Actions

Work Header

Behind These Palace Walls

Chapter Text

Despite spending the last four years of his life studying Russia, Yuuri was still greatly underprepared for how cold it was when he arrived. The palace consort had offered his sister, Mari, Minako-sensei and himself a fine fur pelt each to wear; something Yuuri gratefully accepted as the chill had gone through the wool of his mon-tsuki like needles, hakama soaked nearly up to his knees from the snow. 

‘Stop biting that fucking lip,’ Mari snapped, Japanese vulgar in her impatience to get into the warmth of the drawing room they had been brought to. Yuuri squeaked, glancing quickly to where Minako-sensei was walking ahead of them. But thankfully, their tutor seemed not to hear them.

‘I c-can’t help it,’ Yuuri replied, barely containing his shiver. ‘My teeth won’t stop shaking.’

Mari rolled her eyes as they entered the drawing room, bowing her head to the servant who held the door for them. Yuuri followed after her, still dwarfed by his older sibling’s height and attempted to do the same, bending his body. Unfortunately, this just had Yuuri stepping onto the front his hakama and stumbling.

At 14, Yuuri was still adjusting to the formal wear, not used to having fabric bundle after him so much. It had taken great practice not to trip entirely over the hakama’s length, the weight of his mon-tsuki making it incredibly awkward to gather any semblance of lift over the whole ensemble. While the pelt didn’t help in that regard, it at least had the benefit of keeping Yuuri warm.

‘I’m sorry,’ Yuuri said in English to the servant, whose white skin and fine hair looked as striking as everyone else Yuuri had met in Saint-Petersburg so far. The servant said nothing, light eyes darting between Yuuri and the tall figure of their consort. 

Lilia Baranovskaya was as imposing as she was alien to Yuuri, long nose constantly titled up in a position of great displeasure. Yuuri had only met her once before, four years prior when she had travelled to Japan first with the Tsar and his advisors. She seemed just as terrifying now as she did then, green eyes fixed on Yuuri like he were something she were about to dissect. She straightened the skirt of her Western gown, vivid purple silk which fitted her frame in direct contrast to Minako-sensei’s demure kimono.

‘She won’t understand you,’ Lilia said, her English sounding almost completely foreign in accent. ‘None of the servants speak English.’

‘Why not?’ Yuuri asked, curiosity ahead of his manners. Minako-sensei sighed, Mari rolling her eyes again. 

‘It wouldn’t be proper. Now sit by the fire, before you catch cold,’ Lilia replied like it were obvious, before dispatching the servant in rapid Russian. 

Yuuri was quiet then, knowing a dismissal when he heard one. Yuuri tightened his grip of the pelt around himself, walking closer to the chairs that were laid out before the fire.The sketches of the Winter Palace did not the do the reality of the building any justice, as far as Yuuri was concerned. It’s grandness gave Yuuri a hollow feeling in his stomach, nervous of the opulence that was gilded to the walls like it were worth the same as wood. Even the fireplace looked to be carved from riches, small gems of greens and reds encrusted along the spiralling gold carvings. 

Mari sat across from Yuuri, her posture less proper than Yuuri expected. Yuuri didn’t imitate, keeping his back straight and hands folded neatly as Minako-sensei and Lilia began to speak in hushed tones at the chaise in the furtherest corner of the room. Discussing Yuuri, he was in no doubt. Yuuri watched the flames for a long while, talking with Mari about the journey, trying to ignore the mutterings behind him. When Yuuri heard the word marriage, the nervousness eating him from within won out. 

‘Excuse me,’ Yuuri said politely, standing up from his chair. Lilia and Minako-sensei both looked from their discussion, eyes considering. Yuuri did his best not to blush. ‘But I’m feeling quite heavy-headed from all the travel. Could I be excused to take a turn around the gardens for some fresh air?’

Minako-sensei opened her mouth first, no doubt to tell Yuuri no. But then Lilia was standing, sharp chin pointed down in consideration. 

‘Of course. I’ll fetch you a chaperone.’

Which was how Yuuri now found himself back out in the snow he had been so resentful of at first, an armed escort walking five steps behind him. But anything was better than sitting in that small, glittering room like it were anything but the cage it would inevitably be. Yuuri looked around himself, at the towering stone walls of the palace and how they seemed to dwarf out even the white blanket of the sky. The snow falling in the small, snow thick space of the garden courtyard that sat in the centre of the palace reminded Yuuri of the snowglobes the Tsar would send his family at the winter seasons. 

Someday, Yuuri would be one of those small glass figures. Trapped behind a wall he could not see and drowning beneath Russian snow. 

Yuuri’s turn of the square came to a halt once he crossed the far corner, the central trees passing to reveal a small arena of some kind that didn’t appear to be part of the original garden. It was like the pavement had been dug up to form a small, square pond of sorts. And on the pond’s frozen surface was a boy, a teenager perhaps, gliding across the ice like a dancer. 

Yuuri stopped where he was, uncaring of the snow that was eating through his boots. He watched, transfixed as the other boy bent low, his body the delicate contortion of strength, before leaping into the air. Spinning, like string unwoven, and landing back on the ice with a clap like thunder. Yuuri’s heart swelled in his chest, entranced. 

The boy was dressed well, or at least he was from Yuuri’s understanding of Russian fashion. He was wearing a coat of leather, fur-lined and thick so some of the movements of the boy’s arms looked unseamly with its bulk. On his head was one of those round, fur hats Yuuri had seen from his carriage to the palace, hands covered in rounded gloves. Yuuri found himself walking, interest and hope coming together like the stitching of his mon-tsuki, approaching the makeshift ice with speed. 

Yuuri stopped when he reached the edge, which was lined with a straight wooden fence. The skater turned on his steel, speed ruddering him across the uneven surface of the ice. He looked over to Yuuri, reaching up with a gloved hand to pull the front of his coat down. 

He was… beautiful. With a narrow face and straight nose, eyes vivid in their blueness and Yuuri’s breath caught in his throat. Yuuri flushed, whole body quaking as his embarrassment suddenly thawed the chill that had set in his bones. The skater approached as Yuuri tried to hide his quivering under the thick pelt. 

The Tsarevich, Yuuri guessed. The boy who would become the man that would inherit this large, strange country. The man Yuuri would marry, as arranged by their respective courts. 

The Tsarevich skated up to the fence, his pale skin burnished pink from the cold in a manner Yuuri couldn’t help but stare at. It was so strange, to see skin so stark like it were burnt. The boy was tall, even if he hadn’t been wearing his steel and easily the three or so years older Yuuri knew the Tsarevich to be. Yuuri’s breath was a cloud in front of him, the Tsarevich’s eyes glacial as they regarded Yuuri from beneath his cap. 

When the Tsarevich spoke, it was in Russian and Yuuri was struck dumb with the speed of it, the harsh sound of it in his ears. Yuuri stared, unsure how to even respond. Yuuri hadn’t been taught Russian, on the request of the Russian court. 

‘So they can hide their secrets,’ Minako-sensei had said with disdain, all that time ago. Yuuri realised too late that he still hadn’t said anything and he panicked, voice squeaking in his throat like a girls. Yuuri winced, embarrassed but the Tsarevich was suddenly cooing soothingly. 

‘Prosti, prosti,’ the Tsarevich said, reaching out with a gloved hand to touch Yuuri’s shoulder. Yuuri flinched from the touch, unsure and the Tsarevich retreated. ‘I am sorry. English?’

Yuuri blinked, caught off guard. Then, his manners returned to him.

‘Yes,’ he replied, word a cloud in the cold. ‘I speak English.’

‘Wonderful,’ the Tsarevich replied, tugging a glove off with his teeth. Yuuri stared, amazed by the lack of propriety and strangely, relieved by it also. The Tsarevich held his hand out, fingers white like the snow. ‘I’m Victor.’

‘Katsuki Yuuri,’ Yuuri said, untangling a hand from where he had it bundled beneath the felt. Victor smiled, a slanted thing that made Yuuri’s stomach squeeze. Yuuri’s fingers were red now, too. Hand shaking. Victor took it, before looking down with wide eyes.

‘Your hand is freezing!’ he exclaimed and Yuuri snatched it back, afraid he’d overstepped. Then, much to his surprise, Victor tugged his other glove off and offered both out to Yuuri from over the top of the fence. When Yuuri didn’t move to take them, Victor took Yuuri’s hand into his own. ‘Please, I insist you take these. That fur won’t be enough, especially once the sun goes down.’

‘T-thank you,’ Yuuri replied, nerves catching on the words like hooks. He took the gloves, slipping them on when Victor waved a hand at him to do so. They were lined in fur as well and Yuuri couldn’t stop the sigh of relief he felt at having them. They were still warm from Victor’s skin. 

Victor smiled again, his teeth sharp and eyes bright. Yuuri smiled back, happy to have pleased him. 

‘Do you know how to skate?’ Victor asked, gesturing to the ice behind him. Yuuri shook his head, replacing his now gloved-hands beneath the pelt again. 

‘No, we don’t really have the sport where I’m from,’ Yuuri said, not hiding the disappointment he felt. ‘But I know all about it. I’ve admired it for a long time.’

‘Perhaps I’ll teach you!’ Victor said boldly and it had Yuuri blushing. So forward, though perhaps Yuuri should’ve expected it. ‘Would you like me to skate for you?’

‘Please!’ Yuuri said, not bothering to contain the excitement he felt. Victor grinned, bright like the moon. 

Yuuri wasn’t sure how much time passed between them. Enough for the snow to crawl up past the knees of his hakama, for certain and enough for even the escort assigned to him to cough. But Yuuri found that he didn’t care. He was totally caught by the movement of Victor’s body, the tumbling sound of his laugh. They shouted conversation across the ice to each other, Victor waving when he would skate close to where Yuuri was standing. 

Then, Victor’s steel caught the edge of uneven ice, sending his body down. Yuuri cried out as Victor hit the ice, his cap flying off him in the impact. From beneath it, a curtain of long, fine hair spilled out. Silver as the ice it was laying against, Yuuri lost his words and even his panic for a moment at the beauty of it. Victor gathered himself up, brushing the ice dust from his jacket and looking around for his cap. 

‘Ah, that was embarrassing,’ Victor said as he approached the fence again, shaking his retrieved cap. Yuuri said nothing, watching the sway of Victor’s long hair like it were a clock’s pendulum. ‘Though, I never have such a charming distraction.’

The compliment brought Yuuri tumbling right back down to earth. 

‘I’m so sorry!’ he said, reaching out to touch Victor. He held Victor’s arm, barely feeling him under the layers of fabric between them. ‘You are not hurt, are you?’

‘I have survived far worse, I promise you,’ Victor said, winking and Yuuri was struck again by his brashness. Victor reached up, turning his hair around like rope.

Yuuri remembered when he had had his own hair cut before the journey, Minako-sensei pulling the strands back before taking a blade to it. Cutting it all the way up, to Yuuri’s ears. It was the fashion in the West, Minako-sensei had said. They had wanted to make a good first impression. 

‘What do the people think, to have the Tsarevich grow his hair so long?’ Yuuri asked, admiring the way Victor’s hair shone like starlight from his dislodged cap. 

Victor froze, abandoning the replacement of his cap and staring at Yuuri in a manner most uncomely with his mouth slightly open and Yuuri panicked, worried he had offended. 

‘My- my apologies!’ Yuuri stammered, bowing as low as he could. ‘That was uncouth. Please forgive me.’

‘No, no!’ Victor said, seemingly finding his voice. Yuuri titled his head up, not entirely comfortable to straighten up fully yet. Victor pushed his fine hair from his face, looking quite sheepish. ‘You did nothing of the sort. I’m afraid it’s me who has been foolish and should be apologising. I swear, I never meant to mislead you.’

Yuuri did straighten up at that, suddenly wary. He stepped back, watching Victor carefully. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I’m not the Tsarevich,’ Victor said, eyes downcast with a look of shame. Yuuri’s heart stopped in his chest, stomach dropping like a stone. ‘I’m his skating coach.’

Chapter Text

When Victor had first received the invitation from the Tsarevich, he’d had half a mind to decline. 

