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Out of the Looking Glass

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October 7, 2017
Dr Otabek Altin’s Office, Baltimore

The office is shadowy, calming, carefully curated in shades of blue and slate grey. The ceiling is carefully blank, with only small ceiling lights in the plaster and a hairline crack in the crown molding on the opposite wall. The curtains diffuse the bright mid-morning sun, softening its glare just inches from Yuuri’s upturned gaze as he quietly measures the beats of his own heart.

“So, Agent Katsuki,” the low, calming voice of Dr Otabek Altin resounds from from across the sleek mahogany coffee table. Yuuri looks back at him; he’s dressed sharply in a black suit, his dark hair carefully gelled back and a ballpoint pen imperiously poised on a blank page of his notebook. Every pore on his face seems to emanate calm. “Tell me why you’re here.”

Yuuri’s hands scrunch at his knees. “You want the full story?” he asks.

“I’ve been following it, off and on,” replies Dr Altin. “I want the story that directly leads to you being here, in this office, staring at me.”

“Okay,” says Yuuri, his breath shaky. “Okay then.”

September 29, 2017
Apartment 221B Broome Street, New York City

Phichit tears into the apartment like a small tornado, tossing clothes haphazardly all over the place as he attempts to figure out which outfits are Yuuri’s and which are his. Over on the couch, Yuuri sits with his heart made of lead and his feet unable to propel him over to his friend’s side to assist in his endeavours at packing Yuuri’s suitcase.

“Christophe’s booked you the 10 PM train down to D.C.; we’ll take you out to Penn Station once I’m done packing this for you,” Phichit’s saying. Yuuri tries to slow down the racing of his heart by taking deep breaths, but each inhale through his lungs reminds him of how Martin Shieh is missing his. Each bite of his lips reminds him of Hyun-min Han, each blink of his eyes reminds him of Seung-gil Lee. He can barely even rock back and forth on his feet, remembering the stumps at the base of Eric Trentwood’s legs.

He wants to say something, but he’s certain that if he opens his mouth right now he’s going to start screaming again, and no one needs to hear that, least of all him. The landlady’s going to come knocking, and probably try to call the police, and the police will arrive and say oh, it’s just Agent Katsuki. He lost his mind today down at the 24th Precinct; didn’t you hear?

Thousands of mourners lined the streets today at the funeral procession for NYPD Detective Seung-gil Lee. Detective Lee was a victim of an Angel of Mercy killer, Sara Crispino, who had been his nurse while he was recovering from his injuries sustained at the hands of the now-infamous Couture Cutter. The Mayor of New York reaffirmed her dedication to bringing this killer, who has been terrorising the city’s Asian population for the past five years, to justice, saying that the NYPD and the FBI are working in tandem as hard as they can to try and catch —

Yuuri shuts off the television, his hands trembling. Phichit re-enters the living room with a wheeled suitcase packed to the brim; Yuuri fiddles with the handle as he tries to avoid looking his friend and flatmate directly in the eyes.

Phichit’s pitying look is not something he can stomach right now.

“If you find yourself missing something, text me and I’ll try to ship it down,” says Phichit. “And promise me if you find some of my stuff in there, you’ll send it back up? Preferably with some winter coats; it’s going to get chilly soon.”

Yuuri nods, twisting the luggage tag on the suitcase with a determined stare. It’s got little blue poodles on it, which he’d gotten because they reminded him of Vicchan. Perhaps this Christmas he’ll fly home to Hasetsu and see her again; it’s been far too long.

The door unlocks, and Christophe comes in with a bag full of bánh mì sandwiches from the Vietnamese deli downstairs. Yuuri bites into his with some trepidation, unsure of whether or not he can keep down his food at all. His phone pings with a message; he casts a brief glance towards the screen.

I watched the funeral on the news today :( My deepest sympathies to you. Let me know if you’re ok <3

Yuuri closes out of the message without a response. He finishes the sandwich with trembling fingers, before grabbing the handle of his suitcase.

“It’s not time to go yet,” Christophe says.

Yuuri shakes his head. The sooner he gets out of the city, out of the range of this monster who seems to lurk in his every shadow, the better.

October 7, 2017
Dr Altin’s Office, Baltimore

“They changed his name after news got out that I had left the case,” Yuuri says quietly, staring down at his nails. Dr Altin hums, jotting something down in his notebook. “I mean, I don’t think they did it to make fun of me, of course — they were probably looking for something more encompassing than ‘Couture Cutter’ given that some of the bodies weren’t in haute couture, but sometimes I wonder if it’s sort of his last jab at me. A challenge to get me to come back.”

“He?” echoes Dr Altin.

“The unsub,” replies Yuuri. “The press call him the Katsuki Killer now.” And he shudders, because he’d spent every minute since the first use of the new name denying that such a change ever happened. Katsuki Killer is too final, too personal. Too diametrically opposed to himself.

No doubt the unsub loves it, though, to be held in such direct opposition to him. It’s a game of cat and mouse, but neither of them are truly ever just the cat or just the mouse.

“It does fit the main thread of the bodies,” Dr Altin notes.

“But it’s not comforting at all,” Yuuri points out.

“Definitely not,” agrees Dr Altin. “And now everyone uses it?”

“Phichit and Christophe don’t,” says Yuuri, just as his phone pings with another text from Viktor.

How have you been? :)

Yuuri ignores it, just like the others. Viktor has texted him a hello and a goodnight for the past week. But he cannot bring himself to talk to anyone currently in New York. Even work-related things from Phichit and Christophe take him a while to actually respond to.

Almost as if on cue, he gets another email from Phichit about yet another body. On instinct, he opens up the email, skimming Phichit’s questions about how he’s doing in D.C. before opening the attachment.

“Mr Katsuki?” asks Dr Altin, his eyebrows furrowing and his voice strangely flat. Yuuri blinks, and then realises that he’d unconsciously reached up to grab his ears.

“Sorry,” he says automatically, lowering his hands. “I’d — It’s. It’s work.”

“You’re on medical leave,” Dr Altin points out bluntly. “You’re not going back to work until I say you can.”

“The killer’s not on a holiday,” Yuuri mutters petulantly.

“You’re not the killer,” Dr Altin reminds him.

“I might as well be!” Yuuri shoves the phone at the psychiatrist, with the image of a man staring sightlessly up at the camera plastered across the screen. He’s framed by trash bags, some of them split open with their contents bursting out like pus from an infected wound. Flies buzz around his head in a perversion of a halo, attracted by the rot and the two red ovals on the sides of his head where his ears had previously been. A sliver of bone peeks out on the left side.

His arms, draped over the garbage, have large chunks of skin cut from them in neat squares like a patchwork quilt of flesh and muscle. Yuuri takes a moment to be grateful for the fact that they’re only looking at photographs; he can’t imagine what it must have been like to be there in person, smelling the decay and the refuse all around.

Yuuri shoves the phone at the psychiatrist, with the image of a man staring sightlessly up at the camera plastered across the screen. He’s framed by trash bags, some of them split open with their contents bursting out like pus from an infected wound. Flies buzz around his head in a perversion of a halo, attracted by the rot and the two red ovals on the sides of his head where his ears had previously been. A sliver of bone peeks out on the left side.

Dr Altin leans back from the phone like it’s contagious. “Yes, I can’t imagine why you’d be here,” he intones drily.

“The unsub just cut him up like scrap fabric and tossed him away!”

“Medical leave, Mr Katsuki,” Dr Altin points out.

“How can you be so calm when people are dying out there?”

“Because people die every day, and my concern rests with the living. Specifically you, who’s clearly looked at too much death in the past few months.”

“It’s not the ‘killer’ part that gets me,” Yuuri snaps. “It’s the ‘Katsuki’ part. I can handle a little death, it comes with the job — it’s just… it’s just not as easy to separate yourself when death is wearing your face.” He pauses. “How would you feel if —”

“No, we’re not pursuing that line of inquiry,” declares Dr Altin. He steeples his fingers, crosses his legs. “But for the record, I’d move back to Almaty, if it were me.”

“Are you suggesting I move back to California?”

Dr Altin shrugs. “Whatever is best for your mental health,” he says.

“One of the bodies was from California,” Yuuri points out. “If anything, I suspect the unsub would follow me there if word got out I’d left.”

“And he hasn’t already found out that you’re out of the city?” asks Dr Altin.

“Maybe by the next press conference.” Yuuri agitatedly fiddles with his phone, closes the photo gallery with a sigh. “I — I can’t go home. I can’t bring him with me.”

There’s a long pause, before Dr Altin raises an eyebrow and gestures to the phone. “Are you going to keep on looking at these pictures while you’re on medical leave?” he asks. “You can’t ask your colleagues to stop sending them?”

“No,” says Yuuri automatically. “I need to be kept up to date. It just isn’t right otherwise, given that they died because of me.”

“They died because someone else thinks they can play god,” Dr Altin replies, his expression hard. “You don’t have to hang yourself because of them. This killer is ultimately responsible for their deaths. Not you. And I will say that as many times as you need to hear it.”

Yuuri rubs at his temples. For a moment, all that can be heard in the room is the sound of the air conditioning, and the distant clack of the receptionist’s keyboard. Finally, Dr Altin sighs.

“Look, Mr Katsuki,” he says placatingly. “I know you want to get back in the field. But I don’t think it’s a wise thing for you to face the horrors of your job alone. Every time you get an email from work, come and see me. You can look at them in a safe environment, and I will help you through it. Okay?”

Yuuri clenches his teeth. “The killer doesn’t seem to sleep,” he points out sourly.

“Unfortunately, I have to sleep. So if the killer strikes again when I am asleep, do you think you’d be able to hold off from looking at the bodies until you’re here?”

Yuuri nods tersely. “I’ll try,” he says.

“That sounds like the best response I’ll get from you,” replies Dr Altin, and leans back in his seat. “Same time, next week?”

Yuuri slowly rises to his feet. “Or earlier, depending on the killer,” he says.

“I’ll keep you pencilled in,” replies Dr Altin, with a calm smile. For once, Yuuri finds himself smiling back.

Out in the parking lot, his phone pings with another text from Viktor. It’s a photograph of Makkachin, along with the caption He misses you as much as I do :).

Yuuri still doesn’t respond.

October 13, 2017
FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia

Yuuri visits Quantico on a Friday.

It’s almost as if he’s a ghost in the halls of the FBI Academy, given how hushed and grave everyone seems to be whenever they spot him. Cadets and trainees give him a wide berth, whispering quietly to themselves about him. Agent Katsuki, they murmur to one another, the target of the Katsuki Killer. Even here among his colleagues he can’t escape the name.

He slips into the back of the lecture hall where Professor Graham holds his criminology classes. His former mentor is there, revising a stack of notes at the desk. Without even looking up, he says, “Hello, Agent Katsuki.”

