Victor adopted. Her level of English competency was far from fluent (as was her husband’s), and she and him relied upon their children in most instances to translate for them. With Yuuri out of the room, Victor felt safe in outwardly acknowledging his obvious pining.

He could have afforded, however, to have been a bit more conscientious about his surroundings.

“I suppose that makes you number ten,” Mari voiced, making her presence known from the antechamber across the hall.

“Ten…?” Victor echoed, tracking her movements with an air of suspicion as she emerged into view.

The woman leaned against the banister—nonchalance incarnate—but something was cold and calculated underneath the surface. She let the anticipation simmer a moment, and in the interlude, lit a Japanese-style pipe, slender and serpentine in design. “Ten,” she finally confirmed, breathing a cloud of smoke in Victor’s direction which he steadfastly ignored.  “You’re suitor number ten. Yuuri has had ten suitors come to call since that banquet last week.”

“Ten,” Victor stated dumbly again, but this time, it was spoken in abject horror.

Hiroko, not following the conversation, merely gestured at Mari’s pipe, urging her to remember her manners. She did—albeit irritably—and angled her body away from Victor, profile pronounced against the backdrop of the entryway.

It was nearly impossible to decipher whether Mari was taking pity on him or simply speaking out loud, but nevertheless, she quietly divulged, “He won’t call any of them back though. Says he’s waiting for something.”

“Something?”

“Someone.”

“Someone…”

“Mmm.” Another slow, winding billow of smoke. “’I’m waiting for someone else.’ That is what he said.”

“Was that all?" 

“Sorry.”

“I said, was that all?”

“No, sorry. He said, ‘sorry’ after that.” Mari groaned, the pipe dipping in her exasperation. “He has a tendency to apologize when he doesn’t need to and not apologize when he does.”

Victor hardly knew what to make of that information, but he catalogued it in his memory nevertheless.

“Whatever the case, you, of all people, don’t need to worry.”

“What do you—?”

“Come now,” Mari interjected, turning her back on the man and meandering in the direction of the parlor. “You came for brunch, and you will have it. You wanted to talk about political affairs with my father, yes?”

“I…” Victor tellingly cast his gaze back towards the top of the stairs where Yuuri had previously disappeared from sight. “Yes,” he decided after a beat of contemplation.

Simply adding to Victor’s ever growing perplexity, Mari smirked, something akin to pride smoldering in her gaze. “Yes…” She took a final drag on the pipe, looking every bit as devious and snake-like as the object. “Yes, you’ll do…”


Being the Russian ambassador, Victor really should have taken a better interest in these affairs, but despite himself, he found that his eyes kept gravitating towards the door, subconsciously seeking Yuuri and mentally calling out to him.

It wasn’t even that he wanted to begin a more intimate relationship with Yuuri (although, he certainly did), but on this occasion, he would have simply settled for Yuuri rescuing him from this tedious discussion about trade routes and embargos.

Agonizing was hardly a strong enough word for it.

Yuuri hadn’t even graced Victor with his presence during the meal, leaving him very much alone in the company of the rest of his family. (Did Yuuri not eat very much? He certainly drank a lot, if Victor’s short term memory was at all reliable. Was he eating enough? Eating properly? For some reason, these considerations came to the forefront of his immediate thinking.)

The exact moment Victor was convinced that he was going to finally keel over and be pronounced dead—death by a thousand tax cuts—his knight in shining armor arrived, poised to rescue his fair maiden from the tower.

Or rather, he was, at the very least, prepared to come in contact with polite society again.

Yuuri sleuthed into the parlor room—in a proper kimono this time; never mind the summer heat—and didn’t so much as offer a humble preamble to draw a modicum of attention to his presence. He merely took a seat an appropriate distance away from the tea table, keeping his head down as not to interrupt the no doubt riveting meeting between foreign powers. He even went so far as to open a book in his lap, well and truly detaching him from the idea of joining the discussion. Victor wondered, briefly, what he intended to accomplish or why he even bothered to make an appearance at all if this was going to be the extent of his involvement.

But then, just as Victor lifted a delicate teacup to his mouth, Yuuri caught Victor’s eyes and imparted onto him the smallest, most amiable smile.

That fond look transformed into a painful wince as the sound of fine china breaking on the floor resounded throughout the room.

“Oh.” Victor hardly recognized his own actions, staring down dully at the shattered cup. “I… That was my fault. I’ll replace it, Lord Katsuki.”

Mari didn’t strain herself to translate, merely waving his offer away. “Never mind. We have others.”

Victor swallowed. “Still…” His gaze—having not sufficiently learned its lesson—searched out Yuuri’s once more.

Yuuri seemed… conflicted, to say the least. It was as though half of Yuuri had seen straight through him, recognizing Victor’s oversight for exactly what it was; but the second half disbelieved the first and was mentally berating himself for having so much as even entertained the idea that Victor might, in fact, be entirely smitten with him.

Perhaps, thought Victor, he would have to be more direct.

“Yuuri, I—“

“Lord Nikiforov!” A young, plucky servant to the Katsuki’s—Minami, Victor’s brain helpfully provided—burst into the room. He bowed lowly but continued with just as much zeal, “There is a call from your estate! It seems you have visitors!”

Victor didn't give a damn about visitors—especially in comparison to finally testifying to Yuuri about the depths of his feelings for him. And yet, if he didn't depart immediately to receive his guests, it would reflect poorly upon his character.

Victor arose from the tea table, appearing in no small part chagrined. “Yuuri, would you see me out?” he requested, all the while adjusting his riding gloves. “I would like a word with you.”

Murmuring his assent, Yuuri abandoned his book face down on the chair behind him and strode over to Victor’s side, following his lead towards the entryway.

Once his hat and coat were properly replaced upon his person, Victor cast a pointed look at Minami, hoping the boy would get the message. He did indeed—none too tactfully—and let out an undignified squeak as he excused himself.

“Yuuri, I…” This was infinitely more difficult alone, Yuuri’s big brown eyes peering up at him with all the reverence of an art critic surveying a masterpiece. Victor suddenly had the urge to run his hands through his own hair to disperse some of the nervous tension but knew it would only succeed in knocking the hat from his head and further embarrassing himself. “I want to see you again. Would you allow me the honor of hosting you tomorrow?”

“Victor…” Yuuri’s own anxiety betrayed him, his eyes skittering to the side to engage in an intense stare down with the entry door.

“Please,” Victor embellished, finding and seizing the other’s hand, a little muddied from his earlier activities even then. Victor barely resisted the overwhelming urge to grace it with a kiss. “I want to build some trust in our relationship.”

“I…” Yuuri bit his lip—already abused to reddened perfection—and Victor had to tamper down the desire to kiss that too. “I… Yes, I’ll go—if you’ll allow me, that is.”

Victor visibly brightened, his hold on Yuuri’s hand tightening with the extent of his enthusiasm. “Nothing would delight me more.”

Yuuri nodded—mostly, it seemed, to himself—and the motion appeared to steel his resolve. “Then, tomorrow. When should I…?”

“Hmm?” Victor physically shook himself out of his pleasant reverie. “Oh, yes, of course. Is dinner all right with you?”

“Dinner would be wonderful,” Yuuri assured even as his face began to flush with the implications.

“Then I’ll send someone over for you at six,” Victor declared, tipping his hat cordially. “Good day, Yuuri.”

“Good day,” Yuuri returned, waving even as the door closed fully before him. He sighed, tension leaving his body in rush, but the bliss was short-lived as his Mari grumbled behind him. He spun around to meet her and observed that she was slumped against the wall—kiseru pipe in hand—and clearly had been nursing it for a while if the amount of smoke was anything to go by, which meant, undoubtedly, that she had likely witnessed the majority or perhaps the entirety of the exchange.

“Seems he forgot he has company,” she asserted before Yuuri could make a demand for his privacy, and he realized with a start that his sister was very likely correct and promptly forwent his plans to admonish her.

“Oh no, should I go after him? Or should I call him later? We may have to reschedule—“

“This isn’t your problem, Yuuri,” Mari dismissed, stalking over to peer through the window. She squinted at the glass in an attempt to catch Victor’s receding form but quickly gave up on the endeavor when it proved fruitless. “It’s his problem. If he needs to reschedule, he’ll reschedule. There is no use worrying in the meantime."

Internally, Yuuri maintained that he was going to worry either way and that no one was going to stop him—thank you very much—but opted not to forfeit these thoughts, merely sighing once more in defeat.

Even so, he was to have dinner with Victor Nikiforov. The Victor Nikiforov.

Yuuri’s mood could hardly stand to be dampened for the rest of the day.

Chapter Text

Victor Nikiforov, royally appointed ambassador of the Great Russian Empire, found himself in the presence of three… children.

“We’re not children!” the smallest and yet loudest of them insisted upon Victor making this initial observation.

Victor cocked his head at the boy, tight-lipped smile set to unnerve. Unfortunately, it didn’t have the desired effect, the boy merely scowling at the refined threat.

As such, Victor turned his expression on an easier target—one that was intimately familiar with the look and what typically accompanied it. “Yakov? A word?”

The old servant grumbled but nonetheless dutifully followed Victor into the study.

The instant Yakov pulled the double doors closed, Victor dropped into the seat before his desk and set to the task of appearing busy. “I don’t run an orphanage, you know,” he stated brusquely, all the while organizing papers that didn’t need organizing. “I have a very important position and do very important things, adhering to both His Majesty and Her Majesty. I don’t understand why I’ve suddenly been saddled with three delinquents.”

“Yuri may be rough around the edges, but he’s your parent’s friend’s son all the same.” Victor had perked up at the mention of “Yuri”—instilled with false hope—but quickly recognized his error and turned his attention back to the surface of the desk. It, unfortunately, did not deter Yakov, having long-since achieved an unperturbed state that only a lifetime of catering to Victor Nikiforov could grant. “When Yuri’s mother demonstrated an interest in her son going abroad, your parents volunteered you for guardianship.”

“Guardianship,” Victor repeated hollowly, hands stilling above the paperwork. “And…” He shifted gears—shifted tactics. “What of these other children? Mila and…”

“Otabek,” Yakov supplied.

Victor shook his head. “Yes, that one. What of them? Are you going to tell me that they are inexplicably acquaintances of my parents as well?”

Yakov’s frown settled impossibly deeper. “Your mother didn’t think it very appropriate for a young boy to travel such a distance alone. She insisted he take some friends with him.”

“Ah, Mother strikes again.” Victor barely restrained himself from rolling his eyes. “How very like her.”

“It’ll be good for you, Vitya,” Yakov assured, and Victor thought he almost sounded a bit hopeful. “It’ll teach you some responsibility.”

“I thought that was what Makkachin was for.”

Human responsibility,” Yakov clarified gruffly. When Victor’s only response was a blank stare, the old man drew closer with a frustrated sigh. “This isn’t about the children at all, is it, Vitya? Where exactly were you this morning?”

“Oh, you know…” Victor tried admirably to restrain the smile threatening to spill onto his features at the thought of Yuuri. “Places…”

The servant scoffed, unimpressed. “According to Lilia, you went to the Katsuki estate under the guise of meeting with the Japanese ambassador—“

“Which I did!”

“Oh? And since when have you been so conscientious regarding work?” Victor had no immediate counter-argument, and Yakov took full advantage of that. “You went for that boy, right? The ambassador’s second child?”

“And what of it?” Victor’s demeanor immediately iced over, as treacherous as an unforeseen snowstorm. He was well acquainted with that edge in Yakov’s tone, after all—that subtle, righteous disapproval born of prejudices that should have long-since been abandoned. He’s from the East, Vitya. He won’t be his family’s primary heir, Vitya. You could do better, Vitya. Victor didn't have to hear them for the criticism to be clear as day. “Do you have a problem with that, Yakov?”

Just as he anticipated, Yakov didn’t dare come out and say it, but his silence spoke volumes.

“If…” Yakov hesitated—a true testament to the intensity of Victor’s stare. “If you’re really keen on this boy, you may as well prove you have the skills to properly run this household—children included.”

Unwittingly, Victor’s face heated up at the implications.

“It’s just one summer—“

“The whole summer?”

“—and you’ll be free of them. Two of them aren’t even truly children. Ms. Babicheva and Mr. Altin are eighteen.”

Victor’s posture faltered, hand coming up to caress his forehead in indignation. “Then why, pray tell, am I in charge of them? Can’t they… I don’t know… watch each other?”

Yakov scoffed. “Just keep them alive and out of trouble. That is all that’s required of you.”

Victor dropped his head on the desk and groaned, “Fiiiiiiiine” into the mahogany. He popped up the very next second, making Yakov suffer a bout of whiplash at the speed in which his lord could trade out emotions. “By the way, Yakov! Yuuri is coming for dinner tomorrow!” 

The servant turned and grumbled, “Then, you’ll be entertaining both your guests and Mr. Katsuki simultaneously. It would be discourteous to dine separately.”

“But, Yakov—!”

The door slammed in finality.


 

The following afternoon, another door was slamming at the Katsuki household—but open this time.

“Minako-sensei, I need you!”

The governess startled, turning her attention away from the dance booklet in her hand to her frantic charge. She sprung up from her seat and smoothed the boy’s shoulders in a soothing motion.  “Breathe, Yuuri. Breathe. And just what is so urgent?”

 “It—it—it’s—!” A gasping of breath. “It’s… Mr. Nikiforov. He invited me over for dinner—“

“That's good, Yuuri!”

“No—no, that’s bad! Very bad! I don’t know what to do with myself!” He paced to the second-story window and gazed with abundant apprehension at the setting sun. “I don’t have much time left, and I’m not ready. I’ll never be ready.”

“Yuuri…” Minako strided over to her lord’s side and clasped his hands. “That’s fine. You hold yourself to such a high standard… No one expects you to be perfect, you know.”

“But Mr. Nikiforov is perfect,” Yuuri insisted, forcibly pulling himself out of her hold. “I couldn’t… I could never…”

Where Victor was too much, Yuuri was never enough. He wasn’t tall enough. He wasn’t confident enough. He wasn’t Yuuri enough. He often found being Yuuri to be exhausting and spent every chance he could get escaping into a book or a task or a pleasant reverie, using any means at his disposal to temporarily escape from his greatest enemy: himself. Victor could do better—probably would do better, given enough time. 

That thought alone had him reeling, tears springing to his eyes.

Minako could see that the other was beginning to spiral and knew she would have to take a different approach. Perhaps shocking him out of this state would do the trick, she thought. “You seem to be under the impression that something will come out of being in Mr. Nikiforov’s presence,” she observed. “Do you expect something out of this outing then?”

Bullseye.

Yuuri stumbled back against the wall, eyes widened in reaction to her scandalous statement. “E-e-expect? No, that’s not…! You misunderstand!”

“Enlighten me, Yuuri.” She returned to her chair and unfolded her reading material, figuratively placing as much distance between her and the subject as she could in order to coax Yuuri back into the discussion.

It worked marvelously, as Yuuri slumped into the seat adjacent to her, fingers locked together resolutely in his lap. “I… I get the feeling that something has happened—something I haven’t been made aware of.”

“Go on.”

“He’s… different,” Yuuri started, staring down at his hands as though they held the answers to the universe. “He’s still the same as before, but there’s something else now. Something purposeful. Something like…” 

“Intent,” Minako surmised, licking a finger in preparation to turn an unread page.

A long-suffering sigh. “Yes, exactly.”

Minako glanced at her lord out of the corner of her eye. His expression was neutral, staring out of the window with a distinct sense of obliviousness. If she had been a stranger, she would have been convinced by now that he was not entirely all there in the head, but she knew better. This was simply Yuuri Katsuki, pure and unrefined.

As such, she had to breach the topic gently.

“Have you spoken to Mr. Chulanont about this?” she asked conversationally, finally flipping that page.

“Huh?” Yuuri snapped back to the present. “Phichit? No, I haven’t. After that banquet last week, he accompanied his mother to a summit for Siamese ambassadors.” He narrowed his eyes at her—not necessarily menacing in the act, but at the very least, suspicious. “What does Phichit have to do with this?” 

“Simple curiosity,” Minako excused with the wave of a hand. “He tends to have all the latest information from the grapevine. I thought consulting him would prove to be beneficial.” 

Yuuri hummed. “I suppose I can ask him when he returns home, though I’m not sure what he’ll know, considering he’ll have been away for most of Mr. Nikiforov’s odd behavior.” 

“So, you can trace this then?” Minako questioned, unassuming façade falling away as surprise overtook her. “You know when exactly this change took place?”

“Well, yes. I suppose it started just after—" 

“Yuuri! Your suitor’s valet has arrived!”

Yuuri glared in the direction the voice had come from. “He’s not my suitor, nee-chan!”

“Not yet anyway,” Mari grumbled from downstairs—strictly for her own amusement, as there was simply no chance Yuuri could have heard it from that distance.

“Then—“ Yuuri extracted himself from his seat. “—I can’t leave them waiting.”

Minako smiled softly in a moment of uncharacteristic fondness. “As always, we’ll be here. Best of luck to you.”

With an acute nod, Yuuri treaded determinedly towards the entryway.

As he descended the stairs, Yuuri thought that he should have called Victor and informed him that a carriage wasn’t necessary. All ambassadors and their families officially lived on the same street—a very long and winding street indeed, but technically, the same street.  It started at the outskirts of London where city met suburb and stretched out inland, only beginning to dwindle off when it truly devolved into backcountry. Affectionately nicknamed World’s Avenue by those who thrived on it (though it had an official, entirely separate name), it encouraged good behavior among the foreign diplomats, as they were required to live in relatively close quarters.

After all, it was, as the Queen aptly put it, rather difficult to sustain a feud with a gentleperson you regularly rubbed elbows with at neighborhood soirees.

The Nikiforov estate was closer to midtown than the Katsuki residence but not terribly so. Perhaps a mile, maybe two.

Yuuri wasn’t overly fond of riding English in regard to riding horses, which was, unfortunately, required of him among the judging eyes of others; and as such, he found himself walking almost everywhere. It didn’t particularly bother him, as preferred those means anyway.

Yet, as Yuuri found himself face to face with Victor’s elderly governor that was there to collect him, he knew that he shouldn’t—no, couldn’t—start this night off on the wrong foot by denying Victor’s courtesy.

Imparting his best wishes on his sister for the remainder of her evening, Yuuri reached out for Yakov’s hand and allowed him to steady his ascent into the carriage. “Thank you,” Yuuri offered, praying vehemently that his nerves didn’t reflect in either his shaking hand or tone.

Yakov muttered a response, but Yuuri didn’t catch it. It might have been Russian. It might have been nothing at all.

“Um…” Yuuri settled himself into the seat, waiting patiently for Yakov to do the same before the horses. “And how is Mr. Nikiforov today?”

“Annoying,” the old man didn’t hesitate to answer, and Yuuri couldn’t even manage to be shocked in the short amount of time he was allotted before Yakov further elaborated, unprompted. “He’s insufferable like this—when he’s infatuated with something.”

“In-fa-tu-a-ted,” Yuuri pronounced carefully, jolting slightly when the carriage set into motion. “Wha-what is Mr. Nikiforov infatuated with?”

Yakov groaned. “I’m sure,” he expounded vaguely, “that you’ll be made aware of it soon enough.”

“Oh… I see.” But Yuuri didn’t see. He didn’t see at all. He attempted to collect his thoughts, intending to investigate further and perhaps cajole a bit more information out of the servant before they arrived, but the distance was far too short for a mission such as that.

Before he knew it, Yuuri was left in the foyer, Yakov disappearing into the deeper alcoves of the manor to ostensibly collect his lord (though he gave no such indication of that when he detached himself from Yuuri’s company at the door.)

Yuuri tried to sort himself in the unexpected, borderline peaceful interlude.

But then, there was a distinct rumbling like that of the galloping of horses atop cobblestone. Yuuri peered through the window, suspecting thunder, but observed that the weather was entirely regular. Besides which, it seemed that the noise was coming from the upstairs of the house.

And it was approaching at an alarming rate.

Suddenly, a girl—hair as red and fiery as Yuuri had ever seen—appeared at the top of the stairway, shadowed closely by two other youths. She leaned over the railing—almost precariously so—and gasped dramatically at whatever incredible marvel had caught her eye on the ground level.

Yuuri turned and looked behind him, attempting to locate the object of interest. But there was nothing.

It was with a start that he realized, in that moment, he was the object of interest.

“So, it’s true!” the girl squeed, bounding down the stairs at a breakneck speed. On the last step, she practically launched herself at Yuuri, leaving him little choice but to open his arms and accept her into his hold lest they both fall to the floor in a tangled heap.

She hardly noted his gallantry, pushing back immediately to get a better look at him.

“Wow,” she awed, squishing Yuuri’s cheeks in her hands. “How interesting! I’ve never seen a person from the East before!”

The most stoic and practical-looking of the children made an effort to pull her back, chiding, “Mila, he’s a human. Have some decency.”

Mila merely retracted back into her original position—one hand on either side of Yuuri’s face—as she continued to lavish unwarranted attention on him. “But, Otabek! Look at his eyes! They’re so beautiful!”

As much as Yuuri genuinely deplored being treated like a particularly amusing doll, he couldn’t say with a clean conscience that the comment didn’t set his face aflame.

The last child—the smallest but fiercest-looking of them—growled lowly in his throat. “Eh, he’s nothing special. I don’t see what is to get all excited over.”

Mila gasped as though she had been personally slighted, and to Yuuri’s eternal embarrassment, held his head to her chest, stroking his hair as though he were her newly gifted puppy. “But he’s so small and cute! You must be blind, Yura!”

“Th-th-that’s enough!” Yuuri finally found his voice and pushed away from the girl to crowd against the closed door behind him like startled livestock. “Please restrain yourself!”

Mila pouted at him, seeming disappointed but not nearly as deterred as Yuuri had hoped. At her side, the calm boy sighed. “I apologize on her behalf,” he stated, “for any past and future altercations.”

“At least let me look at your clothes!” Mila all but demanded, darting forward to take hold of one of Yuuri’s sleeves. “So colorful… And, wow, it has pockets! Look, Yura! Pockets!”

If possible, the other Yuri simply appeared more disinterested in light of this grand revelation, tone dripping with both aggravation and resignation in equal parts. “We have pockets too, you know.”

“But these are so deep!” Mila thrust her hand into the pocket of the kimono, bending at a right angle when her arm disappeared up to the shoulder. Yuuri gave an undignified yelp at this, trying and failing to jerk away. “See, Yura! Told you!” she boasted as the other Yuri gaped.

“Oy, let me see that,” the boy muttered, grasping onto Yuuri’s other sleeve. He reached inside, fingers probing as his hand met several yet-to-be-seen treasures. He grasped the most convenient item and lifted it up into the air. “What’s this? A stick?” he questioned, waving the foreign object back and forth. The motion caused it to unfold in a dramatic flurry, showcasing a Japanese landscape in muted colors. “Whoa…” 

“Boku no sensu!” Yuuri held out his hand expectantly. “Kaeshite yo!”

The other Yuri cocked his head. “Huh?”

Yuuri inhaled an unsteady breath and repeated his hand motion—this time more fervently. “That’s my folding fan,” he said mechanically, trying to maintain a certain level of calm he knew he didn’t possess. “Give it back.”

The other Yuri seemed to take this as a challenge and held it even farther out of reach. “Just let me see it for a minute!”

“Yura,” Otabek intervened. “This has gone too far. Return it.” He made to swipe the fan out of his friend’s hand, but the boy didn’t relent, easily keeping it out of Otabek’s reach.

“Yura—“

“But, Beka—“

“Please, give it back…”

“Yuuri!”

At that last exclamation, all eyes turned to Victor. The man crossed the threshold towards them at almost a sprint, and once before them, narrowed his eyes at the children reproachfully. “What is going on here?”

“It’s all right, Mr. Nikiforov.” Did Yuuri imagine it, or did Victor wince at the social distance he put between them? “We are simply having a…” The look he imparted on the group gave even little Yura chills. “… misunderstanding of sorts.”

Victor blinked dubiously at the statement. “They didn’t hurt you? I could have sworn… Do you realize you’re crying, Yuuri?”

“I am?” Yuuri reached under his glasses and lightly prodded the skin underneath his eyes. Damn, it was true then. He silently cursed his tendency to cry when frustrated. “Oh, I… Sorry. Pay no regard to this. I’m unharmed, really.”

Victor didn’t look the least bit convinced by this. He turned a particularly harsh expression on the children. “You’re very fortunate he is letting this go. Regarding the future, listen well: Yuuri Katsuki is an honored guest, not a plaything to do with what you will. He’s not yours.” A more petulant part of his mind pettily added, He’s mine, but he dismissed the thought the moment it occurred to him, lest he accidentally breathe it to life in a fit of passion. “Apologize this instant.”

“I’m really sorry, Mr. Katsuki,” Mila immediately acquiesced, and to her credit, she sounded entirely sincere. “We didn’t mean to make you cry, honest!”

The other Yuri merely shrugged, staring intently at anything but Yuuri’s eyes. Otabek nudged him, and the boy rushed out an apology all in one breath but otherwise showed no further sign of remorse.

“And the fan,” Otabek reminded, elbowing him the ribs a second time.

The boy scoffed. “All right, all right!” He thrust the fan into Yuuri’s hands and turned an expectant look on his friend. “Happy?”

“Extremely,” Otabek quipped, but everyone would simply have to take his word, as his tone betrayed nothing.

Victor wasn’t fully satisfied by the display, but it would have to do for the time being. He caught Yuuri’s gaze, silently pleading with his eyes for more reassurance. Mercifully, the message was received.

“I’m all right,” he reiterated softly, a small smile gracing his lips. It was this that allowed Victor’s shoulders to finally relax.

“Then…” Victor returned the smile, appearing more confident than he felt. “Dinner awaits.” He offered an arm, folded at the elbow. “Will you allow me?”

Yuuri only allowed himself a moment to be surprised before he responded to the offered courtesy, wrapping an arm around Victor’s. He stared up at the other man with a tilted expression, glowing with gratitude. “Yes. Please lead the way.”


 

As much as Victor resented the children for terrorizing Yuuri, he found himself, paradoxically, wishing they had harassed him just a touch more in order to give him a valid enough excuse to bar the children from his dinner with Yuuri.

Curse Yuuri’s overly forgiving demeanor. That personality that he loved so much—why had it betrayed him?

What he didn’t realize was that Yuuri was berating himself for much the same thing.

At least the conversation never lulled.

“Tell me about Japan!” Mila demanded more than requested, leaning excitedly over the table to get that much closer to her current obsession.

Quietly, Yuuri pulled his chair back the slightest bit to even out the distribution once more. “Ah… Well… I can’t speak for the whole of Japan… But what do you wish to know?”

“Just where you’re from then!” she clarified, practically vibrating in her seat in anticipation.

Victor subtly tuned in that much more at the change in topic, also curious to Yuuri’s origins.

Yuuri self-consciously nibbled on his lower lip but answered nonetheless. “I was born in a village called Hasetsu. It’s in southern Japan—by the ocean. It’s very beautiful, if you’ll allow me to say so. There are many flowers, and it has…” Yuuri grew quiet, brows furrowing in concentration. “Forgive me. I seem to have forgotten the English word.”

