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Ebb and Floe

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May 2017

Floe Fashion Industries Headquarters, New York

“No.”

Victor had just listened to Yakov outline his travel plans for the new fashion season for over an hour. Dozens of cities, designers, photoshoots, and runways swam in his head and the one word he could think to say was ‘no’. His body screamed it, but Victor barely breathed the word out.

It would be the first time in his entire career he had felt the need to utter that exact word to the man who had been his boss, his mentor, and his surrogate father in all but law. For over twenty years Victor had smiled, and posed, and worn what he was told, and traveled where anyone asked him to. Now he was tired. There was an exhaustion that had sunk deep into his bones and grew heavier as he had imagined another year in countries, rooms, and clothes that were not his own. He longed to feel connected to something and decided then and there that he would only be able to do that if he stayed in one place for more than a week at a time. So although it tore something soft inside him to utter the word, he repeated it, more firmly, when Yakov asked him to speak up.

“No, Yakov. I’m quitting.”

The words reverberated off the floor to ceiling glass windows in the uppermost corner office of FLOE™ Fashion Industries. This building housed the main offices for the international fashion empire, employing hundreds of people who in turn helped support thousands of external models, photographers, designers, and editors. While Victor knew he was just one cog in the machine, just one more worker out of thousands, he could not help but feel that he was letting down the people working throughout the building below him. Victor had been one of the first and was certainly the most well known. How much would his selfish decision affect them?

There were a full ten seconds of silence before the ranting began, and in that moment Victor wanted to take the words back a thousand times. Fear of losing everything he was if he stopped modeling welled up in him, but he held it down. There had to be more to life - more to him. He wanted to discover what that was. It did not help that Yakov’s words preyed on those very fears.

“If you stop you will never be able to start again! There will be some new exotic face that strikes the designer’s fancies, and everyone will design for that face instead, and their styles will not match you anymore. They will turn their nose up at you, you have seen it happen to others. That Tareke girl is biting at your heels, waiting for her chance at a cover!”

“So give it to her, Yakov. I have made up my mind. I do not - I cannot do this another year. There is nothing left in it for me. I do not need the money or the people telling me I am pretty the way I needed it when I was thirteen. I just need quiet, and time with Makkachin. Did you know she is developing cataracts? They tell me she bumps into corners and people at the daycare more and more often. She needs me, Yakov. I cannot be there for her if I am home a handful of days in the year. I am surprised she still remembers me.”

Victor waited for a lecture about how it was foolish to allow a dog to mean more to you than your career, but it never came. Of course, it didn’t. Makkachin had been a gift from Yakov himself when Victor was seventeen. Back then Victor had little time for friends, and Yakov must have known that he needed the constant love a dog could give. He had just landed the cover of Teen Vogue and been paid more money than he knew could exist all at one time. The next year Yakov and Lilia had decided that it was a waste to sell his face out to other magazines and decided to create their own magazine that Victor would work for exclusively. There had been enough advertisers scrambling to get an image of Victor with their product that Floe was funded for a year within the first few months, and from there the three of them had built an empire. The magazine had been just the beginning. Now there was an award show, a runway of their own at fashion week’s all over the world, charities, design lessons for public schools, and a two-hour spot on HGTV for their version of Project Runway, entitled Ebb and Floe.

The minutes ticked by but Victor held his tongue. He knew further pleading would make him sound weak. The fact that Yakov had not flat out refused yet was encouraging. Holding his breath, he waited for the older man to work through the problem.

“Alright, Vitya - one season. You can have one season off from traveling. That way, if you change your mind you can come back easily.”

Victor felt a weight lift off his shoulders. It was the first step. He understood compromise and was grateful for even this breath of fresh air. He would be free, even if only for a time.

“Thank you, Yakov. I promise if I do come back I will be happier, and work harder than ever before.” Victor crossed to hug the older man, gripping him tightly despite mumbled protests. When they separated Yakov continued.

“Of course, you know what this means, don’t you Vitya?”

“We should go get lunch to celebrate?”

“Nyet. It means you must do what all other models who are looking to leave the company do.”

Victor laughed. It felt good to laugh. He had not felt so light in a long time; having to say no to Yakov had been on his mind for a while now and the stress of it had been making him sick. Suddenly his appetite had returned in full and he was eager to eat with a clear conscious.

“Very funny Yakov. Now, where do you want to go? I heard there was a new steakhouse down the street, but I know you like Maxim’s best. Where would you like me to treat us to?”

Yakov did not answer, he simply reached down into a filing cabinet under his desk and pulled out a thick contract, dropping it heavily in front of Victor’s shocked face with a ‘thud’.

“I’m sorry Vitya, but you aren’t so special you can get out of doing this.”

“Ok, you had your fun Yakov. Hosting a reality show is for unknowns and people who can’t make the cut. Surely you must be kidding. Besides, you said I could take a break! Spend time with Makkachin. Remember? Yakov?”

Victor knew he was fast approaching whiny but he had to plead for his life. Yakov was either dead serious about Victor being next season’s host of Ebb and Floe, or he was pulling an elaborate prank to scare Victor into changing his mind. Yakov did not pull pranks.

“Here is a pen, Vitya. I know all your dietary restrictions and how you like your trailer, but you have to let me know anything else you will need for a full day of shooting. This is good for you. All the shooting is in the same city, July through October, three days a week. Monday you introduce the new challenge, Wednesday is check-in and giving the designers advice, and Saturday is the judging. The show airs on Tuesdays. If you can find a way to keep Makkachin well behaved and out of the way you can bring her to the set with you. You can spend the day joking around with Christophe. It will hardly feel like work.”

Victor was still staring down at the contract in disbelief. Yakov sighed.

“The show needs this. The ratings have been dropping lately because the recent hosts don’t know what they are talking about, and it shows. We need someone who is trusted and well-known to bring in new viewers and lend more credibility to things. I did not plan for it to be you, but I will take the opportunity. It would break Lillia’s heart if the show had to stop. You know she loves it.”

It was true. The show was Lilia Baranovskaya’s brainchild. She was an ex-supermodel and had wanted to bring fashion accessibility to the masses. Ebb and Floe educated people about design and provided opportunities not just for its contestants, but also for people who wanted to work in film, modeling, design, and advertising. Unlike Project Runway which was a joke that exploited fledgling designers for cheap thrills by putting them under ridiculous time and material constraints, Ebb and Floe supported the designers in using their full arsenal of creative ability and education to create beautiful and unique work each week. Victor admired the program and would even occasionally watch it himself on his few nights off. That did not mean he had any interest in being the celebrity host and mentor for a season. However, he could not say no to the two people who had been his whole life.

“Where do I sign?”

 

Floe Cover

 

June 2017

Yuuri and Phichit’s condo, Los Angeles, California

“Why are they complimenting her!! That skirt is completely skanky and it’s two shades off from the color it should be. And why has nobody pointed out that it is entirely the wrong shape for that model's body? The dress should follow the body of a woman, not the body following the shape of the dress. Duh.”

Phichit had to take a break from carefully pouring the chocolate drizzle over their popcorn to laugh. The finale of Ebb and Floe, their favorite fashion design reality show, had been on for fifteen minutes and Yuuri was already quoting Givenchy. It was going to be a good night. Phichit would be happy to wax poetic about the long list of reasons all designers should watch the show for its educational moments, but the real reason he looked forward to watching it each week was for the wonderfully snarky commentary provided by his best friend and partner in pointing out fashion crimes, Yuuri Katsuki.

They were both fashion designers, and for years they had kept running into each other at various fashion events across Asia and became instant friends. When Yuuri got an offer from Celestino Caldini to come work in California, he had called Phichit in a panic. Together they had pooled their resources and moved to Los Angeles. Celestino paid Yuuri well to make boring looks for his men's business wear catalog, and Phichit ran their store at Hollywood&Highland that catered to the nightlife and beach styles the city was known for. Their storefront was named Asian Inspired, an in-joke based on the reviews they had read on their work from Americans over and over. Of course, their work was Asian inspired - they were Asians, from Asia. The store and label were co-owned and co-designed, but Phichit ran the customer end of the business while Yuuri was happy to quietly check the accounting and maintain the website without much credit. Together they made a great team and were taking club and beach fashion by storm.

Asian inspired was just a way to pay the bills though. It certainly wasn’t their biggest dream. Phichit wanted to bring Thai patterns and styles to the forefront of international fashion. He wanted people to understand why his people traditionally dressed as they did and appreciate it without appropriating it.

Yuuri’s dreams were more specific. Probably too specific. They involved a certain silver-haired model from Russia and a secret longing that was not as much of a secret as Yuuri seemed to think it was.

Phichit finished drizzling the milk, dark, and white chocolate over the caramel popcorn, hoping the decadent treat would help them get through this rough night. He stole a few pieces as he rounded the corner from the kitchen into the living room of their condo because he had a feeling once the bowl got into Yuuri’s hands it would be a lost cause. The tv was on mute during the commercial break and Yuuri was sprawled upside down on the couch, legs haphazardly stretched across the top and his head hanging down near the floor. His phone was held above him and the endless scrolling through Tumblr had commenced. Yuuri stopped and flashed a particularly funny meme of the dress he had just been critiquing stretched across a variety of different shaped objects up to at Phichit. They laughed together and Yuuri kept scrolling as Phichit set the bowl down, arranged the blankets the way he liked them, and finally sat down.

No sooner had his rear end hit the couch than Yuuri quickly righted himself in one fluid movement, staring at his phone like it held the most beautiful image in the whole universe. Phichit peeked over his shoulder to see Victor Nikiforov pouting and smoldering at the camera, a one hundred and forty thousand dollar diamond and oyster paved Rolex watch on his wrist. A few minutes later and Yuuri was holding a poster-sized version of the image printed out from their photo printer. The show was still playing in the background, forgotten for this far more important piece of entertainment.

“I don’t understand, Phichit! Why do they only dress him in silver and grey? I mean they went wild here and used charcoal. So different. Iconic. Would it kill them to put him in mauve just once? Or crimson? Or sapphire!”

“You would probably combust if he wore crimson, Yuuri.”

Yuuri nodded sagely. “It would be a good way to die.”

While Phichit laughed some more Yuuri disappeared, probably to go hang his new poster on his “inspiration wall”, which was just code for a stalker shrine dedicated to Victor. The inspiration wall at their shared design room behind the storefront was at least a healthy mix of models and designers and actual clothing, but Yuuri had long ago given up on pretending to care about having anyone other than Victor Nikiforov in his bedroom.

When he returned a few minutes later they resumed watching the show. They traded the usual banter back and forth, debating winners and looks. They held their emotions in check nearly through to the end. One casual comment made by Yuuri finally broke the facade of normality.

“Remember Phichit, when Lilia is judging you next season please act serious. I know you have a lot of fun, but she doesn’t appreciate it when contestants act like their effort does not matter. Take her compliments with a smile and a nod - don’t laugh them off.”

It took Phichit several seconds to catch up with Yuuri’s words. His best friend was giving him advice for being on their favorite show. Phichit was going to be on their favorite show. Lilia and the other judges were going to be critiquing and encouraging his work on national television. He would be one step closer to his dreams coming true.

He was going to be a contestant on the next season of Ebb and Floe, just like he and Yuuri had always talked about.

But they had always talked about being on the show together.

He was going to be on the show alone. Without Yuuri. Without his best friend. How could something be the greatest thing ever and still suck so much? Phichit launched himself across the couch to cling onto his friend. He felt like he wanted to cry, but didn’t want to make Yuuri cry too.

“I’m so sorry, Yuuri. I didn’t realize they filmed the interviews directly after the auditions. If I had known I wouldn’t have scheduled our auditions back to back. I thought it would be good for me to go first and see what it was like, and then I could come out and tell you and walk you to the door and wish you good luck. I had no idea I wouldn’t see you again. If they had just let me talk to you everything would have been alright.”

He could feel Yuuri shake his head, and the light press of his cheek against his hair. As Yuuri spoke the sound rumbled through his chest.

“There were no surprises you could have told me about, Phichit. We have watched the audition process for four years now. What makes you think I didn’t know what was going to happen? I had been working myself into an internal frenzy for days. Nothing you could have said would have magically calmed me down and made me able to go into that room to speak to the judges coherently. You did perfectly and I am very proud of you. You are going to be amazing and I cannot wait to see what you make.”

“It won’t be the same without you, Yuuri.”

“I know Phichit, I’m sorry too. I wish I wasn’t such a mess and had been able to pass my audition so we could be on the show together.”

It was more than that, but Phichit didn’t want to keep pressing the issue. Phichit had wanted them both to be in the show so that he could be there to see Yuuri’s face and hug him and dance around when Yuuri won. Phichit was fairly certain that he wasn’t going to make it to the end, but he had no doubt Yuuri would have wowed the judges and the world and taken the grand prize. The fact that Yuuri’s education and letters of praise from his teachers at Bunka were being wasted at Celestino’s on boring businesswear ate away at Phichit and he wanted more for Yuuri, even if Yuuri didn’t seem to want it for himself. Speaking of which…

“I still think you should quit working for Celestino - the fact that he threatened to fire you if you got on the show is manipulative and rude and you know it.”

“Please Phichit, don’t start on that. I’m lucky I have such a good job there. I probably couldn’t handle much more pressure than that anyway. Between the menswear and the shop, I’m happy. I promise.”

Phichit backed off again, and they just sat cuddled up for a minute. On the TV the winner was getting hugs from their friends and family and being presented with a check for one hundred thousand dollars. During the commercial, Yuuri spoke.

“You can still use me as one of your three contacts, right? I expect panicked three am phone calls from you every night.”

“Absolutely. You have to check all my color palettes because you know I get out of control. I expect you to keep me from getting too exotic and crazy.”

“No gingerbread lingerie?”

Phichit laughed and lifted himself off the couch, collecting the various chip bags and bowls and taking them back to the kitchen. When he returned Yuuri had taken up his favorite upside-down position all over the couch again. The celebrity host for this season was telling everyone to listen closely for an exciting announcement regarding the new judges for the next season.

Her name was Mila Babicheva and like most hosts, she was a model for Floe looking to expand her range into television. She had been fun and spunky and Phichit almost wished she could have been the host for his season as well. Sometimes the host was some old bitter ex-model who disliked everything and clearly did not want to be there. Sometimes it was someone clueless about clothing who hadn’t been able to quite cut it as a model but still had a contract to fulfill. Mila had been a good mix of knowledgeable and friendly. Phichit grabbed the remote and turned the volume up to hear the announcement. This was news that no one had heard yet.

“Hello everyone, and welcome back to Ebb and Floe, where we track the incoming and outgoing tides of fashion. I’m your host Mila Babicheva and I’m here to let you know who will be on the judging panel for our next season.

As always we have the radiant woman who founded Floe and all it stands for, Lilia Baranovskya. She has been in the industry for over four decades and loves educating people about fashion and spreading its influence.

Next up we have the mysterious and stoic Otabek Altin. Otabek is a new designer from Kazakhstan who shot into high fashion two years ago with his edgy leather pieces and contrasting boyfriend material line. We are very excited to welcome him to Floe and look forward to his interesting perspective.

Your third judge will be someone you know very well if you have paid close attention this season. She was a model at Floe for six years and has recently become more interested in nurturing young designers. That's right, it’s me! I’m joining the team as a permanent judge and I could not be more excited.”

Phichit whooped and jumped into the air. Mila would be one of those sweet supportive judges and he had a feeling they would end up being friends at the end of the season. Lilia was pretty consistent with her likes and dislikes, so she should be easy to please. Altin however…

“That Altin is a dark horse. We have no idea what to expect from him or what he’s like. You might want to do some research in the next few weeks, Phichit. I’ll see if I can find some info on him and send it your way.”

Yuuri spoke from his upside-down spot, shooting Phichit a grin. Mila continued her announcements.

“Last but not least, let’s not forget our new guest host for season nine! There is no way you could have gone for the last twenty years without seeing his face on every magazine and television commercial. He’s both devilish and charming, breaks gender barriers daily while still winning the Hottest Man of the Year award four times over his career, and is renown for his unique natural silver hair. It’s none other than Floe’s very own international modeling prodigy, Victor Nikiforov!

That was when Yuuri fell off the couch. Phichit probed his friend’s head for injuries and checked his eyes for a concussion while Yuuri stared into space and repeated the words ‘what’ and ‘how’ over and over. Mila wasn’t done dropping bombshells though.

“We’ve had lots of fun filming here in New York for eight seasons, but it’s time to follow the summer sun and what better place to find sun and new inspiration than beautiful Los Angeles, California! Season nine will be full of new locations, challenges, and contestants, so make sure to mark your calendars for July eleventh, seven pm pacific time! See you there!”

The credits began to roll and Phichit reached up to grab the remote off the couch and turn the tv off. The room was silent except for the sound of Yuuri’s shallow panicked breaths.

“He’s going to be here Phichit. Victor is going to be here. Phichit, you get to meet Victor. You get to design for Victor! He’s going to be here!”

“Calm down, Yuuri. I promise if you get to come to the set you can meet him.”

“NOOOO! I can’t! I don’t have the right clothes. I never made them. I don’t even know what to make. Oh god, I would have had to design for Victor if I got on the show. That would have been a disaster. There was a reason I couldn’t go to that audition. I must have known. I must have somehow known and my body was just keeping me from embarrassing myself for an entire season in front of him. It’s a good thing, Phichit. It’s good, right? It’s better this way? Tell me it’s better this way, that if I never meet him then I can’t embarrass myself.”

Phichit pulled Yuuri off the floor and began leading him to the bathroom.

“Don’t worry about it Yuuri, you don’t have to meet him if you don’t want to. No one will force you to. Just brush your teeth and go to bed. We have a lot of planning to do in the morning.”

Yuuri turned to him and gave him one last look full of puppy dog eyes and sadness.

“It’s a good thing, right Phichit?”

His friend looked so lost and confused. It must be awful to be so afraid all the time, to doubt everything you should look forward to.

“Yea, Yuuri, I guess it is.”

With a final disoriented nod, Yuuri closed the door of the bathroom, and Phichit went to bed to imagine what the next four months of his life would be like.