“Hello Professor,” says Yuuri, gesturing to one of the chairs. “May I?”

“Help yourself.” Professor Graham looks up, adjusts his glasses. “I heard you’re on medical leave.”

Yuuri sighs, mirroring his mentor awkwardly. “Yeah. It’s… I’d rather not talk about it.”

“Understandable.” Professor Graham organises the notes, pushing them to the corner of the desk and capping his pen with a loud click. “Given the nature of the corpses, I could certainly see why you’d be taken off the case.”

“I wasn’t taken off,” Yuuri insists. “I took myself off. There’s a bit of a difference.”

A brief flicker of surprise flickers across Professor Graham’s face. “That’s… remarkably prescient of you,” he says. “No good comes from chasing down people who prefer to nest in your shadows.”

Yuuri shudders at his wording. “That’s definitely one way to put it,” he mutters. “So you’ve been following the case?”

“Everyone has,” says Professor Graham. “It’s remarkable. What should be a textbook serial killer is not so textbook at all when you consider the overlapping victims, the alternating patterns of remorse and overkill, the seemingly arbitrary MOs — your unsub is clearly self-aware, despite harbouring a very complex delusion.”

“Self-aware,” echoes Yuuri. “I’d thought, perhaps, that he’d know more than he let on, but —”

Professor Graham gets up, walks over to the desk. For a moment Yuuri is brought back to his trainee days, remaining behind after class to ask questions of his mentor despite Professor Graham’s infamous reputation for antisocialness. He looks down at the ugly speckling on the desk, fingers idly tracing the initials carved into the laminate by a previous student.

“The pictures of the few corpses that I have seen indicate someone who is incredibly in control of themselves, no matter how haphazard the mutilations are, or how rushed they seem.” Professor Graham takes a seat on the desk, drumming his fingers against the desk as he looks off into the distance. “His motives for doing so are complex. They’re never something as simple as baiting the police, shaming the victim, or drawing attention to his skill. Each one conveys a specific message to a variety of people. And those messages aren’t just plain emotions, they’re… they’re paragraphs of meaning. It’s like — it’s like a bouquet.”

Yuuri jolts at that. He looks up in alarm at Professor Graham, but his mentor continues on.

“You get a bouquet from someone, and on the surface you’ll simply see pretty flowers. Depending on the appearance, or the number, that bouquet may convey something simple such as an apology, a love declaration, or gratefulness. Most florists design them along those lines, only utilising flowers for their aesthetic values.”

Yuuri nods, staring ahead at the empty screen and trying not to remember Martin Shieh.

“However,” Professor Graham says with a small clap, “there is the practice of floriography, in which someone versed in all the meanings and phrases associated with every individual species and variety of flower can convey complex messages within a single arrangement. The inclusion of certain kinds of flowers, their position within the bouquet, whether their leaves are left on or not — all of them have meaning. Textbook serial killers talk of simple emotions and messages. Your unsub is a floriographer.”

Yuuri drums his fingers irritably on the desk. “First an innkeeper, now a floriographer,” he mutters. “What’s next, an auteur?”

Professor Graham looks sharply at him, squints a little. “An innkeeper?” he asks. “Like who, Procrustes?”

Yuuri looks up at the ceiling. “Of course you would get that reference,” he says.

Professor Graham tilts his head in a manner not unlike a magpie spotting something particularly shiny. “Is that the conclusion you reached? That he’s Procrustes, and you’re the iron bed?”

Yuuri looks down, suddenly registering a pain in his palms. Slowly, he forces himself to unclench his hands, digging out his fingernails from the red crescents they’ve left behind in his palms. Professor Graham looks down as well, his expression mildly concerned.

“I’m sorry, you’re on medical leave. I shouldn’t have said that,” he says.

Yuuri makes a mental note to cut his fingernails. “It’s all right,” he says. “It’s nothing I haven’t heard before. And honestly, I’d rather people not treat me like I’m going to go mad, just because I’m here on medical leave.”

“Well, it is an occupational hazard,” Professor Graham remarks lightly.

Yuuri laughs, a single harsh bark. “Unfortunately,” he agrees drily. “But besides the floriography thing, do you happen to have any other insights?”

Professor Graham takes off his glasses and polishes them as he gets up and steps back from the desk, his eyes glazing over with thought. “Like I said, your unsub is remarkably self-aware. You’re not going to trap him by playing games with the media or any of the other usual FBI traps set for your garden-variety serial killer. He has utter self-control and discipline. Not just in regards to these corpses, but also in his regular life. Whoever your unsub is, he is not beholden to anyone. Except, perhaps, you.”

Yuuri grins, a little self-deprecatingly. “It’s not like I can ask him on the news to stop, though, can I?”

Professor Graham grins in return. “A serial killer stopping just because the FBI asked them nicely? What a tender world that would be,” he replies. “But — perhaps, considering that you are his muse. I wouldn’t recommend trying it out, though.”

“You said he wasn’t textbook,” Yuuri recalls. “You also make him out to be kind of a psychopath, whereas I never quite read that when I saw the bodies. Is that how you see him?”

Professor Graham shakes his head. “I wouldn’t know,” he admits. “I find that psychopathy tends to be a label slapped onto the minds of people we cannot comprehend.” He pauses. “Much like autism.”

“But…” Yuuri prompts.

“But if we’re talking about your unsub, I’d say, once again, that he has utter control over himself. If he is not psychopathic, as you seem to believe, then he at least has extremely fine-tuned compartmentalisation skills. He could almost become two different people, depending on which side of him you engage with. Each persona he adopts is more than just a mask. It’s a full-bodied costume.”

Yuuri’s expression flattens at the recall of a certain case a couple years back. “What, like a fursuit?” he asks.

Professor Graham flinches almost instinctively. “Let’s not bring that up again,” he mutters. “I’ve had enough jokes from Price to last me a lifetime.”

“But —”

“Yes.” Professor Graham’s tone is flat. “If you must put it that way, yes. Like a fursuit. But I would personally akin it to different outfits you wear for different occasions. You wear different clothes to sleep than you do for work. Or for partying.” There’s a pointed silence at the end, and Yuuri’s cheeks heat up at the memory of the one time he’d showed up to Professor Graham’s class hungover and in the previous night’s clubbing outfit.



“So like how you put on a fursuit to go to a furry convention?”

Professor Graham openly grimaces and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Now you’re just being obtuse,” he complains. “Are you bringing up that case just to reopen my own traumas?”

“No, I’m —” Yuuri chuckles. “I’m just wondering if I could actually get you to say those words.”

“I should’ve failed you,” declares Professor Graham, though there’s no bite to his words.

“You couldn’t have,” Yuuri points out. “I was top of the class. I did everything you assigned, even the last-minute ones. The literal last-minute ones.”

Professor Graham rolls his eyes, but says nothing. Yuuri leans back in his seat, and a comfortable silence fills the space between them. For a moment, Yuuri could pretend almost as if he’s a trainee again, and he’s just gone to Professor Graham’s office hours to ask for advice on a paper.

But then the moment shatters in the form of the classroom door banging open and a portly, dark-skinned man storming inside. Under the light, Yuuri recognises him as the former Section Chief of the BAU, who’d reportedly turned to being a Dean of the Academy in his retirement from active duty.

“Crawford.” Professor Graham’s voice is pleasant, slightly surprised. “What brings you out of the dungeon today?”

“Katsuki,” snaps Crawford without preamble. “You’re on medical leave. Don’t think that none of us know what you’re doing here.”

Yuuri arches an eyebrow. “I didn’t realise visiting my favourite professor was against the law.”

“It isn’t, but you are on medical leave.” Crawford crosses his arms.

Yuuri sighs. “And why, exactly, are you harping on about that?” he asks.

“Because when you’re on medical leave, that means you’re to have no exposure to any of your cases outside of your doctor’s office,” replies Crawford. “Especially the Katsuki Killer one.”

Yuuri flinches. “And how do you know I’m on medical leave?” he demands.

Professor Graham coughs awkwardly. “There was a staff meeting,” he mumbles, almost contrite. Somehow, that partly explains every single look he’s received today.

“Director Hobbs believed it best to help you facilitate your speedy recovery by making sure you did not engage with any cases that may trigger you.”

“Trigger,” repeats Yuuri. “She thinks I have PTSD?”

“Well, not really,” says Professor Graham. “But people in our line of work tend to amass traumas like trophies of war.” He mouths something that looks suspiciously like ‘fursuits’ at Crawford, who goes grey and also visibly flinches, stepping back towards the door.

“Just… get out of here, Katsuki,” he says, with a pointed grimace towards Professor Graham, whose grin has way too many teeth. “Take care of yourself. Don’t go near here, or the FBI Building.” He pauses. “Or him.”

“Jack, you make it sound like I’m contagious,” Professor Graham drawls, with a pout.

“I dunno, Will,” Crawford retorts. “You’ve sure infected Katsuki with your work habits.”

Almost as if on cue, both Yuuri and Professor Graham reach up to adjust their glasses. With a vindicated glare, Crawford gestures towards the door.

“I rest my case,” he snaps. “Now leave.”

Again, as if on cue, Professor Graham and Yuuri look at each other with the exact same deer-in-the-headlights expression. Reluctantly, Yuuri clambers to his feet, and heads for the door.

Professor Graham walks him over, a placid smile firmly on his face. “It was good to see you again, Yuuri,” he says, reaching out to shake his hand. Yuuri takes it with a quizzical look; Professor Graham was notorious for preferring the company of dogs to humans. Getting a handshake from him was akin to finding a childhood idol in one’s bathtub. Even then, Yuuri would have betted on finding Stéphane Lambiel at his family’s motel than getting a handshake from Professor Graham.

It’s only when he’s made his way out to his car that he finds Professor Graham’s business card tucked into his cuff.

October 15, 2017
Au Bon Pain, Washington, D.C.

“So, Yuuri-kun, were you ever going to tell me that you’re back in town, or was I supposed to find out from Takeshi?”

Yuuri almost chokes on his croissant. He turns around, and nearly collides with an incredibly pretty (and incredibly cross) young woman with her hair tied in a ponytail. “Yuuko —” he manages, but she clicks her tongue at him.

Yuu-chan, remember?” she corrects reprovingly. “You’ve only been gone a couple months! It’s like I don’t even know you anymore! Like we didn’t grow up together, and you weren’t my best man, and we didn’t nearly plan that three —”

“Yuu-chan!” Yuuri shrieks. “Hisashiburi!” The Japanese flies out of him in desperate preservation, though it does nothing to deter the curious stares from the people around them. Some of who, to his growing horror, are colleagues on lunch break.

