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Scarlett

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1926

It was a debate, that night before she was born.

Was that a contraction or just a cramp?

We need to go to the hospital now

I think I still have a while, let's wait.

Viktor, I told you I'm fine.

Let's just wait until morning and see what happens.

Yuuri contradicted himself so often that he wasn't quite sure what he was saying anymore by the time dawn rolled around after that sleepless night. But not long after Lilia came in asking what they'd like for breakfast, Yuuri ultimately decided it really was time to go to the hospital. However, he barely made it down the front steps before going weak in the knees, and Yura ended up coming along to drive as it was feared the baby would be born in the car.

It'd been an easy pregnancy, save for the first trimester, and this time everything had been prepared beforehand. Yuuri had supervised the painting of a previously unused and dusty bedroom that would become his son's, since the location of the current nursery was too convenient to move. He had plenty of maternity clothes and didn't have any trouble with mismatching blankets or sheets like last time. And to make things even better, Viktor was with him every step of the way. It was almost too perfect of an experience, capped off by a lovely vacation down to a private beach house in the south over the winter. 

He'd been sent various presents from friends and Viktor's relatives, and was beginning to feel like a celebrity in the neighborhood with all the visits he received from their neighbors. Several offered to babysit his three year old son while he stayed in the hospital, but he hadn't quite accepted or declined. 

That morning, he realized, he forgot to say goodbye to Nikolas, but he knew someone would explain what was going on, and surely the boy would understand. It wasn't as if they'd been talking to him for months about how he was going to be a big brother soon or anything. 

Anyway, when they arrived at the hospital, the group was dismayed to find the line for the emergency room coming out the entrance. Viktor suggested that Yura go inside and explain the situation, which they all agreed to. Not a full minute after he disappeared behind the door though, Yuuri cried out and it was soon discovered that there wasn't enough time to shove the other waiting people out of the way to get him inside; this baby was coming at that very moment. Viktor wouldn't wish this on his worst enemy. There didn't seem to be enough time to go back to the car, either. 

Fortunately he'd been witness to his son's birth and kinda-sorta-not really knew the basics of delivery. He slipped off his jacket and set it on the sidewalk, glancing around to make sure no one was looking. Save for the occasional car passing, nobody was paying attention. "Yuuri, give me your jacket."

There was no point in protesting. Yuuri obeyed and carefully set himself down on the sidewalk. His heart was pounding; he'd been preparing for this day for months, he knew what was coming, and yet... now that he was out here with an inexperienced man and about to bring a child into the world, nothing could silence his worries. 

"There's gonna be a ten minute wait, at least, but they said they'll send somebody out with a chair as soon as they..." Yura trailed off, face pale upon seeing what was unfolding in front of him. "Jesus Christ..."

"There's no time to go back in there, this baby's coming now." Viktor looked ready to faint himself, so he wasn't alone in the uneasiness. "You have to help me. I need you to cover him."

"Cover him, why?" Yura asked, already removing his coat. "It's not like nobody here's seen a baby come- oh, God..." 

It didn't take long for the delivery, and Yuuri bit his shirt to keep himself quiet, though it didn't do much. "It hurts! Oh God, it hurts..." Glancing to his left, he could see people down the street gawking at the scene, but no one came to help. They probably thought that Yuuri was homeless. 

"I know it hurts, and you're doing so well... you can do this."

Not even Jesus Christ was born out in the open. Mary and Joseph were able to find a stable in the crowded city of Bethlehem, so why couldn't Viktor have found some place for him to do this, other than right out in the open? But looking around, he couldn't see any place for them to go. To Yuuri, this was a sure sign that this child would be a curse.

The moment he knew she was officially born, he must've blacked out for a spell, because all he could see was the inside of his eyelids. 

A staff member had just exited the building with a wheelchair when Viktor lifted the child and hurriedly wrapped Yuuri's jacket around it. They, too, were surprised. "'Ey, Mick? Mick!" He called through the doors. "We're gonna need a stretcher!"

"Yuuri, Yuuri you did it... she's here... I can't believe it!" And while Viktor didn't seem to mind the scene as much now that there was a baby in his arms, and donned a bright smile, Yuuri had an uncharacteristic frown, and, when offered to hold the baby, Viktor was given a stern no. 

Even later that day, when Yuuri was given a changing of clothes and the baby was cleaned up, he showed no admiration of his newest child. This was the start of all his problems. 

He just couldn't get the image of those gawking people from their cars, the other side of the street, and the waiting room out of his head. It burned into his memory. 

And to make matters worse, there was most definitely an article in the paper about it the following day. 


 “Life isn’t always easy, you know this,” Viktor told Yuuri when they were down south after the birth of their second, smack in the middle of Yuuri's breakdown. “But regardless, people still need you whether you like it or not.” Viktor had seen how badly Yuuri had acted towards the baby, (and it only worsened with each day in the hospital) so he took him to a little country house to recuperate and try to talk some sense into him. He couldn't just pretend the baby didn't exist to make himself to feel better.

“Everyone saw me like that.” Yuuri squeezed his legs together, staring out at the sunset. They were sitting on a swing on the back porch, and Yuuri was growing tired. He wished Viktor hadn’t brought the whole thing up. “Half naked. They gawked at me, thinking of what a freak I am for having both genitals and- and thinking I belong in some sort of museum, right?”

“Darling, it’s New York City. People see a lot of—“

“Normal average acceptable women don’t have babies on sidewalks, Viktor! And it’s not like there’s people like me around, at least in our social class anyway. Everyone will know it was me and I can never show my face ever again! Why, I'm certain an unflattering shot of me featured the front page of the New York Times!"

Viktor knew Yuuri was partially right, save for that last part. “Then I suppose we should move away from New York, so you don’t have to face that horrid shame of natural childbirth that literally everyone knows about.”

Yuuri crossed his arms. “You just don’t understand. People always wonder what we— me in particular— what I look like… down there. It’s embarrassing, okay? How would you feel if I just stripped you naked in Times Square and let everyone know you could have babies!?”

“Are you ashamed of it?”

“No, but—“

“Would you rather be fixed?”

“You’re not listening to me!” He cried, “Why am I not allowed to feel anything when I was publicly humiliated, Viktor?”

“Because by you focusing on this minor event, you’ve neglected the baby and our son too. This can’t go on forever. It wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t yours, either. So stop punishing yourself, and her too.” He took his hands, “She needs you, Yuuri.”

Yuuri couldn't help but start to tear up. “She needs a caretaker, she doesn’t need me specifically.” 

***

After a few more bloody and frustrating days, Yuuri got tired of the country house and the pair went. home. Even though he didn't want to face the responsibility waiting for him, and responsibility took form in a chubby, rosy cheeked baby girl. "You know, we haven't given her a proper name. We decided on Katerina, but..." Viktor had said one night in the nursery not long before her christening. 

"No, Katerina's fine. But... a long time ago we also talked about Scarlett. So that's what we'll call her." 

And even though Yuuri loved the name, he couldn't bring himself to love her. It made him feel terrible about himself... 

When neighbors would come over and talk about how lucky he was to have such a beautiful daughter, he'd smile and agree, but in private, he couldn't find himself able to feel the same way. He knew something had to be wrong with him; why wouldn't he love this child? Why couldn't he? 

He'd lie in bed late at night and cry until he had nothing left, praying to every god he knew to let this bitter feeling pass. 

Viktor knew, but never could say anything that helped.


 

1927

“How much do I have to offer you to take that child off your hands?” Aunt Valeriya Nikiforov pled with Yuuri one afternoon in April, on her newest niece’s first birthday. The child was beautiful, with the features of dear Katerina, Valeriya’s departed sister, and how Scarlett reminds her of her. She found herself visiting her nephew and his family far more often than she ever did before, which she didn't mind, but being around so frequently caused her to be fascinated with Scarlett. 

The yard was decorated appropriately for a little girl, and the three were seated under a tree by the garden. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and streaks of sunlight slid through the trees, directly onto the child. She was drowsy, head against Yuuri’s shoulder and humming softly to herself.

“Pardon me?” Yuuri chuckled, shaking his head. He and Viktor coordinated for the day; Viktor wearing a light pink dress shirt, and Yuuri’s sheer frock being of the same shade.

“I’m serious, Yuuri! Is she still nursing? The moment she stops, I’ll take her off your hands. She’ll have a prime education, only the finest tutors, and she’ll go to Harvard when she grows up. You couldn’t ask for a better opportunity.” Valeriya took a sip from her glass. “Consider it. Viktor will agree with me, surely.”

“Ah…” No way in hell, would he agree with such a… “May I ask why Scarlett has given you so much interest? Nikolas is older, after all, he’s four now, so why wouldn’t you think about him?”

Valeriya’s mouth formed a straight line. “I mean no offense, but that boy… he belongs here.”

“And why is that?”

“Well, this is going to be his house someday, he’ll inherit his father’s business, his future is already set for him. Scarlett will live in his shadow unless something’s done about it, and nothing is being done for it here.”

“I appreciate your offer, I really do.” Yuuri forced a smile, “And perhaps someday, if she wants to, I’ll let her live with you, but you must remember that she’s just a baby. I couldn’t stand to part with her.”

She sighed, like she was annoyed with Yuuri for wanting to keep his child or something. “Alright, well… you know my phone number. Call me when you’re ready to reconsider.”

“Leaving already?”

“I’ve got places to be.”

Yuuri watched her leave, but only after having a brief conversation with his husband that involved a lot of head shaking and “not yet”’s.

He smiled to himself, relieved he wasn’t alone in his opinion.

He could only hope that someday when Scarlett was old enough to make decisions for herself, she’d want to stay with them and not move in with her aunt…

Things were better than they'd been the year before. He was certain he was quite fond of her, but when it came to love, he never knew. It upset him to think about, so he tried to avoid the topic the best he could.


1928

"Oh, lord, I'm too old for this." In the hot of summer, Lilia fanned the screaming two-year-old, as she was quite ill at the moment and couldn't hold still. Her face was red, hair damp, and voice going hoarse from all her screaming. And even though Lilia knew she was a hired maid, sometimes she felt more like the girl's mother. This wasn't part of her job; to care for this little girl when she was sick.

Even if she wanted to complain, there was no use. Yuuri was out in town at the moment with his son, and Viktor was downstairs on the phone with someone.

"You poor child." She murmured, setting down the fan. "What do you want, girl?"

There was no use asking, this child only answered to herself when she was upset. "Alright, you know what? Let's go downstairs. It's probably cooler down there." She lifted Scarlett, groaning about how bad this was on her back, and carried her downstairs.

Scarlett's cries became little more than whines once they got to the hall downstairs, and Lilia, already tired of carrying her, knocked sharply on Viktor's office door.

"Yeah?"

"Sir, may I come in?"

"Mmhm."

She pushed the door open, setting Scarlett down on the ground. "Sir, I have to speak with you about something."

Twenty minutes later, Lilia gathered the last of her belongings and calmly walked down the driveway, though she knew if she was to run into Yuuri, she'd...

"Lilia, where are you going?" Yuuri called from further down the road, a paper bag under his arm. When Lilia didn't answer, Yuuri quickened his pace. "Hey!"

"No, this is goodbye." Lilia said without a trace of emotion. "I'm retiring."

Yuuri gasped. "Retiring? What- why...?"

She met his gaze. "Because I am very old. Because I agreed to housekeep, not raise your daughter."

"But I-"

"You know, Yuuri, you were right about one thing. She doesn't need you. She needs a mother, and that's something she'll never get here, so God help that poor child."


 

1929

Yuuri never felt the same bond with Scarlett as he had with his son. Perhaps it was that he missed the first two weeks of her life, perhaps it was because they were too similar, or maybe it was due to the fact that Scarlett could occasionally be an absolute pill to live with. Of course every child has their terrible two's, but Yuuri had never experienced as much trouble with his son as he did with her.

(though that could have been because he was a bit harder on her than he was on him)

For instance, when she was almost three, she spilled ink all over her white Easter dress, five minutes before they were to leave for a church service. Yuuri’s face turned the color of blood itself.

Viktor did nothing, as usual when it came to that little girl. He spoiled her too much; Yuuri always thought so. He was wearing a white dress shirt and slacks, hand literally on the doorknob when she came down the hall covered in the ink. “We can’t miss this. I’ve got relatives from Maine coming, and-”

“What am I supposed to do, Viktor?” Yuuri cried. “Just… oh, just go ahead with Nikolas, we’ll stay here.” 

“Why not just make her wear that?”

“So the neighbors can see her? I don’t think so!” Yuuri held a hand to his forehead as if he was certain flames were about to burst out of him. “I can’t handle this, not today. Not today!”

“Yuuri, it’s just a quick change and we can put gloves on her to hide the stains.”

Yuuri was already climbing the stairs. “I’m going back to bed. I can’t do this.”

What is your problem?”

“You, you’re the problem! I’ve just gotten over the nausea and now the stress has been bombarding me and I feel so fat in this goddamn outfit and I don’t want people to stare and now they have reason to stare-”

“What?”

Yuuri sat on the stairs, arms folded across his chest. “If it’s so easy to change her outfit, then you do it.”

Viktor shrugged. “Alright. Come on, Letta, let’s go get you changed.” Viktor took her hand and led her up the steps, her little feet taking two steps for every one her father made.

Yuuri fanned himself, taking a few deep, steady breaths. No one ever said parenting would be easy. He knew what he was signing up for when he met Viktor with enthusiasm when it was suggested they have another baby. Yet God must’ve not been on board for this child, because it seemed as if her birth brought nothing but trouble.

No, he knew he shouldn’t think that. It wasn’t Scarlett's fault that life had been so difficult. And she was only two, how was she supposed to understand that ink stained clothes?

Why did he show so much favoritism towards his son? Was Valeriya right, was Scarlett destined to hide in her brother’s shadow for her life?

Yuuri sighed, wiping the sweat from his brow. He really ought to be kinder.

 


 The days were dark, the sun was high in the sky, sure, but it was dark.

It was always dark.

When Scarlett would peek through the door of her parents’ room as it opened or shut, it was always too dark to see just what was in there that kept Yuuri inside, night and day.

Viktor would come out from time to time, always patting her head and telling her to run along. He left the house late at night for the past week, returning at dawn with swollen, red eyes.

She wondered if he went to go see baby Rosy at the hospital. That’s surely where she was, anyway, since nobody had seen her.

She remembered going to a funeral, but she didn’t understand who it was for, nor did she care. She enjoyed the food they ate afterwards, and spending time with her beloved aunt.

So, naturally, Scarlett was overjoyed when her aunt came through the front door of the house uninvited two days after the funeral, but when Valeriya ignored her and marched straight into her parents’ room.

Yuuri was sprawled across his bed, a thin blanket wrapped over his shoulders. He didn’t look up when the woman came in, but covered his eyes when the curtains were pulled open. “It’s time for you to pull yourself together for a moment, Yuuri.”

Yuuri simply sniffed, rubbing at his damp eyes.