 

June 30th, 2107

FIDM, Los Angeles, California

Several weeks later Yuuri stood awkwardly on the outside of the circle of partygoers surrounding Phichit. The party they were at was a celebration of the beginning of filming season nine, held at the campus of the fashion design school Floe would be kidnapping to film at for the next few months. It was low key; just the filming crew, a buffet table, and loud music. Yuuri and Phichit had been invited because they lived nearby, and of course, Phichit was already friends with half the crew on Instagram. All of the other contestants were still in their home states and countries, waiting for the closet tours to be filmed before they flew out to California. Phichit was telling stories about the dumb tourists who wandered into their shop looking for the Hollywood sign. His friend was blossoming under the attention he was getting, and drawing laughs from the crowd effortlessly. Maybe it was because he hadn’t drowned himself in champagne they way Yuuri had.

The only reason Phichit had been able to convince Yuuri to come tonight was with the assurance no one of importance would be here. They had double-checked Victor’s Instagram to see pictures of him from that day still tagged in New York, so Yuuri allowed Phichit to tell him what to wear and resigned himself to a night of vapid socialization and hoping not to seem too boring. With every glass of champagne, the thought that he could have been here celebrating their approaching season instead of just his friends was a little less painful. Yuuri grabbed one more glass and hoped that this would be the glass that changed his philosophy from ‘I hate this why am I here’ to ‘This is fun we should dance’. If this one didn’t do it, maybe the next glass would.

 

Victor ducked into the hallway behind the bathrooms and prayed that no one had seen him. As usual, Christophe had been right. Victor should not have come to this party. Anytime he approached a group of people they would giggle and ask for his autograph and praise his work, then wander away. No one wanted to hold an actual conversation with him. He was just a celebrity, not a person in their eyes.

Maybe he should just go home.

Victor stepped out of the dark to leave and collided with someone exiting the restroom. Automatically Victor grabbed on to the person to steady them from falling. The figure in his arms was slightly shorter than him, and looking down Victor could only see dark gelled hair. Then the person tilted their head back to look up at him and Victor was entranced by wide sparkling brown eyes and soft flushed skin. The man he was holding was very handsome, and possibly very drunk. Was he one of the models this season?

Victor smiled at him and if possible those eyes got even bigger, looking shocked and amazed. His mouth opened to speak and Victor expected a ‘Wow, are you Victor Nikiforov?’ or ‘Can I have your autograph?’. Instead, he heard something entirely different.

“You’re not suuupposed to be here!”

Technically Victor hadn’t been invited to this party, but the invitation did say it was open to all cast and crew. Nothing had said Victor couldn’t go. Perhaps this was just another person who, like Christophe, knew that celebrities and normal people did not mingle well. The man continued yelling at him.

“You’re supposed to be in New York! I was specifically told you wouldn't be here, so you shouldn’t be.”

There was now a finger poking into Victor’s chest. This man seemed especially annoyed at Victor, but Victor couldn’t understand why.

“I’m sorry. Why shouldn’t I be here?”

“Because I’m not dressed right! This isn’t sposed to be what you see me wearing.”

Victor looked down at the man’s outfit. The top was very stylish, made of something clingy and nearly sheer, and the pants molded to him like a second skin. He was in good shape, and the clothing showed that off.

“I think your outfit looks wonderful. The cut of the shirt accentuates your collar bones, which are an often neglected feature on male models, and the color brings out your eyes. Is that blue independence?”

The man in front of him nodded. “Phichit likes to dress me in this color. He says it looks good and speaks for my perssoonality, so I let him.”

“Did Phichit make this outfit for you?”

The man nodded again, but still looked unhappy. Victor tried to reassure him.

“I think it is a great outfit for a first meeting. You wear it very well. You will get far as a model.”

That seemed to confuse the man, and his eyebrows drew together and turned downward at an angle that should be illegal it was so attractive. The finger that had been poking Victor’s chest relaxed, but the hand stayed where it was. Victor wanted to hold it close to him.

“That’s not right. You are the model, Victor.”

“Yes. I am.”

“I’m not a model."

“You could be.”

Apparently, that was hilarious because the man doubled over laughing, swaying and nearly falling. Victor continued to hold on to him and was grateful for the opportunity. When the man finally stood up again he was wiping tears from his eyes.

“I’m sorry, I just, this is not how I thought this conversation would go.”

“You’ve imagined meeting me?”

“Lotsa times. Too many to count. I never decided what to wear though...”

Someone walked into the bathroom and gave them a strange look. Maybe it would be best to find a place to sit. There had been a courtyard in the back, so Victor steered his unsteady charge over to a stone bench and sat him down. When they were settled he continued the conversation, wanting to find out more about this handsome man who was tragically not a model.

“So, you aren’t a model, but you have someone designing clothes specifically for you?”

“Yep. My best friend, Phischit. He is a designer. He’s going to be on the show!”

“I see. If you had known what to wear to meet me, would you have asked him to design it?”

“What? No. I would have just made it. Asking him to do it for me would be silly.”

“So you are a designer, too?”

“Yes!”

“So you and your friend will both be on the show this season? That is wonderful!”

Victor could not have been happier. He was going to spend an entire four months getting to know this beautiful man. He was going to get to see him every day. He might make a friend. Maybe more...He looked over at his companion and once again the man looked sad and frustrated. Why did his moods swing back and forth so much?

“What is wrong now?”

“I have to find another glass of champagne, but I don’t really want to stop talking to you.”

“Why?”

“I promised myself that every time I had to tell someone that I didn’t pass the audition, I would take a drink. I made a game out of it.”

“How many glasses have you had?”

“Prbably too many.”

This time the man smiled at him devilishly and Victor thought his heart might leap out of his chest for how fast it started to beat. Victor smiled back and he felt something click into place between them, and he didn’t feel like just a celebrity meeting a fan anymore.

“What is your name?”

“Yuuri Katsuki.”

“Hello Yuuri, I’m Victor Nikiforov.”

Victor held out his hand and Yuuri took it. While they shook hands, Yuuri looked Victor up and down as if he was taking in the whole of him instead of just the face that everyone associated him with. When Yuuri finished his appraisal he frowned, rolled his eyes, and groaned.

“Black and grey. Of course. Figures.”

Victor looked down at himself and wondered what was wrong. He was wearing a monochrome geometric patterned sweater that had been handed to him by Yves Saint Laurent himself after last year's runway. It was a bit warm for the Los Angeles weather, but it was the most normal thing he owned and he hadn’t wanted to stick out too much tonight.

“You don’t like this sweater?”

“No, it’s not that. Saint Laurent is great. It’s just that I never get to see you wear color anymore. I bet you don’t even own anything in color, and it would look sooooo good on you. Here, look.”

Yuuri pulled his cell phone out of his pocket, tapped on it a few times, and then handed it to Victor. On the screen was a sketch of a model wearing what looked like a prince’s military jacket in shades of red-violet and rose with gold trim. Somehow the design managed not to look like a Disney costume. Perhaps it was the plum-colored gloves and pants, or the graceful way it was draped over the model's body.

The model who had striking silver hair and bright blue eyes.

“Yuuri! Is this me?”

Yuuri made a soft noise of agreement, still looking down at the phone and swiping to the next image. It was sketched Victor in a velvet dinner jacket in Mardi Gras purple, with bright gold trim, and a black and gold vest underneath. One more swipe revealed sketch Victor again, this time with long hair, in a wine-colored silk dress shirt and almost black-blue ripped jeans. He had to admit, he had never looked better.

Then his eye flicked to the corner of the screen. It read [Image 34 of 112 - purples].

“Yuuri, you drew all of these? How many are there?”

“Looooots. Most of them I sketched in my free time at school, but some are more recent. Not all of them are good, but I keep them anyway. Sometimes I look through the old ones and make changes with the new things I learned at Bunka and update the styles. Like I used to draw you with really broad shoulders because that’s what you looked like to me. Then I figured out that it was your clothing that gave you that shape, so I made sure that your jackets were always narrowed through the waist and hips accorrdinlingly. It annoys me when I see you wear something that hasn’t been tailored to you.”

Yuuri continued to talk about the choices he had made, growing more animated and passionate about the subject, occasionally taking the phone back to look for a new sketch and then shoving it back into Victor’s hands as if to prove a point. The terms he used grew more technical and intricate until cuts and fabrics and colors were mixing in Victor’s head because he could hardly focus on the words he was so entranced by the man speaking them. Yuuri had the technical knowledge and skill to be on the show. Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo is one of the top five design schools in the world and doesn’t accept or graduate just anyone. So why hadn’t Yuuri been cast as a contestant?

Victor stood and walked over to the ranting man, putting a hand on his shoulder to calm him down and handing his phone back to him. He had to know what had happened.

“Yuuri, how come you didn’t pas…”

He was interrupted by Yuuri shouting out that he loved this song, and was pulled in by strong arms until he was held tight. Their legs slotted together and Yuuri’s arms went up around his neck, which forced Victor to hold onto his waist to keep him steady again as he was swaying back and forth to a rhythm that Victor could hardly hear coming from inside. Yuuri moved to the beat by rubbing against Victor in ways that he could hardly handle, and Victor was glad that only one of them was under the influence because otherwise, this night might have ended very differently. They danced together for what seemed like an endless amount of time since they could not distinguish when one song ended and another began. There was just the steady backbeat vibrating through the courtyard and Yuuri’s music that seemed to come from inside of him, occasionally bursting out in hums and scattered words while they spun and slid across the courtyard. It probably looked ridiculous to an outsider, but Victor would not have stopped it for the world.

Eventually, Yuuri seemed to decide there was a slow song playing and practically melted against Victor, his weight going lax and his arms holding on ever tighter to compensate. They danced like that for a minute, barely shifting from one foot to the other, when Victor decided to try asking his question again.

“Yuuri, why didn’t you get onto the show?”

There was a big sigh, after which Yuuri tucked his face into the crook of Victor’s neck like he was hiding. Victor felt warm breath cross his skin and got his answer.

“Because I suck”

“Nonsense. Your designs are wonderful, Yuuri.”

“Not at that, at this.”

“Dancing?”

“No - Existing. Breathing. Talking. Can’t answer questions when you can’t breathe.”

Victor wanted to kiss him gently and tell him that he was perfect and amazing and astounding. He was seriously contemplating how to say such a thing without sounding creepy when he felt a warm hand cupping the side of his face. He looked down at Yuuri to find the man looking up at him wistfully, his thumb brushing over Victor’s cheek. His eyes sparkled and Victor would have given him anything he asked for right then.

“I would have made you so beautiful. I wish you could have been my model. Be my model, Victor?”

Yuuri had been right. It was impossible to answer questions when you couldn’t breathe.

Luckily, Yuuri didn’t expect an answer. He just tucked himself back into Victor’s neck and continued to hold onto him until his weight grew heavy and his breathing turned even.

 

 

The next day Yuuri jerked awake to the sound of his cell phone ringing. He answered it automatically, swallowing though a dry mouth and throbbing head to croak out a greeting. There was a water bottle and aspirin next to his bedside because Phichit was the best person in the whole wide world, so Yuuri tried to balance the phone on his shoulder while he opened the water bottle.

“Hello, is this Yuuri Katsuki?”

Yuuri made some sort of noise that was probably taken as an affirmation since the person kept speaking.

“Ok, good. This is Cristophe Giacometti, the director of Ebb and Floe. I wanted to talk to you about when we can schedule your closet tour”

Yuuri nearly spat out the water he was drinking.

“I’m sorry, you must have the wrong person. I think you want Phichit, he’s my roommate. He’s your contestant, not me.”

I have here on my to-do list ‘call Yuuri Katsuki, contestant number thirteen for closet tour’. My to-do list is never wrong.”

“There are twelve contestants. That doesn’t make any sense.”

“There were twelve contestants. The powers that be decided there should be one more, and they decided it should be you.”

“I’m very sure it is you. Believe me. I'm sorry you didn’t get a proper call. Consider this your formal welcome to Ebb and Floe. Congratulations. Now, I see here that you live at the same address as contestant eight, Phichit Chulanont. I was concerned about trying to squeeze you into the filming schedule, but if I could just film both your tours and the shop on the same day, it would save us a lot of time and money. We will need to show up at your address at six in the morning to fit it all in, so make sure to set an alarm. Have five outfits ready to show us, no explicit material or brand names showing, and prepare for a long day of filming by getting plenty of sleep and water the night before. I’ll bring your contract over so you can sign it then. Any questions?

Screams were echoing through his brain. Yuuri was on autopilot though so he answered in the way that made the least amount of trouble for the other person.

“Ummm...No?”

“Great. See you then. Good luck!”

Yuuri stared down at his phone for a few minutes, then numbly walked down the hall to lightly knock on Phichit’s door. There was pop music playing and Phichit was wearing his cleaning shorts and tank, with a scrubbing brush in one hand.

“Yuuri! You’re awake! Are you ok? You look kinda dead still.”

Yuuri walked slowly to Phichit’s bed and sat down, still staring blankly ahead in disbelief.

“I just got a call. It was the director of Ebb and Floe. He said I’m a contestant, they added me on, and they need to film our closet tours at the same time and good luck and I’m honestly so confused right now…”

Phichit looked just as shocked and surprised as Yuuri did, then Yuuri was tackled onto the bed with a best friend on top of him.

“OMG Yuuri you did it!!! I don’t know how you did it but you did! You drunk-charmed your way onto the show and I love you because now we can do this together! It’s going to be perfect!”

“I DID WHAT!”

“Well, you were drinking at the party, like a lot, and I let you because you are always more fun when you drink, and it worked because you started challenging people to dance-off’s, saying that if you won then they had to let you on the show. You won them all, because, ya know, it’s you, so someone must have followed through! Brilliant. Perfect. Historic. I’m sooooo happy right now.”

“What else happened last night that I don’t remember?”

“Not much - you must have passed out in the bathroom right after that because I didn’t see you again until the end of the party and you definitely looked like you had been sleeping. Oh! Victor showed up near the end! You slept right through it! He was barely there for a minute, signed some autographs, then left. I figured you wouldn't want me to introduce you to him while you were drunk and drooling in a corner so I didn’t bother.”

Yuuri nearly choked on his tongue. Seeing Victor while wearing a sheer shirt that wasn’t even his design, while drunkenly dancing, would have topped his list of most embarrassing things that could have possibly ever happened to him. Now at least he had time to prepare to see him on his terms. Because he would have to see him now. For four months of filming high-stress challenges and make or break opportunities.

At least he would have Phichit by his side. Speaking of which…

“When is your closet tour scheduled for? Christophe said he was going to do your room, mine, and the shop all in the same day.”

“They are adding the shop in! They said they couldn’t do it since I wasn’t the sole proprietor! This is excellent. And bad. Very bad. My shooting day is Monday. This Monday. As in two days from now. That’s why I was cleaning. We have to clean the shop out. It has to be perfect and we have to burn all your sweatpants, and the design room is a disaster area because we never finished the denim looks we were working on. Oh! Yuuri - you might want to take down your ‘inspiration wall’ unless you want everyone that watches the show to know exactly how much you love Victor because that is probably…”

Yuuri produced a high pitched inhuman noise and ran out, leaving Phichit rolling on the bed cackling while he listened to the sound of posters being ripped down. It was going to be a long weekend.

Chapter Text

Christophe was going to kill Victor. He had sent his oldest and best friend to Canada to film with the most annoying contestant as punishment for messing with the schedule and forcing him to add a new designer in for no reason at the last minute. Now he wasn’t sure that was punishment enough. Chris was standing in Yuuri Katsuki’s boring room listening to him stutter through an explanation of his boring closet, being bored out of his mind. Normally when someone has a boring room and closet Christophe just focused on the footage from their interview; since Yuuri didn’t do the interview, there was no footage. Therefore, Christophe was screwed.

The only upside so far was that he had a cameraman personally assigned to film behind Yuuri the whole time because the boy did have a fantastic backside. Maybe if he showed enough shots of Yuuri’s amazing ass people wouldn’t change the channel.

That was Christophe's job. Make sure people thought an hour of fashion design and fashion critique was entertainment. He was good at his job, but it wasn’t because he focused on fashion. It was because he chose the personalities of the contestants very carefully. They had to have interesting, dramatic, colorful personalities and opinions of fashion that clashed with the other contestants, otherwise, the show was just an hour of people praising each other and discussing the merits of different fabric types, and no one truly wanted to watch that. Christophe wasn’t stupid. He knew the average audience member wanted drama, and arguments, and a sense of impending doom. This season, he had a terrific cast list

Emil Neckola, 21: Not too bright, but enthusiastic. Tries to be friends with everyone.

Seung-gil Lee, 23: Completely uninterested in other people unless they can help him, only believes in high fashion and expensive materials. Unwilling to compromise.

Georgi Popovich, 28: Ex-model who thought he could become a fashion designer with no training. Got kicked off the show after one episode several seasons ago - is back for revenge.

Anya Lipova, 26: Georgi’s ex-girlfriend. They don’t know they are on the show together yet.

Guang Hong Ji, 19: Young, has no idea what gender boundaries in clothing are, innocent.

Michele Crispino, 25: Fiercely protective of his sister, bosses her around - sure to antagonize feminist viewers.

Sara Crispino, 25: Extremely talented, better than her brother.

Phichit Chulanont, 23: endlessly perky, but with biting sarcasm that could cut deep.

Yuri Plisetski, 18: Angry kitten. Likes to yell at people. Already famous, and knows it.

Jean-Jacques Leroy, 22: Very popular clothing line, in a rock band, thinks insults are bonding rituals, refers to himself in the third person.

Leo de la Iglesia, 22: Listens to music all day, will only use music as his motivation.

Cao Bin, 41: an Aging designer who refuses to modernize his look. Trying to resurrect a dead horse.

Yuuri Katsuki, 26: talented but probably scared of success based on his track record, and unable to speak in front of people he doesn't know...