“That’s all right, Yuuri,” Victor assured. “I do that all the time.” He didn’t really, having a natural affinity for language learning, but what Yuuri didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.

“What are you talking about, old man?” the other Yuri, untactfully, called him out. “You—blyad!”

Victor smiled as he forcibly held the boy’s foot down with his own under the table. “Let’s not use that kind of language in front of our guests, yes?”

“What do you mean? He’s can’t even underst—fuck!

That had earned him a swift kick to the shin—one that actually succeeded in quieting the boy.

“Why don't you describe that word to us, Yuuri?” Victor suggested before the other Yuri could get his second wind. “It’ll be fun. Almost like a guessing game!”

“Oh, well… If you insist…” Yuuri straightened his posture as though he was physically taking up the weight of being Japan’s proxy—even for the most ephemeral of moments. “Then…” He gestured with his hands in a motion akin to smoothing over a flat surface. “It’s a body of water—“

“Standing or not standing?” Mila questioned, already fully invested in the game.

Yuuri blinked. “Standing…? I’m sorry—I don’t—it’s not a person. I’m fairly certain I said water…”

“She means, is it flowing like a waterfall?” Otabek explained thoughtfully.

“Oh, now I see.” Yuuri was grateful for the help. “No, not like that. It’s in a pool by itself. But it’s not a lake—the water is warm, after all.”

“Warm?” the other Yuri growled, incredulous. “How the hell could it be warm? You sure you’re not talking about a bath?”

“Ah—close,” Yuuri encouraged, paying no heed to the sting of the delivery. “People do bathe in it. But it’s natural—warm from the mountain.”

“Mountain?” 

“I think he may be referring to a volcano,” Victor corrected gently. “Is that what you mean, Yuuri? A mountain that is hot under the surface?”

Yuuri nodded, small smile doing all kind of unspeakable cruelties to Victor’s poor heart. “Yes, that. Thank you.”

Victor took a subtle deep breath, recollecting himself, and forged on. “Well, in that case, I believe what you are referring to is a ‘hot spring.’”

“Hot spring…” Yuuri echoed. He reached into his kimono and procured a small journal, pencil strapped to the spine. “Excuse me while I write that down.” 

Everyone at the table—even the other Yuri—watched with rapt attention as Yuuri dutifully catalogued the new information in a foreign script.

“What’s it called for you then?” Mila disturbed the thick trance that had encased the room.

Yuuri’s pencil halted on a complicated-looking character. “What is what called?” 

“Hot spring. What is it called in Japanese?”

Gradually, the most beautiful and unguarded smile washed over Yuuri’s face, and Victor noted silently that it was nearly seven broken teacups worthy. “It's called ‘onsen,’” he provided.

“Onsen,” the children copied, feeling out the new syllables. The other Yuri in particular looked plenty chagrined once he had a proper moment to process that he had done so with the others.

Yuuri returned the journal to its place in his sleeve. “Yes, just like that. You pronounced it perfectly.”

“Thank you for sharing with us. Now then—“ Victor gave a meaningful look to the children. “—perhaps now that we’ve all finished our meals, Mr. Katsuki and I can have a private conversation.”

“Great idea, Mr. Nikiforov!” Mila jumped to her feet, managing to startle everyone. She seemed to have caught on, though the same couldn’t be said for her companions. “Come on, Yura, Otabek!”

“Bloody hell, I’m not even done with—“

“Say goodnight, Yura,” Otabek said dryly, leading the other Yuri out of the dining room with a hand on his back. 

“Beka! Even you?” 

The rest of the conversation became muffled as the group relocated.

Victor turned to Yuuri, and despite the fact that hadn’t said a word yet, Yuuri cheeks were already a healthy shade of pink under the soft light of the candles. 

“You didn’t…” Yuuri swallowed, meeting Victor’s eyes. “You didn’t have to dismiss them like that. I was going to suggest much the same thing shortly.”

Victor was momentarily struck by the other man’s boldness, but beyond the initial shock, he found himself pleased in his choice of future partner. “Then, we are of the same mind. Is here an acceptable setting?”

“Here is… fine.” Yuuri kicked his chair an inch closer. Despite how small the move appeared, it felt like the crossing of a great chasm. “Do you mind if I…?”

Victor couldn’t suppress a self-satisfied smirk. “By all means.”

Yuuri closed the rest of the distance, the arms of their chairs coming to press alongside one another. “Thank you. I deeply appreciate it.”

Victor chuckled. “Not as much as I do.” 

“Then…” Yuuri fidgeted with the fingers in his lap. “I was thinking we could perhaps… talk a bit…”

Victor’s breath hitched. “About…?” he prompted.

“You,” Yuuri supplied simply. All at once, his eyes were all over Victor, taking in even the most minute of details. “I’d like to… get to know you more.”

Ah, so that’s it. Victor couldn't contain a sigh of relief. It wasn’t that Yuuri had been interested in him one day and then not the next; his fancies, evidentially, were not that fleeting. No, it was that Yuuri felt that they should become more familiarized with each other before they entered any state of courting.

It made sense—enough so that Victor was mentally kicking himself for it in hindsight. He and Yuuri had been at least aware of each other’s presence—they lived on the same street after all and had an overlapping circle of friends—but they hadn’t been at all close in regards to their actions until the previous week when everything changed. Of course Yuuri would seek a more intimate relationship before he initiated anything serious. Of course.

“I would like that very much,” Victor found himself responding, mouth moving despite his brain lagging miles behind.

Yuuri hummed, eyes finally landing back on his lap after his exhaustive search of Victor’s countenance. “Tell me about yourself.” 

Distantly, Victor felt himself nod. “Well, I’m Victor Nikiforov—“ 

Yuuri giggled, and wow, Victor didn’t know he needed that sound in his life, but now, he couldn’t entertain the idea of ever going without it. “I’m aware, Mr. Nikiforov.”

“Victor,” Victor corrected. “Remember? I told you to call me Victor.”

“Really?” Yuuri stared past the other man, trying to recall the instance. “I don’t… But you must have… Because yesterday…”

“Yes, you called me Victor,” Victor corroborated. He pulled Yuuri’s hands into his own lap and began carefully stroking the exposed skin with his thumb. “I hope this isn’t too forward for me to say, but I liked it immensely.”

Yuuri gazed down at their joined hands with a sense of surrealism. “Then, tell me about yourself… Victor.”

Victor barely suppressed a shudder, not recalling any instance when he appreciated his own name more. “Well, I’m the Russian Empire’s ambassador to England. I’m sure you’re familiar with what I do—what, with your father being in the same line of work.” 

Tentatively, Yuuri shook his head. “I… am more familiar with these things, naturally, but nee-chan—my sister Mari, I mean—is the one who will take over when my father eventually retires. So, I’m afraid I don’t know as much as you would expect.”

“You’re not missing much. It’s frightfully boring, I assure you. It’s paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork until something exciting comes along and everything temporarily devolves into chaos. Essentially, it’s long stretches of nothing pierced by moments of sheer terror.”

Yuuri smiled wanly. “Sounds tiring.”

“Sometimes,” Victor admitted quietly. He grounded himself on Yuuri’s hands—still resting comfortably on his own—and began the ministrations with his thumb again. “Let’s talk about something more pleasant, yes?”

Yuuri was becoming acclimated to the light touches—almost leaning into them. “Tell me about your hobbies then.”

“I enjoy ice skating, though the weather isn’t suited for it at the moment.” He continued at Yuuri’s encouraging nod. “I don’t read as much as I should, but I appreciate the fine arts, such as opera and ballet.”

“Oh, ballet!” Yuuri eyes practically sparkled at the mention of it. “Minako-sensei—my governess, I mean—is teaching me that right now. She…” His shoulders slumped forward in a bout of self-consciousness. “She says I’m good, but I think she may be a little biased…”

Victor had to laugh at that, joined hands shaking with the extent of it. “Oh, Yuuri, honestly… You don’t have to convince me of your competency in dance.”

A spark of recollection ignited in Yuuri’s mind, but it didn’t catch enough kindle to call back the memory in full. “What do you mean? When have you—?" 

“Lord Nikiforov.”

Victor’s own governess, lanky but domineering, stood at the dining room entrance. “A word, if you please?”

Victor considered for a moment. “Very well.” Reluctantly, he liberated Yuuri’s hands to follow her out into the hall. Yuuri only had a second to mourn the separation before the door was decisively shut between them.

“What could be so important?” Victor all but growled, terribly annoyed at the intrusion.

The disapproval was sharp and unmistakable upon Lilia. “You have to send Mr. Katsuki home,” she stated, straight to the point as always. “It’s getting far into the night. People will talk.”

“Let them talk,” Victor challenged. “See if I care.”

Lilia sighed at her lord’s naiveté. “If you don’t care for your own reputation, consider Mr. Katsuki’s—consider his family’s. It’s difficult enough for them to get along in a Western culture, but now you would stain them with rumors of promiscuity?" 

“Yuuri is not—!“

“But people will talk.” Lilia’s eyes took a slightly softer look. “Send him home. You will have more chances yet.”

Victor sighed. “Yes… Yes, I suppose you are right.”

He reopened the dining room, struck immobile in the doorway at the sight that greeted him.

Yuuri was writing in the dim candlelight, looking every bit like he was meant to be a permanent fixture in Victor’s household. Blissfully unaware of Victor’s reentrance, he continued to scrawl softly against the paper, a smile playing at the corner of his lips that was presumably a natural reaction to whatever pleasant thing he was so meticulously cataloguing.

Victor cleared his throat.

Yuuri startled. “Hayai desu—I mean, that was quick. Sorry.”

“You have nothing to apologize for,” Victor assured, taking a knee by Yuuri’s chair and capturing the other’s hands once more. “It is I who has to apologize. I’m afraid we must cut this short.”

Victor expected an interrogation as to the reason why, but it never came. Yuuri merely agreed, saying, “Yes, I should have left by now. Thank you for your time, Victor.”

“Of course.” This time, Victor did follow through with kissing Yuuri’s hand. Before Yuuri could fully register what happened, he was assisted out of the room. The escalation of events left him dazed but not unsettlingly so, a feeling more akin to the pleasant respite of alcohol than the foreboding sense of anxiety settling comfortably in his stomach. By the time he was before the front door, he was nearly buzzing underneath the surface with it.

Adding to that dreamlike state, Victor kissed his hand a second time, proving over again that the act was indeed purposeful. “I’ll call you,” he said simply.

“And I’ll answer you,” Yuuri replied before thinking, blushing profusely as he registered the ridiculous words. If it weren’t for how Victor looked at him—kindly and so, so achingly beautiful—he might have melted into a shameful puddle right then and there.

“Thank you. That’s all I ask.”

Chapter Text

"So, I heard that you had a scandalous midnight rendezvous with one Lord Victor Nikiforov last week."

Yuuri choked on his tea. "Where—?" He continued to cough violently, only abated when his friend took pity on him and hopped up from his seat to rather forcefully pat the other’s back. "Where did you hear that?"

Phichit returned to his place across from Yuuri, all the while smirking deviously. "Oh, I have my sources."

"They are greatly exaggerated, I assure you." Yuuri took another sip of tea, pointedly avoiding Phichit's eyes as he did so. It was no use; the tea was almost gone—not to mention suddenly flavorless—in the loaded silence. "It's..." Yuuri made the fatal mistake of glancing at his friend, the pleading look he found there drawing the words out of his mouth the instant their eyes connected. "It's half right, I suppose."

Phichit reached for the teapot and refilled Yuuri's cup. Admittedly, a little dripped off the side, being that Phichit’s attention was solely on Yuuri in that moment. "Do tell. Spare no details."

Yuuri huffed, sparing a glance at the garden. The saplings were coming in nicely—thankfully taking well to the British soil—but Yuuri severely doubted Phichit wanted to hear about that. “Where should I start…?” he muttered—more to himself than to Phichit.

“Well, did he propose?”

Yuuri sputtered a second time, tea dribbling down his face in a most undignified manner. “What?”

Phichit shrugged as though Yuuri was grossly over-exaggerating to a comment the former deemed as trite and commonplace as the weather. “Wouldn’t surprise me. So? Did he?”

No!”

Phichit’s brows furrowed at that. “Well, why the bloody hell not? Honestly, it almost offends me. At this point, I figured he would have at least had the common decency to let you ruminate on a profession of love.” His deviousness cropped up again, illuminating his features. “Shall I go knock some sense into him for you?”

“Phichit…” Yuuri sighed, elongated with the extent of his exasperation. “It’s not like that. He merely invited me to dinner.”

“Alone,” Phichit amended, covering it up with a strategic sip of tea. 

Yuuri shot him a scathing look. “Alone,” he conceded. “But I’m sure it was meant as a gesture between friends—nothing more.”

“Really?” Oh no. Yuuri didn’t like that look in Phichit’s eyes—didn’t like it one bit. “Well, I heard Lord Nikiforov got into quite a lot trouble recently.” He fingered the rim of his cup, tracing it round and round in lazy circles. “Something about making too many calls… Something about not being able to justify calling the Katsuki residence fifty times a day as a ‘business expense.’”

“It wasn’t fifty times—“

“A-ha!”

“W-well—!” Yuuri was suddenly overcome with the overwhelming need to defend Victor’s actions to Phichit—as well as the public at large. “He… He wanted to arrange another chance for us to meet, but…” Yuuri shrunk in on himself, the extent of his courage having been used up in the first sentence. “The embassy unexpectedly called him in for a large assignment. He told me that he hasn’t been to his estate at all—not in the past week anyway; that’s how busy he is. Not to mention, his parents are having him watch three of their friends’ children over the summer. We’ve been… talking back and forth in any spare time he has.”

“But then he got cut off,” Phichit communicated into his drink. 

“Not…” Yuuri colored, eyes averting. “Not completely…”

One of Phichit’s hands slammed against the garden table, Yuuri nearly jumping straight out of his skin at the striking noise it produced.  “This I don’t know! Tell me!”

Yuuri gulped audibly. His throat was inexplicably dry. It must have been because all the tea was ending up on the table as opposed to his mouth. “As you mentioned,” he began, “he was temporarily banned from making calls outside of work-related reasons. But he… found another way.”

Phichit leaned forward, chin resting delicately on his folded hands. “And that other way is…?”

The exact composition of the table before them was suddenly fascinating to Yuuri. Would you have called that a taupe? Or was it more of a maroon? “There have been… a series of telegrams—”

“Show me!”

“Absolutely not!”

Phichit’s lips quirked. “You answered that rather quickly. Has he not been a perfect gentleman…?”

That was a leading question if Yuuri had ever heard one. But perhaps it was not entirely unwarranted.

Their talks on the phone had been pleasant, but no boundaries had been crossed, both parties primarily sticking to safe subjects. Teasing had occurred—and rather regularly—but it had hardly escalated.

At the beginning, the telegrams were much the same. They had been the very picture of concise and professional—not a word out of place—but became progressively laxer with each new iteration, eventually devolving into haphazard poetry. 

Roses are red

Violets are blue

I don't know Japanese

But does this count as a haiku?

The "stop" at the end of each telegraph line messed with the rhyme scheme a bit, but Yuuri could hardly be bothered to care—not when his heart felt ready to burst with overflowing affection.

Not quite a haiku

But it's very beautiful

This is a haiku

(It's five syllables, seven, five.)

Again, the stops interrupted the cadence, but Victor didn't even notice. How could he when the entirety of his thought process was bombarded with only Yuuri?  

I think that I need

More words than that to describe

My feelings for you

The flustered telegram boy got quite a tip for that one, being sworn to secrecy with the majority of Yuuri's monthly allowance.

And that was the last telegram Yuuri had received as of that moment, having sent a reply almost immediately that explained that, while he deeply appreciated the sentiment, Victor really needed to be a bit more discrete—for both their sake's.

“I really don’t get to see them?” Phichit’s lip protruded in protest. 

A curt shake of the head confirmed his suspicions.

“Such a shame.” Phichit pilfered a cucumber sandwich off the tray to the side of the teapot. He spoke around the snack, muttering, “Well, we’ll all bear witness to it soon enough. If that banquet is anything to go by, it won’t be long now.”

“Hmm?” Yuuri murmured, still lost in thought. “What about the banquet?”

“You remember,” Phichit alluded wryly.

“I—“ Yuuri winced. “I… don’t… actually.”

“You don’t what?” Phichit questioned, distracted.

Yuuri fiddled with his sleeves. “Remember. I don’t… remember.”

Some cucumber made its way onto the table.

“Such a waste of food this afternoon…”

Yuuri!” Phichit practically lurched across the table in his incredulity, the rest of his sandwich forgotten. “You don’t remember? At all?”

“Um, well…” Yuuri found his sleeves again, wringing them like a wet rag. “I… remember going to the party. And I remember… waking up the next morning with a splitting headache.”

Phichit dropped his head in his hands. “Oh, Yuuri…”

“Please don’t tell me, Phichit,” Yuuri pleaded, white-knuckled and trembling. “It’s… safe to assume that I made a mockery of myself and brought shame to my family. But for me to hear a confirmation of such… I don’t think I’d be able to take it.” His voice broke on the last few syllables, tears collecting in his eyes, unbidden.

Since his friend wasn’t looking at him, Phichit spoke with a smile in his tone. “Yuuri, please, it’s not what you think. Well… It is, but it’s not nearly that bad.” When Yuuri’s only response was a sniffle, the other resigned himself to a fate of recounting the entire event. “Let me explain…?”

Almost imperceptibly, Yuuri nodded.

Phichit could breathe a little easier. “Then… Let’s start at the beginning…”


 

 “Yuuri, I’m dying,” Mari insisted, reaching for Yuuri’s hand as though she wanted him to read her last rites.

“Overdramatic,” Yuuri teased, but he held her hand all the same.

“But, really, I am!” Mari coughed as though to prove her point. Yuuri knew that she was indeed sick (as was their father), but it was hardly a matter worth dying over. A cold simply wasn’t enough to bring down a Katsuki—least of all Mari Katsuki. “You have to go in my place.”

“Go where?” Yuuri wondered aloud, using his free hand to draw the blankets tighter around his poor, stricken sister.

“Summer’s opening banquet.” Yuuri’s blood ran cold. “We were invited—everyone was invited. Someone from our family has to represent us and make an appearance.”

“Nee-chan, you know I’m not… good with these sorts of things,” Yuuri excused weakly, already beginning to worry his lip at the mere thought of it.

Mari huffed, appearing about as strict and intimidating as one could in a blanket cocoon. The striking paleness and sheen of sweat didn’t exactly help matters. “Well, I can’t go—not like this. And Otou-san is no better. We need you, Yuuri.”

“What about Okaa-san?” Yuuri suggested hastily, clinging to his last hope.

Mari wearily shook her head. “We need someone here to take care of us.”

“I can do it!”

“Yuuri…”

“Don’t… don’t make me.” Yuuri’s head fell, forehead pressed against his sister’s hand that was still clutched tightly in his. “Please, I’ll… I’ll only make a fool of myself.”

Mari forcibly pushed herself up and into a sitting position, allowing her to look her brother in the eye. “Look at me, Yuuri,” she ordered. Reluctantly, he did. “You’ll be fine. I have faith in you.”

“Your faith is misplaced.” It almost sounded painful to say, each consonant as sharp as the edge of a blade.

“It isn’t,” Mari jumped to defend him, as quick as a reflex. Yuuri merely shook his head. “You know,” she mused aloud, trying another approach, “Phichit is going to be there.”

Yuuri’s vice grip lessened the tiniest bit.

Encouraged, Mari expounded, “And Guang-Hong. And Seung-Gil. And Sara. And Leo—“

“And Jean-Jacques,” Yuuri shot back with contempt, a “two-can-play-at-this-game” vibe radiating off him in waves.

“Well… Maybe,” Mari conceded. “Even so, you should chance it. Who knows? You might even have fun.”

“Doubtful,” Yuuri commented humorlessly, throat still thick with dread.

“Call Phichit,” Mari instructed. “If he doesn’t convince you, I’ll give up.”

Yuuri narrowed his gaze in suspicion. “Promise?”

Mari sprawled back out on the bed, tongue lolling out of her mouth like a child’s imitation of death. “I swear it on my very life. Can’t you see that I’m on my deathbed?”

Despite himself, Yuuri laughed. “Fine. But remember that you promised.”

Discreetly, Mari smiled. “I wouldn’t dream of forgetting.”


 

A yearly banquet was given at the beginning of each summer, and that year, the responsibility had fallen on Russia. For one day and one day only, the Russian embassy threw open its doors, and foreign dignitaries and commonfolk alike were ushered into the imposing walls, momentarily struck blind by the glare off champagne glasses and twinkling chandeliers.

Music accompanied animated chatter, and before long, a proper soiree was in full-swing.

And that is where Yuuri found himself.

“How did I let you talk me into this?” he muttered, tone as dry as the champagne in his hand.

The question was rather rhetorical, but Phichit took the liberty to answer anyway. “It was easy once I reminded you Lord Nikiforov would be here. He is the host this year, after all.”

“Shh!” Yuuri hissed. “Keep your voice down or I will leave this instant!”

“Then, consider me mute for the remainder of the evening,” Phichit assuaged, comically miming the buttoning of his lips. “Though, I will have to talk to introduce you to people.”

Yuuri heaved a sigh of relief. “That… That is allowed.”

“Well, if I have your permission…” Phichit smiled over Yuuri’s shoulder. “… then here comes Lord Handsome now.”

“Phichit, I’m not falling for th—“

“Good evening.”

Yuuri nearly jumped a foot at the sudden voice behind him. He swerved to engage the stranger, assaulted immediately by the beautiful devastation of Lord Nikiforov himself. Not at all subtly, he glared at Phichit out of the corner of his eye.

“Evening, Lord Nikiforov,” Phichit greeted, outright ignoring Yuuri’s ill wishes. “Quite a party you have here. Thank you for inviting us.”

“And thank you for attending,” Victor replied easily, all grace and charisma. As though seeing Yuuri for the first time, he turned to him, and Yuuri fought internally with himself over whether or not he should turn tail and run. He couldn’t make a move though; Victor’s gaze held him entirely captive. “Who is your friend? A visitor from Siam?”

Yuuri forgot how to breathe.

Even bright, bubbly Phichit looked immediately uneasy. “Lord Nikiforov… This is Yuuri Katsuki. You know, Ambassador Katsuki’s son…?”

If it was at all possible for Victor Nikiforov to appear disheveled, he certainly did in that moment, eyes widening and lips parting in the cruelest of manners. “Ah, forgive me! You look… different.”

It was true enough. In a rare act of showmanship, Yuuri had donned Western clothes—a suit, no less—and his hair was pushed back, glasses absent from his face. It was to be expected. It was to be expected that people wouldn’t be able to recognize him, and yet—!

“That’s all right, Mister… no, Lord Nikiforov.” Victor flinched as though Yuuri had physically struck him. “You’re quite busy tonight. I completely understand.”

“Still, that is no excuse,” he insisted. “I should have known.”

Yuuri turned, unable to meet Victor’s gaze a second longer. “I… have to go.”

“Yuuri—!”

He fled, blending into the crowd and disappearing out of sight.

Victor brought his hand up to his head, gripping his fringe in demonstrated frustration. “That… certainly could have gone better.”

Phichit reached up and patted Victor’s shoulder in what he assumed—wrongly—to be a comforting gesture. “If you’ve made my friend cry,” he said, tone dripping with paradoxically warm malice, “you’re a dead man, Nikiforov."  

Before Victor could so much as react, Phichit gave chase after Yuuri.


 

By the time Phichit found Yuuri, the man had shot past inconsolable and gone straight into manic.

The alcohol certainly wasn’t helping.

“Phichit!” Yuuri hailed, waving a drink much harder than champagne back and forth. Its contents sloshed onto the floor, but Yuuri didn’t seem to notice—nor did he seem to particularly care. “This nice man—“ A hiccup and gesture with his drink hand. “—recommended this… this… whatever this is! It’s great! You should try it!”

Phichit ripped the glass from Yuuri’s hands and sniffed it. “Yuuri, this is scotch.”

Yuuri’s head slumped to the side. “Like… butterscotch? Candy?”

“No, Yuuri.”

“Oh.”

Yuuri stared at the glass in deep contemplation. As though it was a secret, he whispered, “Then, why does it taste so good…?”

Phichit merely shook his head and slammed the glass down on the bar with more force than was strictly necessary. “I think that’s enough for you. Do you want to go home?”

“What?” Yuuri looked absolutely scandalized at the mere thought. “Go home? But I just got here!”

“Yes, but I think maybe you should—“

Yuuri suddenly grasped Phichit’s hand, shaking his arm up and down excitably. “Look, Phichit! They have a piano! Do you think they’d let me play?”

“Probably not, Yuuri. They already have a pianist—“

“Then, I want to dance! Can we dance, Phichit?”

The younger man sighed. Playing the sober friend really wasn’t his forte. It didn’t seem like he’d be convincing Yuuri to leave any time soon anyway, so why not indulge him? “All right, Yuuri. One dance.”

Two dances!” Yuuri bargained as he dragged the other in the direction of the ballroom. “At the very least!”

Phichit rolled his eyes. Well, Yuuri was an excellent dancer—even drunk as he was. It would be enjoyable at the very least, and if it helped Yuuri to have some pleasant experiences to counteract the less pleasant ones, who was Phichit to stop him? No—Yuuri deserved to have a good time. Victor Nikiforov be damned.


 

Said damnable man sighed, forlorn.

Truly, it had been an accident. He hadn’t meant to not recognize Yuuri. Sure, they lived on the same street. Sure, they passed each other constantly at international conferences. Sure, he saw him just last week, tending to his little Japanese garden in the cutest sunhat, knees mottled with dirt, robe—yukata?—tied up sloppily, smiling that perfect little smile. Sure—

Victor downed another glass of wine way too quickly, grimacing more at himself than at the bitter taste.

And the thing was—the horrible, terrible, no doubt awful thing was—Victor thought he would be able to move on with his evening like nothing happened—that the interaction would roll off him like water.

Well, he couldn’t, and it didn’t.

It wasn’t that Victor didn’t care about Yuuri’s feelings (he did—very much so), but to be affected this much… Every time he closed his eyes against the bustling backdrop of the embassy, he was right back in that entryway, watching as Yuuri’s face fell with his callous words.

He had to find him and apologize properly.

Really, the last place Victor expected to find Yuuri was in the ballroom of all places, but he wandered in regardless. If he had to guess, he would liken Yuuri to a more light-drinker, light-mingler type than a belle of the ball.

Then again, Victor never was a very good judge of character.

The ballroom was surprisingly clear when Victor entered but not any less hectic. The same amount of people he expected to be there were there, but it was a controlled sort of chaos. His guests were merely clinging to the outskirts, making room for a more deserving party to dominate the dancefloor.

And dominate he did.

Yuuri Katsuki—demure, timid, quiet Yuuri Katsuki—was dancing with anyone he could get his hands on. He would briefly entertain one person before moving onto the next, swinging one partner out of rotation only to end up with another in his arms the very next second. Victor couldn’t quite tell if Yuuri was drawing them in of his own volition or if they were simply throwing themselves at him, but whatever the case, the outcome was the same. Off to the side, Victor observed that that man from before, Phichit, was unobtrusively but diligently trying to coax the other out of the limelight, but Yuuri clearly wasn’t having any of it.