“You’re wearing nothing more than your underwear and you haven’t left this room in days. You’re unsightly, and your children see you like this. Are you ready to take me up on my offer?”

At this, Yuuri came to attention. “What?”

“I came to take Scarlett to my home. I’ve already arranged for a room to be prepared.”

All he could do was blink at her.

“She will be well-cared for, I can assure you. And I’ll bring her to visit in the summer, and…”

She was cut off by a bitter sob, but it didn’t seem to faze her in the slightest. “I know it’s hard, Yuuri… but you must think about what’s best for your daughter.”

“What about him? Why wouldn’t you take him, too, if you were really concerned!” Yuuri cried, pulling himself out of bed. He walked to his dresser and yanked the top drawer open, as if trying to prove to her that he could pull himself together for the children. “Your intentions can’t be pure if you only care for the wellbeing of one!”

“Maybe I like her better, but who cares about all that? That boy has Yura, Elizaveta, and the rest of the family. Why can’t I take special care of my Scarlett?”

“Your Scarlett?” Yuuri said bitterly. “She’s my child.”

“Is she? I never would’ve noticed with how little attention you pay her! My, even before Rosaly died you wouldn’t have bat an eye in her direction! You never cared for her, God knows why, and it sickens me.”

Yuuri slipped a thin shirt over his head, ignoring her words.

“I’ve seen this happen all too much. I won’t let her grow up miserable because you can’t find it in your nonexistent heart to love that girl!”

He flinched, bitterness overtaking his gaze. "Is that what you think? Well, you're wrong. You don't know anything about how I feel."

"Even women who hate their children still acknowledge them from time to time. What did that poor girl ever do to you?"

"What makes you think you can ask me those types of questions? I don't hate her, and if you ask me, I think you're just looking for something wrong to prove yourself right. I have never treated Scarlett poorly, and I'd like you to start minding your own business, Valeriya. Don't even think about asking to take her again, because I won't let you; and you won't have a chance to take her as long as I'm alive!"


Yuuri stared blankly at his dinner that night; it was the first time he’d eaten in the dining room in weeks, and yet he hadn’t taken a bite. His thoughts were nothing more than of his lost baby, and if anyone tried to talk to him, he couldn't have noticed.

Viktor’s relatives were still dining with them, as they’d be leaving in the morning to return to their homes, and Valeriya still intended on taking Scarlett. Yuuri hadn’t the strength to so much as warn Viktor.

“-and so Abe Stanley comes over and complains that the lawn is half an inch too high for the neighborhood, and since he’s been out of work since October, I tell him, ‘Well, Abe, if it bothers you so much why don’t ya mow it yourself?” Viktor's voice snapped him out of his trance.

“Oh, you didn’t!”

“You’re too generous.”

"I wish you'd consulted me about that offer before throwing our money at him like that." Yuuri mumbled.

“He started crying on the spot; a big, blubbering mess,” Viktor continued, “I told him I’d pay him $5 each time he does the yard, and another $5 for the garden in the spring.”

“How often does that grass need to be mowed in January?”

“Not often. But snow needs to be shoveled and plowed, doesn’t it?”

“You’re a saint for helping him.”

“I’m just trying to help the less fortunate. That family has always been kind to mine.”

“Mrs. Stanley’s son terrorizes the children,” Yuuri said softly, though he’s certain they heard him both times. "And Mrs. Stanley can never mind her own business."

He was ignored. “But yes, I suppose my saintliness may be rewarded in the future, but who knows? I guess this was their reward for being such good people.”

“Viktor…” Yuuri tried to be heard again, clutching his glass tightly.

“You certainly deserve better than you’ve been given in your life, that’s certain.”

"Can't argue with that," Viktor chuckled.

His glass slammed down on the table. “ Vik-tor !”

Viktor’s head snapped up as if he forgot Yuuri existed until that moment. “Yes, dear?”

"How could you agree with such a thing?" Yuuri’s chair pushes back from the table and he slammed the dining room door behind him, fleeing elsewhere.

“I’ll never understand that man’s emotions.” One of his aunts sighed.

Viktor excused himself from the table soon after.

And from that point on, Yuuri’s mental health went on a steady decline. He seldom spoke to anyone and seemed to lose himself completely.



1930

Somewhere around four years old, Scarlett’s last encounter with Yuuri was just one day before he left for Atlanta, and was the farthest back she could recall later on in her life when mentioning her childhood.

She said that both her parents were seated in the back garden; a place she'd commonly find Yuuri, but never Viktor. Yuuri had two empty bottles on the table in front of him and was working on a third, and Scarlett alleged that he was smoking as well, but Yuuri would go on to deny this.

Her father was talking a bit loudly; he was upset about something. Scarlett said that her parents never fought around her back then, but even if they didn't, everyone could sense when there was something wrong. Yuuri wasn't very good at hiding it.

"I can't wait to be dead." Yuuri said to no one in particular, lighting another cigarette between his teeth. "Bury me over by that ugly oak tree so no one will come and visit."

 "Would you stop talking like that?" Viktor's voice was sharp, "She's going to hear you."

"So let her hear me." 

"Maybe if you stopped drinking up the last of my reserves you could think rationally for a moment." Viktor snatched the final bottle away from Yuuri. "I can't believe you let them see you like this."

"What, do you want me to lie?!" Yuuri shouted at him. (He probably wouldn't have done that if he'd been sober). He looked up at the house, where Scarlett was running back and forth, picking weeds up from the grass. "I hate this damn house. I wish it'd burn. It's so ugly." Sometime during his rant, she'd approached him, though he hardly noticed.

"I got something-" She started to say, but Yuuri lifted his hand to silence her and turned to Viktor. 

"It makes me miserable just looking at it. I don't know why you won't let us move someplace else."

"I suppose you don't mind uprooting everyone." Viktor folded his arms. "I have to go get ready for a party. I told them you're not coming."

"You're so fucking rude!"

"I said I got something for you.." the girl tried again, stomping her foot impatiently.

"What, do you want to go and embarrass yourself? That's all you ever do. If you go, it isn't my fault if you make a goddamn scene, got it?!" Viktor stormed off towards the house, and Yuuri simply folded his arms.

"I was talking to you and you didn't listen to me." Scarlett frowned, tugging on Yuuri's arm. "Hey. Are you ignoring me? Mommaaaa... Yuuuuriiiiii Katsuuuukiiiiiii..."

He was stoic. "What."

"Let me see your hand." She grinned. "It's special."

Yuuri outstretched his hand, and there she placed a small dandelion. "For you..."

"This is a weed." Yuuri stuffed the flower into his pocket. "Thanks."

"I know, but I'm pretending it's a rose for the baby!"

"You want to give this to the baby?" Yuuri took her hand. "Come with me, and you can give it to her."

Though she often played in the yard, she was never allowed to cross the road, so when Yuuri took her across and down the road a ways, she was quite surprised. She had to jog to keep up, but didn't mind very much, for she liked being with Yuuri. 

Finally, they stopped in a creepy, old graveyard and went to the very back corner. Yuuri stopped, pushed open a gate, and led her inside a fenced-in-square. He pointed to the most recent grave, which didn't even have a detailed gravestone like the rest. "There." He gave her back the dandelion.

"What's this for?" She ran her hand across the smooth stone, unable to read the words inscribed. R.M. Nikiforov- 1929

"You'll be down there someday."

"What?"

"When you're old. This is where you're going to get buried. I'll be buried here soon." He motioned towards an empty space behind the one they were standing at. "See? My name's already there."

"Mommy, stop it," She whined. "You're not dying!"

He laughed humorlessly, shaking his head. "Then why does it feel like I am?"

"Let's go home... I don't like it here." She took his hand. "Come on, you will feel better, too!"

Luckily, he gave in and took her home, defending his actions as "I have to get ready for a party, anyway".

***

In his bathroom, she watched him slip on and off jewelry, trying to match his outfit and mumbling to himself when something looked ridiculous. Though she knew nothing of health at her age, she'd later look back and think about how underweight Yuuri had become. He looked fragile enough to break. 

"Where are you going?" She'd asked, sitting on the bench in front of the mirror. "Is it a Mickey Mouse cartoon at the theatre, 'cause I wanna go!"

"I wish that's where I was going." Yuuri smiled faintly. "It's an adult party. We won't be gone too long."

"You never let me come."

"It's really boring." He said, finally deciding on simply his wedding ring and a golden watch. "Well, how do I look?"

She made a face, because she was brutally honest and didn't have the slightest filter. "You need more than just that. You used to dress up so pretty, like in the picture in your room! Why don't you do that?"

"I was a lot younger then, and I actually cared." Yuuri pat her head. "There's nothing else that can be done for a face like mine."

"Hey." Scarlett hugged his leg. "Stop being sad. I look like you, so you're very pretty. Duh."


 1931

The best part of having another new baby around, Scarlett decided, was that she got to spend more time with her father. Never before had he been so involved, and she enjoyed the extra attention. So much that she didn't even care that her beloved aunt had been staying with them.

"Scarlett, I want to take you to the Central Park Zoo today; it's oddly pleasant out for January." Valeriya had said, laying out an outfit at the foot of her bed. "Get up."

"But I'm s'posed to go see the baby today. Sorry, I'm booked!" Scarlett hugged her fluffy pillow, eyes sliding shut. "And I'm tired. So go away."

"You can go see that child another day. There's nothing for you to do in such a boring and germ-infested place other than catch polio." The older woman said firmly. "Come on, now, I know you love seeing the animals."

"Is Daddy coming?"

"Heavens, no, that man is still sound asleep. He doesn't like animals like that, he told me so. Now, come-"

"I won't go unless he goes!" She smiled to herself.

"Scarlett, I won't have any of that. I'm supposed to watch you so you don't get yourself in any more trouble like you did the other day with that ice, and you won't become the boss of me."

"Goodnight, Aunt Val.."

No amount of persuasion could win the girl over, which was quite frustrating for the poor old woman. In the end, she gave in and accompanied Scarlett to the hospital, intending on waiting patiently for the girl (she expected it to take a few minutes, at most), and then taking her from there.

The staff seemed to be acquainted with her niece, as everyone who saw the child greeted her kindly. Scarlett loved the attention of grown-ups, and so by the time she reached room 413, she was beaming. She didn't bother knocking, either, but that was simply because Viktor never did, and he couldn't tell her to do otherwise as he was still down the hall a ways, talking with one of Yuuri's physicians.

He'd only woken up two days previously, and progress had been slow. It was often wondered just how long he'd spend in the hospital... 

"I thought the baby would be in here," was the first thing Scarlett said upon entering the room. The curtains were open, though the window was shut despite the pleasant air outside. The entire windowsill was covered in flowers, and Valeriya secretly wondered if they were all from Viktor himself, though after further investigation, she could see various signed names on tags attached to the vases. It was a nice little room, she saw, but couldn't imagine staying in one place for so many hours with nothing to do.

"Baby's resting..." Yuuri said softly, giving her a tiny smile. "I didn't think you were coming."

"I was sleeping." She walked up to the bed and hugged Yuuri's arm. "We're goin' to the zoo later, do you want to come?"

Yuuri's skin was still pale from blood loss, but he looked well rested. His hair was getting long again, Valeriya noted, and he did look a little healthier than he had the previous year. "I'd love to, Scarlett, you know I would. There's just one problem."

"What?"

"I'm confined to this bed. I'm not allowed to leave."

"What? You mean you're a prisoner?!"

"Yes. I'm being held captive. At least for another week or two, anyway."

"Oh... oh no... this is not good! You have to come home!"

"I will." Yuuri said, eyes flicking up towards the door, where Viktor had just entered. Suddenly, there was color in his cheeks. "H-Hopefully... very soon."

 ***

When Valeriya Nikiforov is informed in the fall of 1931 that Scarlett started kindergarten at the same school of her older brother as opposed to a private school that she'd picked out and arranged, and furthermore had moved into a middle class neighborhood, she was fuming. 

Fuming.

But the person she called a dozen times the morning of her first day refused to answer.

Because that person was busy pulling his daughter’s long hair into two braids, as requested.

She wore a blue, plaid jumper, her shirt had frills and puffed sleeves and she demanded to be allowed to wear a hat for the day as well.

“Why can’t I take the school bus?” She asked, voice raised to be heard over the phone blaring loudly down the hall.

“Because it’s just down the lane, Scarlett, and I want to walk you. Now hold still, I’m nearly done.”

“Aunt Val wants me to go to a big school… a… what did she say it was?” She tilted her head. “She said a boring school.”

Boarding school.” Yuuri corrected, “is that what you want?”

“I think I want to try this school first.” The girl said, admiring her braids in the mirror. “Do you think I should go with her?”

“Do you want to go with her? It’d make me awfully sad, though.”

“Well… I don’t know. I like her house a lot, and she has ponies to ride.”

“So you’d leave me and your brothers for horses?”

“I’d rather have a sister.”

“I know.” Yuuri kissed the top of her head. “Maybe someday.”

“There are barely any girls in this family, just old ones! Why don’t I have any cousins?”

“You do have cousins, in Maine and Georgia, and there are girls.”

“Yeah, But they’re not five.”

“You’re about to go into a classroom filled with five year old girls.”

“Not the same.” She crossed her arms. “Not at all the same.”

“Well, Scarlett… we can’t always have everything we wish for.”

“Oh yeah? What do you not have that you want, then?”

Yuuri sighed, looking around his bedroom. “Hm… maybe more room for my books.”

“I’m being serious.”

“Ah, okay, I wasn’t certain. I think I want a vacation, but all the time I’ve taken off for the baby says otherwise. Your father and I used to go on vacations all the time… sometimes every few weeks we’d go to Europe or…”

“Why don’t we ever go anymore? I want to see London again!”

“It’s not quite a vacation when you three are with us.”

“Mother!”

Yuuri laughed. “Maybe sometime soon we’ll go on vacation, but I can’t see it.”

Scarlett met his eyes in the mirror, deadpanned, and said, “Aunt Val would take me on vacation.”

That evening when both her parents were home from work (Yuuri worked part-time and only during the day, so far), her father happily announced they’d be going away for the weekend to stay at a lovely cabin upstate.

So Scarlett knew she’d persuaded them by bringing in her aunt, and she began using it to her advantage.

When she wanted something particular for dinner and it was declined, she’d say, “Aunt Val said I could come over any time and have-“ and then add in the meal of her choosing, along with some elaborate dessert.

And when her and Yuuri were walking down a street shopping for her brother’s birthday gift, she picked out a lovely and expensive dress that would be perfect for the party. Yuuri declines, until beings up the fact that Aunt Val would definitely give it to her.

And then, when she spills red juice all over the dress at the party that weekend, she demands a new one.

But money’s tight, and Yuuri says no, even after bringing up her aunt.

So she sought revenge.


The following morning, Yuuri was cleaning out his closet. He pulled a large, dusty white gown from the very back of the row and set it gently on the bed as if it might break. The fond look on his face told her that it was quite special.

“What’s this?” Scarlett, fascinated by any type of dress, immediately perked up.