If he had to show off a contestant's better assets until they were removed early in the show, so be it. Chris would be shocked if Yuuri made it to episode three. He was either going to be so boring the judges cut him for his design, or he was going to crack under the pressure. Three people were filming him right now and he couldn’t make eye contact with any of them. He wasn’t even being judged and he was already so nervous Chris was worried he was going to pass out. The not-boring friend, Phichit, seemed to think so too because he was hovering in the doorway, watching anxiously while his friend bombed a basic ‘show us what’s in your closet’ interview.

While Yuuri was refusing to pick a favorite because he liked all his comfortable clothes (how many oversized sweaters could one guy own?) Phichit jumped into the room, seemingly unable to stand it anymore

“Yuuri! Why aren’t you showing them the fun things!!”

“Phichit! You can’t be in here. Can he be in here?”

Christophe laughed. Not-boring roommate to the rescue.

“You two live together right? So you know all of Yuuri’s dirty little secrets, Phichit?”

“That’s right Chris. If we just open this drawer down here -

Phichit went to open the drawer with his foot and Yuuri nosedived onto the floor to make sure it stayed closed. Dieu merci! Finally, something he could use.

“Now Yuuri, you don’t want to share with our viewers the ‘fun things’?”

“It’s nothing really, just some experiments. Not interesting at all.”

Phichit and Yuuri were full out wrestling on the floor at this point, and the cameras had to step back to make room. Eventually, Phichit used his size advantage to pin Yuuri down and yank the drawer open, revealing an explosion of lycra and spandex and...lace? Yuuri let out a keening wail while Phichit tossed Chris a sample. The contraption seemed like it was just a rainbow of different colored strips of stretchy material held together by the fishnet. Chris wasn’t even sure what direction to hold it up in.

“Where is the rest of the outfit?”

“Oh, that’s all of it! Yuuri designed it for me to wear to Pride last year. But this is my favorite. I call it the firefighter. You wear it with black jeans and get free drinks all night.”

The vest was designed as if leather flames were erupting from the bottom of the fabric and licking their way up to the top. Starting around the middle the flames separated from each other, leaving patches of skin underneath, stopping right below the shoulders. It was held together at the top by light orange and flesh colored mesh. It was scandalous. It was perfect. Chris and Phichit spent ten more minutes sifting through what they had dubbed the ‘boys night out’ drawer, while Yuuri lay sprawled on the floor with his hands over his face. When they were finished Phichit pulled him up and forced him to face the cameras again, teasing him about being cute.

These boys had just handed him pure gold. He was going to change their seating assignments so they were next to each other in the workroom, that way Yuuri wasn’t so scared and anxious. He was going to edit every bit of their interaction to shreds until the audience loved them. Then he was going to wait for one of them to go home and draw out the drama and tragedy until his eyes bled. As they packed up to head out to their store in Hollywood, Chris made sure to remember to thank Phichit profusely for being his personal lord and savior.

Not two hours after episode 0 premiered there was banging on the door to Christophe’s office, just as he had predicted. He sat back in his chair after buzzing Victor in, loving the disheveled look the man presented. It was as though he had thrown on whatever clothes were closest to him and run to seek vengeance without even checking his hair, which was sticking out every direction.

“What is the meaning of this! I demand to know what’s happening Chris. This is your fault and I want to know why you felt the need! What possessed you?”

“Why, my dearest and oldest friend, whatever could you be talking about?”

“This!” Victor shoved a phone under Chris’s nose. It was set to the trending page of twitter. #pichuuri and #designboyfriends4lyfe were the trending number one and two spots in the Ebb and Floe tag. There were half a dozen other people shipped with Yuuri, who Chris had made to seem cutely awkwardly bumbling rather than boring. This was better than he could have planned.

“Chris, why are they shipping Yuuri with everyone? Make them stop!”

“I’m sorry Victor, you seem to think I have control here when clearly, I don’t. I don’t even get to choose who my contestants are anymore.”

“Is that what this is about?! You missed out on Yuuri and now you are just mad that this proves I was right and you were wrong. Now please stop making it seem like they are boyfriends!”

“How do you know they are not? They live together. They own a business together. Do you know for sure they aren’t together?”

Victor had no response to that.

“I’ll tell you what Victor. You tell me why you wanted Yuuri, who didn’t even audition, to be on the show sooooo badly, and I will try not to manipulate the footage so much.”

“I told you, Chris, I want him on the show because I was looking through the files and saw his work and he deserves to be here. No other reason.”

“Sure, no problem. Do you think I could get Yuuri and Phichit to go to get ice cream together during one of the off days? Or maybe Plisetski. YuriYuu seems to be popular. The sweet shy boy and the angry kitten. What do you think?”

If looks could kill Chris would be a pile of ashes on the floor right now. Lucky for him, all Victor could do was glare.

“You can keep your secrets Victor, but you handed me Yuuri on a silver platter and now he’s mine to do with as I please. So either suck it up, or give the audience enough fodder to get your own tag trending. Now let’s go get dinner and talk about the rest of the season. You look like you haven’t eaten.”

Victor nodded mutely and Chris steered him out into the city, only feeling a tiny bit guilty.

 

To say that the last few weeks of shooting a reality television show had been the most surreal experience in Yuuri’s life would be putting it mildly. In theory, he was doing the same thing he had been doing every day normally - wake up, sketch, cut, sew, eat, sleep, repeat. The major differences came in how and where these things were happening. All the contestants had been assigned rooms at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, a short ride via shuttle to and from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, where the majority of filming was taking place. Yuuri would wake in a bed he was not familiar with next to his roommate, who he was. Since he was an odd-numbered contestant, they had originally placed him a room apart from everyone else. Upon hearing this Yuri Plisetsky, the eighteen-year-old prodigy from Russia who already had a clothing line for teens had marched up to Yuuri and demanded his private room in the middle of the ornate gold and glass lobby of the hotel, shocking everyone into silence. Since Yuri had been rooming with Phichit, Yuuri happily agreed and all was well, though he secretly wondered at how that bit of footage would be edited.

He and Phichit would wake early in the morning, grab some fruit and granola bars from the basket in their room, and hop onto the shuttle where they would be whisked off to the school. There were three major rooms they filmed in. The workroom was a series of long tables, sewing machines, and other tools of the trade. The college vibes pleased Yuuri and he felt the most at home in the workroom.

The fabric room was a warehouse filled from floor to ceiling with thousands of fabrics and it frustrated Yuuri to no end because there was zero organization. The best options were to wander around aimlessly hoping something stuck out at you, or ask for help from someone who knew where things were. Asking people for help was not Yuuri’s specialty so getting fabric was a nightmare, especially since he was so particular about his color schemes.

Yuuri spent most of his days flitting between these two rooms to complete assignments, trying to avoid making eye contact with everyone, and hoping to blend into the background. He avoided the camera crew as much as possible because they made him self conscious. Yuuri was ninety percent sure that Christophe hated him and had a vendetta to catch him in the worst moments possible. He avoided the other contestants because they tended to have strong opinions, and Yuuri did not want their critical eyes directed at him or his work. Perhaps most importantly, he tried to avoid Victor Nikiforov.

The very first day of shooting on the campus had been a blur of faces and names and looking for dark corners to hide in to not bring attention to himself. Whenever someone did speak to him he felt nauseous and dizzy but refused to be that person who needed to see a doctor on the first day. He picked and pulled at the sleeves of his sweater and was glad the air conditioning was turned up enough to justify wearing something so warm on a 92-degree day. He always felt safer in a sweater he could drown in.

Yuuri had been standing over by the refreshment table between takes, stress eating donuts and feeling guilty about it, when Victor Nikiforov arrived on set. It was like a scene out of a movie - the room had been dark but their eyes had all adjusted to it, so when the double doors opened to allow the supermodel in the sunlight created a halo around his silhouette that suited him perfectly. Then the doors closed behind him and his image cleared and Yuuri was having problems breathing because Victor was here, in the flesh. In the same room as him. Immediately a multitude of people rushed over to accommodate any needs Victor might have had upon arrival, but he held them all back with a wave of his hand. His eyes searched the room, nodding at various people he was familiar with and dismissing many he was not. Then, he made eye contact with Yuuri and smiled in a way that lit up his entire face, as though Yuuri was someone worth smiling at.

Yuuri promptly turned on his heel and walked as quickly as he could to the nearest restroom, locking himself in the small room and re-assessing every choice he had ever made in his life to get himself to this point. He knew he couldn’t hide forever before someone came looking for him, so he collected himself and slowly eased back into the hallway.

Victor was waiting for him.

More likely Victor was waiting for the toilet that Yuuri had been occupying. Yuuri tried to slink by him quickly so as not to be in the way, eyes glued to the floor, but his eyes were traitors to him and couldn’t help but glance up to sneakily look at the man from the corner of his eye. What he saw stopped him in his tracks.

Victor Nikiforov was wearing color. Olive green to be exact. Yuuri pulled his eyes away from the cut of the suit to double check his age-old assumption and young Yuuri had been right - olive green made Victor’s eyes several shades darker and more piercingly blue than Yuuri had ever seen in a print magazine.

Or maybe it was because this was the real person here in front of him and not a 2D processed image. Maybe Victor’s eyes were always this blue and the world just didn’t know.

After several seconds of unabashed staring, Yuuri noticed Victor fidget. He was probably making the man uncomfortable but this might be his one chance at seeing him wearing color so he wasn’t about to stop. Then Victor spoke and Yuuri realized the man’s voice was deeper and smoother than he had thought it was. It was possible that everything about Victor was bigger and brighter and sexier and more interesting than he had even been capable of imagining.

And yet.

There was also something familiar and comforting about the man. Yuuri did not feel his initial panic returning, even as Victor stared right back at him. He felt instead as though he was in a dream, a memory, and a fantasy all at once. It was strange but not nearly as terrifying as he had thought it would be. Then he remembered Victor had been talking and he had definitely not been listening.

“...the only thing of color I had in my closet. It’s Gucci, but Ryan Gosling wore it before I got a chance to, so I hid it away and never thought of it again. I must admit I feel like I stick out because I am so unused to wearing color now. I did put in a request with some of my acquaintances to send me things, so there should be more over the next few weeks. I hope it’s alright though?”

Yuuri processed the fact that Victor was asking his opinion, then nodded and flailed his arms to show that it was more than ok, it was amazing. Hopefully, the right words had come out of his mouth, since Victor smiled and eyed the outfit Yuuri was wearing. Victor's hand reached out and suddenly was on Yuuri’s chest, touching the ribbed pattern of Yuuri’s sweater. It was a beige cashmere cotton blend, with side button-up turtleneck and extra long sleeves. It was very touchable, and Yuuri was currently torn between the fact that there was someone in his personal bubble and the fact that Victor Nikiforov was touching him.

Taking a chance by looking away from the hand on his chest and up at Victor, Yuuri saw a confused set to Victor’s brow.

“Yuuri, did you design this?”

“Ummm, no, it’s Burberry. Christopher sends me things sometimes if he thinks I would like them…”

“Christopher Bailey?”

Yuuri nodded and Victor’s face fell.

Yuuri immediately felt like the largest fool on the face of the earth. He had gone through nearly a whole sketchbook in the last three weeks trying to figure out what to design to wear to meet Victor, and in the end, he had given up and gone for comfort instead. It had been a mistake. For whatever reason Victor must have expected to see everyone wearing their own designs. It had been a hidden test, and Yuuri had failed.

Then Victor took a step into Yuuri’s space, and his hand was stroking under Yuuri’s chin and he was asking Yuuri all sorts of personal questions, citing their working together as a need to get to know one another. There were too many sources of stimulation for Yuuri to process all at once so he jerked back and knocked his head on the wall in his haste to get away. Victor moved forward to check on him and Yuuri couldn’t stand to be trapped between him and the wall so he ducked around and hastily excused himself, hoping he was needed somewhere on set. Despite how shaken up he was, he volunteered for one of the behind-the-scenes interview things just so he couldn’t focus on the bright blue eyes that followed him across every room.

It wasn’t until much later, when he was trying to get comfortable in his hotel bed, listening to Phichit’s familiar snores next to him, that he allowed himself to gleefully remember the encounter. With his hands over his face to feel his blush, he realized the reason he had been shaking and his heart had been pounding hadn’t been the usual nerves, but happiness. For the first time since this whole fiasco began, Yuuri allowed himself to look forward to the experience, to the weekly challenges and the constant presence of someone he had admired so long.

 

That moment seemed a lifetime ago as they stood in front of the runway, waiting to receive their assignments for the fourth week. The runway was usually where presentations and judging took place. This set gave Yuuri cold sweats anytime he so much as passed outside the door, and for good reason.

The runway was where Lilia Baranovskaya, one of his design idol’s from the very first edition of Floe magazine, told him in no uncertain terms he wasn’t good enough.

It had been the very first challenge. In celebration of filming in Los Angeles, the designers had to create an outfit based on one of the famous preselected L.A. buildings. Yuuri had chosen the Los Angeles Theater downtown. He had designed what he had thought was a rather stunning suit in dark red crushed velvet with gold and black highlights. It was opulent like the theater lobby, but still very tasteful.

During the mid-week walkthrough, Victor had said it reminded him of the Mariinsky theater in his hometown of St. Petersburg, looking soft and vulnerable and homesick in a way that made Yuuri want to hold him. Sadly Yuuri couldn’t do much more than nod his in thanks since Victor had been wearing a Samuel Alarcón peach loose knit sweater with long black braids around the shoulders that hung to the floor, and equally loose knit black pants that showed contrasting white skin underneath and made Yuuri’s tongue tie.

Overall, Yuuri had been quite proud of his work. Celestino would have approved. The red suit had looked amazing on the model, a tall dark Italian man who said he felt rich wearing it.

Therefore it had come as a total surprise when he was announced to be in the bottom three.

The one good thing was that he was too in shock to react with the proper amount of heartbreak and panic. While they cleared the stage of everyone but the bottom three Yuuri simply stood and stared into the distance, wondering what had gone wrong.

When Mila asked him why he had chosen a suit, he told her that is was because he was good at designing suits - it was his profession after all.

When Otabek asked why he had chosen that particular venue, Yuuri stated that he had enjoyed the colors.

Lilia asked no questions. Instead, she looked through his file, which was on her lap, and then looked at him and the model standing uncomfortably by his side.

“Yuuri. I see you are confused. That is understandable. Please, do not be too hard on yourself. The suit is perfectly serviceable. Your color scheme is remarkable and the fact that you were able to use these colors to make a suit that did not look like a circus performer's outfit speaks to your talent and training. I have no doubts that this would sell well at market.

However, that is precisely the problem. This suit was designed with the challenge and the consumer in mind. It is exactly what it needs to be. No more and no less. I can promise you that this is due to your time working for not one, but two, commercial businesses. Your main job caters to business and wedding wear, and your shop caters to the young beach and party goers. You have been creating standardized clothing for too long.

This show is not looking for someone who creates everyday wear in a variety of different color schemes. We are looking for visionaries who re-define fashion. We are looking for those who can put their heart and soul into their work to create something that reflects themselves, and therefore has never been seen, and cannot be re-created.

I see nothing of you in this suit. We know you have the talent, but we need to see your vision. What do you want out of your designs, Yuuri? How do you want to influence the world? That is what we will be looking for in the coming weeks. Try not to fail us again.”

It was sheer luck that he had not gone home that very day, or the next two weeks. The first one to go home had been Cao Bin because he argued with Lilia, which was a death sentence. In the second week, Anya had dropped out voluntarily, saying she could not work near Georgi’s incessant mooning and drooling over her. Leo de la Iglesia was dismissed on week three because he was trying to weave music references into all his work, often at the expense of the design.

Thankfully most of the other competitors had decided Yuuri was not a threat and therefore did not bother to speak to him. Phichit joked with him all day, and Guang Hong would occasionally come converse with them or ask for advice, which they were both happy to give. They had grown quite fond of the boy and hoped he would continue to be a friend after the show. His designs were youthful and happy and he was still excited and energetic to learn new things. The cameras were still present but Christophe and his glare had decided Yuuri wasn’t worth his time either.

The worst was that Victor had not spoken directly to him again. He still critiqued Yuuri’s work mid-week, just like he did everyone else's, but the encounters were short and to the point. There had been no more hallway questionings, and Yuuri was not invited to eat or relax in Victor’s inner circle.

Yuuri had not returned to the bottom three but he also had the vague feeling that he had been no higher than number four, barely surviving because others were struggling harder than he was. He knew he still had not tried anything new or different or world changing, mostly for fear of failing.

He was aware that playing it safe wasn’t going to cut it any longer. Time was running out before the last of the weaker designers were let go, leaving those who truly shined to fight it out for the finals. In his current state, he was not someone he would have chosen for the top six spots, let alone the top three. He had to work harder, and let go of his doubts and self-consciousness. He would take his stand on this challenge, and do something to prove he deserved to stay. Then he would set his eye on the ultimate prize. The money and publicity boost would mean that he wouldn’t have to work for Celestino anymore, and he and Phichit could expand their shop to truly take some risks and try their brands. It was a plan that had been far in the future but now it could truly be a reality, but only if he worked for it.

So as he stood shoulder to shoulder with his fellow designers, waiting for his next assignment, he felt confident. Victor was wearing a Misbhv spring 17 original, an overly large white button down shirt with a denim waist cincher and a choker that Yuuri’s eyes were drawn too whenever he looked at the man. The thin straps of denim that were wrapped around his neck contrasted beautifully with his pale skin and elongated the lines of his face, and Yuuri was kicking himself that he had never thought of having Victor wear a choker before. He wanted to go to his room and draw one hundred Victor’s wearing one hundred different chokers just to get it out of his system.

Christophe was speaking to the judges and to Victor to make sure they understood what to do once the camera began rolling, but everyone was fairly comfortable with the routine at this point. So Yuuri allowed himself to stare, and to fantasize, and to wait. When everyone finished their conference Victor turned and made eye contact with him directly for the first time in days and Yuuri felt his face turn hot. Then Victor was getting into place, a clipboard in hand, and everyone was told what camera to look at and where to stand. It was show time.

“Hello, designers! Welcome to week four of your journey. You have done well to make it this far, but this will be your most challenging assignment yet.