Victor watched in awe as Yuuri suddenly broke the cycle to procure someone’s drink right out of their hands, throwing it back with all the practiced skill of someone twice his age. A rapturous cheer sounded through the hall, and Yuuri seemed to grow that much brighter and bolder with the praise. He made his way over to the ballroom’s orchestra and slid onto the lid of the piano with yet another glass of something in one hand—this one thrust upon him by an admirer.

It wasn’t meant to be, however, as the drink spilled onto the floor the very next moment when Yuuri used that hand to point at someone in the crowd.

“Omae!”

Confused whispers rippled through the crowd.

“You! Yes, you!” Yuuri’s pointing became adamant, and oddly enough, Victor dully noted, in his direction. “Mistaa Nikiforofu!”

“I think that’s you,” someone informed Victor not at all discreetly behind a cupped hand.

“I’m well aware,” Victor hissed back. He couldn’t do any more than that, however. He felt bolted to the floorboards by the weight of Yuuri’s stare.

Yuuri hopped off the piano and began a sinful strut to close the distance between him and his objective. Unhelpfully, the only thing Victor could think in that moment was that Yuuri’s trousers were much too tight—had he borrowed them from his friend?—and that his shirt buttons had come undone at some point, slivers of luscious, tan skin peeking out intermittently with each uncoordinated but all the same beautiful step.

Then, that man looked up at Victor—mere inches away—as his eyes smoldered with purpose.

“Dance with me.”

It wasn’t a question.

“What?” was Victor intelligent response. But he’d heard him. Oh, he’d heard him quite clearly.

Evidently, Yuuri had traded all of his remaining sobriety to say that last sentence steadily. “I’m challengin’ you,” he tried to clarify, swaying slightly.

Victor, miraculously, had the presence of mind to recognize the absurdity of this request and began to chuckle. Yuuri just glared at him harder. “’Challenge’? Yuuri, a dance is a dance. It’s a mutual experience.”

“Nu-uh,” Yuuri disputed, placing his hands resolutely on his hips. “Not the way I do it. And it doesn’t matter what you think ‘cause I’m gonna win.”

“Oh?” Victor smiled, indulging him. “Is that so?”

Yuuri nodded, shaky but determined. He spun around to address the musicians and questioned, “Can you do a flamenco?”

The members of the band looked dubiously at each other, eventually shrugging and beginning a snappy number.

Victor vaguely recognized that it wasn’t a true flamenco—just a clever imitation—before all other thought processes were extinguished as Yuuri pulled him into a proper dance position with a hand clasped in his and the other wrapped around Victor’s waist.

Yuuri was leading.

That wasn’t proper. He was older. He was higher in status. This was his party, for Christ’s sake. And yet, Victor found that he couldn't care less. Yuuri looked so charming like this—his little nose crinkled just so, passion alive in each sway of his hips. Victor would happily stay in this position forever if Yuuri would only let him.

It was with that sentiment that he was rudely reminded that Yuuri was furious with him in that moment.

“Yuuri—“

“Shut up.”

Victor had never been so offended in all his life, but at the same time, he desperately wanted Yuuri to tell him to shut up again. Except slower. Sultrier. Preferably in a different location. His bedroom perhaps…?

Even so, he had a reputation to uphold.

“I beg your pardon?"  

“Tryin’… I’m tryin’ to concentrate here.”

Oh.

“Shall I take over?”  

Yuuri dipped Victor in that precise moment. As if to personally spite him, it was a technically perfect maneuver. It seemed that even a copious amount of alcohol wasn’t enough to greatly offset Yuuri’s muscle memory.

“You are quite good at this,” Victor remarked from his position, getting an eyeful of the ballroom’s extravagant domed ceiling.  

Yuuri smirked above him. “I told you I’m gonna win.” He pulled Victor back up and into an immediate spin, their bodies uncoiling and recoiling accordingly to accommodate the grace required for such a move. “You’re not s’bad yourself,” Yuuri conceded when they were facing each other once more.

“Thank you,” Victor replied easily. “Though, I do believe you have bested me soundly. If you can dance like this sloshed as you are, I can only imagine the extent of your ability sober.”

Yuuri looked exceedingly pleased at this. “You flatterer. Keep talkin’ like that, and I suppose I’ll hafta forgive you for earlier.”

Victor’s face fell, eyes skittering to the side at the unwelcome reminder. “Ah, right. I should apologize properly for that.”

“You could start,” Yuuri suggested slyly, leading the other into another step sequence, “by gettin’ me another drink. An’ then dinner sometime?”

Victor flushed. “I-I…” To make Victor Nikiforov stutter of all things! “I think you’ve had enough to drink. But dinner… could be arranged.”

“A’right.” Yuuri leaned in, breath hot on Victor’s cheek. “You do dinner, an’ I’ll handle drinks. Then, we can take this to the next level, yes?”

This was completely out of line. Inappropriate even. Victor took a moment to thank every deity under the sun that neither his mother nor Yakov was here to witness this blatant disregard for social decorum.

The proper thing to do would have been to decline. He should have disputed it—told Yuuri off for daring to assume he was that easy. He should have explained in great detail—straight to Yuuri’s face—that Victor Nikiforov was not, in fact, weak for a cute accent and big brown eyes and a ridiculously extensive dance repertoire.

Except that he was. Oh, he was, he was, he was.

The time to play hard-to-get had long since passed.

Victor swallowed. “I—“

Yuuri led Victor and himself into a final pose as the last notes faded from the faux-flamenco.

A lift. It was a god damn lift. Victor almost couldn’t believe it—wouldn’t have had it been anyone else in his position, but his feet being separated from the floor was rather convincing evidence. Applause roared dully in their ears, but Victor couldn’t hear it; his heartbeat was much too distracting.

“Yuuri!"  

Yuuri, mercifully, placed Victor back on the ground before he turned to his friend. “Oh, Phichit! There you are!” A slight roll of the head. “Where’d you go?”

“Where’d I…? Yuuri, I’ve been here the whole time! Didn’t you see me trying to usher you off the dancefloor earlier?” Phichit, from what Victor knew, was a fairly laidback person, but in that moment, he communicated exasperation in each and every facet. About how long had he been chasing Yuuri around the venue? Victor had to wonder.

“Oh… Really?” Yuuri rocked back on his heels precariously, compelling Victor to place a hand on the small of his back lest he take a nasty fall. “That’s funny… Why would you try to get me to stop dancin’? I’m winnin’. Right? I’m winnin’, aren’t I?” Yuuri whirled his head around to invoke Victor, silently imploring the man to corroborate his statement with his eyes.

It took Victor a full minute. “Ah… Yes! Yes, of course. I told you as much, didn’t I?”

“See?” Another sway—another instance in which Victor’s heart practically lurched out of his chest. “I’m winnin’. You’re so funny, Phichit!” Yuuri’s laugh tapered off into a snort, and it was with great shame that Victor felt compelled to add that particular quirk to the steadily growing list of “Things Victor Nikiforov Is Definitely Not Weak For.”

“Right, right, winning, of course,” Phichit assured blandly, not at all bothering to school his expression into complementing his words. “But I think that is quite enough for one night.” He grasped Yuuri’s hand and began to chaperone him towards the door. “’Always leaving them wanting more’ and all that. You know how it goes. Say good night to Lord Nikiforov.”

“Oh, are we—?” Yuuri turned even as his friend began to drag him across the dancefloor, waving widely as though he thought Victor would somehow miss the gesture if he didn’t turn it into a proper spectacle. “Good night, Mr. Nikiforofu!”

Victor stood, stunned. Only after a beat did he return the wave. “Victor!” he called out, feeling impulsive.

By way of response, Yuuri clung to the frame of the ballroom entrance, effectively halting his progress. He laughed, light and airy, and then, in the same fashion, called back, “Yuuri!”

Oh, Victor could kiss this man. Victor could, and Victor would.

“No, I meant that you can call me Victor!” he clarified. If the judgmental stares were anything to go by, he was well and truly on his way to creating a scene, but Victor couldn’t find it in himself to care.

“A’right! Good night, Victoru!”

The softest sound slipped through Victor’s lips—not dissimilar to the quiet affirmation someone would make to themselves when finally finding two puzzle pieces that fit together.  

Except that Victor had been struggling for twenty-seven years to make a complete picture, forcing ill-fitting pieces into even less fitting slots, and the sudden shift from the wrongness of that feeling to the rightness of this one—having only ever felt the former—was like discovering a sense of belonging in a country he had never visited.

He was home.

Oh, Victor thought, and all he could do was laugh. I’m in love.


 

Yuuri’s face felt like it was burning in the cradle of his hands. “I…” The words were muffled but more or less intelligible. “I did all that?”

“Mmm…” Phichit seemed to consider. “There’s more, but the information is secondhand. I did lose track of you for a while, so I’m afraid the rest is hearsay.” He waved a hand as though dismissing it. “I wouldn’t worry about it.”

But I would, Yuuri countered inwardly. However, instead of giving voice to the extent of his bitterness, he instead dropped his hands and asserted, “Then, it is imperative that I meet with Mister—with Victor. As awkward as it will be, I have to excuse myself for the behavior I exhibited.”

“A nice, long talk between you two would probably do a world of good,” Phichit agreed. He subsequently smiled—the same way he had at the banquet when Victor had been behind him, Yuuri suddenly remembered—and crooned, “Speak of the devil…”

Yuuri was almost afraid to look, but curiosity soon got the best of him.

A person was rapidly striding across the garden, but it wasn’t, as Yuuri had embarrassingly hoped, Victor.

Just Yuuri's luck. It was the same telegram boy from last time. Surely, he'd be getting the remainder of Yuuri's savings in exchange for keeping whatever embarrassing thing was written on the latest message to himself.

"Telegram," the boy announced sheepishly, waving the relevant piece of paper flimsily in one hand.

Yuuri couldn't hold in a groan as Phichit smirked at him from across the table. "Read it," his friend urged. "I'm sure Mr. Katsuki is ecstatic to hear back from Lord Nikiforov."

The boy cleared his throat. "Then... From Lord Victor Nikiforov. ‘Understood.’ Stop. ‘Finally, work has lessened.’ Stop. ‘Join me at ten A.M. at the embassy?’ Full stop."

"Join him...?" Yuuri's eyebrows furrowed. He was thrown off. Not only had the message been entirely normal, but it was also incredibly vague. "Join him for what?"

The telegram boy took out a fresh sheet of paper and pen, inquiring, "Would you care to respond then?"

"Yuuri, don't ask him what he means," Phichit interjected, eyes twinkling with mischief. "It'll be more fun if it's a surprise. Just say yes."

Yuuri didn't like uncertainty—not at all. Then again, would it really be so terrible to be surprised? Surely, Victor only had the best of intentions.

Before he put too much more thought into it, Yuuri turned to the messenger and informed, "Here is my reply to Mr. Nikiforov: ‘Yes.’ Full stop."

"That's all?" he questioned, casting Yuuri a skeptical look. 

Yuuri hesitated. "Fine. Rewrite it. ‘I would love to.’ Stop. ‘Let’s end this.’ Full stop."

The telegram boy didn't push him a second time. "Then..." He tipped his hat. "Good day."

"Good day," Yuuri and Phichit echoed, watching as the messenger mounted the bicycle he had been towing behind him and exited the garden.

“’Let’s end this’?” Phichit questioned when boy was out of earshot. “Rather foreboding, isn’t it?”

The panic was swift and merciless.

“I-I just meant that we should end the confusion between us and clear up our misunderstandings!” Yuuri nearly shrieked, hands flittering before him as though they had a life all their own. “He’ll definitely understand! Right? Right?”

“I don’t know about that…”

Yuuri was up immediately, cradling exotic fabrics in his arms as he scrambled towards the road. “Wait! Mr. Telegram Boy! Please, wait! Matte! Matte yo!”

But it was too late. The boy was gone—message and all.

Chapter Text

“’Let’s end this.’ Full stop.”

Victor drummed his fingers over the surface of his desk. “Let’s end this,” Yuuri had said—or rather, sent. Those words instilled a sense of fear in him that he honestly didn’t realize he was capable of experiencing. Quite the feat, really, considering the Czar of Russia flirted with the concept of world conquest on a near daily basis.

Oh, the paperwork.

Ironically enough, the Czar’s favorite target was a little “forbidden kingdom” off the eastern coast called Japan. He had a bit of a fixation it seemed, very keen on invading it at the most inconvenient of times (not to say, of course, that there ever was a convenient time for war.) And while it did give Victor plenty of opportunities to visit Yuuri, those meetings were always under duress, which was, quite frankly, the wrong ambience to go about building a lasting relationship in.

And then there was this one.

“I’m just saying that the honor of hosting summer’s closing banquet should naturally be bestowed upon France.” The man across from Victor motioned with his hands, hooking his thumbs in an inane gesture. “After all, we are Britain’s most valuable ally!”

“Ah, yes… As you have reminded me.” Many, many times, Victor tacked on mentally.

“Yes! I’m glad you agree!”

He really hadn’t, but Victor felt no desire to correct him.

This man, John… or Jace… or Jove… Well, Mr. Something-Or-Other was the ambassador of France, which he had no qualms about announcing both constantly and loudly. Victor could never quite remember his name, but what he truly wanted to forget was his personality.

While Victor tended to agree that loyalty to one’s country was rather healthy, this man, evidently, didn’t believe in doing things by halves. In fact, he paraded around with such a strong sense of chauvinistic elitism that it regularly put local British Tories to shame. It seemed that no matter the circumstances, he was wholly convinced that France was the epitome of influence and sophistication, ready to remind people of it whenever some poor bastard inadvertently afforded him the opportunity.

And now he was in Victor’s office, going on and on about monotonous affairs since he apparently had nothing better to do with his morning.

God, couldn’t Victor agonize over his impending conversation with Yuuri in peace?

“’Let’s end this.’ Full stop.”

Victor fought off another chill. What did it mean? Victor knew he had a bit of a tendency to jump to conclusions in leaps and bounds, but was it really over-exaggerating when the message seemed so blatantly obvious? Of course, Yuuri had preceded the ensuing bombshell with “I would love to,” which only served to complicate matters even further.

Love! He had actually used love! Victor couldn’t confidently state that he’d ever heard Yuuri say the word in his presence. Even through the filter of an impartial messenger, the sheer knowledge that Yuuri had used the term—that Victor had been the one to inspire said usage—sent a shiver of delight down his spine. Surely, Yuuri wouldn’t have used “love” if he had grown weary of Victor; it seemed contradictory at best and downright cruel at worst.

Could the confusion have stemmed from the language barrier? Victor had assumed—perhaps foolishly—that this particular element was a non-issue. Admittedly, Yuuri seemed to forget English words on occasion, but that didn’t necessarily indicate a lack of understanding. After all, they had communicated effectively up until this point, hadn’t they? Still, mistakes were easily made. Was this simply a product of poor phrasing then?

Even if it was, Yuuri clearly wanted to “end” something. End what? Them? Their relationship? Victor practically felt his heart being systematically torn by the seams at the mere notion.

“’Let’s end this.’ Full stop.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Victor’s eyes jerked up to meet John-Jove-whatever’s, and he realized in that moment that he had carelessly forfeited the private message aloud in the midst of his musing. “Forgive me, Mister… Milord.” A masterful save if Victor did say so himself. “I was merely reflecting on a recent telegraph.”

“Oh?” Jace-what’s-his-name looked immediately intrigued at this. He leaned back against his chair, clearly pining for an air of nonchalance, though he was barely suave enough to entice misguided triviality. “From whom?”

Victor debated within himself for a minute. Yuuri had mentioned a desire for anonymity, after all, and he would respect his wishes. Still, if Victor redacted the subject matter, would it really qualify as a breach of trust? Surely not. And if Victor was being honest with himself, he desperately needed some advice on the matter—or at the very least a distraction until Yuuri arrived and quelled all his fears.

“I’m not sure you’re familiar with him, but it was from Mr. Yuuri Katsuki of—“

“Yuuri Katsuki!” By god, this man was loud. “You’ve heard from him recently?”

Victor took in the French ambassador’s sudden change in conduct. Gone was the feigned apathy, replaced entirely by unguarded enthusiasm. He looked a bit too eager to hear about his Yuuri, Victor quietly seethed, and put in that much more effort to appear unfazed by the other’s transformation, smile strained as though the structural integrity of the expression had been severely compromised. “Perhaps I have. What of him?”

The man huffed, folding his arms tightly in front of him. “I’ve been trying to contact him for a while now—ever since the last banquet, in fact. He’s notoriously hard to get ahold of, but I really thought we had a connection at the party. Don’t you think so, Mr. Nikiforov?”

Victor’s lips quirked impossibly higher, hardly reflecting human emotions anymore. He could have sworn he heard glass shattering somewhere in the distance, but since John-Jacob-who-the-hell-knows didn’t so much as flinch, he had to assume the sound was wholly internal—a soundtrack to his rapidly deteriorating mental state.

But Yuuri didn’t reply to this man, Victor reminded himself. Yuuri replied to Victor. Often. Repeatedly. To his complete satisfaction.

There was a double entendre in there somewhere.

Victor really should have been focusing on other things.

“I am very, truly sorry,” Victor said, all the while giving every indication that he was the exact opposite. He even went so far as to pause briefly, reveling in the confusion displayed on the other man’s face. “But I don’t recall you and Yuuri ever interacting. He hasn’t mentioned you at all—not even once!”

The white noise was deafening in Victor office, crackling in the background like static. Victor glimpsed at his phonograph out of the corner of his eye, curious if a record had been left out to play too long. But no. Nothing of the sort.

“I see,” Jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none murmured after an interminable silence, and Victor almost felt something akin to remorse. He knew that if it had been him in the man’s shoes—shunned all but completely by the ever-lovely Yuuri Katsuki—he, too, would have been devastated.

Before he could feel too badly, however, Georgi knocked at his door and invited himself in. “Forgive me for interrupting,” Victor’s secretary excused. He stared openly at the French ambassador, not a bit of the man’s dejected demeanor going unnoticed. It only served to further bolster Victor’s ego. “But a Mr. Yuuri Katsuki is here to see you.”

Ah. Right. Victor had his own problems.

“Show him in, please.”

“This is my chance!” James-Joan-whoever shot out of his seat, fists clenched determinedly. Wasn’t he upset mere seconds ago? Victor could hardly keep up. (Was this what Yakov felt like every day?)

“Mister—Milord, I’m not sure that’s advisable—“

“Victor, I need to tell you—!” Yuuri seized in the doorway upon spying an unexpected figure, eyes wide like a deer caught in a hunter’s sights. Clearly, whatever he had wanted to say still laid unpleasantly on his tongue, subtle twitches of his lips a testament to that. “Mister… Mr. Jean-Jacques Leroy, correct?”

Victor barely had a moment to process that Yuuri somehow knew the French ambassador’s name before the newly christened “Jean-Jacques” assumed his signature pose. “Oh, you remembered? To think, I was worried that you had forgotten all about me!” He stalked across the room and pilfered Yuuri’s hand, dropping a kiss onto the back of it. Victor didn’t miss how Yuuri retracted from the gesture as though he’d been burned.

“Ah… Well… How could I forget? You’re rather… memorable…”

That was certainly a term for it, yes.

“Thank you!” Jean-Jacques ignored (or perhaps didn’t notice?) the underlying message of Yuuri’s words. His smile was all teeth as he further encroached upon Yuuri’s space. “Truthfully, I have been trying to talk to you for what seems an eternity now. It seems that your sister has been keeping us apart. Ah, two people in love, separated by familial tension. It’s very romantic! Like Romeo and Juliet.”

L-l-love?”

No, no, no. This was not how Victor had wanted to finally experience Yuuri saying that beautiful word in his presence. Cruelly, it was even better than Victor had imagined, strained dually by Yuuri’s accent and incredulity.  But why did it have to be directed at that man of all people?

“Mister… or Monsieur…? I’m not sure anymore, but whatever the case—!” Yuuri took a sharp inhale of breath, some semblance of normal pigment returning to his skin. “You’ve got it all wrong! Yes, my sister probably sent you away, but it was only because I asked her to!”

Somehow, this latest silence was even heavier than the one before.

“I mean—!” Yuuri dropped into a bow, hiding his panic-stricken expression behind a curtain of inky black bangs. “Please forgive me, Mr. Leroy, but I’m waiting for someone else!”

“Ah,” Jean-Jacques articulated dryly, and Victor had to admit that the rate in which he recovered was somewhat admirable. “I understand." 

Yuuri glimpsed up, not quite falling out his bow just yet as though he was suspecting a trap. “You do?”

“Of course!” Just as loudly as before, the man declared, “You’re shy! You don’t feel worthy of Jean-Jacques Leroy! A completely natural reaction!”

Oh… How tragic.

Perplexingly, Yuuri seemed to perk up at this, cautiously righting his posture and wringing his hands in front of him. “Oh, you do understand, Mr. Leroy.” His tone was that of someone talking down to a child, assuring them with rounded consonants and placid smiles that their precociousness was oh-so precious. “You’re so right. How could I ever measure up to you? I would tire myself out trying.” He batted his eyelashes at that, and Victor thought he saw just a bit of the Yuuri from the banquet peeking out, poised to toy with his prey.

Victor tugged at his collar.

“I can see how you would think that!” Jean-Jacques missed the subtle nuances entirely, Yuuri’s ploy readily received. “Fear not! I know that I’m a lot to take in, so I will grant you some time to grow accustomed to the idea.”

“My, how kind.” Yuuri kitten-licked his lower lip, and Victor’s eyes followed the motion with pinpoint accuracy. “You certainly know your way around, don’t you, Mr. Leroy?” A tentative but determined step forward. “Know how to grab someone’s attention, huh, Mr. Leroy?” Another step. “To keep them coming back for more, right, Mr. Leroy?” A palm placed just above the heart, searing with heat despite the layers. “Well…?”

Victor couldn’t remember a time in which the French ambassador was ever speechless, and yet, here he was, paralyzed with an expression that in any other instance Victor would undoubtedly laugh at.

But who was he to judge? Yuuri hadn’t even touched him, and he felt absolutely wrecked.

“Yes—“ Jean-Jacques cleared his throat—solely for dramatic effect and definitely not because his voice was a little shrill. “Yes, of course. Then, I’ll… take my leave.”

“Mmm.” Yuuri retracted his hand, smirking all the while. “You do that.”

Almost mechanically, Jean-Jacques marched out of the office, not being able to stop himself from recurrently stealing glances back at Yuuri, once running into the doorframe because of it. Yuuri laughed, but he managed to make it sound endearing instead of patronizing.

At last, the door shut, leaving Yuuri and Victor to themselves.

Yuuri dropped into the chair previously occupied by the French ambassador and sighed heavily into his hands. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry you had to see that.”

Despite all his conflicting feelings, Victor found himself shaking his head. “No, I should be thanking you. You got him to leave, didn’t you?”

Yuuri smiled obliquely.  “I’m sure he means well, but…” The rest remained unsaid; they both more than understood what Yuuri was getting at. 

“Then…” Victor prompted, leaning slightly forward. “You wanted to tell me something, yes?”

Immediately, Yuuri’s body was ridged with unease. “Ah… Yes… But… it’s rather… complicated…? I don’t know how to… go about…” He slumped further in the seat, physically as well as mentally curling away from the impending confrontation. Then, so quietly Victor almost didn't catch it— “I’m sorry…”

He was losing him. Time was of the essence if Victor was hoping to coax Yuuri into the long-overdue conversation that they had both been tiptoeing around for some time now. But Victor wasn’t Jean-Jacques; he wouldn’t force his own voice over Yuuri’s in a vain attempt to trap Yuuri into a confession. That simply wasn’t him.

He would meet Yuuri where he was.

“Do you like dogs, Yuuri?”

“Huh?” Yuuri blinked, tension draining out of him as though a plug had been pulled. “Dogs…? Y-yes, I like dogs.”

“Have you met mine?”

“Eh?” Yuuri fidgeted. “Not officially, no.”

Oh, and how precious that Yuuri thought an “official” meeting was in order with Victor’s dog—like he was a true member of the family. Victor felt himself fall that much deeper in love. “Well, he’s been staying here at the embassy with me for these past few days. I’m sure he’s beyond stir-crazy by now. If you accompany me on a walk through St. James’s Park, I guarantee that he will pronounce you his new best friend.”

“I…” Yuuri nodded resolutely, light returning to his eyes. “I would be honored.”

And that was how Victor found himself not a half hour later in St. James’s with a bouncing puffball of energy leading at the helm and a Japanese beauty on his arm. 

“Makkachin, uspokoysya!” The dog merely halted to look back at his owner tauntingly before charging forward with renewed vigor. At his side, Yuuri laughed. “I’m sorry; he’s usually much more well behaved than this.”

“That’s all right,” Yuuri insisted, calling Makkachin over with Japanese cooing. The dog immediately u-turned to receive Yuuri’s pets. “I like his spunk.”

Victor was going to marry a man who described his dog’s lesser qualities as “spunk.” His heart was so full.

This seemed like a good time. The park was fairly vacant—probably because it was unseasonably warm at the moment. Yuuri was waving a fan before his face languidly, but other than that, he didn’t seem the least bit perturbed. As much as Victor didn’t want to disturb the pleasant atmosphere, he did venture out with an itinerary in mind, so he decided now was a good as time as any to broach the subject.

“About what you wished to talk to me about…”

Yuuri’s eyes darted over to nothing in particular, waving the fan with a heightened speed that had nothing to do with the weather. “Yes, I… I came to apologize to you.”

Victor swallowed, a thousand explanations rushing to his mind, unbidden. “Whatever reason could you have for apologizing to me?”

“The banquet.”

Well, that wasn’t what Victor was expecting. He imagined his expression must have been misconstrued based on Yuuri’s subtle drawing back. “What of it, Yuuri?”

“I…” Yuuri gazed off the pathway and over the pond, though Victor doubted he found much interest in the ducks. “I was… very drunk. I did and said shameful things. I hope you can find it in yourself to forgive me for ruining your party.”

Victor didn’t get this—didn’t get this at all. Firstly, Yuuri did not ruin his party; he made his party. Secondly, why was he apologizing now of all times? Thirdly—

“Is this what you meant by ‘let’s end this’?”

“Oh, that.” Yuuri laughed easily as though those words hadn’t been tormenting Victor for the last twenty-four hours. “I should apologize for that too. I wasn’t thinking. Phichit—Mr. Chulanont—said you might be confused. I meant that we—that I, really—should clear up this misunderstanding between us.”

“Misunderstanding…?”

“Yes, I—“ Yuuri halted in the walkway, and Victor followed suit. Makkachin whined in protest at their heels, but he went largely unnoticed. For a moment, Yuuri seemed to debate within himself, batting around different words until he eventually grasped the ones he thought most fitting. “I’m not usually like the person you met at the banquet,” Yuuri started. “I’m quiet… unassuming… uninteresting… So, if you’re continuing relations with me to keep a promise you made to my drunk self… or you’re just humoring me…  know that you are under no obligation. I won’t…” Yuuri bit his lip, tears gathering and directly contradicting his next statement. “It won’t hurt my feelings… I swear…”

Oh, Yuuri.