“This was your grandmother’s, and mine, too. I didn’t have anything to wear to my wedding, and with a little bit of altering it fit like a glove. It’s very important to your father, as he doesn’t have much from her, it’s all back in Russia.”

“Wow, it’s so pretty…” she beamed. “Can I have it someday?”

“Of course.” Yuuri’s smile was just as bright. “But you’d have to promise to take very good care of it.”

“Oh, I promise, alright…”

Yuuri got home a little late from work the following day, so he knew the children would be home alone and tried to get back as soon as he could.

Viktor had the baby while grocery shopping, so that was a relief, but still… something felt… off.

“Hey, I’m home,” Yuuri called, dropping his keys on the counter and kicking the back door shut behind him.

The dog was laying on the living room carpet, sleeping soundly until a moment ago, and she gave Yuuri a resigned look.

Nikolas was sitting on the floor, listening to a radio program. His homework was abandoned on the coffee table.

“Where’s Scarlett?”

He shrugged. “She went upstairs a while ago.”

“Okay, thanks. How was school?”

“Fine. Tony Moretti wanted to come over and build something but I told him he couldn’t because you weren’t here.”

“That’s smart of you. Tony would dismantle the kitchen sink for parts, wouldn’t he?” Yuuri pat his head. “You’re such a good kid. If you want, you can go over to his house or bring him here for dinner.”

“I’ll pass. I’ve got a lot of homework.”

“Goodness, Nikolas, you’re too responsible for a nine year old. What did I do to get so lucky?”

“I don’t know…”

“Well, I must’ve done something.” Yuuri stoops down to kiss the top of his head. “I hear your father’s car, go help him with the groceries?”

Yuuri removed his coat and walked upstairs, worried about how quiet it was. “Scarlett?”

You could hear a pin drop.

“Scarlett!”

He pushed open her bedroom door, and it was empty. So was her brother’s.

His room was different.

He didn’t want to notice it.

The white dress, crumpled on the floor.

Well, part of it anyway…

The bottom half, the top had to be someplace else. “ Scarlett !”

He threw open the closet, where the girl in question was currently adorning the ripped gown, hiding from him behind a long evening gown.

He pulled her out by her arm, stunned at the awful shape the dress was in. “What were you thinking?! You knew how important this dress was and you destroyed it!”

“I’m sorry, Mommy,” she said softly, eyes shifting to the side, “I didn’t mean it.”

“How could you not mean it? You did this because you can’t get that new dress, didn’t you?! Oh, you wicked, terrible little girl!”

“I said I’m sorry!”

“You don’t get to ruin something precious to me and your father and get away with it! You are spoiled, selfish and greedy! I don’t know how a daughter of mine could turn out so awfully !”

"You said it was mine!" 

"When you're older, not now! I thought you understood that!" He'd never shouted at her like this before, but he'd never been so hurt by her before, either.

“Yuuri…” Viktor breathed, hand over his mouth at the door once he saw what'd happened. “Don’t hurt her.”

“I’ve a good mind to, but honestly I- I can’t even look at her a moment longer!” Tears slipped down both Yuuri and his daughter’s cheeks at the same time. “If you think life would be so wonderful with your aunt, then go. It won’t be. You’ve had a good life with us, and I can’t believe I have to explain this to a five year old!”

“Yuuri.” Viktor was at his side, hands on his shoulders. “Breathe… she’s just a child, you can’t expect her to—“

“Look what she did, Viktor! How can you forgive this!?”

“I haven’t forgiven it, but you can’t talk to her like she’s grown when she can’t understand!”

Yuuri’s eyes narrowed, and he pushed his husband away. “You take her over to Val’s. That’s what she wants.”

He hid away in the bathroom until he was certain they were gone.


 Scarlett stayed with her aunt for one week and Yuuri felt awful.

He hoped she was doing alright, that she was happy, but he knew he couldn’t be content without her.

Five days into her stay, Scarlett came down with a bad cold, and by the seventh day, her fever was so high she was delusional. Truthfully, she hadn't enjoyed staying with her aunt like she always imagined she would. She thought staying here meant no school and all the gifts and pony rides she could ask for, but most of the time, her aunt visited with other boring, old people and kept her in a nursery. And while the toys were wonderful; there were far more than she had at home, anyway- it got boring after a while. 

And while she would never admit it, she missed her older brother. Yes, he was boring and liked to read more than anything else, he was also really good at checkers and played whenever she asked. Aunt Val only knew chess, and that was too hard.

She just wanted to go home. 

Because when she'd been sick at home, Yuuri would often read to her, give her delicious, hot soup, and let her stay in bed all day. 

But at Aunt Val's, some strange nursemaid did all the caring, and the soup tasted bad.

Her high pitched shrieks could be heard throughout the house, and Val couldn’t hear herself think. Finally, she gave up trying to ignore her and entered the bedroom, motioning for the nursemaid to back away.

“What is it, dear? What do you need?”

She wasn't given the answer she wanted.

“I know, but you said you wanted to live with me—“

Valeriya’s patience was tested, but she knew she didn’t have much of a choice when the child was this sick. “Alright, Jane, go call her parents, send Yuuri here at once. I said I’d give this child whatever she wanted, but it seems like she needs something else.”

Yuuri was in the middle of his favorite radio program when he got the call.

“Who was that? You didn’t miss much,” Viktor opened the throw blanket they’d previously been huddled together under once Yuuri returned from the telephone. "Rebecca just told Lucy that she plans on marrying John."

“You’ll have to tell me how it ends. I have to go be with Scarlett, she’s really sick.” Yuuri was already searching for his coat, fingers trembling when he attempted to slide it on.

“Why, what’s happened?”

“I don’t know,” Yuuri breathed in shakily, “I pray to God she doesn’t have what Rosy did. I couldn’t stand to lose another…”

“Yuuri, you mustn’t think like that…”

“I don’t know how to think any other way.”


Valeriya was waiting at the door by the time Yuuri came up the driveway. She didn't want him to be here, but because she knew she didn't have another choice, she seemed oddly defeated. "I'm glad you're here." She simply said.

"How is she?" 

"She was alright earlier. Her fever spiked about twenty minutes ago and she hasn't stopped crying since. I was hoping you could calm her down."

"I'll do what I can."

It wasn't easy getting the girl's fever to drop. She took a bath in lukewarm water, swallowed a sticky, foul tasting medicine and shivered under damp washrags until the late night when it finally broke. Valeriya helped whenever possible, but Yuuri did most of the work. It was while she was watching them early on in the evening when she noticed the genuine fear in Yuuri's eyes, and how it gradually faded once Scarlett's condition approved. Valeriya decided Yuuri must've had a change of heart, but that didn't change the decision she'd made regarding the girl.

"Yuuri..." Valeriya said, voice just above a whisper once the little girl had dozed off in a sound sleep. "I want to discuss something important with you. Are you awake enough?" 

"Yes, ma'am." Yuuri pulled the sheet over his daughter, switched the light out, and then met her at the door. "What is it? If it's about her staying here, then... I don't know... I'm not sure that this is the best option anymore..."

"No, it's not that." She sighed deeply, glancing over Yuuri's shoulder at the girl. "I would like to sponsor her."

"What?"

"She doesn't belong with me, she needs her parents. Still, I care for her greatly and couldn't stand to see her have a hard life. I want to financially sponsor her in whatever she wishes to do throughout her life, and she'll be in my will as well." She nodded to herself. "And as of right now, I want to give you and your husband a grant for her. Take that girl on a damn vacation, she wouldn't stop asking to visit Europe."

Yuuri couldn't think of a proper thank you.

"My only condition is that you learn to love that girl; she loves you and wants to be like you, and it hurts her when you push her away, even if it's subtly."

"I've been avoiding that reality for far too long. I know, what I've done is wrong. The only problem is, I've no idea how to fix it." Yuuri said tearfully. "She needs a woman around; I've got no idea how to raise her properly. I've never had this parenting thing figured out but... the boys are so much easier to deal with, and..."

"Scarlett's really not that complex. She just wants your attention."

"On top of a million other things."

"May I ask why you're so bitter towards a five year old?"

"I'm not bitter, I just... sometimes she can be so frustrating. Viktor says it's because she's so much like me, but I don't know. I think it's my temper, and she knows how to push all my buttons. But still, if something were to happen to her, like tonight, I don't think my heart could bear it."

***

Scarlett went home the following morning. Yuuri took off work, gave her her favorite, fluffy comforter, and gave her hot soup as always. Still, something seemed to be bothering the girl.

"What's the matter, Scarlett?"

"I have to get up." Scarlett said hoarsely, pushing herself into a sitting position. "I got something to give you."

Yuuri watched her in silence as she retrieved her suitcase from the corner of the room, which, now that he thought about it, did seem heavier than usual when he'd carried it inside earlier.

She popped open the case, and Yuuri's eyes widened as she pulled Yuuri's white gown out from under her own clothes. "Sewing is really hard. I kept pricking my fingers!" She lamented, setting the gown down in Yuuri's lap.

When he lifted it, he swore his heart stopped. It definitely wasn't perfect, but this child had somehow managed to stitch the gown back together. This must've taken hours... "I'm sorry I cut it. I wish I never did it, but Aunt Val said I'd have to fix it myself if I wanted to make it better."

Yuuri ran his fingers over the seam, tears pricking into his eyes. "You did this all by yourself?"

She nodded.

He set the gown aside and pulled her into his arms, unable to stop smiling. "Oh, my sweet girl, what did I ever do to deserve you?"

His heart felt full, no, overflowing with admiration and love for this child, and he hoped it lasted.

Because that's what she deserved.


 

Chapter Text

1932

“Thank you for coming in, Yuuri,” The young teacher was only on her first year out of college. It had been nothing short of hell, being assigned to such young children. Not because they were necessarily bad, (though some days were worse than others). But the children were too easy to get attached to, and in the midst of the Great Depression, they’d come and go with little to no warning. Sometimes, their fathers would be out of work and the entire family would be uprooted. Other times it was their mother keeping them home out of shame if the child didn’t have any clean or fitting clothing.

And then she’d had her struggle, as of recent, with one of her older students, Miss Scarlett Nikiforov. She was bright, and a strong leader in the class, but she occasionally lacked a filter or the ability to control her temper on particularly bad days.

And Mrs. Ambers could always tell when she was having a bad day.

Like today, for instance.

“You see, Scarlett’s climbed into a tree on the playground and won’t come down. It’s too high up to reach and I’m afraid she’ll fall. I was hoping you might tell her to come down?”

Yuuri’s face turned an inhuman shade of red. “She’s… what?

“Honestly, I’m not quite sure she can get down…”

“Oh, yes she can.” Yuuri mumbled, stalking out to the playground. Far too many children stared in a group around the tree. Scarlett waved at him from nearly the top of the tree and Yuuri tried not to faint.  “Scarlett…”

“Sorry, can’t hear you!” She called back.

Yuuri rolled his eyes. Ignoring the surprised gasps from the staff and students when he hiked up his skirt and climbed into the tree, Yuuri was quick to reach her thanks to some previous experience with tree climbing, (which, by the way, had nothing to do with his experience in sneaking out of someone’s house at night and climbing back through). “Why are you up here?”

“Because the boys were chasing me,” She said with a straight face but had clearly been stunned at Yuuri’s speed. “And so I came up here, because I know they can’t climb trees. And Daddy said you aren’t supposed to climb stuff. Remember when you climbed on the counter and ripped your pants and-”

“Yes, I remember,” He shushed her, looking down with unease at the height. “Now come, let’s get down. This is far too high off the ground for someone your age.”
“But I don’t want to! I’m a great climber, see?” She pulled herself onto a higher branch, and Yuuri paled.

“Scarlett, please. You’re making me nervous, dear.”

She jumped onto a branch below Yuuri, startling everyone on the ground. Yuuri felt ready to faint and had to take a few moments to steady himself. “ Scarlett. Get. Down.”

“All you do is worry, all the time. Worry, worry, worry! You never have any fun.” Scarlett put a hand on her hip. “Were you ever a kid? No, you weren’t. You were born a big, bossy grown-up, and that made you mad so now you just like being mean to me.”

“Scarlett, that doesn’t make any sense.” Yuuri climbed down from the tree. She’s standing on an unsteady branch, and he can almost reach her. “Now, come here. It’s no good for a little girl to be climbing trees in a dress like that, these children can probably see your bloomers.”

At this, several children nearby start giggling, and Scarlett’s face turned red. She stomped on the branch with every word, “ Shut up, shut up, shut- !”

Mrs. Ambers had been meaning to ask her husband to trim that branch, it was much too flimsy for the children to climb on and she worried it would fall on someone.

Yuuri fell over, branch crushing his foot, and hid his swears behind his teeth. Something was probably broken, and the girl quickly climbed down to pull the branch off of him. “Ah… uh… I- I got down now, so you can…”

“Scarlett… Katerina…

“I got down like you said! So go home!” She covered her face in embarrassment, knowing she was about to get scolded in front of two dozen children, or worse…

“Go home, huh? How ? How am I supposed to that?!” Yuuri groaned upon attempting to move his foot, and Mrs. Ambers had already gone inside to find help. “Why can’t you just listen to me?”

Scarlett hid behind the tree when two or three male teachers came outside to assist in the situation. She didn’t know why she started crying, either; it was probably just a natural reaction thanks to how mortified she felt and the fact that Yuuri would bury her when they got home, probably.

.

“What did you do this time, Scarlett?” Her older brother, who was nearly ten years old, had heard all the ruckus during his math class and was now seated in the principal’s office with Scarlett while they waited for someone to pick them up since Yuuri was clearly unable to drive.

“Just shut up,” She whispered, eyeing the nurse’s room and Yuuri’s elevated, purpling foot. “It wasn’t even my fault.”

“You usually say that when it is your fault.” Nikolas added with a smirk, following Scarlett’s gaze to Yuuri’s foot. “I bet it’s broken. He’s gonna be pissed that he can’t go to work.”

Scarlett gasped. “Mommy, he said a bad word!” She hid a smile at the chance for her wrongdoings to be forgotten.

“Uh-huh… and I’m going to say a bad word if you don’t sit back down and stay quiet until your father gets here.”

Sure enough, there was her father's car in front of the school, and Scarlett felt herself paling. 

.

While Yuuri’s broken foot heals over the fall, his mother promised to stay with them to take care of him and the house so Yuuri could stay off his feet. Scarlett avoided Yuuri for the first couple days; she’d been avoiding Viktor too, ever since he found out what happened and his reaction had been the opposite of pleasant.

But hiding in her room all evening was starting to get boring after a day or two. So, she searched her satchel for a box of crayons, stole some paper from her brother’s notebook, and set out to write a letter that would free her from her imprisonment.

I just wanted to let you know I am sorry for your foot but you can’t say it’s my fault because the tree’s the one that broke it, not me, and it’s not fair that I’m the one in trouble for it. The tree should go to jail and get kicked out of America.

She received a response later that evening, slipped under her door.