As you all may have noticed, we began our journey with thirteen of you. An odd number, and a departure from our traditional twelve. Unfortunately, there can still be just three of you for the final show. This means that we must do something unprecedented here on Ebb and Floe to even the numbers.

Our next challenge will be a team challenge. We are going group you into pairs, and give you two opposing themes devised by our own master of dichotomy, Otabek Altin. These themes must produce two different looks that both show your individuality, and seem as though they are part of the same line. This means you must work together and support each other to create a shared vision.

As such, your work is only as strong as the weakest of the two of you. At the final judgment, it will be the weakest team that gets cut, with both participants heading home. Working with other people is important in our industry, and now is your chance to prove that you can do so.

The teams are as follows:

Sara Crispino with magic and Emil Neckola with technology

Georgi Popovich with despair and Phichit Chulanont with joy

Seung-gil Lee with order and Jean-Jacques Leroy with chaos

Michele Crispino with nature and Guang Hong Ji with industry

And lastly Yuri Plisetsky with agape, and Yuuri Katsuki with eros.

Good luck to you all. I look forward to seeing your idea’s on Wednesday!!”

There was a general rise in conversation as everyone went to greet their partners, but Yuuri was still reeling from the announcement. He was going to have to work with Yuri Plisetsky, who automatically hated everything everyone did if it didn’t involve metal studs and leopard print. Yuri had a very definite style, and Yuuri had to adapt to it or the pieces wouldn’t look related. If he adapted too much, he would be accused of not staying true to himself again. This could very well be the challenge that ruined him.

From the corner of his eye, he noticed the familiar head of bright blonde hair approaching Victor at a rapid pace, and even from across the room he could tell that Yuri was fuming. Of course, two cameras were flanking him, ready to capture whatever outburst was about to happen. Yuuri rushed over to join the situation, hoping to mitigate any damage done. Just as he arrived Yuri began to scream.

“What the fuck is Agape! Why do I have to work with that loser? I want another partner! Give me chaos instead, then the two losers can work together.”

Victor merely shook his head and tsked in amusement, but when he spoke his voice was steel under silk.

“Darling Yura, there will be no partner changes. You have all been paired together with someone who has something you lack so that you can help each other grow. I’m sure you will have fun working together.”

Yuuri watched his partner's back round and his hair stand on end, as though he were an angry cat. Or maybe a frightened cat. Victor continued.

“As for your subjects, I am glad you asked. Agape is unconditional love, self-sacrificing and uncalculating, like love for God, or a parent's love for a child. There are many ways you can choose to interpret it. It requires admitting that there is something more important to you than yourself.”

Victor turned to Yuuri then, and Yuuri realized he had somehow forgotten what it felt like to have the man’s full attention and piercing gaze on him. Dimly he heard words spoken, but he heard them through a haze of thoughts like ‘wow, he’s so beautiful’ and ‘ choker, corset, choker, corset, choker’.

“Eros is sexual love. Pleasure followed by pleasure until one just drowns in it. Taking rather than receiving. It requires you to admit there is something in this world that you want for yourself and for you alone.”

Yuri exploded again. “Switch them! That theme isn’t me at all! I want to do eros instead!”

Victor simply continued speaking, ignoring the outburst.

“You have to do the opposite of what people expect. How else are you going to keep surprising them? These themes are meant to provide you both a challenge and to draw you out of your comfort zones. If you cannot rise to the occasion, you will both go home. It is that simple. Since you are both my fan’s and want to reach the finale to design for me, I’m sure you’ll manage.”

Off to the side, Yuri was ranting about old men and not being a fan and just wanting the money and agape being stupid. None of that mattered because Victor was still staring at Yuuri, and the prolonged eye contact was making him light-headed and warm and determined. So without really thinking, the words that were on Yuuri’s mind slipped out.

“I do want to design for you, and eat lunch with you, and talk to you again. So I will design eros, and I will give it all the eros I’ve got.”

In return, he received a heart-shaped smile and sparkling blue eyes, and a breathy “That is exactly what I like to hear!”.

It was almost enough to offset the embarrassment he felt later when he realized what he had said.

 

After all the contestants had wandered back to their rooms to grab their supplies and begin planning, Otabek wandered casually up to Victor.

“Eros and Agape, huh? I could have sworn the last themes were poverty and opulence. Guess I must be misremembering.”

Victor tossed his hair out of his eyes and handed the clipboard back to Otabek. As he walked away to his trailer he winked at the man. Otabek looked down at the clipboard to see not a single word of his original pairings and themes had been changed.

Victor Nikiforov was a crazy man, a troublemaker, and a genius.

 

Yuuri took his time gathering his sketchbooks and references and making his way down to the workroom. He was hoping he could reach some sort of truce with his partner to get them through this round. They didn’t have to win, they just couldn’t lose. When he arrived and pulled up a chair next to Yuri, the boy was already pinning up samples of fabric.

“Where is your sketch?”

“I don’t need to sketch yet. I barely have a concept, so I am starting with fabric. I looked up some words related to agape and came up with purity, which is white, so I’m using a white tiger print instead of Bengal. Luckily they had some in the fabric room. It’s on hold if you need to use some too.”

Yuuri was aghast and annoyed.

“All you have for your concept is a white tiger? That doesn’t make any sense. What do tigers have to do with agape? Do cats even feel love?”

Yuri didn’t respond, he just kept staring at their board and re-arranging different fabrics into groups. Yuuri tried again.

“So, what kind of clothing are you thinking? It should probably be something soft and sweet, so many be a dress?”

“Dresses are stupid and I don’t like them. Besides, a white dress? That's a wedding dress. The idea that you have to be pure when you get married pisses me off. Shouldn’t you have some idea if the person is good in bed before you go and marry them for the rest of your life? Now stop talking to me and go away.”

“I didn’t say anything about weddings! Where did you get that? And I can’t go away, I’m your partner!”

“Well, I don’t want you to be, so go ruin eros somewhere else. I’ll try to come to save it once you show me your idea. If you even manage to come up with one.”

“Didn’t Lilia ban you from cat prints? Because she more or less banned me from suits and I wouldn’t dare try another one.”

“It’s all in the explanation, genius. Didn’t they teach you that at your fancy fashion university? All you have to do is say that the clothing means something deep and people will have to accept it. How else do you think designers get away with the weird shit they do on the runway?”

Yuuri looked around for Phichit, but his friend was deep in conversation with his partner and it didn’t feel right to interrupt him. This was going to be the worst week ever.

 

On Wednesday morning Victor stood in the workroom staring at the two most stubborn and clueless people he had ever met in his life, and their equally confusing creations. He had challenged them to explore their innermost feelings and the best they could come up with was...cats?

“Tiger mothers take care of their young for three years, until they can fully hunt and take care of themselves. White tigers are exceedingly rare and their habitats have to be protected. That is both parent's love for child and selfless love of people who donate to wildlife foundations.”

Victor turned to Yuuri, hoping he at least had put some deeper thought into this. When the man began to whisper his explanation at the ground, something inside Victor died a little.

“Panthers get very focused when they hunt. There is nothing that can distract them. They will track something for hours, stalking it halfway across a jungle with single-minded intensity. That is very eros…”

The last words were barely heard, despite the whole room being dead silent. Georgi had momentarily stopped crying over Anya. Michele had stopped threatening Emil for standing too close to his sister. All eyes and cameras were focused on the two designers and their strange choice. Yuri was standing with his arms crossed and his posture defensive, while Yuuri looked like he was trying to curl in on himself and disappear. Victor wasn’t sure if he wanted to hug them or strangle them.

“NO! Just no. No cats. No animal prints. No adding meaning where there isn’t any. What are you two thinking? Do you want to go home?”

There was no answer. Victor chose to deal with the prickly blonde boy first.

“Yura. We don’t want to know about a tiger’s love for its cubs. Save that for the runway when you are famous and can campaign for them, da? Here, you need to focus on you. We need to know what your agape is. What you think of when you think of love.”

“I don’t know! What do YOU think of? What’s agape to you, Victor?”

At that moment, Victor said a million thanks to Lilia and the acting classes she had required him to take since he was twelve. It meant he was able to smile and laugh as though the idea was absurd. It meant the panic didn’t show. It meant he didn’t look at Yuuri the way he wanted to, remembering the moments when it was just them, dancing in a garden and feeling each other's warmth. Instead, he was able to roll his eyes and pretend he wasn’t crumbling.

“It’s a feeling, of course! So I could never explain it in words. You’re so funny, Yura!”

Yura just sat there staring at him open-mouthed, seeing straight through Victor’s bullshit, but did not speak back. Then he grabbed his sketchbook and pencils and stomped away, muttering about crazy models and stupid feelings.

Victor then turned his attention to Yuuri. Today’s oversized sweater was Louis Vuitton, a dark blue and black wide-neck mohair that hid his hands and highlighted his collarbones. Because of the warm temperature in the workroom, there was a light sheen of sweat under his Adam's apple and Victor wanted very badly to reach out and run his fingers over the man’s neck to see if it was as soft and warm as it looked. He restrained himself, barely.

“Yuuuuuuri. I know you don’t care about cats. What happened?”

“I didn’t want to be that person who couldn’t work with his partner, and Yuri wouldn’t change his mind so…”

“Well, now there will be no problem. No cats. You just have to design something sexy that turns you and the audience on. Any idea’s what that might be?”

Victor edged closer, just because he could. Yuuri twisted his fingers around in the sleeves of his sweater.

“I’ve never really designed anything specifically to be sexy. I mean sometimes I make something just to mess around and Phichit likes it and wears it to a club, but I’ve never really thought about it because I’m not a sexy person. Even if I do wear something it’s just because Phichit makes me, and I don’t look very good in them. I guess you could say I lack confidence.”

Was this man for real?

Did he not realize how truly breathtaking he was? Christopher Bailey didn’t send him sweaters because he enjoyed them; he designed them with Yuuri in mind because Yuuri looked so beautiful in them he made Instagram cry. Victor knows this for a fact because he had texted the designer that night and they bonded over Yuuri’s beauty in a way they never had before.

“Alright then, Yuuri, my job is to make you feel confident in yourself.”

Victor reached out with the simple intent of lifting Yuuri’s chin so that he could say what he had to while looking into the brown eyes he was coming to treasure. When Yuuri sucked in a little breath at the contact, Victor’s thumb went to brush over the man’s bottom lip all on its own. Years of honed senses told him that the cameras were repositioning for a better angle and drawing in closer, but he had Yuuri’s full attention on him and he wasn’t going to do anything to break this moment.

Yuuri’s breath was coming in short pants and was hot and wet on his hand. Victor moved closer and used his best bedroom voice to keep this moment between them alone.

“No one in the whole wide world knows your true eros, Yuuri. It may be an alluring side of you that you yourself are unaware of. Can you show me what it is soon?”

For his efforts, he received wide blown pupils and a nearly imperceptible nod. It would have to do. Victor backed up and removed his hand, once again speaking loud enough for the cameras.

“Think long and hard about what eros is to you. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!”

With that, he flounced away to check on the next pair of outfits and tried to calm his own galloping heart.

 

Later that night Yuuri was sitting in the club lounge of the hotel, staring out the windows at the city below him. It was his favorite room because of the soft purple carpet and neon lights and wrap around windows. All he had accomplished was sitting with his sketch pad, doodling and pretending to work while he grappled with his feelings. He had been dull enough that the camera’s eventually left him alone. It was then that his partner finally found him again. If the long sigh the teenager let out was anything to go by, he had been doing some soul searching as well.

“Victor is right you know. We need to do better. We need to work together. Do you think we can do that?”

Yuri nodded, his head down on the table. It was quiet for a minute, just the sounds of idle chatter from the other hotel guests and traffic from the streets. Finally, he spoke.

“My mom still sends me letters every month. I haven’t seen her in years. She is a singer, like, what you would call an idol, I guess. She tours all over the world. Somehow, she still finds the time to send me letters. She is so beautiful that I used to think she was an angel since I only saw her tucking me in at night when I was half asleep. I would like to make her a dress but I don’t know how to do it without making it look costumey. You’re good at that though.”

“I started as a costume designer. It’s even what I did my thesis on. I would be happy to help you.”

Yuri didn’t say thank you, but he did unfold himself and lean back in his chair.

“That doesn’t help you though. You can’t make a fancy angel gown sexy.”

“Maybe we could find things that are similar about our themes?”

“They are both stupid and should be ignored?”

Yuuri thought about it. Then he laughed. Then he finally had a moment of inspiration.

“Masquerade! Love and desire are both things you are supposed to hide, to mask so they aren’t shown too much. If we make Masquerade dresses they can also be as fancy and lavish as we want!”

Yuuri began making notes in his book as Yuri scoffed.

“I thought we weren't supposed to make it look like a costume? Won’t that get us in trouble?”

“You said it yourself, it’s all in the explanation. We are going to have to take a chance. Any other similarities?”

“They both change you as a person?”

“Perfect! Fades! The colors can fade from one to another, that way the dress you want doesn’t have to be all white either.”

They worked on Yuri’s dress for the next hour, adding elements and discussing fabrics and effects they wanted to show. When the teen finally started to yawn, Yuuri told him to get to bed. As Plisetsky was leaving he turned to Yuuri with one last word of advice.

“Listen, loser. Whatever it is that turns you on, own it. You shouldn't be scared, or ashamed, or shy. It’s a part of who you are, and anyone who doesn’t accept that can suck it. So surprise some people, ok?”

Yuuri scrubbed his hands over his face in resignation, laughing even though he felt like crying.

“Yea, ok. Goodnight, Yuri.”

“Goodnight”

 

An hour later, when he was too tired to pretend or lie to himself anymore, Yuuri put his pencil to paper and began his sketch. He knew who he was designing for.

It started with a choker and a corset.

Sleeping Yuuri

Chapter Text

Chris had an extra bounce to his step as he walked one more circuit backstage, making sure the final prep for the runway tonight was finished. This week had been wild, and the dramatic moments had just kept coming. Chris hoped they had no signs of stopping tonight. In fact, he was doing everything he could to ensure they continued.

The second he found Katsuki out of his room and asleep folded over one of the hotel lobby tables Thursday morning surrounded by sketches of half-clad figures dressed in lingerie he had made sure to let the cast and crew know that the two Yuri’s would be finishing their project in a separate room due to stress. It was a lie, of course, but no one needed to know that. They had actually been working quite well together, finishing their monumental task in half the time the other teams had while throwing back and forth friendly insults behind closed doors. He had arranged the cameras carefully for every workroom shot so that small glimpses of the corners of a skirt or the edges of a shoulder of their outfits could be seen, which should drive the audience wild.

Even better, Victor hadn’t seen the outfits. Not that he hadn’t tried. Twice he showed up unscheduled on the pretense of just ‘being curious’ or ‘wanting to be helpful’. Chris had directed him to help everyone except the two people (let's face it, one person) he really wanted to see. It had resulted in nice footage of Victor assuring a distressed Guang Hong whose partner, Michele, had been neglecting his duties. Victor had told him that even if they didn’t win now, he was still young and had a lot of opportunities in the future because life took you all sorts of crazy places when you were least expecting it. It had been a sweet moment and would help balance out the audience's feelings for what would no doubt be a stressful cut.

After checking that all the cameras were in place and knew the run order, Chris headed off to the dressing rooms to make sure the talent was ready and in place for their walk. Sure enough, he had to chase Michele out of Sara and Emil’s room and back to his own. Georgi and Phichit were casually talking about their past break-ups with their models. Seung Gil was double-checking there were no sloppy threads or loose hairs, while JJ walked his partner through a fake Q&A session like the perfectionists that they were.

Last but certainly not least, Katsuki and Plisetsky were tucked into a tiny corner of their dressing room since the two model’s dresses took up half the space. They were huddled over an object that was making crackling noises, and when the scent of spicy hot Cheetos hit Chris’s nose he saw red. He ordered the abashed designers back to hair and makeup to hope that his miracle workers had something to remove red dye from fingers. Lastly, he double-checked that there were no stains on the clothing, but the models re-assured him that the boys had not gone near the dresses and that they had desperately needed the junk food fix.

With all of that hopefully settled Chris went back out to the actual runway one more time to check that the judges were in place and happy. After setting them up with fresh water bottles, plenty of pens for taking notes, and a lint roller for removing poodle hair from Victor’s clothing, everyone was finally settled and in their seats. Victor always wore a suit to the runway, and today was no exception as he sported a Fendi white and tan vertical striped suit pants and jacket, paired with an Alice and Olivia navy crop top embellished with flowers crafted from pure pearl.

Chris gave the cue to bring the contestants out to their seats and reminded his camera operators that he wanted one camera aimed at each individual at all times tonight. He had blown a significant portion of the budget on extra cameras for tonight's runway, but he had a feeling he would thank himself when it came time to edit and there were reaction shots for absolutely everything.

Mostly he wanted Victor’s face when Eros came out just for his personal blackmail collection. The plan that Victor thought he had hidden so well and had set up so flawlessly was going to backfire and Christophe could not wait to get the whole thing on film.

The contestants filed out to take their assigned seats while the cameras finished setting the lighting and adjusting their shots. Chris had an eye on everything, but his main focus was on Yuri Plisetsky who, for the first time in history, looked nervous. The boy was so unusually agitated that his leg was bouncing up and down and he was biting at his thankfully no-longer-red nails. Yuuri laid a hand on his shoulder and the bouncing calmed, but the nails were still being brutalized. Then Victor’s voice rang out across the studio and Chris could only pray that someone had a camera on.

“Don’t look so scared Yura, I’m sure everything will be fine. You always do great work!”

Yuri looked at him in disgust and retorted that he didn’t need a washed-up old model’s pity, which earned him a stern look from Lilia and a scoff from Georgi. Victor just laughed, probably glad to see some spark and confidence back in the young designer. Chris caught the mischievous look in Yuuri’s eye a second before the man began his teasing.

“Where is my good luck, Victor? Don’t I always do good work too?”

The line had been delivered while Katsuki had been peeking out under his lashes, and had reduced Victor to an apoplectic state of shock. He just sat there looking like a fish out of water, slowly turning purple while his mouth opened and closed but no sound came out.