But then Yakov had scolded him, telling Victor it would be insolent at best and dangerous at worst. Victor couldn’t deny that, knowing Friedrich as well as he did. Ever since they were teenagers, Victor guiding the would-be Tsar around the ice, Friedrich had always made his temper known. Victor had often found him unpleasant at times in their youth, the callous way he would treat his servants rankling Victor’s sensitivities. 

Once Victor’s coaching had ended when Friedrich entered the political sphere at eighteen, Victor had swallowed his distaste, taken the money he’d been granted and fled further West into the continent. Never in the last decade did Victor think the Tsarevich’s reach would stretch as far as Vienna, but here was Victor being proven unfortunately wrong. 

Victor bowed to the doorman at the Hotel Imperial, handing his invitation over with a careful flick of the wrist. The doorman nodded, calling over an escort to bring Victor to what was no doubt going to be one of the more grand ballrooms. Friedrich always had a taste for fine things, even by royal standards. If the Tsar ever did die, (which looked unlikely, as the codger seemed intent of living forever), Friedrich would likely bankrupt Russia in a week. 

Not that Victor cared, mind.

Victor followed his escort up the Royal Staircase, adjusting the buttons of his shirt from where the white cuffs sat below the sleeves of his black tailcoat. When Victor had first suggested a short jacket, preferring the more daring fashion of it, Yakov had nearly thrown the kettle he’d been boiling at the time at Victor’s head. While it had definitely been worth it to rile Yakov up, Victor knew that he’d do better to try and emulate the Russian aesthetic. Like a good countryman.

The escort took Victor’s overcoat, bowing low and opening the door to the ballroom for him. As expected, Victor was at first blinded by the grandness of it. Gilded walls, like the palaces of home and ornate chandeliers dripping glass and sparkling light across the room. There was chatter and music, and the smell of wine.

‘Victor Nikiforov!’ the escort announced to the room, Victor just biting his lip in time to stop a sigh of resignation. 

The ballroom was full of what was undeniably an almost exclusively Russian crowd. Victor recognised some of the faces from his own readings and the papers- bankers and politicians, the odd ballerina. Russia must be empty, Victor thought to himself, taking a glass of champagne from a passing waiter. 

‘Victor!’ A voice boomed and Victor pushed his hair from his face, preparing himself. 

‘Your highness,’ Victor said in familiar Russian as Friedrich approached, bowing low. Friedrich was reflecting almost as much as the chandelier above him, Imperial military jacket bespeckled in shining brass buttons and gleaming medals that sat proudly against his chest. Knowing Friedrich, he was probably wearing them in the prayer of a war. 

‘Oh, Victor!’ Friedrich said, grabbing Victor by the shoulders and shoving him upright. ‘Don’t be so formal. I couldn’t have that, dear friend.’ 

Victor blinked, truly surprised at being called dear. ‘Then what shall you have me call you?’

‘Nothing unpleasant,’ Friedrich replied with a wink, dark eyes hooded beneath his thick eyebrows. He had grown a beard in the last ten years, shaven square and elegant like his father’s. He had not grown much over the last ten years, only brushing Victor’s nose. Victor inclined his head. 

‘I would never dream of it,’ Victor said with an easy grin, toasting his glass to Friedrich. Friedrich beamed from behind his beard, clapping Victor so hard on the back it had him choke on his sip of champagne. Hiding his cough, Victor let himself be led into the crowd. 

‘Everyone, you must know who this is!’ Friedrich announced to a group of rather impressive looking men and women. Dressed in their finery and regarding Victor in his modest tailcoat with mild interest. ‘Victor Nikiforov, the ice dancer!’

‘Oh yes,’ a portly man said, nodding his red face in Victor’s direction. ‘I’ve heard of you. You have that- how do you say- ice show? Is that it?’

Victor rolled his shoulders. ‘Yes, I do. But only during the winter season, naturally. Otherwise, I spend my time with the ballet.’

‘A waste!’ a woman with blonde hair said, leaning into her husband’s side like what Victor had said almost had her swoon with misfortune. ‘To have such talent lost to the continent. I’ve seen your shows. The Bolshoi would be happy to have you.’

‘Victor was never one for patriotism,’ Friedrich said, giving Victor another strong pat on the back. Victor was rather getting the impression that Friedrich wanted Victor to be hunched over as often as possible, perhaps to make Friedrich appear taller. ‘Fled the old country the moment you were free to, didn’t you, my friend?’

‘Call it wanderlust,’ Victor said airily, taking another sip of champagne before he said something he’d regret. 

‘I’d say it was lust of a sort,’ Friedrich said crudely and Victor coughed into his champagne, embarrassed. ‘You were always one to follow a pretty face!’

Victor didn’t know what to say to that, glancing around their company for some inclination of what to do. The other men laughed while their wives smiled benignly, which really only further Victor’s discomfort. He did not appreciate being laughed at. 

‘Speaking of such, I must introduce you to someone,’ Friedrich said, taking Victor’s arm again and leading him down the ballroom. Victor smiled to those who nodded to him as they passed, guests bending low to Friedrich who paid them no attention. ‘I must say I didn’t even know you were here in Vienna. Ignorant, on my part, I know. But thankfully, my betrothed knew of your show and insisted we attend. He has quite an interest in skating, you see.’

‘I see,’ Victor replied, not really listening as he finished off his champagne. Then, Victor realised what Friedrich had said to him and stopped so suddenly, he nearly toppled them both to the ground. ‘Forgive me, but did you say your betrothed?’

Friedrich looked at Victor with great amusement. ‘I am a twenty-eight year old man, Victor. Did you think me incapable of finding one?’

‘No… No, of course not,’ Victor said, dazed. His mind was racing and Victor looked over Friedrich’s shoulder, paying far more attention to the people around them. ‘I knew you had an arrangement.’

‘A rather fortunate one, as it has proven to be,’ Friedrich said, puffing out his medaled chest. Victor was certain the flute in his hand would break, he was gripping the stem so tightly. Friedrich seemed not to notice Victor’s anxiety, starting to walk again. ‘He’s quite the beauty, though I’m sure you’ve heard already. Japan performed well in that regard. They must be awfully interested.’

Victor was barely listening, following Friedrich like he were dreaming. Victor felt weightless, without an anchor. His thoughts were running ahead of him, all the imagined fantasies he’d indulged in as a young man rushing down him in a wave of nostalgia that his heart reeling. 

They were almost to the end of the ballroom, towards the large windows that led to the balcony overlooking the street. And through the fine chiffon curtains, Victor saw a figure.

The man was wearing what had to be the Japanese fashion, similar to what he had the first time Victor had met him as children. Shimmering satin of a deep, blood red with embroidered black and white spirals that crept up the carefully folded fabric like rose vines. He turned when Friedrich approached, dark eyes catching the golden light of the ballroom and Victor felt time stop around him.

Yuuri.

The years had been exceptionally kind to Yuuri. He had grown tall, though not as tall as Victor, and his frame willowy. Like a dancer, Victor thought as Yuuri’s slim arms came together in front of the thick, silk belt that bound his ensemble together. The dark hair Victor remembered seemed a tad longer, combed back over Yuuri’s head quite fashionably. 

And though Yuuri’s face was not as round as Victor remembered it being as a child, his eyes were just as warm. Like firewood embers, earth-brown and catching like flint in the light.

‘Victor,’ Friedrich said, holding a hand out towards Yuuri like he were a particularly fine piece of art. Not that Victor would disagree with such an assessment, as it were. In heavily accented English, Friedrich introduced; ‘This is my fiancé, Yuuri Katsuki.’

Yuuri smiled when he met Victor’s eyes. It was a small thing, just the barest curl of his full lips and then Yuuri was bending low, his arms in front of him. 

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you, Victor,’ Yuuri said in English so elegant, it was almost without accent to Victor’s ear. As he straightened back up, Victor was still frozen, all manners and protocol slipping from his mind entirely. Yuuri titled his head, dark eyes burnt gold from the light around them. 

‘I think you have him quite stunned,’ Friedrich said and Yuuri looked away, his cheeks colouring. Friedrich laughed and it broke Victor from his reverie, looking to the Tsarevich in a panic. ‘Oh, do not trouble yourself, my friend. Even the court quite forgets the look of their own shoes when they see him.’

‘You are too kind, Your Highness,’ Yuuri said blithely, almost sounding rehearsed to Victor’s ear. He doubted Friedrich’s English was strong enough to pick it up, however. Friedrich stepped over to Yuuri, but Victor noted Yuuri’s slight shift. The way his hips angled slightly away.

‘What is the use of you if I can’t inspire jealousy?’ Friedrich asked, touching Yuuri’s elbow. Victor looked down, unable to stop himself. He saw the satin of Yuuri’s robe bunch, Friedrich was gripping so tight. ‘Yuuri insisted we see your show and once I recognised you, I simply had to invite you to our gathering. Only Russia’s finest, I assure you.’

‘I’m honoured,’ Victor said truthfully, looking to Yuuri’s face. Yuuri glanced up at him from beneath his dark lashes, cheeks still pink. ‘If I have ever done anything you found engaging, then I would consider myself achieved.’

‘Such flattery!’ Friedrich cried, releasing Yuuri and stepping away. He patted Victor’s shoulder again. When he spoke, it was in Russian, Yuuri’s face going blank at the sound of it; ‘I trust with such a sweet tongue you can keep Yuuri entertained while I meet with the General?’

Victor could only nod, not trusting himself to speak. Friedrich smiled at the both of them, before stepping back into the ballroom. Victor stayed where he was, too afraid even to move. Yuuri glanced up at him, a true smile breaking across his beautiful features.

‘Hello, again, Victor.’

‘Yuuri,’ Victor said, grinning before he could stop himself. ‘I wish I had the words, but I don’t.’

Victor walked up to Yuuri, impropriety abundant in his boldness but Victor found himself uncaring. Yuuri looked up at him, smiling so widely now his teeth were flashing between his lips. Victor reached out with his free hand, taking Yuuri’s own by the fingers. He raised it up, pressing the chilled skin to his lips.

‘I’m afraid I don’t have any gloves to offer you this time,’ Victor said, words kissed to Yuuri’s fingers. Yuuri was watching him, smile faltering only slightly.

‘You cut your hair,’ Yuuri said, hand slipping out of Victor’s grip. For a moment, Victor thought Yuuri might reach up to touch the careful sweep Victor retained over his left side, but then Yuuri’s hand was gone entirely. ‘It suits you well.’

Victor laughed. ‘You remember my hair?’

‘I remember all of you,’ Yuuri replied, before his eyes went wide. He stepped back, hands tight down at his sides. ‘Forgive me, that was untoward.’

‘It’s flattering to know you’ve thought of me,’ Victor said honestly and Yuuri blushed, turning to face the street from the balcony wall. Victor walked up beside him, his hand brushing against the silken edge of his robe. ‘I’ve thought of you as well. More often than I’m sure is proper for me to admit. Seeing you again is… Like something from a dream.’

Yuuri went nearly as red as his robe, blinking up at Victor with such shock that Victor was sure he’d overstepped. He was just about apologise when Yuuri laughed quietly, pushing a stray hair behind his ear. 

‘You’re a skilled flatterer. No wonder you dance so well.’

‘It is truth,’ Victor said earnestly, placing his empty champagne flute down on the balcony wall. He watched Yuuri, careful not to push. ‘I find myself wondering if you kept the gloves I gave you. If you ever tried skating. If you ever think of me. To know at least one of those things for certain is more than I could ever have imagined all these years.’

Yuuri said nothing to that, eyes back down on the street below. Victor saw Yuuri tug on his lip with his teeth, almost like he were concentrating. Perhaps on the carriages that were making their way through the snow that lay across the cobbles. 

‘Tell me, Yuuri,’ Victor said, trying to charm and stepping back to appreciate Yuuri’s dress once again. ‘Are you actively seeking a poetic death of cold? Every time I meet you, you seem intent on standing out in the snow.’

‘I must confess a secret,’ Yuuri said, looking up with a bashful nervousness. Yuuri inclined his head behind them. ‘I don’t care much for these political parties. I don’t really perform well with an audience, despite what His Highness says. I’d rather be out here alone and cold, than warm and with those people.’

Victor laughed, charmed as he had been at seventeen. ‘I certainly can’t blame you for that. I ran from the whole country. But I can tell you a secret, so you don’t feel too bad for it. Might be a dreadful secret though.’