Yuuko Nishigori grins from ear to ear, before descending upon him in a smothering, slightly bone-breaking hug. Yuuri desperately gasps for air somewhere between her cleavage. “How are you doing, Yuuri-kun? Really, were you ever going to say anything?”

“I — uh — what?” As if on cue, Takeshi Nishigori slides into the booth across from him. Yuuko releases him and plunks herself down in the seat next to him, barring his escape. Yuuri turns and momentarily contemplates the feasibility of using the window as an exit.

“You were so busy thinking about something in that head of yours that you didn’t even hear me calling out to you fifteen minutes ago,” Takeshi declares. Yuuri blinks, looking down at his phone which had been lying on the table, his messaging app open to his conversation with Viktor.

Yuuko, predictably, makes a grab for the phone, but Yuuri miraculously saves it from her larceny attempt, pocketing it securely in the pocket on his other side.

“So,” he says, voice betraying his panic, “what brings you here?”

Takeshi rolls his eyes. “Oh, you know, lunch. And then I saw my childhood friend, who ignored me. Several times, like he was leaving me on read. So I called for backup.”

All Yuuri can do is laugh nervously. “Didn’t you guys get the memo? I’m basically persona non grata to the FBI. I have, like, the Black Plague.”

Yuuko snorts. “You think some memo’s going to stop us? We were friends long before we joined the Bureau. I’m always going to talk to you. Even when you’re six feet under.”

Surprisingly, that actually seems comforting. Yuuri relaxes at it, feeling the smile on his face for the first time in ages. “How are you two doing?” he asks. “How are the triplets?”

“Same old, same old,” says Takeshi in a tone of affected calm. “You know, asking every day when they can hang out with Uncle Yuuri again.”

Yuuri chuckles. “I guess I can do that now, since I’m back. And fortunately, this time I’m on medical leave, so they’re not going to find my case pictures.”

Yuuko snorts. “Well, last week they got into the Kobayashi case files,” she says, and Yuuri startles in recognition of the name.

“Wait, the child pornographer?” he demands, cringing at the mental image of the triplets’ reactions. Yuuko nods gravely.

“Yeah,” she says. “Not a fun talk. I think they’d rather take your case files over ours.”

Yuuri nods. “I suppose violence against adults is more palatable at that age.”

Takeshi’s eyes narrow. “Have you been talking to Professor Graham again?”

“That’s classified,” Yuuri says.

“That’s bullshit,” counters Takeshi.

Yuuri clears his throat. “Anyway, how is the Kobayashi case doing?” he asks, in an obvious attempt at deflection. Yuuko takes the bait anyway, heaving a sigh and resting her forehead onto the table.

“Not well,” she sighs. “Our tipline’s been flooded with false alarms lately.”

“False alarms?” echoes Yuuri.

Yuuko rubs at her temples. “Some punks on the internet have been trying to convince us that some artist drawing pictures of completely fictional teenagers having sex was akin to child pornography,” she groans. “We had to follow up on it, and, of course, found nothing else on that artist. But then there were a bunch of others, and we had to follow up on those, too, just in case. It kept snowballing, and it wasted so much time and resources.”

“Meanwhile, Kobayashi’s gone off the grid,” growls Takeshi. “He hasn’t uploaded anything to the usual dark web sites. Or anywhere else, for that matter.”

“I bet we could’ve caught him if we weren’t so busy dealing with all the false alarms,” Yuuko adds, rolling her eyes. “But you know, we have to search through those claims just in case we do find something noteworthy. The majority of it’s just bullshit, though.”

“That’s a shame,” says Yuuri. “I’m sorry to hear that.” He polishes off his croissant, not really knowing what else to say. “Any good news, though?”

“The triplets have landed roles in the Halloween play,” replies Takeshi. “They’re the witches in Macbeth.”

“Wanna see the pictures?” asks Yuuko eagerly, pulling out her phone. Yuuri coos at the photograph of the three little girls in their matching black costumes.

“They’re adorable,” he says.

“Cutest witches ever,” agrees Takeshi. “They really would like to see you again, and, since you’re in town…”

“Yeah.” Yuuri nods, smiling. “I’d like to see them too. I could babysit them for you, if you’d like?”

“Maybe we’ll call on you to babysit whenever we gotta go overtime on the Kobayashi case?” asks Yuuko.

Yuuri shrugs. “Well, I’m on medical leave. It’s not like I’m going anywhere.”

October 21, 2017
Dr Altin’s Office, Baltimore

“We’ve discussed your relationship with the other victims,” Dr Altin begins a week later. Outside the skies are overcast, greying sunlight filtering onto the dust motes dancing in the office. “But Seung-gil Lee was the closest one to you, if not emotionally, then at least by proximity. You’ve told me how your friends reacted to his death. But I’ve never heard about how you reacted.”

Yuuri drums his fingers on the armrest of the chair. “There’s not much to say,” he admits. “I was trying to keep Phichit afloat.”

“But surely you must have felt something, just as you did with the other victims.”

Yuuri pauses, uncrossing his legs and looking to the side. “Seung-gil’s death weighs differently on me,” he says, his voice hesitant and slow. “He was subjected to the same transformation. He suffered greatly, as the others had, but —” He cuts off, searching for the rest of the words somewhere above the windowsill. “Seung-gil Lee died as Seung-gil Lee. He was himself in the end, not a copy of me.”

Dr Altin says nothing to that, only raises an eyebrow. Yuuri sighs, now fiddling with his hands in his lap. There’s a ping from his phone; he checks the notification briefly and pockets it again.

“This might be strange to say but… his death sort of gave me hope.” He adjusts his glasses, feeling a strange lump in his throat. “The rest died at the whims of the unsub. Whims that we’ve been trying to decipher in order to catch him. But Seung-gil was able to seize his own fate and escape, and he gave us important information as a result. If it hadn’t been for Ms Crispino —” and here his voice breaks a little, wavering and fragile, “he would’ve been able to live on as himself. Maybe traumatised, maybe blind, but still himself. And that’s more than what could be said for the others.”

Dr Altin hums. “So in regards to Seung-gil Lee, you focused more on his recovery than his death.”

Yuuri nods. Dr Altin chuckles, a little sardonic.

“I’ll have to admit, that’s a much healthier mindset than I was expecting of you.”

Yuuri shrugs. “Well, he was very memorable,” he says. “He wasn’t posed like the rest. The memory of him snarking at Ms Crispino for the hospital’s awful food sticks with me more than the appearance of his corpse.” He pauses, allowing a small smile to slip onto his face. “Even during his funeral, I didn’t feel as much of a loss as Phichit did, or the rest of the NYPD. Part of me didn’t feel the need to mourn. Seung-gil had entertained the possibility that he would die in the line of duty, as all law enforcement do; the other victims were just civilians. So with him, I wasn’t paying my respects to a victim of the unsub; I was paying them to a fallen hero instead.”

“And what makes one so different from the other?” asks Dr Altin.

“The only thing to mourn about Seung-gil’s death was that it was preventable,” replies Yuuri.

“No one, much less you, could’ve predicted what Ms Crispino did,” counters Dr Altin.

“No, that’s not —” Yuuri cuts off, sighing. “If someone had been in the room — if someone had interrupted her earlier — there were many other ways that it could’ve not happened. All of them were feasible. And I guess it frustrates me that we couldn’t save his life, because we had it right there. We don’t know where the unsub’s holding the other victims, so we can’t do anything for them. But for Seung-gil, we could’ve done everything.”

“Yet you mourn them more.”

“Because it was already a miracle that he had returned.” Yuuri can feel the tears in his eyes, but he refuses to let them fall; instead, he tries to swallow down the growing lump in his throat. “Everything was going so well — too well, maybe. Perhaps I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop, and when it did, I wasn’t surprised.”

Without saying anything, Dr Altin grabs the tissue box from the table next to his armchair and hands it over. Yuuri takes it, putting it on his lap. His phone pings again, but he ignores it.

“So, Seung-gil’s death was expected, but not the others. And that’s why you mourn them more?”

“No!” Yuuri sighs. “It’s like… It’s like losing a relative to a car crash, and another to terminal illness. One’s an inevitability, so you have time to prepare for the loss. The other just sort of hits you out of nowhere, a punch when you least expect it.”

Dr Altin hums. “I see what you mean,” he says. “Though I would think that Seung-gil’s presence in the lives of your friends would’ve made his death more personal?”

“Not really,” admits Yuuri. “They were already mourning him. Adding a semblance of my own grief to it felt like it’d just do a disservice to who he was.” He laughs a little. “I bet if I had cried at his funeral, he’d have sat up in his coffin and demanded what I was doing there when I had someone else to catch.”

“So, in the end, how do you feel?” wonders Dr Altin.

“Hope,” replies Yuuri, as his smile grows deliberately more pointed. “Everyone makes this unsub out to be some sort of genius, a great chessmaster dropping bodies like pawns. Even my mentor said he was in control. But Seung-gil shows that he’s not. There are cracks in his defenses, the biggest one being me himself.”

He grits his teeth, clenches his hands tighter against the tissue box.

“And I’m going to exploit them.”

October 21, 2017
Apartment 56B Pierce Street, Rosslyn

I watched the funeral news :( My deepest sympathies to you. Let me know if you’re okay <3

Hello Yuuri! I had some cake from the milk bar today!

Good night Yuuri!

Yuuri are you out of town? :( I didn’t see you on the news with your team today, are you okay?

Yuuri I know you’re reading these messages :( did I do something wrong? :( :( :( :((((((

How have you been? :) He misses you as much as I do

Good morning Yuuri! Did you sleep well? :) Makka and I both slept wonderfully!

I dreamed we were on a date last night :) and then I woke up :(

Yuuri, have you been eating well? I’m having olive tapenade tonight!

Did I do something wrong? :( Please tell me what it is so I can make it up to you :(

I’m starting to wonder if something happened to you? They changed that serial killer’s name to ‘Katsuki Killer’ so I’m really concerned now </3 Please let me know if you’re okay <3

Please let me know if you’re okay. Yuuri’s thumb hovers over the keyboard, hesitant. It’s been nearly a month since he left New York, and he’s still been unable to bring himself to respond to Viktor’s texts.

Viktor had been such a bright part of his life back in New York, a ray of light against the drudgery and the heartbreak that working this case has been, but now that Yuuri’s at his lowest, he doesn’t know if he’s worthy of basking in that light anymore. Viktor had been out of his league even when he was actively on the case, but now?

Now it’s like reaching for a distant star with just his hands, and Yuuri hates how small that makes him feel. With each message that rolls in, Yuuri chafes harder and harder at his medical leave, wanting more than anything to feel strong enough to contact Viktor once more.

I’m fine, he types, but then he deletes it. I’m okay.

I’m just taking some time off the case.

I miss you too.