While it was true that Victor liked the Yuuri at the party—wine-warm and soft around the edges—he liked this Yuuri just as much. How fortunate for him that they were one and the same.

“Solnyshko, don’t cry.” It was perhaps unwise for him to do so in a public venue, but Victor couldn’t regret it when he lifted a hand to wipe under Yuuri’s glasses with his thumb. “Please… It tears me up inside.”

Somehow, Yuuri was still beautiful—even as he traded out his fan for a handkerchief and sniffled loudly into it. “Does it?” Victor’s life and love questioned wetly into the flower-patterned fabric.

“Yes, very much so.” Victor procured Yuuri’s free hand. “If you’ll let me, I’d like to assuage all your fears.”

Nodding his assent, he let Victor lead him deeper into the park by the hand. Yuuri felt particularly useless, as now that he had begun crying, he couldn’t seem to stop. He wasn’t even upset or worried anymore—just a little overwhelmed. Makkachin seemed to sense this and remained at Yuuri’s side, continually offering a handful of fluff to Yuuri in his trying time.

Even as Victor settled himself and Yuuri on a bench before the water, Makkachin dropped his head in Yuuri’s lap, willing and able to provide endless cuddles. Yuuri was eternally grateful, and Victor decided he would have to properly spoil the dog later.

“Yuuri, let me set the record straight,” Victor began, tracing soothing circles over Yuuri’s hand. “First of all, you have done nothing wrong. True, you were a bit… ah… forceful at the banquet—“ At this, Yuuri laughed bitterly. “—but I allowed it because I liked it. Because I like you. Do you believe me, Yuuri?”

“Maybe,” Yuuri admitted, smiling through his tears.

Victor mirrored the expression. “That’s good enough for now. I’ll convince you yet.” He continued, “Now then, I’ve been wanting to start a proper relationship with you for a while now. Your actions simply accelerated the process. And, really, Yuuri, you act as though I didn’t have eyes until two weeks ago. I knew you were drunk. I knew what you were like not drunk—not as much as I would have liked, I admit, but I knew. I like both those people. I like all of you. Won’t you give me an opportunity to prove it?”

“Victor…”

Victor leaned forward, resting his forehead upon Yuuri’s. Those eyes Victor loved—so big and expressive—were even prettier up close. “So, don’t say such things about yourself—like that you’re ordinary or dull. They aren’t true, and even if they were, I won’t have anyone insulting my Yuuri—not even Yuuri himself.”

Yuuri couldn’t hide. He was too close—closer to anyone than he had ever been to outside of his immediate family. And yet, he wasn’t afraid. Paradoxically, he wanted to be even closer—to crawl up into Victor’s lap and bury himself in the warmth. Was this how Victor felt about him? It seemed ridiculous, but Yuuri couldn’t find an ounce of insincerity into those beautiful blue eyes.

“So… you like me…?” 

“More than I like anyone or anything.”

“Even Makkachin?" 

Victor winced. “Ah… Painful as it is to say, I believe so.”

Yuuri laughed. “I was teasing, Victor. I would never make you choose between us.”

“That’s a relief.” Victor pretended to wipe some sweat away, comically over-exaggerating the action. “For a moment there, I was at a loss.”

Yes, Yuuri’s laughter was infinitely better than his tears. Victor would happily continue to make tawdry remarks for the rest of his days if this was to be his reward each time.

“Then…” Victor pulled back, not failing to notice how Yuuri briefly chased him before checking himself. “I’ll ask what I should have asked ages ago: Yuuri Katsuki, will you allow me to court you?”

Yuuri was nodding before Victor even finished his inquiry. “Yes… Yes, please, Victor—if you’ll have me.”

“I’ll have you,” Victor repeated absentmindedly. The distance between them was quickly becoming a nuisance, a physical pull towards Yuuri that Victor didn’t want to fight anymore bearing down on him heavily. “I’ll have all of you. Every inch…”

“V-Victor!”

“What?” Victor’s eyes snapped up from Yuuri’s lips to meet his eyes, finding that his poor love was absolutely scandalized. In a rush, Victor’s brain finally registered what he’d said. “Yuuri, forgive me! I wasn’t thinking just then! I—!”

“It’s all right,” Yuuri interrupted, trembling but resolute. “I… agree with your sentiment, but it’s too soon.”

“Yes… Yes, of course.” The fact that Yuuri and he were somehow in agreement was terribly distracting.

Yuuri, still a bit pink in the face, reached down and stroked Makkachin’s head. “We should probably go,” he commented casually, a subtle wavering in tone the only testament to their previously scandalous subject matter.  “Your secretary—Mr. Popovich?—told me to bring you back in a timely fashion.”

“Ah.” Since when was Victor’s mouth so dry? Reluctantly, he cracked a smile. “How noble of you to keep me on task.”

“Well, someone has to.” Yuuri stood up from the bench and offered a hand. “Shall we go?”

Victor met him halfway, falling into step as Yuuri began to lead the way. After a minute of blissful silence, he prompted, “It’s such a shame though.”

Yuuri almost froze but found that the earth had not, miraculously, fallen out underneath him. “O-oh, what is?”

“Relax, moya lyubov,” Victor assured before Yuuri could properly work himself up. “I was just thinking that I have no motivation to go back to work now. If only I some incentive… Like the promise of true love’s first kiss…”

The pink came back in full force upon Yuuri’s cheeks. “Later…” Yuuri murmured down towards Makkachin.

“Tomorrow?”

“If you want…”

“I do want!”

“Then, tomorrow.”

“Oh, Yuuri—!” Inadvisably, he pulled Yuuri into a hug right there in the park. “You make me so happy!”

Any objections Yuuri might have had perished on his tongue the moment he felt Victor’s arms around him. It was just as good—no, better—than he thought it would be.

“I’m glad,” Yuuri mumbled into Victor’s shoulder. “So glad…”

It took Makkachin barking at them for several minutes, but together, they found their way back.

Chapter Text

Japanese Yuuri was the bane of Russian Yuri’s existence.

Well… That wasn’t exactly fair. Perhaps it was more accurate to say that Victor’s reaction to Japanese Yuuri was the bane of Russian Yuri’s existence. Because alone, Japanese Yuuri wasn’t particularly noteworthy, but with Victor—

Yuri had to bite down a growl as he heard the telltale yowl of “Yuuuuri!” from the parlor.

He wasn’t even here, and already, he was giving Yuri a headache.

Yakov had, unfortunately, lifted the ban on Victor not being allowed to call the Katsuki household—though he was limited to a single call a day outside of notable exceptions.

God only knew why.

Yuri found out later over dinner.

“They what?" 

Yuri felt the fork in his hand give a little as he pressed down on the base of it with his thumb. It should have been somewhat cathartic, and yet, he couldn’t claim it was satisfying in the least. He wished vehemently that the utensil would snap in two in that moment and hit him upside the head to put him out of his misery once and for all.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” Mila drawled between mouthfuls of food. “Mr. Nikiforov and Mr. Katsuki are officially a couple now!” In Yuri’s peripherals, he spied Otabek giving a perfunctory round of applause.

Why?” Yuri sputtered, somehow managing to make coherent statements through fifteen layers of irritation.

“Hmm?” Mila twirled pasta around her fork idly. “’Why’? Well, why not?”

“Because—!”

Yuri stopped.

Because why indeed?

His first instinct was that he simply couldn’t stand the thought of that idiot being made even stupider. After all, every time Japanese Yuuri was within the vicinity, Victor seemed to lose a hundred brain cells. Hell, even the mere thought of Yuuri seemed to completely derail the man.

He couldn’t be expected to survive an entire courting period. There simply wouldn’t be anything left of him by the end of it.

But there was something else there—something underlying in Yuri’s thoughts that he wasn’t wholly or really even partially familiar with.

Because Japanese Yuuri wasn’t all bad.

Yuri was hard-pressed to admit it, but there was something about him. If he squinted hard enough and tilted his head in the right direction, he could almost see what Victor saw in the man. He was, as Mila bluntly put it, “cute” in that kicked puppy sort of way. He wore strange clothes, but they seemed to suit him. His accent was insufferable, and he was pushed around far too easily, and yet, underneath it all, there was… something.

That something made Russian Yuri uneasy.

Obviously, he turned those confusing feelings into rage as per usual.

This was definitely Victor’s fault somehow. He didn’t know how or why, but he was entirely confident in this supposition.

“Mr. Katsuki deserves better.”

All eyes turned to Yuri.

“W-what did you say?” Mila inquired jerkily, glancing across intermittently at Otabek as though asking, “Did you hear what I just heard?” It was a wasted effort, as Otabek could only stare at Yuri with an expression that didn’t seem to fit quite right on the typically withdrawn boy’s face.

Yuri finally heard himself. “I-I mean, Victor is an idiot!” he explained brashly, plates quaking as he banged a fist on the table with the full extent of his exasperation. “And Mr. Katsuki is… is… well, not an idiot! I’m just saying, he could do better!”

“That’s not what you said,” Otabek droned, voice oddly detached. “You said he ‘deserves’ better.”

Yuri buried himself in his thus-far forgotten meal. “Same thing!”

It was not the same thing. 

Fuel was merely added the fire when Victor later poked his head into Yuri’s room.

“Yurio? Are you asleep?”

“No,” Yuri answered, surprisingly honest. He had been tossing and turning for hours now, but he would rather make good on his earlier thought with the fork than admit it to Victor. “And that’s not my name,” he snapped, but it was a conditioned response more than anything, purely instinctual after days—going on weeks—of Yuri fighting Victor over this point.

Victor opened the door the rest of the way, a look of confusion about him. The hand that wasn’t caressing the doorknob came up to rest upon his lips in contemplation. “Well…” he started, “I came to tell you that you have the day free tomorrow.”

“What? Why?” Immediately, Yuri was at attention, sitting up to level Victor with a glare stained with suspicion.

Normally, in a futile effort to demonstrate some semblance of competency in watching over him, Victor ended up dragging him along to the embassy, effectively forcing an apprenticeship on him. Yuri wanted to be ecstatic that Victor had given up on that front—at least for the day—but to drop it so suddenly…

Something was amiss.

At Yuri’s query, Victor bounced on the balls of his feet, brimming with an untempered optimism that was more commonly witnessed in the man’s mutt than in him. “I’ll be with Yuuri tomorrow! It’s our first official outing! Oh, what should I wear…?” Victor went back to tapping on his lip, Russian Yuri’s earlier consternation at the subject instantly forgotten.

Yuri didn’t take kindly to this, tossing a pillow that unfortunately missed its intended target and hit dully against the wall. “I don’t care! Go call your Swiss friend or something!”

Victor somehow smiled even wider. “Great idea! Thanks, Yurio!" 

“That’s not my—!”

It was wasted breath. The man was already gone.

There was no hope of going to sleep now. Accepting this, Yuri pushed himself out of bed and slinked into the hallway, ever weary of Victor’s terrifying governess. The coast was clear as far as Yuri could tell, but even so, he took calculated steps, aiming for areas of the floor that were less likely to creak.

At last, he was before Otabek’s door.

“Beka?” he called softly, rapping his knuckles against the grain. He tried the door handle, and finding it to be unlocked, traversed the threshold.

Otabek wasn’t in bed. Instead, Yuri discovered him before a desk, scanning a rather large tome of some sort. “Yura?” the older boy questioned when he heard his door open with an indicative squeal. “What are you doing awake at this hour?”

“I… want to talk about something,” Yuri confessed, grasping at his elbow in an uncharacteristically subdued fashion. His eyes met Otabek’s briefly before examining the floorboards once more. “With you and Mila. Can we wake her up?”

Otabek silently dog-eared the page he was on. “Sure, Yura. Whatever you want." 

Minutes later, Mila was yawning loudly into her hand among the company of her two friends, the group making an informal semicircle atop Otabek’s bed. “What’s this all about?” she asked hazily, rubbing at an eye.

Otabek gestured to Yuri.

The boy gulped. “Well…” Suddenly, Yuri couldn't meet their gazes. “It’s just that…”

His friends fell into an artificial silence, granting him a moment to talk out his discomfort in his own time.

Finally, Yuri became impatient with himself. “Look,” he said, snappish but resolute, “about Mr. Katsuki… I’m not sure we should let this happen.”

“Why not?” Mila’s usual playful tone was notably absent; all that was left in its place was simple curiosity. 

“And I’m not sure it’s up to us to allow,” Otabek reasoned, also curious but less obviously so.

“I just—!” Yuri took a mental step back, approaching the subject as one would a feral animal. “Mr. Katsuki is… something, you know? At the very least, I think we should make sure that bastard is taking good care of him.”

“Ooh!” Mila clapped her hands together, startling her friends to attention. “Aren’t Mr. Nikiforov and Mr. Katsuki going out tomorrow? We should accompany them!”

“I don't think we can get away with that.” Otabek explained, “If it was later in the evening or on private property, it’d be possible to negotiate the need for a chaperone, but from what I’ve garnered, they’ll be walking through town during the day.”

Mila merely smirked. “Who said anything about getting their permission?”

“Mila, no—“

“Mila, yes!” 

“That’s bloody brilliant,” Yuri muttered, looking a bit shell-shocked that praise—and towards Mila!—had come from him of all people.

Otabek grimaced. “I don’t like this." 

“Please, Beka?” Surprisingly, Yuri found he had little dignity left, the pleading not leaving a bad aftertaste in his mouth as he thought it might. “If Mr. Katsuki really is happy, then… I’ll give up. I promise. So, please…”

The idea seemed to roll around in Otabek’s head like a marble in a maze, the boy considering it from all angles both physically and mentally, head adjusting minutely back and forth to accommodate the process. “I suppose,” he murmured after an interminable wait, “that there’s nothing really wrong with it… beyond the obvious, I mean…”

Yuri perked up. “Then…!”

That nod was all he needed.


 

“Yura, this is boring.”

“Shh! Keep your voice down!”

Ugh.

Mila huffed, her whole body seeming to slump with the exhalation. She thought this would be exciting—thrilling even! But hours upon hours of following Mr. Nikiforov and Mr. Katsuki around—all the while under the cover of subterfuge—was starting to grate on the nerves. It was exhausting—and not to mention, dull.

Otabek was a much better sport. He had hardly said anything—negative or otherwise—since the beginning. Though, Mila thought this unsociability in particular might be his own personal bit of rebellion—a silent treatment that Yuri wasn’t mature enough to distinguish from his friend’s usual stoic disposition.

Surely, given enough time, he would notice. Yuri may have been shortsighted, but no one was that oblivious.

Except maybe Mr. Katsuki, but that was a separate issue.

Speaking of which…

Mila watched as Mr. Nikiforov held a door open for Mr. Katsuki, both of which disappearing from sight the next moment. The band of amateur spies went to follow (some more enthusiastically than others), but the door suddenly swung open again, causing them all to duck behind a brick wall as to not be immediately discovered.

Mila peered around the bend.

“Yura!”

“Ow! What the—?”

“Who is that?”

“Did you just slap me in the face?”

“Yura, this is serious!”

“All right, fine. Did you seriously just slap me in the face?”

Mila waffled. “I was, ah… indisposed. But I need you to focus!” She grasped Yuri around the cheeks in one hand, directing his head towards the door that had just revealed Mila’s current object of interest. “Now, tell me! Who is that?”

Yuri glared at her but didn’t shake himself from her hold. Instead, he gazed past her, taking in the woman walking their way, willing his brain to connect names and faces quickly so he could move on from this moment.

“That’s…” Yuri squinted. “… Ms. Sara Crispino, the Italian ambassador’s sister.” It seemed his outings with Victor to the embassy weren’t a complete waste of time after all. “And I’m fairly certain that’s the Italian ambassador himself smothering her currently.”

“That is quite a display of affection,” Otabek commented dryly.

“More like a display of possession,” Yuri growled, finally slipping out of Mila’s grasp and making a show of rubbing his neck.

“How old is she? Is she seeing anyone? Tell me everything, Yura!”

“I don’t know, I don’t care, and no!” Yuri gave her a push none too lightly towards the approaching siblings. “If you want to know so badly, go ask yourself!”

Mila straightened, adjusting buttons and fastens that required no such adjustment. “I will then.” She spun in place, showcasing herself as though Yuri and Otabek hadn’t seen her properly despite them having been together all day. “How do I look?”

“Like you’re about to make an idiot out of yourself.” 

“Otabek?”

A thumbs-up.

Mila balled her hands determinedly. “Good!”

And then she was off.

“Well, she was no help,” Yuri grumbled, inching closer to where Mr. Nikiforov and Mr. Katsuki had disappeared to, trying to steal a glance at either of them through the window.

Otabek made a noncommittal noise.

Once Yuri got a good view of the couple—sitting down for lunch, it seemed—he settled himself against the wall. Otabek followed suit. If there were complaints to be had about hunkering down on the London sidewalk, then neither of them acknowledged it.

Still, some things couldn’t be communicated by vague gestures alone.

“Why did you want to do this, Yura?” Otabek inquired, his dark eyes boring into the side of Yuri’s turned head.

“I told you,” Yuri answered distantly, refusing to meet his gaze. “Mr. Katsuki deserves better.”

A long pause.

“Do you think he deserves you instead?”

Yuri’s head snapped around. “What?”

“You can’t fault me for thinking that you may have feelings for him,” Otabek stated, the very picture of calm. “You seem protective. All your animosity is directed towards Mr. Nikiforov. And you claim there’s ‘something’ about Mr. Katsuki.”

When he put it all out there like that, it did seem like obvious pining. But that was ridiculous, right? Mr. Katsuki was… Mr. Katsuki was…

Well, for starters, Mr. Katsuki was a grown man. Yuri wasn’t deluded enough to believe the other would wait for him to enter an age in which it was appropriate for them to pursue a relationship. It just wasn’t realistic.

But that was hardly the heart of the matter. No—the real issue was that he had been too damn late.

By mere weeks. Or maybe by years. Or maybe it was never meant to be at all. But whatever the timeline of events, the result was the same.

Japanese Yuuri didn’t have eyes for Russian Yuri.

As the latter gazed through the window, he watched Mr. Katsuki steal a terribly loving glance at Mr. Nikiforov from across the table when he was sure the other wouldn’t notice, cheeks reddening despite getting away cleanly with the act.

Yuri’s heart ached at the display.

Japanese Yuuri would never look at him like that. Perhaps he’d develop a fondness of Yuri given enough time, but it would never be like that. He didn’t know what Victor did to deserve such devotion, but Yuri vowed certain destruction on the man if he ever dared to take it for granted.

“He’s happy,” Yuri almost whispered, and he realized then that he hadn’t gotten around to properly responding to Otabek. He shook his head, recollecting his thoughts. “As much as I hate to admit it, he’s happy with that bastard. So… I’ll make peace with it.” He cast a scathing look at Victor through the glass. “Doesn’t mean I have to like it though.”

Otabek looked at him a peculiar way, and it was with much trepidation that Yuri admitted to himself that it was eerily similar to the look Mr. Katsuki had just given Mr. Nikiforov. “Yes… I suppose not.” He adjusted. “Not to rush this, but if you’re satisfied, can we leave now? I can’t feel my legs.”

Yuri shook with laughter. “All right, all right.” He stood and offered a hand, pulling the older boy to his feet. “In all seriousness, thank you for indulging me. I feel… better, you know?”

Otabek did know. He could see it in Yuri’s face. “Anytime, Yura.”

“Good afternoon, gentlemen!”

Yuri and Otabek turned to engage Mila, the woman looking smug as all get-out. And was that a smear of rouge beneath her lips…?

“Oh, god, what did you do?”

Mila teetered back and forth. “Not. Telling.”

“Babicheva—!”

“Oh, relax, won’t you?” Mila waved off her friend’s indignation. “Even I’m not such a cad. We merely bumped into each other, that’s all. And perhaps it was purposeful on my part, but there’s nothing you can prove!”

Yuri groaned into his hand.

“Did you talk to her?” Otabek inquired not unkindly.

“Mmm… A little.” Mila pretended to mull over the idea of divulging the juicier details, but in the end, she gave in to her own excitement. “When I introduced myself as a tourist, she offered to show me around sometime.” 

“Formalities,” Yuri coughed.

As if expecting that reaction, Mila twirled a wavy strand of red hair around her finger. “She also said she likes my hair.”

“And what was your response?” Otabek asked.

“I told her she can visit me whenever she wants to get more acquainted with it.”

Otabek blinked. “Did you really?”

Mila sighed, long-suffering. “No, but how suave would that have been? Why is it that I think of all the best things to say after the fact?”

“Just be grateful you didn’t embarrass yourself,” Yuri snapped. He made off in no direction in particular, calling over his shoulder, “Are you two coming or not? Victor gave me the day off, and I’m going to enjoy it.”

Mila and Otabek exchanged a look, but no words were needed. Why would they be? Yuri was back, and all was right with the world.

Chapter Text

“Am I thinking too much about this, Phichit?”

“You? Overthinking things? Perish the thought!”

Yuuri spared his friend a half-hearted glare, far too in his own mind to summon the strength for anything greater. He sighed, willing his brain to remain on subject. “It’s just that—“

 


 

“—I think this may be it, Chris. I know what you’re going to say—‘Oh, but it’s too soon, Victor! Let the poor boy breathe!’—but I can’t help but think that—“


 

“—he just feels the same way, you know? I mean, it’s ridiculous—ridiculously early, that is. I know, but hear me out. It’s not like it’s—“


 

“—marriage or anything—though, you know I’ve considered such—but it still feels like an incremental step in our relationship. I don’t want to scare him off by initiating something unwarranted, but I’m telling you, Chris, it just feels like—“


 

“—he might be ready too…? And I understand that it’s not… well received—to say the least—to talk about this matter with others, but I just need some advice—just someone to tell me I’m not… not… Oh, what’s that English word again?”

“Crazy?” Phichit surmised, smirking when Yuuri turned a look on him. He did indeed fit the bill though—what, with how his hair was sticking up at odd angles; he had been pulling at it nervously in his exasperation, so it was no wonder. “Come now, Yuuri. You do have a bit of a propensity to—“


 

“—obsess over these things,” Chris reprimanded, only half-joking. As if finding fault in his own moment of uncharacteristic sincerity, he crossed the room to finally put a stop to his friend’s pacing, halting him with a hand across the chest. “You know what you need? Another party.”

After a moment to process that he’d been barred from yet another lap around his desk, Victor swatted the man’s hand down and rolled his eyes. “Chris, a party is exactly what got me in this predicament—“

“Are you complaining?”

He, certainly, was not complaining.

“No, but—“

“Great!” Chris clapped, instantly encouraged by the cracks in Victor’s resolve. “Then leave it to me! I’ll host. Now, I only need a suitable excuse to hold such a gathering…”

“You’ve never needed one before,” Victor muttered, dropping into his chair and leaning on his hand, resigned.

Chris hummed. “True enough, but this is different. I have no easily acceptable excuse for being so familiar with Yuuri as to invite him to a function. We aren’t friends—or even acquaintances, really—nor direct neighbors, nor familiar with each other in any true fashion. I can’t even hide behind us belonging to the same fellowship because he doesn’t even go to church, Victor. Not even church!”

“He follows Shintoism, Chris,” Victor supplied dryly.

A cock of the head. “What the hell is that?”

“It’s… um… well… Ask him yourself!” Victor huffed, losing patience (and certainly not because he wasn’t sure himself.) “Besides, didn’t you two share a dance at summer’s opening banquet? Is that not more than enough?”

“Victor, a mere dance is not a proper foundation for a long-lasting relationship.”

The look Victor sent him was positively lethal.

“Not usually!” Chris amended, hasty. “Not usually a proper foundation! Sometimes it works out though! Such as—“

“Forget it." 

“Oh, thank God.” Chris breathed out, relieved. “I had no idea how I was going to end that sentence.”

“I supposed as much.”

Chris dropped a hand onto the man’s shoulder. “Rest easy. I’ll scrounge up some worthy excuse. Then, you can finally—“


 “—take Victor into a lover’s embrace and let your lips meet in the sweetest of dances!” Phichit hugged himself, taking on a poor impression of his best friend. “’Oh, Mr. Nikiforov! How bold of you to accept my affections yet bolder still of me to make them so apparent! Take me! Take me now!’”

“P-P-Phichit!” Yuuri practically screeched, reaching behind himself to procure one of the sofa’s finest pillows to promptly shove his flaming face into. “You can’t just say things like that!” he chastised, words muffled, but somehow, still retaining their volume.

The other merely laughed—and louder still when Minami rushed in to inquire whether his lord had tripped again over the too tall Western coffee table.


 

Yuuri was gazing at a cup of tea before him that had scarcely begun to cool when an envelope bounced off the saucer below it, the pieces rattling together dully at the moment of impact.

“Mail,” Mari stated, appearing aloof, but curiously, remaining before him.

Yuuri blinked up at her. Mail. That was nothing new. His father and Mari got mail all the time.

An approximate eternity passed. 

Ugh,” Mari groaned. “For you. Mail for you.

The poor china clanked together yet again as Yuuri scrambled to collect the envelope. “For—for me?” He never got mail. Never. Then why—? “Could it be from Victor?” he wondered aloud, bypassing the return address entirely to simply pry the message open.

Mari could hardly be expected to entertain such notions, rolling her eyes at the mere suggestion. “If he wanted to talk to you, he’d surely drop by in person like any other time or call as he always does.”

Yuuri colored, fingers momentarily halting above the letter he was about to extract from its confines. “Oh. Yes… Yes, of course.” He paused a second time, studying his sister with a discerning eye. “You are… acting strangely.”

“Mmm.” Mari merely took up her usual pipe, staring blankly at the wall.

“You…” It dawned on him all at once. “You know what this is, don’t you? You must have gotten one too.”

“See for yourself,” Mari answered cryptically.

And Yuuri did.

“It’s for—“


 

“—charity,” Victor stated. Dryly. “A widespread gambling tournament for charity. And pray tell, what charity, in particular, are you becoming a benefactor to?”

“My charity, obviously,” Chris confirmed the other’s suspicions. “It is my charity, after all, that allows them in my presence to begin with.”

Victor merely sighed, staring at the invitation atop his desk in disdain. “Chris, that’s illegal. It has to be a legitimate charity or the entire function will be reported, and you, fined or possibly jailed depending on Scotland Yard’s level of tolerance that particular day.”

“Is that so?” The man appeared far too nonchalant for having learned of such a thing—merely tapping his own copy of the letter against his chin in contemplation—but then again, it was Chris; what else should he have expected? “Then I’ll have to come up with something, won’t I?”

“Yes, and quickly,” Victor told him. “You’ve already sent them out, right? And what reason, exactly, did you cite for such an event?”

“Race relations,” Chris supplied easily, entirely too smug for his own good. “I invited every person associated with a dignitary to take part in order to get that much more acquainted with each other and have some civil interactions.” He gestured with a flourish, exuding all the cockiness of a gamemaster with the pieces already set in his favor. “No one can resist a little friendly rivalry between countries for the greater good, am I right?”

