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When he was eight years old, Prince Katsuki Yuuri discovered—much to his parents’ dismay—that he was not cursed.

Now over a decade later, his memories of that day are fuzzy at best. He thinks maybe his mother cried. Or he cried. Or both—probably both, if he’s being honest with himself. It was difficult news to process. They’d really been hoping for a curse.

Despite having every right to be, his parents were not usually paranoid people. But when their young son started to complain of voices in his head—voices that said bad things, belittling and insulting him and getting louder and louder until he couldn’t breathe and his chest felt like it would cave in—they were rightly concerned. The Katsuki house was not without its enemies.

Here’s what he remembers: his mother, bundling him into a warm coat and taking him to the outskirts of Hasetsu to see someone who “knows about these things”. This was the first time he met Minako; he hid behind his mother’s legs the whole time, peeking around to stare up at her impossibly youthful face.

(For the longest time, Yuuri was convinced that she was either: a) twenty or b) two hundred and very good at what she did. Years later, he gathered the courage to ask her: “Forty-nine,” she replied with a smirk, “Now get back to work.”)

His mother rushed to explain the situation, but Minako was barely in the room with him for two full minutes before she laughed, tossed back her last sip of sake, and made her diagnosis.

“He’s got anxiety, Your Majesty, not a curse. Nothing I can do for you.”

But that last part wasn’t, strictly speaking, true. In the following year, after every bout of spiraling panic, his mother would bundle him up and make the hour’s journey to Minako’s, convinced there was something she’d missed. Minako, barely bothering to hide her annoyance anymore (you know I’m trying to retire from this, Hiroko), would lay him down and place her hands over Yuuri’s ears. He could have sworn her fingertips glowed.

Every time, the same result, and every time, while his mother talked to Minako, he would wander around her house. In hindsight, it was inevitable that he would find the dance studio, with a couple of students practicing inside. And that’s where his mother and Minako found him, completely entranced, an hour later.

“I’ll teach you, if you want.”

Yuuri remembers thinking that he’d never wanted anything more in his life.

 

 

And that was the beginning, of years of hour-long trips there and back twice a week; of pair after pair of soft-leather dance shoes he either wore holes into or outgrew entirely; of morning stretches and afternoon stretches and evening stretches; of bruised and swollen feet, but a head held higher and higher every single day.

The anxiety got worse before it got better. Minako liked to tell it like it was, and little Yuuri liked to at least breathe without being critiqued, thank you very much. But he grew under her scrutinizing gaze and when it all got to be too much, back then and to this day, Yuuri locks himself in the studio in the East wing and dances.

So no, Prince Katsuki Yuuri of the Kingdom of Saga was not cursed. Perhaps it would have been easier if he were. But anxiety teaches him a lot, and he builds himself up and thickens his skin and drinks calming tea and pushes on by doing what he loves most. Minako did help him, in the end: she brought him self-reliance and the beautifully structured world of classical dance.

And dance, in turn, will bring Yuuri everything else.

 

 

Here’s the thing: Yuuri has an older sister. Mari is confident and serious (when she wants to be) and doesn’t take crap from anyone—so, really, she’s the ideal heir to the throne.

All of this suits Yuuri just fine.

What doesn’t suit him, you might ask? That would be most everything that requires juggling complex social interactions and keeping track of the expectations and desires of multiple parties each with their own hidden motivations, all without collapsing in on his own self-consciousness and devolving into an anxious mess.

In short: diplomacy.

And what is Yuuri expected to be as the second child of King Toshiya and Queen Hiroko of Saga?

Yeah, a diplomat. So overall, not ideal.

Yuuri isn’t actually bad at his job—on a good day, he’s average, and at twenty years old he knows he has a lot of room to grow. He knows this logically, just like he knows that his parents love him and that they would probably let him drop every one of his duties and join a travelling dance troupe if he just asked.

But Yuuri doesn’t want that, not really; so he stays, and continues being average (on a good day) and hoping not to screw his people over too terribly.

And the bad days?

Well.

Everyone knows who’s to blame for the alliance with Phayao falling through last month. It had been a big deal, and a done deal, until it wasn’t.

“Then perhaps it’s better if we moved you to something a bit different for a while, Yuuri. Our ambassador to Phayao can take over for now, if you feel that strongly about being taken off of this…”

So, long story short, that’s how the Prince of Saga ended up as the chief negotiator of a trade deal with some distant kingdom of minor strategic importance to his homeland.

And he doesn’t know it, but it’s a decision that, for the rest of his life, he will never once regret.

 

 

It starts, as most things do, with an extravagant banquet.

The delegation from the Kingdom of Rossiya arrives in the afternoon with what Yuuri can only imagine is half their court in tow. If it seems like overkill, King Toshiya assures his son with that signature jovial smile, that’s because it is—this deal will be much more important to Rossiya’s burgeoning economy than to Saga’s, which has been flourishing for years now.

“They’re putting their best foot forward,” his father muses, “to assure it goes through.”

Their ‘best foot’, it would seem, involves a cultural showcase leading up to the evening’s banquet—“to show our gratitude and share our culture with the great Kingdom of Saga,” the newly-appointed ambassador proclaims as he bows deep before the throne.

And that’s how Yuuri ends up sitting atop a dais at his parents’ left hand, wearing clothes that are as stiffly, stiflingly formal as possible, and watching as curtains pull back to reveal an empty stage.

The air hums with anticipation as a group of young men and women, dressed head-to-toe in vibrant red, file to the center. Off to the side, a small ensemble strikes up a melody, and the bodies on stage begin to dance. The routine is beautiful, of course, and impossibly intricate. From only the first minute of performance Yuuri has already begun to tease out the differences between this form of dance and his own classical training. Where Sagan dance relies on subtlety and small movements, everything about the Rossiyan dancers screams grand. They circle one another in sweeping movements, jaunting in and out and around and around and, oh, leaping. It’s fascinating, if a bit jarring.

And yet, amidst the most grandiose of differences, he finds quiet commonalities, like that familiar, delicate balance between soft grace and unwavering control, present in every perfectly rotated spin and every extended arm bent at the same, precise angle.

There is, Yuuri supposes, some diplomatic value to tonight’s events that goes beyond mere politesse.

He claps along with the crowd as the dancers bow and exit, the new ambassador taking the stage. The harsh lights wash out his skin-tone and glint off of his too-white teeth.

“And that was a traditional dance of our homeland, and we are honored to have shared it today with the great people of Saga. Now, we would like to present to you something very different. The King of Rossiya is a great sponsor of the Arts, much like the Royal Katsuki house.” His voice booms just slightly too loud for the room. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have brought with us today the favored classical dancer of the King himself, certainly the most beautiful our country has ever seen. This evening, as a gesture of goodwill, you will be treated to the best we have to offer. On behalf of the King and the rest of his court, we hope you enjoy it.”