I want to see you again.

I love —

But he deletes every single one of them, and throws his phone across his room in frustration. It lands somewhere in the pile of clothes he’d accumulated on the armchair, a stack of laundry that he hadn’t had the energy to fold and put away.

His laptop suddenly decides to blare some loud, peppy rock song. Restless, Yuuri slams it shut and storms into the kitchen, casting about the cabinets for something to eat. Everything in the flat seems smothered beneath a fine layer of dust, which he hadn’t bothered to clean since he got back. Phichit’s absence makes it too easy for him to neglect the duties of daily life, and though he knows he should do better, it’s been alarmingly difficult to find the energy to care.

He grabs the recently-opened bag of tortilla chips from the cabinet alongside a jar of queso, and flops down on the couch to turn on the TV. Almost immediately he is accosted by Phichit’s blinding grin as he announces the successful closing of some sort of organised crime case.

We’ve successfully managed to capture the people responsible for trafficking military-grade assault weapons to organised crime elements operating in the tri-state area,” Phichit is saying, with that pleasant tone that they’ve all been trained to use for the press. Next to him — and standing suspiciously closer than usual — Christophe scans the crowd, beaming prettily for the cameras.

But what about the Katsuki Killer case?” one of the reporters asks.

Phichit ignores them. “We would like to thank the NYPD for assisting us in taking down this ring.”

Where is Agent Katsuki, Agent Chulanont?” the reporter demands.

Phichit ignores them harder. “Now we are turning our attentions towards other gang-related activities, and our sincerest hope is that we will continue to keep the public safe.”

Has Agent Katsuki been kidnapped by the Katsuki Killer? Is that the reason for the name change?

Surprisingly, it’s Christophe who snaps at that. “Let me clarify a couple things, Ms —

Lounds —

Lounds.” Christophe’s grin is jarring on his usually jovial face. “The press, not the FBI, are the ones who gave that murderer a catchy nickname. Furthermore, Agent Katsuki has been called away due to family matters, and thus, his whereabouts are frankly, none of your business.

The sheer amount of ‘fuck you’ in Christophe’s voice warms Yuuri’s heart. Leaning back against his couch cushions, he pops a chip into his mouth, just as a notification chimes from his bedroom.

Yuuri ignores it in favour of changing the TV over to Netflix, searching for the next episode of Law and Order.

November 9, 2017
Dr Altin’s Office, Baltimore

The sky’s just starting to darken from a cloudy afternoon into a hazy sunset when Yuuri, with shaking hands, rings the bell to Dr Altin’s office.

The psychiatrist lives above his practice, and so he comes to the door with an apron over his carefully-curated dark suit. Yuuri deliberately keeps his gaze averted from the obnoxious ‘Bad Boy’ printed on the apron above the cheerful cartoon of a bear riding a motorcycle, and waves his phone in Dr Altin’s face.

“There’s been another body,” he says, and wordlessly Dr Altin steps aside to let him in.

“I’ve just finished wrapping some lamb dumplings, want some?” he asks as he closes the door. Yuuri looks at the the empty waiting room, and the door to the darkened office just behind, and shrugs.

“If it’s not terribly unprofessional of you,” he says, doffing his coat and putting it on a nearby rack. Dr Altin shrugs, gesturing towards the tantalising light suffusing the oaken staircase leading to the apartment upstairs.

“If we’re going to be unprofessional, you might as well call me Otabek,” he say drily. Yuuri laughs as he leads the way up the stairs, following the scent of cooked lamb all the way to the kitchen.

Moments later, he finds himself swirling around a glass of Bordeaux as Dr Altin fries the platter of lamb dumplings that he had assembled on a platter. “It’s convenient that you decided to show up, Yuuri,” continues Dr Altin. “I was starting to fear I might have made too many dumplings, and, well. The last time I offered some to my receptionist, she proposed to me on the spot. And I’d like to avoid that again.”

“They’re that good, huh?” wonders Yuuri.

“They’re my grandmother’s recipe,” replies Dr Altin. “My father often jokes that if I didn’t prepare them correctly, her ghost would come back to haunt me.”

“We’ll see about that,” Yuuri replies. Dr Altin raises an eyebrow, just before sliding one of the recently-finished dumplings towards him on a small plate, alongside a set of chopsticks.

Yuuri takes a bite, and only realises that he’d said “Fuck me” long after the rest was gone, and Dr Altin had almost choked on his own wine.

“Now, that would be unprofessional,” he declares.

“I’m so sorry,” replies Yuuri, his cheeks flushing furiously.

“Don’t worry,” says Dr Altin. “One of the mothers whose daughter is my patient also said something along those lines when I offered her some.” His voice is partly amused, mostly exasperated. “I’m fairly used to those words being uttered in reaction to my food by now.”

Yuuri raises an eyebrow. “Don’t you think that’s a sign to open up a restaurant?” he wonders.

Dr Altin snorts. “I wouldn’t be able to handle all the marriage proposals,” he deadpans.

At that, Yuuri helplessly breaks into laughter. Dr Altin cracks a smile at that, before sliding a bigger platter of dumplings across the kitchen island at him. “Rice?” he asks, gesturing to the pressure cooker which had just beeped. Yuuri nods, and Dr Altin scoops him a small bowl of rice as well before removing his apron and washing his hands.

Dinner passes in a slow, comfortable silence, Yuuri feeling lighter than he had in weeks. “You really are good at your job,” he remarks after most of the dumplings are gone. Dr Altin raises an eyebrow.

“I’d hope so,” he replies. “I wouldn’t get paid otherwise.”

Yuuri laughs at that. “Do you usually invite clients up to your kitchen?” he asks.

“No, never.” Dr Altin takes a sip of his wine. “You’re a bit of a special case, considering your circumstances.”

Yuuri arches an eyebrow. “I have a boyfriend,” he points out, though more as a joke than anything else.

Dr Altin snorts again. “I meant that you have a serial killer trying to contact you in the form of corpses at any time of day and night, so I was prepared for you contacting me outside of my regular hours. But yes, you have a boyfriend.” He pauses. “Wait. You didn’t think to bring up your boyfriend in previous sessions.”

“I didn’t think that was relevant,” Yuuri says.

Dr Altin groans, rubbing at his temples. “Any significant relationship that may affect your mental health is, in fact, relevant,” he points out drily. “So, why don’t we talk about your boyfriend?”

“I came here to talk to you about a corpse,” Yuuri states bluntly.

“Right,” says Dr Altin, looking slightly chastened. “Let me finish eating.”

Yuuri frowns. “You think that’s a good idea?”

“I’d prefer to lose my desire to eat after I’ve eaten, rather than before.” Dr Altin crosses his legs, grabbing at another dumpling with his chopsticks. Yuuri can’t seriously argue with that, so he takes another for himself and sighs.

After the platter is empty and Yuuri is seriously contemplating taking a leaf out of the receptionist’s book and dropping to one knee, Dr Altin offers him a glass of water and clears the plates.

“I’ll be honest,” he begins, “had this been any other client of mine, I would have met them in my office. But you caught me in the middle of cooking, and I trust that we won’t have any stalker issues afterwards.”

“Stalker issues?” echoes Yuuri.

Dr Altin waves an airy hand. “Patient confidentiality,” he says. “None of your concern.”

“If you say so,” says Yuuri, now sipping pensively at his water. Dr Altin drains his wineglass, and stands up.

“Let’s take this to my living room,” he offers, and Yuuri gladly follows, taking a seat in the armchair there like in their sessions. Dr Altin takes the other one, raising an eyebrow for him to begin, so Yuuri pulls out his phone and opens up the email from Phichit.

He looks down, and regrets it immediately.

The body in the pictures is upside-down, hanging from a tree branch some park. He’s dressed simply in a polo and slacks, the fine clothes offsetting his eyeless gaze and the wrists nailed to his chest. Both hands are curled closed over something, and every finger has been completely stripped of skin and muscle, leaving only bone behind.

The body in the pictures is upside-down, hanging from a tree branch some park. He’s dressed simply in a polo and slacks, the fine clothes offsetting his eyeless gaze and the wrists nailed to his chest. Both hands are curled closed over something, and every finger has been completely stripped of skin and muscle, leaving only bone behind.

Scrolling past the first picture, he registers that the corpse is not completely lacking his eyes at all, both of them having been placed in the corpse’s palms. Once again, Yuuri finds himself admiring the sheer amount of effort that the unsub had gone through for this posing — the strength to manipulate a fresh corpse this way points to someone with either military training or the build of an athlete.

He throws the feeling out the window with another flick of his thumb, and bile crawls up his throat instead at the corpse’s open mouth, the camera close enough to note a lack of tongue.

The COD was ketamine overdose, the email details, all mutilations postmortem.

“Mr Katsuki?” Dr Altin prompts, and Yuuri jerks up, keenly aware of his own tongue in his mouth.

Abruptly, he feels utterly grateful that he’d already eaten. Yuuri wordlessly passes the phone to Dr Altin, who frowns deeply upon first glance. “Hm,” he remarks. “It’s less bloody than the last one.”

“The unsub likes to change it up,” Yuuri replies. “It’s like a never-ending chain of unpleasant surprises.”

Dr Altin hands the phone back. “I commend your mental fortitude for stomaching this on the regular,” he declares. “There’s a reason why I heal minds, not bodies.”

“You still seem to be taking it remarkably well,” Yuuri remarks, smiling a little. “The pattern we’ve discovered is that the unsub mutilates what he believes to be deficiencies in the victims, using me as the standard.”

“Yes, the iron bed that you mentioned during our first session,” agrees Dr Altin, crossing his legs and steepling his fingers. “So. Why fingers?”

“I dunno,” says Yuuri. “I think I could count on one hand the number of people I’ve touched recently, and none of them are currently in New York.”

“Does physical contact count?” wonders Dr Altin. “I mean —” and here he shudders openly, “the eyes. Have you been in the news lately?”

“Not in person,” replies Yuuri, “but a journalist asked about me during an FBI press conference.”

“Perhaps the unsub is upset that you’re no longer on the case,” Dr Altin remarks. “After all, your absence means he can no longer see you, speak to you, or touch you.”

“That’s a very astute observation, Dr Altin,” Yuuri replies, smiling mirthlessly. “Are you secretly the unsub?”

“I could not possibly have done all of that in New York and returned in time to make dumplings,” states Dr Altin. “It’d be a waste of gas money, considering the geography. I’d sooner be the Chesapeake Ripper; I think I have the cooking skills to qualify.”

“No, Hannibal Lecter’s in New York,” Yuuri says. “He runs a restaurant called the Silent Lamb.”

Dr Altin blinks. “I couldn’t tell if that was a joke,” he admits.

“I wish it was.” Yuuri shrugs. “The unsub took Seung-gil on his last date there.”