Yuuri smiled, eyes coy. ‘I’m sure I could pardon you.’

Victor stepped closer, waiting for Yuuri to meet his eye. He watched Yuuri’s face, traced the lines of the cheeks Victor remembered and the lips he’d dreamed of.

‘What if I told you that I have been in love with you since we were children?’ Victor asked, voice low with an emotion too dangerous to name. Yuuri looked at Victor, his brown eyes round. 

‘Then I would say you were a fool,’ Yuuri replied, breathless and it put a fire in Victor’s heart. ‘Who says such things?’

‘Fools, I’m told,’ Victor teased back, cautious but not adverse to the tension that gathered between them. It reminded him of the thunderous clouds that would roll over Vienna in the autumn time, promising split skies and flooding rain. Yuuri looked as devastating as a storm.

‘Or liars,’ Yuuri said, voice suddenly cold. He stepped away from Victor, hands before him again in perfect posture. He stood tall, regarding Victor warily. ‘It was good to see you again, Victor.’

Before Victor could say anything else, Yuuri turned and headed back into the ballroom, leaving Victor standing in the snow, wondering if he’d ever misstepped so badly before in his life. 

Chapter Text

Victor spun in slow circles on the ice, steel of his skates tearing lines through it. He should be focusing, but Victor found his mind constantly wandering to the weekend before. To the party. To Yuuri and his wide, dark eyes that haunted Victor’s sleep ever since that night.

Victor had been more than foolish; he’d apparently stepped right through the veil of insanity to say such a thing to Yuuri then. What had he been thinking? Victor had just been struck, so lost in the memory of when they had met first that he had lost all sense. Friedrich said himself that Yuuri’s beauty inspired transgression, but Victor was sure confessions of affection to his betrothed were outside the Tsarevich’s allowance. 

After that night, Victor half-expected his door to be beaten down by the police. For him to be dragged through town, name with him, as Yuuri was bound to tell his betrothed of Victor’s audacity. But nothing had come, Friedrich bidding Victor fond goodbye from the party when Victor excused himself early after spending the rest of the evening watching Yuuri’s back retreat from him.

It seemed Yuuri was of a mind to simply dismiss Victor altogether as punishment and Victor was not entirely sure if that was better. He had tried to rid himself of the ache in his heart that burst on seeing Yuuri, the ghost of an emotion that skimmed the faded edges of grief for something Victor was never entitled to have to begin with. Not even the ice was any comfort.

‘Victor!’ Christophe cried, sounding panicked and his voice echoing off the high ceiling of the rink. Victor turned to a stop, regarding his friend and pianist from the ice show with confusion. ‘Get off the ice, right now!’

‘What is it? What’s the matter?’ Victor asked, skating up to the small gate off the ice. Christophe looked wild behind his round spectacles, mouth hopping between a dazed grin and grimace, running a hand through his sandy hair. 

‘The Tsarevich’s consort is here to see you,’ Christophe said, sounding half-mad with it. Victor froze in where he was brushing ice from his steel, a swallowing swoop in his stomach. When Victor asked Christophe to explain, Christophe only shrugged; ‘He wouldn’t say why he’s here. Only that he wished to speak with you.’

‘Did he bring a guard?’ Victor asked, wondering if perhaps having Yuuri ignore him and not ending up in prison was really so unfortunate a situation, heartbreak or not. Christophe frowned. 

‘No, he’s escorted himself. Why? Does he need a guard?’ Christophe asked, but Victor was already off the ice, walking as straight he could in his skates towards the foyer. 

Yuuri was there, dressed in the Vienna fashion this time. He was in a long coat of dark wool, large hood like a bell from where it was raised over Yuuri’s head. Had he not announced himself, Victor was sure Yuuri could’ve passed through the rink entirely unseen, with only the fine fabric of his coat giving away his status. 

Yuuri turned, hands in front of him in perfect posture. The gloves he wore were fine leather, showing off his slim fingers and Victor found himself staring before he could stop himself, reminded of the large ones he’d gifted almost ten years ago. Suddenly feeling under-dressed in his loose shirt and plain trousers, Victor bent low in a bow.

‘Your Grace,’ Victor said, wondering if he should wait until he was addressed before straightening up. 

When Yuuri said nothing, Victor took a chance and looked up. Yuuri was regarding Victor from beneath his hood, a pair of modern spectacles sat on his nose. They were fetching, a blue veneer across their fine frames. Victor licked his lips, daring to speak. 

‘Please forgive me for speaking out of turn,’ Victor said, watching Yuuri’s face indulgently. ‘I don’t know why you’re here, but I must tell you I am pleased to see you again.’

Yuuri visibly tensed at that, his hands balling into delicate fists. He regarded Victor carefully, like Yuuri were poised to take flight any moment. Victor felt like there was suddenly a string pulled taut between them, like a vector. Victor mentally berated himself for managing to offend so quickly. That had to be a new record.

‘I got your letter,’ Yuuri said brusquely, standing tall like he were to shake the tension off his shoulders. Victor was caught off guard by the lack of manners, but something like relief pooled. ‘You needn’t have apologised.’

Victor blinked, surprised. He had sent the letter the morning after the party, convinced to try and make up for what he had said. Victor had kept it deliberately oblique, so as not to incriminate himself or worse, insinuate towards Yuuri. Victor never expected a reply, he had just felt that he could not rest easy unless Yuuri knew that he was sorry. And now that letter had brought Yuuri all the way down from the visitor’s palace to Victor’s humble rink.

‘Forgive me, but that was not the impression I got,’ Victor said, feeling daring though he knew it was improper. Yuuri frowned, mouth opening to retort. ‘After my indiscretion on the balcony, you gave me no chance to apologise and avoided me the whole evening like I were the plague.’

‘I was not in the mood to be teased,’ Yuuri said coldly and Victor looked away, ashamed. ‘I think that can be allowed given the extent you went to in trying to mock me.’

‘That was not my intention,’ Victor said firmly.

‘Pray tell me then, what was your intention?’ Yuuri asked, eyes fixed on Victor from behind his spectacles. ‘What else did you expect of such a joke?’

‘It was not a joke,’ Victor said, rising up to meet Yuuri eye to eye. Taking advantage of his height over Yuuri’s small build.

For a moment, Victor thought Yuuri might retreat from where he was standing, back down into demurity. But Yuuri only narrowed his eyes, pulling his gloves off in a manner of argument and looking resolute. Victor took advantage, as he clearly had Yuuri’s interest.

‘Not entirely, anyway. I only meant to tell you that I have thought of our meeting in Saint Petersburg often, perhaps even to the point of lovesickness as a young man. I did not mean to imply anything adverse. I just wished to humour you if I could, you were so despondent.’

‘Then you admit it was a tease,’ Yuuri said coolly and Victor flushed, rubbing the back of his neck.

‘Of a sorts,’ Victor sighed, ashamed. He looked up to Yuuri, taking in the way Yuuri gripped his fine gloves so tight, Yuuri’s knuckles were pale. Victor must’ve caused great offence. ‘But I promise you, it was a jest at my own expense and not an attempt to discomfort you.’

‘So you are not in love with me?’ Yuuri asked, tone almost sarcastic if his manners would allow it. It gave Victor the impression he might be close to being forgiven.

‘No more than the rest of Russia, I’m sure,’ Victor said, heart leaping when Yuuri’s cheeks coloured. Victor tried to appear cool in response, but he’d never been able to manage such a thing when his heart was so treacherously light in his chest.

‘I’m glad to hear it,’ Yuuri said, bowing low like he had that evening at the ball. ‘Thank you for your apology, Mister Nikiforov. I’ll let you return to your practice.’

Yuuri went to leave and Victor panicked suddenly, not wanting Yuuri to go without the promise of seeing him again. He could not bear to lose him twice.

‘Allow me to make up for the transgression,’ Victor pleaded, desperation so clear in his voice it must’ve been what caused Yuuri to stop so suddenly.

Yuuri turned, looking at Victor with undisguised suspicion. When he spoke, his voice was carefully level; ‘How would you have me do that?’

‘Did you ever learn how to skate?’ Victor asked, pleased when Yuuri shook his head. Victor opened an arm behind himself, towards the rink entrance. ‘Then grant me the opportunity to teach you. If only once.’

Yuuri was remarkably well mannered, hiding his surprise well. But his cheeks coloured, eyes wide on Victor’s face that most endearingly gave him away.

‘You would teach me?’ Yuuri asked, eyes flirting down to take in the steel of Victor’s skates. ‘You would really do that?’

‘Without doubt.’

‘I don’t want you to feel obligated,’ Yuuri said, looking wary again. ‘I meant what I said that you are forgiven. You owe the crown nothing.’

‘I do not care so much for the Japanese court and even less for the Russian one, Your Grace,’ Victor said sincerely. ‘ I would not offer unless it was my own desire to do so.’

Victor walked up towards Yuuri, closing the space between them. Victor couldn’t help himself. There was a gravity around Yuuri that pulled at Victor, something more than just beauty lurking in his eyes. A spark of interest that had been there since childhood, Victor thought.

When Yuuri had still said nothing, Victor then offered a hand out for Yuuri to shake. A gentlemen’s agreement, if Yuuri would accept. Yuuri hesitated for a moment, eyes fixed on Victor’s outstretched hand. Then, slowly, Yuuri reached out and took it. His hand was warm and it had Victor’s skin tingling.

Yuuri looked away from Victor’s face, voice low and endearing in Victor’s ear; ‘I must tell you something, Mister Nikiforov.’

‘You have my full attention,’ Victor said honestly, instantly regretful when Yuuri pulled his hand away.

‘I’ve followed your career for years,’ Yuuri said quietly, eyes still downcast. ‘You were so impressive and I was- I am, so in awe of your talent. I saw your show Aria in Geneva, almost two years ago to the day now.’

‘You were in Geneva?’ Victor asked, surprised. Yuuri looked up, spectacles catching the light like coins. ‘I never saw you. You should’ve sent me a letter, I would’ve made sure we met.’

‘I was afraid you would not remember me,’ Yuuri said, twisting his gloves. ‘I did not want to impose myself upon you or have you feel any kind of obligation, just because of my association.’

‘Yuuri,’ Victor said gently, reaching out to touch Yuuri’s elbow. Yuuri started, blushing brightly from Victor’s use of his name no doubt. Victor had never been one for manners. ‘I would have been so happy to see you then. I’m only sorry that we’ve lost time together.’

Yuuri licked his lips and Victor’s heart stumbled over itself to try and commit the action to memory.

‘Please,’ Victor said earnestly, barely containing himself from reaching out again. ‘Let me not just make up for my words, but also up for the time we’ve lost these years.’

Yuuri’s eyes roamed over Victor’s face- perhaps wary of further teasing. But Victor had never meant anything as truly as he meant this offer.

Yuuri smiled, a shy thing that settled something warm in Victor’s stomach.

‘If you insist.’

Chapter Text

Yuuri did not care much for Vienna.


If Yuuri were to be entirely honest, it looked much the same as the rest of Europe from what Yuuri had experienced. And even a great deal like Russia. It was all stone grandeur and fine black clothes. A great deal of black actually, from what Yuuri had seen so far in his tours over the last three years. So quick to mourn, the Europeans seemed.


Only a handful of cities stood out to Yuuri in all that time, and it was not by any merit to Europe or it’s Christian towers. Nice. Berlin. Geneva.


The one thing that ever rewarded Yuuri for his travels through these places was currently standing on the ice- in black leather skates, pale hands perched on the hips of his britches and a look of great concentration across his sharp features.


‘Something troubling you?’ Yuuri asked, waiting for Victor to say something. But Victor only frowned down at Yuuri’s feet, where they were tied in his own skates. Yuuri followed his gaze, before looking back up to see Victor now had a finger placed over his lips.


‘Your form is still not quite right,’ Victor said, tapping his finger against his lips in a manner most distracting. Yuuri rolled his shoulders, standing up as straight as he could manage. He felt the steel of his skates slip beneath him. The ice was so much more slick than Yuuri had imagined.


Victor had always made it seem so effortless.


‘Give me some allowance, I’ve only been a student three weeks,’ Yuuri replied, bristling though he knew it was wrong to be. But Yuuri had always been one to achieve well and to achieve well quickly. This learning curve was… unpleasant.