Yuuri wonders, for a moment, if the ambassador hasn’t greatly risked overselling a performance that has yet to occur—but then a flash of rippling silver stops Yuuri’s breath in his throat and his thoughts in their tracks.

The first time Yuuri saw hair the color of straw, Mari had to kick him under the table before he offended their foreign dinner guest by staring. This, Yuuri realizes, is entirely different: yes, he’s staring and no, he can’t look away, but it’s more than just the stream of silver hair trailing out onto the stage—it’s every single detail of the man it belongs to.

The most beautiful, indeed. His gleaming hair has been pulled into a ponytail, revealing high cheekbones and pink lips and startling blue eyes. He carries himself with an elevated poise that speaks of nobility and the controlled power in his limbs. As he settles into his opening position at center stage, Yuuri’s eyes trace the arcs and lines of his body. Even completely immobile, there is movement in the contour of his neck, the slight extension of his leg, the curve of his hips. The ambassador couldn’t have oversold this if he tried, and the dancer has barely begun.

But when he does…

The violin strikes its opening note, the dancer’s arms sweep outward in an arc, and eyes the color of clear sky flutter open.

Oxygen, Yuuri suddenly realizes, is quite important, and he sucks in a gasp.

The man on stage moves entirely unlike the dancers who preceded him. All navy silk wrapped around ivory skin and woven with silver to match his hair, he sweeps across the wooden stage as if his body knew every inch of it and nothing else; as if he could do nothing in that moment but spin with his arms arched above his head, head tilted back to expose the delicate curve of his throat.

As if Yuuri—as if anyone— could tear their eyes from him for even a second.

It’s impossible to tell, watching this man with the silver hair, what is movement and what is music. Every spin, every leap and every extension of the dancer’s limbs is perfectly controlled and perfectly timed and perfect. Technically flawless and emotionally breathtaking, it fills Yuuri with something hot and tight that settles deep in his chest.

Yuuri, who once wanted nothing more than to move his body with such grace and hold his head with such confidence; Yuuri, who wanted to steal the breath from an audience the way this dancer has from him; Yuuri, who was never able to rise above the level of amateur, who quit lessons two years ago, when he realized where his priorities should lie.

Yuuri, who wanted and wanted and, oh, he realizes, still very much wants.

It’s all over far too soon. The violin slows to its last note, the note pure and quivering as the dancer finishes with his arms stretched to the ceiling, his face turned away from the audience, reaching out and reaching more.

Then, like a rubber band snapping into place, the spell is broken; the music falls away and the dancer drops his arms, straightens, and, chest heaving, offers a stiff bow. The hush that had fallen over the room erupts into applause. Yuuri, seated upon the dais next to his family, takes his first deep breath since the performance started.

“Yuuri?” his mother asks.

Blinking, he realizes just how close to the edge of the seat he is sitting and just how embarrassingly hot his cheeks have grown. He sits back. “Oh. Sorry.”

When he looks back to the stage, the dancer has already gone.

 

 

Prince Katsuki Yuuri knows a great deal about Rossiya. The briefing yesterday morning contained everything he could possibly care to know—the history of its crown, the size of its territory, its agricultural output and the approximate value of its trade with Saga for the past decade. He could tell you exactly how much money his kingdom had collected in tariffs from Rossiyan merchants last year.

What the advisors failed to mention in yesterday’s briefing, however, was that Rossiyan vodka has a significantly higher alcohol content than Sagan sake.

That is to say: it’s eight o’clock in the evening, the welcome banquet has barely begun, and Prince Katsuki Yuuri is utterly trashed.

All things considered, it’s probably not his advisor’s fault. Yuuri probably shouldn’t have given up so quickly on the sickeningly heavy, meat-based Rossiyan meal and started drinking on an empty stomach. He also probably shouldn’t have taken three consecutive shots of definitely-not-sake just because he couldn’t stop thinking about his complete ineptitude at everything he’s supposed to be good at.

Well, there’s that, and there’s also the fact that the banquet has moved from dining to dancing and, from his raised seat near the head of the table, he can see the silver-haired dancer on the other side of the ballroom as he twirls for a group of giggling noblewomen.

So, yeah, Yuuri’s a bit distracted, and if he takes one or two shots too many it’s because it burns on the way down and makes his fingers and toes and cheeks flush with heat—now, at least, that something that has been burning in his chest since the performance will have some company.

Anyway, it’s all incredibly unprofessional. If he didn’t have a reputation before, he certainly will after tonight. To top it all off, his formal introduction to the new ambassador occurs while the world spins around him on its axis.

Luckily, he has a lot of practice being dizzy.

“I am Prince Katsuki Yuuri,” he says with a bow that makes his vision spot, “it is a pleasure to meet you.” If he’s slurring his words, hopefully the ambassador will think it’s his accent.

“Lord Andrei Antonovich, Your Highness. His Majesty the King has appointed me as the ambassador to your great kingdom for the time being. I hear we will be working very closely for the next month. I am looking forward to bringing our people closer together.”

“As am I. We are glad to have you here. That was a very impressive performance.”

The ambassador laughed. “I am sure the King will be very pleased to hear that you enjoyed it.”

Yuuri realizes, too late, that getting so drunk that he can hardly process his first impression of the most important figure in these negotiations was… not a smart move. How is he supposed to gauge this man’s intentions and analyze his micro-expressions and body language when the room won’t stop spinning?

“Ah, if you’ll excuse me, I believe my sister is looking for me. I will certainly be seeing you later?”

“Yes, of course, Your Highness.”

He never makes it to his sister because, believe it or not, Mari was never looking for him. He actually isn’t sure where he is headed—to the kitchens to get some food in his stomach and hide until the worst of it passes? That would be the responsible thing to do.

But no, because of course not; because Drunk-Yuuri likes to throw caution to the wind and do everything Sober-Yuuri is far too reserved and self-conscious to even consider. And whatever could that mean on a night like tonight?

Well, there’s a man on just the other side of the ballroom that dances like a dream and whose silver hair shines like a beacon. Yuuri doesn’t realize he’s moving until he is.

A ring of onlookers surrounds the dancer, oo- ing and ah- ing as he balances on one foot, his other leg extended impossibly high behind him and his back arched just so, and just as he turns—

His eyes, Yuuri discovers, are not the color of the sky but of the ocean reflecting it back to him. It’s a blue like nothing Yuuri has ever seen, deep and shimmering and pooling with something he can’t quite read.

The second their eyes meet, the dancer freezes. Yuuri is not sure where he gets the breath, but before he knows it the question topples from his tongue:

“Dance with me?”

He’s holding out his hand. It’s an offering, an invitation, and a dare all in one.