“Victor, leave the contestants alone. Katsuki, save it for when the cameras are on, please. Everyone, we start as soon as the crew is ready so put your game faces on. We are beginning with Victor’s introduction, then Natalie is sending out the first model so be ready to write. A reminder not to speak during the first walk, you have plenty of time to talk during the evaluations and interviews. If there is something you absolutely need to say that hasn’t been said, tell me after so we can record it for the voice over. Mark, ready on your cue.”

Chris held his breath and hoped for the best.

When agape swept out onto the stage, Yuuri was holding himself very still. All night he had felt restless and on edge. It had slipped out of him in small ways all day, including his outright flirtation with Victor earlier that he still couldn't believe had escaped his mouth. Giving himself the freedom to design, to envision, to imagine over the last few days had made him more confident and therefore less able to reign in his reactions to the man.

There was something about tonight; the bright lights, the expensive and understatedly sexy Versace brocade knitwear he was wearing, and the hard work he and his partner had put in were making him braver and more open. They had taken a big chance, and they would either be praised or go home - there was no in-between. It was for exactly that reason he kept his eyes glued to the dresses as they waltzed down the runway and refused to look at the judges. Mostly he couldn’t look at Victor. Whatever reaction was on his face, be it pride or scorn or the worst, disappointment, would break Yuuri down into tiny pieces and he had to hold together a little longer.

Instead, he tried to look at their pieces critically, as though he had never seen them before. Agape was a vision of sweetness. Layers of translucent white organza made up the base of the skirt. The top layer had been hand-dyed a dark pearl gray at the bottom and slowly faded to the brilliant white at the top. Small black and clear crystals dotted the bottom of the fabric making it sparkle. It looked like the model was walking out of the night sky to greet them with a gentle smile on her face. The bust had beaded embroidered flowers of the same dark gray and silver at the hips and climbing up the waist. There was a cape attachment in the same style that reached down to the floor and trailed behind the model. The sweetheart neckline was lined with fine white whispy feathers that floated around as the model primly turned and removed the cape to reveal a plunging backline. It was a dress fit for an angel, but it wasn’t without the Plisetsky punk touches that Yuri was known for. The dress was made out of just the right number of layers of organza and mesh that it was subtly see-through; only the careful beading placement was truly protecting the model’s modesty. There was even a diamond-shaped cutout that showed off the soft hairs on the model's torso.

The model finished her glide up the runway and stood to the side just as Eros strutted out onto the stage. As instructed, she simply stood for a count of three and the stark contrast between the two pieces took Yuuri’s breath away. He had been looking at them so closely for the last few days that he had not truly stood back to appreciate the full picture. Unlike the straight lines of agape’s A-line form, Eros was all ruffles and curves. The skirt was open front, showing off the black sheer stockings and leather garters that ran up the model’s legs, which were made longer by her four-inch t-strap D'Orsay platform heels. The outside layer of the skirt was black glimmer illusion tulle, but he had dyed the top the same grey as agape and used large bright white crystals to contrast agape’s tiny black ones. The entire edge of the skirt was lined in thick scalloped red lace, and when the model began to walk it revealed the inside bottom of the skirt had been lined in dark teasing red satin. The top was a conical corset made of see-through black illusion lace, leather straps, and black satin where necessary, all dotted with the large white crystals that glimmered under the light and drew your eyes to naughty places. Lastly, there was a thin black strap that led from the neckline of the corset to a high collar that wrapped in red and black around the model's neck. Yuuri had been blessed with a model who was capable of pulling off the fiery ensemble with a ‘you-know-you-want-me’ look in her eyes. When she turned at the end of the runway the skirt flared out behind her and swept across the front of the stage, and she gave a long slow wink over her shoulder before strutting her way back up the catwalk to stand opposite her counterpart. Together they made quite a pair.

Agape and Eros left the stage and Lilia stood and thanked them all for their work, letting them know they would be assessed as teams, one team at a time. Everyone piled out into the green room together while the cameras were reset and the judges discussed their initial thoughts and prepared their questions, and Yuuri took his first breath of the night. Some of the tension finally bled out of his shoulders once everyone started talking and congratulating each other the second the doors were closed behind them.

He should have known it wouldn’t last. Cameras had followed them to catch the reactions backstage, and the show was not over.

“Oh! My! God! Yuuri! Did you see Victor’s face when Eros came out! I thought he was gonna die! He shifted on his chair so many times he looked like he was gonna fall off! Can you even believe it! You nearly brought renown sex symbol Victor Nikiforov to his knees!”

It was Phichit, of course. Why had he agreed to do this show with his best friend who knew all his darkest secrets? Why had he thought this was a good idea? Oh, that's right, he hadn’t. This was all drunk Yuuri’s fault…

With no time to contemplate all that because there was a camera in his face along with a whole room of people who were staring at him, his stupid brain blurted out the first thing to come to mind.

“Good. That’s what I wanted.”

There was half a second where everyone simply continued to stare at him, eyes wide and mouths open, before he was able to fix the damage.

“I mean I wanted to surprise everyone that saw it. We both did. Agape and Eros were created to elicit shock and awe so if that is what they accomplished, we are happy - right Yuri?”

With the slightest of side-eyes, his partner took over the conversation for him, explaining to their fellow designers what they had been working on while secreted away. Yuuri mentally thanked him profusely and sat down in a corner to await his impending judgment.

The next two hours passed by in a blur as teams went out and came back and the conversation flowed around Yuuri but he wasn’t even trying to keep up with it. He couldn’t stop thinking about Phichit’s words. You nearly brought him to his knees! Could that be true? Could something he designed have had any effect on Victor? His other works this season had been nothing more than outfits that met the base criteria. Eros was the first thing he truly felt he could call his own, and to hear that maybe Victor liked it was almost too much to take in. He could feel the pleasure and satisfaction seeping into his bones, straightening his back and lifting his chin. By the time he and Yuri were finally called out for their evaluation, Yuuri felt ten feet tall and invincible.

Not even the stony faces of the judges could shake Yuuri’s resolve, and he and his partner stood tall by their work, almost daring the judges to say anything against them.

They began with agape, and Yuri had a smart ass answer for their every critique and question. The best moment had been when Otabek asked Yuuri why there was a flower motif since he did not see what flowers had to do with agape. Yuri just shot back “My mother liked flowers, what’s it to you?”, and that was the end of that conversation. The more the judges nitpicked agape, the more annoyed Yuuri became. The dress was soft, unique, personal to Yuri, and a large step out of the boy's comfort zone. What more could they want from him? Yuri was holding his own though, so Yuuri simply bit his tongue and waited his turn.

The biggest critique of Eros surprisingly came from Mila, who was usually the most supportive of Yuuri’s work.

“I guess I just don’t understand why you choose a flat front, overbust corset instead of something that molded to the model’s breasts? It feels like a lost opportunity to showcase the female form, and I’m sure she isn’t as comfortable in that top as she would be in something more form-fitting and supportive. Don’t you want the woman of your dreams who is wearing this in your bedroom to be comfortable?”

There were very few things that annoyed Yuuri. Assuming someone’s gender identity or sexuality was one of those things that just got under his skin. The year was 2017, and the idea that it must be a woman he was attracted to, especially when he had designed this outfit with a very specific man in mind, boiled under his skin and he couldn’t hold back his sarcastic retort.

“The women of my dreams wouldn’t be so petty, and the man of my dreams would be much more comfortable in this flat corset than in a molded one. I designed this outfit for whatever gender is interested in wearing my designs, and if they are going to complain about the clothing I made specifically for them they can get out of my bedroom.”

Mila squeaked and shut her mouth, Otabek stayed neutral as always except for the slight raise of his eyebrows, and Lilia smiled, just a small curve of her lips but enough to let Yuuri know she approved of his defense of his work. Victor made a choked sound and turned it into a cough, which pleased Yuuri more than it should have. Otabek put down his clipboard and turned on his stool to face Victor, who was out of the way and off to the side watching silently.

“Well Victor, you seemed very personally invested in these two and gave them some great advice this week. Do you feel their designs met the expectations you had of them? Do you feel they captured the essence of Eros and Agape?”

Victor stepped forward into better lighting to reveal that his face was several shades redder than normal.

“I am very proud of the work they did together, and I think they both surpassed my expectations. In my opinion, it would be foolish to cut two such extraordinary designers. I expect to see them both in the final.”

Lilia nodded sagely, then told them they could return to the room. At the final judging, it was declared that Yuuri and Yuri were safe to go through the next round, and Lilia expected them to continue to dedicate themselves to self-exploration and to continue this level of fantastic work from now on. JJ and Seung-Gil won the challenge, and Guang Hong and Michele were dismissed. They all returned to the green room to say goodbye and review the evening, and Victor came in to speak to them all individually and wish the designers who were going home safe travels. While Yuuri was trying to decide whether or not to regret the words he said on national television, Christophe was suddenly in his face with a camera and the normal invasive questions.

“Mr. Katsuki, do you think it was wise to argue with one of the judges? Will you be able to keep up the shock factor and find inspiration on this level every week? Do you really think you can make it to the final?”

Yuuri wasn’t sure which question to answer first, or if he should answer at all. Honestly, he wasn’t entirely sure he was worthy of the final. There were so many other strong competitors. Then a warm arm wrapped around his back and a large hand gripped his arm in comfort. Yuuri looked up and there was Victor, smiling down at him and reassuring him with his eyes. If Victor kept looking at him like that, Yuuri was suddenly sure he could do anything. Yuuri managed to make a vague statement about continuing to work hard and hoping for audience support which satisfied the cameras and sent them on their way. Then he was pulled into Victor’s arms. He smelled like expensive cologne and silk, and Yuuri did not fight it this time. He simply relaxed into the hug and listened to Victor’s words of praise soak into him, collecting them to store up for fuel that would hopefully last him through the competition. He knew at some point the adrenaline and confidence would wear off, but for now, he wanted to ride the wave of contentment he was feeling and worry about the rest tomorrow.

That night #Victuuri trended all over America, and Chris received a single text from Victor with a screenshot of the image and the words “thank you”. He was caught between annoyance and fondness, and in the end, he sent back a screenshot of his own; a cleaned-up image of the hug from the background of one of the other interviews that he had cropped and edited just for his friend. Chris would be surprised if it wasn’t framed and hanging in Victor’s living room the next time he saw it. He just hoped his friend knew what he was doing.

 

Ebb and Floe @ebbandfloe Aug 8th

See @designerkatsuki and @designerplisetski show off their #teamchallenge on the runway!

 

@letthepainfloethroughyou

OMG I want those dresses so bad! I would kill to wear Agape to prom!

+307

 

@enbfan88

@designerkatsuki make something just for me to wear in your bdrm pls?

     @letthepainfloethroughyou

      P sure @designerkatsuki is too busy designing for @designerchulanont #phichuuri

          @fasiondisaster92

            Smh he is clearly all about the @vnikiforov #victuuri

            +46

 

@fashiondisaster92

Y’all did you see those heated looks, that chin grab, the blushing! #victuuri 4lyfe

      @FloeMaster

       Sadly have to agree with you, looks like #pichuuri is dead.

            @lethepainfloethroughyou

             #pichuuri will never die don’t let the editing confuse you

@BiBiBaby

Why not both? #vicchuuri

      @fashiondisaster92

       Eeewww get off my thread!

       +38

 

@HighTideOnly

@designerkatsuki is confirmed gay. My crops are thriving. My acne is cleared.

     @FloeMaster

      Did you really doubt??? He lives with another man!

           @fasiondisaster2002

             Phichit is just his friend. I’m not even going to tag him so he doesnt see this

                   @floemaster

                    Keep telling yourself that child. Isn’t it your bedtime?

                   +4

     @BiBiBaby

      Ummmm he’s bi! He said man OR woman

           @HighTideOnly

            Gay can mean both...chill

                  @BiBiBaby

                  UUUUGH this is why we have so much #bierasure.

                  +7

 

@iwillshipliterallyanything

Everyone! #Victuuri is trending! Let’s see if we can get it to number 1

+503

 

@Liliasapprentice

OK BUT WHERE IS MY VICTOR WEARING EROS FANART!!

     @fasiondisaster2002

       WHERE IS MY YURIO WEARING AGAPE LOOKING ANGRY FANART

            @artlifemusic

              WHERE IS MY MILA/SARA FANART?! (any combo would be perfect)

@Spacedefenders4evah

Artists help us out here - WHERE IS THE VOLTRON FANART?

     @drawalluraeveryday

      I hope this is ok? Allura really fit the regal agape and I love keith being all fiery

       and grumpy wearing eros #allura #keith #voltron #fanart

             @Spacedefenders4evah

              *incoherentscreaming.jpg* Those are amazing! Thanks!

             @lanceisasmolbean

              These are literal perfection and you are my hero

Alluraagape

keitheros

Chapter Text

The week after Eros, Yuuri had been confused. Victor continued to dote on him and single him out for attention, and the more the man approached him the more Yuuri ran away. The theme for the week had centered on the sights and sounds of Santa Monica, a popular beach in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, Victor had been so distracting when they were there that Yuuri couldn’t seem to find the same inspiration he had the week before. On the bus ride home everyone had their sketchbooks out and were drawing about the waves or the shells or the lights on the boardwalk. Yuuri just lay his head against the window and pretended to sleep so as not to admit he had nothing to draw. At the midweek walkthrough he still couldn’t think of anything beach related, his thoughts full of Victor and failure.

That Wednesday night Victor had practically kidnapped him, driving him in secret up to Pacific Palisades, much farther north along the coast than most people think to go, and not popular enough to be well known. It smelled strongly of salt and seaweed and Yuuri could picture his little poodle Vicchan, who he hadn’t seen in years, barking at the waves and chasing the sand crabs. He shook the image away and followed Victor down to the beach. At first, they wandered around aimlessly, just glad to be away from the cameras for once, but then they began to talk about everything and nothing. It took a while, but eventually they even talked about what was happening between them. Yuuri had to courage to explain how much he admired Victor and was inspired by him. Victor professed that he just wanted to help but wasn’t sure what Yuuri needed him to be. Hastily Yuuri blurted out that Victor should never be anything but himself, which earned him a sad, lost look from the man. They sat on a piece of driftwood and listened to the seagulls while watching the sunset, trading stories about the beaches of their hometowns. While reveling in the feeling of peace the scene brought him, he finally had inspiration. He went up and down the beach collecting seagull feathers, then Victor drove him back to the hotel.

Christophe was waiting for them in the lobby when they returned and gave them a lecture on professionalism and breaking contracts and private getaways, but Yuuri barely heard it because he was motivated to draw again. As soon as he could he went up to his room to work. He made the top three that week for the first time with his vintage pencil dress with matching gull feathers on the shoulder and wide brim hat. Emil had gone home after trying to cover a pair of bell-bottoms in shells with a glue gun, which had not worked out at all.

The next week had been better and worse. Victor did not press him for interaction as much, partially because he worked better with a little space, and partially because of Chris’s lecture. Yuuri didn’t have much time for Victor anyway since his every waking moment was taken up by a young man with bright red and yellow hair and a bright personality to match. It was a super-fan week, and each remaining designer had been paired with a member of the audience who was also a fan of their work. Kenjirou Minami was currently a student at Yuuri’s old university, and his favorite pastime was telling everyone around him facts and stories about Yuuri that he read about or heard from other students and professors. Yuuri spent the first day mortified and trying to hush up his model as best he could. Minami wanted to recreate one of Yuuri’s master thesis outfits and put his spin on it, and Yuuri was trying his hardest to talk the boy out of using something from his dark past. All it took was one disappointed look from Victor and some stern words about the importance of encouraging the next generation for Yuuri to apologize and set to work on Minami’s dreams.

Georgi went home that week because the idea of having to design for someone that wasn’t a size zero was something he had no practice with and his outfit was tight and loose in all the wrong places.

Yuuri was in the top three again.

Episode seven was especially fun but hectic. The designers had to create three costumes for a ballet production of Midsummer Night's Dream. They could choose any two leads they wanted, and one outfit for the fairy ensemble to wear. The challenge, of course, was that it was a children’s production. The workroom was filled with children running around and shouting out what they wanted and occasionally crying. The teacher, renown dancer and instructor Minako Okukawa, simply stood at the door watching amusedly and making sure the children did not escape the room.

Seung-gil had the hardest time, creating outfits that were far too uncomfortable and complex for such little people to dance in, and yelling at the students until they cried at the final fitting. He was dismissed that week. Yuuri, Phichit, and Sara had been the top three contenders. Yuuri and Phichit had worked with children many times in their store, and Sara had always wanted a little sister so she was patient and sweet with them.

In the end, it was Yuuri who won. He had created outfits for Titania and Oberon and even managed simple wings out of glimmering wisps of fabric and feathers that would flow behind the background fairies when they fluttered across the stage.

Phichit had jumped around and hugged him, Victor had once again smiled and held him briefly and stuck by his side the whole night, and contestants who had barely acknowledged him before were suddenly interested in how he came up with his ideas.

So, of course, he immediately wondered what they saw in him.

So, of course, he assumed they were all simply trying to make him feel better since his outfit had been over-scored and this had all been a mistake.

So, of course, Victor assured him that he was safe this week, that he couldn’t be cut and all Yuuri heard was that everyone knew his design would be terrible, but it didn’t matter.

So, of course, he knew the viewers would be home shaking their heads and wishing Yuuri had gone home instead of someone else.

He couldn’t help but be grateful that his anxiety had finally decided truly to join the party. This meant he no longer had to wait and wonder about when it was going to appear.

Now it was the day of the runway for week eight and Yuuri couldn’t even remember what his theme was. He could vaguely tell you what his outfit this week was about, but only because he had given in to temptation halfway through the week and included bits and pieces that didn’t fit and darker shades that confused the eye and a heavy train that weighed it down, making the outfit a testament to his mental weakness. It meant he wouldn’t have to stumble through a faked explanation about whatever they had been wanting Yuuri to think. Instead, he could simply gesture to the dress and the bags under his eyes and hope that they understood he was dissociating.

 

Chris remembered giving an interview to some website when the show had won its first Emmy. He had quite honestly told the curious reporter the truth about time constraints, marathon shooting, and designers with hearts of glass. He was quoted saying “By episode eight we always have someone breaking down.” It hadn’t failed yet.