‘It is not criticism,’ Victor said kindly, which only served to nettle Yuuri more. He wanted Victor be honest with him, to push him to do better. Yuuri wanted to do better. ‘I’ve never seen anyone take to the art so quickly. You have a natural grace.’


‘I have a grace well taught,’ Yuuri replied with a frown, pushing into a motion. He was able to start momentum quite easily. It was his balance, most jarringly, where he seemed to be finding trouble. ‘I’ve studied ballet since I was a child.’


‘Have you studied rebuttals as well?’ Victor said and Yuuri looked up, unsurprised now to see Victor was smiling at him. Victor was often bold at best, and practically improper at worst. Never had Yuuri met someone who regarded his status so lightly.


Yuuri really liked that about Victor.


‘You’re mocking me, Mister Nikiforov.’


‘Your grace, I would never.’


‘I somehow doubt that,’ Yuuri said as he followed Victor around the rink best he could, the echo of their skates filling the hall.


It was a beautiful building- and Yuuri loved every buttress of the ceiling to every grain in the wood seats. In this small, cobbled city that so resembled the countless others Yuuri had been to during his tours and teaching, this rink in Vienna had finally gifted something that almost reminded Yuuri of home.


‘Is that sarcasm, I hear?’ Victor said, skating close. His hand brushing against where Yuuri’s fingers were outstretched in an attempt to keep balance. Victor was a vision, even now in his loose clothing. Hair almost yellow from the flickering electric lanterns and eyes bright, like always.


Yuuri tugged at the sleeves of his own shirt as his skates slowed, a heavier linen as was only proper. Victor was practically vulgar with his fashion. How he was not cold never ceased to amaze Yuuri, even after these weeks. Not that Yuuri was paying attention. Well… not that Yuuri was going to be caught paying such attention, anyway.


Yuuri huffed, wondering if he could cool his warm cheeks. ‘I would never take such tone.’


‘You’re words were equally sharp as a child, if I remember correctly,’ Victor said, turning in his blades with enviable ease. Victor looked like he were flying across the ice, something ethereal in the dance of his body. ‘And I would bet that I do. I have remembered so often.’


There Victor went again, saying such things like it was in any way proper to do so. Yuuri was quite sure now that Victor did it on purpose to embarrass him. Victor seemed to take great pleasure in embarrassing Yuuri. The banter that had fast become familiar between them often started as such, with Victor throwing a jest for Yuuri to catch with irony. The only thing Yuuri enjoyed more than it was the way Victor would laugh when Yuuri’s sarcasm would catch him by surprise. Victor always had a beautiful laugh.


‘You have teasing me down to a talent,’ Victor continued, teeth flashing with a grin as he pushed off again, waiting for Yuuri to follow him. ‘I don’t know where you learned such disrespect for your tutors.’


‘Perhaps the same school where you learned yours for royalty,’ Yuuri replied, enjoying the way Victor’s eyes went wide before he broke into another large smile.


‘Yuuri! You wound me!’ Victor laughed, the noise like a church bell in the hollow space of the rink. Yuuri chased after him best he could, feeling a mild swoop of nervousness from the distance between them. ‘With such a clever tongue, I’m surprised you never convinced your parents to let you skate from the beginning.’


‘I did ask,’ Yuuri said, bashful. He glanced at Victor from the corner of his eye, catching the silver of his hair. ‘But my sensei told me I would do better to focus solely on dance and- my other schoolings.’


If Victor noticed Yuuri’s hesitation, he did not show it. Victor simply tilted his head, evidently amused. ‘I’m surprised they could deny you anything. Is that not one of the benefits of being well born?’


‘I am not so well born,’ Yuuri said, frowning down at his skates like it might command them to do his bidding better. ‘I’m only a lord, second born at that.’


‘Is your father not in line as prince?’ Victor asked, voice light and Yuuri looked up to see Victor was smiling at him once again. Yuuri could feel his cheeks flush again, heart a rabbit in his chest all of sudden. Victor had such a charming smile.


‘Brother to the Emperor,’ Yuuri explained, not sure if he was comfortable discussing status all of a sudden. It was so easy to forget such things with Victor. ‘My uncle has his own children. Not that it matters, as my father never sought to rule. He is most comfortable in the lesser court.’


‘Is that where your humility came from then?’ Victor said, turning Yuuri’s face pink again. Yuuri huffed at him, knowing it petulant, but Victor was so easy to tease him. ‘I’ve never met anyone more difficult to bestow a compliment on.’


‘You needn’t try so hard to win my favour,’ Yuuri replied distractedly, knees wobbling where the steel of his skates suddenly slipped beneath him. ‘You must know how well I regard you.’


‘Oh, must I?’ Victor said, voice curling in his throat like a purr. Yuuri started, as Victor had skated up to him in one quick, fluid moment. Yuuri squeaked, surprised and nearly toppling backwards. But Victor reached out, strong arms around Yuuri’s waist in a moment and holding him steady.


If Yuuri’s heart was uneasy before, it stopped altogether at the feeling of Victor’s body against him. Victor was a hard wall, a closeness Yuuri didn’t usually experience outside of the intimacy of family or service. It suddenly felt like there was a fire in Yuuri’s blood, something alien that had Yuuri feeling a zeal all the way to the surface of his skin. Yuuri stared up at where Victor was looking down at him, blue eyes alight with a mischief Yuuri had come to recognise over the last few weeks.


‘Thank you,’ Yuuri said gently, hands pressed up against Victor’s chest. The linen of Victor’s shirt was thin, the heat of Victor’s skin easily felt and Yuuri lost his train of thought upon feeling it. ‘I… I guess it’s not only my form that’s lacking. If I keep falling like this, I’ll do more damage to your ice than anything else.’


‘I will catch you,’ Victor said, hands briefly tight on Yuuri’s waist. Perhaps a reassurance, but all it did was bolt through Yuuri like lightning. Yuuri’s breath caught in his throat, wishing he had his spectacles to hide behind as he felt exposed with so little space between himself and Victor. ‘If there is one thing I could not abide, it would be harm to you.’


‘Do you treat all your students so carefully?’ Yuuri asked, hoping his voice was stronger than he felt as Victor’s sincerity had woken something quite frightful inside of him. Gently, and with much regret, Yuuri placed his hands flat against Victor’s shoulders and pushed him away, putting a proper distance between them again.


‘Only my friends,’ Victor said, with a small nod as he took Yuuri’s retreat. ‘Or stray lords who seem intent on breaking their body against my rink’s surface.’


‘Despite what you think,’ Yuuri said, trying to seem bold in an effort to quiet the thunder in his heart. ‘I am completely capable of taking care of myself.’


‘I should hope so,’ Victor said, before his face turned away from Yuuri. His eyes were suddenly fixed on the ice below them, his long body growing slow. Yuuri had seen this a few times, the way Victor would abruptly sink away into his own thoughts. It troubled Yuuri, though Yuuri knew he had no right. ‘After all, you will have to take care of Russia someday, I imagine.’


Yuuri felt something cold settle in his stomach. He looked away himself, uneasy. ‘That is not likely at all, as you must know. The Tsar is in good health for his age, and even then- Friedrich is only the second son. He may never see the throne.’


‘The Tsar will not live forever and it’s common knowledge that Friedrich’s brother is so sickly, he’s bound to die before his father,’ Victor said, an unusual tightness in his voice. Yuuri found the tone unbecoming on someone so beautiful. ‘Besides, why else would you be in an engagement so illustrious, if not for power?’


‘There are other things to be gained,’ Yuuri said, uncomfortable. Though there was barely more than two or three feet between them, Yuuri suddenly felt they were standing at opposite ends of a great chasm. Victor scoffed.


‘Not heirs. The Tsar has the firstborn and his wife for that. If Vladimir doesn’t die first, that is. What else do royals look for but the ability to breed and add to their name?’


Yuuri gasped, stung. He slowed himself to a stop, watching as Victor turned to face him. Victor’s face was slack, like even he was shocked by his own rudeness. Yuuri made a fist, anger bursting like a wave. ‘Is that what you think of me? Some parasite hoping to gain a title?’


Victor gaped, looking unsure. Which only served to infuriate Yuuri further. He didn’t know what to make of a Victor who couldn’t think of what to say.


‘I know you consider the court below the standards of your appreciation,’ Yuuri said, proud that his voice was not shaking despite how anxious he felt. ‘But I had hoped that your derision at least overlooked me.’


‘Yuuri-’


‘And if you thought for a moment that I chose this, then perhaps we have not grown as close as I felt we had,’ Yuuri continued, ignoring Victor’s feeble attempts at interruption. ‘I would not have chosen this for any title in the world, even going so far as to forfeit any I had were it possible. But there are things someone like you could not understand. Responsibilities that must be met and favours paid.’


‘You make yourself out to be a bargaining chip,’ Victor said, sounding aghast. Yuuri almost laughed at that.


‘I’m more that than anything else,’ Yuuri admitted, the reality of the statement cooling his anger back down to the resignation Yuuri had long become familiar with. Yuuri ran a hand through his hair, sighing deeply. ‘Forgive me, I didn’t mean to be so dour. I don’t know where that came from.’


‘No, no,’ Victor said quickly, pushing off his skates gracefully towards Yuuri. They were inches apart once again, Victor’s hand raising up to Yuuri’s chin. The tips of his fingers had Yuuri balanced, like a dancer on pointe. ‘I should be the one apologising. I spoke out of turn.’


‘It hardly matters now,’ Yuuri said quietly, closing his eyes and enjoying the feeling of Victor holding him. However delicately. A moment of absence, for both of them. But Yuuri wasn’t willing to give it up yet. ‘I just wished you thought better of me.’


‘Yuuri,’ Victor said and though Victor’s English was still accented, the words still carrying Russia in the pockets of its syllables, the way Victor said Yuuri’s name felt like coming home. ‘You must know that I think the world of you.’


‘It must be a very small world,’ Yuuri said, attempting a joke. He opened his eyes, moving his face out of Victor’s grip. Victor let him go, but his hand still lingered between them. Like Victor was unsure where to put it. Yuuri bit his lip, Victor’s eyes watching the motion.


‘It is the only one I want,’ Victor said, the words almost breathless. ‘I’ve lived ten years in a world without you and it was nothing compared to these weeks of having you.’


‘You shouldn’t speak so carelessly,’ Yuuri said, avoiding Victor’s eye. He tried to retreat, turning his body away.


‘That is probably true, but not for this,’ Victor said, following Yuuri like they were dancing across the ice. ‘For you, I feel like I never say enough.’


‘Please stop,’ Yuuri said, alarmed that there were tears forming in the corners of his eyes. He looked to Victor, pleading. ‘I can’t bear such things. Not from you, not when I need you to be…’


Yuuri stopped, afraid to say anything else.


‘I’m sorry,’ Victor said softly, sounding truly regretful. He straightened up, tilting his head down in a small nod. Almost a bow and it turned Yuuri’s stomach. ‘I did not mean to overstep. Just tell me what you would like me to be for you, Yuuri. And I will be it.’


‘I only want you to be yourself,’ Yuuri said, watching Victor’s face. Victor blinked, his eyes a storm. Then he was smiling again, the sight of it a balm to every sting in Yuuri’s heart. Yuuri smiled back, comforted at last. Victor held a hand out, pointing towards the steps off the rink.


‘Come, I think you’ve done enough for today.’


Yuuri followed Victor to the small gate, about to step off when Victor took his hand to help him, as Victor always did. But this time, Victor’s grip was firm, holding Yuuri steady where he was. Yuuri looked over his shoulder, breath clouding slightly from the chill.


‘Mister Nikiforov?’


‘May you permit me to ask you something?’ Victor asked, looking at Yuuri from beneath his fine hair from where it had fallen over his face. Not trusting himself to speak, half-afraid and half-besotted with the blaze in Victor’s eye, Yuuri only nodded in reply.


‘Did you think of me?’ Victor asked quietly, hand still holding Yuuri’s. His cold thumb, running across the edges of Yuuri’s knuckles. ‘During the years we were not together?’


Yuuri tightened his fingers, holding Victor’s hand back like an anchor.


‘Victor,’ Yuuri said, heart a cry in his chest. ‘I think of you always.’