Victor grimaced. “Sure. Put a large group of foreigners together under the thinly veiled guise of competing for a dubious purpose. What could possibly go wrong?”


 

Yuuri tried to summon some semblance of shame about the fact that he was holding onto his sister’s sleeve like a child being drug along to a grown-up party, but every ounce of focus he could muster was currently directed at his surroundings.

The Swiss consulate was immaculate.

The ballroom—usually a familiar and comforting place to Yuuri—had been transformed for its intended purpose that evening. Already, people gathered around the prop tables with tickets that assigned them to certain sections. Excited chatter wafted through the area, teeming with an undercurrent of competition jitters.

Yuuri could empathize with that at the very least; the one thing that tended to override his body’s reaction to tension was the prospect of giving a worthy performance.

He could only hope it would overwhelm him fully before he had a chance to make a proper fool of himself.

“Yuuri!”

Victor.

Yuuri exhaled a shuddering breath. He had been almost entirely confident Victor would be attending as well—what, with how the invitation described the event—but for it to be confirmed soothed his nerves like nothing else.

Victor slowed his gait upon his approach, expression oddly conflicted. “And… Mari…?” He phrased it like a question, unsure of himself for the faintest of moments.

“Hmm,” Mari considered, ostensibly sizing the man up. She was well aware—and continuously updated—about Victor and Yuuri’s status but had yet to give a true blessing, remaining decidedly neutral on the matter. Yet, she couldn’t deny that seeing the other uncharacteristically meek in her presence sated some deep, primal part of herself that wished to keep her brother’s suitor on his toes. “Mari is fine,” she decided, giving her final verdict on the subject with little fanfare.

Victor took to the change immediately and without comment, a small smile the only bit of reveling he dared to display. “Good evening then, Mari. And Yuuri… You look positively resplendent.”

Yuuri pinkened but not quite to the extent Victor was striving for. “Oh, thank you…? That is a good thing, right?”

“A very good thing,” Victor recovered. Slyly, as not to be perceived by the swaths of guests around them, he brushed his fingertips across Yuuri’s bared forehead where he’d slicked back his bangs and tapped the arm of the glasses he’d left in place. “This is a very becoming look on you… The Western clothes suit you as well. Are they new?” 

And there was the blush Victor had been craving.

“Ah… Yes… I don’t own much aside from my usual wears, but I figured the occasion called for something a little different.”

Victor hummed, taking in the information blithely. He was a bit distracted after all, having only seen Yuuri dolled up like this one other brief—albeit memorable—time. And unlike the last instance, this outfit was definitely not borrowed, the fit cut precisely to Yuuri’s exact measurements.

Conversely, Mari remained as kimono-clad as ever, to which Victor teased, “I suppose you were not of the same mind?”

Mari huffed. “It’d have to be awfully special day for me to subject myself to whatever terrible contraption your Western women are stitching themselves into each morning.”

Victor couldn’t exactly fault her for that line of thinking, but it was an interesting stance nonetheless. 

“Victor!”

A newcomer emerged from the crowd. Not waiting to be to be formally introduced, he immediately slung an arm around Victor’s shoulders. “There you are! Come help me with last minute preparations.”

Victor chuckled, unperturbed by the familiarity. “In a minute, Chris.”

Finally taking notice of what had been preoccupying his best friend’s attention so thoroughly, the man’s smile turned almost predatory. Yuuri couldn’t decide in that moment if he should hide behind Victor or Mari.

“Oh…? Could this be your beloved?" 

Mari it was then. With any luck, etiquette would keep the man a good distance away from her for the time being. Yuuri tucked himself behind her imposing figure but somehow found his voice to soldier on with introductions. “It’s… very nice to meet you. Lord Giacometti, was it?”

To Yuuri’s dismay, the implicit stranger ignored societal order and reached a hand over Mari’s shoulder to grasp Yuuri’s. “Enchanté, Mr. Katsuki. But we’ve already met.”

That got Yuuri’s attention. Bravely, he stepped away from Mari to hold his own for a moment. “I’m sorry…?”

“At summer’s opening banquet. Surely you remember our dance…?”

No. No, he did not.

Yuuri flushed scarlet.

“So you do remember!” Chris misconstrued.

“Ah, no, not quite. You see—“

A bell chimed, bringing the room to attention.

“And that’s my cue,” Chris informed, sighing. He turned an apologetic look on his friend and the Katsukis. “Forgive me. I have to give an address before the event starts. Come and talk to me more later, yes?” He tossed a wink at Yuuri before departing, leaving the other to sputter in his wake.

“Interesting company, you keep,” Mari drawled, shifting her judgmental gaze from Chris’s receding figure to Victor.

The latter laughed, a tad nervous underneath the surface; he had just recently gotten on the woman’s good side, after all, and he intended to stay there. “He’s a good man, but he has no shame,” Victor excused. “As he said so himself, you’ll have to forgive him.”

“Forgiveness is earned,” Mari replied sagely, finally turning her attention on whom she deemed far more deserving company. “Yuuri, show me to the drinks. They said there would be drinks, didn’t they?”

Yuuri giggled. “Right away, nee-chan.” He took her arm, waving behind them at Victor. “Later, all right?”

It was all Victor could do to return the gesture, far too enraptured in that moment to even begin imagining a reply to an act so precious.

“Later” never sounded so sweet.


Victor supposed losing too awful early would raise some suspicion, and therefore, didn’t actively try to lose until several rounds in.

Still, it was a little painful to throw away good hands—to exchanges pairs and potential flushes or straights for lesser cards. He always was a bit of a savant when it came to games of chance, but tonight, he wanted nothing more than a quiet and graceful defeat. 

After all, why on earth would he chase material fortune when his true prize patiently awaited him?

As Victor betted away the last of his chips to the jeers of the fellow players, he surveyed the ballroom for other parties that had excused themselves in similar fashions.

Mari, he noted right away, was noticeably absent, though Victor didn’t think she considered it any great loss, as he realized early on that her true objective was to tuck herself away in a backroom to smoke and drink the night away.

In a way, he could respect that kind of transparency—even if it did make her a bit of a poor sport.

What he was surprised to see, however, was that Yuuri was very much still in the game. In fact, he had a dragon’s hoard of chips on one side of the table, looking every bit as shocked about it as everyone else.

This wasn’t how the night was supposed to go. Victor had planned—very meticulously—to lose alongside Yuuri early on and spirit him away for a quiet tryst. The entire event had been created as a distraction for him to do so. Why, then, was Yuuri winning and winning and winning?

What could be going through that head of his?

 


 

I am a representative of Japan, Yuuri thought as he revealed a hand—each card bearing the suit of heart—to a chorus of groans and the clinking together of coins as they were shoved in his direction.

Really, he hadn’t meant to be this successful. But he couldn’t back down from a challenge—not when Mari had lost almost immediately and he was left as the sole exemplification of his country. 

“Race relations,” indeed…

In truth, Yuuri had never played a game of poker in his life. He wasn’t overly familiar with Western games to begin with, preferring to stick to more traditional games like shogi and mahjong. The concept of cards and fictitious currency that accompanied them had been entirely foreign to him before that night.

However, Yuuri was a quick study.

It was no different from learning a dance. He simply observed and copied, recognizing after the initial opening rounds what were considered good cards and what were considered bad, what cards went well together and what cards did not, what cards got him more chips and what cards took them away.

Suits liked to be together. Numbers liked to be in an order. Doubles were good, but triples and quadruples were better. All of this made perfect sense to Yuuri.

It was no different in his mind from following the patterns of a waltz or playing through the emotions of a ballet.

“Antes” were new though…

“Need help there, lyubov moya?”

Yuuri smiled into his cards as Victor pulled a chair up to his table, sitting with his chest to the back of it to rest his chin on the edge.

“No cheating, Nikiforov,” the Italian ambassador—Michele?—barked, scowling at his own cards as though doing so would intimidate them into being better.

“Oh, would you settle down?” his twin sister, Sara, chastised, glaring at him from the corner of her eye. “Yuuri hardly needs it anyway. He’s been robbing us all evening.”

“W-what?” Yuuri sputtered. “I’m haven’t—!”

“Figure of speech,” the bearded man beside Michele—the Bohemian emissary perhaps?—clarified kindly.

“Oh… I see.” Yuuri would have to parse the meanings of such things another time; after all, the reputation of his country was riding on the line.

For the sake of Japan, he had to focus.

Yuuri survived into the midway point, which had him trading all he had collected thus far in for more valuable fare. Though the tournament was only considered halfway complete, the number of players remaining had dwindled to a more manageable number, and thus, they congregated around the same table—the final table—where the real battle finally began.

It was to be an all-out war.

As the conclusion to the contest drew steadily nearer, the interest came back tenfold—and with it, the guests that had excused themselves after losing one too many hands. The table became surrounded—stifling, Yuuri suddenly thought—and as everyone’s concentration narrowed down to the remaining players.

No—not simply the players. Mainly him.

It wasn’t necessarily surprising; he was the least familiar face at a gathering such as this, and it was only natural people would be weary of him, knowing only bits and pieces of his character.

It wasn’t surprising, and yet—

“Is that the Japanese ambassador’s…?”

“From the banquet at the Russian consulate—“

“Isn’t he seeing Lord Nikiforov?” 

Hardly. Could you imagine?”

“I know it to be true! Mr. Chulanont swears—“

“In the competition this far—“

“Beginner’s luck, you suppose?”

“An orient in clothes like that…”

“He stands out, no?”

“Lord Nikiforov would never—

Yuuri dropped his cards, several of the faces landing within sight.

“Misdeal.”

“Ah—! I’m so sorry—" 

“It’s quite all right,” Jean-Jacques—who had somehow made it this far on what he had to assume was charisma alone—assured. “We weren’t terribly far into the round.”

Even so, Yuuri colored. “Still, I’m sorry…”

“Yuuri…”

As the dealer collected the deck and redealt the cards, Yuuri felt fingers lace together with his own under the table. “What is it that you are so afraid of?” Victor murmured, tone carefully neutral as not to draw attention from the crowd. 

Yuuri disguised a scan of the ballroom as a slow blink. “You… You must hear them. What they say—“

“Doesn’t matter,” Victor cut in, decisive. “You’re already privy to the truth. You’ll win them over with your charm in due time. Why don’t you show all the world our love by doing your best?”

Yuuri’s breath audibly hitched. “Yes…” One-handed, he collected his new cards, leaving the other to luxuriate in Victor’s touch a bit longer. “Then, please do your part,” Yuuri implored, gaze determinedly set forward, “and never take your eyes off me.”

The mere suggestion of a chuckle reverberated in Victor’s throat. “That was a given.”

At last, the players were eliminated until two remained: on one side of the table, Yuuri Katsuki, and on the other—

Christophe Giacometti.

“How cruel, Mr. Katsuki. Have you come to upstage me at my own party?” Chris inquired with a mock-pout, batting his eyelashes facetiously.

Yuuri ruffled a bit at that. “I’m merely playing the game, Lord Giacometti.”

“And playing it wonderfully, you are,” Chris remarked playfully, though he cast an all-too-knowing look at Victor beside him. “You’re quite skilled to have made it this far. I hope you’re aware that the grand prize is given to charity, so your effort is all for naught.”

Yuuri barely resisted rolling his eyes at that. “You may be right, but there is far more at stake here than you are willing to acknowledge. Or could it be that I am mistaken…?”

Chris immediately sobered, righting his relaxed posture. “Oh-ho… You’re more dangerous than I anticipated. A fight to the death it is then.”

Yuuri met the other’s intense gaze, fighting every instinct he had that demanded he roll over and submit.

For his country—for his honor and pride and love—Yuuri Katsuki would stare uncertainty in the face and laugh.

The final round was dealt. 

It was the first genuinely terrible hand he’d had in a while, a queen of spades, a seven of clubs, a three of hearts, a ten of diamonds, and a wildcard ace of spades staring up at him impassively. A bit all over the board, as he had heard other veteran players refer to such a tragic situation; none of the numbers or suits correlated.

Although, that queen and ace were fairly close together—and the same suit, besides.

“Check or bet,” the dealer prompted Christophe.

The man hummed, looking down at his own cards and then thoughtfully at Yuuri across the way. “What would you do, mon chéri?”

“What?” Yuuri was thrown off-guard, tilting his head with the utmost confusion. “It’s not my… It’s not my turn.”

“Ah, of course. How silly of me.” Chris grinned wolfishly. “Besides, you have no idea what I have in my hand. It could be anything at all. How, then, could you know whether I should check or whether I should bet?”

Yuuri narrowed his eyes. “But I do know—I know one thing for sure, at the very least.”

Chris blinked. “And that is…?”

Yuuri placed his own cards atop the surface of the table, covering them with one delicate flick of the wrist and inclining his head. “You don’t have my cards.”

The silence was stunning—but even more so when Chris broke it with his uproarious laughter.

“You’ve got me there,” Chris conceded, wiping moisture from the corners of his eyes. “You’ve certainly got me there. Oh, I like you… Such a shame that Victor beat me to the clutch. A clever little thing like you on my arm… There’d never be a dull moment.”

Whispers erupted throughout the room. To acknowledge a relationship so openly—one not yet christened with a proposal or ceremony—was unprecedented. Just what did Lord Giacometti think he was doing, being so flagrant and gauche?

Yuuri, however, merely smiled. “I’m glad you approve,” was all he said before he retrieved his cards, ignoring the mounting bewilderment behind him.

There were more important things to worry about, after all.

Those three unhelpful cards—the seven, the three, and the ten—remained obstinately fixed in his hand. But that was about to change. As Chris called check, Yuuri echoed the sentiment, transitioning them into the next round. Chris exchanged two cards, and Yuuri did the same with three.

Nerves alight, he dared a single peek at his new cards.

A jack of spades, a ten of spades, and—

A two of hearts.

Yuuri couldn’t keep the crushing disappointment from marring his features, biting sharply into his lip as the sting of it all sunk in.

He had been so close.

“Not quite what you expected?” Chris surmised from across the table. He glanced down at his chips, no doubt recognizing that if he betted the entire collection—and if Yuuri was receptive enough to the challenge and acted in kind—he could buy out Yuuri completely and end the game with one swift maneuver.

Then again, where was the fun in that?

“I’ll tell you what.” Chris proposed, “Let’s have one more drawing round. The only catch is that this will be the last hand—that the loser must forfeit all their chips to the victor after this final draw. I think it’ll make things twice as interesting, don’t you?”

“Sir, that’s not—“

“Hush, it’s for charity.” Chris dismissed the dealer’s concerns with a wave of the hand. “No real money will be won or loss by either of us—only honor. So? What do you say, Mr. Katsuki?”

Yuuri considered, glaring at that offending two of hearts. It was the one thing between him and victory. 

What did he have to lose besides everything?

“I accept your conditions.”

“Great! No need to be so solemn about it,” Chris teased. He invoked the crowd, saying, “Can someone get this gentleman a drink? I think he's in desperate need of one.”

“After,” Yuuri commented, refusing to deign his goading with so much as a passing glance. “After I win, you can buy me a drink.”

Chris’s showman smile only grew wider.

The second drawing round—the final round—commenced. Chris asked for no new cards, drawing the deference of the crowd, as he was clearly quite confident that he didn’t require the handicap of a second card exchange. 

Yuuri wasn’t of nearly the same opinion, trading in his two of hearts immediately only to receive—

A king of hearts.

It was over then. Yuuri had failed on the draw—the second draw, no less.

“Flip over your cards,” the dealer dictated.

As Chris was the challenger, he did so first, revealing three nines—a three of a kind.

“And Mr. Katsuki…?”

Yuuri gulped but did as directed, revealing the hand. “Nothing,” he muttered. “I don’t have—“

He was cut off by the ballroom’s collective gasp, the energy swelling and swelling until it broke all at once, flooding the space with cheers and applause and noise.

“Yuuri, you won!” Victor shouted over the chaos, pulling him into an embrace.

“What?” Yuuri disputed, muffled by the material of Victor’s suit, “But I didn’t get the king of spades. I didn’t—“

Victor pulled back, grasping Yuuri by both shoulders. “You didn’t need it, Yuuri. You got a king. That’s all you needed for a straight.”

Yuuri’s eyes darted back and forth, absorbing the information. It was true. He had been so focused—so very intent—on waiting for that king of spades that he hadn’t realized a king of any kind was all he needed.

Before he could be properly elated, another person entered his field of view. 

“An excellent game,” Chris conceded, pulling Yuuri’s fingers up to his lips. “I dare say I’ve never had a more interesting one in my life. You’ve thoroughly earned this victory.”

This time, Yuuri didn’t shy away, instead imparting his former opponent with a look of fondness. “I appreciate your kind words.”

Chris pulled Yuuri’s hand forward until the rest of his body followed suit, whispering in his ear, “Truly, I’m very grateful. I feel that I can leave Victor in your capable hands. Do go easy on him, won’t you? The man couldn’t possibly be more enamored.”

Yuuri could only nod. 

A small, albeit lively ceremony took place directly after where Yuuri was officially announced as the victor of the tournament and was presented with the prize money, which he donated to charity without prompt as was expected of him.

Many people approached him—enthralled, enraged, or otherwise passionate about his performance—but Victor swept him away, making excuses all the while.

It was only when Yuuri was led upstairs to a secluded balcony that he understood why, feeling the gentle pressure of Victor’s lips upon his.

Stunned was hardly a strong enough a term for it, but even so, Yuuri somehow found himself melting under the heat of it, meeting Victor where he was and responding in fervor.

All too soon, Victor drew back—just a touch and yet much too far—to say a few words. “Forgive me,” he said, ostensibly sincere. “This was the only thing I could think of to surprise you more than you’ve surprised me.”

Yuuri barely recognized his own voice remarking, “Oh, is that so?” before he was compelled to close the gap again to kiss any remaining excuses off Victor’s lips.

Chapter Text

The ticking of the clock was loud in the Siamese embassy’s grand study as its very own envoy, Madam Chulanont, stared down the equally terrifying presence of China’s ambassador, Madam Ji.

A silence stretched between them so taut that Yuuri, from his positioning in the hallway outside, thought it might give at any moment, the tension snapping in half like that of a worn rope and rocking that little corner of the universe like its accompanying poorly wrangled boat, unwittingly cast out to sea.

“Why am I here, Phichit?” Yuuri asked, observing the women once more before turning to face that of his best friend.

Phichit, oddly, seemed entirely unconcerned with the staring contest his mother was currently engaged in, folding his arms behind his back with a blithe smile. “Because, Yuuri! I need you to do that thing you always do!" 

“Thing…?” Yuuri blinked his eyes several times in utmost confusion.

Phichit nodded, evidently pleased. “See? You’re doing it already!”

Yuuri tilted his head. “Doing what?”

Phichit opened his mouth—only to close it again with a self-satisfied smirk. “You know what? Forget I said anything. Just act natural. Do whatever feels right, and be yourself.”

Yuuri stared at the floor, troubled but determined. “I’ll… try.”

“That’s the spirit!”

With that, Phichit opened the door all the way; puzzlingly, it had been left partially ajar, but Yuuri thought it might have been a warning, granting outsiders a glimpse of the warring parties inside as to ward off those with weaker constitutions who foolishly wished to traverse further.

Which meant Yuuri should have been running for the hills by now, surely. 

The resulting screech of their entry made Yuuri nearly jump out of his skin, and yet, the diplomats hardly seemed to register the intrusion, merely glancing up at the admitted company with a look that was equal parts impressed and irritated.

The only ounce of comfort lied in Ambassador Ji’s son, dutifully sitting adjacent to his mother to offer council to her regarding the meeting’s affairs. He offered an upturn of the mouth and a minute motion of the head that could have easily been a genuine nod had he not been actively avoiding invoking the ire of his mother or allowing her adequate claim that he was cavorting with the enemy.

Still, the barest hint of civility was uplifting in times such as these.

“Have a seat, Phichit,” Madam Chulanont ordered more than offered, eyeing the spot where he wasn’t yet as though willing him to be there quicker. He did as his mother said with the most precision Yuuri had ever seen from him—all straight lines and perfectly crossed legs, the toe pointed just so.

Yuuri knew he wasn’t going to get a formal invitation, and therefore, took the space beside Phichit in the least conspicuous manner possible, wondering if it was at all feasible to melt down into the floorboards to abscond from the confines of this suffocating chamber.

“Thank you for joining us, Mr. Chulanont,” Madam Ji acknowledged as was expected of her to. As if on cue, Guang Hong, as if by extension, offered the bow she surely would have given had the mood been more amiable.

Phichit returned it—though pointedly in Guang Hong’s direction, which didn’t escape his mother’s notice if her sharp intake of breath was anything to go by. She must have not seen a clean way to bring up the slight, however, as she delved immediately into the heart of the issue that was being brought to light that day.

Really? This is all about rice imports? Yuuri thought, attempting to not let the exasperation show upon his face.

Apparently, it truly was. Siam was fairly new to the game in regards to sending out its own exports. China, the veteran, had most of the market cornered in England, which left an overabundance of rice stranded in Siam as well as a trade deal severely underutilized.

Yuuri wondered idly if Japan was at all involved in this debate. It was, after all, another great purveyor of rice. He hadn’t heard his father or sister utter of word about it, however; though admittedly, he wasn’t particularly fond of listening to political prattle in the first place and may have simply tuned it out.

Why was he here again?

“And him—“ Madam Ji suddenly hissed with such vitriol that Yuuri was startled out of his reverie. “Why is he here in the first place?”

An excellent question. 

Phichit answered, understandably subdued in this environment but somehow carrying a pleasant air all the same. “You remember Mr. Yuuri Katsuki, Lord Katsuki’s son. Since we’ve seemed to reach an impasse of sorts in our negotiations, I decided an impartial third party could give us a fresh perspective.”

The Chinese woman surveyed him as a cat would a somewhat amusing mouse, and in that moment, Yuuri truly did feel about the size of one, trapped in the corner with only a breadcrumb to hide behind.

“Well?”

Yuuri blinked. “Well what?”

The Chinese woman practically snarled, leaning back to sneer at him from the end of her nose. “Go on then. Enlighten us, won’t you?”

God, Yuuri wished he could. What on God’s green earth had this woman thinking he—out of all people—was uniquely qualified to do so?

Still, he could, at the very least, make an attempt for Phichit’s sake if nothing else.

Yuuri cleared his throat. “I-I think—“ Damn it. “—that Siam has much more to offer than just rice, madam.”

If at all possible, the air in the chamber became even thinner.

Madam Ji touched her fingertips together, gazing at him from across the steep. “Continue.”

Yuuri felt the immediate urge to backtrack—claim himself a fool, enter a full dogeza on the floor and beg for forgiveness—but something about the way the ambassador’s eyes subtly changed—the barest hint of interest there—compelled him to continue. “W-well, it’s just that—“ His eyes darted briefly over to Phichit, finding nothing but silent encouragement there. “—England is not the only country seeking trade. I think that, perhaps, some kind of deal can be made…?”

“What Mr. Katsuki seems to be proposing,” Madam Chulanont mercifully clarified, “is that Siam is more than willing to negotiate with others. We have a wide variety of goods, Madam Ji, that I think you would find to your liking—that is, of course, if China is willing to share in regard to other matters…” She trailed off meaningfully, allowing the statement to stand.

China—and for all intents and purposes, the woman was China at that moment—considered this, tapping her fingers against her leg in thought. Guang Hong tipped his head just a hair lower, infinitesimal in the grand scheme of things, and yet, enough to catch his mother’s keen eyes, to which she finally seemed to reach a consensus within her own mind.

“Very well,” she agreed, still proudly inclining her head but looking less taciturn for the moment. “Guang Hong, escort Mr. Chulanont and his companion to tea. Madam Chulanont and I have business to discuss.”

Yuuri couldn’t help himself but think, Was this not business we were discussing this entire time? as Guang Hong carefully ushered him and Phichit out into the hall. Then again, it never was his business to begin with, so perhaps he should simply be content with the fact that he was leaving the room with his head still attached to his shoulders.

“I’m sorry about the cold reception,” Guang Hong excused when the door was closed and they were well on their way to a calming cup of tea.

“Ah… There’s no need to apologize. Really, I just—“

“Yuuri, you were so good!” Phichit interposed, launching himself at the other and looping his arms around Yuuri’s neck. It seemed as though the staunch seriousness of the previous encounter left him with an oversupply of energy, injecting itself into his voice and mannerisms. “Such a natural! I told you that you could do it!”

Yuuri hid his burning cheeks behind one of Phichit’s arms. “Really, Phichit… It was nothing. I don’t even know what I did.”

Phichit released him from the chokehold, settling for a normal arm around the shoulders. “That’s simple, Yuuri: You’re charming. You charm everyone—either into loving you or being in love with you or both.”

Yuuri froze, going stock-still in the middle of the hallway. “What do you mean by that?”

Phichit went to explain—only to have Guang Hong shush them and motion further along, indicating a lack of privacy in the public sphere of the embassy. Yuuri quite agreed; if his image was to be scrutinized, he rather it be in a quiet parlor than practically on the street.

They found themselves upon tea at last at the Ji family’s estate, to which Yuuri, having finally mustered up the courage to inquire after the long carriage ride there, set about questioning, “Do I… have some kind of reputation?”

Phichit and Guang Hong shared a look.

“It’s not a bad reputation,” Guang Hong was quick to dispute, which only succeeded in making Yuuri more nervous. He didn’t deny it.

“Yes, Yuuri, I wouldn’t worry about it,” Phichit tried to assure, pushing more snacks onto him in an attempt at distraction.

But Yuuri wasn’t in a state for idle snacking. He felt much too strongly for things like that. “Paranoia,” doctors had labeled it, to which there was no definite cure. They recommended bedrest and a clean break from higher arts and sciences and even institutionalization at one point—all suggestions which Yuuri’s family had vehemently disregarded—but the plague remained, compelling him, even then, to set his senses ablaze and intake air at any alarming rate as though he was preparing for the fight of his life.

“Yuuri! Yuuri!” Phichit’s hand waved in front of him, startling him out of the moment. Yuuri inhaled sharply as though he’d been held underwater. “Yes, that’s it… Breathe with me, Yuuri—slowly. Count for me.”

Yuuri eyes fluttered shut. Ichi. Ni. San…

“Good, good…” 

Yon. Go. Roku. Nana. Hachi… Kyuu. Juu…

“There you go…" 

“I have Lady Mari on the line!” Guang Hong called from further in the house. When had he—?

“Yuuri?” Phichit prodded lightly. “Would you like to talk to Mari?”

Slowly, Yuuri shook his head. Phichit communicated the wish to Guang Hong, emphasizing the importance of assuring her that Yuuri’s attack was well over now. Yuuri could agree with that; the last thing he wanted was to be a nuisance. It was why Yuuri felt so panicked at the thought that others viewed him in a particular way. He didn’t want it reflected on his family. Or Victor. Oh, god, Victor—!

“Yuuri, the breathing! Remember the breathing!”