You must understand, Scarlett, that taking responsibility is an important part of growing up. I’m not upset with you anymore, so you may come downstairs. I’m simply disappointed that you wouldn’t listen to me when I asked you to come down from the tree. I only asked you to come down because it was not safe, not because I didn’t want you to have fun. And, from now on, when you don’t-

Scarlett ripped up the letter and threw it out the window. The wind blew it away, hopefully to the other side of the world. “You piss me off.” She muttered under her breath, hoping her mother didn’t hear that comment. But it was true. And it felt good to say. “I hate you. You’re a witch and I hope a house gets dropped on you.”

have the courage to acknowledge your faults, please know that everyone makes mistakes sometimes, and it doesn’t mean I’ll love you any less. You don’t ever have to be afraid of that.


 

1934

“Can we go now?” Ever since last winter when she’d gotten the invitation from her beloved aunt to stay with her during spring break, Scarlett had been counting down the days. Her aunt was ill over the fall and winter, so she was eager to see her as they’d been apart for quite some time. Being in a house filled with boys all the time wasn’t always fun for her.

Yuuri was awfully quiet in his bedroom, which annoyed her. They should have left by now. He always took so long to get ready when they were seeing relatives, but the rest of the time Scarlett believed he put no effort into his appearance.

So, she turned to the next-in-line of authority. “Daddy. I want to go now!”

Viktor currently sat by the phone, speaking in low Russian that she struggled to hear. “ Da, konechno.

“Daddy, I want to-”

He covered the mouthpiece. “Just a minute, please. .

She began talking the moment he set the phone down. “You don’t have to speak Russian to try and hide what you’re talking about; I know what you said! Aunt Val always teaches me Russian.” She said, “So, whose funeral are we going to and why do we all have to go?”

Viktor sighed, like this pained him to speak of. “I will tell you in a minute, I need to talk to Yuuri about it first.”

“Who died?” She demanded. “You don’t have to tell him first! Tell me !”

Meeting eyes with Yuuri, who had since made an appearance in the hallway, he kneels to reach her level. “Scarlett… it’s your aunt.”

***

It was a dark and raining Tuesday morning, and not even her typically noisy three-year-old brother tried bothering Scarlett on the drive to her aunt’s funeral. Everyone was sad, of course, for Valeriya had been much like a matriarch of the American side of the family during a majority of her seventy-six years, but Scarlett was devastated. She wouldn’t admit it yet, but she’d often saw her aunt as more of a mother figure than her own, simply because of their genders and how her aunt never scolded or refused to give her what she wanted. She supposed Yuuri was just no fun.

“Look, Viktor, the pond’s about frozen over. Can you believe it? It’s almost April .”

“Which means our anniversary is just around the corner, too. Perhaps we can finish out spring break in Italy, or Greece, or…”

“No, Viktor,” Yuuri grinned at his husband, “there isn’t nearly enough time! Perhaps we’ll go for the summer, though. I wouldn’t mind that. What do you think, Scarlett?” Yuuri turned around to look at her. “You’ve been wanting to go on vacation.”

The little girl glared at her mother. “How are you so happy when someone just died?!”

Yuuri’s lips pulled into a frown. “I’m not happy that she died. I just cannot focus myself solely on a death right now. I need to think of other things, too…”

“How can you think of anything else?!” She shouted.

Viktor calmly stopped the car, giving her a look through the rear view. “That’ll be enough, Scarlett. I will turn this car around.”

She slumped in her seat, eyes filling with tears. “You just don’t care.”

***

During the burial, which took place where Scarlett used to live, she was quite clearly the most devastated person present.

Yuuri’s voice felt tight in his throat when he tried to offer some words of comfort, but it was of no use to a little girl who lost someone so dear to her.

Once she had been set into the ground, Yuuri ushered Scarlett away because he feared her cries would only worsen.

They sat together on a bench by a familiar grave, Yuuri’s arm around her as he spoke, “I know what it’s like to lose someone very special to you, but I want you to understand that Aunt Val would never want to see you this way. She… she really loved you Scarlett, and all she ever wanted was for you to be happy.”

Scarlett hid herself further under Yuuri’s arm.

“Her house, the big one with the ponies you love so much? She’s given that to you , Scarlett, on top of quite a bit of money for whatever you might need. I’m going to hold it for you until you’re older, but can you think of anything you might need now?”

Scarlett sniffled. “I just want her to come back.”

Yuuri closed his eyes, doing his best to stay strong for her. “I know, sweetheart. I do too. She was a wonderful person, and kind, and smart. She’s about the only person in the world who I think is definitely going to heaven.”

***

That evening, there’s a party at her aunt’s house and Scarlett couldn’t feel more glum. She stayed at her mother’s side most of the night, watching how Yuuri drank a bit more than usual, and how her father stayed mostly with a few men that she didn’t really recognize.

“Can we go home now?” Scarlett tugs his sleeve. “I’m tired.”

“Just a minute, Scarlett.” Yuuri downed the remainder of the glass. “I’m not the one driving.”

“Then can you ask him if we can go?”

Yuuri rests his head on the table, quite suddenly.

“What are you doing?” She jumps up, searching the room for her father. But suddenly, he’s not around.

“You’d think that Satan had arrived with all the looks I’ve gotten tonight.”

“I don’t know what you’re saying, are you drunk or something?”

“I’m not drunk!” Yuuri cried. “Maybe a little, but I- I’ve just… I’ve had it with this side of the family! They hate me.” Several relatives nearby were staring, but Scarlett didn’t see why. Yuuri wasn’t doing anything wrong. “And… and I think Viktor hates me, too… for upsetting you earlier. He said I was inconsiderate. I was.”

“Daddy doesn’t hate you. And.. I’m not mad anymore about earlier. So, stop crying.”

“I hate myself.” Yuuri bit his lip. “I’m the worst mother ever, and your aunt thought so too. You deserve better.”

“Oh come on, don’t talk like that.” Scarlett patted Yuuri’s arm. “You’re just too hard on yourself sometimes. And everyone’s probably looking at you because, well… you’ve got the best outfit here, besides mine of course.”

Yuuri sniffed. “I bought it two years ago.”

“So what? I think an outfit can be a hundred years old and still look great! As long as there’s not any stains or rips.” She said with certainty. “I think they’re jealous of you because they all look like… like shriveled old grapes.”

Yuuri spit out his wine. If people weren’t staring before, they definitely were now.

The truth is, the Nikiforov-Plisetsky family was heavily judging Viktor’s brood for their recent circumstances and loss of money, how they were using the Nikiforov mansion as a boarding house to make ends meet and still got access to Valeriya’s inheritance and home for their young daughter. It just didn’t seem logical or fair, but then again, nothing about Valeriya ever seemed to be.

.

 

“Did you hear…” An aunt or third cousin, I’ll never remember, rubbed elbows with Elizaveta, “that Yuuri is employed now instead of keeping house? And they’re planning on sending Scarlett to university right out of high school.”

“I did, and did you hear that your cousin tried her hand at matchmaking and is trying to set Vitya up with a niece of hers in attempts to rid that Japanese blood from the family line? Imagine…”

“Well, if you ask me, Vitya never should have tainted the Nikiforov name by marrying some… oh, I won’t say it, but you know what I mean. None of these children are real Nikiforovs. We all have a distinct look. Yuuri clouds that. He’d best rid of him, and soon.”

***

In summer, Scarlett found herself in Greece with her brothers and parents, as promised. It was strange, really, because ever since the funeral, Yuuri hadn't spoken much to Viktor other than what’d been necessary. Today, he was not even wearing a swimsuit, just a floral printed sundress and hat. Her younger brother was asleep on his chest.

She hated how quiet it was today. How very stiff the attitude in the air seemed to be.

“I want to get in the water now!” She stood up and climbed over the wall around her sandcastle. “Someone, take me in the water!”

“I can’t swim.” Yuuri said flatly, turning his attention back to his book. “Ask your father.” Why did he say “father” like it was a bad word?

She frowned. “Well, I can’t either! But I’m still going!” She pouted. “Mommy, you never do anything fun.”

Yuuri ignored her, but after the baby got up and he no longer had a reasonable excuse, Viktor snuck up on him, grabbed him by the waist and pulled him into the water, the sundress flying back towards their beach chairs.

She watched with amusement as Yuuri was thrown into the water, arms flailing about, and then he dragged her father under with him.

They were under for quite some time, and it turns out that Yuuri could indeed swim after all.

When Yuuri splashed back to the shore, Scarlett came with him.

Things weren’t as quiet after that.

After visiting Greece, they went up to Italy and stayed by a lake for a week. Scarlett insisted that lots of pictures were to be taken, and she was surprised halfway through the week with her own camera. The only rule? No taking pictures of people without their permission. They didn’t want to waste any film.

But Scarlett was good at taking pictures and enjoyed taking them, too. She insisted that everyone was to get a portrait done. Yuuri was the last one. He tried putting it off, but on the day before they left, she cornered him and he had no choice but to pose the way Scarlett asked and be patient enough for her to find the “right angle”. For the final picture on the film, she needed a little help from her brother, but assured him it was worth it.

When they got developed two weeks later, Viktor insisted that every picture was a masterpiece and almost half of them ended up framed; the rest went into a photo album. Scarlett had never felt so proud, but her favorite picture was of her and Yuuri together. It sat on the dresser in her room for years to come.

***

1935

“I want to take the bus.” Scarlett huffed as her and Nikolas finally reached their driveway one day after school when Yuuri had failed to come and get them. “Aunt Elizaveta says I’m too strong to be a girl.”

“Well, don’t listen to her. Girls can be strong.” Her brother replied solemnly, heading straight for the garage. “Aunt Val was strong.” He added.

It had been awhile since she thought about her aunt. She tried to avoid it, of course, because thinking about her left her feeling empty inside and no one else would understand the importance of Valeriya in her life. She understood Scarlett. She always listened. And most importantly, nothing bad ever happened when she was at her aunt’s house. Meanwhile, at home, bad things happened far too often and left her sometimes wondering if her and Nikolas would come home one day to find their entire house burnt up from someone leaving the oven on. She wondered if such things as curses were real. If perhaps someone had set a curse on them, years ago.

After that evening, it definitely felt so.

.

“Grandma,” Scarlett pushed herself up from the living room carpet, then walked over to the radio to turn it down.

“Mm?” Her grandmother was focused on something she’d been working on for a few days; a knitted blanket. Scarlett stood beside her, worrying at her bottom lip. “Vitaly’s acting funny.”

“What do you mean?” Hiroko looked up from her knitting to eye the young boy asleep on the carpet. “He’s just asleep.”

“Yeah, but… he wasn’t asleep a minute ago, he was wide awake playing with his cars.”

“Young children fall asleep very quickly.” She returned to her knitting.

Scarlett remained unconvinced. She knelt by her brother and shook his shoulder. She could feel the heat radiating off his skin. He wouldn’t wake up. “Grandma… I really think something is wrong!”

“Let him sleep, Scarlett.”

Grandma !” She cried, heart starting to race. “Grandma, he’s really warm and I can’t get him to wake up!”

.

For a while, they tried to keep his temperature down using cool compresses, but when he finally woke, the little boy made it quite clear he was in agonizing pain, and there was no way around what had to be done.

His hearing had been bad since last year’s excruciatingly high fever, but now that he was so upset, it was impossible to figure out what he needed as he couldn’t be consoled.

While her grandmother dressed him, Scarlett hurried to the kitchen telephone and called her father’s office. He wasn’t supposed to be at work today, but there was some important business to be dealt with or something like that. “Nikiforov, speaking, how may I-”

“Daddy, it’s me! You have to come home right now ! It’s an emergency !”

“Scarlett? What’s going on?”

.

“It’s been quiet here today, Yuuri. Why don’t you go help in the children’s ward instead?” Yuuri’s supervisor ushered him away from the half dozen adorable newborns, and he soon found himself stalling in some random hallway. He hated going into the children’s ward. Seeing so many sick, or even dying, little ones hurt his heart.

Looking around, he noticed that he’d found his way to the children’s ward anyway without that being his intention. But there was a sinking feeling in his chest, and he suddenly felt very uneasy.

The reason for that became clear when a particular patient was rushed past him in the direction of the OR. Yuuri felt himself go weak in the knees, and was certain that his heart stopped.

***

“When will he come back?” Scarlett sits on the counter in the kitchen, watching her grandmother prepare some sort of pasta for dinner.

“I don’t know, Scarlett,” her grandmother replied. “Appendicitis requires a lot of rest. Do you miss him?”

“Maybe a little.” Looking ahead, Scarlett thought back to how often recently her brother had been complaining of his stomach aching. She’d ignored him, of course, because she didn’t like him. He got everything his heart desired because of how fragile he’d been at birth, born four weeks early with slight hearing loss that’d only increased with every infection he’d ever gotten. Now, it was noticeable enough that he had to wear a hearing aid, so that just gave her parents another reason to fuss over him.

He was a sweet boy, but too spoiled in Scarlett’s opinion. Nikolas said that he was only spoiled because he was the youngest. Still… it made no sense.

“Set the table, Scarlett.” Hiroko instructed, setting down three plates beside her. Scarlett held her tongue as she obeyed her grandmother.

.

Her little brother stayed in the hospital for an entire week and Yuuri didn’t leave his side at all during that time. So when the two of them returned home late one night, Scarlett was enthusiastic to greet them, but also a bit angry that Yuuri hadn’t so much as called during the time he’d been gone.

Yes, she could understand that perhaps it was a stressful time, but that didn’t mean she ceased to exist. She hated how careless Yuuri could be sometimes.

To her surprise, within a few minutes of Yuuri coming home, her bedroom door clicked open and she was quick to pretend she was asleep. It was , after all, quite late, and there was no reason that she should’ve been up in the first place.

“The house looks great. Mom says she’s been helping all week.” Yuuri said in a hushed voice, and she listened to his footsteps quietly shifting across the room. “If it hadn’t been for her, no one would have noticed what was going on.”

“She’s the reason he’s still here.” Viktor added solemnly. “We’ve often said how curious she can be, but she’s also very attentive. Perhaps we should be more careful of listening to her, being how much she notices.”

“Oh, Viktor,” Yuuri rolled his eyes. He stood over her bed now and tucked her in properly. “She’s growing up too fast and we’re missing out on it with all the hours we have to work. If only… if only things could be like they were before, and I could get to know her better. Maybe learn to understand why she hates me so much.”

There was a pause.

“She doesn’t hate you.”

“I’m not sure.” Yuuri leaned in and kissed her hair, and in an instant, seemed to have disappeared from her side. “I wish you were right.”


 

1936

Scarlett and her brother were dismissed from school for the final time, signaling the start of summer break, and she couldn’t wait to get home. Yuuri mentioned something about going down to the beach by their old house to swim, and it was much too hot out to stay inside.

It was weird, being that someone else lived in the mansion now-- multiple someone else’s, actually. But none of them ever went down to the beach or did anything fun, as they were all old and childless. She didn’t see why they’d ever move out, but it did supply them with quite a bit of extra money, so that was always a plus. (Today, though, would’ve been nicer if she didn’t have to walk home in the heat only to have to wait a half hour to get to the beach).