Chapter Text

There was a quiet knock on the door of Katsuki-sama’s hotel apartment suite. Phichit rose from where he was kneeling by the fire, struggling the last while to get a proper light to it before Katsuki-sama returned from his skating lesson. Grumbling to himself about the damp that seemed to lurk in every corner of Europe, (even their fireplaces, it seemed), Phichit straightened the line of his kimono and opened the door with his best attempt of polite. 

‘Diese kamen für Herrn Katsuki an,’ the servant announced, offering the rather impressive bouquet of roses across the threshold to Phichit. Phichit blinked at her for a moment, still not quite adapted to the German of Vienna. 

‘Ah,’ Phichit said, thankfully regaining his composure as his mind made sense of the language. ‘Vielen dank.’ 

 Phichit took the roses and the servant curtseyed brusquely, almost rudely, before she retreated down the hall. Phichit tried to temper the offence of her disregard for him as he glared after her puffy black skirt. Most of the servants at the Imperial hotel barely treated him above their own station, their understanding of his role as the Lord’s chaperone either mistaken or ignored. Phichit tried not to let it grate him too often, but the extended time in Vienna was wearing his resolve down. 

Phichit could hardly blame Katsuki-sama for the decision to remain in Vienna until the Christian holidays, however. Saint Petersburg and the glorified prison its palace offered as an apartment there were no great invitation to haste their trip along. Phichit had taken Katsuki-sama’s perfectly rehearsed announcement of their extension with little more than a raised eyebrow over the steaming tea of that October breakfast. After all, Phichit was as close to Katsuki-sama as could be allowed. At times, Phichit rather preferred to think of them as friends, if not better than that. 

And it was that closeness that saved his Lord from a great deal of teasing, as if Katsuki-sama thought for one moment to convince Phichit that their sustained stay instead of following the Tsarevich back to Saint Petersburg had anything less to do with the residence of Victor Nikiforov here in Vienna then he greatly underestimated Phichit’s perception. What Katsuki-sama seemed to neglect, through choice or perhaps genuine delusion, was that Phichit had a great advantage in getting to know Katsuki-sama quite intimately over the last five years as his chaperone. 

Thus by extension, Phichit had come to know a great volume of Victor Nikiforov simultaneously. 

Phichit smiled to himself as he walked across the hotel apartment, careful to keep the flowers upright in their beautifully crafted paper. He stopped by the dresser, casting a quick glance around for an empty vase. Carefully laying the flowers down, Phichit spotted the card pinned to the red ribbon that held the fetching ensemble together. Phichit reached out, taking the heavy parchment into his hand and quickly scanning the handwriting. His stomach twisted as he recognised the slanted English. 

To precious Yuuri, 

I hope you have not forgotten me in your holiday excursions. Accept these as a small token of my thoughts for you. The police guard keep me revised in your tours, but I do so much more appreciate the telling by your own hand. 

I hope not to wait so long for your next letter, betrothed. 

Beneath the poor attempt of disguising his frustration at Katsuki-sama’s (apparently) late reply, the Tsarevich had simply stamped his royal seal by means of a signature. How typical, Phichit thought bitterly as he tossed the card heedlessly onto the table without guilt as the corner hit the veneered wood and bent. Why treat anything from that man with more care than the Tsarevich extended himself to Phichit’s most treasured charge? 

As Phichit went to fetch a vase from the far shelves, he looked out the tall, arched windows of the hotel apartment. Snow was falling quite thickly now. Katsuki-sama’s coach was likely delayed from the heavy fall on the roads. The coach the Tsarevich had assigned to Katsuki-sama was gifted from the Austrian court’s guard. It was a heavy, unseemly thing with doors that locked from the outside. For Katsuki-sama’s safety, the Tsarevich’s guard assured. But Phichit knew a cage when he saw one. 

Once the vase was brought to the dresser, Phichit started to dismantle the roses. He did not bother with water, hoping its absence and the cold of the city would kill the wretched things before they thorned Katsuki-sama’s spirit like they did Phichit’s hands as he arranged them into the fine porcelain. Phichit didn’t want anything to dampen Katsuki-sama’s temperament when he returned from his lesson with Mister Nikiforov, as it didn’t matter how bitter the November wind was in Austria as Katsuki-sama’s happiness after his lessons burned like the hot, Thai sun. 

Katsuki-sama would always be full with such conversation when he returned from his evenings with Mister Nikiforov. Even before Vienna, there was no topic Katsuki-sama enjoyed more than discussion of Victor Nikiforov and his exceptional ice dances. Katsuki-sama had followed Mister Nikiforov’s career since before Phichit had come to know the Lord, requesting that programs and newspaper editorials be transported across the continents so Katsuki-sama could read of Mister Nikiforov’s latest endeavour, or see a sketched rendering of the Russian’s most incredible performances. 

When Phichit had been assigned from his school to wait on the Lord as Katsuki-sama would begin his travels and education in Europe, Katsuki-sama had mentioned Mister Nikiforov within an hour of their meeting. The excitement was so infective and Phichit found himself enamoured immediately with the Lord’s bright eyes and shy smile. Once in Europe, Katsuki-sama had gone to great lengths to seek out Victor’s shows where possible. Even disguising himself for the last, shroud in a common cloak stolen from Phichit in Geneva. The pride Katsuki-sama had displayed after, the vivaciousness of his enjoyment at having seen Mister Nikiforov perform for himself- it was one of Phichit’s fondest memories. 

The quality of Katsuki-sama’s blush was so precious to Phichit that he had sworn then to do his very best in guiding that happiness to an equally happy life. Phichit frowned down at the flowers, turning the fine bouquet of roses from one side to the other in their vase and felt a stab of shame in his failure in that.

They were quite grand, the flowers’ expense salient in their plush petals and deep crimson colour. Phichit hated every beautiful part of them, wishing he could throw them as kindling to the fire. But without doubt, the kindly ever-present police guard that haunted Katsuki-sama’s steps would be informed to watch out for the Tsarevich’s thoughtful gift. 

At that thought, the door to the apartment opened without announcement.

‘Katsuki-sama!’ Phichit said happily as his charge walked in. The dark, black wool of Katsuki-sama’s coat was peppered in the white flakes of snow from the street, his cheeks reddened from the wind. Even from the small distance, Phichit could see the coat was almost thoroughly soaked with the weight of snow. Katsuki-sama smiled brightly at Phichit, pulling his fine gloves off. 

‘Phichit-kun!’ Katsuki-sama replied, too slow to stop Phichit from starting to unbutton his coat. ‘I am not a child, I can take off my own coat!’ 

‘You’ll catch your death of cold if you leave this sodden thing on a moment longer,’ Phichit replied curtly, hastily bullying Katsuki-sama from his coat. Katsuki-sama laughed, a tinkling noise Phichit had come to appreciate quite quickly in their association. ‘Honestly, what is the point of those guards if they treat you so carelessly? Did they even provide an umbrella for you, Katsuki-sama?’ 

‘I dismissed the police at the street corner,’ Katsuki-sama said blithely, like such a thing was not at all as foolish as it really was. Phichit paused in his fussing, giving Katsuki-sama a very stern look.

‘What would possess you to do such a thing?’ 

‘I wanted to walk in the snow,’ Katsuki-sama answered like that were to make any sense of his poor judgement. Phichit clicked his tongue, torn between impatience at Katsuki-sama’s recklessness, and satisfaction at his friend’s small rebellion. Phichit blinked, settling with bafflement as a safe enough balance between the two. 

‘What on earth would you want to do that for? You hate the snow,’ Phichit said as Katsuki-sama walked towards the fireplace, that had somehow managed to catch some small bit of life. Katsuki-sama stretched his arms above his head, the fine cloth of his shirt rippling like water. 

‘I was actually quite warm still from my lesson,’ Katsuki-sama said, settling himself into the chaise before the fire. The orange flames caught glimmers in the droplets that were scattered across the glass of his spectacles. Phichit carefully hung the coat by the door, following Katsuki-sama to the chair. ‘And I wanted some time to myself. To ruminate, as it were.’ 

‘How unusual for you, to think,’ Phichit teased and Katsuki-sama grinned slyly, pushing at Phichit’s silken shoulder in jest. ‘What was today’s topic?’ 

Katsuki-sama hesitated for only a moment, but it was enough for Phichit.

‘Mister Nikiforov asked me something today. Something I was not expecting, yet my answer came so quickly it was as if I had been waiting for him to ask it for an age,’ Katsuki-sama said, eyes going wistfully to the fire. Phichit raised his eyebrows, intrigued. ‘And I wished for a chance to bask in that strange moment of realisation, if only for a short time.’ 

‘And what did Mister Nikiforov ask you that had you so inspired?’ Phichit asked, watching Katsuki-sama fidget with the seams of his tailored trousers. 

‘He asked if I thought of him.’ 

‘Poor fool,’ Phichit said and Katsuki-sama gaped, in a most unseemly manner that only Phichit could inspire. Phichit shrugged. ‘If the man couldn’t tell how violent your affection for him is from a glance, then I rather fear Mister Nikiforov may be a great deal less inclined to rumination than you, Katsuki-sama.’ 

‘Phichit-kun! How can you be so wicked as to imply such a thing of Victor?’ Katsuki-sama said, eyes wide with shock. Phichit, however, was now grinning with something resembling triumph. If not exactly that. 

‘I suppose it would not do to imply blindness on dear Victor’s part,’ Phichit said, echoing Katsuki-sama’s informality to the great reward of Katsuki-sama instantly blushing. Realising too late his mistake, Katsuki-sama settled only for taking his bottom lip between his teeth. Phichit recognised defeat in his friend when he saw it. ‘After all, you are so impervious a wall of indifference.’ 

Katsuki-sama lounged dramatically back on the chaise. ‘Nice to see there is enough wickedness to be extended to me.’ 

‘It would be a terrible disservice to separate you and Mister Nikiforov, even in my teasing, Katsuki-sama.’ 

Before Katsuki-sama could reply to that, mouth open in what would no doubt be an inspiring rebuttal, the door of their apartment echoed with another knock. Phichit gave Katsuki-sama a grin, before rising to go and greet the door. Phichit’s humour cooled instantly when he was met with the taciturn presence of the one of Vienna’s policemen. Plain-clothed to the eye, but with an expression too severe to ever be mistaken for someone without purpose, the policeman gave a customary nod to Phichit, which Phichit returned coldly. 

‘Sorry for interruption,’ the policeman said in heavily accented English, before raising his hand to show another, considerably less impressive, bouquet of flowers wrapped in brown paper. Phichit gave them a questioning glance. ‘But a man give these for Lord Katsuki. I met him in foyer.’ 

‘Oh. Thank you,’ Phichit said, curious as he reached out and took the flowers. They resembled rather large daisies, with narrow green stems and sparse petals. An impressive number had been arranged, so to add some semblance of bulk to the bouquet and they had a pleasing, homely aroma. 

Phichit admired them, seeing the curled note attached beneath the thin white ribbon that bound it all together. Phichit removed the letter, only giving it a quick look before folding it shut instantly. He looked up at the policeman, polishing his expression best he could of the excitement that was suddenly inspired.

‘It’s a simple token from Katsuki-sama’s tutor,’ Phichit said, thinking quickly and taking the bouquet from the policeman’s slack fingers. ‘A reward for his progress. Thank you for bringing me this. Good evening, sir.’ 

The policeman looked like he would rather question Phichit further, but Phichit dismissed him quickly and closed the door with a definite snap. He held the flowers to his own nose briefly, breathing in the familiar scent though Phichit could not name the blooms yet. Katsuki-sama queried from the chaise, catching Phichit’s eye across the room with a suspicious frown. 

‘What are those?’

‘It would seem you were right and I was indeed not giving Mister Nikiforov enough merit,’ Phichit replied gleefully, practically skipping across the room with the fragile bouquet. He handed them down to Katsuki-sama gently, watching as Katsuki-sama quizzically appreciated the flowers wildness. Phichit held out the note, bouncing on his heels. ‘Please read it aloud. I only saw enough to see Mister Nikiforov’s signature, and I’m afraid my impatience cannot risk losing to any more of your ruminations.’ 

Katsuki-sama said nothing at first, dark eyes skimming over the small, personal note. Then he was smiling, so widely it was a though his lips simply could not contain it any longer. Phichit sat down eagerly, gently pressing for Katsuki-sama to read the note lest Phichit die altogether from the suspense of it. 