The onlookers part and a blinding smile graces the dancer’s lips.

“Of course, Your Highness.”

He takes Yuuri’s hand. Sober, Yuuri might have devolved into panic right there.

Drunk, the Prince of Saga pulls the most beautiful man in the world into his arms and leads him in a waltz.

And, oh, the-most-beautiful-man-in-the-world’s cheeks are suddenly flushed to match Yuuri’s.

“What’s your name?” he asks, because as accurate as it is, the moniker is a bit unwieldy.

“Viktor,” the man replies, breathless.

Viktor, ” Yuuri tries it on his tongue, and it sounds wrong but the man—Viktor—does not correct him, just smiles that blinding smile.

“And you are the prince?”

“Yuuri,” he breathes as they whirl across the dance floor, bodies pressed close together yet not close enough. Those blue eyes, impossibly (impossibly) blue, sparkle like the ocean on a sunny day and he wants to drown. “Call me Yuuri.”

And that’s the last thing he remembers of the night.

 

 

When he was seven years old, Viktor performed a pirouette for the first time. He remembers spinning, remembers feeling as light as a feather, remembers coming to a stop and grabbing the barre to keep himself upright as his head spun with the thrill of it all.

But most of all, he remembers brushing his hair from his face and seeing, staring back at him from the mirror, eyes so full of joy that he hardly recognized them as his own.

Now, if he closes his eyes and tries to recreate that moment, he inevitably comes up short. Fifteen years is a long time—plenty of time to forget how his eyes had sparkled, how his cheeks had flushed, how it felt to fall in love for the first time; and plenty of time to forget why he loved in the first place.

But then the Prince of Saga reaches out, pulls him close, and spins him across the dance floor; and it’s there, right there, in this man’s smile and flushed cheeks and slightly disheveled hair. His eyes, dark like his hair and rich like his robes, shine so brightly that fifteen-years-ago becomes here, in this ballroom, in the arms of a prince and there’s no mirror to prevent the joy from seeping into Viktor’s skin, into Viktor’s heart.

Waltzing with the prince is more dizzying than spinning around and around on one foot can ever be.

“What’s your name?”

The words sound like bells and smell like booze. He hangs on each one.

“Viktor,” he replies, somehow.

The prince repeats it back with longer vowels and an extra syllable on the end. It’s perfect.

“And you are the prince?”

“Yuuri,” he replies. “Call me Yuuri.”

Viktor couldn’t possibly, not out loud. Luckily, he doesn’t have to.

Prince Yuuri’s hand rests, warm and insistent, on Viktor’s left shoulder-blade and never once drifts any lower. Just the slightest movement signals Viktor which direction to move next. He responds immediately, effortlessly.

The eyes of the entire room are upon them, but Viktor has trouble caring, especially when the prince is looking up at him through thick eyelashes and saying, almost reverently:

“You are so beautiful.”

After all these years, those words shouldn’t leave Viktor breathless. They do, anyway.

“I should say the same for you, Your Highness.”

The prince’s nose scrunches up. “Yuuri, remember?”

“Right,” Viktor chuckles. “Yuuri.”

The prince beams and, okay, if he will smile like that each time, then Yuuri it is. The music changes, Yuuri shifts him ever so slightly, and they don’t stop for a moment.

“You are a very good follower,” he says.

“You are a very good leader.”

Yuuri scoffs. “I barely have to do anything. You have the much harder job.”

“Do I?” Viktor can think of counterexample after counterexample. “You may be surprised at how difficult leading seems to be for most people I dance with.”

“And do you dance with many people?”

Surely that’s a rhetorical question, but Viktor answers anyway. “Yes,” but none like you.

A sudden wistfulness crosses Yuuri’s eyes, and at first Viktor thinks it a trick of the light. But then he says, clear as day, “I want to dance with you,” and Viktor isn’t so sure.

No, he’s mostly confused, now.

“We are dancing.” Whirling, stepping, swaying, one two three, one two three.

“No, no, not like this.”

Viktor frowns. “You do not like the waltz?” Surely something is getting lost in translation. This diplomatic lingua franca is neither of their native tongues, so miscommunication is not at all out of the realm of possibility.

“I don’t mind it,” Yuuri muses. “But social dancing like this is so… limited.”

Oh.

Yes. Of course.

“I see. You prefer another type of dance, then?”

“Yes. I mean… we can only do so much, here. We’re so restricted.” Impossibly, Yuuri’s eyes shine even brighter than before. “I want to dance with you, Viktor.”

And how can Viktor say no?

(He could, of course. He could, but he finds himself unable to, anyhow. It’s terrifying, and perhaps a little freeing, that he almost wants to say yes.)

“Would you like for me to go with you, then, after the banquet is over?” The smile on his face feels different, suddenly. “So we can dance?

Perhaps it would be different, without the usual obligation.

Yuuri groans. “I think I’ll be rather… indisposed… shortly. Your… vodka, it’s called? It should come with a warning label.”

It’s a rejection, clear as day, and Viktor has not a hope of figuring out how he should feel about it.

“Ah.”

“I’m sorry to disappoint, but you should know that you’re the only reason I’m not falling over right now. I highly doubt I could show you even half of what I’ve been working on without falling and smacking into the mirror. My center of gravity is not exactly… stable.”

Perhaps Viktor is not as fluent in his second language as he thought. He blinks; maybe he’s parsing the words wrong.

“What you’ve been working on?” he repeats, slower.

Inexplicably, unpredictably, Yuuri blushes. He’s about the color of a tomato, now.

“It’s nothing special. It’s a solo routine that I’ve… Well, I’ve been trying to choreograph. I’m sure it’s not very good, but…”

Viktor blinks, and blinks again. “Choreograph?”

“Yes?” Yuuri fixes him with a strange look. “For dancing?”

The backdrop of the ballroom swirls by behind Yuuri’s head, and Viktor suddenly feels dizzy again.

“You… dance.”

“Of course, what did you think I was talking about?”

“You do classical dance?” His voice is hushed. It’s too preposterous, too unimaginable, too—

“Shhh,” Yuuri whispers with a wry smile. “We can’t have everyone knowing. I’m not that good, it’s embarrassing.”

Well, that’s one way to put it.

“Wow.” He’s not sure what else he can say; not sure what to do with the confused warmth bubbling in his chest.

“Our classical dance is a bit different than yours, but still… You are much better than I will ever be.”

It’s true, probably. Perhaps when he was younger, he would have taken it as a compliment, but now the statement rings unpleasantly in Viktor’s ears. “Years of practice.”

“Me, too. The practice, I mean. I had to stop. But I still dance, every morning. There’s a studio in the East wing, with mirrors, and windows to watch the sun rise.”