Yuuri was waiting by the gate with her little brother, who’d be coming into kindergarten in the fall. He was very excited to go, but Scarlett knew he soon wouldn’t be once he found out what school was really like. He waved to her, and she waved back, but she felt too hot to say anything to him.

“Everything good?” Yuuri asked, taking her satchel and setting it in the wagon he usually tugged Vitaly along with (a very, very lazy child!).

“Yeah. I just want to go swim.” They started the mile walk down the road, back to their house. Someday, Scarlett will take the bus. As soon as Yuuri started working full time, once Vitaly went to school. They’d be able to sit on the bus instead of doing all this walking. It’d be wonderful.

“Me too.” Yuuri nodded, leading them down the sidewalk.

.

“So….” when Yuuri clears his throat, when he looks at the children through the rear view… Scarlett always knew that meant trouble. “Your father and I have decided to do something with you three over the summer. It’s debatable if you’ll consider it fun, but it’s becoming a necessity.”

Before Scarlett could finish rolling her eyes, Yuuri continued, “We’re all going to learn sign language.”

“Sign language? What’s that?” Scarlett asked.

“It’s how deaf people can communicate without speaking.” Yuuri began to explain, “Now, I know your brother isn’t deaf, but he is hard of hearing and there will be times when he doesn’t have his aid on him. As you both know, his hearing has never been terrific, but… it’s expected there will be significant, if not severe, loss of hearing that may worsen throughout his life. And what if that happens? How will he talk to us without struggling to read lips? I just want to be ready. Make things easier for him if that time comes.”

“But… I don’t want to learn.” And Yuuri just knew that statement was coming, but he wasn’t ready to answer it.

“Well… Scarlett… I don’t really care if you want to or not. We all are going to take a class this summer and you will learn.”

“No fair….”

.

Scarlett sulked all afternoon, even when Yuuri took them to get ice cream from the small town near their old house. All through their dessert, she glared at her little brother, the root cause of the ruin of her summer. It wasn’t her fault he was going deaf. Why should she have to suffer for his problems?

“Scarlett.” Speak of the devil, Vitaly started nudging her. She resisted shoving him away from her. “Scarlett?”

“I said what ?!” She snapped, eyes down at the table.

“When you’re mad, your face turns really red.” He giggled. “Mommy’s too. You look the same.”

Scarlett didn’t have to look up to know Yuuri mirrored her expression. She straightened her posture and looked over at him. “You’re very good at noticing things.”

“I am?” His smile was almost contagious.

“Yeah. I just wish you were good at hearing those things, too.”

Scarlett .”

“I mean… oh, why do I even bother?”

(By the time the summer was over, Scarlett was quicker at sign language than anyone in the house and found herself enjoying it.)


 

1937

When Yuuri turned forty, Viktor decided to risk it all and plan a surprise for him. It was hard to pretend to enjoy the preparations when all Scarlett could feel was intense jealousy. It wasn’t like she’d ever gotten VIP tickets to a Broadway performance on the premiere week as a birthday gift.

And to make matters worse, she couldn’t even stay for the show. She’d just be going to dinner with her parents and leaving from there, because “Of Mice and Men” wasn’t “age appropriate” for her. Still, she knew it was an important birthday, and that some day, be it now or years down the road, she’d experience an event as lovely.

On November 29th, Scarlett woke to the smell of breakfast cooking in the kitchen. It didn’t smell that great, which could only mean that Viktor was the one doing the cooking.

She dressed and hurried downstairs in hopes to grab a bite before Yuuri got his breakfast. But to her dismay, Viktor was already turning off the stove. And there was just one plate.

“Dad, we need to talk.” Scarlett said firmly, sitting at the breakfast bar.

“Kind of busy, sweetheart.”

“Dad.” She said again. “We need to talk about… priorities.”

“My, that’s a new word from you.” He poured a glass of water, eyes down. Distracted. “You sound like Yuuri. What’s wrong with my priorities?”

“Well, it’s just that…” She debated whether or not it would be right to say this, but, it comes out anyway. “You should think of your children before your… him.”

“That so?”
“We get hungry too, you know! And it isn’t fair that Yuuri is the only one eating.”

“It’s his birthday, but that's not what I'm—"

“You never do anything for us.” And now, she wasn’t complaining about the lack of food. She was seriously bringing up something that had been bothering her for quite some time. “You leave us alone and make him do everything.”

Viktor did not reply.

“Are you getting a divorce?”

“Should a little girl really be asking such things?” He shook his head, digging into the plate. Her mouth hung open when she realized that the breakfast hadn’t really been for Yuuri at all. “I’ve got to get going. Don’t set the house on fire.”

“B-but it’s his birthday!”

“Aren’t my priorities out of order, Scarlett?”

.

“Okay, I think they’re done!” Scarlett flipped the final pancake off the pan, and on to the plate her older brother held. “I hope they taste good. They look good.”

“I’ll make more in a minute.” Nikolas set the plate down on a tray that had been set out. “Now, you go give it to him. I think it’d be the most surprising coming from you.”

“Oh shut up, all you ever do is sit around.” Scarlett picked up the tray and headed towards Yuuri’s bedroom down the hall. “Wish me luck.”

When Scarlett entered the bedroom, all the lights were off, but she could tell that Yuuri was very much awake. She noticed how the bed was neatly made on one half, as if her father hadn’t slept there the night before. How awful. Her best friend from fourth grade, Missy Hopkins, had to leave school when her parents divorced and her father moved someplace in the midwest. Missy’s mother had to take her to live with a relative, but she heard from another girl, Lucille something-or-other, that no one will ever marry Missy’s mother again because of her divorce. And they will probably end up homeless, too, because of her father.

But Scarlett knew Yuuri would never let that happen. He had a job, unlike most people’s mothers, and there was always the inheritance from Aunt Val.

She realized that she had been standing there, gaping, for at least a minute, and Yuuri had yet to look up. So, she politely cleared her throat and stepped forward. “Mom?”
“You might as well call me Yuuri now, since your father thinks I’m a…” Yuuri bit his tongue, looking away. She could barely see him in the dark room, but that didn’t stop her.

She decided to leave out Viktor from their conversation. He deserved to be happy today. “So… today’s your birthday, right? And we made breakfast for you.”

“Thank you, Scarlett.” Yuuri said, doing his best to sound appreciative despite his clearly sour mood.

“And, um… we want to take you someplace this afternoon, as a birthday gift. We used all our money.”

“I’m not sure, dear.”

“Please? It’s your birthday .” Scarlett abandoned the attitude that she had when she woke up. Now, she really wanted Yuuri to have a good birthday. Especially since Viktor…

He had to enjoy today. He had to smile.

“Well… alright. Where are we going?” Yuuri sat up and took the tray from her, adding another thank-you.

“I can’t tell you yet. Just… get dressed. In something nice! Because today’s your special day and you have to look perfect.”

(And, just a few minutes after making that statement, she had to beg on the phone to one of her aunts to buy them lunch at a restaurant near the theatre she had in mind.)

.

“Are you three ready out there, yet?” Yuuri asked, covering every last trace of his heartbreak with every product he owned. Then, he made sure his unruly hair was pinned back nicely, and, against his better judgement, colored his lips the way he used to. He wore slacks for once, which he was feeling paranoid about, but he was sure no one would mind, being that his top was feminine enough. He couldn’t imagine them going anywhere fancy. He had nothing to fear.

In the end, his children took him to a showing of Heidi , (which they may or may not have already seen, being that Shirley Temple happened to be a certain someone’s idol), but still, it was nice. Being out of the house kept his mind off the impending disaster… ready to strike just around the corner, he knew. For now, though, and until the film was over, life was okay. Thanks to Scarlett.

.

Viktor came home late into the evening, during the showtime for “Of Mice and Men”. Scarlett would eventually come to know that he gave the tickets to a friend, but where he went all day remained unknown.

Yuuri had already sent everyone to bed, being on his best behavior all day and pretending like he wasn’t extremely hurt for what had happened that morning and that Viktor completely missed out on his birthday.

So once he was certain everyone was in bed for the night, he allowed himself to feel hurt once again, to express the pain that his husband made him feel and finally cried it out. (In the bathtub, of course, not out in the open like some kind of coward).

His radio blared Fred Astaire’s most bittersweet song to date, Yuuri felt, and it made him feel much, much worse than he already did. His knees were pressed to his chest and he looked down at his wedding ring, standing alone today as he’d abandoned the various others he’d been given over the course of their seventeen years together. He had to figure out what he wanted, if who he was crying over was worth it.

Feelings aside, getting divorced again would not look good on his record should he ever want to get involved with someone again. Not that he would, but…

And then there was the children. How very hurt they would be if they were to lose their father. They’d hate him. But he couldn’t hate himself for Viktor’s feelings, for what he’d been upset about that morning…….

***

“Man am I ready for Winter Break.” One of the girls in her class said to Scarlett during lunch in mid-December. “Aren’t you, Scarlett?”

Scarlett was staring out the window with a solemn expression.

“Scarlett?”

“Sorry… I think I’m the only one here who isn’t looking forward to it.”

“Why?”

She bit her lip.

“What’s wrong? Is someone sick?”

“My parents are getting a divorce.” She admitted. “T-They haven’t announced it yet. But I know it’s true. My dad’s been sleeping on the couch and everything.”

“Gee, Scarlett, that’s awful.”

.

The day that Christmas Break began, she came home to something that truly set her off. Yuuri admitted on the phone a few days ago to his sister that him and her father were considering separating, but nothing was definite yet.

She came home to her father stringing Christmas lights outside their house. She noticed that, for the first time, he was not wearing his wedding ring.  “Hey Scarlett. How was school?” He asked. “Could you give me a hand?”

“No.” She stormed into the house, slamming the door shut. She went straight to her room. “Scarlett?” He called after her. She ignored him.

Yuuri peeked out his bedroom door, holding his robe shut. “What’s going on?”

“She came home like this. I don’t know.”

“Hmm… well… let’s give her some space.”

.

Scarlett was absolutely furious that night and refused to go with her family to get their Christmas tree. She fell asleep early. She woke up at around ten pm and went downstairs to find her mother drinking a glass of wine on the sofa while her father finished stringing lights on the tree.

“You should’ve done that earlier.” She said, startling them both.

“Oh, Scarlett— I was wondering when you were getting up.” Yuuri chuckled, moving to stand. "There's leftovers in the kitchen, if you're hungry."

She folded her arms. “Why are you still up?”

“The boys didn’t string these properly, it’s bothering me.” Viktor said.

“And I’m waiting for a rerun of my favorite late night radio program. I missed it last week.” Yuuri added.

“Oh… okay.” She turned back towards the stairs. Could people that hated each other still spend so much time together? She didn't understand what was going on, but hated the instability.

***

Christmas morning arrived. Scarlett got tons of clothes, as requested. Her parents stayed awful close that morning. It was her father’s birthday.

“Children,” Viktor said after a moment. “As you know, it is my birthday today. We will all go to breakfast together in Manhattan, but… Yuuri and I will be going out alone this evening.”

“I thought you were getting a divorce.” Scarlett blurted, surprising everyone.

“Heavens no.” Yuuri spoke first, “We were just arguing over something stupid. But that’s been resolved. We agreed to disagree, and we’re fine now.”

“Oh.” Scarlett focused on one of her presents instead of the eyes burning holes into her. If you knew you were going to be fine, why did you talk about separation on the phone to your sister right in front of me?


 

1938

On a weekend in March, a scratchy-voiced Yuuri promised everyone that before Easter came around, the house would shine and so an early spring-cleaning unfolded. He’d been up since five that morning, working outside on the cluttered garage and yanking out weeds that should’ve been taken care of the fall before. Nobody, though, really did much of anything of use, except for him. While Scarlett spent half the day “cleaning” her room, Yuuri had rearranged all the furniture in his own room to vacuum around and under every surface, cleaned every window of the house and then set to repeating the same thing he’d done in his bedroom to the rest of the house. Pushing the piano in the parlor was probably the first mistake, but lifting the sofa on his own didn’t do well, either. His biggest mistake probably occurred in the garage, but no one offered to check after they heard something shatter. (It had been some old china on the top shelf that was quite heavy.)

Throughout the day, he stifled coughs, but of course, nobody paid much notice; too irritated by Yuuri’s demands to care much about anything he did, and everyone tuned him out. Which was a mistake, Scarlett would come to realize.

Ever since her younger brother was born, Yuuri was rather frail. Common colds left him weaker than most people, and it always seemed like he took longer to recover, but maybe that was her personal opinion, as a day without Yuuri meant nothing got done in the house.

When it came time for dinner, Yuuri was red-faced, though complained of it being too drafty in the house, and his cough came more frequently than it could be covered up. It turned out there wasn’t anything good to prepare, so Yuuri asked that Viktor go to the store with the children and pick out something they want, coughing between every couple words and eventually giving in to an intense coughing spell that both concerned and disgusted Scarlett.

But anyway- a break from cleaning that they hadn’t done? Why, of course!

All three children and their father left the house at five-thirty, and did not return until almost seven. Scarlett ran into a friend at the store, and Viktor spent some time talking with her chatty parents.

But when they got back, the only person who noticed something was off was Vitaly, which was surprising as he never really looked up from the books he carried around.

While the older two helped their father bring in the dinner groceries, the youngest had gone towards the bathroom connected to Yuuri’s room as the bedroom had been empty. Before he could reach the handle, though, he noticed that his shoe had splashed a puddle. The door was locked, and if he listened hard enough, he could faintly make out the sound of water running. The tub had most certainly overflowed. “D-Dad…” He turned back towards the kitchen.

“It was a wonder this is still even warm after all the traffic we had to fight through to get here. And the line at the store? I’ve never seen it so busy.” Viktor was opening a paper bag, where inside, a rotisserie chicken that they’d bought earlier was still radiating heat. “I’m not sure it’ll taste good, but it smells great.”

“We’ll just have to wash it down with how soggy these potatoes are.” Nikolas motioned to Scarlett’s very soggy attempt at mashed potatoes. “You put too much butter in.”

“Well, cut more potatoes!” She said, stepping back from the hot stove. “I hate cooking. I don’t see why we’re even attempting to try doing so, we’ll just ruin it.”

“You’ve got to learn sometime.” Viktor mumbled.

“Dad!”

.

Viktor jiggled the handle, just like his son had done moments before. The water was slowly starting to pool out into the hallway now, still steadily running from the bathtub faucet. He was afraid of what he might find, but nevertheless sent the three children back to the kitchen, where Scarlett furiously stirred the potatoes until she knew what happened.

After reaching onto the top of the door frame, Viktor retrieved the key and unlocked the door. Taking in a breath, he walked in, knowing he wouldn’t be ready for anything he was about to see.