‘My most dear Yuuri,’ Katsuki-sama read, voice quiet and embarrassed. ‘I hope you will forgive any transgression I may impart with my forwardness, but after our lesson today I was passing through the market and the scent of these chamomile flowers reminded me so strongly of you that I was inspired to purchase them for you. I know they are not very grand and likely will do no service to your fine quarters at the Imperial Hotel, but I wanted you to have them- to know that I am thinking of you as often as you confessed to thinking of me. If not more so. Your most ardent friend, Victor.’ 

‘Oh, Yuuri,’ Phichit sighed, a hand pressed to his own chest as the weight of Mister Nikiforov’s words settled between them. Katsuki-sama looked at Phichit, eyes swimming with the promise shine of tears. Phichit’s excitement was doused in sympathy, the truth of everything too quick to temper their delight. 

 ‘My poor, sweet Yuuri, what are you going to do?’

Chapter Text

When Phichit called for Yuuri the next morning, the first thing Yuuri saw when he opened his eyes were the flowers Victor had brought for him. Phichit walked around the room, opening the long curtains of the bedroom windows, reciting to Yuuri his latest grievance with the hotel staff. At the frequency with which Yuuri woke up to this, it was really quite remarkable that the Imperial Hotel hadn’t cast them out already for Phichit’s complaining.

‘I’ll lay your kimono for the Grand Duchess’ cotillion this evening once you’re up. But breakfast is ready in the drawing room,’ Phichit said, turning from the nearest window to regard Yuuri with the smile Phichit always seemed present with. Yuuri’s eyes roamed back to Victor’s flowers, admiring the silken white of their petals and sunshine of their centre. Yuuri had never appreciated a gift more, the treasure of them so deeply felt.

‘Thank you, Phichit-kun,’ Yuuri said, stretching from the many layers of blanket that covered him. The room had a chill as the fire had died in the night, and Yuuri was reluctant to leave his cocoon. But the morning promised something worth any poor temperature Vienna had to offer.

As Yuuri was engaged in the evening with the duties of his position, his skating lesson had been moved to after breakfast instead of the evening. Victor was so accommodating, even seeming excited at the prospect if Yuuri was to think too indulgently of it. Yuuri liked to think indulgently, especially in the yellow quiet of the morning to himself. He thought of Victor’s eyes as he got out of bed, remembered the exact temper of Victor’s laugh as Phichit handed him britches and a shirt for his lesson.

Victor had the most engaging laugh, Yuuri felt. Yuuri considered it a personal achievement if he could tempt the thing out from the bowed lips Victor had. Once he was dressed, Yuuri reached out for the brass bottle of perfume on the dresser. He ran his thumb over the turquoise inlay; rubied butterflies and golden vines. Vanilla and chamomile, Yuuri smiled as he traced the French label. Not fashionable, like the citrus notes Friedrich insisted upon when they were together.

But Friedrich was not here and, (Yuuri glanced over to his chamomile bouquet from Victor, heart swollen with a feeling too treacherous to name), this perfume proved to be far more singular anyway. Or least, it appeared as such to one individual and that was enough for Yuuri to add an extra drop to his cravat.

Yuuri made quick work of the spread the hotel staff had laid for him in the drawing room, Phichit hovering to make sure he ate enough despite being so eager to get to Victor’s rink over the Wien. Perhaps if he finished quickly, Yuuri could even manage to sneak past his guard, sentinel as they were.

(‘Spies with low morals and a high price,’ Phichit had said waspishly of the police guard, which Yuuri was finding himself agreeing more and more with if the knowledge Friedrich’s letters displayed of Yuuri’s time in Vienna were anything to see from).

Yuuri took his coat from where Phichit had hung it close by the fire, the wool dried from the night before. It was a long, draping thing; more in common with the cloaks women wore for their dresses, as it was designed to similarly cover Yuuri’s collection of billowing hakama and kimono. It wasn’t as sharp or modern as Victor’s topcoats, but it was well tailored and the bell hood lent some level of anonymity.

Yuuri bid Phichit goodbye, raising his hood gently so as not to disrupt his spectacles as Yuuri left the hotel apartment. Promisingly, the police guard had not arrived as an escort yet and Yuuri walked happily down the corridor, only for his good humour to be quickly extinguished at the sight of a plain clothed policeman coming around the corner. Perhaps some time to himself was too much to hope for.

The police man bowed deeply to Yuuri, but Yuuri did not acknowledge him, even when the policeman reached out and took Yuuri’s skates in his rough hands. Yuuri could hear Minako-sensei scolding him from memory for such ill manners, but Yuuri didn’t care. Yuuri didn’t even care if this policeman wrote back in his reports to Friedrich about Yuuri’s behaviour. Not that Yuuri cared much for anything to do with Friedrich anyway. Yuuri held his arms close to his side, refusing to take escort from his keeper as they headed towards the lift, which they rode down in icy silence.

Yuuri gathered up the front of his coat as he approached the Royal Staircase, refusing the arm extended by the policeman that walked alongside him with a cold shake of his chin. He resented his guard so deeply- they reminded him of Friedrich, and not of any of Friedrich’s few good qualities. They certainly lacked Yuuri’s favourite part of Friedrich at present- absence.

‘Your Grace! Yuuri!’

Yuuri looked up from his feet, heart soaring at the familiar voice calling his name. Victor was down at the foot of the staircase, hair clearly damp and ears pink as he had forgone a hat despite the snow. Yuuri forced himself to stay steady on the stairs, happiness too great to contain at seeing Victor so soon and Yuuri found himself smiling, completely ignoring the policeman behind him. Victor beamed up at him, that smile Yuuri found himself thinking of so often broad on Victor’s handsome features.

‘Mister Nikiforov!’ Yuuri exclaimed happily, hopping onto the reception floor like a child in his excitement. ‘What are you doing here? This is so far for you to travel.’

‘Not at all, I am quite fond of the snow,’ Victor replied, still smiling. ‘Besides, this way I have at least another hour of your company and that would be worth any blizzard.’

Yuuri blushed terribly and hoped his hood would shade most of it. Before he could say anything to Victor’s flattery, the policeman put his brutish body between himself and Victor, skates swinging. The man was no match for Victor’s height, but what he lacked in stature he seemed intent to make up for in rudeness.

The policeman spoke to Victor in brusque German, too quick for Yuuri to follow. Victor replied in a much more mannerly tone, but Yuuri could see Victor’s smile falter ever so slightly and his azure eyes narrow. Yuuri recognised this particular tick by now; it was one he saw often when Victor was speaking of something he found disdainful. Any mention of Russian politics seemed particularly talented in inspiring it.

‘That is enough,’ Yuuri said in English, demand strong in his voice in Yuuri’s best imitation of the scolding tone Minako-sensei would take with him when he was a child. ‘This is Victor Nikiforov, my skating tutor. I will not have you represent me so poorly by treating him this way. Mister Nikiforov is extending me a compliment in coming to escort me.’

‘But Your Grace, it is my job to keep you safe-’

‘I assure you, I am in no danger,’ Yuuri said, unable to keep the warmth from his voice as he met Victor’s eye at that. ‘Mister Nikiforov spends every evening keeping me from harm at my own ungainly skating. I trust him more than- than anyone.’

Victor’s eyes went wide then, a remarkably endearing trait Yuuri thought. Feeling a strange boldness, Yuuri offered a gloved hand out.

‘Will you escort me to the coach, Mister Nikiforov?’ Yuuri asked gracefully, licking his lips nervously. Victor’s eyes tracked the movement and that bolted through Yuuri like lightning in a child’s story, stunning him to silence. It was dreamlike then, when Victor took Yuuri’s hand in a firm grip, guiding them both through the reception of the hotel.

The policeman, (perhaps to avoid any more of Yuuri's ire), did not speak again and opened the coach door from them both. Victor held Yuuri’s hand the entire time, his grip like a brand through the leather of their gloves. Yuuri could not bring himself to look at Victor’s face, soul shaking within his skin from the sheer forwardness of Victor’s touch. The way Victor’s hand moved down Yuuri’s arm, balanced at the elbow as Victor helped Yuuri step into the small space of the coach.

Yuuri could scarcely breathe with the emotion that swelled inside of him. It was one thing, for Victor to move so freely on the slick of the ice, where proprietary demanded it of him as a tutor. But here, in the street and under the view of the Imperial Hotel, Yuuri felt like Victor were balancing something too frail to hold up its own weight. As the coach door shut behind them, Victor settling into the seat opposite, Yuuri didn’t dare look anywhere but out the mottled glass of the coach door.

‘It is so good to see you, Yuuri,’ Victor said earnestly as the coach started to trundle across the cobbles, tempting Yuuri to cast a small glance from beneath his hood. The way Victor said Yuuri’s name- so familiar, like it were what anyone should say, though of course it wasn’t. If it weren’t for Victor, in fact, Yuuri quite feared he’d forget the sound of his own moniker entirely. ‘I hope I have not imposed upon you.’

‘Not at all, Mister Nikiforov,’ Yuuri replied politely, looking down at his hands. Folding them, unfolding them. Such dreadful fidgeting, when there was nothing to be nervous about. After all, he and Victor were alone quite often. But something about the small, cramped space made Yuuri feel more attuned somehow. ‘I am always pleased of your company, as you know.’

‘As I know,’ Victor repeated, teasing evident and Yuuri looked at him truly then, perhaps to scold but instead, Yuuri smiled. Victor smiled back, the faint blush of cold still prominent over his planed cheekbones. Victor settled more comfortably, suddenly looking bashful. ‘I was wondering, if you don’t mind my asking of course, whether or not you got my missive yesterday.’

‘The chamomile?’ Yuuri said to clarify, watching Victor’s eyes catch light from the square window. ‘Yes, I did. Your talent it seems extends beyond the ice, as you guessed my perfume exactly. Or perhaps you just have better experience in purchasing your students flowers.’

‘I assure you, Your Grace is the only one to have seen my choice of bouquet,’ Victor said lightly, hands adjusting the line of his topcoat. Out of the snow, his fair hair was beginning to dry. It curled like the end of a steel calligraphy pen and Yuuri was overcome with the mad urge to touch it. ‘You say your perfume?’

Yuuri nodded, slipping off one of his gloves to hold his bare wrist aloft. ‘Yes. Vanilla and chamomile, from a perfumery in Paris. Though of course, the flowers themselves are far more becoming.’

Victor reached out, his eyes fixed on Yuuri’s bare fingers and Yuuri’s words died on his lips, as Victor took Yuuri’s wrist in his long fingers. The leather of Victor’s glove was cool, pimpling Yuuri’s skin so that he quaked, all the way down to his lungs, it felt. Like time had stopped, as Victor guided Yuuri’s hand towards his own face, black leather stark against the paling of Yuuri’s skin from the winter sun.

Victor’s eyes slipped closed, breathing in along the line of Yuuri’s wrist. Yuuri watched, transfixed and heart constricted with that trembling, frightful emotion Victor always seemed to inspire there. Victor was so close, his breath ghosted along Yuuri’s skin. When Victor smiled then, eyes looking up from the hood of his fringed hair, his teeth looked sharp. Dangerous.

‘I must disagree,’ Victor said softly, almost too quietly against the rattle of the coach around them. ‘You wear the scent better than any flower could hope to compete with.’

When Yuuri could still think of nothing to say to that, Victor released him slowly. Like his touch was longing to linger, gloved fingers trailing until the very end. Yuuri’s hand was left suspended, himself lost to watching the movement of Victor’s body as Victor rearranged himself at a respectful distance again. Yuuri quickly replaced his glove, giving a quiet thank you that was probably too late to be truly mannerly.

‘I had no idea you had such prudent means of entourage,’ Victor said, looking around the cabin of the coach. Yuuri tried not to sigh, relieved for the change in subject. Yuuri regarded the dark, velvet space. The tremouring tassels of the deep blue curtains.

‘I’m followed everywhere,’ Yuuri said, refusing to keep the disappointment from his voice. ‘For my protection, of course.’

‘Naturally,’ Victor conceded, though he sounded sympathetic. Yuuri watched him as the coach bumped along the cobbles, watched Victor’s hair bounce and his bright eyes shine. Victor really was so very handsome. ‘It must be comforting, at least. I know I am consoled by the knowledge that you are never far from safety.’