Out of nowhere, Yuuri’s shoulders stiffen under Viktor’s hand, face lighting up as if he’s been seized by something.

Viktor.

“What?!”

“You could show me!”

“…Sorry?”

“That would be perfect, you could—”

Right then, the final cadence of the song rings out, the music swelling before giving way to applause. Near the front of the room, the queen prepares to begin her closing remarks.

All of this, yet Yuuri doesn’t pull away—instead, he leans closer, the depths of his eyes sparkling and shining, until Viktor feels his breath hot on his ear. It sends shiver down his spine.

“Teach me, Viktor.”

Yuuri’s body presses close against him and he wants, wants, wants.

When the princess pulls her brother away, Viktor stares after him. Even drunk out of his mind, Yuuri moves like grace embodied, his every movement a dancer’s. Now that he knows, it’s a wonder Viktor didn’t notice before, with the way Yuuri stands and walks and carries himself, in general. Really, it’s a wonder no one else has noticed.

Yuuri floats, and even from afar Viktor floats with him.

“Having a nice time, Vityenka?”

It’s not startling—Viktor saw him approaching out of the corner of his eye—but there’s an unpleasant jolt and suddenly Viktor isn’t floating anymore.

“Just enjoying the dancing, my Lord.”

Antonovich cocks his head, but Viktor doesn’t shift his gaze from where Yuuri is standing by the table, talking to the king.

“Your cheeks are flushed. Have you been drinking?”

“No.”

“Good.” He raises a glass of wine to his mouth and sips. “You know I don’t want to have to report anything to your handler.”

“Of course.”

“You danced beautifully tonight. I’ve had three members of the Sagan court ask after you already.”

Across the ballroom floor, Yuuri is laughing at a joke.

“Is that so?”

“Mmm.” Another sip of wine. “I told them they’d have to wait, of course.”

Of course.

“Anyway, I’m almost done here, and I’ve already alerted your handler. Wait for me in my chamber, I’ll be there soon.”

Viktor allows his eyes to linger on the prince for one more moment before he tears his gaze away, a new purpose forcing everything else from his mind. He needs to leave—

“Vityenka, one more thing.” There’s slightest hint of pressure on his scalp as fingers play at the ends of his ponytail. “Remember to let your hair down.”

And he does. In the ambassador’s room in the guest wing, he sits in front of the vanity mirror and pulls the band from his hair, letting it tumble freely down his back—instantly, he lets out a deep breath, shoulders sinking with it.

The ambassador returns shortly after and says, “Dance for me, Vityenka.”

And he does. Unthinking, unflinching, unable to think anything but dance for me, dance for me, dance for me.

But that night as he falls asleep, he hears a different voice repeating different words:

Dance with me.

 

 

It will be two full months before Yuuri lets another drop of alcohol touch his tongue.

He wakes up to a splitting headache, the unfortunate and unmistakable taste of vomit on the back of his tongue, and his sister’s relentless mocking.

But none of that—none of that!—is as bad as his father saying, over the breakfast table and through a knowing smile: “I always knew you took after me, Yuuri-kun.”

On top of that, two days from now, Yuuri has to command with unwavering authority a negotiation room full of people who watched him get drunk off his ass and flirt with an impossibly gorgeous man like a sloppy, judgment-impaired teenager—or worse, like his fatherand all at a formal banquet no less.

So you can see why Yuuri swears off alcohol and runs immediately from the room whenever anyone attempts to fill the holes in his memory.

But ignoring something doesn’t mean it goes away. Two mornings later, bathed with rising sun in the dance studio, he discovers this.

 

 

Viktor arrives to train at the studio six hours early.

Never mind that the sun was barely visible on the horizon. Never mind that he’d had a very late night, or that he’d been allotted training time in the afternoon. The palace was all new to him, after all—what if he got lost on his way to the studio in the East wing? He needs to leave early. Scope it out. Build in buffer time, just in case.

And if anyone asks, he quite conveniently forgot that the prince happened to train at this time, as well. Had Yuuri mentioned that at the banquet? Hmm, no, Viktor doesn’t recall. Not at all.

It’s one of the more irresponsible things Viktor has done in his life; but then again, it has been made painfully clear to him time and time again that he is not actually responsible for anything.

So yes, when he slips quietly into the East wing studio and finds Yuuri at the barre, leg stretched back into an arabesque, he is certainly caught off guard. Definitely.

If you had told Viktor two nights ago that the prince could look more beautiful than the night he swept Viktor across the dance floor, he probably wouldn’t have believed it. How anything could compare to his elegant royal attire, his slightly disheveled hair, his shining eyes and punch-drunk smile, was completely beyond Viktor’s comprehension.

But then, this.

The sun crests on the horizon and spills golden light onto the man at the barre. The formal clothing is gone, replaced by something black and form-fitting that hugs every curve and edge of his figure. The muscles Viktor felt last night as Yuuri whirled them across the ballroom sit in plain view now, working to keep his leg extended behind him and his arm arced in front. In his form is strength, is grace, is dignity.

When he moves, Viktor forgets himself.

Yuuri dances everything and nothing like Viktor. There are movements he recognizes and those he doesn’t, but he suddenly wants to know how they feel on his own limbs. Yuuri’s style—the Sagan style?—is more reserved, perhaps, and understated. The beauty, he quickly realizes, lies in the subtlety. Was this what Yuuri has been choreographing?

Teach me, Viktor. The words have been echoing in his head for days, but Viktor realizes with a jolt that perhaps it should be the other way around.

From the shadows, Viktor sees something change. Yuuri repositions himself, letting his arms rest at his side. His eyes closed, he lets his head fall so that his chin rests upon his collarbone, and takes a deep breath.

Then, unfurling upward, he looks to the ceiling and reaches, before letting his arm fall back to his chest and curling inward around it.

Somewhere, the music has started. Viktor knows it, every note and every breath.

The studio is silent, but the music swells to fill every bit of empty space in the room, in Viktor’s mind, in Viktor’s lungs.

Viktor has been dancing this piece, his own composition, for a year now, and as Yuuri moves through the half-remembered choreography Viktor can almost feel the movement tug at his limbs as if he were moving along with him.

But, no, this is different: because Viktor has never performed this piece with that much conviction or passion or artistry. It had been many, many months since he had even tried. No one noticed the difference.

And here is Yuuri.

This is not repetition, nor is it cheap mimicry. Yuuri does not imitate Viktor’s routine—he uses his own voice to respond.

It feels wrong, to see Yuuri move like this; to see him bend his body back, folding it in on itself; to see him stretch himself out and spin and leap and spin. It feels wrong to see a prince do what Viktor does, contorting his body into unnatural shapes for the pleasure of others.

And yet—and yet. At seven years old, a boy had looked back at Viktor from a studio mirror; Yuuri moves and breathes and smiles like that boy all grown up.