Yuuri didn’t typically take well to be yelled at, but in this instance, he was quite grateful for it, as it shook him once again from spiraling out of control. He resumed counting, slower and more methodical than ever before. Juu-ichi. Juu-ni. Juu-san…

“How do you feel now, Yuuri?”

Yuuri winced, holding a hand to his chest. “Sore.” He always felt sore after an episode.

Luckily, Phichit was more than understanding, rubbing his back in sympathy. “That’s to be expected… Don’t think too hard on it, Yuuri.”

He almost had to laugh at that. Him? Thinking too hard? Wildly out of character, Yuuri could assure. Just unthinkable of him.

Guang Hong returned with a full teapot, looking a tad nervous himself. He wasn’t well accustomed to Yuuri’s penchant for working himself up but had followed Phichit’s instructions to the letter regardless, for which Yuuri was exceedingly grateful. “Please forgive me for having brought up such an upsetting subject,” he implored upon refilling Yuuri’s cup with shaking fingers.

“It is no fault of yours,” Yuuri assured, voice a touch raspy. “I assure you that I am my own undoing.”

Phichit merely patted him in a show of solidarity.

“Then…” Guang Hong settled himself across from his guests, frame still rife with unease but more determined than Yuuri had ever seen him. “Would you allow me—allow us—“ He motioned at Phichit knowingly. “—to explain? Truly, your reputation—if such a positive collection of attributes can even be labeled such—is no disadvantage. If you seek proof, recall this morning’s interaction. Would a man with poor social standing be able to bring about such a fitting resolution?”

Yuuri was stunned. Proof… His anxiety was responding well to the notion. Undeniable proof that he wasn’t a blight upon the records of all he held dear appealed greatly to him at that moment. Accordingly, he nodded, silently urging Guang Hong to go on.

And go on he did, divvying out more snacks all the while. “You seem to have a… a… what’s that word, Phichit? The one with the silent ‘k’ I never remember?”

“Knack?”

“Yes, that.” Pleased with the offerings he’d laid out, Guang Hong finally settled. “A knack for making people more agreeable. They feel compelled to cater to your whims.”

Yuuri blinked. “But why?”

“Isn’t it obvious, Yuuri?” Phichit cut in, waving a biscuit around to better illustrate his point. “You’re lovely. Everyone thinks so. They just can’t help but listen to you when you bat those doe eyes or tilt that puppy head.”

Yuuri went about demonstrating those skills—both at once—in response. “But I… don’t mean to…?”

“We know this,” Guang Hong assured, “which is what makes it even more effective. It doesn’t feel manipulative because you’re not manipulative.”

“Though you must notice how people bend to your will,” Phichit insisted. “They practically throw themselves at you sometimes, tripping over each other to please you.”

Yuuri bit into his lip. “All because I’m ‘lovely’?”

“Like we said, it’s not a bad thing.”

“In fact, it really could be used to your advantage.” 

It was all a bit much to take in. Even so, the primary thought that sprung to mind froze the very air in his lungs. “They don’t think—with Victor—that I’m not faithful—?”

“Oh, no, no, no,” Phichit rushed to assure, his hands returning to Yuuri’s back to stroke more comforts into him. “No one would ever—not while I draw breath, anyway. Everyone knows full well how enamored you are with each other. If there’s any scandal, it’s that you cannot seem to keep your hands off each other as of late.”

Yuuri’s heartrate fell into a normal rhythm. “Ah, well… I rather it be that than… you know.”

Everyone nodded at the unspoken implication.

“Then…” Yuuri found his teacup, speaking into it with what he hoped was some perceivable confidence, “If this is the extent of my reputation… I suppose I can make peace with it.”

“Good on you, Yuuri,” Phichit praised.

“And who knows?” Guang Hong added, “It really might come in handy someday. You’re going to be the husband of a diplomat. I hardly think the skill will go to waste.”

Yuuri sputtered into his drink. “W-well, we’ll see, won’t we…?”


 

“Yuuri, thank you for joining me,” Victor greeted at the door, placing something of a chaste kiss on the back of his hand compared to their interactions as of late.

“Of course,” Yuuri accepted regardless, though he knew not the occasion. “Victor, what has you—?”

Victor righted his posture with such precision that Yuuri immediately fell silent, stunned by the other’s normally lovely smile being strained from misuse.

“My mothers are here.”

“Your—?”

“Vitya! Is my son-in-law here yet?" 

Victor groaned, rolling his eyes heavenwards—presumably for strength. “I haven’t proposed yet, Mother.”

As Yuuri’s brain stuttered over that operative word—“yet”—a lithe blonde woman strutted through the heart of the foyer, immediately planting herself in front of Yuuri.

“Ah, yes,” she murmured, perusing Yuuri as one would a yet to be determined ripe melon at the market. She pinched his cheeks and turned him this way and that, and then, running her hands down his arms, seemed to have her fill. “Still baby-faced, no doubt, but a bit thin everywhere else… That’s easily remedied though.” She clapped, ostensibly pleased with her deduction. “Let Mother fix you something! What would you like? Wait, don’t answer that! I know just the thing!”

She fluttered out just as easily as she had stolen in, the sound of pots and pans clanging together soon filling in the gap of her abrupt departure.

Yuuri sent Victor a look. “Uh…”

“I know, I know. She’s a disaster.” Victor dragged his hand through his fringe, visibly rattled. “I would have warned you better had I any moment to spare. They didn’t warn me of their arrival—just came.

Yuuri directed his gaze to the lavish carpeting. “I’m sorry I’m not to your mother’s standards—“

“No, don’t say that, darling; you’re perfect.” Victor took Yuuri’s hands in his, drawing his thumbs across the backs as though it was second nature. “In actuality, she’s already fully accepted you. It’s just that I’ve extensively told her and Mamochka how lovely you are, and thus, she has no need to acknowledge the obvious.”

Yuuri tilted his head. “Are you sure?”

“I swear my very life on it. She wouldn’t be nearly so adamant about feeding you if she was displeased.”

Yuuri considered this. “Well… She did call me her son-in-law…”

Victor darkened at this. “Ah… That. Yes, she did… I was… very enthusiastic about you over the phone. It may have given her ideas.”

“Hmm…” Yuuri glanced at Victor through the fan of his lashes. “These ideas sound interesting, ‘Vitya.’ Care to share them with me?”

Before words could come from Victor’s open mouth—shocked ajar from the audacious suggestion—his mother called, “Vitya! I didn’t raise you to be so rude! Come introduce your beloved to your mamochka!”

Yuuri couldn’t suppress a giggle. “Yes, ‘Vitya.’ Why don’t you be a good little boy and show me to the parlor?”

Being called Vitya was more than enough to send a thrill of excitement down Victor’s spine, but that particular string of words twisted Victor’s stomach in knots he didn’t care to have undone. As easily as breathing, Victor’s hand sought the small of Yuuri’s back, guiding him further into the manor with an uncharacteristically subdued, “Yes, Yuuri…”

The teasing smile Yuuri wore, unfortunately, did not last. For upon coming face-to-face with Victor’s second mother, it seemed to melt away—along with all the color in his face.

Victor’s mamochka sat cross-legged atop a settee, a cup of tea delicately balanced across her knee. That appeared to be the only outwardly delicate thing about her, however, as she was dressed in full Russian military uniform, her breast well decorated with badges of honor, shiny from a recent polishing, and a sword suggestively tucked in her belt, battered from events untold.

Of course, Yuuri was well versed in the fact that one of Victor’s mothers was a high-ranking Russian military soldier turned ambassador. But he was also quite sure that she was retired. Why then—?

“I suppose you’re curious about the uniform,” she deduced. It momentarily shocked Yuuri into a stupor, as her accent was far thicker than Victor’s or even his other mother’s.

Yuuri could only nod.

Wordlessly, the woman gestured to the chaise across from her.

Yuuri did as directed, Victor following close behind him and giving his hand a squeeze in encouragement.

“Forgive my appearance—physically and in regard to the abruptness of my wife’s and my visit,” she began.

Yuuri shook his head. “No trouble at all, Madam Nikiforov—ah, er, Colonel?” He was fairly confident it was “colonel,” but he had a sinking suspicion he was pronouncing it wrong.

“Mamochka is fine.” She raised a brow at him. “Unless you have some kind of problem with that?”

Well, now he didn’t. “Of-of course not!" 

“Good.” She uncrossed her legs, crossed them again. “As for why we’re here and my reason for once again donning this uniform, they’re related matters. Vitya’s having some issues with reaching an agreement with Korea’s representative—“

“I told you, Mamochka, that I have the affair well under control—“

“—and as such, I came out of retirement in a show of strength to help intimidate them into compliance.”

Yuuri gulped.

The woman sighed, placing her teacup aside. “But things do not always go as one wishes. The tactic was ill-received, and I am left with little options. But then, I recalled—“ She turned the full force of her eyes upon Yuuri, powerful and keen despite—or perhaps, in relation to—her age. “—that Vitya spoke highly of you in this regard.”

Somehow, Yuuri found his voice. “In… what… regard?” (Well, found may have been an over-approximation.)

“Negotiations,” she supplied, resting a calculating finger upon her lip. “Your reputation precedes you. Everyone I’ve spoken with vouches for your skill—for your unique ability.”

“O-oh. Is that so?”

“It is.” Mamochka leaned forward, tight, concentrated energy pulled taut. “I assume you are as taken with my son as he is with you. If so, listen well: He represents a country—our motherland—and the position is rife with struggle. The person at his side must be prepared for this—for supporting him with everything they have. Are you prepared for this?”

“A-ah… Well…”

“I believe you fully capable of the job—though I would hate to be disappointed halfway through the marriage. As such, I expect you to accompany Vitya and me to the embassy this afternoon to help in negotiations with Korea. I will only accept results. Do I make myself clear?”

Yuuri stared unblinkingly into the woman’s eyes, trying to scrounge up a modicum of courage. There were nuances aplenty in those short, concise sentences, but all Yuuri could focus on was the fact that she seemed to find him adequate; if that was indeed the case, he would take that and run with it. If she wanted him to put up a fight—to use his questionable reputation to their advantage—then he’d do it. A thousand times over, he would do it. For Victor. And for himself.

“I understand.”

She studied him a heartbeat longer before her face split into a smirk. “Very good. I like that fire in your eyes. The spouse to an emissary must be shrewd—clever—and above all, ruthless in the pursuit of their partner’s ambitions.”

“Look, dear!” Victor’s other mother announced her presence, touting a tray full of cookies. “I made them shaped like little Makkachins! Aren’t they adorable?”

Mamochka hesitated for the briefest moment before a very familiar heart-shaped smile spread across her lips. “How wonderful, lyubov moya! You entrance me in everything that you do!”

Whiplash, was all Yuuri could think. This was what that English word “whiplash” was for.

As Mamochka sampled Mother’s cookies, she traded in her innocent look for something slightly more severe. “I look forward to seeing what you can do, Mr. Katsuki.”

And Yuuri had no choice but to accept the challenge.


 

Seung Gil Lee was twenty-one years of pure, undistilled disinterest. He was a wall on which soldiers would throw themselves upon, scrabbling to gain traction where there was none and slinking back into the depths to wait for another more auspicious opportunity.

In short, he was one of Yuuri’s closest acquaintances.

Not by choice, mind you. But Seung Gil found life in England so utterly detestable that Yuuri looked like a viable distraction in comparison. They had some common language between them, as Seung Gil’s Japanese was passable, and their interactions were surprisingly civil for representatives of countries that were constantly at each other’s throats.

(Yuuri wondered briefly if Mamochka had done enough research to uncover all that when she had looked into his “skills.”)

Seung Gil had yet to take the position of Korean ambassador, as his father still technically maintained the title despite a distinct aversion to the English language that left, for all intents and purposes, Seung Gil as the sole voice of Korea.

Yuuri feared for their future.

Because Seung Gil, while an excellent envoy to his country, didn’t seem to possess any understanding or appreciation of the concept of courtesy—or even pretend to—which left a lot of people rankled in a society that prided itself on decency. 

Reflecting upon this, Yuuri thought he could begin to understand why Mamochka thought dusting off her armor was, perhaps, a perfectly fitting reaction.

“Lord Lee, Mr. Lee,” Victor greeted upon entering the conference room; his mother stood a short distance away, as it was imperative Victor’s position appear unchallenged despite her intimidating presence.

“Lord Nikiforov.” Seung Gil scowled—though it may have simply been his default expression. “I thought we sent you away. Twice now.”

Victor laughed, a bit forced at the edges; his primary tactic against Seung Gil appeared to involve imprinting the impression of humor upon his character—taking his tone-deaf jibes for sarcasm—in order to more easily avoid confrontation. “Oh, Mr. Lee, you always do slay me.”

“I wish I could,” Seung Gil muttered under his breath, the comment not lost on Yuuri, though blessedly, the Nikiforovs didn’t seem to catch it—or rather, gracefully ignored it.

Seung Gil’s father, ancient even by Asian standards, tugged at the sleeve of his son’s hanbok, beckoning him down to his level. Seung Gil went willingly, listening in a way that appeared at least outwardly attentive.

At last, Seung Gil straightened. “His Lord Lee says he has nothing to discuss with Russia and wishes for you to go away.”

Yuuri didn’t miss how Victor’s shoulders stiffened. “Oh…? Is that right?” It was clear he had his doubts regarding the accuracy of Seung Gil’s translation.

His skepticism was only met with a challengingly raised eyebrow.

“Well, forgive me if I do not take no for an answer,” Victor informed, wearing something that could technically be classified as a smile, “as thrice now I’ve come to compromise with you and your dear father only to be met with resistance.”

“Russian trade ships will not be allowed to dock on Korean soil, and that is my—“ Seung Gil cursed in recognition of his error and rushed to correct, “—my father’s final word on the matter.” 

Victor glanced at Lord Lee as though imploring him to lecture his unruly child, but the man remained firm, unwavering in the face of such discourse. Likely, he didn’t understand a word of the exchange, a true pinnacle of “ignorance is bliss." 

“And Yuuri,” Seung Gil suddenly spoke to him in Japanese, snapping said man out of his role of spectator, “why are you here?”

“A-ah, that is—“ Yuuri looked to Victor for silent permission, finding a nod there. “I want to help settle this matter. Won’t you cooperate with Russia?”

“There is no ‘tasukeaimasu,’” Seung Gil sneered, emphasizing the verb—to help one another—in a show of disdain. “Korea gains nothing from the arrangement Nikiforov offers. If anything, it’ll only spread the plague that is European ideals further into the country. Wouldn’t you feel the same if it was Japan being poisoned?”

Yuuri, on the contrary, did not feel this way at all—besides which, Japan already had a lovely port for which foreigners could visit in the form of Dejima—and thought it rather closeminded of Seung Gil to imply he’d think otherwise.

“Ah—never mind. I forgot that you have no qualms about jumping into bed with the likes of gaijin.”

Yuuri’s breath stuttered, eyes going impossibly wide. Gaijin. Foreigners—but in the eyes of Seung Gil, anyone originating outside of the Asian continent. They were the forbidden fruit of their kind, and Yuuri hadn’t hesitated in taking a bite. He knew this—knew the consequences—but for Seung Gil to imply

“Yuuri? Yuuri, my love, what’s wrong? What did he—?”

“I would like a moment with Mr. Seung Gil Lee,” Yuuri said in English, stilted, overly articulate. He felt hypersensitive—like every nerve was set alight—and gathered that he must have looked it too, considering how Victor flinched upon meeting his eyes. “Alone please. It is a matter of honor.”

“Y-yes,” Victor reluctantly agreed. “A moment… should be fine. Lord Lee—“ He offered his arm—and his other to his mother. “Shall we leave them to it then?” He cast one more concerned look over his shoulder before departing, the sound of the door closing loud and echoey like that of the sealing of a tomb.

“Then, Mr. Lee—“

“I have nothing to speak with you about.” Seung Gil met the door with long strides, perhaps getting wise in how Yuuri was weaving a snare into the floorboards.

“I’ll arrange a meeting with Mr. Chulanont for you.”

Seung Gil halted, his hand inches before the door handle curling into a vice. “And why would I care about that?”

Yuuri sighed, faux forlorn. “Ah, well, if it doesn’t interest you, I’ll just leave—“

Sit down.”

Yuuri sat.

Seung Gil stalked back into the room proper. “What exactly constitutes as a meeting in your definition?”

“Mmm…” Yuuri feigned consideration. “Some tea to start. Maybe a stroll. Whatever you’d fancy for an afternoon, I’d wager. He has mentioned you before perhaps once or twice… I’m sure he wouldn’t mind such an arrangement.”

Seung Gil narrowed his eyes. “A bluff.”

“I believe that’s up to you to decide,” Yuuri countered, coyly glancing over Seung Gil’s shoulder as if becoming bored with the subject. “But what a missed opportunity it would be—and a slight on his reputation, besides—if I told him you had refused his company.”

“You’re blackmailing me.”

“Not at all, Mr. Lee. Just extending invitation.”

The ticks from the room’s standard grandfather clock became very loud indeed, heavy like that of a pounding headache. It was how Yuuri knew—exactly—eight seconds had passed before—

“Busan.”

Yuuri blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

“Russian trading ships can stop in Busan—but only Busan. There. Are you not satisfied?”

Wearing the faintest suggestion of a smile, Yuuri rose, offering Seung Gil a gracious bow. “Pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Lee.”


 

Neither Victor nor Mamochka could mask their astonishment when Yuuri emerged after a single, solitary moment—as promised—having reached an agreement. 

“But how did you do it?” Victor asked when they were well on their way home, pouting as Yuuri simply giggled at him.

“It’s a secret,” Yuuri teased, holding a finger to his lips.

Yuuuuri. That’s not fair! If you keep it to yourself, how will we able to use the same method again later?”

Yuuri bumped into his shoulder playfully. “You’ll just have to keep me around then, won’t you?”

Smile radiant as the sun, Victor merely quipped, “My dear, that was already a given.”

Chapter Text

Much to Jean-Jacques Leroy’s disdain, the privilege of hosting summer’s closing banquet fell not onto him but onto the house of Chulanont.

Madam Chulanont entertained the idea of planning the entire affair herself for a very commendable five minutes before she did what everyone ultimately expected of her: pass the honor onto her son who had been preparing for this very moment for approximately his entire life.

Predictably, it didn’t take long at all for him to go overboard.

“A masquerade ball?”

Phichit nodded with ever mounting enthusiasm. “Yes! Isn’t it a stroke a brilliance?”

Guang Hong, who posed the query, merely shook his head in apparent fondness.

Yuuri, feeling a bit as though everyone at this organizational meeting had quite lost their marbles, inquired as to the obvious: “But won’t that be pointless? I mean, masquerades are meant to hide everyone’s identities, aren’t they? None of us will be very well hidden with the diversity of the guest list—not unless we drown ourselves in powder and dye our hair, that is.”

Phichit, perplexingly, only smiled wider. “That’s the exciting twist! We will know who everyone is. But we will pretend that we do not. Just swear everyone to secrecy, and voilà!”

“A disaster,” Seung Gil deemed it. “A disaster waiting to happen.”

“Ah, come now,” Phichit chided. “Have some faith in me. When I have ever steered any of you in the wrong direction?”

A telling silence fell over the parlor.

“I must amend: When have I ever steered any of you in the wrong direction in such a way that it couldn’t be fixed shortly thereafter?”

“Yuuri’s love life,” someone coughed.

“I fixed Yuuri’s love life for the better, thank you.”

“We’re off topic,” Sara cut in with a mild clearing of the throat. “Are we all in agreement, then? About the theme?”

There was murmuring—but lighter and discernably less antagonistic.

She clapped her hands. “Then it’s settled!”


 

“Phichit—Phichit, please—“ Yuuri pushed the man’s hand away only for it to return with a vengeance, pressing the dull end of a chalked pencil to the crease of his eyelid. “I don’t understand. We’re all going to be masked anyway! What is the point of putting on cosmetics?”

“Well, you’re certainly right in one regard,” Phichit quipped, abandoning his current instrument of torture for another, “in that you clearly don’t understand. The mask is the entire reason you need to accentuate your features!”

“For whom?” Yuuri sputtered, batting the current tool—a brush this time, blessedly—back towards Phichit, though the struggle was becoming more and more half-hearted by the minute. “I won’t be able to see it. I can hardly wear glasses and a mask both at once, you know.”

Phichit merely rolled his eyes like it was the easiest query ever posed, all the while mixing powers together on the back of his hand. “For Victor, obviously—and anyone else. You steal the show at every party you attend; I’m simply preparing you for the inevitable.”

Yuuri shrunk back. “I… I do not!”

“Mm,” Phichit vaguely observed, pulling Yuuri’s face somewhat forcibly back within stabbing range. “You’ll thank me later. Just stay put and let me work my magic.”

Yuuri did just that—with no small amount of pouting, mind you—whimpering and whining at every poke and prod to his increasingly discomforted expression.

“There!” Phichit said finally, gesturing to the mirror. “Tell me you don’t look like a vision!”

Yuuri gazed into the glass, moue pulled tighter. “’Vision’ is certainly out of the question, considering I cannot see anything at all. I’m just a blur.”

“Then look with you glasses,” Phichit told him, leaving him little choice in the matter as he dropped them on the end of the other’s nose.

“Oh, no, no, no, no, no—“ Yuuri shoved the glasses back into Phichit’s hands. “Absolutely not. I cannot stand to see myself like that!”

It was Phichit’s turn to whine. “But why not, Yuuri? You look beautiful!”

“It’s… too much.” Yuuri stared into the mirror once more, trying to overlay what he knew to be his appearance with the shapeless form that sat before him. “I… cannot come to terms with it.”

“But,” Phichit bargained, “you’ll leave it on, won’t you? I worked so hard on it, after all…” He fluttered his eyes a little, extending his lower lip. “Please? I know Victor will love it…”

Well, Yuuri thought, it wasn’t a bad look per se. A little bit excessive, no doubt, but that was practically Phichit’s modus operandi—and he would be wearing it to Phichit’s party, besides.

“I suppose,” Yuuri sighed, “that it won’t make much difference under the mask anyway.”

A squeal of delight pierced the walls. “Excellent, because I have a matching outfit for the look!”

Ah. May the Lord preserve him.


 

“Hello, stranger.”

Victor smirked into his drink. “Fellow stranger.”

Chris certainly looked at home dressed to the nines, a gaudy, glimmering mask doing nothing to veil his devilish green eyes. “Indeed. I’ve been looking for your better half, though I can’t seem to find him anywhere.”

Despite himself, Victor felt a telltale twitch in the corner of his eye. “Oh, have you? Whatever for?”

“Curiosity, of course,” Chris answered like it was obvious, “and I am in desperate need a worthy dance partner. If we are all to act like strangers, you have no right to bar me from such a pleasure.”

Victor rolled his eyes, deliberately slow and calculating. “Don’t I…?”

“Not a single right!”

“Mm.” Victor downed the remainder of his drink. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

There was a melodical crashing then—like the sound of a piano man mistaking one key for another but all at once, a cacophony of mangled noise far beyond anything that could be considered a minor error.

Victor looked to him—that pianist—and found him to be solely focused on the foyer’s staircase, which he followed up to a pair descending the steps.

One was decidedly Phichit, his mask, ruby-red, not so much disguising his tan—and thus, him—but instead accentuating it nicely, a natural extension to his ensemble.

But then, being led down beside him, was a vision shrouded in black—mask, clothes, hair, product—though paradoxically shining like a beacon, crystals adorning his guise, lips made shiny, eyes impossibly large and bright.

It was Eros, the god of love, here to bless the mortals and partake in their quaint rituals—to teach them how to dance and sing and always leave them wanting more. 

Even before he broached the final stair, there was already a crowd forming, a silent siren song strung throughout the room, luring the commonfolk closer to look upon beauty incarnate. Victor was no exception, his feet finding rhythm even as his heart skipped beats, pulled forward by the intensity of Yuuri’s gaze as he seemed to survey the entryway with a distinct sense of single-minded determination. 

Then, at last, he evidently found what he was looking for, catching Victor’s eyes for a fleeting moment—

—and cutting him with the most cunning quirk of the lips.

Others crowded him immediately—friends, Romans, countrymen, though all rendered anonymous through the nature of the event—asking for dances, offering drinks, imploring the god Eros for a mere second of his time.

He looked benevolently upon them, though he only had eyes for one.

And he sought out that one again even as he accepted one of the many hands before him, remarking, “Oh, a dance? I’d love one!” and allowing himself to be escorted into the ballroom, metaphorically throwing the gauntlet with one last coquettish glance tossed over his shoulder.

A hand on the shoulder startled Victor out of his stupor, looking over to Chris as he whistled appreciatively at Yuuri’s receding form. “That, my friend, was a challenge if I’ve ever seen one.”

Victor swallowed, handing over his empty glass to Chris without even looking. “Hold my drink?”

Chris grinned as though he was being afforded a great honor. “Of course.”

There was quick, lively clapping when Victor entered the ballroom, the crowd keeping time with a song that demanded several dance partners, Yuuri being traded back and forth like a good book, hooking arms with some, grasping hands with others, always a smile illuminating his face, genuine giggles spilling from his lips freely.

It was his Yuuri, Victor thought, suddenly choked up at the reality before him. It was his Yuuri, unfettered by the troubles of their world—and of his own apprehensions—allowed to bloom like the flower he was always meant to be.

Still, a challenge had been issued, and Victor wasn’t one to overlook something like that, even if Yuuri did regularly test the limits of his restraint.

“Mind if I cut in?” Victor inquired, folding into the fray and finding Yuuri’s hands with his.

Yuuri momentarily startled, then relaxed, that teasing smirk threatening to overtake his features once more. “I don’t know. Does this stranger have good intentions?”

“The best of, in fact,” Victor assured, pulling the other along in time with the tempo. “See, I’ve spotted the most beautiful person in town, and I’m endeavoring to win his favor.”

“Ah.” That wicked little smile finally made its proper appearance. “That is quite an endeavor, milord. How ever will you accomplish it?”

“Well, it shouldn’t be too hard,” Victor bantered, leading Yuuri into a spin. “After all, I have a bit of a reputation as a playboy who can convince even the most virtuous of saints to give me a chance.”

“My, how impressive.” Yuuri’s smirk only widened, leading Victor to suspect he may have somehow wandered headfirst into a trap. Sure enough, Yuuri’s hand wound through his hair, holding him in place just long enough to remark in his ear, “It’s a noble enough pursuit, milord, but if you want to have me, you’ll have to catch me.”

Then Yuuri was swapped for another partner, Victor designated to one side of the room while Yuuri was destined for the other, falling stars crossing each other’s paths, evanescent, before careening off course.

Well, that would have been their fate, but Victor Nikiforov was nothing if not tenacious.

The music swelled even as it moved on into another tune, seamlessly blending one song with the next, the second not any less inviting than the last.

However, Victor ducked off the dancefloor proper, finding a niche among the crowd that would provide him a view but keep him well out of the activity.

It wasn’t yet time. The opportune moment would present itself; until then, he would look on towards Yuuri to witness every sway and sashay, every leap and turn, every little instance where the earth seemed to forget itself and allowed Yuuri to bend gravity to his will, letting him fly higher and jump farther than ordinarily possible.