‘His Highness regards his possessions with as much esteem as to be expected,’ Yuuri replied coolly, feeling a sudden wave of deep unhappiness. He looked away from Victor, suddenly not able to bear it. ‘You need not misplace your worry, I am not your responsibility.’

For what felt like a long few moments, neither of them said anything and Yuuri was anxious he had offended. He did not mean to rebuff Victor’s kindness, but Yuuri also knew that there was only so much indulgence that could be granted. Even between friends. But soon, Yuuri could no longer bear the silence, catching Victor’s eye again.

‘I hope these lessons don’t take from any rehearsal you may be doing for your show,’ Yuuri said, looking to engage Victor again but also selfishly trying to enquire about Victor’s ice show. Victor had not mentioned a title or even a theme to Yuuri of any oncoming performance, having Yuuri worry that Victor may perceive him disinterested. Which Yuuri most certainly was not.

‘I promise you, Yuuri, as distractions go, I’d rather nothing above you,’ Victor said, that boldness back again and causing Yuuri to blush instantly. ‘But in regards to the show, I am still choreographing. I am even still in discussion with the composer regarding the music.’

‘Still?’ Yuuri asked, puzzled. ‘But it is so late into the season now.’

‘I’m hoping to host after Christmas,’ Victor explained jovially, pushing the hair from his face in a way that was most unmannerly and entirely held Yuuri’s heart by the throat, it was so endearing. ‘My inspiration came later than expected, but I’m rather happy with how things are progressing.’

‘What is the theme?’ Yuuri asked as the coach turned, wheels squeaking on the slick stones outside. It was so easy again, the air between them. Yuuri had only ever found such similar compliment in his sister and Phichit, but even then, the comparison did no true justice to the racing enjoyment Victor inspired with his very presence.

‘Love,’ Victor answered softly, eyes fixed to Yuuri’s face. ‘In fact, I’ve taken some inspiration from the Wagner operatic that is currently showing here. You’ve likely already seen it.’

‘I doubt anything could compare to something of your own design,’ Yuuri said kindly and Victor grinned, top lip bowing in a dip.

‘I wager you’ve seen far grander theatre than my humble shows,’ Victor said, his laughter easily given as it always was and sending Yuuri’s heart adrift. Yuuri blinked, caught by Victor’s handsomeness once again before he looked away with whatever dignity he had left.

‘You do disservice to your talent and imagine my experience too kindly, for I have actually seen remarkably little.’

Victor’s light laughter faltered. ‘But you were a student of ballet, yes?’

Yuuri flushed, casting his gaze out the small window of the door. Watching the blizzard snow and the dark shapes of people. ‘Dance is one of the many classes I had to undertake as a consort. But I was never encouraged to go and witness the performances, not until I was out in society. And even at that freedom, you see I find myself in the constant company of men less inclined to sit in a theatre with me.’

Yuuri gestured with one hand to the tight confines of their coach, not needing to mention his police guard further; Victor’s small hum of acknowledgement Yuuri knew well enough signaled Victor's understanding.

‘So, am I to take it that you have never seen an opera of any kind?’ Victor asked curiously as Yuuri watched the Vienna streets blur with snow and traffic, coach shaking with their increased speed.

‘I’ve never seen opera as it is designed,’ Yuuri confessed, too comfortable with Victor again to hide his disappointment.

Yuuri could feel Victor’s gaze on him. A strange sensation that Yuuri had developed since agreeing to be Victor’s student. Perhaps it was the magnetism of Victor’s person, that keep Yuuri so attuned. Though at times, Yuuri liked to indulge in more fanciful reasonings. Victor shuffled in the corner of Yuuri’s eye. He was never one to sit still when he had something to say, Yuuri had also learned.

‘Surely your fiancé must bring you,’ Victor said carefully, his tone dark with the ill favour Yuuri knew Victor to carry for Friedrich and the Imperial Court.

‘Betrothed,’ Yuuri corrected sharply, turning from the clouded window of the coach door to face Victor again. ‘We are not fiancés, despite His Highness’ ease with the term. There has been no formal announcement yet.’

‘No. Of course not,’ Victor adhered distractedly, this time he being the one to look away. Yuuri found himself feeling ungrounded without Victor’s kind features to focus on. ‘But even so, as his consort, His Highness is bound to try and please you.’

‘His Highness does not care for the arts. And that which His Highness does not care for he does not worry himself with,’ Yuuri said darkly, unable to temper his bitterness in time. Victor looked back to him then, blue eyes bright on Yuuri’s face. Yuuri watched back, transfixed with how the frost light turned in the colour.

‘Then you have never seen one?’ Victor asked, still sounding curious more than anything else. If he had noticed Yuuri’s ill temper, then he did not seem intent on mentioning it and Yuuri felt such a strong flood of affection for Victor it turned his cheeks. Embarrassed, Yuuri quickly looked down to his hands.

‘Not truly, no. I have read one or two from the fragmented sheets I could collect, practiced some of the music,’ Yuuri explained, feeling self-conscious of his lack of practical experience with the arts he so admired. There was an ache Yuuri had felt, even as a child, in being a dancer who was denied the chance to see the stage. ‘But translations are difficult to find and I have never been given the opportunity to see one as it is intended.’

‘Then I must bring you!’ Victor said brightly and Yuuri snapped his head up at that. Victor leaned forward, closing the already narrow distance between them. They were so close already, knees practically brushing and now Victor hands were mere inches from Yuuri’s, the space between them minute and yet chasmic at the same time. ‘I would not have you be denied any longer. Where both the Russian and Japanese courts have failed, allow me the chance to rectify!’

‘Mister Nikiforov, I-’

Just what, Yuuri never got the chance to say, as the coach suddenly lurched through the air, then collapsed to a firm stop. The horses whinnied in protest, wheels a whine as the driver and policeman swore from the front. Yuuri yelped in shock, the force of the stop disrupting him from his seat. All too quickly, Yuuri found himself in the now familiar embrace of Victor’s arms, Victor’s voice a soft cry of Yuuri’s name.

While the movement itself seemed so quick, Yuuri now felt like time was slowing down around them as he was practically sitting across Victor’s lap in the most indecent manner, his hands a brace on Victor’s chest. Victor had his hand clasped tight around one of Yuuri’s, the other a warm belt as Victor’s arm was wrapped around Yuuri’s waist. Yuuri’s breath was shaking, blinking in shock with the sudden closeness as Victor stared up at Yuuri with wide eyes.

They were so close, Yuuri could feel Victor’s breath on his own lips. Yuuri felt like something was erupting inside him, like a fiendish fire or catastrophic storm. Something too dangerous, destructive and beautiful to contain, as Yuuri could almost feel Victor’s nose against his cheek and it felt like dying. Victor’s hands tightened, his fingers bunching in the wool of Yuuri’s coat.

‘Yuuri,’ Victor whispered, the only thing that mattered despite the cries of German and swearing outside their tiny, velvet world. Yuuri looked over Victor’s face, looking at where dark shadows lined it. Looking at the blush colour of Victor’s lips, where they were parted. ‘Are you alright, lyubimiy?’

Yuuri, who was instructed never to be taught Russian, did not know the word but he recognised the timbre of the language. The ease with which it fell from Victor’s lips, the warmth of it so palpable Yuuri felt he could touch it.

‘Mister Nikiforov,’ Yuuri replied, afraid to say anything else. Then, the fragile moment between them broke. Like glass. Yuuri pushed against his own hands, levering himself off Victor’s body. ‘I am so sorry, that was so- I apologise!’

‘Yuuri, Yuuri,’ Victor cooed softly, not unlike how he did during lessons when Yuuri would grow anxiously frustrated. Yuuri sat back in his own seat again, but Victor followed, leaning across the narrow space. He reached out, hand slipping beneath Yuuri’s hood to cup Yuuri’s cheek. ‘Please tell me you are not hurt.’

‘No,’ Yuuri answered, hyper aware of the leather touch on his face. ‘No, I’m quite well. I just lost my balance.’

Victor didn’t reply, thumb sweeping ever so slightly across Yuuri’s cheekbone. Yuuri stared at Victor, heart a thunder in his chest laying wreck to any sense that remained there. Yuuri wanted to lean forward, lose himself to Victor’s touch. But instead, they were interrupted by the coach door abruptly opening. Victor drew his hand back quickly, Yuuri jumping like he had been burned.

The policeman looked only to Yuuri, and showed no sign that he had any idea of the compromising position Yuuri was in just moments before. He explained that someone had run out of the road, causing a vendor to upend and it was that which caused the crash. He assured Yuuri that there was no danger, but Yuuri barely heard it over the thrum of blood in his ears.

‘Do you still wish to continue to Mister Nikiforov’s rink, Your Grace?’ the policeman asked, not looking once at Victor. Like Victor were not even there, which of course was impossible, as Yuuri had never felt more aware of another person in his life.

Yuuri looked to Victor, who’s fine features were thrown into sharp relief from the light of the open coach door. From it, Yuuri could see that pink blush again.

‘Yes,’ Yuuri said, never looking from Victor’s face. ‘Absolutely.’

Chapter Text

In all truth, Victor was not quite sure what he had been expecting for the evening. But as he stood in the foyer of the Wiener Staatsoper, Victor found himself watching the commotion of the local police clearing out of the auditorium with a degree of fascination and quiet resignation. The foyer was humming with gossiping German, the odd snippet of hushed French as patrons regarded the patrol with sharp eyes and avid interest.

‘News travels fast,’ a familiar voice whispered in Victor’s ear, French practically lewd it was said so close and Victor brushed Christophe off his shoulder like he would dust

‘That’s quite enough of that. You’ll rumple my coat after I went through such effort to have it pressed.’

‘Ah, of course. A rumpled demeanour would certainly not suit,’ Christophe purred, stepping around Victor with ease and throwing an appreciative glance to the small gaggle of society ladies by the end of the stairs. ‘After all, you are escorting the most esteemed of company tonight.’

The consort of Russia’s Tsarevich was attending the opera this evening, a seemingly private event that the whole of Vienna’s polite society had now ostensibly invited themselves to. When Victor had first heard the rumblings of his own arrangement among the streets, he'd been perplexed, but it wasn’t until seeing it in the Chronicle, in plain print,  that Victor had been become quite ill tempered about the whole thing.

Victor was used to his own business being just that, his own. But since even the month before, when Victor’s lessons with Yuuri had started in earnest, Victor had found himself under new scrutiny. The odd glance, perhaps even a brief remark should Victor be recognised in the street from one of his shows were all the experience Victor had of such things. But truly, the level of observation Victor now found himself to be at the centre of was another level entirely.

Yuuri had of course explained at their last lesson, most graciously and with embarrassment, that the Wiener Staatsoper had to be thoroughly reviewed before Yuuri’s arrival and surveyed during by no less than nine esteemed members of the Vienna police. Those had most certainly not been included in Victor’s invitation, but Yuuri had looked as apologetic for it as Victor felt vexed. Victor knew it was wrong of him, to feel so like he was being denied something in his evening with Yuuri simply by the presence of Yuuri’s required entourage. But still, the displeasure sat.

‘I am simply joining my friend for an evening of amusement,’ Victor said, trying to emulate the civility he had heard in Yuuri’s own tone many a time. One look at Christophe’s diverted expression told Victor that he had been unsuccessful. ‘Don’t look at me like that.’

‘I’m sure I don’t know what you mean,’ Christophe said with a shrug, adjusting the silver of his cufflinks. ‘I’m simply admiring your bearing in the chandelier light. And possibly considering your good fortune in having so wealthy a friend.’

‘I am not party to Yuuri’s wealth!’ Victor said quietly but with ire, slighted by even the suggestion. Christophe was still watching him with great interest, yellow light curved around the round lenses of his spectacles. So unlike Yuuri’s own modern pair.

‘My dear friend, I was not referring to His Lordship’s means,’ Christophe laughed, reaching to straighten the lapel of Victor’s tailcoat over his white waistcoat. It was a recent purchase, more than Victor would usually spend on such attire. But Victor had felt the need for improvement. Christophe smiled approvingly. ‘There are other forms of wealth, you know.’