As Yuuri settles into his final position, arms wrapped above his head, the music that filled the room retreats back to his body. The sudden quiet and stillness rips every bit of self-control from Viktor and he doesn’t mean to say it out loud, but—

“Wow.”

The quiet moment shatters. Yuuri spins around on his heels, eyes widening the second he sees who stands in the shadows.

“…V- Viktor?”

“That was stunning.”

Every bit of Yuuri’s confidence seems to have evaporated. He’s gaping. “Were you here the whole time?!”

“Long enough to see you upstage me with my own routine.”

Viktor had thought that Yuuri’s tomato-red cheeks were the vodka’s doing, but he begins to rethink that hypothesis as the completely-sober prince grows redder by the second.

“I…” He gulps. “My spin was sloppy.”

Viktor touches a finger to his own chin. “Hmm. It wasn’t bad, but you’re right, it could have been tighter. It seemed like you needed more speed.”

A nod. “Hai. More speed. Alright.” To Viktor’s delight, Yuuri’s panic seems to have given way to determination. “What else?”

“Make sure to keep your shoulders down and back. It seems like you usually do, but near the end you got a bit hunched up.”

“Okay. What about the beginning? Did you—”

“Yuuri.” Viktor takes a few steps forward; the rising sun bounces off of his skin now, too. “Believe me when I say it was absolutely perfect. You did that all from memory?”

Yuuri stops resisting his sheepish smile. “Well, it was very memorable.”

Viktor cannot remember crossing all that space, but they’re only feet apart, now. Yuuri’s lips are as red as his cheeks. This is not the same Yuuri from the banquet. Here, he takes up less room, speaks softer, does not hold Viktor’s gaze for too long. For a moment, Viktor can almost forget he is a court dancer speaking to a prince.

“Yuuri…”

“Yes?”

And he definitely should not continue—he has a choice here, dammit—but he’d made up his mind the second Yuuri breathed the request into his ear at the banquet.

(It’s funny, how with Yuuri he is free to say no but wants so badly to say yes.)

“Will you let me teach you, then?”

Silence.

“…Teach me?”

“Yes. It’s what you want, isn’t it?”

“Well, I mean, of… of course I want that.”

Viktor grins. “Perfect! Should I come every morning, then?”

“Every morning?” Was that a squeak?

“That’s what I was asking, yes.”

“I… sure. Okay.”

“Perfect.”

“So… from where?”

“From where what?”

“Where do you want me to start from? The beginning?” A sly smile. “Come on, Viktor. You just said you would teach me. Don’t back out on me now.”

And Viktor can say no, remember? To Yuuri, untouched by the other part of Viktor’s life, he can say no.

It makes saying yes all the more thrilling.

 

 

That night, Antonovich sends him to a Sagan dignitary. Viktor finds he prefers it, in the end, because no matter what Antonovich told the man, he has little idea how it works—how Viktor works. The classic over-politeness, such a salient feature of Sagan culture, certainly works to Viktor’s advantage, as well. So no, it’s not so bad.

But he can’t say no, and he doesn’t say yes.

 

 

Yuuri thinks he did an okay job.

Because, really, when he turned around to find Viktor standing in the corner by the door, to discover that Viktor had seen Yuuri’s poor imitation of Viktor’s masterpiece of a routine… Well, really, he could have devolved into a panic attack right there. But he didn’t. Instead, despite all of the blood rushing to his head, he comported himself somewhat like a human being.

And now Viktor is going to be teaching him—Viktor, whose dancing would rival Minako at her peak and whose beauty will certainly remain unmatched for the rest of time.

Yuuri spends most of the night attempting to process this turn of events, and despite the resulting lack of sleep he is better off in the morning because of it. He arrives at the studio just before Viktor and the sun, beginning his stretches and preparing himself mentally.

All in all, he acts much more like a human being this time.

“You need to spot the pirouette better. Your neck is too stiff.”

In their first lesson, Yuuri learns all kinds of new things: translations like arabesque and grand jeté and retiré, but also things like ‘how to focus and keep your neck straight when the golden sun is hitting Viktor’s silver hair out of the corner of your eye’.

(Focus is the biggest challenge, honestly, because Yuuri is also discovering that Viktor is quite the tactile instructor. Especially with the language and cultural barrier for dance terms, he never just tells Yuuri that, say, his leg must be higher, but physically lifts it up for him instead.)

(But like anything, Yuuri gets used to it and eventually reclaims some semblance of focus.)

“Good work today, Yuuri.”

(The constant praise, on the other hand? That he’s not so sure he’ll ever get used to.)

“Thank you, I, uh… I appreciate it. You teaching me.” He winces at how formal it sounds. “I have a lot to learn from you.”

When Viktor smiles, Yuuri realizes that morning, his lips form a heart.

 

 

Mari catches wind of it all within days.

“Just try to be discreet. That’s all I’m saying.”

“It’s not like I’m going around and broadcasting it, Mari-neechan.”

They’re at the breakfast table, Yuuri’s brow still shimmering with sweat from this morning’s practice. The skin of his hips still tingles from where Viktor reached out to steady him; his ears still ring with Viktor’s continuous critique and praise.

Mari sighs into her bowl of rice. “I know. But you know how the Rossiyans are. You know how it would look. You’re the one in charge here, and you have a certain level of prestige. You need to make sure that doesn’t change, especially aft—”

“After the banquet, yeah, I know.”

Mari shrugs. “Okay, well, as long as you’re aware.”

 

 

“How do you usually dance, Yuuri?”

They’re sitting on the floor in splits, doing their warm up stretches. When Viktor bends back, the sun hugs the edges of his silhouette and Yuuri can’t help but let his gaze trace over the gentle curve of his neck.

“Yuuri?”

“Hmm? Oh, sorry.” Yuuri blinks. “What do you mean?”

“We’ve been working on my routine for days, and you perform it beautifully, but it isn’t how you dance. Not usually, anyway.”

Yuuri bends down to touch his nose to his knee, so that Viktor won’t watch his face as he ponders that. “I usually just learned whatever pieces my old dance teacher found for me. Or made for me. But lately, I…” He clears his throat and sits back up. “I have been trying to choreograph on my own.”

“Can I see it?”

The sharp panic that shoots through Yuuri’s chest is probably unwarranted. “It’s… it’s not very good.”

“I’m sure that’s not true.”

“Our style here is a bit different from yours, you know.”

“Of course! That’s why I want to see it.”

Yuuri’s face probably looks as skeptical as he feels, because Viktor continues with a sigh as he switches to a side split.

“I’m not teaching you so that you will become a Rossiyan classical dancer, Yuuri. That’s my background, but it’s not yours, and I don’t want to instruct you as if it were. In order to teach you, I need to know a bit about your dance.” His conspiratorial smile plays on his lips as he asks, “Will you show me?”