He was a spectacle, to be sure.

Then it came: the point in which the orchestra faded into a slower, gentler affair, partners pairing for what would be a three-minute commitment, made to be closer than ever before.

And Victor was there for when Yuuri looked around, a bit of his typical anxieties making its way through his many layers, to kiss assurances into the back of his hand.

“Thought you got rid of me?” Victor couldn’t help but jest even as Yuuri’s expression melted into pure bliss at seeing him.

“Ah, well—“ Yuuri let himself fall into position as the song played on. “—I was wondering where my most ardent admirer had gone off to.”

Victor chuckled. “Right here, milord. I’m at your service.” He leaned forward, an answering call to Yuuri’s previous challenge. “And it seems I have you thoroughly caught. What is my prize for having done so?”

Yuuri shivered—a terribly endearing, transparent thing—and surveyed Victor up through the fan of his lashes. “I don’t know. Perhaps you’ll have to get me alone to find out.”

Victor couldn’t stop his jaw from going slack, the audaciousness of the proposition washing over him with all the subtly of a clap to the back, the wind being knocked cleanly out of him.

Yuu—“

A finger halted the movement of his lips. “Yes, me,” Yuuri rescued expertly. “I am the one who proposed such a thing. Stranger, won’t you take me away from the ballroom?”

As if Victor could say no.

The embassy, for all its extravagance, boasted few bedrooms, as visitors tended to favor the comforts of inns to the staunch, imperialist walls of government buildings.

Yet, as Yuuri and Victor tumbled into one of those very bedrooms, mouths already upon each other, Victor divesting himself of his jacket, his mask coming loose and falling to the floor in his haste, they could hardly spare a thought to whatever comforts or lack thereof were being provided to them.

It was a room, they were alone, and that was enough.

Yuuri retreated back a hair to allow a breath into his starved lungs, gasping in a manner that suggested other, less wholesome reasons for his breathlessness.

Victor felt the inch like a country mile, leaning forward to close the gap but stopped short by a hand tracing terribly unfair patterns on the front of his lapel.

“Do you think yourself subtle?” Yuuri posed. “When you undress me from across the room, do you think it coy?”

“Ah, that’s—“

“Shh, listen,” Yuuri purred. “Does that excite you? Knowing that I’m quivering inside, unable to resist you?”

“Yuuri—“

“Does it make you feel powerful? Seeing how you affect me?” He indicated to his cheek, lightly tapping at the flush that had gathered there with a minutely shaking finger. “Look, Victor, upon your fine work...”

“Lyubov moya—“

“How easily you come undone...”

“Only for you, love.”

It was, evidently, the right thing to say, as Yuuri visibly preened at the comment. “Yes, and it’ll stay that way,” Yuuri assured, tone stained dark with promise. “This—“ He cupped around the column of Victor’s neck, the pads of his fingers searing against the pulse. “—is for me and me alone.”

Victor wasn’t sure if he was referring to the act of being intimate with him or the very blood pumping through his veins, but either way, the other was indeed correct.

Yet, like the transition from day to night, the sun dipping over the horizon the moment you look away from it, Yuuri startled back at the noise that trickled in from the ballroom, the band transitioning from a sultry, sweet dance to a more energized number.

Victor did what he could to suppress a whine, though it whistled through his teeth all the same. He wanted Yuuri back—he was just across the way but felt entire leagues removed from him—with his hands a continual presence on his skin and his breath a continual comfort to his own and their eyes meeting and never parting—not even once, not now, not ever. He wanted that. He wanted Yuuri.

Hell, he just wanted, period.

Yuuri’s mask may have still been in place, its crystals catching the light from the streetlamps outside, casting ephemeral, glittering patterns on the walls and floorboards, but the veneer that had accompanied it—the confidence, the self-assuredness—had been cleanly striped, leaving Yuuri to stand there, hands held firmly to his heart as though he feared its imminent escape, with nary a sense of preservation.

He clearly thought himself at fault, assuming he’d crossed some sort of invisible boundary, taking what he wasn’t allowed to take, staking claim on what wasn’t his to claim.

And Victor couldn’t have him feel that of all things.

“Love—” He extended his hand, a brazen finger curling of its own accord. “—come back here.”

Yuuri did, his half-skirt swaying, red peeking out among black like a preview of coming attractions. He slunk before Victor, waiting until the very last second to incline his head and let the full force of his eyes, pronounced with product, take in the other.

Victor inhaled sharply at the shock of it—of the rich wine color boring into him, shimmering with tears unshed—but steeled himself, lifting a hand to surreptitiously skate under the edge of Yuuri’s mask, pushing it past his forehead and into the grove of Yuuri’s hair, disheveled from a long night of dance and merriment.

Yuuri flinched at that, his countenance laid bare, biting into his lip in silent protest. Victor gently coaxed it from between the clench of his teeth, holding him there by his thumb and forefinger.

“Yuuri…” He waited, then, until he had the man’s full attention. “I want you.”

The reaction was immediate, a shiver lancing through Yuuri with the precision of a knife. He shook his head, even as Victor kept a hold on him. “No… I can’t. This is the one thing I can’t give you, Victor. Ask me for anything else.”

“Yuuri, I’m asking for you,” he said, because it seemed imperative, at that moment, to get across the fact that this was a proposition designed for two—that Yuuri’s permission was vital to him and that he wanted with a force hardly recognizable to himself.

“I-I can’t,” Yuuri forced out between increasingly labored breaths, each feeling closer to the edge—to the precipice—than the next. “It’s not that I don't want to—I do. I want it—I want it more than anything—to be with you—now—always—“

“Then say yes.” Victor took him between both hands, and Yuuri let himself be caught. “Tomorrow will worry about tomorrow. Let us have our now. Say yes, my darling." 

Yuuri overlapped Victor’s hands with his own, keeping him there, pressing him further, pulling him under and over and out and in. He breathed once, eyes closed, just allowing the sensation to be—to be there, to have it, to hold it, to own it and never let it go.

And he surrendered.

Yes,” Yuuri respired. “Have me—have me please—“

Hardly were the words out of his mouth before Victor was upon him, hands inching ever bolder, one taking a proprietary fistful of his hair, the other sinking lower than it had ever traversed before, disregarding the dip of his waist to explore other, more daring ventures. The press of his lips, familiar though different, didn’t waste time with the usual trivialities, bypassing the acclimating, questioning pecks and the gentle teasing for brasher fare, coming across demanding, entitled, taking all that Yuuri was willing to part with.

Well, if he was taking requests, then Yuuri first wished to part with this ridiculous costume if he could only

Victor took Yuuri’s hand from where he was tugging at the fastens, the latter subtly endeavoring to free himself of his confines while at the same time trying to keep up with the pace of Victor’s advances. He replaced Yuuri’s hand with his own, clever fingers undoing what Yuuri had failed to undo, pulling it down halfway but stopping short, as the binding was on the back, and therefore, rendered unreachable by their positioning.

Before Yuuri could voice his displeasure at Victor having stopped, he found himself turned around and bent over the bed—the bed, the bed in the Siamese consulate, my god—the rest of the costume being unbound within the moment, cool air feeling coarse on his exposed skin.

Victor was surprisingly silent—to which Yuuri plunged his face into the sheets, convinced he’d been a disappointment—only to hiss in pleasure as Victor traced the knobs of his spine, following each caress with his tongue until he reached Yuuri’s center, preparing him in similar fashion, broad strokes and deep delves into territory Yuuri himself was only partially familiar with. It was a numbing, delicious sort of torture, Yuuri practically vibrating by the end of it, rocking back and forth with a burst of energy that he yet knew what to do with.

“Beautiful,” Victor remarked for the first time in a while, his voice gone hoarse in the interlude. It was closer than Yuuri thought—right in his ear, directly behind him—and he felt his body being pressed down further with the weight of Victor as he settled over him. The thrill of it all was burning low in his stomach, for the most part smoldering like a fire but occasionally striking like lightning, lurid colors bursting behind his eyes whenever Victor and he met.

Then Victor was there, waiting, ready, and Yuuri felt the need so viscerally that he thought he might very well combust if he didn’t have Victor in him that very next moment.

“Yes…?”

Yuuri drove himself back in answer, taking him in, drawing the air from Victor’s lungs. “Yes.

The band was playing—by god, the band was still playing—but it was fortuitous if anything, because even as Victor moved and Yuuri seized, voicing the full extent of his pleasure—volume scarcely dulled despite his best efforts, a fist pressed to his pretty, pink mouth, fingers clenching and unclenching, glassy eyes pleading for his lover to follow—Victor knew he wasn’t nearly satisfied and wouldn’t be for some time, if ever.

He wanted to—no, would—take Yuuri apart many times over before the night was through, and no force on this earth was going to sway him otherwise—not societal standards nor loyalty to one’s country nor anyone’s opinion nor any god’s judgment upon them.

In that moment, Victor answered to one power: Yuuri Katsuki. And he would die before he disappointed him.

The band picked up again, and so, too, did they.


 

Larks… or doves. Yes, perhaps doves. Whatever was making that incessant racket on the windowsill, it needed to quiet down, Yuuri thought, burrowing more into the bedsheets, into the warmth beside him.

The person beside him, rather. Vi…? Vic—!

“Victor!" 

“Ow, Yuuri, why did you—?”

“We fell asleep!”

“Oh.” Victor rose to prop himself up on his elbows, his hair adorably mussed by sleep, sheets slipping suggestively down the line of his hips. “Yes, I do believe you’re right.”

“No one—“ Yuuri gathered the blankets up again, trying and failing to maintain their modesties. “No one has come in, right? You locked the door last night, didn’t you?”

“Of course, Yuuri. You really think I would forget something like—?”

Phichit shrieked in the doorway, dropping a basket of linens at his feet. He immediately spun around and committed himself to examining the finer details of the wallpaper.

“Phichit, what are you doing here?”

“What am I doing here?” Phichit demanded, clearly fighting against both his better judgment and the limits of his peripheral vision at every moment he wasn’t feasting his eyes on the dirtiest laundry this side of London. “I am preparing the room for Lord Mongang’s extended stay! Why are you here, Yuuri?”

“You know perfectly well why he’s here,” Victor said coolly, the look in his eyes gone hard, “and you’re not to tell a soul. This goes with us to our graves.”

Phichit raised his hand as though taking a pledge. “You have my word. I won’t dare sell out my best friend like that.” He cast a nervous glance down the hall. “Even so, you two should leave immediately. It’s still early, so you should be able to—“

“Oy, Phichit.”

Lord above.

“Lady Mari—!” Phichit draped himself across the doorway, biting into his lip as he heard panicked shuffling behind him. “What, er—” He let his head rest on the frame, body angled to cover the most area. “Did you enjoy the party? What brings you here this fine morning?”

Mari narrowed her eyes at him. “It was… adequate. I’m looking for Yuuri. He didn’t return home last night.”

“Oh, really?” Phichit’s laughter was properly acquainted with the concept of hysteria. “That is certainly something I am not aware of in any way, shape, or form!”

Mari moved to the left, and Phichit followed. Mari moved to the right, and Phichit checked her advance there too. “Is there… something you’re not telling me, Phichit?”

“Something? I’m not telling? Gracious, no!” He stole a glance behind him, relieved to see that the pair were now well on their way to decent, donning their costumes from the night before sans masks. “I’m just… terribly embarrassed about this room. I’m supposed to have it ready for Lord Mongang by now, and as you can see, I’ve been shirking my duty.”

Mari’s focus darted to the neglected linens, then back up to Phichit’s increasingly unconvincing countenance as someone hissed, “the window, the window!” and the click of a lock being undone resounded.

“Phichit,” Mari said slowly, “where is Yuuri?" 

“Um, you know what?” A thud, a whimpered “ow,” and then the snapping of branches. “He just departed. Almost this minute! How it slipped my mind until now, I’ll never know! Why don’t you head back? I’m sure he’ll have returned by the time you arrive!”

Mari finally pushed past Phichit proper, taking in the unkempt nature of the room. While she inspected the window, Phichit subtly slid the discarded masks under the bed with the ball of his foot.

“They’re…” Mari looked manic, whirling around to face Phichit with enough force to give whiplash. “They’re not here.”

“Who? Yuuri and Lord Nikiforov? Of course not! Don’t be ridiculous!”

“I never mentioned Lord Nikiforov.”

“Uh—!” Phichit turned to the door. “That’s my mother calling! Probably needs help with the other preparations! Sorry I can’t see you out, Lady Mari!”

“Come back here, Phichit Chulanont! I’m not done—“

And yet the door slammed in finality all the same.


 

When Yuuri appeared at the back gate—hair mangled, clothes wrangled, kiss marks littering his skin in indiscriminate patterns, and a particularly paranoid but also smug-looking Victor Nikiforov by his side—all Minako could do was sigh.

“Say no more,” she pleaded more than said, ushering Yuuri inside with a hand to the small of his back. When Victor made to follow, she held him back with a firm hand. “I think you’ve done enough for the moment. You may want to keep a low profile for the time being—avoid being seen with Yuuri at least until he can wander the streets without frightening the children.”

“Ah.” Victor stiffened. “Yes… Yes, of course.”

Unwittingly, a smile made it unscathed through the governess's stern front. “Go home and make yourself presentable. I’m afraid Yuuri has come down with… something.” She stared openly—unabashed—at the trail of evidence that led down Yuuri’s neck, compelling him to draw the collar of Victor’s jacket—draped then around his shoulders—ever closer. “Something that provides him enough time to recover from this indecency.”

“Milady, you misunderstand—“

“Minako-sensei.” Yuuri voice was a low drone, his gaze never venturing from the ground where his shoes were turned in, unstockinged and caked with dirt. “Allow me a minute with Lord Nikiforov alone. I’ll be in shortly.”

“Mmm…” She appraised Victor once again, the man standing at attention as though perfect posture would speak for his character. “All right. But don’t ravish him in the garden. No amount of fake illnesses can account for something like that." 

Minako-sensei.”

“Yes, yes.” She strode into the estate, disappearing inside but no doubt keeping a dutiful watch at one of the windows, trying to salvage what little dignity her lord had left.

“Yuuri…” Victor swallowed, growingly disconcerted by the silence which Yuuri had adopted since their daring escape out of the Siamese consulate’s—blessedly—first-story window. “Yuuri, are you mad?”

Yuuri wouldn’t look at him, his head kept low. Then Victor noticed the shaking—strongest in the shoulders—but spreading ever faster down the full extent of his body like a tidal wave.

“Yuuri, please don’t cry—please—“

But then Yuuri tipped his head back, laughter falling from him in peals, holding his stomach with the force of it. “Oh—oh, Victor—we almost got caught! We almost got caught by Mari of all people! Did you—did you see?”

“Yes—yes, of course I did.” Victor pressed Yuuri against him, a sense of relief washing over him, the beginning of his own chuckles building up in his chest. “I was there, after all.”

“I—I would have died!”

“Oh, surely not,” Victor remarked, tone tellingly watery, holding Yuuri just a touch tighter. “My Yuuri is far stronger than that.”

Yuuri was still quaking with adrenalin, laughing at the situation, at them, at what almost was. “And then—and then you fell on that bush—“

“And then you fell on top of me. Yes, I remember.”

“Ah…” Yuuri inhaled a deep, wavering breath, taking bunches of Victor’s suit fabric between both hands as he attempted to reel himself in. “I’m sorry about that. I swear I didn’t mean to.”

Victor kissed the crown of his head. “I know, love.”

Yuuri finally met the other, eyes a bit smeared with expired product but nevertheless lovely. “I had a good time. I don’t regret a thing.” His shoulders shrunk minutely. “Though… I don’t think we should risk something like that again.”

“We—“ Victor cleared his throat, the beginning of a blush creeping up his neck. “We wouldn’t have to… if we were married.”

“Oh.” Whatever blush Victor started, Yuuri finished, blood rushing to his face in a flurry. “Well… yes. Yes, you would be correct.”

“Yuuri—“

“I have to go!” Yuuri pressed a kiss to the inside of his jaw and waved as he bounded up the steps. “Good day, Victor! I’ll see you soon!”

Dumbfounded, Victor stood there, the Katsuki gate swinging this way and that in the breeze—a metallic whine sounding each time—outlining the mark of gloss that Yuuri had left upon him with mounting fondness.

“Yes…” Victor murmured to himself, an idea taking hold of him. “Soon enough, I should say.”

Chapter Text

20 September 1895

Dearest Yuuri—

You do not know how it agonizes me, darling, to be kept away from you. But I fear Lady Minako’s swift and terrifying retribution should I stride even one step towards your parents’ house.

The only one who misses you, I think, more than I is our dear Makkachin, who whines and scratches at the door whenever someone comes to call; but upon finding it not to be you, he retires to his bed and doesn’t stop his whimpering until I’ve placated him with treats. He’s a spoiled creature, that one, but I think I can find it within myself to indulge him until I have you tucked back in my arms.

I won’t bore you with details of work. I long for the days you will be back at my side to liven up the affair.

Always yours,

Victor Nikiforov

P.S. Phichit recovered our masks from the Siamese consulate. Shall I keep them as a memento, or would you rather I burn the evidence? 


23 September 1895

My dear Victor—

You may keep them, but they are for your eyes only. I shall sic Minako-sensei on you if I see one hide or hair of them, and this is not an idle threat, I assure you.

Sweet baby boy… I miss our Makkachin too. Grant him endless affection until the time in which I can do so myself.

I don’t know what you would expect me to do to “liven up the affair,” but I would certainly endeavor to do that, if it took the burden off you somewhat. I am bored regardless; I’m not allowed out of my family’s sight until the marks have faded. They even make me wear a shawl when I go out to garden. Imagine: a shawl in September. My face burns in shame just recalling such treatment.

We cannot be together again quickly enough. Please keep me in your thoughts as I sweat in the late summer heat for you.

Yours eternally,

Yuuri Katsuki


15 October 1895

My lovely Yuuri—

Seeing you briefly before I was forced to depart for France was such divine torture. I most certainly did something awful in my past life to justify such a sweet separation.

I truly cannot thank you enough for watching Makkachin in my absence. He will be far happier with you than Yakov and Lilia; they mean well, but they sincerely lack the capacity to give Makkachin the proper amount of affection. He deserves morning kisses and scraps under the table, and I know he wouldn’t get either if those two had anything to say about it.

In any case, this is me informing you that I’ve made it to Paris safely. The new Russian representative appointed here is nice enough, though a bit on the stiff side. I suppose he wants to be thought serious enough for the position, but I hope I will be able to get him to lighten up a bit—perhaps with drink, if it comes to that.

I know you are worried about me—being here all by myself as I am—but you need not fret; I have just been made aware that Chris intends to join me later in the month.

I hope this manages to put your mind at ease.

Loving you from afar,

Victor Nikiforov


23 October 1895 

Beloved Victor—

That gives me no comfort. If anything, I am made more nervous than ever by this news. He always gets you into trouble, darling; haven’t you noticed? Don’t let him drag you into something that will force me to come after you.

Makkachin misses you, of course, but I can assure you that he is being rightly spoiled. He has even taken to sleeping beside me at night, and while it is very kind of him to think of me, it also serves to make my heart ache even more for you.

Please do be a friend to the new ambassador, Victor. Being alone in a new country is quite frightening. It is almost as terrible, in fact, as being an ocean apart from the one you love.

Forgive the selfish behavior I’ve exhibited in this letter. You must do what you must; but can’t I do what I must too?

Thinking of you,

Yuuri Katsuki 


4 November 1895

Treasured Yuuri—

While I would enthusiastically welcome any excuse for you to join me, I cannot stand the thought of needlessly worrying you. There is nothing to fear, my love; Chris is taking very good care of me. He has taken to playing guide as though he was born to do it, and though I have met many charming Frenchmen and women, I can assure you with the utmost certainty that none of them hold a candle to the inherent loveliness that is Yuuri Katsuki.

If you are selfish, then I am downright egotistical, thinking about how I want to monopolize all your time once I have you within reach once more. I dare not pen it, but I can say for certain that Makkachin will have to find another place to rest his weary head when I return.

Forgive my forwardness,

Victor Nikiforov


12 November 1895

Dearly missed Victor—

Who is this “Yuuri Katsuki”? Should I be worried?

Poor Makkachin. It is a good thing he cannot read. I hope you will at least put a blanket down for him before what follows.

By the way, I have heard that the aforementioned Yuuri Katsuki has a birthday at the end of this month. Would, per chance, the previous gentleman’s lover be back in town by then? Mr. Katsuki has been cited saying he would love nothing more.

Yours truly,

Yuuri Katsuki 


 

21 November 1895

Yuuri, my life and love—

I have heard Victor Nikiforov, famed lover of Yuuri Katsuki, would be ecstatic, too, to see his beloved on his beloved’s special day.

Unfortunately, it looks as though I will be made to stay in Paris until at least the beginning of December. I am so sorry, my darling. I would much rather be with you than here; when I return, we will have a special celebration, I promise. Until then, I send you my love and best well wishes on your twenty-fourth.

I would be remiss not to mention that my mothers have met me here, to help me smooth over any issue. They were surprised—when they arrived—to find that you were not with me; Mamochka, especially, seemed distraught. But neither so, I assure you, were more disheartened than me.

Mother, in particular, has been helpful with the transition. Once she has made her gregarious entrance, she can be surprisingly subdued and a calming presence among the chaos. I suppose you can say she is remarkably reliable in that way. And Mamochka is Mamochka; she hardly needs explaining.

This Victor Nikiforov misses you more and more each day. He cannot wait to see his Yuuri Katsuki once more.

With all my heart,

Victor Nikiforov


2 December 1895

Victor, my unending chain of surprises—

My birthday was as wonderful as it could have been without you. I deeply appreciate the gift that you sent; from the beginning of this letter, you can extrapolate that I didn’t expect it.

Still, it occurs to me now that we have spent a whole season apart. That is a season apart too many. 

You and your mothers seem to be working very hard. I, myself, have tried to keep busy. Your present certainly helps in that respect. Dancing has been going well too, though I have put off going ice skating until a certain someone comes to join me.

I have also bought you something special, but you will have to return to London in one piece to get at it. Until then, I’ll keep my own surprises.

With all my love, 

Yuuri Katsuki


11 December 1895

My precious Yuuri—

We think the same, my star, as I have gotten you something as well—something aside from your birthday gift. And as you’ve said, I think it will be all the more sweeter to deliver it to you in person.

It has been a long season, my love, but I am finally packing my things and returning to your side. I leave for the coast tomorrow, and with any luck, I am slated to come into port shortly thereafter. Stay strong, dearest heart; we can endure a moment longer.

I’m coming home, darling,

Victor Nikiforov


Vicchan was nipping at Yuuri’s ankles, becoming uninterested when Yuuri merely sighed at him, lovesick; the puppy then resorted to the frayed ends of the carpet, rolling along what he’d already thus unraveled.

Victor’s birthday gift to him had proven to be a handful, a scrappy young thing that required quite a bit of Yuuri’s attention. Even under Yuuri’s newly appointed parental watch, the scamp had already gone through a fair bit of the shoes—and the rugs, as were his favorite—but other than some misgivings with the Katsukis’ sense of fashion and décor, the young pup seemed to find his new family agreeable enough, getting along swimmingly with Makkachin and even going so far as to allow Yuuri cuddle him whenever he wished.

And he wished to engage in such a luxury now, it seemed, as Yuuri lifted the tiny thing into his arms and held him to his chest, his sigh mussing the pup’s carefully coiffed fur.

“Yuuri, why don’t you go for a walk?”

Yuuri lifted his eyes, finding Hiroko to be giving him a look that could only be described as motherly, fondness and concernedness etched into the gentle lines of her face in equal measure.

“Where to?” Yuuri inquired, tugging Vicchan tighter against him.

“Hmm…” The woman went about putting on a show of thinking it over, then remarked, “What about along the Thames? The dogs could use the exercise.”

“Why there?” Yuuri questioned, short, recalcitrant.

“I don’t know,” she murmured, a clever twinkle in her eye. “The weather is lovely. I’m sure the view will be gorgeous. And the view from World’s Avenue, even better.”

Vicchan yipped as Yuuri involuntarily squeezed him, catching on to his mother’s ploy. World’s Avenue. Along the way would be Victor’s estate, then the Russian consulate respectively. He could call on Victor twice within the span of a single leisurely walk.

“Yes… Yes, I do feel that a walk is in order,” Yuuri decided, letting his dog down and whistling softly for Makkachin to join them. “I think it would do me well to get some air.”

He had the dogs wrangled in record time, stepping out onto the fresh fallen snow before he’d even properly secured the scarf around his neck. It billowed behind him in deep burgundy clouds as he trudged along the path, the dogs displacing the worst of the conditions, soft kernels of ice clinging to their coats.

And just as the weather was looking to take a turn for the mean and ugly—

“Mr. Yuuri Katsuki!”

Yuuri sneezed, then lifted his head to find the eyes of Victor’s governess dead set upon him from her perch before the Nikiforov estate, a disproving grimace weighing down her lips. “Madam?” he questioned—hoped he questioned—as her scowl turned murderous.

Lilia tramped down the steps, managing to look both a thousand pounds and light as a feather as she did so. “Just what do you think you’re doing, walking out in this weather?” she demanded of him, halting before his trembling form. “Do your parents know you’re out here, catching your death of cold?”

“My mother recommended it,” Yuuri couldn’t stop himself from providing—then promptly clamped his mouth shut as he recognized with what impudence he’d delivered his answer. “I mean—“

“I’ve heard quite enough from you, Mr. Yuuri Katsuki.” She had his ear pinched between her perfectly manicured nails before the apology could properly materialize. “Come inside at once. I will not have Vitya’s intended keel over on my watch.”

Upon entering, Yuuri was immediately bundled in a blanket, then set in a chair with a cup of hot cider, the dogs wiped down to settle across Yuuri’s feet without soaking through his stockings.

Honestly,” Lilia griped, beating pillows until they were fluffed to her precise satisfaction. “It is almost as if today’s youth has no sense at all.”

Yuuri sipped at his drink. “Yes, madam.”

“Back in the old country, children had more sense than to wander around in the dead of winter.”

“Yes, madam.”

“And we got married. Young. To the people our parents told us we should get married to.”

“Yes, madam.”

"Without waiting this ridiculous amount of time, leaving the country right when they should be proposing.”

“Madam—?" 

“It’s asinine. Good god, what was he thinking?”

“Forgive me if this is crossing a line,” Yuuri preempted, fidgeting into the folds of his chair. “But are you… mad at Victor?" 

She stopped, frozen in time, her back to him as she contemplated the fireplace. Then, she resumed her motions, albeit slower. “I’m not ‘mad’ at that child. Don’t be ridiculous.”

Yuuri sank further. “Of course, madam.”

Lilia wouldn’t let him even entertain the idea of departing before he was suitably dry—and even then, she wrapped another layer around him: one of Victor’s suit jackets, if Yuuri judged correctly.

“And you’ll take the carriage,” she snapped, yanking the lapels of the coat down further as though to emphasize her point, “if you’re going to be calling on the consulate. What kind of reputation do you think the Nikiforov name would have if we received our guests cold and shivering, without basic accommodations?”