Dr Altin blinks again. “Are you sure Hannibal Lecter isn’t your unsub?” he jokes.

Yuuri snorts. “Look,” he replies drily, ”the Couture Cutter didn’t earn his name by wearing paisley and plaid at the same time.”

Dr Altin raises an eyebrow. “Now that has to be a joke.”

“As much of a joke as your dumplings,” declares Yuuri, and Dr Altin looks offended for all of three seconds before realisation dawns on him.

“How was the food?” he asks, curiosity evident in his tone. Yuuri shrugs.

“Wouldn’t know; we were just there to interrogate the staff.”

Dr Altin opens his mouth to say something else, before shaking his head and folding his hands, his professional mask slipping back into place. “So, Mr Katsuki, how does this latest body make you feel?”

Yuuri sighs. “I… well. You’ve said several times before that I’m not to blame for these murders,” he says. “And this newest body just sort of made that click. He’s going to keep killing even when I’m not around. He’s trying to get my attention, making these elaborate, pointed statements with the mutilations. But none of that is dependent on my presence.”

“And what sort of statement do you think he’s saying with this one?”

“He can’t see me, he can’t talk to me, he can’t touch me,” muses Yuuri. “He’s been isolated from me.”

Dr Altin frowns. “Is he happy that you’re off the case?”

“No,” says Yuuri immediately. “I think he’s …lonely.”

November 29, 2017
Apartment 56B Pierce Street, Rosslyn, Virginia

Yuuri-kun! We missed you!

Yuuri has had an email from Phichit burning a hole in his inbox since earlier in the morning, but he hasn’t had the heart to call Dr Altin just yet, choosing instead to respond to his sister Mari’s request for a video call instead.

“I missed you too,” he says, hoping against hope that the webcam doesn’t pick up on exactly how slobbish he’s been living lately. The only clothes he’s actually bothered to wear these days are his old FBI Academy sweats. Mari, of course, notices.

Is that… a half-empty jar of queso on the bed?”

“No,” lies Yuuri, shifting to obscure the jar from view.

You might be able to lie to serial killers, but you’re shit at lying to me,” Mari declares. “Please tell me you haven’t been eating queso straight from the jar.”

Yuuri surreptitiously wipes his fingers on a dirty sock under the bed. “I haven’t been eating queso straight from the jar,” he repeats mechanically.

Mari rolls her eyes. “I buy that about as much as I buy you having a boyfriend,” she says.

Yuuri raises an eyebrow. “Actually, now that you mention that,” he begins, and Mari, who had just taken a sip of water, promptly sprays it out of her mouth.

No way,” she splutters.

“Do I look like I’m lying right now?”

Mari gapes at him. “Fuck you, now I owe Mom ten bucks.”

“You took bets on me?” demands Yuuri, drawing his knees up to his chin and glowering at her.

There’s only so much we can speculate about your fancy new life in the FBI,” retorts Mari. “Especially since you only visit once every two years and say everything is classified when we ask!”

“I’m sorry,” Yuuri says, immediately contrite. “I’m just so busy, and —”

You’ve seen the news, right?” interrupts Mari suddenly, all business and solemnity. Yuuri blinks at her.

“No? I’ve been avoiding the news lately; doctor’s orders.”


“I’m on medical leave.”

Mari boggles at him. “See! That’s the kind of thing we’d have expected you to tell us if you weren’t so busy,” she snaps, making air quotes around the word ‘busy’. “Are you okay? Do you need to come home?”

Yuuri flinches. “I can’t,” he says, remembering what he’d told Dr Altin.

Why not?” Mari’s expression shifts into one of concern. “Are you in hiding? Witness Protection? Wait, you can’t be in Witness Protection; you wouldn’t be allowed to contact us if you were, right?

“No, I’m not in WitSec,” Yuuri says, “but I might as well be, considering that there’s a killer obsessed with me.”

“What?” Mari nearly does another spittake. “Listen, Yuuri, that’s the kind of thing I’d have expected to hear from you directly, as opposed to on the news.”

“On the news,” echoes Yuuri.

“Duh, on the news!” Mari rolls her eyes. “Some FBI’s Most Wanted criminal just resurfaced in connection with some ‘Katsuki Killer’. Like, you know, as a dead body.”

“Like I said, I don’t want to talk about the case with people who aren’t my therapist, so —”

You’re not at all concerned about that?” demands Mari.

“I’m very concerned, thanks,” Yuuri intones drily. “I got so concerned I ended up on medical leave!”

Mari immediately looks contrite about that. “Well,” she says. “That’s not exactly how I imagined your birthday to turn out,” she admits.

Yuuri blinks, and sure enough, the date on his phone informs him that it is indeed the twenty-ninth. He feels the queso coming back to haunt him. “Right,” he says, quietly. “It’s my birthday.”

Mari mutters something in Japanese that Yuuri is certain is a swear word of some sort. “You forgot it was your birthday,” she says flatly.

“Yeah, I’ve, uh, forgotten a lot of things.”

Like eating?”

“I eat!”

Anything other than queso and instant ramen? God, it’s like you’re in college again.”

“I need comfort, Mari, and I can’t have katsudon, so I have to make do.”

Is there no halfway-decent Japanese restaurant in Washington D.C.?

“Mari, the Chinatown here takes up exactly one block. What do you think.”

Fair,” she concedes. “Maybe you should just come home? We’ll feed you. And Vicchan can protect you from your creepy serial killer. She misses you, you know.”

Yuuri sighs. “Can I see her?” he asks, finally voicing the question he’d been dying to ask since he accepted the video call from her. Mari whistles, and moments later there’s the scampering of nails against hardwood, and a little brown head pokes into the bottom of the screen.

Mari scoops up his toy poodle, holding her to the camera so she can nose at it eagerly. Yuuri feels a lump rise in his throat at the image of her; Vicchan has gotten a little larger since he last saw her, but given her toy size that’s probably the biggest she’ll get. She yaps happily at seeing him, and he reaches out before realising he can’t touch her through the screen, sighing dejectly and settling back against his mattress.

“How are Mom and Dad?” he asks, riveted by Vicchan licking at Mari’s fingers. “And Yu-Topia?”

Business is good,” says Mari, shrugging. “Mom makes a point to tell everyone who orders the katsudon that you use it to interrogate bad guys like in her favourite J-dramas.”

“She’s not telling everyone I’m in the FBI, right?”

Of course not. She just says you’re in law enforcement.”

Yuuri sighs. “Still a little too close for comfort, but whatever makes her happy, I guess,” he concedes. “What about Dad?”

His back has been bothering him, but otherwise he’s fine.” Mari shrugs. “Toyomura-san comes by and helps out sometimes, when his back’s really giving him trouble. We’re all very concerned about you, especially when the news got out about that Katsuki Killer. It was pretty scary, since the first thing we thought was that, you know —”

“Yeah,” interrupts Yuuri. “If only it was just that.”

What are you saying?” demands Mari, her eyes narrowing. “You’d rather be dead?”

His therapy sessions with Dr Altin echo in his head. “No,” he says. “It’s just… all of the bodies that have turned up bear some resemblance to me, so sometimes it feels like they died because of me. We haven’t told the public about that yet, so don’t tell anyone.”

Yeah,” she says, miming zipping up her lips with a small smile. “That’s… I can’t even begin to imagine how that’d feel.”

“That’s why I’m on medical leave,” says Yuuri, shrugging. “Come to think of it, I really should call my therapist, if what you’re saying about the news is true.”

Mari nods. “Yeah,” she sighs. “You should take care of yourself, kid. Like… put on human clothes. And stop eating queso all the time.

“Hai, hai, oneechan,” intones Yuuri drily. Mari snickers at that, before making Vicchan wave him goodbye. Yuuri waves back, before Mari disconnects the call.

With another sigh, Yuuri picks up the phone, still ignoring the email from Phichit. “Dr Altin?” he asks.

I was wondering when you’d call,” is the response.

November 29, 2017
Dr Altin’s Office, Baltimore

“Lamb dumpling?” asks Dr Altin as soon as Yuuri steps into the office.

Yuuri stares at the platter on the coffee table, emanating the delicious smell of lamb. “Is that why the receptionist gave me the stink eye when I came in?”

“I didn’t let her have any,” replies Dr Altin. “I didn’t want her to go the way of her predecessors.”

“Predecessors?” demands Yuuri as he takes one of the dumplings.

“It’s a very difficult lesson, but I’ve learned it,” declares Dr Altin. “One man tried to get his husband to proposition me into a threesome.”

“So am I the only person you trust not to proposition you after eating your food?” wonders Yuuri.

“Your psychological profile paints you as someone who would not deviate from a strong moral code, which happens to include not consciously entering ethically dubious relationships,” replies Dr Altin.

“That’s… comforting, to some degree,” mutters Yuuri as he pops the dumpling into his mouth. It is every bit as heavenly as the last set he’d had.

“Yes,” agrees Dr Altin. “And clearly, your exclamation last time was a fluke.”

“Like you said, strong moral code,” replies Yuuri, leaning back in his chair and taking out his phone. He pulls up the email from Phichit, and sighs. “So, the unsub sent me a birthday present.”

“Ah, yes,” says Dr Altin. “I remember seeing it on the news this morning, unfortunately.”

Yuuri laughs mirthlessly and props his chin on one hand as he scrolls with the other, immediately cringing upon the first picture loading.

The body sits upon a pile of garbage like a deposed king on a ruined throne, headless and naked. The stump of his neck is tilted back and his legs are spread, arms loosely holding onto a gold gift-wrapped box with a silver bow tied neatly around it.

Found this morning by construction workers at Fresh Kills State Park on Staten Island, the text under the first photo says. Yuuri vaguely remembers reading some articles about refurbishing plans for that park, which had previously been a landfill. At the time, he had thought that the name would make for an ironic body dump site. Clearly the unsub had thought the same.

The fact that the park had been a landfill also strikes a chord, but that note soon fades away at the next set of pictures. Each limb is zoomed in on — the inside of the forearms, the front of the calves, even the back of the neck — to show a set of characters that makes his heart plummet somewhere six feet under, and turns even the taste of the lamb dumpling into little more than ash.

お誕生日おめでとう!The message is written perfectly vertically, in something that looks suspiciously like Sharpie.

Otanjoubi omedetou — “Happy birthday” in Japanese.

There’s no clothes on this corpse, not a single thread other than the ones of the bow on the box. With trepidation he continues scrolling, nearly dropping the phone at the image of the opening of the gift-wrapped box.

A very familiar face stares back at the camera, brown eyes bulging out in death and a penis protruding crudely from its mouth. The box itself is lined with a multitude of labelled discs in jewel cases, doubtless to protect them from the blood draining out of the head. The hair is surprisingly short, as if the unsub had hacked at it with a pair of scissors, but what strikes Yuuri the most is the next picture of the genitalia removed from the mouth and put on the tray.