Yes. No matter how embarrassing it might be, Yuuri says yes.

Steeling himself, he dances, pretending it is Minako’s gaze studying his every move. But Minako has never seen this piece: no one has, except its creator and now Viktor, who watches silently from the corner. Yuuri has poured months of frustration into this composition, letting his body trace and express his disillusionment and determination. He thinks of Phayao and last month’s botched deal, thinks of every difficulty and impossibility but also the unwavering support of his family. He lets his promise to them and his country drive his movements toward the end of the piece and ends with his arms extended at his side, eyes reaching to the ceiling.

“It, um, will be better once there’s music,” Yuuri excuses almost immediately after he relaxes from the final pose. For a few moments, he can’t quite bring himself to look at Viktor, fearing the worst.

And really, Yuuri should know better by now—because on Viktor’s face is that radiant, heart-shaped smile. He seems absolutely delighted.

Yuuri.

The prince looks away, blushes, then blushes some more… and finally, smiles proudly right along with him.

 

 

The trade negotiations start that afternoon. Yuuri, still riding the high of performing his own choreography for Viktor, sits at the head of the table in his most regal dress and commands the room with a voice that certainly shouldn’t belong to him.

“I would first like to begin by welcoming you, noblemen and women of the Rossiyan court, once again to our kingdom. The people of Saga are greatly looking forward to our partnership in the coming years. Today, we commence formal discussion of the proposed economic cooperation agreement between our two kingdoms. I will now cede the floor to the ambassador and chief negotiator on behalf of Rossiya, Lord Andrei Antonovich, for any opening remarks he should like to make.”

The entire session is equal parts boring and thrilling, terrifying and empowering, energizing and exhausting. By the time he leaves the negotiation room, all he wants to do is curl up in his bed and sleep.

 

 

“Yuuri, why do you dance?”

The question that has been rattling in Viktor’s head, dancing on Viktor’s tongue since the banquet finally finds voice one early morning during a water break. For a moment, Yuuri looks offended and Viktor almost regrets asking.

“What do you mean?”

Viktor forces himself to rethink, rephrase. “Well, you’re a prince. You could do anything. Why this?”

Yuuri no longer looks affronted, merely pensive. “Well.” He takes a sip of his water. “I guess because it makes me feel like a different person.”

Something about that answer strikes Viktor the wrong way. “You do not want to be you?”

“No, no, no, I don’t…” Yuuri’s brow stiches together. “It’s not that. But I’m not exactly… comfortable, most of the time. In case you haven’t noticed, I get nervous very easily.” He offers a shaky laugh.

“I haven’t, really,” Viktor lies, just a little.

“Well, I do. It’s actually kind of a problem? I’m working on it. But dancing, it’s always…” Yuuri shrugs. “It has always made me feel more comfortable in my own skin. Powerful, even.”

Why the prince of a flourishing kingdom would need classical dance, of all things, to feel powerful is a contradiction currently beyond Viktor’s comprehension.

(But then again, it’s true: when Yuuri dances, he holds himself straighter and holds his head higher than when he stands still.)

“Viktor?”

“Hmm?”

“Will you dance for me?”

Viktor’s breath hitches. He meets Yuuri’s gaze and finds genuine curiosity, but also a bit of apprehension.

In his head, the words echo in hundreds of different voices: Dance for me, dance for me, dance for me, spoken by patrons he could never not obey. But Yuuri is not a patron, and Yuuri asks, will you? and it’s different.

He supposes he deserves this, after blindsiding Yuuri just moments ago and after asking him to demonstrate his own choreography yesterday. But still.

“Would you like me to?”

Answering a question with a question. Viktor has been trained well. Yuuri’s brow furrows.

“Only if you want to. It’s okay if you don’t.”

There’s no good reason why Yuuri’s words make his chest ache, but they do. The pain is sharp and real. Viktor doesn’t know what to say. Simply out of habit, he almost says no. He would be a fool, perhaps, not to take advantage of the rare choice he has.

But he realizes, as he opens his mouth to respond, that the thought of Yuuri’s eyes on him as he dances makes his stomach flutter. In the good way.

It’s because he’s a dancer, too, Viktor justifies, but he knows that that’s far from the whole story.

So he says yes. “Of course.”

Yuuri’s brilliant responding smile would have made it all worth it on its own.

As Yuuri moves to the side of the studio to watch, Viktor lets his body settle into fourth position, the beginning of a routine from years ago. Every step follows effortlessly from the first, muscle memory taking over. It was a piece, he remembers, about longing—longing for what, he was never able to identify.

Anything. Everything. Nothing at all.

He feels it more acutely now, moving through the choreography he himself created. In every movement he reaches, stretches, grasps blindly at something invisible to the eye, never able to take those final steps to hold it and secure it.

But he wants. God, he wants and wants and wants.

When the routine slows to a finish, Viktor pulls his arms to his chest and folds back on himself.

His chest heaves. Blood rushes in his ears, and it’s all he can hear. He blinks furiously, trying to settle himself back in reality. His vision swims.

Yuuri is there, across the room, staring with widened eyes that sparkle like the day they met. For a second, he looks like he might be crying.

“That was…”

Viktor tries to finish the sentence: beautiful, lovely, gorgeous…

“…captivating. I couldn’t look away.”

There’s something buzzing in Viktor’s veins, and a moment ago he thought it was adrenaline. But with every passing second, with every repetition of Yuuri’s praise echoing in Viktor’s ears, he realizes it is less buzzing than it is humming, steady and strong. It makes him hold his head high, his body straight; it makes him look the prince in the eye and hold his gaze; it makes something akin to pride bubble in his chest.

With a start, Viktor realizes what this is:

He feels powerful.

It was this feeling, so many years ago, that drew him to dance. He never danced to bring cheap pleasure to others. He never danced so that others could watch him bend and stretch his body and be entertained.

Dance was expression. Dance was beauty. Dance was connection.

When had he forgotten that?

 

 

He finds his answer that night in the ambassador’s chambers. Somewhat predictably (but still disappointingly), the liberation he felt while dancing for Yuuri does not transfer to just any audience. That morning, dance empowered him. Tonight, he dances with the gaze of the ambassador weighing on his limbs like chains. The sharp contrast slices through him.

Stretching himself on his toes before the ambassador that night, he realizes that there was no one moment where dance changed for him. Instead, his love of dance had drained with every order and every passing night, so slowly that he did not notice how lifeless his movements had become.

He knows, in hindsight, the day it started to change. Seven years ago, he had been fifteen years old, just starting out in the king’s court and training constantly. He had always been told to dance—it was what he had signed up for, after all. That and more.