“A poor one indeed, madam,” Yuuri recited, swallowing as the garment was buttoned up tight.

Lilia appraised him, then patted his shoulder, once—twice, even, for good measure. “At least you catch on quickly.”

Yuuri chose to take this as a compliment.

He left Makkachin under Lilia’s watchful eye, seeing as how he would return not long after if the embassy was as bereft of its caretaker as it was expected to be; Vicchan he took, portable as he was. The pup was dutiful as ever in his assignment to watch over his fretful owner, curling up in Yuuri’s lap as Yakov directed the carriage towards their destination.

“So then, you’re looking for that fool?”

Yuuri really would never get used to how Victor’s staff referred to him.

“I went for a walk.” Yuuri stroked over Vicchan’s fur, even as the tiny thing drifted off to sleep. “I thought I would check to see if he’d arrived while I was out.”

Yakov huffed, grip steady on the reins. “Should be any day now.”

Yuuri gazed out the window, an elbow propping itself against the lip of it in order to rest his hand upon his cheek.

“Yuuri!”

Yuuri’s heart seized in his chest.

There was a thump against the carriage—the entire car rocking with the impact—and then the door was being yanked open, an excitable Phichit Chulanont depositing himself in the seat across the way, waving a leaflet before Yuuri’s face. “Yuuri, did you see, did you see?”

“Good God—“ Yakov griped from the helm.

Yuuri swatted the magazine down. “Baka! Did you just jump aboard a moving carriage? Do you have any idea how dangerous that is?”

“But Yuuuuuuri,” Phichit whined, lifting the papers again. “It’s reeeeaaaallly important. Did you receive the mail yet today?”

The other pouted, a quiet, disapproving thing. “It’s quite probable,” he answered nonetheless, “that Mari-neechan is looking through it as we speak. Why? Has something happened?”

“Well, be sure to save today’s copy of The Strand,” Phichit advised, flittering through the pages before he happened upon one, “because the newest installment of Sherlock Holmes is printed in it. Look, look!”

Gone was Yuuri’s stern look, replaced with an expression of pure delight. “Really? A new one? I’m sure I remember the author mentioning something about taking an extended hiatus.” He grasped for the papers, scouring them for the promised story.

“Well, it seems as though it is over,” Phichit extrapolated, a bit smug at seeing Yuuri so enthused. “And I knew of your famous love for Sherlock Holmes, so I simply had to make my way over to you to make sure you hadn’t tossed the thing out by mistake.”

Finding that, indeed, the beginning of a new installment was printed upon the page, Yuuri held the magazine to his chest. “Ah, I’m so thrilled. Sherlock Holmes is a marvel. She’s truly inspiring, isn’t she, Phichit?”

Phichit nodded in agreement. “Watson too. A doctor and a war veteran? Could she be any more talented?”

“Do you think they’ll get together?” Yuuri questioned, holding the copy ever firmer, the pages pulled taut. “It seems to me as though the author has been hinting at it for some time.”

“You’ll just have to read and find out,” Phichit teased. “Oh, also,” he added, offhand, “there looks to be an article in there about Victor.”

What?" 

“What?”

Phichit!” Yuuri began desperately leafing through the rest of the issue. “Why didn’t you start with that?”

“Slipped my mind!” Phichit claimed, immediately caving under the intensity of Yuuri’s glare. “Fine. You’ve been so down, Yuuri. I didn't want to bring you news of Victor if it would only serve to depress you.”

“Did you read it?” Yuuri asked, even as his eyes scanned the article.

“You know my reading in English is far worse than yours. I only picked up bits and pieces.”

“It says,” Yuuri told him, slow, “that the ship bringing back the Russian ambassador from abroad left on the twelfth of December.”

“That’s a five-day journey, correct?”

“And today is…”

The men looked at each other.

The seventeenth!”

“Mr. Feltsman!” Yuuri called, knocking on the divider. “Please hurry! Victor might be there after all!”

Hardly was the carriage halted in front of the building before Yuuri was ankle-deep in snow, clutching at his garments—losing his scarf along the way, strewn along the ground—in an effort to get through the door faster.

“Vitya!” Yuuri burst into the receiving room, whirling around, his eyes alight. “Vitya, where are you?”

“Yuuri, slow down!” Phichit, having finally caught up to him, took the opportunity to earn back his breath, stopping a moment to rest his hands on his knees. “We don't even know if he is here,” he said, carefully. “He could very well be, but we should prepare for the possibility that—“

“Ah, Mr. Katsuki,” Georgi—if Yuuri’s memory served him right—greeted, appearing from the leftmost corridor. “Funny you’ve come for a visit. You just missed Lord Nikiforov.”

Yuuri’s eyes widened impossibly, the pupils blown out. “Victor was here? You’re certain?”

“In the flesh,” Georgi confirmed. “He was just dropping off some paperwork.”

“And when he left, did he say where he was going off to?” Phichit questioned as Yuuri reacquainted himself with the concept of his own breathing.

Georgi hummed, low and considering, a hand to his chin. “He didn’t say, but he seemed to be in quite a rush. If I had to wager, I’d guess he more than likely went home to settle after a few good days’ worth of travel.”

Yuuri shot a look at Phichit. “I have to go back.”

After the faintest of goodbyes, Yuuri returned to the carriage, fighting the snow and sleet to recollect Vicchan, then tell Yakov of the information he had gathered, the company of three melding into the traffic, clawing their way back from whence they came.

Once more, the wheels were still turning when Yuuri sprung from his seat, trudging through the powder to Victor’s front door. Yuuri rang the bell, bouncing back and forth in place, the tension rife within his frame as he waited for someone to answer.

(Hopefully, someone in particular, he prayed.)

“Yuuri!”

“Ms. Nikiforov—?”

“Oh, please,” Victor’s mother hushed, bundling him in a hug, “we’re well past that. You can call me ‘Mother,’ you know.”

“Ah,” noted Yuuri, from against her bosom. “Sorry, Mother.” He pushed away—though gentle—to address her properly, his hands lingering on her shoulders. “Is Victor here? I need to speak with him as soon as possible.”

“No, I’m afraid he’s out.” She sighed, tilting her head wryly. “He went out to find you, actually. Said something quite similar—and took Makkachin with him too, out in this cold! Will the boy ever learn?”

“Where?” Yuuri tried not to tighten his grip around the woman’s arms. “Where did he say he was going to look for me?”

“I haven’t a clue, darling,” she informed him, looking beyond the porch, towards the road. “I would assume he would try your parent’s house first. But after that, who knows?”

Yuuri dropped his hands, contemplative. If Victor met Yuuri’s mother, no doubt she would send him on Yuuri’s walking route, which meant the Thames. And then, further—

“I know where he’ll go!” Yuuri took two, three stairs at a time, bounding down the Nikiforov steps. “Thank you, Mother! You’ve been most helpful!” he called behind himself, choosing not to read into the woman’s fond little giggle that trailed after him.

Yuuri had scarcely departed from the yard before a voice stopped him in his tracks.

“Well if it isn’t Mr. Yuuri Katsuki!”

It was from on high—and Yuuri could see why, as he turned to engage Christophe; the man was mounted on a sturdy-looking horse, well-equipped for a winter venture—and Chris ten times so, donning full riding gear, as though he expected to be out for a long while.

“Your timing is impeccable.” Yuuri trudged through the slush—all the while clutching Vicchan ever nearer—to come astride the steed. “I need to borrow your horse.”

Chris blinked down at him. “Whatever for?”

“Victor is here,” Yuuri explained, eyes already scouting safe passage up the animal. “I need to go to him.”

“Well, it is your lucky day, my dear!” Chris inched up towards the horse’s neck—as much as he could with the saddle still in place. “I was just on my way to the docks to greet him.” He offered a hand to hoist Yuuri up. “Can you ride sidesaddle?”

“No, but I’ve been told I’m a quick learner.” Yuuri took the proffered arm, using a combination of that and the stirrup to aid his assent. “And he’s not there.” Yuuri provided, “He just left his estate looking for me.”

“I assume we will be heading to your parents’ then?”

“No.” Yuuri took a fistful of the back of Chris’s coat in hand as the horse was persuaded into motion. “He shall have already left by now.”

“Then where—?”

“St. James’s.” Yuuri’s eyes were steady, sparkling. “I am sure he is at St. James’s Park.”

En route, the storm settled into a soft snowfall, stray snowflakes dusting the curve of Yuuri’s cheeks, the feathers of his eyelashes. He tried to wipe them off against his shoulder—arm full of Chris and dog as he was—but some remained, most notably around the line of his crown, stark against the charcoal of his hair. Chris thought it very becoming look on him indeed and let them be when he helped Yuuri slide down the belly of the horse, onto his feet on the outskirts of the park.

“You aren’t coming?” Yuuri asked when Chris began to turn around with no indication of disembarking.

Yuuri had never seen Chris look more exceedingly fond. “You go on ahead, Mr. Katsuki. My work here is done.” With a gentle dig of the heel, Chris was on his way, tossing over his shoulder, “I’ll catch up with Victor some other time! Do find him for me, won’t you?”

“I will!” Yuuri promised, waving his hand as though sending well-wishes to a departing ship.

Just as he had done all those months ago.

Yet, one-handed, Yuuri could not quite react quickly enough when Vicchan wriggled out of his hold, dropping into the snow.

“Vicchan?”

The pup took off like a bullet.

Vicchan!”

Vicchan moved remarkably fast for a creature with so little legs—and with such precision too, bounding over the snow piles, dodging bushes, trees, the occasional pedestrian. He also had the distinct advantage of knowing where he was going—or rather, leading the chase—which meant Yuuri was always two steps behind, catching up, reaching for him, then missing him by the faintest of margins, slowing down as he had to readjust, earn back his morale.

It was only when they were coming upon the lake—Vicchan having just threaded his way through a bicyclist’s wheels, nearly sending his owner into cardiac arrest—that he began to lose steam, round, vacant puppy eyes set on a particular spot before him, a familiar setting for his master, where a misunderstanding was resolved and feelings were laid bare.

“Vicchan! Vicchan, matte!”

“Makkachin! Makkachin, podozhdite!”

Oh, Yuuri knew that voice anywhere—

The dogs met before the water, twirling around each other, their respective leashes tangling up. They swerved and swerved until they ran out of lead, left panting, licking, yapping, tails wagging.

And they were followed by their owners, and oh, if Yuuri thought he couldn’t run harder, then he was sorely mistaken, because he was flying then, the world blurring at the edges, only one person remaining clearly in sight, running just as hard, arms open.

“Victor!”

“Yuuri!”

Victor welcomed Yuuri into his arms, and Yuuri fit like he belonged there—like he wouldn’t, couldn’t ever leave that perfect man even if he tried; and he could hardly finish the thought before he was lifted and spun, a surprised giggle parting his lips as he held on ever tighter.

He was lowered then but still held, snug—secure like a newfound promise.

Yuuri barely recognized himself babbling, but it was probably inevitable; he didn’t, however, account for what mortifying things would be saying, whispering into the crook of Victor’s neck—directly into his skin—as though it would get through to him better that way, as though he just couldn’t be close enough: “Don’t ever leave me again; I want you to promise never to go again; you better promise, Victor; I can’t be without you again—I just can’t.

Yet, for all his selfishness, it seemed Victor couldn’t agree more, answering in his own platitudes, in sweet promises and lullabies: “Of course, darling; I promise, darling; I was a fool, darling; I won’t be leaving you again—never again.”

So, too, was it inevitable that Yuuri cried; Yuuri Katsuki always cried. But less so was it certain that Victor Nikiforov would as well, his tears falling like the cherry blossoms Yuuri loved so much: just as you started to doubt, the winter melting into spring.

“You can’t cry too,” Yuuri rasped, thumbing at the dew of Victor’s lashes. “That makes me want to cry all over again.”

“You’re still crying, my love,” Victor noted, even as another wave of tears overtook him through his teasing smile, concaving down his cheeks at every blink.

“You’re right,” Yuuri couldn’t deny. “I’m still crying. I may never stop. I’m not sure I want to stop, as long as the tears are happy.”

“And they are, aren’t they?"

Yuuri simply couldn’t help himself then; he leaned in to press his answer to Victor’s mouth. It tasted like the sea that kept them apart—the sea that would never keep them apart again. “Yes,” Yuuri said, his lips moving against Victor’s, a breath of an answer. “They couldn’t be happier.”

Yuuri could feel Victor’s face pull upwards with the force of his grin, exuding a mysterious confidence as he queried, “Should I test the theory?”

“What do you—?”

“I have something for you.” Victor pulled back—just a hair, just so they could properly see each other—and fumbled for something in his pocket. “I told you, didn’t I? That I got you something?”

“Ah—“ Yuuri retreated another step, reaching into the tamoto pocket of his kimono. “I have something for you as well.”

They turned away then—to prepare, to mentally collect—but found as they returned to face each other that they had both sunk to one knee.

“Why are you like that?”

“Am I… doing it wrong? This is how you do it here, yes?”

“Depends on what exactly you are doing.”

“Well—“ Yuuri rifled through the kinchaku pouch he had so generously allowed to carry the key to his happiness. “This—“ He bared it to the light—a ring, gold and glinting—to Victor’s staccato gasp. “—is what ties people together here, isn’t it? I hope I’m doing this right.” Then, more quietly, the blush rising to his ears— “I hope I’m not being too forward…”

Victor could hardly speak, choked with emotion as he was. “Only—“ He inhaled, a shaky, terribly endearing thing. “Only if I, too, am being too forward.” He brought his hand forth to reveal a Western ring box, open with its own matching ring, in an answering gold.

“Oh.” Yuuri couldn't possibly turn redder.

“Oh indeed.” Victor certainly meant to tease him, but his expression was entirely too fond. He held the box out closer to Yuuri, in offering. “Shall I extrapolate that you accept?”

Yuuri bypassed the gift in favor of throwing his arms around Victor. “Yes! Hai! Da! All of the yeses! Everywhere! For all time!”

“Darling…”  He held Yuuri to him—a hand in his hair, another to the small of his back—for a long while, until he felt the other shaking against him. “Don’t cry again on me, love,” he said, the reprimand so soft it could be mistaken for compliment. “I told you how it tears me up inside.”

“I’m not crying,” Yuuri refuted; and Victor thought it halfhearted until Yuuri clarified, “I’m shivering.”

“Ah—!“ Victor pulled back to properly access his beloved. “Darling, you’re soaked all the way through! How long have you been out in this?”

If possible, Yuuri’s shaking redoubled. “Since early afternoon, trying to find you.”

Victor was already stripping off his overcoat, tripping over himself to draw it across Yuuri’s shoulders; and the latter did not voice any objections, despite having on now three layers, two of which belonging to Victor. “You should have said something! We could have moved this affair somewhere more suitable!”

“You’ll get cold too,” Yuuri argued, even as he pulled the layer closer.

Victor laughed, assisting in the motion. “My dear, I’m Russian. This is summer weather, as far as I’m concerned.”

They rose together, but as Victor turned to assess the swiftest way back, Yuuri clung on to his sleeve, murmuring, “Wait, we haven’t done it yet.”

Victor faced him, lifting an eyebrow at this. “Done what?”

Yuuri scrounged for the ring he had been so doggedly guarding, holding it up for Victor’s eyes. “I need to put it on you, yes? It’s not official unless you wear it.”

“Darling, later—“

“I’ll be quick,” Yuuri promised, already grasping Victor’s hand, fumbling for his fourth finger. It took a few tries—with Yuuri shivering as he was—but with a tongue peeking out of the corner of his mouth, a look of charming determination about him, he was able to slip it all the way forward. “Well?” Yuuri prompted. “Is it good?”

Victor gazed down at the band, twinkling in the low light. “It’s better than good, Yuuri. It’s all I could ever ask for.” He retrieved its mate from his own pocket and placed it where it belonged, Yuuri momentarily forgetting his state as a warmth unfurled itself in his chest as he examined it.

“Then—“ Yuuri swallowed, eyes lifting from the gold to his love. “Then it’s official?”

“Well, we still have to get married,” Victor chuckled, guiding Yuuri out of the park, an arm held around him, keeping him warm, close.

“I knew that!” Yuuri insisted, though he colored all the same. “It takes so long though. I want to be married to you now.”

“I don’t imagine people will care for us waiting longer.” Victor huffed a breath, fond. “They were impatient enough with us as it is. I had everyone complaining to me—loudly and often—that I was taking too long. In the end, I had to placate them with updates, lest they drag us down to the courts themselves.”

Yuuri flinched, a reaction so grand it was noticeable through his unremittent trembling. “Wait, they knew?”

Victor looked at him. “You didn’t tell you parents? Your sister? Phichit?” 

Yuuri shook his head. “I didn’t tell a soul. I didn’t plan it at all. I just… missed you. I missed you so much. I wanted to do anything that would bring you back, keep you by my side." 

It seemed as though Victor couldn’t decide which reaction was more appropriate, hanging his head with a wry grin. “That’s not fair, darling. You cannot just say things like that casually. How am I to survive this marriage?" 

Yuuri clasped his hand. “With me.”

Victor smiled at him, bright and genuine. “With you indeed.”

Chapter Text

It hadn’t even started yet, but Yuuri was quite confident he was already messing up this whole “marriage” affair.

For one, he’d been apart from Victor for all of one singular morning, and he felt woefully bereft.

He was practically whimpering at the door like Vicchan when he had to go out. But could he truly be blamed? That flimsy barrier was the only thing separating him from his love.

“Vitya,” he sniffled, scratching at the grain, “I want to see you…”

Careful fingers pried Yuuri from his vice. “Yuuri, you’ll see him soon enough,” Phichit soothed, folding Yuuri’s hands into his lap. “But it’s tradition, you know? You can’t see each other until the wedding. You don’t want bad luck, do you?”

“I don’t believe in such things,” Yuuri moaned, pathetically. “Besides, I didn’t see him for months before this. Surely I’ve paid off the universe’s dues…?” 

Phichit shook his head with a click of the tongue, turning back to the vanity to retrieve more product now that he was fairly certain Yuuri wouldn’t bolt the very moment he turned his eyes from him. “I’ve heard of cold feet,” Phichit remarked, mirth coloring his tone as he fingered the lids of various powders to seek out Yuuri’s approximate shade, “but this is almost the opposite. Warm feet. Hot feet…? Like you’re on hot coals, and the only reprieve is Victor’s arms waiting across the corridor.” 

That had Yuuri picking at the wood of the door again. “I just…” He sighed, capitulating with a brush of the hand against his trousers. “I just need him close.”

“I can see that.” Phichit crossed back over, brandishing a container of something that had Yuuri sneezing the moment a brush of it came in contact with Yuuri’s skin. “Just think though: In half an hour, you’ll never have to be apart again, if you don’t wish to be.”

Yuuri’s brain stuttered over the operative phrase. “Half an hour,” he bemoaned, dropping the back of his head against the wall.

“Come on now,” Phichit chirped, pulling his friend’s head upright, “that’s practically nothing. Do you think Lord Nikiforov is doing such a thing? Crying at the door for you?”


“Yuuuuuuuuuri,” Victor whined, high and reedy. Christophe had managed to separate his hand from the door handle, but his eyes couldn’t be contained, burning a hole in the lacquer as though it would summon his darling to his side.

“He’s just down the hall, Victor,” Chris chided, a chuckle escaping him. He tried—unsuccessfully—to pin back Victor’s bangs, instead reaching for the wax when it simply bounded forward again before his eye. “Honestly, it’s like you two cannot exist without each other any longer.”

“We can’t,” Victor said, deadpan, looking positively tortured every second he was kept away from his soon-husband. “I was away long enough. I see what a fool I was now, and I have to make it up to Yuuri, even if it takes forever—“ 

“And you’ll have forever, in a half hour,” Chris assured.

A half hour—?”

“Thirty minutes! That’s practically nothing at all.”

“I’m losing my mind, Chris.”

“Well—“ Chris patted the other’s head, perhaps with more force than strictly necessary. “—keep it for twenty-nine more minutes. Then you’ll no longer be my responsibility, and I cannot be held accountable for anything you do or don’t do.”

A timid knock put an immediate end to their banter.

“Vitya…?”

In all his years, Chris had never witnessed a man move as quickly as Victor did then, a hand already upon the knob of the door before he could even lift the comb from Victor’s hair.

“Wait, don’t open it!”

Victor’s hand jolted upon the steel.

“We’re not—we’re not supposed to—“ Victor could imagine his Yuuri, nibbling at his lip, weaving together trembling fingers. He wished so ardently to calm the storm raging inside his love. “Stay there, Vitya. But… just know I’ll see you soon. I love you.”

“I love you too, Yuuri.” He lifted a hand to the door mid-height, where Yuuri’s heart would be. “So wait for me, all right, my darling?”

“God, it’s like the two of you are going off to war,” Chris scoffed, though a smile was threatening to overtake him.

“Shh!” Chris heard from the other side of the door, sounding conspicuously like the voice of one Phichit Chulanont. “Don’t discourage it!”

Chris shrugged, realizing too late he was essentially only doing it for himself.

“Of course, Vitya,” Yuuri promised as if there was no lull, soft and muffled as though he had his mouth to the grain. “But not too long… please…”

“Darling—“

“Ah—“ Chris caught Victor around the waist, dragging him across the room before the latter could throw the door open. “Just wait, Victor! You’re so close now!”

“But Yuuri—“

“Will be at that alter in twenty minutes, if you don’t ruin the surprise.”

Victor deflated in his friend’s arms. “Fine.”

“Good.”

Footsteps parted from them—reluctant, Victor couldn’t help but note—but gone all the same.

The groom put up with the rest of his best man’s fussing without a fight, though the thought that Yuuri and Phichit were doing the same respectively had him squirming in his seat.

In the end, neither Chris’s teasing nor Yuuri’s comforts could keep him from counting down the minutes.

But when at last he was permitted to enter the nave of the chapel, a bundle of peonies nestled in the crook of his elbow, and saw Yuuri before the alter—in softest eggshell white to his answering black—he knew it was all well worth the wait.


“This reminds me of our first dance.”

It didn’t, actually. This one was slow, tender—nothing like that warm summer night of quick banter and frantic energy—but even so, Victor couldn’t help comparing them all the same. 

Though, if he were pressed on it, Victor would say he preferred this one, by the tiniest of margins. It was hard to compete, really, with how Yuuri looked now: a wedding band around his finger, only dim in comparison to his glowing smile.

And yet—

Yuuri’s head tilted, puzzlement pulling at the corners of his lips. “When did we dance?”

Victor nearly stopped altogether but kept on, only just. “At summer’s opening banquet? Remember? I hosted? You attended…?”

“Oh!” Yuuri colored, pulling his lower lip in between his teeth. “Right… Yes, of course.”

“You don’t remember? I could have sworn you apologized to me for it…”

“Ah, that’s—“ Yuuri’s hands clenched in his hold. “Phichit filled me in on the details. I… don’t actually recall much of it, personally. I, well… You know how I was.”

Victor allowed himself only one beleaguered sigh before leaning in to place a kiss to his beloved’s cheek. “How cruel you are, Mr. Nikiforov,” he said into Yuuri’s temple, “to not remember the evening in which you seduced me.”

Yuuri only darkened further, heat gathering at the tips of his ears. “I—I don’t think I seduced you then—“

“You most certainly did.” Victor drew Yuuri ever closer, leaving another kiss upon the back of his hand, just above his glittering ring. “You should take responsibility for it.”

Yuuri softened, eyes twinkling in the light. “I believe I already have, husband.”


The stars were out by the time the wedding reception let up. They had danced holes into the floorboards, Victor was sure, and drank a sizeable dent into greater London’s liquor supply. Guests were stumbling down the stairs of St. James’s Piccadilly with shoes in hand and laughter on their lips.

Carriages were brought around, but the new couple declined an offered ride home, opting to walk along the Thames, reminisce a little.

Yuuri leaned heavily on Victor’s arm. “Oh, look, Vitya, that’s where we proposed.” He hiccupped, head finding a place atop his husband’s shoulder.

“Indeed.” Victor chuckled, looking across the way. “And if you look to our right, you’ll see where we crawled out the window of the Siamese embassy.”

“Don’t remind me of that,” Yuuri whined, nuzzling at Victor’s neck. “I’m still guilty about falling on you.”

“No harm done, my dear.”

“Ah—“ Yuuri smiled, attention stolen. “And there’s where I blackmailed Mr. Lee.”

“You what now—?”

“Shh.” Yuuri held a finger to Victor’s lips—rather forcibly, as his balance was severely compromised with drink. “Nothing that concerns you, darling.”

Well… that could be revisited another day.

Victor kissed at the pad of his finger. “And over there is where you bested Christophe in battle of wits.”

“Luck, mostly.”

“Well, I can say most certainly from the outside that it all appeared to be skill.”

Yuuri winked. “That was the trick.”

Victor halted in front of the Russian consulate, stopping Yuuri by extension. “And here… many things.” 

“Mm.” Yuuri folded himself more tightly under Victor’s arm. “Yes… I ran in there when I’d gotten word you’d arrived from Paris. Probably looked a fool in front of Mr. Popovich.”

“And you won my heart, in that very ballroom.”

“The memories are a bit blurred at the edges.”

“But the effects thereof are not, I hope.”

Yuuri clasped Victor’s hand. “Sharp as a tack.”

“You also humiliated Mr. Leroy in there, if I recall.”

“Ah, so you do remember his name!”

“Occasionally.”

Yuuri smothered a chuckle into his hand. “When it suits you.”

They continued on.

Victor’s own estate passed them by, as Yuuri urged Victor along, expressing a wish to show him something. After another few minutes of soft chatter, Yuuri let them in to his own family’s garden, steel gate shuttering closed behind them.

“And this,” Yuuri said, fondness coloring his tone as he towed Victor before the lotus pond, “is where you told me I was the prettiest thing in the whole garden.”

“And you still are.” Victor held a hand to the other’s cheek. “Prettiest thing in the whole world, actually. Fairer than any flower.”

“Oh?” Yuuri looked at Victor from under his eyelashes, charmed. “Is that so?”

“Yes.” Victor leaned in, placing a fleeting kiss upon Yuuri’s lips. “More beautiful, even, than those cherry blossoms you planted over there.”

What—?” Yuuri turned his head away—noses smacking together, briefly—to look over his shoulder. “They can’t have bloomed yet! That’s… That’s impossible.”

He took Victor’s hand, striding across the garden to assess them. Sure enough, tiny buds had sprouted. Some especially brave ones had even begun to open up, giving a peek at their soft baby-pink petals. Yuuri traced the underside of one of the blossoms, tilting his head in awe. “They are… incredibly early. They don’t usually show themselves until it’s at least a little warmer.”

“Maybe it’s a sign.” Victor chuckled, wrapping his arms around Yuuri’s middle. “I’ve heard rain on your wedding day is good fortune. Sprouted cherry blossoms out of season, well… I can think of no better metaphor for the potential of our relationship.”

Yuuri turned until he was face-forward in Victor’s hold. “I like that. We’re sprouting… And someday soon, we’ll be in full bloom.”

Victor kissed at Yuuri’s lips, pressing a smile there too against him. “With you, my love, every day is spring.”