A very familiar face stares back at the camera, brown eyes bulging out in death and a penis protruding crudely from its mouth. The box itself is lined with a multitude of labelled discs in jewel cases, doubtless to protect them from the blood draining out of the head. The hair is surprisingly short, as if the unsub had hacked at it with a pair of scissors, but what strikes Yuuri the most is the next picture of the genitalia removed from the mouth and put on the tray.

“Happy birthday, Yuuri! ♡” reads the surgical thread carefully stitched onto the victim’s penis.

Yuuri is certain, based on the coagulating blood, that that particular bit was done antemortem.

Dr Altin clears his throat, drawing Yuuri’s attention. He offers the plate of dumplings to Yuuri again, but Yuuri can only refuse by shaking his head mutely. “That bad?” asks Dr Altin, setting the plate aside to lean forward instead.

Yuuri presses his lips together and proffers his phone.

Dr Altin takes one look and swallows audibly, crossing his legs. “This is… a birthday gift?” he wonders.

Yuuri sets his phone face-down and nods, taking off his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose. “I knew this man,” he says tonelessly. “Well, if you count ‘being infamous’ as ‘knowing’, but…” he shrugs.

“The news says that he was on the FBI’s Most Wanted List,” Dr Altin prompts. “Who was he?”

“Shou Kobayashi,” Yuuri says immediately, recalling the case that Yuuko and Takeshi had been working to crack. “He’s the head of a child pornography ring. He suddenly suspended operations in October, though, and the Crimes Against Children division have been scrambling to find him ever since.”

Dr Altin’s eyebrows shoot up. “Your unsub gave you his dead body as a birthday gift,” he states, equally tonelessly.

“Are you going to ask how this makes me feel?” Yuuri asks drily.

Dr Altin tilts his head, as if to say ‘Go on.’

Yuuri shakes his head and huffs, fiddling with his glasses. “This is the most disdain I’ve seen from the unsub towards one of his victims,” he begins. “For one, Kobayashi’s posed on a landfill mound. The unsub thinks he’s even more trash than the last bodies. Not to mention the beheading and the castration — I suspect that the words were stitched on antemortem and then he was castrated. The beheading was what killed him.”

Dr Altin shifts in his seat, leaning on one arm. “This does sound incredibly brutal,” he agrees blandly. “He wanted to impress you or something?”

“Well, why else do you give someone a birthday gift?” Yuuri says wryly.

“You don’t feel guilty for this man’s death, then?” Dr Altin asks.

Yuuri can do nothing but shrug, not making eye contact. “Honestly… I’m glad that he’s dead,” he admits. “I have friends in the Crimes Against Children division, and I’ve seen what they’ve uncovered about him — I would bet money that those discs are more evidence. One more bad guy off the streets.” He thins his lips, pressing them together. “But he should have been punished by the arm of justice, not by an equally depraved vigilante serial killer shopping for a birthday present,” Yuuri mutters. “Well, maybe not equally depraved — at least the unsub doesn’t, like, kidnap children and try to groom them to become me.”

Dr Altin’s expression twists into a grimace. “I have a feeling I don’t want to know any further details of this Kobayashi person,” he says. “So…” he prompts Yuuri to continue.

Yuuri shrugs helplessly. “Using Kobayashi as a medium to wish me a happy birthday is… repulsive,” he admits, “but other than that, this was not an innocent man, and I think I’d probably be freaking out a lot more if I had looked at this alone instead of with you.”

“You seem to be accepting these recent deaths more easily than the others,” Dr Altin observes.

Yuuri blinks owlishly, making eye contact with Dr Altin. “Really?” he asks.

Dr Altin nods.

“I… ” Yuuri cringes. “I — I’m not —”

“It’s a good thing, Mr Katsuki,” Dr Altin cuts in. “One reason why you were here in the first place is because you kept on shouldering guilt for these deaths despite not being the murderer, remember? The fact that you’re separating their deaths, caused by the unsub, from your actions is an improvement,” he insists. “The unsub is the only one to blame.”

Yuuri straightens subconsciously. “I think that from where I am now, on medical leave and talking about these with you, I’m able to separate myself from the victims more easily,” he murmurs. “Ever since the beginning, I’ve been seeing myself in these bodies — just like the unsub.”

“But no longer?” Dr Alin asks.

“They’re them, and I’m me,” Yuuri says. “Shouldering guilt for their deaths makes me seem almost arrogant. Some of them may have held their deaths against me, if they ever knew, but others like Seung-gil,” he smiles sadly at his memory of him, “would insist that I was not the one who drugged them with ketamine.”

Dr Altin smiles too, almost proud. “That is a much better mindset than you had in the first session,” he declares. “Despite the macabre contents that the unsub managed to get onto national news, I think what you should focus on today — your birthday — is that you are a different man than you were two months ago. A healthier man.”

Yuuri smiles gratefully, a genuinely sincere one that he feels out of practice using. “Thank you, Dr Altin.”

“Would you say that we are done for today, then?” he asks, unfolding from his chair.

Yuuri blinks and checks the window, surprise flaring at the sunset painting the sky glorious colors that he can’t help but pause and stare. “Yes,” he says, voice distant to his own ears. God, when was the last time he’d been able to do something as simple as appreciate a sunset? Too long.

“Yuuri,” Dr Altin’s voice startles him from his reverie, suddenly farther than it had been earlier. Yuuri jerks around in surprise to see him standing nearby, hand resting on his desk. “I… ah, would you like a better birthday gift than the one you already received today?” he asks, sounding somewhat strangely nervous.

The usage of his first name confuses Yuuri for a moment. “I… I’m pretty sure a kindergartener’s mudpie would be a better gift,” he says, a trace of humour in his voice, feeling lighter than he has in months, despite the day’s events.

“Well, I should hope that a homemade cake would be even better than a kindergartener’s mudpie,” Dr Altin says drily.

“… Cake?” Yuuri can only echo in surprise.

Dr Altin nods, and lifts up a box from behind his desk. It’s a neutral shade of beige, bland and completely different from the gift box from the pictures. “I hope you like red velvet,” he says.

Yuuri openly gapes. “I — yes — what —?”

Dr Altin shrugs, utterly unprofessional now. “I thought that, well, that shouldn’t be the only present you received today,” he confesses. “And I know you appreciate my cooking.”

Something blooms in Yuuri’s chest, like he’d been cold ever since Seung-gil’s death and he’s only just started warming himself in front of a fireplace now. “I… thank you,” he says, the words somehow completely inadequate for how pleasantly surprised he is right now. “I love red velvet.”

Dr Altin — no, Otabek — smiles at him, rummaging around his desk drawers and coming up with a small knife, two plates, and two forks. “I hope you enjoy,” he says, opening the box and cutting the cake to serve onto the plates.

“It’s made by you, of course I’ll enjoy it.” Yuuri grins as he accepts one. As he momentarily blanks out in bliss at the light taste of almond cake and cream cheese icing mixing together delightfully in his mouth, something suddenly occurs to him. “Wait.”

“Hm?” Otabek raises an eyebrow.

Yuuri jerks his head towards the entrance to the office. “No wonder your receptionist was giving me those dirty looks!” he exclaims.

Otabek’s other eyebrow raises, and he breaks out into a small laugh. “Maybe,” he grins. “Just maybe.”

“Worth it,” Yuuri declares. “This is an absolutely better birthday gift in every way possible.”

“Happy birthday, Yuuri Katsuki,” Otabek replies.

And despite how this day had begun, strangely enough, it is a happy birthday.

December 23, 2017
Apartment 56B Pierce Street, Rosslyn

Within a week of his birthday, Yuuri throws out the last of his queso and finally clears out his laundry pile. He responds to the birthday messages from Yuuko and Takeshi, as well as Phichit and Christophe. To his surprise, even Professor Graham has sent him something. It’s one of those sort of cheesy animated e-cards with several dancing dogs in it, but Yuuri smiles at it nonetheless.

The weeks after find him taking long walks around the community, or driving down to D.C. to stroll through parks far away from any prying Bureau eyes. He visits a couple dog parks, watches the pups at play, talks to their owners with a certain sense of longing for Vicchan.

He spends late evenings drinking water instead of alcohol, and eating leftover birthday cake instead of queso.

Sometime mid-December, another body appears, but this time he deletes the email. Upon hearing this at their regular session, Otabek raises an eyebrow, asking him why.

“If I am to bring justice to these victims, then I must return to the case as quickly as possible, and to do that, I have to take my medical leave seriously.” Yuuri folds his hands in his lap, feeling calm for the first time in far too many months. “I can’t obsess over each body one by one like the unsub wants me to do. That’s giving him the attention he craves.”

Otabek smiles. “You’ve definitely been making leaps and strides in your recovery. You should be proud of your progress.” He pauses, letting the smile fully reach his eyes. “I know I am.”

Yuuri’s ears might have turned a little red at that, but that’s no one’s business but his own.

The days after that, he returns to Quantico, but this time he restricts himself to the training fields, gym, and firing range, slowly bringing himself back up to peak physical shape. He’d had above average marksmanship skills during the Academy, but in the field he’s rarely had to fire his gun. Unlike many much more trigger-happy police officers, he’s an ardent believer in talk first, shoot only at last resort.

But if he were to come against the Katsuki Killer, one thing is certain: he would not hesitate to put a bullet in that depraved man’s head.

“I see you’ve been getting back in shape,” Otabek notes at their next session, half of his face deliberately obscured by his notebook. Yuuri stretches out a kink in his spine and smiles brightly, earning him a series of furious scribbles across the table from his therapist.

“I’d been meaning to for a while,” he admits. “I tend to put on weight easily, and, well, my eating habits aren’t exactly the best when I’m emotionally low. I think I’ve gotten control over my mental state, but I think, if I were to meet the unsub again, I’d also like to be in a better physical state as well.”

Otabek coughs. “Well, physical exercise is conducive to better mental health, so… I think this is something I ought to approve of as your therapist.”

Yuuri nods. “Well, unfortunately, because of all the exercise I’ve been getting, I…” His entire face turns red as he admits, “really miss my boyfriend a lot.”

Otabek raises an eyebrow. “Miss him?” he echoes.

“Well, we… never really got that far when we started dating,” Yuuri replies sheepishly. “I was so preoccupied by the case, and he was also so busy doing whatever he does, so… we never really got to a point where we…” he trails off. “I’m sorry, that’s probably too much information.”

“An increase in libido is an expected side effect of getting back in shape,” Otabek points out. “And Yuuri, you forget — I’m paid to listen to you divulge too much information.”