But all it took was one disobeyed order, one moment of thoughtless disrespect, and Viktor did not care to remember what happened the following day—only that, afterwards, a nobleman had said dance for me and for the very first time Viktor learned what it meant for his body to cease to be his own. That one order shoved every one of his own thoughts to the margins of his mind; it echoed in his head and forced him into first position, moving him through the opening steps of his favorite routine.

He will never forget that first time. He will never forget the wretched, suffocating helplessness that filled him head to toe. Eventually, he would learn to control it; to exercise as much control as he could within those narrow constraints. With time, helplessness would turn to distant apathy.

And tonight?

Tonight, every bit of power Viktor felt while dancing for Yuuri gets flipped on its head, and from the contrast emerges that terrifying helplessness he thought he left behind. The ambassador applauds his performance with a wry smile and on your knees, Vityenka, and the shackles had always been there, cold and heavy and oppressive but Viktor never noticed until now.

He reminds himself, again and again, that nothing has changed.

Nothing has changed.

(Everything has changed.)

 

 

Slowly but surely, the boundaries around their time together start to bleed outward. The two of them—Yuuri and Viktor, Viktor and Yuuri—are so clearly defined in the beginning. For the first two hours of sunlight each day, they are teacher and student. The walls of the East wing dance studio mark the border between their time and everyone else’s.

In the early morning light, Viktor’s beauty is ethereal. His training clothes cling to the skin around his waist and sleepy smiles cling to his lips. He has bedhead, sometimes, and yawns in between critiques of “shoulders back” and “arms straight”. Yuuri is certain he will never get enough of this.

But that’s just the problem, isn’t it? Most of Viktor exists outside of their two quiet hours together. There are Viktors that wear something other than work-out clothes, that are energized right after an afternoon meal, that are focused on other things besides Yuuri’s dancing.

Yuuri is greedy, and he wants to know what Viktor looks like now and in the golden light of sunset and every hour in between.

One day, in a rare fit of confidence, he says:

“I don’t have negotiations today, you know. I wonder what I could possibly do this afternoon?” His voice lilts, teasing.

Viktor reaches to straighten Yuuri’s outstretched leg. “What do you usually do on your days off?”

“Hmm. Dance, probably. Although, I believe a certain someone trains in the afternoons here. I wonder if he would mind sharing the studio?”

Viktor is slow on the uptake, but he grins brilliantly the second he processes Yuuri’s words. “I don’t know, I hear he’s really attached to his lonely, lonely practice time.”

“Perhaps you could convince him? Tell him the prince is asking.”

“Well then again, once he knows it’s you he’ll cave in a second.”

Something warm spreads in Yuuri’s chest. He drops the act. “You wouldn’t mind, then?”

Yuuri ,” Viktor replies, dragging the name out on his tongue, “I’d love it if you practiced with me. I have to warn you, though, I do a lot of conditioning.”

Yuuri smirks. “I think I can keep up.”

 

 

He can and he does, but it’s utterly exhausting. Yuuri did not realize just how much work Viktor has to do to stay so fit while cooped up inside the palace. His abs already hurt from the absurd number of crunches.

As they pack up their bags, Viktor’s stomach growls and an idea smacks Yuuri over the head.

“Do you have anywhere to be?”

Viktor blinks. “Not necessarily.”

“Good. Come with me.”

The path they take to the kitchens is longer than strictly necessary, but the most direct route leads right past the guest wing where the Rossiyan delegation is staying. With Mari’s warning still ringing in his ears, Yuuri drags them out back first, then in through a different door.

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see.”

“It’s a surprise?”

“Yes.”

“Yuuri, I love surprises!”

(Yuuri files this away for future reference.)

Viktor’s eyes widen as they approach the double doors. “What’s that smell? It’s delicious!”

That is what Fridays smell like here.”

“You eat something called a friday?”

“No, no,” Yuuri assures him, pushing past the doors and into the kitchen. “On Fridays, my mom makes katsudon.”

Yuuri grabs the leftovers from his family’s lunch out of the icebox. Still full himself, he serves Viktor a bowl and gets out a skillet to fry an egg.

“I’m confused, Yuuri.” He rests an elbow on the countertop and a cheek in his palm. “The queen cooks?”

Yuuri shrugs. “Whenever she has the time. Usually only for our family, and a few others.”

“Well, today I am very lucky to be one of those others, it seems.”

Yuuri places the egg on top and passes the bowl to Viktor, who picks up chopsticks with a beginner’s expertise. The moment the food touches his lips, he grins that heart-shaped smile.

“This is amazing, Yuuri! It’s the best thing I’ve ever eaten!”

There is a little place in his heart that Yuuri holds special for his favorite food, and seeing Viktor share in that love only makes it grow larger.

“My mom will be glad to hear it.”

Viktor’s brow furrows. “The queen knows about me? Us, I mean?” There’s something about hearing Viktor says us that leaves Yuuri, for a second, without a voice.

“I, uh, yeah, she knows about our lessons.”

“And she doesn’t mind?”

Mind? That Yuuri is as motivated as he’s been in months?

“She wants me to be happy.” Yuuri wonders if Viktor notices the implication: this makes me happy. You make me happy.

Either way, that grin is back on Viktor’s face and being shoved full of egg-covered katsu and rice.

Oh yes, Yuuri is greedy, because in that moment he can only think I want so much more of this.

 

 

Yuuri has another afternoon off a few days later, and when Viktor suggests sprinting back and forth across the tiny studio as exercise, Yuuri has another stroke of genius.

“The beach is right down there, Viktor. Wouldn’t you want to go running where we have all the room in the world?”

The sand shifts beneath their toes and the water laps coolly on their feet, but the mid-afternoon sun beats down mercilessly on their shoulders.

“What if we went running in the morning, instead?” Viktor suggests.

“Are you trying to cut into my lesson time, Viktor?”

“Then how about in addition to your lesson time?” Viktor smiles as if that is exactly what he wants.

And their time together grows.

 

 

Some days, though, Yuuri finds himself acutely aware of how little he knows of Viktor’s life. They talk about dance, their favorite foods, the plots of their favorite books, and their mutual love of dogs—Yuuri shares, in a quiet moment, that his miniature poodle passed away last year. But even though Yuuri knows that Viktor loves the snow and adores dogs, he could not tell you anything of Viktor’s family or his life before he came to Saga.

It doesn’t bother Yuuri. It doesn’t— until one morning, the realization of just how much he’s missed rises up out of nowhere and kicks him square in the chest.

Viktor is adjusting Yuuri’s posture, leaning over so that his fingers linger on Yuuri’s knee and push his leg higher. He’s close—of course he is, this is Viktor—and Yuuri can feel his breath on his neck. He’s blinking, willing himself to focus.