Yuuri was lucky. That didn’t mean he wasn’t a complete fool. He was almost seated upright in the tub, but had a slight slouch. His arms hung over the side, which is what ended up keeping him alive, really. It prevented him from slipping under. Even with his arms, the water was still up to his lips, and if he sunk, even slightly, he would surely drown.

Obviously, he was unconscious, but the empty bottle of cold medicine on the ground beside his right hand told why.

Without another thought, Viktor lifted Yuuri from the and then turned off the water. It was ice cold, but most of the tub still felt a little warm, so Viktor knew Yuuri couldn’t have been out for too long.

He slipped a few times, ended up soaking his trousers, but eventually Viktor was able to set Yuuri down on the bedroom floor long enough to find a few towels to dry him with. He wouldn’t let the children see him like this. Still, something was wrong, cold medicine aside.

Yuuri’s skin was hot, but he shivered, and Viktor realized he had a fever. “Yuuri, my dear…” It didn’t take long to wake him, thankfully, but when Yuuri did come to full consciousness, he was quite embarrassed about what had happened. Viktor wouldn’t listen to his self-deprecation, though, and simply tucked him in bed in some dry clothes, followed by dinner a few minutes after that. He spent the rest of the evening sopping up water and wondering how much damage the floors had seen.

When asked of why the floor was soaked, Viktor just made the excuse that Yuuri fell asleep in the tub.

.

Viktor took off work that week to take care of Yuuri, who was still quite sick. It could be influenza, and because of that, he kept a close eye on Yuuri and the children away from him to be safe. There was a pandemic when Yuuri was a young man that killed more people he knew than he was comfortable with admitting, and influenza killed a child of his as well, so ever since he’d been quite cautious.

Scarlett would be getting a break from him until he got better, and she should’ve been thankful for it. But instead, it felt like something was missing from the house, and the dinners all sucked, as did the packed lunches. Even though he nagged the shit out of them, Yuuri was an irreplaceable piece of the family and without him, the balance was completely shifted.

On Friday night, it was close to seven and there wasn’t any signs of dinner or enough groceries to make one. Even though Viktor often grocery shopped for them, he was seriously failing on his part this week.

“Dad, give me a dollar and I’ll go get dinner. This is ridiculous.” Nikolas finally snapped at around 7:05.

“What’s ridiculous? The fact that you three don’t know how to cook for yourselves? I agree.” Viktor turned a page of the Times, shifting his attention back to the article he’d been reading.

“You know that’s not what I meant. I’m going to take them to dinner.”

“There’s food here.”

“Oh, right , right, I totally forgot.” Nikolas opened the refrigerator, staring at nothing besides condiments and a very old jar of pickles that someone had once given them that had remained sealed. “Because this suffices as dinner.”

“Maybe if you didn’t have the stomach of a vacuum there’d be more in there.” Viktor set his paper aside and opened the cupboard, nodding to himself. “There’s canned soup, potatoes, and jerky. Who bought jerky? I would never-”

“Give me the money so I can get them something they’ll actually eat. It’s not like you’re poor.” The boy was getting tall; almost the height of his father, but he wasn’t wide or strong enough to be intimidating.

Viktor tilted his head to the side, meeting his eyes. “Do you have something you want to say to me?”

For a moment, Scarlett thought Nikolas would finally stand up to their father. (He’d been mentioning wanting to do so for years, anyway). But he backed down, turned away.

“No? Didn’t think so.”

“Dad…” Scarlett spoke up. “We really are hungry. Can’t we go get pizza?”

“Pizza isn’t good for you.” He said in reply, sifting through the cabinets. “Is something wrong with my cooking?”

“It’s just… not that good. You used to talk about cooking as if you’d done it all the time. And yet, I’ve never seen you prepare a quality meal.”

“That so?” Viktor looked at her. “Maybe tomorrow, then, I’ll prove that I’m not a failure at cooking. For tonight…” He reached into his wallet and pulled out a dollar bill. “Your brother can go buy dinner. Since he volunteered.”

.

“I don’t know how to get them on my side,” Scarlett listened through the door during dinner after Viktor had brought Yuuri his plate. “With how they look at me, I’m certain I’m considered the enemy in this household.”

“I’m not exactly favored, either.” Yuuri spoke a little quieter, so he was hard to hear. “But I try. I would’ve killed for a life like this as a child. Even if I did have to eat old pickles and jerky.”

“If we still had the servants and lived at the mansion, they’d be worse, I’m sure. Probably in boarding school and thinking they were superior. I’m glad they don’t have to live in the hell known as upper class.”

“I know you miss it, though.” Yuuri said to him. “And there are things I miss, too.”

“What might that be, Yuuri?”

There was a pause. “How you would almost never call me Yuuri, as if it was a bad word. Life was easier and you enjoyed living. Now, I’ve seen you go from job to job to try and support us because I get paid next to nothing. You’re always so tired, you don’t look forward to anything anymore, you just wait for the next bad thing to happen. I have noticed, Viktor...”

She took a step back from the door.

“And you think you’ve lost me, when in reality I crave to be close to you once more and don’t want to be separated from you, despite how I act sometimes. I only wish you felt the same.”

“Yuuri? Life’s terrible without you.”

She walked back towards the kitchen before having to hear anything else of a conversation that was not meant for her anyway.

But she couldn't help but feel a sting at her father’s words, even if he was joking. How could life be miserable without Yuuri, when he had his children in this very house, wanting to know him?


 

1939

"Oh no." Scarlett's friend Abigail distinctly heard from her while she waited by the sinks in the girl's bathroom.
"What?"

"Oh no..."

"Seriously, what is it? Should I—"

"Abigail, I think I'm dying!"

"What? Unlock the door!"

And Scarlett did, revealing the red stains on her white stockings beneath her uniform. "Abigail, what is this??"

Abigail gasped, but she didn't look too afraid. "I think I know what it is... but how are you going to leave this bathroom without everyone noticing?" She pulled the stall shut when someone else came into the bathroom. "Scarlett, I think you're menstruating!" She whispered excitedly. "My older sister menstruates, and she told me all about it. Your parents never told you this happened?"

Scarlett shook her head. "I'm not even sure I know what you're saying right now." On top of desperately trying not to cry, she tried to remember a particular conversation she and her mother had about two years ago about puberty, but she brushed him off and didn't listen to a word he said about it, because... awkward. And why was she crying all of the sudden? She wasn't exactly scared, but this was overwhelming and... gross...

"You're so lucky," Abigail breathed in an excited tone. "I'll go get the secretary to call your mom."

"Abigail, no—" 

But Abigail went anyway.

Scarlett hugged her knees in the stall and remained motionless until familiar shoes stood outside the stall. He had been quick; he must’ve dropped everything to be here. “Scarlett? You don’t have to let me in, but... I have a changing of clothes for you and something that might help with your predicament.”

Once she’d changed clothes and followed his instructions with the sanitary napkin, she hugged him fiercely and allowed herself to cry, just for a moment. She didn’t see why he was tearing up, too.

(Needless to say, after Yuuri took her from school and revealed his secret cabinet for sanitary products, a lot of things started making sense to Scarlett)

He explained, of course, why menstruation existed and all the joys of pregnancy, childbirth, and both male and female reproductive systems. It was one of the rare times she wished she was raised by a woman instead.

It wasn’t that he hadn’t been caring and very patient about the situation, but there were things she was going through that he would never understand, and from that moment on she felt incredibly alone in her situation.

***

The boys in the neighborhood changed over the year, Scarlett had decided in the early summer. They used to be children, shorter than she was, and suddenly they had all sprung up like vines and their voices started to squeak and slowly sound like men. And not only that, they were starting to get interested in girls.

Well, one girl, to be specific. Herself.

Which was honestly getting exhausting, but her only advantage was having an older brother to feign them off when needed.

But most of them were just into attempting to charm her with gifts of soda, candy, and other trinkets that could be bought at the five and dime.

Today’s offerings were mostly cigarettes that boys had either bought or stolen from their fathers, but she continuously turned them down.

Boys and girls alike were seated on the edge of a bridge about a mile through the woods behind their house. Scarlett often followed her brother here when she was younger, but this was the first year that she’d actually been invited.

“Scarlett,” The girl next to her passed a lit cigarette. “Want one?”

“Ah… no thank you.” She smoothed the front of her skirt. “My mother would kill me.”

“Your mother doesn’t need to know.” A boy on her other side smirked, poking her arm. “There’s no one here but us.”

“Michael, you know that my mother could sense a butterfly’s wings flapping from a mile away.”

“Can’t say I do. Never met her.” He replied. “But my dad says your mom’s smoked more than a busted car engine, so, there’s that.”

“Shut up.” Scarlett looked down at the stream below them, face red at this sort of discussion going on about her own mother. “Your dad is a jobless drunk and doesn’t know about anything.”

The boy’s expression darkened. “Don’t talk about my dad. You don’t know anything.”

“I know a lot more than that. I know that your dad drinks every night and sits on his porch… calling out at people walking by. My father calls him a porch-dick, but you didn’t hear that from me.”

“You better shut your damn mouth if you know what’s good for you.” The boy's blush was incredibly noticeable, and to make matters worse, the other teenagers on the bridge were laughing at him. “You got no room to talk, Miss Scarlett…” He thrust a finger into her chest, as they now both were standing. She focused on keeping her balance. “Being that your mom’s a whore , and  Japanese. You’ve got that filth in the family and dare talk about my father?”

“Well one of us is telling the truth, here. That’s why I can dare.” Hands on her hips, she ignored the warning from her older brother. He was too far away for her to really understand what he had said. “One of us has decent parents, and one of us smokes cigarettes and steals from his father’s reserves to hide the shame he feels on account of his-”

“Fuck off!” He had finally had enough. It would be one thing for Scarlett to have said this to him in private, but because so many others had been around to hear this ridiculousness, this embarrassment … he lost his temper and he regretted it the moment he pushed her off the bridge.

Thank God it wasn’t too high off the ground.

Smoothing her hair, Scarlett calmly swam to the edge of the bank and hoped that her clothes wouldn’t stain.

.

When several parents, who’d been gathered on somebody’s porch sharing gossip and lemonade spotted their children exiting the woods in quite a peculiar condition, eyebrows were raised. Why were those Nikiforov children sopping wet, but no one else? That creek wasn’t for swimming, and everyone knew that.

But the most attention fell upon young Michael, who had most definitely gotten his ass kicked, though by who, they would never know. He just wouldn’t say.

Once they got to their own porch, Scarlett finally dared to make eye contact with her brother, who still seemed to be fuming from the scuffle at the bridge. “I know what you’re going to say.”

“Yeah?” He sat on the porch swing so suddenly that it began rocking at quite a pace. “You don’t. I’m not like them; I’m not going to tell you to keep your mouth shut from now on. But you do need to stay away from those boys. Next time, he-”

“There won’t be a next time.” She hid a smile. “Why, I’m sure he’s so ashamed of getting beat up in front of everyone that he’ll never show his face again.”

“Scarlett, you don’t know him like I do. He’s a lot bigger and older than you. What happens if you come across him when no one else is around? Do you think he’d let what happened slide?” He scoffed as she opened her mouth to answer. “It’s bullshit, around here. How men think they can treat women.”

“Mom says they learn it from their fathers.” She sat beside him. “But still, you’re probably the only boy who has these opinions.”

“More should.” He said. “And they’re all such hypocrites, that’s why I hate going to church. They tell you God loves all his children and Jesus was friends with a prostitute and yet every time they see a woman with more than one marriage or being scandalous by living her own damn life they want her burnt at the stake.”

She didn’t know what to say, so he continued. “Scarlett, I swear to God I better not ever catch you living your life in accordance with what somebody else wants, because that’s just not you. Don’t ever change your mind on this.”

After a moment, the screen door opened and their little brother came outside, carefully carrying a tray of cookies. “Look what I made!” He nearly dropped said tray, though, when he saw their wet clothes and the mud up to Scarlett’s knees.
Scarlett’s hand moved faster than her lips could, and she signed to him, “ If you tell Mom I’ll throw you into the pond .”

 

Chapter Text

1940

Click! The flash of the camera temporarily blinded all three of the children, crowded together by the staircase in their school uniforms. “Oh, isn’t that perfect …” Yuuri beams at the three of them. “This will make a wonderful picture. We’ll have to order copies when it’s developed.”

“Can we go now?” Scarlett whines. Her older brother keeps pinching her and then pretending he isn’t.

“I suppose it is about time to go, isn’t it? Right…” why was Yuuri tearing up? It was just school, they’d be back in seven hours. They went nine months of the year! He rubs at his eyes, gives them one last look, and then nods to himself. “You’ll get them to school on time, Nikolas? No speeding. And don’t ditch.”

“Oh come on, that was one time …” He laughed, obliging when Yuuri opened his arms for a hug. He held him tight. “It’s hard to believe how grown up you are, sometimes…” He whispers, another round of tears threatening to spill over. “My son’s a senior…

“A senior who’s going to be late if he doesn’t leave soon.” Viktor reminded him from his perch on the stairs. He tossed him the car keys. “I expect you back before four.”

“Sure thing, old man. Come on Scarlett.”

“I wanna go with them too…” Vitaly held onto his brother’s arm.

“I’m driving you, honey,” Yuuri reminds him. “I don’t want you near that high school any earlier than you have to.” Finally, he looks at Scarlett. “Oh, and no boys. Just go to school, talk to your friends, but no boys .”

She rolled her eyes, following her brother outside without another word. “Oh, and Scarlett!” Yuuri calls after her, peeking out the front door. She doesn’t hear what he says after that, but she assumed it was nothing important. Just probably him reminding her to do her chores when she got home.

High school was terrifying. Suddenly, she was the youngest in the school, the boys were all taller than her, the hallways were loud… had it not been for her older brother guiding her through, she would’ve been lost before she even entered the building. Thankfully, Nikolas was probably the only senior not afraid of showing their sibling around.

“Hey, Nick!” A particularly jocky boy clasped her brother’s shoulder in passing, but he was soon distracted by Scarlett. “Is this your kid sister?”

“Yeah, don’t get any funny ideas.”

“Aw come on man, you know I got a girl. But hey, Scarlett… did you hear about the swimming pool on the third floor? You should go check it out.” He winked, and she felt her face heating up. “I’ll catch you later, man.”

After the boy left, Nikolas said, “There’s no third floor. They pull that prank every single year.”

“Oh. I thought he was being nice to me.”

“Seniors aren’t nice to freshmen unless they want to date them. Keep that in mind. Now come on, I’ll show you your locker, but then I have to go.”

“Where? Don’t your classes start soon?”

“I’m free for the first period, so the guys and I are going to get breakfast.”

“You mean, go smoke off campus so Mom and Dad don’t find out?” She scowled. “Nikolas, don’t start a habit like that. Mom smoked for years, Dad too. They’ll know right away.”

“It’s not like they can stop me. I’m not doing anything wrong.” The bell rung loudly overhead, startling Scarlett. “I’ll see you later, Scarlett.”