Yuuri freezes at that. “Right,” he says, sheepishly rubbing at his nape. “I just — sometimes it’s easy to forget that you’re supposed to be my therapist? You’ve been more like a friend.” He pauses. “I’m sorry, that’s probably really unethical, isn’t it?”

“Professionally, yes,” replies Dr Altin smoothly. He slowly lowers his notebook onto his lap, crossing his legs. “Personally, as long as you are cognisant of our boundaries, I see no reason why we should not think kindly of each other. You’ve been making leaps and bounds in your recovery, without relying on me as a crutch or by my prompting. This is a testament to your own strength of will, Yuuri.”

Yuuri rubs nervously at his knees, feeling his cheeks heat up for no reason. “I… er, thanks. I’m glad you think so.” He pauses, frowning as a realisation suddenly strikes him. “But what about the food you’ve made me? That’s probably crossing some ethical boundary, I imagine.”

“I did those in my capacity as a human being,” replies Dr Altin, “who saw a fellow human being struggling. Food is known across cultures to provide comfort to those who are in need of it.”

Yuuri can’t help but notice the sudden straightness in Dr Altin’s posture, the hesitancy with which he phrases his words. Part of him suddenly twists in a way that he hadn’t thought possible before.

“Dr Altin?” he manages.

“Yes, Mr Katsuki?”

“Are you going to refer me to another therapist? Once I’m… back on the job?”

Dr Altin freezes again, fiddling with his pen cap. Yuuri watches, tries to parse out the lines of his movement, the profile in his downcast expression. There’s something about him that seems… bereft, somehow. Like a man who can see the end of the tunnel, but has no desire to run towards it.

It comes as no surprise to him minutes later, then, when Dr Altin shakes his head and smiles, looking back up at him. “No,” he says kindly. “I was actually thinking that once I declared you fit to return, you would be able to discontinue therapy altogether.”

Yuuri blinks. “You think I could recover fully?” he asks.

Dr Altin glances at his notes. “While you do present with some generalised anxiety disorders, it is clear that you have lived with that all of your life and thus have the requisite coping mechanisms for that. I was only called in to ensure your recovery from a particularly stressful and potentially traumatic experience. Your mental constitution is much stronger than what you give it credit for. Of course, you may choose to continue your therapy once you are back in New York, but in that case, I would still have to refer you to my colleagues up north.”

Yuuri swallows. Suddenly, the thought of returning to work has slightly less appeal than before. “We couldn’t continue these sessions over video call?” he wonders.

A pause. Dr Altin fiddles harder with his pen. “I’m afraid not, Mr Katsuki,” he says. “I prefer to interact with my clients in person.” Strangely enough, his tone seems genuinely apologetic. “But I haven’t cleared you for duty yet, so, let’s focus in the meantime on your present circumstances.” He claps his hands lightly. “Tell me more about your boyfriend.”

The rest of the session passes uneventfully, though Yuuri can’t seem to shrug off how much colder the air in the room seems to become with each passing minute. Part of him almost regrets bringing Viktor up, though at the same time it’s strangely liberating to divulge to someone else the emotional tangles that the model seems to put him into almost unwittingly. Viktor still somehow feels like a distant star, but with each word Yuuri pulls him closer to earth once more.

By the end of it, he’s been able to regain some of the light feeling in his chest that he’d experienced all throughout the week, but most of that vanishes immediately when he steps out of Dr Altin’s office and right into the path of a strangely-familiar figure blocking the doorstep.

“Agent Katsuki,” the reporter declares, one perfectly-trimmed eyebrow arched in eager fascination, “you’re a very difficult man to track down, but I’m glad to see that you haven’t become a victim to the killer that shares your name.”

“We don’t share a name,” Yuuri says, almost on reflex. “Who are you?”

“Freddie Lounds, New York Post,” she says. “Could I have a minute of your time?”

Yuuri’s hackles rise almost immediately. “No,” he says, trying to brush past her, but she is remarkably persistent in blocking his path.

“Is it true you’re dating the supermodel Viktor Nikiforov?”

The question catches him off-guard. “What?” he demands.

“It’s a simple enough question,” Lounds points out with a pout. “Are you or are you not dating the supermodel Viktor Nikiforov?”

“That’s none of your business,” Yuuri snaps. “How did you even arrive at such a conclusion?”

“There were photos posted to Twitter of you and Viktor at various places around New York.”

Yuuri’s blood drains from his face. “Have you been stalking me?” he demands.

“No, but some of Viktor’s fans have been keeping tabs on you, ever since it became apparent that someone who the FBI claimed was in California with his family was haunting dog parks in D.C.,” she replies smugly. “Is this, perhaps, a gambit by the Bureau to capture the Katsuki Killer?”

A thought, perhaps given to him by the part of him that suspiciously sounds like Professor Graham, surfaces on his tongue. “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

Lounds raises an eyebrow. “Careful, Agent Katsuki. With a threat like that, people might think you were the Katsuki Killer.”

Yuuri’s about to retort something to that that would make any Bureau media liaison want to commit murder, but he’s fortuitously cut off by another voice. “What’s going on here?” Dr Altin demands, causing Lounds’s attention to suddenly divert to him.

“Dr Otabek Altin!” she exclaims cheerily, extending her hand. “I heard you were the number one psychiatrist in the Baltimore area. Is Agent Katsuki your patient?”

Dr Altin looks down at her hand with one eyebrow raised, before looking over at Yuuri. Some of Yuuri’s internal panic must be showing externally, because he only scrunches his expression into something that wouldn’t look out of place on the face of a baker who’d just discovered weevils in their flour, and says:

“No, we’re friends.”

“Friends,” echoes Lounds, eyes widening.

Just friends,” emphasises Otabek. “Though I doubt you’re familiar with the concept, Ms Lounds; your reputation rather precedes you.”

Lounds gapes at him, caught between shocked and offended. Otabek turns towards Yuuri, a small smile playing at his lips. “Thank you for joining me on my lunch break, Yuuri; I look forward to discussing…”

“Good food,” Yuuri chips in.

“Yes, good food with you in the future. Same time next week?”

“Of course,” replies Yuuri. “Though — what are your plans for Christmas?”

“The only plans I have for Christmas are for my palate,” replies Otabek. “If you’re interested, I can make an extra portion.”

Lounds looks between them like a golf spectator at a tennis match. Yuuri takes advantage of her confusion to briefly shake Otabek’s hand and slip away to his car, clambering in and speeding away before the reporter can recover her wits.

It’s only a couple miles down, pulled into the parking lot of a church with his car idling for the heater, that Yuuri pulls up the search results for Viktor’s name and finds the photographs of him and Viktor splashed across the first page. At Central Park, at the Shake Shack, even at the milk bar — the speculation on Twitter has turned into a feeding frenzy. Even Minami’s blog has a brief discussion on one of the photos, which had been taken close enough and clear enough to see exactly what they had been wearing, as well as their expressions: Viktor caught mid-laugh, silver hair falling in his eyes, Yuuri reaching out to wipe a stray smudge of whipped cream from a Shake Shack milkshake from the corner of his mouth. The discussion in the comments has since then been shut down because of people hurling personal insults.

Yuuri shivers, before closing out of his browser and opening up his long-muted messaging apps. The first thing he sees is:

I’m so sorry about the photos! Is that why you’re mad at me, Yuuri? Please talk to me so we can work this out :( I love you and can’t stand to see you hurt </3

A lump rises in his throat, caught somewhere between guilt and longing and all these other Viktor-related emotions he’s bottled up since he first fled New York. With no one else around to see him, Yuuri slumps forward against the steering wheel of his car, and cries properly for the first time in a long while.

December 25, 2017
Dr Altin’s Office, Baltimore

“I can’t believe I’m spending Christmas with my therapist,” is the first thing Yuuri says when Dr Altin opens the door for him on Christmas Day. He then has to pause and gape, because said therapist is wearing a sweater knit in intricate designs of black and gold, a black apron sporting two arrows in opposite directions respectively labelled ‘the man’ and ‘the legend’, and a Santa hat.

Yuuri’s not sure which part of that ensemble is more egregious. Dr Altin’s cheeks are more than just a little pink as he steps aside to let Yuuri in.

“I thought we were spending Christmas as friends, not as patient and therapist?” he asks with a quirked eyebrow. Yuuri sighs, fishing for his phone, and Dr Altin’s expression noticeably slips. “Ah,” he says. “Let me put on my therapist hat, then.”

“It was on the news again, I think,” says Yuuri as Dr Altin leads him into his office. “I mean, the unsub left the body in Central Park this time; it’s pretty hard to miss that.”

“A place guaranteed to give an audience,” remarks Dr Altin, tapping thoughtfully at his lips. “Doesn’t Central Park have security cameras everywhere? How has he not been caught?”

“He seems to have some knowledge of the security cameras’ blind spots and movements, so any footage we do catch of him don’t give away anything more than height and build.” replies Yuuri. “Either he has technical help, or the ‘genius murderer’ label my colleagues gave him has some credence.”

“Could be both,” Dr Altin points out. “The thing is, how does he transport the bodies? Aren’t humans rather heavy?”

Yuuri shudders. “I’d rather not think about that, actually,” he says, and Dr Altin chuckles, before sending a wistful look at his ceiling and the kitchen Yuuri knows is just above their heads.

“That’s good,” he says, before reaching up and taking off his Santa hat. “Okay, show me the body.”

The words, “It’s not a body,” fall out of Yuuri’s mouth unwittingly as he opens the email and starts scrolling. With every press of his thumb to the screen, he feels his shakily-rebuilt control crumbling.

For the past two months, he’s been able to look at the bodies from a distance, secure in his own physical distance from the crime scenes and capability to distance his own identity from the mangled ones of the corpses. But now, he feels that distance rapidly collapsing into nothing as he sees himself and Viktor lying at the feet of the Romeo and Juliet statue outside the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park.

In the mockery of the statue’s own embrace, two men’s limbs are tangled together, one pristine, the other mangled.

Viktor’s eyes, mouth, and nostrils have been sewn shut with black surgical thread, messy stitches that have been pulled so tight they bleed from where they pierce the flesh. From the side that’s facing upward, Yuuri can see that his ear has been cut off as well, a sawing motion that left ragged cuts in the flesh without care for finesse. The corpse’s hair is short, cut deliberately to mimic Viktor, bleached a bone-white, scalp visibly irritated from however the dye job was done. Probably with the harshest of chemicals — Yuuri suspects that it was straight bleach.

The clothes they wear casts his memory back to the pictures he pulled up in his car the other day — the ones the paparazzi had taken of them at the Shake Shack, after he and Viktor had gone to Midsummer at the Park. He himself wears a pair of jeans and a button-down, wrapped lovingly in a grey cardigan, loafers on his feet. Viktor wears the same outfit he’d worn in the photos, but the clothes do not fit as well, callously shoved on and then sectioned off with the other body parts.