As Chris sat in his editing studio, a steady stream of people came in and out handing him twenties. Chris indeed had the advantage of knowing how badly the man had failed his audition, but how could anyone have betted against him that it would be none other than Yuuri Katsuki? The fools that had changed their bet to someone else after episode four when Yuuri began to show more confidence were the most annoyed.

So now Christophe was left to contemplate how to edit this week's footage. He didn’t have much time to think, and a decision had to be made.

Option one was the option he nearly always used; show the hungry audience the drama and frustration and moments the man had thought were private. Put the tears in the commercial to guarantee good ratings. Victor and Yuuri had certainly given him enough material to work with. Victor had made it his mission to accompany Yuuri all day, making sure he was on track and not bothered by outside distractions so he could focus only on the demons in his head. Right before the runway, Victor had even snuck him down into the parking garage where he thought there were no cameras. What kind of fool had he thought Chris was? There were always cameras.

Chris re-watched the footage one more time. Victor, panicking and pacing as Yuuri simply stood in place and shook like a leaf. Victor, offering to get Yuuri out of his contract so he doesn’t have to do the show anymore. Victor, freaking out as Yuuri started crying and questioning whether or not he believed he truly had the skills to win. When Victor assured Yuuri he did believe in him Yuuri shouted back “I know!” and began to cry harder. Victor, his idiot best friend Victor Nikiforov, world renown lothario and charmster, then exasperatedly asked if he should just kiss Yuuri’s sadness away. Chris felt the same anger that burst out of Yuuri as the man fiercely explained that he just needed Victor to stay near him and have more faith in him than he had in himself. The rest of the footage was just hugging and shared tears and mumbled apologies until they headed back upstairs.

With a long-suffering sigh, Chris dragged the footage file into the trashcan on his desktop. His friend was an idiot, but he was an idiot in love and Chris wasn’t about to exploit that. Instead, he edited this week's footage to highlight Yuuri’s struggle with his anxiety and the way he triumphed despite it, using it as inspiration.

That week #justanxietythings and #metalhealth trend nationwide, boosting the ratings further than Chris would have thought possible with newcomers watching that episode just to see what the fuss was about. Chris pulled Yuuri aside a few days later to explain the outpouring of public support and to show him the supportive comments he had received, and to ask how he managed his anxiety and if he had any advice out there for others in the same position. It is extra work for him, but the footage got put online as a special web-only segment and he included a link to donate to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Chris often complained about his job, but moments like these made it all worth it.

 

At the end of week nine, Yuuri was hugging Sara goodbye since she had been dismissed. He made her promise to contact him once this show was over so they can collab together. They had similar styles and she had been so very kind to everyone. She was excitable like Phichit, but capable of being quiet and concentrated like Yuuri. Everyone agreed the three of them would work well together. As everyone was dismissed to go back to the hotel for the night, Victor walked up to congratulate Yuuri on his work this week once again, grabbing his hand to shake it. As Yuuri watched him walk away, he realized Victor had left a slip of paper for him. Yuuri hastily tucked it into his pocket and worried about it the entire trip back to the hotel. Once the cameras finally left Phichit and Yuuri alone for the night, he rushed over to his friend’s bed and pulled the paper out. Phichit bounced over and looked over Yuuri’s shoulder, reading out-loud as Yuuri read silently.

“Dearest Yuuri, I was hoping you would meet me next Saturday night for dinner after the runway. I want to get to know you better outside of the confines of this show. I know Chris said I should be good and leave you alone, but I don’t want to. I will be there waiting. I truly hope you show up, but I understand if you don’t.

Remember, even if I am not by your side, I am always with you in spirit.

Perch

448 S Hill St

Los Angeles, CA 90013

Reservation for 9 pm under Vitya

Phichit was cooing in his year and bouncing on the bed again. “Yuuuuuri has a secret admirer! Who do you think it could be? That one cameraman who is always filming your ass? Or the girl from make-up who always thinks you have the best ideas for how the model's hair should be done? She asked me if you ever want to wear eyeliner the way I do. She is dying to put some make-up on you.”

Yuuri had been busy re-reading the slip of paper over and over to make sure he wasn’t misunderstanding anything while his friend ranted on about all the possible people who had a crush on him. He let his friend talk until he couldn’t stand it anymore, then he said the two words guaranteed to shut his friend up.

“It’s Victor.”

“You wish.”

“I don’t have to”.

The words had been whispered reverently because Yuuri just realized that he didn’t have to wish that Victor noticed him or was interested in getting to know him. The proof of that existed right here in Yuuri’s own two hands.

The bouncing behind Yuuri finally settled. He turned to look at his friend and saw nothing but shocked eyes and a wide-open mouth. Several seconds passed as Phichit absorbed this information. When it all clicked he was laughing and clapping and bouncing again.

“My best friend gets to go on a date with Victor Nikiforov! Congratulations Yuuri!”

Then he was being tackled to the bed in true best friend style. Right as he was about to argue that it might not be a date, Phichit gasped and sat up again.

“Yuuri - Are you going to have an illicit affair with Victor? You do know we can’t date anyone in the show while the show is running, right? You could be disqualified!”

“Come on Phichit, this doesn’t mean Victor wants to date me. Maybe he just wants to talk?”

“Perch has a three-week waiting list and is one of the most romantic rooftop bars in Los Angeles. It’s a date. It’s even after the film crew goes home, which means he wants you to sneak out and meet him there without anyone knowing. Yuuri he’s going to wine and dine you and do you think you could turn down Victor Nikiforov once he’s sitting in front of you all lit up by candlelight? You are going to melt into a Yuuri puddle guaranteed, so you better figure this out now.”

Yuuri took a second to imagine it. Victor’s eyes sparkling as they sipped champagne and chatted all night. Victor reaching out to hold his hand across the table. Victor holding him close as they slow danced together in a courtyard. Victor leaning in for a kiss at the end of the night when he dropped Yuuri off at home...

Only that wasn’t how it would happen at all. They would need to be discreet so they didn’t get caught by a fan. And he wouldn’t be going home, he would be coming back to a hotel where he was living with his competitors while he fought for one hundred thousand dollars and the right to dress Victor however he wished.

It certainly wasn’t perfect.

He wanted it anyway.

“I’m going to do it. I’m going to take whatever Victor is willing to give me while I can.”

“Why not wait until the shoot is over? It’s only another month or so.”

“What if he isn’t interested in me then? Besides, he’s probably going back to Russia when the show wraps. What am I going to do, follow him halfway across the world like some sort of thirsty obsessed fan? No. I can always design more. I won’t always be able to date Victor.”

They spent most of Sunday debating the merits of it, with Phichit bring up points like “Think of the money!”, and Yuuri rebutting with “Yeah, but his hands!”. He was mostly worried about what it might do to Victor’s reputation if they were seen together, and whether or not he would ever be able to date anyone else after he had been with Victor. He was no more decided about it at the end of the night than he had been all day.

That night the four contestants were treated to dinner together at one of the sponsor restaurants, and Yuuri mostly just sat back and watched while Yuri, JJ, and Phichit teased and insulted each other. He found himself wishing Victor had been with them. When they returned to their rooms they were informed that there were new room assignments since everyone was getting an upgrade to a fancy king suite for the semi-finals. The suites were gorgeous, all cherry wood and black marble with a lounge and a king-size bed. He would miss Phichit’s snores, but also relished in the silence and having his own space. It only took him a moment to notice the rather obvious cameras set up in the lounge and hallway that were already running, and the folded note on the computer desk. He picked it up gently and read it aloud, making sure to face one of the cameras in case this was related to the show.

“Welcome to week ten of Ebb and Floe, and congratulations on making it to the semi-finals. We hope you enjoy your new accommodations, as they will be your primary workspace for the next week. This very moment begins the last challenge to determine who will advance to be able to showcase their final collections. Your challenge this week is something new for us and you - the isolation challenge. Unlike other weeks, you will be working entirely on your own from this moment forward. Below are the listed times when you may access the fabric warehouse and workroom, so be prepared to use them to your full advantage. Meals can be delivered to your room by ordering room service. You will be judged on the strength of your belief in your work and the use of your time, so be wise and aware of your schedule. There will be no mid-week walkthrough for advice, and the pieces will be turned in Friday night on one of the dress forms that has been left in the workroom for you. Have faith in yourselves. We cannot wait to see your work.”

Below that was a list of places and times he was allowed into them, with the final instruction that he should head to the green room Saturday morning to await results.

One week all by himself. It honestly didn't sound that bad. Yuuri often preferred silence and isolation, although he had not done a full weeks stretch since his first spring break in college where he had locked himself up at home and slept for four days straight and played video games for the other three. Still, it would be do-able.

What should his theme be though? As usual he now immediately pictured Victor’s reaction to the various thoughts and ideas he had. His favorite moment of the week was when Victor would come to look at his work and cluck his tongue and nitpick at the design, or simply stare at it with big eyes and proclaim it a work of art. Yuuri lived for those reactions and wished he could simply spend his whole life designing for Victor.

He always had. Ever since he had seen the fuzzy image of a Victor gliding across the ice like he was born to it, long silver hair flowing out behind him and a smile of pure joy on his face. Yuuri had only been twelve but had been glued to the television and Victor’s performances from that day forward. His favorite part was always the costumes. They could change Victor’s entire persona with just some color and mesh and lace. As a young boy, Yuuri had wanted to design costumes for Victor’s skates. He would draw them in colored pencil in his school notebooks and show them to his mother each night. Prince Victor, thief Victor, ninja victor. He would give Victor so many stories to tell while skating.

When Victor transitioned to modeling instead of joining the senior division of skating, Yuuri transitioned as well. He took extra drawing classes in high school and watched tutorials on youtube and asked his mother for sewing lessons. Right when Yuuri won his full-ride scholarship to Bunka, Victor won the international Model of the Year award at the British Fashion Awards. By the time Yuuri graduated four years later, Victor was one of the eight men in the entire world to model on the cover of Vogue Magazine and was thoroughly unreachable. Yuuri more or less gave up, knowing it would be a long time before he had the clout to design anything Victor could wear.

Now, he realized with startling clarity, this could be his last chance to design anything Victor would see. Yuuri might not make the final. Even if he did, if word got out of their date Yuuri could be disqualified. He had to make this count.

He hadn’t considered making something for Victor before the finale, and then he had disregarded any type of skating outfit as being too stand-alone to be a part of a collection or coherent look. He could take a chance here though. At worst Yuuri lost the competition, and he was free to date Victor without guilt. At best Victor understood the significance of the gesture and was touched. Either way, Yuuri fulfilled a lifelong dream.

Yuuri thought of the note in his pocket. Remember, even if I am not by your side, I am always with you in spirit. Victor had known in advance about this challenge, known that they would have to spend the week apart, and had wanted to leave Yuuri with inspiration and the hope of time together when it was over. Victor truly was prince charming incarnate - romantic and sweet and soft and warm. An image of a sketch from long ago came to mind. It was one of his favorites, and Yuuri couldn’t resist.

Yuuri pulled out his laptop opened a playlist of music Victor had either skated to or had mentioned he enjoyed over the years. There was an Italian Aria that was his favorite. Yuuri let the music wash over him and began to sketch.

 

As Yuuri pulled up to the curb in front of Perch ten minutes late he jumped out of the car only to despair at the length of the line leading down the sidewalk. Feeling bold and a little desperate he marched up to the host and let them know he had a reservation. They tried to ask him to wait but the second he said ‘for Vitya’ they were apologizing and leading him through the lobby of the hotel. As he rode up the two elevators, Yuuri tried to let go of the stress from the week. The feeling of seeing the outfit he had made for Victor resplendent in purple and silver, softer than the original design he had drawn so many years ago, but perfect and real. It had looked so lonely sitting in the empty room that he created a second to go with it, in hues of blue that he knew would secretly look best on someone with dark hair and dark eyes to counter Victor’s fairness. All week he fought a war not to miss Victor or to dream too big, and he had lost miserably. His ache to see Victor was a heavy weight in his chest that could not be ignored.

It was added to by the pain of having to see his best friend leave the show. Phichit had not survived a week alone well. With no one to talk to or bounce ideas off of Phichit had created a hodgepodge of an outfit that was too many things at once. They had consoled each other as long as they could before Phichit pushed Yuuri out the door to be with Victor. When he returned Phichit would be gone. Luckily it was the end of the show which meant Yuuri also got to go home to design his final collection in their own space at the shop. It would only be another day or two until he saw his best friend again.

The elevator lurched to a stop on the fifteenth floor and the doors opened far too slowly for Yuuri’s liking. His eyes darted around before he found what he was looking for. The trees softly lit up with white faerie lights, the people milling about in dark corners talking and laughing, the band playing soft jazz in the corner; Yuuri saw none of it. He could only focus on Victor standing swiftly upon seeing him and opening his arms wide for Yuuri to run into. There was the blur of the bar and other patrons as he ran and the soft navy wool of Armani under his chin and Victor’s scent in his system and soft lips brushing against his own, so briefly he wondered if he had imagined it.

When Yuuri looked up to see blue eyes looking down at him, warm and loving and filled with promises, he knew he hadn’t.

Chapter Text

Chris stood in Yuuri Katsuki’s workroom and filmed Victor’s critiques on the first version of Yuuri’s final collection. He had dismissed his other cameramen for this segment, unable to trust these two not to do something stupid to give away their rapidly progressing relationship on camera. Not that they were trying very hard to keep it a secret. The last week had been a public relations nightmare behind closed doors and there wasn’t much to be done about it.

Dim and hazy images from numerous cell phones taken of two people who might have been Victor and Yuuri embracing at a rooftop lounge in downtown emerged. Luckily between the poor lighting and the large overcoat that Victor had been wearing, no one had been able to get a good photo. Speculation had run wild, with #kissorhug stubbornly trending for a few terrifying hours before fading into speculation. Both men had received stern lectures about their behavior - neither one had apologized.

They had continued their public dates against all advice to stop, simply telling everyone that they were out looking for ‘inspiration’. During the second week, Victor flew to Canada and New York to check on JJ and Yuri’s progress, so Chris had relaxed a bit, thinking the worst was over. Victor had only been back for two days when Chris was standing in line at the grocery store, casually looking through the magazines on display only to see two very familiar people right on the front cover of a gossip rag, holding hands and looking into a jewelry shop on Melrose Boulevard. He bought the magazine and was tearing through it while he dialed his idiot of a best friend. Victor wasn’t much help, he just happily squealed about what a surprise it was and how the platinum and gold band with blue diamonds was perfect and how Yuuri said he was designing the clothes to match with the rings or something ridiculous. Chris hung up on him while he looked through the photos of the two men wearing their new accesories throughout the city.

The only thing that saved them was the fact that the general public was more interested in movie stars than designers or even models, so the only people who made inquiries were fans online, and those screams into the void could be easily ignored. The station received only a few outraged tweets, not nearly enough to justify a decision to remove Yuuri as a contestant. It was certainly brought up for discussion though. Only his overall popularity and the fact that there was no real proof of collusion saved his skin.

All of that had led them to this moment. Victor and Yuuri were still wearing their rings, sticking to their story that they were for good luck and creativity even as they traded sappy smiles and stood too close together while Yuuri pointed out the lining inside a jacket to Victor. The outfits were quite nice, elegant and simple. Yuuri’s theme was Love and Life and had he created outfits for the most important stages in a person’s life. Relaxing on the beach in the summer, first date semi-formal, travel wear for long plane flights, and a sweater set for sitting by the fireplace with your loved one in the winter. He still needed one more outfit, but Chris wanted to keep whatever it would be a secret for the final reveal. The moment Chris had the footage he needed and yelled cut, Victor was draped over Yuuri showering him in compliments and Phichit burst through the door to let everyone know he had dinner ready.

The four of them passed around containers of Chinese food and happily chatted while Yuuri worried about what to create for his last outfit.

“How about an old man outfit? Victor’s already got gray hair.”

“Phichit no, you’re not helping!”

Phichit chewed his noodles in thought, then lit up in visible excitement.

“Yuuri, why not make a wedding ensemble! It fits your theme perfectly, and then you can also use it again when you two get married. Two birds with one stone!”

This was met with much arm waving and immediately panicked refusals on Yuuri’s part. Chris watched Victor very carefully from the corner of his eye, noticing that with each continued assurance that Yuuri didn’t intend for people to assume they were getting married, Victor's left eye twitched just a little more. While Chris did not think they were ready to jump into a marriage so soon, he also did not want his friend to get his hopes up only to be heartbroken. He had to push the conversation further, for the sake of Victor’s twitching eye.

“Who would want to marry this old geezer anyway?”

Chis’s comment had hit the mark. There was a full moment of silence where Yuuri looked at the table, the floor, the ceiling, everywhere but at Victor, while Victor just held his breath and waited. The silence was deafening. Then Phichit burst into laughter, burying the nails into Yuuri’s coffin with every wheezing breath.

“Oh Chris, that was a good one...Oh man, you have no idea...Believe me, Yuuri here would have married Victor over a decade ago if it had been legal. I don’t think you realize how many posters he had collected up on his walls. He had alerts set on his phone for whenever Victor was so much as mentioned in an article. He used to create pretend outfits for them to wear together for any social function we went to and once he even signed his name as....”

“Phichit, staaaahp!”

Yuuri had reached peak redness, looking nervous and like he would rather be anywhere other than at this table. Victor, however, was beaming. With as much grace as he could muster, Victor put an arm around his poor beleaguered boyfriend and whispered his next comment directly into Yuuri’s ear, even though everyone at the table was close enough to hear his words.

“Don’t worry Yuuri, we won’t get married until after you win the show. You have plenty of time to create us the perfect matching outfits for the occasion. I have faith that you will.”

Yuuri finally snapped his gaze over to Victor to give him a wide-eyed look of disbelief. Victor simply stared back with nothing but adoration and conviction. He reached out to find Yuuri’s hands and squeezed them in comfort. Then he pulled the hand with the ring up, touching Yuuri’s gold band lightly to his lips. At such an unmistakable promise, Yuuri’s shock melted into something that looked suspiciously like hope.