Victor furrowed his brow at that, not entirely sure what Christophe was implying. Their conversation however was interrupted by the commotion of the police clearing the foyer entrance of the opera house. Victor looked over at once, breath suddenly thin in his chest as he watched Yuuri be led into the room. Yuuri was one step ahead of the same boorish policeman who had accompanied them recently on the coach ride, his silhouette regal in a more fine version of the long coat Victor had often seen him wear before.

This coat was of plush velvet, still of the feminine fashion and draped long behind Yuuri in a trail of expense. The dark ripple of its hood was pooled around Yuuri’s neck, revealing his pale complexion in stark contrast and when he crossed the room, people parted like fabric slit with scissors. Not since Victor had first seen Yuuri again in adulthood, had Yuuri ever looked so… of his class. Victor found himself fixed, a mathematical point of root that could not be moved by anything as Victor’s heart felt as if it had grown to stone with the weight of emotion that burst there.

‘Good evening, Mister Nikiforov,’ Yuuri said, eyes bright behind his spectacles. Yuuri’s hair was combed back, just like that first evening but the snow had evidently dislodged some of it. The most endearing blush was striped along his nose and cheeks. Victor couldn’t look away.

‘G-good evening,’ Victor stammered, watching mutely as Yuuri undid his coat. Victor gasped softly as Yuuri was revealed to him, his apparel striking.

Yuuri was wearing one of the more modern styles, something Victor had encountered in Great Britain on his tour there. The tuxedo cut, of the most lustrous midnight indigo cotton. So dark, it almost appeared black but for when it caught the light in the folds. The sides were panelled in something finer- perhaps gossamer, or chiffon, Victor could not tell and embellished in many glittering beads. As Yuuri turned to hand his coat over to the policemen, Victor could see the embellishment came together along Yuuri’s back in striking floral. Violet, emerald and ruby.

Yuuri shimmered, from the glass of his spectacles to the crystal of his shirt and Victor was too struck to breathe a word further. There was no other word for it- Yuuri was sublime and his beauty was inspiring something covetous in Victor’s heart.

‘Your Grace,’ Christophe said first, bowing low and with an artful arm across his waist as Yuuri returned to them. Yuuri inclined his head, but his eyes never Victor’s face. Victor felt his cheeks flush, the heat pouring down his neck like wine. Victor hurried to do the same, bowing lower than he had in memory. ‘I would like to say how honoured I am to see you again and if you oblige me, I would like to say that you look simply splendid.’

‘Thank you,’ Yuuri said to Christophe and when Victor had righted himself, Yuuri was watching Victor with a look of mild puzzlement. Yuuri turned to Christophe with another demure nod. ‘Mister Giacometti, unless I am mistaken?’

‘Your Grace is quite right,’ Christophe said, before gesturing towards the bar at the far end and inquiring whether he could purchase Yuuri a drink. Yuuri declined, then turned to the policeman behind him and asked him to precure a round for the three of them instead.

‘I will not have your spend anything where you should not need to,’ Yuuri said graciously and Victor clenched his fists, suddenly coming back to himself with embarrassment as he realised he had yet to greet Yuuri correctly. He opened his mouth, but Victor found himself still stunned. Christophe was beginning to mirror Yuuri’s look of bafflement at this point and offered to accompany the policeman.

‘Such silence is unusual for you. One would think you were not pleased to see me, Mister Nikiforov,’ Yuuri said once they were alone and though his tone was teasing, there was a small frown beginning to form. Victor had come to know Yuuri’s face so well. Victor reached out, before stopping himself. His hand hung between them and Yuuri watched him curiously.

‘Quite the opposite, I assure you,’ Victor said, at last some sense returning to him. He quickly adjusted his arm, so he was offering it out to Yuuri. Yuuri’s gaze flicked down to it before back to Victor’s face. Yuuri reached out, taking Victor’s arm. ‘You look… Yuuri, I wish I had the words to tell you how resplendent you are.’

Yuuri blushed instantly and too greatly for any blame to be put on the snow. Victor started walking, escorting Yuuri slowly towards one of the tables where they could wait for their drinks. ‘You told me that once before, do you remember?’

‘No, I’m afraid I must disappoint you,’ Victor said after a moment’s thought and not coming to any memory.

‘When you met me again, at the hotel,’ Yuuri said quietly, like they were telling secrets. Victor turned his head, pulled Yuuri even closer as they stood together by the tall table. ‘You said then that you didn’t have the words.’

‘You defy any and all annotation,’ Victor said with a smile, breath sticking in his throat as Yuuri suddenly looked up at him over his spectacles. Yuuri’s eyes were warm and dark, so deep Victor felt he could toss coins in for wishes. ‘I constantly find myself thinking of ways to surprise you the way you continue to surprise me.’

Yuuri watched Victor’s face, licking his lips briefly and Victor’s gut spiked hot at the sight of it. Convulsively, Victor pulled Yuuri closer again. Too close, for politeness. Yuuri was still cool from the snow outside, Victor could feel. ‘I must confess, Mister Nikiforov, that my disposition is as equally affected by you. If not more so, with each day.’

‘You trust me with your confessions, Yuuri?’ Victor asked, feeling as though the air were now too heavy where it was too thin before. Like Victor could not breathe fast enough, the heady swelling of emotion between them thick in Victor’s throat. Yuuri’s eyes slipped half-closed, his chin tilted up. Victor watched the dark shadow of Yuuri’s lashes.

‘I would trust you with all but one,’ Yuuri said indolently, before he was moving away, leaving Victor bereft. Yuuri did not move far, but he no longer needed Victor’s guidance and put a respectful distance between them again.

Christophe and the policeman returned with the drinks, though Yuuri did not permit the policeman to join them. With the burn of sweet champagne in his mouth, Victor tried to compose himself. But Victor’s eye kept getting drawn back to Yuuri, to the winking of his crystals or the the shine of his spectacles. The pink of Yuuri’s lips. Their eyes met often, Yuuri holding it like he would treasure it. It made Victor feel weak in his knees.

For the evening, though Victor had procured the tickets, Yuuri had used his influence to grant them a private viewing box. They parted with Christophe, who was sitting in the stands and ascended the stairs. Yuuri’s hand was a warm weight on Victor’s arms as Victor guided him up. The gaslights were old, flickering and made everything feel hazed on its edges. Yuuri held onto Victor tightly all the way up.

‘That will be all,’ Yuuri said to his entourage, dismissing them. But it wasn’t until one of the police, a woman this time, gentle brushed down Victor’s tailcoat and trousers. On finding nothing suspect, they left Yuuri and Victor alone. ‘I am truly sorry for the inane measures my guard have gone to. As if there was any threat in you, ridiculous.’

‘I’m glad of it, I must confess to you,’ Victor said, helping Yuuri into his seat though Victor knew Yuuri needed no such guidance. But Victor simply wanted the excuse to touch him once more, lingering as long as he’d dare on Yuuri’s hand. Yuuri watched where they were touching, eyes lost in the shadow of the low light. ‘I would not begrudge them their impudence in the name of keeping you safe.’

‘How diplomatic of you,’ Yuuri said balefully and Victor felt his eyebrows raise. Yuuri did not comment further, instead leaning forward over the balcony of their box to peruse the crowd below. Cautious, Victor crossed his legs and tried to remain proper.

‘Have I offended, Your Grace?’

Yuuri looked at Victor with such blankness that at first, Victor worried he had done more than transgressed. Then-

‘No, I just…’ Yuuri trailed off, unusual as Yuuri always seemed to have something proper to say. Victor waited, touching a hand Yuuri’s wrist. Yuuri stiffened, but did not move to remove Victor. ‘I appreciate your concern, but I would like you to know that I never feel more at ease than I do when I am with you and any conduct that interferes with our time together, even if well-intentioned, causes me frustration.’

To that, Victor found he did not have an answer at once. Victor was moved, more than he thought possible, to know Yuuri had felt as perturbed by their extra company as Victor had. He swallowed around his words, squeezing Yuuri’s wrist. Felt the bone beneath the skin and Victor’s stomach felt heavy with something warm and rich. Yuuri moved then, slipping his hand and wrist out of Victor’s reach. Around them, the lights began to dim.

‘I hope I have not put you in a bad position by being so forward,’ Yuuri said quietly, like he were a child Victor were about to scold. Victor leaned across his seat, barely noticing the tuning of the orchestra below as the opera was about to start. He reached out and brushed his knuckles across Yuuri’s cheek. Yuuri started, not seeing Victor get so close and Victor withdrew, but held Yuuri’s gaze.

‘We are alone now,’ Victor said, words almost drowned by the sudden rupture of music from below. ‘And though I wish we were alone always, I will never not be grateful for the time we do have.’

Yuuri was breathing like he had run, Victor could see his glittering chest rise and fall. Victor put his hand firmly on the armrest, felt the grain of the plush there.

‘You really do look exquisite,’ Victor said, before sitting back in his seat as the show began in earnest.

The tension between them seemed as tight as the violins below, but as the performance progressed, Victor could see he was losing Yuuri to the passion of the opera. Yuuri would lean forward, reaching out behind him to tug on Victor’s sleeve to point at particularly beautiful choreography or talent. Or to inquire on the plot, as Yuuri’s German was very minimal. Victor watched Yuuri the entire time, raptured by his enjoyment and ruminating on the thunder of his own heart. Like Yuuri could somehow hear it over the roar of the music.

All through the intermission, Yuuri spoke at length about the mastery of the choir and the prima donna with great excitement. Victor grinned through all of it, laughing with Christophe and losing track of which glass was his, or Yuuri’s as their conversation continued. Wondering, madly, if he could some way feel the warmth of Yuuri’s lips against it with every sip. It seemed to treacherous a thought to dwell on.

They returned with red cheeks and looser limbs, but in the secluded quiet of their box, Yuuri lost himself once again to the theatre of the show. And Victor lost himself to the beauty of Yuuri, torn between enjoyment and fear of the affection that was firmly taking root.

‘Is the king condemning her?’ Yuuri asked as Marke rose from the body of Tristan, the bellowing tenor flooding the theatre. Marke raised a hand out to where Isolde was standing, her shimmering bodice like yellow raindrops in sunlight. Victor smiled, amused.

‘No, no,’ Victor explained, leaning over closely in indulgence of the excuse to do so. His shoulder brushed Yuuri’s, warmth blooming there and Victor could smell the vanilla of Yuuri’s perfume, more heady than the chamomile. Victor stalled a moment, simply to savour the closeness. ‘The opposite. He’s granting her pardon.’

Yuuri said nothing to that, transfixed it seemed by the swell of the music and the way the primadonna swayed in dramatic lamentation. She took tentative steps across the stage, crossing until she stood over the limp body of Tristan. Victor turned back to Yuuri, watching the emotion that was so beautifully rendered across the features Victor had come to know so well. As Isolde began to sing, Yuuri leaned forward in his seat.

‘She’s crying,’ Yuuri said softly after a while, almost inaudible over the soaring aria of Isolde. Victor looked more closely down at her face, spotting the shine of her tear tracks in the yellow electric lights.

‘She’s grieving,’ Victor explained, Isolde’s German wailing echoing around them as she crumpled skilfully down to her knees, arms open over the body of Tristan like the Christian Madonna. ‘She was too late to save Tristan.’

‘Even when the king said he’d let them be together?’ Yuuri asked, tone hard like he was taking grievance with King Marke himself. Victor simply nodded, Yuuri frowning down at the stage. Yuuri had such a soft face that a frown looked ill-fitting across the features Victor admired.

‘That’s the tragedy,’ Victor said amiably, hoping to inspire some mirth in Yuuri. But Yuuri did not buckle from his single minded focus on Isolde, who was lost to her grief. Her keening filled the theatre, Yuuri's hands white on the balcony where he held them. 

‘Then it was all for nothing,’ Yuuri said, eyes shining with what Victor suspected to be tears behind his spectacles. Yuuri’s hands shook on the balcony edge, Victor could see and it was the only other sign of his trembling composure. Victor resisted the impulse to reach out- baring his heart against the ache Yuuri always inspired that had somehow grown more ardent in this one night.

‘Love is never for nothing,’ Victor replied sincerely, Yuuri turning to look away from the prima donna. His dark eyes searched Victor’s face, lips parted in a manner that suggested he was holding his words back. But then Yuuri simply looked away, straightening in his seat to replace his distance once again.

Victor had never wanted someone to speak so badly before.