She nodded and watched him meet with a group of boys, all clasping him on the shoulder and talking about whatever nonsense boys discuss. Probably football. Nikolas played, and he was pretty good at it, but it wasn’t a passion of his. He liked a lot of sports. Last year he gained popularity after the star quarterback, Joseph something-or-other, sprained his ankle during the championship game, and Nikolas had no choice but to go in as backup. At the time, their school was losing 21-3, but Nikolas brought the team back to win 31-24. Ever since then, it seemed as if he was one of the most popular kids in town. Opportunities like that wouldn’t occur for Scarlett to gain popularity. Her only option, she felt, was to get a date with one of the older boys. That was the only way to get into the popularity circle (or whirlpool) of their school. 

And there was only one boy on her mind: Bryan Wilkes. 

.

September came and went, with Nikolas as the starting quarterback for the first four games of the season. Early October brought on an unpleasant shock. Nikolas came home from practice one Friday night and went straight to his room after dumping all of his gear on the front lawn and then slammed the door so loudly that the frame around his door almost cracked.

Scarlett truthfully wasn’t interested in finding out what was wrong, because if she asked he’d pinch her or shove her away. Her mother always said that boys are difficult with emotions and sometimes just need to be left alone. Still, it was unusual for him to throw such a tantrum as little usually upset him.

No more than twenty minutes later, a senior girl who lived on the other side of town rung the bell. A car was parked out on the street with her parents waiting patiently. She was holding a letterman jacket in the crook of her arm. “Um, hi. Scarlett?” She guessed.

“Yeah? Are you looking for my brother? Because I hate to tell you, but he’s in a really bad mood.”
She bit her lip and stole a glance over her shoulder at her parents’ car. It was a new model. “Ah, no… could you- could you just give this to him for me?” She passed the letterman over to her. It was clearly well-worn. “Anyway, I’d better go. Thanks!” And with that, she hurried back to her parents’ car.

Scarlet wondered why they glared at her house while they drove off.

.

The next time she saw her big brother was the following evening. He stayed home from school while claiming to be sick, and her parents actually believed him. That, or they didn’t want to deal with him.

Nikolas joined them at dinner that night with an uncharacteristic scowl. He looked too dangerous to speak to, but their father was dumb enough to try it. “Are you going to the game tomorrow? They’ll sure as hell need you with Waldorf out for at least two more weeks…”

“Apparently they don’t need me that much.”

“What do you mean?”

Nikolas slammed his cup down on the table. “So they got a new coach, right? He just started this week. He’s my girlfriend’s dad, Mr. Wilkes? The second he saw my face, Dad, the second , he said I was benched for the season. Benched!”

“Does he not approve of you being with his daughter or something?” Yuuri asked. “That’s ridiculous if that’s the case, and you should take it up with—”

“It’s part of it. But you know what the main part is? He doesn’t want non-whites on his team. He told me to my face that it sicked him seeing an Asian kid on the front page of the paper last year after the championship game. And since he’s coach, he can decide who he wants as quarterback. And who gets to date his daughter. So I quit the team. I’m not being a benchwarmer any longer than I have to be, especially just so the coach’s ignorant sophomore son can be the star of the team. And that’s it!”

And with that, Nikolas took his plate and left the table, heading upstairs to finish his dinner in peace.

Yuuri sunk his head in his arms. “This is my fault.”

“Seriously Mom? Don’t make this about you.” Scarlett admonishes him. “This is about Nikolas and the coach’s problem.”

 

.

 

“Scarlett?”

She tenses at the sound of his voice. This boy, quarterback of the football team, junior with a nice car, her brother’s worst enemy… just happens to be the most beautiful boy on the planet and Scarlett is hopelessly in love with him. But why would he want to talk to her? “Uh, yeah?” What kind of response was that ? Stupid.

He was alone.

“You got a date to homecoming, yet?”

“No, no…” She felt her face heating up. “I- well, no, my parents said I’m not allowed to date.”

“That’s probably a good thing. ‘Cause I was gonna tell you my friend on the second floor wanted to ask you. But… he’s a little crazy. Anyway, hope you get that sorted out! Later…”

She blinks, wondering if she imagined the conversation that made so little sense. But she went to the second floor anyway. Her brother had classes up there, so if anything went wrong with this “crazy” friend, he could take care of it for her. When she comes upstairs, she finds a senior boy lingering in the hallway, smoking a cigarette. “Scarlett?” He guesses.

“Yes.”

“Did Bryan ask you to homecoming?”

“No… he said someone else wanted to ask me.”

“Damn that boy… I didn’t say I wanted to. You have to pass the interview first.”
“Interview?”

“Uh-huh…” He walks up to her, close , and takes his cigarette from his mouth and pushes it into hers. “How old are you?”

She coughs, thrusting the cigarette into his hands. “Are you trying to get me killed? If my mom smells smoke on me…”
“Oh shit, I forgot you had the crazy mom. Sorry. So… how old are you again?”

“Crazy mom? What are you talking about? D-Don’t put your hands on me—” She swats the more than eager boy’s hands away as he tries to keep her close. “Calm down, kid. What’s your hurry? Don’t you wanna pass the interview?” He leans in close, too close. “You’d be the most popular girl in school, you know. Getting a date with a senior isn’t easy…”

“Neither am I,” She snaps, jamming her knee into his crotch.

Boys are jerks.

Homecoming arrived, but both her and her brother stayed home that night as neither had anyone to go with or felt like it was worth attending. She told Nikolas about the boy and apparently they exchanged words at school the next day. He told Scarlett from now on not to talk to the “dumbass QB” or any of his friends and to not go anywhere alone. They didn’t tell their parents.


 

1941

Scarlett stayed close to her friends for the rest of the school year and her brother kept a watchful eye over her whenever he could. There wasn’t anything to worry about until the last week of November the following school year, when the “dumbass QB” approached her in the hallway in between classes. She looked around to make sure her brother wasn’t watching, even though he didn't even go to their school anymore. “What do you want, Bryan?”

“Wow, isn’t someone in a lovely mood.” He smirks. When that doesn’t work and Scarlett is unimpressed, he drops the act. “Look, Scarlett… I’m sorry about what happened before homecoming. He was really into you, honest. But I had no idea he was going to try anything funny with you.”

“If he was into me he could’ve asked me himself instead of making you tell me. You set me up, Bryan. I could’ve gotten hurt because of you.” She turns away from him and starts to walk away when he says, “You’re right, and I’m sorry. I want to make it up to you, Scarlett. Give me a chance?”

“For what?” She tried to act like she was going to give him a hard time, but the blush on her face gave it away.

“Are you doing anything on Saturday afternoon?”

“S-Saturday?” Her face was the color of her name, no doubt. “Um… my mom and I usually do the shopping on Saturday, and it’s also my brother’s birthday… and since they’re so strict…”
“Sunday then. You can meet me at my house, and we’ll drive someplace. It’s a date?”
She nods quickly.

“See you on the seventh, then.”

***

It was difficult to contain her excitement on Saturday morning and avoid her mother’s suspicions when they went shopping. It was true that Scarlett was never in such a pleasant mood, but when asked, she made the excuse that it was just a nice day out.

They went to the grocery store first and it was there that Yuuri mentioned wanting to stop by a department store to get a few things, which gave Scarlett the brilliant idea of picking out an outfit for her date the following day and labeling it as needing a nice outfit for their annual Christmas picture. But she couldn’t seem to find the right opportunity to ask, as they spent forever in the men’s department looking for a particular brand of socks, and then forever looking at winter boots, and soon enough it was already close to eleven, which meant they had to be home soon if they wanted to bake the cake…

Just as Yuuri headed for the register, she blurted, “Mom! Can I go get something for myself really quick? I already know where it is.”

“For what?” Yuuri asked as he started stacking things at the register.

“Um… for Christmas? The Christmas picture, you know…”
“We could get that at another time.” He doesn’t even look at her, his nose is buried in his oversized wallet. “ Drat , I must’ve left the cash in the car…”

“I can go get it if you—”
“No, no, it’s too far a walk. I’ll have to set up a charge account… just- just go get the outfit you wanted. This could take a while.”

Scarlett hurried off to the Misses department and returns with her outfit of choice before Yuuri can sign the last letter of Nikiforov. He glanced at the outfit, sighed, and told the cashier to add that on, too. “Though I don’t know why you’d want to wear that when you have plenty of fine outfits at home,” he added.

***

The seventh of December started like any other Sunday. Her parents chatting away in the kitchen as always while they prepared breakfast. Her little brother reading the cartoon strip of the Sunday paper, still in his pajamas and laying on the rug in the den. Nikolas dead to the world on the couch, covered only by a thin throw blanket someone had given him last night for his birthday. The radio was off and other than the sound of the frying pan sizzling and her parents’ laughter, the house was quiet. Peaceful.

Today was going to be a good day. On top of everyone being in a good mood, she was going on her first date with one of the most popular boys in school who just might like her back…

Her parents were in a strangely upbeat mood, and halfway through breakfast they announced they were going out that day by themselves, and they wouldn’t be back until late. That gave Scarlett the perfect opportunity to slip in and out unnoticed. Her excitement only grew throughout the day and she left home in the early afternoon to get ready at her friend’s house.

“I can’t believe your parents are actually letting you go on a date with Bryan.” Missy reflected as she watches Scarlett put the final touches on her outfit. “I mean, considering his older sister is your brother’s ex girlfriend and his father hates your brother… you’re lucky.”

“Well, he asked me out. His parents probably know, and even if they don’t, at least he doesn’t agree with them. Help me put this necklace on?”

It was a long walk to Bryan’s house as it was on the other side of town, not far from where Scarlett lived as a young child. Why her parents ever moved out of that manor on the water is beyond her, but she still informed Bryan that they owned the manor and just rented it out to her uncle Alex and his children during some parts of the year. It’s not like he cared, though, and she had to keep reminding herself of that. He liked her regardless of where she lived.

His house had a water fountain in the front yard and a large iron gate that was only slightly intimidating. Fortunately, he was already waiting on the porch. “Hey Scarlett,” He waved and walked over to his brand new car parked in the driveway. “You don’t have to be nervous, girl, my parents aren’t even home, just my sister, and she won’t come out of her room anyway.”

“Why not? I thought she volunteered at that charity on the weekends…” OhmygodI’mabouttobeinaboy’scarohmygod
“Nah, most weekends she just cries over your brother. Big baby. Wasn’t his fault Dad made her dump him. And besides, that was over a year ago. You girls are confusing.”

“They were definitely seeing each other over the summer.” Scarlett said, unsure if she should’ve, “My brother? He was staying at my parents’ house on Poplar for most of the summer playing landlord so he had something to do. And he was in a real good mood while he was there.”

“That so? Huh. The plot thickens.” He grins at her. “Where do you girls like to go on the weekends?”

.

“And that’s my biggest family secret. Now it’s your turn.”

The sun has gone down and Scarlett knows that she and Bryan don’t have much time left together before she needs to go home. After a perfect afternoon, she doesn’t want it to end. But she feels like it’ll end quicker than she wants it to if she confesses hers. Yet, she feels like she can tell him. “You have to promise not to tell anyone this, Bryan. Anyone .”
“Who would I tell, girl?” He poked her side. “Besides, you have leverage since I just told you mine.”

“Okay… mine is…” she took a deep breath, “I don’t think my mother ever loved me.”

“Whoa, that’s deep… why not? You two seem close.”

“Well… I- I was born on a sidewalk, and… it really embarrassed my mom. Dad says we didn’t connect well when I was little but things are different now, but I don’t believe him. My mom treats me different than my brothers. I’m held to much stricter standards. I don’t get any praise. And I really, really think I hate h—”

“How heartless does she have to be not to love you? I mean, really…”

Scarlett shrugged. “I don’t know… I’m sure I haven’t done anything wrong, so it’s not my fault. I just taught myself not to care and figured that whatever my mom hates about me is something I inherited.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with you. Y’know, if you ever need to get away from her, we do have a guesthouse.”
“I could never do that. My mom would probably kill me. And- and you barely know me, Bryan, why would you offer something like that to a nobody?”

“Hmm… why do you think?” He wraps an arm around her shoulders and Scarlett’s heart is about to beat out of her chest. Is this happening ??

.

He drops her off in front of her house, since it’s dark and much colder now. “So, I’ll see you at school tomorrow?” He asks, resting his arm on the door.

“Yeah. See you tomorrow…”

“Will do.”

He drives off, and it takes all Scarlett has not to do a celebratory dance on her front lawn. What a perfect day ! Could things get better than this? She was officially dating Bryan Wilkes. Just wait until I tell Missy about this

The house is mostly dark, despite it only being six o’clock. Only the lights in the den are on. She thinks she can sneak up to her room unnoticed and makes a run for the stairs. “ Scarlett ?” Vitaly hisses from the top of the stairs.

“Hey. Where is everybody?”

“I dunno… Mommy and Daddy are gonna be out ‘til late and Nikolas went out looking for you…”

“For me? Why?”
“‘Cause you weren’t at Missy’s house like you said. So he told me to lock all the doors and hide upstairs.”

“Why would he tell you to hide, silly boy? You’ve been home alone before.”

“He said we had to be careful from now on.” He followed Scarlett downstairs to turn on all the lights. She was starting to get a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. “I’m scared, Scarlett… I was scared you were a burglar!”

“Well, I don’t know what happened, but I’m pretty sure we’re safe. Did you eat dinner yet?”

“No… Nikolas was gonna cook, but then he left to look for you.”

“Oh, in that case, I’ll cook something. Why don’t you sit at the breakfast bar and tell me what you did today?”

Vitaly recalls the day for her. He said that early in the afternoon, their parents left for their evening together. Then, Nikolas and himself lounged about in the den while they listened to a Giants game. Nikolas invited a friend over, a girl called Emily Wilkes. Scarlett raised an eyebrow, but didn’t point out who this Emily actually was. They all went for ice cream together, and then Nikolas dropped Emily off by their old house. Then, they went home. Vitaly fumbled with the radio for a while and Nikolas dozed. But he jolted up when he heard about an attack in Hawaii, and he told Vitaly to go play in his room for a while. “An attack in Hawaii, huh?” She repeated, clearly disinterested. “Here, eat your soup. I’m sure he’ll be back soon.”

“Where did you   go, anyway?” Vitaly asked. “I thought you were s’posed to be at Missy’s.

“I was.”

“Then how come you weren’t there when he checked?”

“We went for a walk.”

“Oh…” He was distracted by the front door opening and Nikolas announcing he was home. “I couldn’t find— Scarlett? What are you doing here? Where were you? I just about called the police!”

“I was with Missy!” Scarlett shouted back at him. “Why are you acting so weird?”

“I checked Missy’s house, and you weren’t there. Our parents are worried sick right now because of you.”

“I thought they were on a date or something?” Scarlett brushed past him and headed for the stairs, stopping for a moment only when he said, “Don’t you know what happened today?”

“Not to be rude, but why should it matter what happens in Hawaii?”

.

Her brother leaves once their parents come home, but nobody goes into Scarlett’s room and she is thankful for that. The following morning, her parents are still in bed and so she goes to school early to avoid being lectured.