Chris had to look away from the two lovebirds to avoid the sudden pang of envy. Phichit had no such qualms as he snapped pictures and coo’d about how cute they were. After a minute of lovingly gazing into each other’s eyes in silent communication, Victor spoke again.

“Yuuri, why don’t you just use one of the hundreds of sketches you have on your phone? That worked for Stammi Vicino. Don’t you have a blue and gold folder or something?”

Yuuri inhaled the food he had been chewing and choked, with Phichit patting his back. Victor looked confused, like he didn’t understand Yuuri’s reaction. A look at an equally confused and slightly suspicious Phichit did not make Chris understand what was happening either.

“MY WHAT?!”

“Your phone? You showed me the sketches the night we met at the cast party.”

There was silence.

“I thought you were a model and you told me I was crazy. You said you failed the audition and were very upset about it.”

More silence. Victor’s face fell a little.

“We danced together…”

Nothing. No one moved. No one even dared to breathe. Eventually, Victor's shoulders slumped and he hung his head in his hands. Phichit gasped, mumbling something about dance-offs and how this was so much better. Yuuri remained frozen for another minute, then his hand shot out and grabbed Phichit's arm.

“Is it true?”

“I don’t know Yuuri. You did disappear for a while, and Victor was there. It’s possible.”

“Phichit this is very important - I need you to think very hard and remember for me. What was I wearing?”

Before Phichit could form the first syllable Victor was speaking, eyes glowing with worship.

“A sheer long sleeve dress shirt with a knit V neckline in independence blue and low rise slim fit black jeans that were tragically not torn on the thighs. All designed by Phichit, I believe. Your hair was gelled back and your face was flushed and you were beautiful and very drunk and I probably should have considered that you might not remember. It just didn’t occur to me because there was no way I could ever forget.”

Yuuri and Victor stared at each other with disgusting fondness in their eyes. Everything seemed forgiven. A sudden realization dawned on Christophe.

“Soooooooo, ‘I just looked at his profile and thought he did good work’ huh? You wanna revise that statement now, Nikiforov?”

After much huffing and puffing and eye-rolling and laughter once more, everyone resumed eating and the atmosphere relaxed. After a minute of chewing, Yuuri sighed.

“None of this helped me figure out what to design. Victor?”

Victor seemed to understand all the unspoken questions Yuuri had asked. Their communication worked in a strange way like that, in metaphors and half-finished sentences only they knew the ending too. Chris watched Victor think it through, curious about what he would have to say.

“Yuuri, do your best not to think of something at all. Just show me the design that you would like on me. Something you have been dying to see. Knowing Lillia as well as I do, that is what resonates with her the most, so that is the only way to win her over I know.”

The smile that burst over Yuuri’s face was priceless, and Chris and Phichit quickly excused themselves to explore Hollywood and leave the two lovebirds alone for a while.

 

Victor felt particularly good as he entered the last production meeting of the show. He had not only survived the season of filming, but he was also one of the favorite hosts ever according to an online poll. Yuuri was the fan-favorite designer, and #victuuri still trended on days Victor and Yuuri were spotted out eating lunch or shopping around town. He couldn’t wait until the show was over and he could post as many photos of Yuuri on his Instagram as he wanted. He already had several designers who had enquired about sending Yuuri clothes as soon as the show was over. Spoiling Yuuri and showing him off were Victor’s number one and two priorities in life right now.

He was late of course, waltzing in with his coffee in one hand, phone in the other and sunglasses still on. He had been taught by Lilia herself long ago that it was important for people to know that they waited on you, and not the other way around. He was also taught to be gracious though, so he immediately apologized for his tardiness and took his seat with a flourish, tucking his phone respectfully into his pocket and out of sight. Having successfully made sure every eye was on him, Victor pulled off his glasses and let them know they could continue.

Everyone turned their attention back to Christophe, who was standing in front of a whiteboard, pen in hand, adding points to various lists. Mila, who was sat to his right, spoke up to explain that she felt Yuri Plisetsky’s collection appealed to a broader audience of teens and pre-teens, whereas JJ’s seemed a bit too focused on upper-class couples. Christophe nodded and added those points onto the list. Victor could certainly contribute to this.

“Yura told me that his leathers and furs were sourced only from roadkill or farmed species and that the companies he got them from support conservation. JJ declined to tell me what his sources were, but for the amount he was able to purchase with his budget I would feel safe saying they were obtained from far less picky suppliers.”

Chris thanked him, took a few more comments, and when no one else had anything to add he triumphantly put the cap on his pen and stuck it in his back pocket. He turned to the judges.

“There you have it folks, everyone’s opinions on these two finalists. You don’t have to vote until the day of the final of course, but I am sure whichever of these two you choose for first place will be perfect. Our next order of business is…”

“EXCUSE ME?”

Chris slowly turned to address Victor, a pained look on his face. Victor did not even wait for him to speak.

“Where is Yuuri’s list? Everyone online agrees he should win first place. Are you all blind? My love’s work is far superior to what anyone else is offering and you all know it! I won’t sit here and allow him to be -

Lillia’s voice interrupted him, cutting him to pieces with sharp, unforgiving words he did not want to hear.

“You will be quiet, Victor. You of all people have no right to tell us that Yuuri should win anything. It was your carelessness and refusal to listen to our advise that put him in this position in the first place, so I will not hear one word from you on Yuuri Katsuki. By continuing to pursue him you have turned a very talented designer into a trophy on your arm and if you are not more considerate that is all he will ever be. If he wins now, many will say he won merely because Victor Nikiforov made it so, and not because of his talent. So think very carefully about how you step with him and how long of a shadow you cast over someone you claim to love!”

There was silence as Victor’s heart dropped to the bottom of his throat. Lilia was right. She always was. He had been so caught up in Yuuri’s light that he had forgotten how dark and cruel the real world could be. His reaction to what just transpired only proved they were correct as well. Victor did not mean to say that Yuuri was more talented. Each designer who made it to the final was just as driven and creative and capable as any other. To think otherwise was a disservice to the designers and the show itself. It had just made him so angry that Yuuri was not even allowed a chance that he had lashed out. Now he had to do his best to make amends and try to correct some of the damage he had done.

With all eyes on him, he dropped his head in penance.

“I cannot say I apologize for being close to Yuuri, but I do regret my outburst just now, and my carelessness during the show. It is important to all of us that the integrity of the competition is upheld, and I put that at risk. I will do better to be aware of my words and actions and how they affect the reputation of that which we all hold dear. I beg of you though to please include Yuuri in your consideration for the winner of the show. There could be just as much upset if he does not win than if he does. I only ask for the impartiality you seem to expect of me.”

Victor excused himself from the meeting shortly after, unsure how to be what they wished him to be. All he could think about was the fact that Yuuri might not win and that it could very well be his fault. His guilty conscience led him right to Yuuri's place before he even realized where he was headed.

 

When Yuuri answered the door Victor immediately latched onto him and refused to let go. He felt as if he could lose Yuuri if he was not careful. If Victor dared to loosen his hold Yuuri might fly away in the slightest breeze, never to be found again. Victor had not known exactly what he had been looking for when he begged Yakov for time to himself, but he had found a sense of peace in Yuuri. The freedom to be who and what he wanted. An interest in his opinions. The ability to be silly and strange and wake up ugly with smelly breath and not be judged. Mostly he dearly hoped he had found the start of a love strong enough to keep them together beyond this show. He had not found the courage to bring the idea up yet and Lillia's scolding had not resolved his uncertainty. Would his fame dwarf any talent Yuuri had and relegate him to a life in the background? That was not what Victor wanted for him, or them both, at all.

The whole day passed and Victor could not find the courage to bring the subject up. Yuuri has some sketches to show him, and then delicious ramen for lunch and an old horror movie and by the end of the day, Victor's fears had melted away. They worked so well together, how could anything come between them? Why confuse and worry Yuuri with unnecessary information? As long as they had each other, everything would magically work out.

 

The final runway presentation was almost upon them, and Yuuri was headed to the workroom with arms full of outfits from his final collection that needed minor alterations after this fitting with the models. Victor could not wear every outfit, just one. The last on the runway. Which meant there were nine other models to fit and style and futz with. They had moved to the LA Grand Hotel where the new runway was set up. It was larger and brighter and there were hundreds of people running around finishing the thousands of tasks necessary to make such a large event come together on time. Yuuri was so distracted with measurements, deadlines, and fears that he hardly registered voices calling out to him. Only Victor's excited voice could have penetrated his concentration.

"Yuuri! Yuuri come here! Over here!"

Victor was waving and smiling excitedly trying to get his attention. He was stood in a circle with half a dozen other supermodels and Yuuri's heart cracked just a little more seeing them all together. He was sure that if someone saw him standing next to all of them, they would wonder who he was the assistant of. Regardless, Yuuri found himself pulled over anyway, powerless against Victor's enthusiasm.

"Yuuri we need your opinion. We are trying to decide which spot in Italy has the best seafood. Annette says Venice but that is too obvious. The twins here dared to suggest Milano but its too far from the sea, I don't believe it. Where is your favorite?"

Uncomfortable, Yuuri shifted the clothes in his hands and pushed up his glasses. Should he lie? He had never been to Italy. The money or opportunity for such an extravagant trip had never been present. His design circles did not extend that far so work was never a reason to go either. He tried to buy himself time while he figured out how to answer.

"What is your favorite, Victor?"

"Liguria! Anchovies on everything and mussels like you have only dreamed of!"

Yuuri instantly called to mind the 2013 Loro Piana shoot, done right after the LVMH buyout to spread awareness of the brand beyond Europe. Yuuri's boss, Celestino, had tried for years to secure even one item of their fine wool menswear into his offerings but had been turned down repeatedly because his clientele was not wealthy enough. Working with the rare Merino wool had been another dream of Yuuri's at the time that had long been forgotten.

The other models were rolling their eyes and scoffing, obviously remembering the same thing. It was a good bet none of them had been to such an exclusive destination either.

"It must have been wonderful food, for you to still remember it all these years later."

"We should go! Giorgio has a villa in Portofino we can stay at. It would be so fun, Yuuri! You would love the beaches and how the houses are built on the mountainsides like castles and we could eat for days!"

Victor got distracted describing the beauty of the gardens that Armani kept cultivated year-round and completely missed the shocked and confused looks that the other models were shooting between him and Yuuri. Yuuri took the opportunity to mumble his goodbyes and escape.

It was all too much. What had Victor been thinking, making such an offer? As if one could just call up and ask to bring a stranger, a nobody along. And when? How much longer were they going to keep sneaking around? After the show was over Victor would have no reason to stay. He would have to go back to his home and his life before this whole mess began and Yuuri would have to do the same.

Unless they didn't. Maybe Yuuri could give up everything and go live in Russia. Wait in cold empty rooms for months at a time while Victor was flying all over the world from one shoot to the next, only to see him home for a few days before saying goodbye again. It would be too embarrassing to design, but maybe he could teach English or sewing lessons in his plentiful spare time. After he learned Russian. He could save up money he earned to take trips back to see Phichit or his family a few times a year...

Once again he was entirely caught up in his head and bumped straight into Mila. She steadied him and his stack of clothes and then let out a frustrated breath.

"Yuuri, have you seen Victor! He isn't answering his phone and Yakov won't stop calling me to find him. Aeroflot keeps canceling his flight out and he has five offers that need to be answered in the next two days and Yakov is going to blow a gasket if he has to re-negotiate so if you see Victor please tell him to answer his phone! I can't take it anymore I have too much to do to be bothering with this!"

She walked away still ranting about it. Her path put her in line with Victor eventually so Yuuri figured they would meet and he did not need to pass any messages on. He was not sure he could have told Victor any of that anyway. His heart had been fracturing one fine line at a time with each new piece of information he received that reminded him that the end was drawing near. Even his excitement at being here in the elegance of the finale was not what it should have been; it was only one step closer to the edge of things. He feared that one small step too far and he would fall and shatter to pieces. He already had one breakdown on the show and he would very much like to avoid another. There would be plenty of time to fall apart after Victor left and there was no one to see him hurt.

The next day was no better. He had finished the alterations and was leaning over his work table with the polaroids of his final collection laid out in front of him. Ten outfits that were supposed to be his vision, his life's passion project, the culmination of his time and tutelage on the show.

Except they were not. He had carefully removed several key pieces that hit too close to home because he could not handle the idea of baring this much of his heart and soul to the world one last time. It would feel like a lie to show his love and life to everyone, and then have it board a plane and fly away the next day. He could not, and would not.

He was fooling no one. At the preview, Mila and Otabek had expressed concerns over cohesion and the lack of a runway moment that popped in his favor. He was up against two very extroverted and confident opponent and had nothing that stood out and shouted it was special. Lillia had not said a word, she simply dismissed him. She was disappointed, he was sure of it, and it turned Yuuri's stomach to think of all the people he was letting down.

He pushed that thought down with every other feeling that was threatening to well up and promised to visit them all later. It was only a matter of days now. He could make it through this.

The door to the workroom swung open and Victor approached with an air of seriousness reserved for pre-runway discussion. He stood across from Yuuri, turning the polaroids this way and that to inspect them and arrange the order while the cameras positioned around them both. After several silent moments of studying, Victor looked up. Just like always, the direct eye contact punched the breath out of Yuuri.

Victor collected himself and then recited what must have been a script, cold and impersonal.

"We are one day from the runway. You have been working all this time on your final collection and have shown it to the judges for pre-runway evaluation. They expressed concerns that it was not good enough. It is a difficult thing to hear with so little time to change. The viewers do not yet know what you are presenting but they have absolute faith in you."

Victor paused and reached out to touch a photo on the table - the outfit he would be wearing tomorrow. The supposed crown jewel of the collection designed just for Victor. It was an exquisite hand-crafted cable knit sweater made of traditionally-dyed alpaca fur. Yuuri had a friend whose grandmother was from Peru and had been willing to bring his design to life. It was in the colors of the collection - ice blue, white, soft cream, and gold. Under the lights of the runway, the metallic fibers weaved into the gold strands would gleam and glow, just like the ring Victor was wearing right now.

The thought made Yuuri pull his hands behind his back to fidget with his own ring, hopefully inconspicuously. The feeling grounded him and reminded him to take deep breaths to get through this. It was almost over. A few more days.

There was nothing wrong with the sweater, or the rest of the ensemble. It was a very handsome and well-made piece of clothing and Victor would look amazing in it. It was meant to inspire the feeling of an ending. A time where the excitements of your life were over and you could relax and be comfortable. Retirement. Yuuri's retirement.

It was an old man outfit. It was a cop-out. It was not what it should be, what was hanging in his closet at home in a garment bag never to see the light of day. It was a compromise with himself so he survived this ordeal.

Victor had only one thing to say about Yuuri's collection in front of the cameras.

"Yuuri - are you happy with this collection? Is it what you want to show to the world as your vision? Do you believe in it as much as I believe in you?"

Unable to speak, Yuuri simply nodded. Victor nodded as well.

"Then I am sure it will be wonderful. You have our best wishes and I cannot wait to wear this for you. Good luck!"

The smile would not have seemed forced to anyone other than Yuuri. It was that smile, and the secret pain behind Victor's eyes that seemed to know Yuuri's deception, that broke him. Yuuri felt himself collapsing inwardly and tried his hardest to keep the hot tears from streaming down his face but it was no use. His hands began shaking behind him and he held them together tighter which only caused his shoulders to start trembling and from there it simply spread until he was collapsing into Victor's warm arms where he did not deserve to be. He was dimly aware of voices and movement but he clung to the soft cashmere in front of him and soaked in the scent of Victor, clinging to his strength while he still could. Movement suddenly became easier so Yuuri closed his eyes and tried to stop the sobs while the colors changes from bright to dark behind his eyelids. Eventually, the noises grew muted and then faded entirely and there was only Victor and a soft couch and reassuring words in the sweetest Russian he had ever heard. He did not know what was being said but slowly he felt himself returning to the present.

Victor felt Yuuri's body begin to relax and heard his breathing deepen and hoped the worst was over. They were holed up in his trailer. He had never before invited Yuuri inside, fearing accusations of impropriety would damage his reputation and his place on the show. Ever since Lillia's lecture, Victor had been on his best behavior in public. It was difficult to hold himself even an arm's length apart from Yuuri at times but he managed to remember how to perform appropriately when cameras were around. They had both been so busy there had not been much time for privacy anyway.

Now Victor was regretting all of that. This had to have been a stressful time and Victor had left him largely alone. Something was bothering Yuuri, keeping him from doing his best work and feeling comfortable and it was Victor's job as both host and boyfriend to be supportive and present. When Yuuri had begun shaking like a leaf Victor had demanded the cameras turn off, scooped his love up, and carried him far away from what must be stressful surroundings.

Gradually Yuuri calmed and after what felt like a lifetime shyly looked up at Victor. He looked embarrassed and blushy and Victor wanted to kiss his cheeks to feel the heat on them. Anything was preferable to the indifferent manner Yuuri had displayed during their interview. Right now he was softly smiling at Victor in wonder and it made his heart grow five times larger to know he was so adored by this man.

"Are you feeling better?"

Yuuri's face went through a roller coaster of expressions. The smile grew, then vanished and was replaced by what almost looked like fear, then sadness, shame, and lastly the blank expression this had all begun with.

"I'm fine Victor, thank you."

Yuuri wiggled to get off of Victor's lap but Victor just held him tighter. Something was still bothering Yuuri and that was not allowed.

"Yuuri you almost fainted at the work table. Is something wrong? Have you slept and eaten enough? Are you unhappy with your work? Are you scared of the results? Is there anything I can do to help?"

"NO!"

It was practically yelled and Yuuri jerked himself free, nearly falling on the floor to do so. He steadied himself and mumbled some apologies and then took a step toward the door. Victor stood and stepped around to stop him, to hug him, to keep him from leaving. Now that Victor had him alone he was not ready to share him again so soon.

"Yuuri, please, tell me what's wrong. Let me support you. That is what I'm here for."