For a moment, Yuuri sees it in his arms. Viktor’s head, cut off from the rest of his body, his forearms chopped as well, and every single finger removed from the knuckle, plucked out as neatly as weeds from a flowerbed.

In the mockery of the statue’s own embrace, two men’s limbs are tangled together, one pristine, the other mangled.

The dew stings his cheeks for a moment, and Yuuri lifts his fingers to to wipe his cheeks, only to come away with tears.

And then he’s back in the office. “Mr Katsuki?” Dr Altin calls his name in a low voice. Yuuri looks up at him.

“It’s us,” he croaks. “The unsub killed me and Viktor.”

Dr Altin straight up. “No, Mr Katsuki, you are here in Baltimore, Maryland.”

The phone falls into Yuuri’s lap. “He killed us!” Yuuri cries, voice cracking through the air like a snapping femur. “I’m completely untouched, because the unsub loves me, but Viktor’s head has been removed!” He then scrambles for his phone, scrolling frantically, skimming the pictures, recreating the image on the screen in his mind’s eye. “His arms have been removed at the shoulders, and even his legs removed at the hip. Every single finger has been removed at the knuckle.” The words come faster as the picture completes itself.

“Mr Katsuki —” Dr Altin tries, but Yuuri can’t stop now, not with the intricacy and detail of the picture the unsub has displayed in the park for him.

“Hanged, drawn, and quartered,” Yuuri continues, “The punishment for treason. Betrayal.”

“The unsub believes you’ve betrayed him?” Dr Altin asks, clearly changing tacks from trying to calm Yuuri down from his furor.

Yuuri pulls up the paparazzi pictures from Twitter and and thrusts the phone towards Dr Altin’s face. “Look,” he says, “The outfits — they’re from when Viktor and I went on a date. Down to the shoes I was wearing.” Before Dr Altin can react, he brings the phone back to himself. “I’m the one that committed treason, by displaying interest in Viktor,” he murmurs, “But Viktor is the one that’s been punished. All of his senses have been removed — he can’t see me, hear me, talk to me, smell me, or touch me.”

“… The unsub is furious.”

“He is,” Yuuri says, voice sounding distant to his own ears. “He’s enraged.”

Viktor’s fingers are in a picture separate from the bodies, at the corpses’ feet like some garish painting title plaque. Each finger is bent carefully, ten fingers to form five letters. “Rache,” Yuuri says. “Rachel? No —”

Dr Altin is silent as he pulls up Google, watching intently. Yuuri opens up Google Translate, sets it to convert from ‘detect language’ to ‘English’. He looks back up. “It’s revenge in German.”

Yuuri’s mind scrambles to when he last heard from Viktor. This morning, maybe, wishing him happy holidays? “Viktor,” he says, “Viktor, it’s me and Viktor, it’s us, the unsub —”

“Mr Katsuki!” Dr Altin exclaims, and there’s a firm hand on his wrist, another covering his phone screen and blocking out the image of Viktor’s arranged fingers. “Mr Katsuki, please look up.”

Yuuri complies, but his gaze darts around the office, trying to place the familiar decor that doesn’t belong in Central Park. “I —” his breaths are coming shorter now, chest constricting. “I —”

“Repeat after me,” Dr Altin says, voice intruding on the haze. “My name is Yuuri Katsuki, and I am in Baltimore, Maryland. It is 4:06 in the afternoon.”

“My name is Yuuri Katsuki,” Yuuri says, the memory of Seung-gil welling up like pus from a festering wound. “I am in Baltimore, Maryland. It is 4:06 in the afternoon.”

“Again,” Dr Altin says.

“My name is Yuuri Katsuki. I am in Baltimore, Maryland. It is 4:06 in the afternoon.” This time, the haze in his mind dissipates a little, the grass and corpses he’d envisioned collapsing in his imagination. Otabek’s fingers are firm on his pulse, and Yuuri finds himself breathing in time with him, unable to breathe on his own.

“You are here,” Dr Altin affirms. “You are nowhere near Central Park. The unsub did not kill you.”

“He didn’t kill me,” Yuuri repeats. Dr Altin withdraws his touch, and Yuuri looks at his phone again, staring at the dead man that he’d thought was Viktor in his panic. The skin is a little too dark too be him, the jaw a little too square. There’s a mole near the missing ear, and he finds that he can breathe on his own again as the differences between the dead body and his boyfriend line up like a row of reassuring soldiers. “… He didn’t kill Viktor.”

“Very good.” Dr Altin steeples his fingers. “Perhaps, to make absolutely sure, you’d like to contact your boyfriend.”

Guilt hits Yuuri like a freight train. “I haven’t talked to him in a while,” he admits. “He texts me all the time, but… but I’ve been so afraid to show him myself at my lowest.”

“If he is a boyfriend worth having, he will accept and support you at your lowest,” replies Dr Altin firmly. “If you cannot be vulnerable to someone who is meant to be your significant other, then perhaps you should reconsider who in your life is most important to you.”

“I… he’s just. I told you last time — we’re in separate worlds. He just seems so untouchable. And yet with me, it’s like… he tells me he’s only ever truly himself with me, but… but it’s hard to be myself with him.”

“So you don’t trust your boyfriend?”

“No!” Yuuri blinks in horror. “I — I just don’t want him to see that I’m weak!”

Dr Altin raises an eyebrow. “I never got the impression that you were, Mr Katsuki. Anyone who has gone through what you’ve been through cannot be weak.”

“I had a mental breakdown in the middle of a police station,” Yuuri points out.

“You had a very human reaction to trauma,” Dr Altin corrects. “I think most people in your situation would have had an equally visceral reaction a long time before you had yours.”

Yuuri closes his eyes, fiddles with his phone. Slowly, he closes out the email, pulls up his messaging app. Viktor’s happy holidays message is still the last thing he sees.

Are you all right? He texts quickly, thumbs flying across the keyboard before his brain can catch up and attempt to dissuade him. He sends the message, taking a deep breath once he does so.

It’s not even been a minute when he gets a ping, but when he checks it, he has to resist the urge to groan. The text isn’t from Viktor; it’s from Yuuko. Just saw the news, are you all right?  

Yeah, he responds quickly, flashing a sheepish look at Dr Altin. I’m with my therapist right now.

K good, she says, with a smiling emoji. Come over to Christmas dinner when you’re done, the triplets have something for you.

“Was that your boyfriend?” asks Dr Altin, quirking an eyebrow. Yuuri shakes his head as he pockets his phone.

“No, it was… an old friend. She’s invited me over for Christmas dinner.” Yuuri smiles apologetically. “I’m sorry. I feel like I’ve completely fucked up whatever plans you’d had for tonight.”

“Oh, no,” Dr Altin waves an airy hand. “It’s important to spend time with loved ones, especially during the holidays.”

“Speak for yourself,” Yuuri counters. “You look like you’re gearing up to spend Christmas alone. Are you sure you’re going to be all right?”

“I’ll probably call my family in Almaty,” replies Dr Altin. “You know how mothers can get.”

Yuuri chuckles. “What about friends?” he asks.

Dr Altin’s gaze weighs on him for a long second. “It seems they have prior engagements,” he replies, with a smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “But don’t worry about me! Netflix will keep me company. They’re coming out with a new season of Black Mirror, so I ought to catch up.”

His cheer is painfully transparent, but Yuuri makes no comment on it, instead clearing his throat and adjusting his glasses. “Um, well,” he says. “I suppose I should go, then, unless there’s anything else we should address?”

“I don’t think so,” says Dr Altin, “unless you have any other concerns?”

Yuuri opens his mouth, but finds that he’s at a loss for words. His mouth works uselessly for a moment, before he closes it and shakes his head, turning to rise from the chair.

“Same time, next week?” he asks. “Unless the unsub gives me another present, that is.”

Dr Altin chuckles wryly. “I suppose,” he says. “Though — would you mind taking some extra dumplings off my hands? I’m sure your old friend would like them.”

Yuuri’s not quite sure why his stomach clenches a little at that. “Yeah,” he says, managing a smile. “Her kids definitely will.”

“Perfect,” says Dr Altin, clapping his hands and leaping to his feet. He leads Yuuri out of the office, gesturing for him to wait at the reception while he goes upstairs to fetch the dumplings. The smell of lamb and fried dough greets Yuuri mere minutes later, as Dr Altin comes back down with a saran-wrapped platter of dumplings in his hands.

“Thank you,” Yuuri says, and this time he makes sure the smile is brighter as he takes the platter from Dr Altin. “I’ll bring you back your platter at the next session. And maybe some food, though it might be a bit of a letdown after your own cooking, but don’t let my friend hear you say that —”

“That’s all right,” says Dr Altin, shaking his head. “Just the platter will be fine.”

“Okay.” Yuuri nods, hefts the dumplings into his arms. “Merry Christmas, Otabek.”

Otabek’s smile reaches his eyes this time. “Merry Christmas, Yuuri,” he replies, and gets the door.

On the way to his car, Yuuri’s phone pings again. I’m ok, thanks for asking! says Viktor when Yuuri pulls up the text. I missed you a lot, it was nice to hear from you!

Yuuri sighs, settling the platter on the roof of his car to type out his response. I’m sorry about that, he admits. I’ve just been having a rough time of it, but I’m getting better now. I miss you too.

Oh, ok, is Viktor’s response. I was worried I did something wrong, because you didn’t talk to me for so long :(

That was my fault, says Yuuri. I’m really sorry.

Oh, don’t worry! is the cheerful response as Yuuri clambers into the car, putting the dumplings on the passenger seat with a prayer that it won’t spill during the drive to Yuuko’s. Merry Christmas! How has it been for you so far?

It’s just been another day, deflects Yuuri, swallowing back the memories of the bodies in Central Park, locked in their deathly embrace.

To his worry, Viktor’s speech bubble hovers tentatively for a couple minutes before disappearing. After a moment, it resurfaces with a: that’s not fun :( Christmas should be special!

Well, I’m guessing you’re having a special Christmas, replies Yuuri with a wry smile.

All the more special now that you’re here! is the cheery response. Could I call you? I haven’t heard you in so long.

Yuuri sighs. He doesn’t know if he wants Viktor to hear him just yet, hear the uncertainty in his voice or the weaknesses in his sighs. I’m about to drive, he confesses. I need to focus on the road. Maybe later?

A pause. Yeah, that’s fine, says Viktor. But it was good to talk to you for a bit. Stay safe <3

Yuuri’s fingers hover over the heart emoji on his own keyboard. After a moment, he sighs, and presses it a couple of times.

<3 <3 <3

Viktor sends him five in return.