And to see Bryan, of course, and spend time with him before classes start. But when she gets to school, she finds the halls essentially empty. Bryan always comes to school early…

He doesn’t show up to school that day, so that afternoon, she decides to pay him a visit to check on him. She buys him his favorite candy from the five and dime and then rides her bike over to his house. There are tons of cars parked in front of the house and in the driveway. Bryan is outside with some adults who she assumes are relatives. Maybe it’s a bad time, but… she has to know if he’s okay. And so she rests her bike against the iron fence and walks through the open gate. He looks up the moment he sees her, but his expression is bitter and his face is red. “Bryan…? What happened?” She sat beside him with no hesitation once she saw that he had been crying.

He rubbed at his eyes and then faced her, the bitterness just as prevelant as before. “My brother is probably dead thanks to you.”
“Me…? What did I—”
“Your kind! You filthy J--! He’d still be here if it wasn’t for you !” Bryan jumped to his feet, pulling Scarlett along. “If you don’t get out of here, my dad will probably blow your brains out. Don’t you ever show your face around here again if you know what’s good for you, your family too, got it?”

“Bryan!” She exclaimed. “I have no idea what you’re talking about! Isn’t your brother in the army?” Scarlett thought she had to be dreaming. Bryan wasn’t like his family, he didn’t hate her for her mother’s race. And why would he start now? What did she, or ‘her kind’, as he put it, do? “Talk to me, please , I’m sure we can— we can figure out whatever it is—”
“I said get out of here ! Get out of here and don’t ever come back, dirty—”

.

“Hey, dinner’s ready!” Yuuri called up the stairs to his children, but is surprised to see that only one comes downstairs, being the child who has difficulty hearing, and not “Scarlett? Come on down, okay? Food’s getting cold!”

Again, no response. Grumbling to himself, he decides to go upstairs and investigate. Her door is closed but not locked, and he comes in without knocking. She’s curled up on her bed in one of her nicest outfits, face blotchy and tear stained.
“Scarlett?”

“Boys are s-so stupid…” She manages to say before crying.

Yuuri lets the door click shut and slowly sits on the bed beside her. “You went over to the Wilkes’ this afternoon, didn’t you?”

“You knew?”
“Of course. Emily told Nikolas. Nikolas told me.”
Scarlett shrugs, lacking the strength to try and come up with an excuse.

“Look, Scarlett… it’s probably best you stay away from the Wilkes family from now on. They aren’t too happy with the Japanese because of yesterday. They may have lost their son at Pearl Harbor and I understand being upset, but do not let yourself take the blame for any of that.”

“Why does he think it’s my fault, Mom? I don’t even look Japanese.”

“But they know you are, because of me. And people look for someone to blame when bad things happen like this, you know… it’s happened before with the Germans, too, and now it’s happening again for them and for us. But I will not let you listen to them. You have done absolutely nothing wrong.”

“Mom… he really liked me, and I liked him too. I don’t want to lose him like this.”

“Oh, Scarlett, there isn’t anything you can do. He’s hurting right now, and trying to fix it won’t make a difference. You need to just give him some space and keep away at all times, honestly…”
“You don’t understand! I don’t want to give him space, I want to work it out, to make him understand that this isn’t my fault!!!” She sprung up onto her feet. “Just get out. You never get me. You don’t even try.”

Yuuri gaped at her outburst but manages to stay calm. “T-That is not true, I- I do understand! I’ve dated boys before, okay? I know exactly how you’re feeling right now.”
“No, you don’t! You don’t know anything! All you know how to do is lecture and make me feel worse!”

.

Scarlett’s words stayed with him all night and he was unable to sleep. For hours, he lie awake staring at his bedroom ceiling, trying to figure out what he should do, what he could say to make her feel better. But he came up with nothing.

“I’m guessing you can’t sleep, because I can sense how tense you are.” Victor murmured, half asleep. “I know you’re worried about war, but can you worry in the morning? Nothing’s gonna happen to you overnight, promise. Just please, please sleep…”
“It’s not that, it’s just… Scarlett’s mad at me and I have no idea how to fix it.”
“Have you thought about giving her some space?”
“Well- yeah , of course! But I don’t think space is what she needs here. She needs support and I don’t know how to give it.”

“What, is she upset over some dumb boy?”

“The same boy she’s liked since starting high school, yes. Emily’s younger brother.”

Victor chuckled, “Why did our kids have to choose the most racist family in town?”

“At least Emily’s not racist.” Yuuri said, “But the younger boy, he is. He called her some terrible things this afternoon and she still thinks she can somehow change his mind. I told her she couldn’t and she’s too upset to be reasoned with.”

“I think she’s probably needing something other than a lecture. Can’t you remember your first boyfriend? Would you have appreciated your mom and dad telling you that you’re acting ridiculous and should just get over it?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Well, everything sounds condencending to a teenager. Sleep on it. I’m sure you’ll have better luck talking to her when she isn’t upset.”

.

Scarlett is in a better mood in the morning, and she leaves for school early to corner Bryan and make him talk to her. She just knows they can work this out, and she has a list of reasons they should.

She finds him seated on a bench outside, alone. There are a few of his friends nearby, but they’re giving him his space this morning.

“Hey, Bryan…”
“What do you want.” He glares at her. Despite his hostile attitude, she sits beside him. “I know you’re upset, and I am so sorry about your brother. But I also wanted to make sure you knew that I am in no way responsible or supporting the actions of the Japanese!” She opens her binder. Clearing her throat, she begins, “Okay, reason number one I’m completely not to blame, I was born right here in the state of New York! See? This is my birth record. And my parents were both born in the United States, too! My father was born in New York, too, and my mother was born in Atlanta, Georgia.”

His glare is even more intense.
“And, um, while I am technically partially Japanese, as you can see on all my records, I’ve always been claimed as my father’s race completely! I’ve never been to Japan and I don’t even know anything about Japan!”

“Doesn’t change a damn thing, Scarlett Nikiforov.” He shuts her binder before she can finish. “W-What? But I—”
“As long as you have a drop of Japanese blood in you, you’re filth to me. And I warned you, didn’t I? But you’re too dumb to listen.”

“Bryan, please , I don’t want to lose you! You’re- you’re more important to me than anyone, and—”

“Just shut up. Shut up! You wanna know the truth, Scarlett? I never liked you. I was dared to ask you out to see if you’re easy, and then you wasted my whole day talking about how your psychotic mother doesn’t love you, as if I give a damn about you or your family. You want to make me happy, girl?” He places a hand on her shoulder, adding with a rough shove, “Then go kill yourself.” He stood over her on the ground and stopped his boot down on her shoulder. “That’d make everyone here happy! One less J-- to worry about!”

“Mr. Wilkes!” Their principal booms from behind them, but he didn't look angry at all. He appeared sympathetic. “You shouldn’t be here, young man, you need more time with your family. Please, go home.”

.

Scarlett doesn’t go to her first class and is marked absent. But she didn't come home, either, so Yuuri is more than worried. On my one day off, he thought to himself while regrettably changing from his pajamas into something presentable. When he opened the front door, though, he realized he didn't have to go anywhere. Scarlett was seated on the front porch with her head in her knees. "Scarlett?"

Instead of telling him to go away or ignoring him, Scarlett surprised him by hugging his legs, crying as if something truly terrible happened to her. He could guess who was responsible for this. "Alright, sweetheart, come inside and let's talk about it."

.

Life didn't seem quite as miserable bundled up on her couch with a hot cup of tea in her hands, but it was still bad. And her shoulder ached so much...
Yuuri came back into the den with a basket of laundry and knelt on the rug to start folding. "Boys are dumb, Scarlett, but in your case, it's more than that."

"I just don't understand why he thinks it's my fault." Scarlett said softly. "On Sunday, he really made me feel like he liked me. But now he says it was all an act and if I want to make him happy, I should die."
"Oh, Scarlett..."
"I feel awful, Mom. I feel like I should make him feel better, but I can't, and he doesn't want me to... what do I do...? Nobody is ever gonna love me!"

"That is not true, Scarlett... you're beautiful and smart and a kind person... and I know that someday you're gonna find somebody who's gonna love you for you. I did, and I had none of your attributes. I couldn't read or write and I was plain and boring and quite honestly not that nice. Even when I was married Scarlett, married, at twenty I thought no one would ever love me. My husband at the time certainly made me feel that way. It wasn't until I was twenty-two years old that everything changed for me. That's seven years older than you."

"And that's seven years of loneliness if I follow the same path." Scarlett pointed out. This gave Yuuri an idea. "Yeaaah, but," he pulled a heavy photo album from under the coffee table and sat beside her on the sofa. As he opened the first page, he said, "personally, I think it's worth the wait."
"Gross."

After Yuuri skimmed through about twenty full pages of pictures, they're met with a shot of a boring sidewalk. "And then you showed up."
"Why didn't you just go to the hospital earlier?"
"I wasn't sure if you were coming yet. Big mistake on my part. But... you were cute." He flipped the page, and the next one, to reveal tons of baby pictures of Scarlett that she had never seen before. Just as many of her as her older brother, and possibly more. "This one is one of my favorites." Yuuri pointed to a photo of Scarlett at about two years old, seemingly engaging in a conversation with her father explaining why there was ink all over her white Easter dress, all while looking very stressed out. 

Scarlett smiled faintly, but then her attention shifted to the next photo. "Three more years and that estate is all mine... I can't wait."
"Are you planning on moving there right away, Scarlett?"
"I'm not sure yet. I just think it'll be good to have it if I need it, to get out of your hair sooner." She turned the page and looked at a family photo for a while.
"Is that what you imagine I think of you? Just a burden I want to get rid of?"
"Well... yeah. I mean, I've heard you tell people how much I drive you crazy, and you never have anything nice to say to me. But it's fine. I know I make a lot of mistakes, so..."

Yuuri stared at her for a long moment, likely trying to find out if she was just joking. But she wasn't. And she didn't say anything else. He didn't have another choice, he had to come clean. "Scarlett, I got sick after you were born. It wasn't your fault, or mine, it just happened. And it isn't the kind of sick you can fix with bedrest and chicken noodle soup. It made it hard to take care of you, to love you, even though I wanted to more than anything. To make sure you were cared for properly, a lot of your family raised you in the first few months while I tried to get better. And I was better, most of the time, even when you drove me crazy as a toddler. But a lot of bad things kept happening, like the loss of your sister. Again, it wasn't anyone's fault. During those years I wasn't a good parent. I could hardly function as a person. I never told you this because it's embarrassing. A lot of your relatives shamed me for it. So, feeling shamed, I hid it. And by hiding the truth it hurt you as you didn't understand why I did those things.

"And yes, now I'll admit I am tough on you, only because I want you to make the right choices. I want you to have a better life than I did. Maybe I could learn to lighten up a bit, I don't know, that's what your dad always tells me after you and I have our arguments. And I know I don't tell you or show you as much as I should, but I really do love you, Scarlett. Always have, always will, regardless if I look upset or am upset with you, and I'm so sorry I ever made you doubt that. I want to make sure that never happens again, so I'm gonna need your help figuring out how to do that. What do you think?"

"I think... we should go get breakfast together. I can't think on anything on an empty stomach."


1942

“Hey, Scarlett, isn’t your mother from Japan?” Late winter in New York felt like it’d simply drag on forever, and Scarlett is far too tired to keep wearing heavy coats when spring fashion has already been stocked in the stores. “Old Roosevelt’s roundin’ them up now out west, does she have relatives out there?”

She snapped her head up at the mention of Yuuri though, as she’d been trying to mention him as little as possible ever since racial tensions against the Japanese had skyrocketed in her area. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I only live with my father.”

“Then your mom was Japanese, or you’re adopted, honey,” An older boy teased, nudging her playfully.

“I’m not Japanese!” She exclaimed, face reddening. “And I don’t even have a mother. Mine died when I was little.”

“Then who the hell was that with your dad at your brother’s graduation?” Another boy poked her. “You don’t have to lie about it, I’m not about to gut your mom for-”

“That’s not my mother. It’s our maid.” Scarlett nodded to herself. “H-... She has lived with us since my mother died and was close with Nikolas. Dad’s going to fire her soon, though. Not that I care.”

“So tell us about your mom, then, where is she from?”

With a scowl as her bus arrived, she says over her shoulder, “Atlanta.”

One of her greatest fears recently was something terrible happening to her mother because of the blind hatred their country was engulfed in during the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. The Wilkes' son did in fact die during the bombing which left Scarlett at the bottom of the social chain at school. But for once, that was fine. She didn't want to see him anymore after what he did to her. Emily Wilkes, however, was still very much in love with her older brother and came around the house more and more. She was a nice girl. She went to college nearby, but she came home on the weekends and sometimes visited Nikolas at home on certain weeknights. Her parents wanted to invite Emily on vacation with them that summer. She didn't exactly have the nicest home life. 
But anyway, back to her mother. Yuuri was told upon arriving at work a few days after the attack to not bother showing up anymore. Instead of admitting his termination, he told everyone he decided spontaneously to take an early retirement.

Everyone, of course, knew otherwise.

Even though it obviously upset him to lose the job he loved so much, it was probably safer for him to be home as much as possible, away from the hatred. From the threats.

He acted like it didn't bother him and that he wasn't afraid of the recent developments, but he was terrified. The only person he thought knew of his fears was his husband, but Scarlett's heard him at night, pacing back and forth downstairs, sometimes until the early hours of the morning when he's urged to come to bed. She knew he worried. He just didn't want her to worry.

***

Her older brother turned twenty on a snowy December day, and to celebrate, they all gathered around and waited to hear which numbers were selected for the draft. Because of his mixed heritage, Nikolas was positive that even if his number was called, he'd be rejected. With that in mind, he fell asleep on the couch without a care in the world. Yuuri complained that the draft made him too nervous and went upstairs to prepare the guestroom for his sister, who was coming to stay with them in a few days due to her frail health and having no children in the house. Only Viktor sat dutifully by the radio, tenseness evident.
"Were you drafted, Dad?" Scarlett asked, closing her book when they are informed the draft is about to be selected.
"No, I was young and reckless and decided to enlist. I had nothing better to do."

"I'm glad girls don't have to register, but I do wish we could do something to help."
"There's plenty you can do," He replied, freezing when the number is called. He looked down at the paper in front of them in disbelief while the man on the radio repeated the number. Then, his eyes shift to his sleeping son, barely twenty years old.
"Dad?"
"He'll be exempt. Don't worry, Scarlett. We don't have to tell your mom."

.

He wasn't found exempt. A few days later when he went to be evaluated, the military found quite a bit of use for him, being that he was of good health, literate, and trilingual. His birth certificate never specified he was of Japanese origin and the military didn't seem too interested in finding that out. She couldn't believe this was happening. Up until this point, Scarlett kept her nose out of the war. As long as it didn't effect her directly, she told herself she wouldn't care. It was the only way to stay calm during all the talk, the violence, the hatred.

But now it's real. 

Her brother is going to die.