Yuuri just gazed down at the floor and refused to answer so Victor tried a different approach. Sometimes it was better to distract Yuuri instead.

"How about a meal? Maybe you were just hungry. I have some dumplings from Lasa I did not get to eat last night and they taste even better cold. Or I could put them in the toaster oven-

"I wanted to say thank you."

The words were soft and sweet and spoken to the floor. Victor stilled so he would not miss anything else that was said. Yuuri seemed shy and skittish like he had before they began dating. Not wanting to spook him, Victor waited patiently hoping more words would aid him in understanding this strange behavior.

"Thank you, Victor, for everything you have done for me. You have helped me believe in myself and I have created such extraordinary work with your support. I apologize for the stress and difficulties I caused you. You did not deserve them."

Yuuri paused, seeming unsure he wanted to continue. Then with a bite of his lip and almost a resigned sigh he continued, his words growing stronger and more passionate as he spoke.

"I never in my life thought I would get to meet you, let alone become your friend and get to know so many sides of you. You are more than even I imagined you were and so much more than just the gorgeous man we have all seen in magazines. You are generous and thoughtful and energetic and compassionate and I lov...I have loved being with you and I wish you nothing but the best in the future. Thank you."

Victor was speechless, staring at Yuuri who had bowed in deference, arms at his sides and back straight. He knew it was customary and he should be respectful but it also felt terribly wrong and he wanted to scoop Yuuri into his arms and shake him and hold him and treasure him and pull his own hair out all at once. What did he have to do to get this man to see how wonderful he truly was?

"Yuuri please listen to me. I did very little. I just tried to follow what you told me - Just be there for you and believe in you. All the work you did was your own. If anything I am constantly reminded that I need to be careful not to be a danger to your career. Because of me, you were nearly unable to win the show and I will never forgive myself for that. I am often thoughtless and did not take into account how my fame would affect the public's ideas of our relationship and your abilities as a designer. Lillia has spent many hours in the last weeks teaching me how to manage myself so I am not seen as an influence on your final work or your potential win. I had to stay away otherwise you would not have even been able to be considered a true finalist. I didn't tell you since I fixed it before it was a problem. I'm sorry about that."

Yuuri simply nodded.

"I thought that would be the case when I agreed to date you. Every minute I have spent with you has been worth forfeiting the show one thousand times over. I will always be grateful for our time together."

Victor was confused - there was something wrong with Yuuri's words but he couldn't put his finger on it.

"Yuuri - don't you want to win? To be considered a great designer? It's not just the money you know, there is a lot of work for the winner. It is a guaranteed future career."

Yuuri just shook his head sadly, mumbling that nothing was guaranteed. Victor was puzzling over those words when the next hit him, clawing at his mind and sending shivers of panic across his skin.

"It doesn't matter anyway. It's better we are ending this. We will hardly be able to harm each other from different sides of the world."

It was expressed a joke, understated, with a huff of laughter at the end. Victor did not find it funny. He felt his entire world falling apart around him. He was alone again with no heat, no light, no solid form to fill the void that stretched out in front of him. Words like why and where are you going bounced around in his head but he felt frozen in time. Yuuri was leaving him.

"I'm not going anywhere. You are. You have a flight out to Russia in two days Victor. You have to go home. Yakov needs you back. The world needs you back. "

What about what I need?

This time he was dimly aware of his voice speaking aloud in time with the thoughts in his head. That must be how Yuuri had known what he was thinking.

Except Yuuri did not know. Yuuri did not know anything that was happening in Victor's head or life since Victor had foolishly forgotten to share the details. The excuses were endless - He didn't want to bother Yuuri, he didn't think it was important, he didn't want to spend the time talking about trivialities, he didn't want to voice fears. This is where it had landed him. Where his thoughtless silence had led Yuuri. To think Victor was breaking up and moving 5,700 miles away from everything he held dear in the world.

"I would never."

Yuuri's eyebrows drew together in confusion, but he was looking down at the floor, shoulders slumped and an air of defeat about him.

"Yuuri look at me, please. I would never. I don't know what you heard but I am not going anywhere. I don't want to leave Los Angeles, or you. Here look!"

Victor lunged over to the laptop he had tossed to the side earlier and quickly entered his password. He practically shoved it under Yuuri's nose, knowing what was still on the screen.

"These are six listings for houses here in Los Angeles I was looking into purchasing. I was stupidly waiting until I had narrowed it down to three and then I was going to ask your opinion on them."

Yuuri gently took the laptop from Victor and sat down to inspect the listings as though he was not certain he could believe what he was seeing. He gingerly reached out and touched one of the photos on the screen.

"Why would you ask my opinion?"

"I had hoped you would be spending a lot of time there with me."

Victor felt the tables turn and for once it was him that turned bright red. It felt silly that he should be embarrassed but he realized now how forward it sounded. It was true though. There was little in Victor's future that he did not picture Yuuri being a part of.

"What about your flight? Yakov said there was a problem with cancellations and he had fixed it for you to fly out -

"I am the one who canceled the flights, Yuuri! Each time he would book a new one and I would call and cancel it immediately because I am not leaving. I'm not interested in going back."

Victor paused. He did not like to talk about his struggles but Yuuri seemed to need to hear them. Right now Yuuri needed something that connected them and needed to understand that Victor wanted and needed him. So Victor opened his heart to this ridiculous anxious man who he loved more than he could imagine. He explained how lonely it was to be untouchable and how all the finest resorts in the world could not compare to having a place to call home. How four hundred contacts on his phone did not equal having one friend he felt he could talk to. How shocking it is to realize you did not pick out any of the clothes in your closet and do not even know what color is anymore.

"You have brought color and passion and inspiration back into my life Yuuri. You are my love and life and I could never get on a plane and leave such a large part of myself here."

"I was thinking the same thing!"

Yuuri, who was a blubbering mess, launched himself at Victor. The sound of the laptop hitting the floor was muffled by the sobs and hiccups and laughter of two fools in love.

When they had collected themselves and apologized a million times over to each other, Victor had only one question left.

"If you don't care about winning, what do you want out of the final, Yuuri?"

"All I have ever wanted was to design for you. I wish I could dress you every day until I retire."

It reminded him of a spouse straightening his husband's tie before sending him off to work with a kiss. He had promised himself not to bring up such big idea up again, but he couldn't stop the words that slipped out of his mouth.

"Sounds almost like a marriage proposal."

There was no answer, but Victor could feel Yuuri's face heat up against his neck and the arms around his waist tightened. After another second he felt Yuuri relax against him again. They stayed in that golden moment enjoying the comfort, leaning on each other and savoring the feeling of being wanted. Victor could think of nothing better than spending the rest of his days with Yuuri. His next words were barely more than breathed against Yuuri's hair, but he knew they were received when Yuuri's breath hitched and caught.

"In that case, I hope you never retire."

When they awoke tangled together on the couch after a well-deserved nap, Yuuri practically shoved Victor off and ran out the door so he could work. It seemed Victor had inspired him to create once more. No one would see the results until the final, but based on the shine in Yuuri's eyes Victor was sure it would be magnificent.

 

Yuuri stood on the old runway at FIDM watched the controlled chaos surrounding him as a Chris organized the crew for today's shoot. This runway seemed so small after the extravagance of the fifty-foot long finale show. That had been white plastic underlit with changing colors and spotlights following the models. This was just a small repurposed classroom with florescent lighting and four by twenty raised piece of scuffed wood used by students year after year, but it held much more significance for Yuuri. On this runway, he had faced his own inner demons, impressed Lilia Baranovskaya, forged friendships and revealed weaknesses. On this runway he had secretly snuck peeks at Victor was the judges were speaking so he could see the approval shining in his eyes. On this runway, his life had changed so much and he hoped it would bring him luck one last time.

As usual, Yuuri was taking his nerves out on the ring rolling around in his fingers. The only difference was that this time it was Victor's ring he was flipping and turning endlessly. He had asked to borrow it this morning to make a sketch and Victor had handed it over happily, making Yuuri promise to give it back before the shoot. That time had come and there was no more time for doubts or second thoughts.

The corner of the stage Yuuri had been staring at was suddenly filled with blond curls. Christophe looked at Yuuri like he was afraid Yuuri was a bomb that might go off any second.

"How'ya doing Katsuki? Holding it together? Need anything? Paper bag? Pep talk? Tissues for later?"

Yuuri laughed, feeling some tension release from his shoulders.

"Is this where you tell me we can cancel everything and shoot the old script?"

"Not a chance! This is rating's gold and I would have to kill you, for both my sake and Victors, so don't dare try to back out now. I worked too hard to make this happen today and everyone who knows is cheering for you. Just take deep breaths and remember - the hard part is over, you've already won."

Yuuri smiled without even thinking about it, understanding exactly what Chis meant. He wasn't talking about the show, although Yuuri had certainly won that as well. With only eighteen hours left, Yuuri worked late into the night to make sure everything fit and flowed perfectly. This collection became a personal love letter to the journey he had taken thus far as a designer and the future he saw for himself. Most importantly he had taken the plunge and revealed his finest piece of work yet. A three-piece wedding tuxedo made of white bridal satin with a cream undershirt, sky blue vest, and gold tie. All along the jacket and pants were swirls of Swarovski crystal in shades of light blue that shimmered with the vibrancy of life at its finest. Victor had looked resplendent and regal and happier than Yuuri had ever seen him when he waltzed down the runway showing it off. There had been oohs and aahs and no one could deny the quality of the jewel of his collection. Yuuri had restored his final collection to its true glory and added a few extra details that brought each piece together in a way that made any denial of his talent fall to pieces. Not that anyone had tried. At his evaluation, Lillia put any arguments of collusion to rest with one simple statement.

"It is clear you have come far in trusting your heart to lead you to great design. Your personal love and life shine clear in this collection and to be able to draw on the strength and support of those around you is essential for any designer. People shine brightest when they seek to understand what kind of love sustains them."

"I had always felt like I was fighting alone, even knowing I had the support of my family and friends. But I know what love is now, and I am stronger for it."

"With this work, you prove that you can turn that strength into beauty. Masterfully done. We are all proud to have watched you grow."

Even with Lillia complimenting him and announcing he had succeeded in winning the contest, Yuuri had been unable to take his eyes of Victor. His wish to see him wearing his suit at their wedding passed from fantasy into a strong need for reality.

It had been later that night that he had cornered Chris and begged him to help make this dream come true. After all, he had been there when Victor had said they would get married when Yuuri won. Chris was more than pleased to do so, never showing any doubt that Victor would say no. Yuuri held onto that thought as he repeated Chris's words. Yuuri had already won; not just the show, but Victor's heart as well.

Across the room, a young blond PA ran in, waving her hands about and whisper shouting that Victor was on his way in. With one last wink, Chris left Yuuri standing on stage all alone. The judges were in their seats as normal but the lights were all focused on Yuuri. He was staring at the hallway longingly so Chris caught his attention and reminded him to turn around. With one last glance at the hall, Yuuri complied. As they waited with bated breath Chris watched as Yuuri's posture straightened and his shoulders pulled back, a sure sign everything was going to be ok.

Chris laughed as Victor rushed into the room looking like he was a little lost. They had told him they needed to do a last-minute reshoot evaluation of Yuuri's tuxedo to fill air time. He was still fixing his cufflinks and looking confused as to why the cameras were already running. As Chris suspected, Victor's eyes quickly searched for Yuuri, relaxing immediately upon seeing his form standing up on the runway, even if it was facing away. He lightly jumped up to join him and touched his shoulder to get his attention, probably expecting the usual shy smile. Instead, the cameras caught Victor's look of absolute surprise when Yuuri turned around wearing the companion tuxedo to his own. Made of the deepest midnight-blue satin Yuuri could find, it foiled Victor's in every way; a black undershirt, royal blue vest and independence blue tie as a reference to their first time meeting. White and gold gems climbed their way up and around Yuuri as though magic were swirling around him in a spell to turn a humble peasant into a prince. Chris was mentally editing the footage of close-ups of the clothes interspersed with their reactions when Yuuri began to speak.

"Victor Nikiforov; international modeling prodigy, gender-barrier breaking style icon, and charitable philanthropist. That is how your biography on the Floe website describes you to the world. While these statements are all true, I would like to add my own. You are more than just a model of clothing. You model the graciousness and humanity we should all show each other in your interactions with everyone you meet, no matter who they are. As an icon you are unafraid to wear the styles others get confused by because you get such joy out of sharing the beauty of design with others, unconstrained by the politics and rules most of us live by. You are generous not just with your money but your time, willing to lend an ear to anyone who is having a hard day. Everyone here has a story about something unnecessarily kind you did for them to lift their spirits. Some acts were as small as a pilfered snack, others as large as paying off a hospital bill. In my case, you comforted a sad party guest who had failed his audition due to nerves and took the time to see his potential and find a way to help him.

I can never fully repay you for the confidence or opportunity you have given me, but I would like to start today."

Yuuri dropped down to one knee and Victor's hand flew up to his mouth, eyes shining and cheeks pink.

"Victor Nikiforov, would you do me the honor of marrying me and allowing me to love you, and design for you, for the rest of our shared lives? Will you be my model, Victor?"

Even Chris sniffed a little as Victor knelt down and threw his arms around Yuuri, saying yes over and over as loudly as possible through kisses he was sprinkling all over Yuuri's face. In a feat only he could manage, Victor was even pretty as he cried, the tears streaming single file down his unsplotched and unwrinkled face. Surprisingly, Yuuri was not crying. He was beaming under the affection he was receiving, clearly pleased with the outcome of his proposal. He moved Victor back far enough to slip his ring back onto his finger where it belonged, which began a whole new round of hugging and crying. Looking around, Chis was hardpressed to find a dry eye among the crew. Lillia and the others slowly left their positions to hug the happy couple and pass along their congratulations. Eventually, Chris signaled for the cameras to turn off and the special brunch buffet that was his gift to everyone to be brought in. The day had been a success and he could not be happier for his friend.

 

April 2019

Bel Air, CA 

Victor Nikiforov-Katsuki, freshly married and loving it, leaned against his brand new pink Cadillac and tried to focus on not becoming lost in honeymoon fantasies. It was a struggle he had been fighting all week. Chris and Phichit would show up any moment with Victor's surprise for Yuuri so someone had to keep a lookout and make sure Yuuri did not see. Mila and Lillia were supposedly keeping him occupied with stories of Victor's antics but Yuuri was good at sneaking away unseen when he did not want to be the center of attention.

He cast his eyes over the crowd one more time to make sure Yuuri was not heading his way. While their engagement had been very public, they had decided to hold a private wedding in their new home; a Spanish style hacienda with rooms that circled a central plaza of mosaic stone and glass. The sun was setting and the crystals they had delicately hung from the lights strung above the plaza were beginning to shoot off sparks of light that danced on the happy faces of those still celebrating. Yuuri had chosen 'Crystal Clear' as their wedding theme. True to form, there was no boring black and white to be found. Shades of blue from aqua to cobalt dominated, interspersed with warm walnut woods and brilliant sparkling cut glass that was lit strategically to shimmer even in daylight. Instead of flowers, there were brooch bouquets and jewel-toned candles on display. They wore their matching suits and Lillia had already shrewdly negotiated the exclusive rights to wedding photos in her magazine.

All Victor needed was to pull off this last trick and he would have planned the perfect honeymoon to match Yuuri's perfect wedding. He had gone ahead and called Gorgio and booked the Italian Villa for an entire month. He had options for side trips and activities planned but nothing set in stone. They were just going to relax and not think about work or deadlines or having to travel unless they wished too. They had both been very careful choosing their work recently, not wanting to overwork and miss valuable time with each other, but it had still been busy. Many offers were directed at Yuuri hoping to get Victor, or offered to Victor only and treating Yuuri as some sort of pet. Those were all rejected. Eventually, advertisers would learn what was and was not allowed and it would be less stressful for them both to find fulfilling work. Until then Victor had a growing closet of YK originals that he would never grow tired of modeling in the privacy of their own home. Speaking of...

Chris and Phichit appeared out of the shadows. Phichits eyes and limbs darted around like a paranoid ninja, while Chris just sauntered straight up and sighed at being forced to do physical labor. Victor opened the trunk of the car and began to load in the various packages they carried. Chris gave an accounting of everything as he handed it over.

"One garment bag with very fluffy skirt, one suspiciously heavy and large shoebox, one bag with various leather bits and jewelry, and lastly one folded corset. Instructions on assembly are inside the corset since you have to start there."

Victor could not help unzipping the garment bag a few inches to sneak a peek. Bright red satin and black tulle greeted him and he felt giddy. It had cost him a pretty penny to anonymously win Eros at the end-of-show auction, but the money went to send underprivileged budding designers to school so it had been well spent. Phichit snuck over to the workroom at the school to make fitting adjustments with him. Victor shivered at the memory of being laced in tight to the corset and feeling the choker around his neck and garters on his legs brushing against the satin. He could only imagine what it would be like to have it all removed.

Their regular luggage had been sent ahead, and the staff at Floe's private jet knew to load these bags after he had Yuuri were already aboard and remove them before they de-planed. If all went well Yuuri would have no idea until Victor stepped out wearing it. It would be a shock, but hopefully a pleasurable one.

"I added CPR instructions and the emergency hospital number near you as well in case Yuuri has a heart attack."

'I'm sure we will be fine Phichit, thank you for your concern"

Phichit shrugged.

"You weren't there when your Gucci underwear campaign caused him to faint in the shower. He blamed the stress of opening our store that week but there was no way he could still be stressed after all that masturb-

Chris cut him off with a hand over his mouth.

"Ok Phichit, I think Victor understands. Make sure Yuuri is well fed and gets plenty of sleep and takes his vitamins ok? I don't want to hear about any of this when you get back - or ever actually."

Chris kept his hand on Phichit and led him back into the festivities, laughing while the younger man half-heartedly fought him off. It made Victor's heart happy to see them becoming such close friends. There was potential for more but Phichit was young and Chis was jaded so Victor knew not to push. Besides, he had his own love to pursue.

Locking up his treasure carefully, he blended back into the party and stole his husband back, claiming the dance Yuuri had forgotten and every dance after that for the rest of their lives.