And it’s his eyes that focus first, right on the naked patch of skin near Viktor’s collarbone, right where his shirt has slipped just off his shoulder; right on the bruise that has only just come into view.

No. Not a bruise.

A love bite.

Something clicks into place.

With a sharp inhale, Yuuri falls out of position, pulling his extended leg back to the ground. He doesn’t mean to overreact, really, but his mind is spinning with the implications. Blindsided, he needs a moment to sort through it all.

Viktor notices, seconds later, and fixes his shirt.

“Ah. Sorry. Are you all right, Yuuri?”

No, Yuuri’s not all right, he’s an idiot. There are plenty of explanations for why a beautiful man would have the mark of another’s mouth on his skin, but Yuuri knows the truth in his gut as he should have from the beginning. Yes, Viktor’s culture is greatly different from his own, but as a diplomat that is his responsibility to mediate. He is a foolish child, to say the least, for not realizing the extent of Viktor’s responsibilities. It instantly seems so obvious—how had he ever thought that Viktor’s duties began and ended with dancing on a stage? How had he deluded himself into thinking that “court dancer” meant anything short of concubine?

He feels a little sick, but cannot quite explain why.

When he finally looks back up he finds Viktor with his mouth open, as if he’s trying to say something but can’t quite make the words come out. Giving up, Viktor makes an aborted noise of frustration. There’s a storm brewing in those blue eyes.

“Yuuri…”

“It’s okay, Viktor. You don’t have to talk about that.”

Viktor doesn’t relax. There’s a sound from the back of his throat that makes Yuuri’s stomach twist.

Viktor lets go of him.

They end the lesson early.

 

 

He tries to tell Yuuri.

He tries, he tries so hard, tries until his tongue goes dry and he nearly screams in frustration. He has never wanted to tell anyone before, but the need for Yuuri to know burns in his throat along with every choked word he physically can’t pronounce.

Yuuri does not need to know. They are a teacher and student, friends even, and there is no reason for this churning, black pit of a secret to touch their relationship. Yuuri does not need to know.

Viktor wants him to, anyway. He watched as first confusion then realization dawned on Yuuri’s face—he hadn’t known? how had he not known? The momentary horror in his eyes had been bad enough, but it was nothing in comparison to the sharp understanding that slowly settled over his features as he drew his conclusions. For a few dreadful moments, Yuuri’s eyes searched Viktor’s face and flickered down to his now-covered collarbone, back and forth—

Rethinking him, reformulating him, then accepting this new vision of him that wasn’t the whole truth .

Viktor suddenly wants nothing more than to explain the pitch-black hopelessness that had recently opened up inside him like a gaping, sucking wound. He longs to take Yuuri by the shoulders and scream the truth—that he didn’t want this, never wanted this, but he’d been so young and it’s been so long and this is who he is now but it’s not who he is, and God, he didn’t realize how bad it was until Yuuri came along, Yuuri, Yuuri, Yuuri…

But anyway, none of that matters, because this thing that has a hold over him would sooner have him choke to death on his cries for help than let them reach sympathetic ears. He cannot any more explain his situation than he can say no to someone he’s been ordered to serve.

Viktor, until that moment, had no idea he was so desperate. So lonely. So sad.

He wants to explain.

He can’t.

 

 

“You’ve got to be kidding me. You didn’t know?”

Yuuri’s face is red. He shakes his head. Mari frowns up at him from where she lounges on her bed.

“You just thought that they kept such a pretty man around simply to look at?”

A noise of protest comes from somewhere in Yuuri’s chest. “Mari-neechan! Don’t talk about him like that that!”

“I’m sorry, Yuuri, but you know what I meant.” His sister heaves a sigh. “It’s a disgusting practice, in my opinion.”

Yuuri doesn’t know how to interpret that. He’s inclined to agree, but he doesn’t know what he thinks about any of this, really. Except: “It’s not Viktor’s fault.”

“I’m not saying that it is.”

Yuuri traces the pattern on Mari’s carpet with his toe.

“Does this change how you feel about him?”

Her words, inexplicably, send a jolt down his spine. “How I feel about him?”

“You spend a lot of time with him, is all. Will that change?”

“No.” Yuuri does not even have to think about that. “I am just… overwhelmed. Thinking about everything I’ve missed.”

“You could ask him about it.”

Yuuri shakes his head. “He doesn’t want to talk about it with me. It’s his private life. It’s his business.”

Mari shrugs. “As long as you’re sure.”

He’s really starting to hate that answer.

 

 

Yuuri regretted his reaction approximately three seconds after leaving Viktor’s presence that morning, and talking to Mari only makes his guilt worse. The need to apologize burns in his stomach. He goes directly from Mari’s chambers to the kitchens.

A few hours later, two steaming bowls of katsudon balanced in his hand, he heads to the guest wing and knocks on the door he’s been told is Viktor’s.

The door opens, and Viktor lights up immediately. Yuuri knows he doesn’t deserve it.

“Hi. I brought dinner. Can I come in?”

“Of course,” Viktor replies, opening the door to reveal a room the size of a rather large storage closet. “Katsudon? But it’s not even Friday!”

“I know. I made it this time, so don’t get your hopes up too high. It’s never as good as my mom’s.”

“Yuuri,” Viktor admonishes, and Yuuri will never tire of hearing his name in the velvet timbre of Viktor’s voice. “Don’t sell yourself short like that. I’m sure it’s amazing. Here, have a seat. I’m sorry it’s so small. I don’t have any chairs or anything, but we can sit on the bed, I—”

“Viktor, don’t worry. The bed is fine.” The mattress sinks under their weight and pushes the two of them together. “Besides, this is my family’s palace. I’m the one who should be apologizing to you! I can request that you be moved to a bigger suite—”

“No, no, it’s alright. It’s cozy here.”

The katsudon vanishes in a matter of minutes, Viktor insisting that it was indeed as good as the queen’s. It’s a sweet lie, and that Yuuri could bring such a genuine smile to Viktor’s face through just a few hours of cooking is a lovely thought. He allows himself a moment to dwell in it, and makes a solemn, silent promise to make Viktor smile more often.

Unlike this morning. The guilt comes rushing back.

“Viktor, about what happened…”

Viktor waves a hand as he places the empty bowl and used chopsticks on the bedside table. “Please, we don’t need to talk about it.”

Yuuri shifts and the mattress gives beneath them. For a moment, he can’t help but wonder if anyone else has been in this bed. Do they go to Viktor, or does Viktor go to them? How oft—

No. Yuuri forces his mind away from that train of thought. That is Viktor’s business and Viktor’s alone. Yuuri forces an exhale from his lips and fixes his eyes on the far, bare wall.

“It’s just, I should have realized sooner. I didn’t mean to overreact. It doesn’t change anything, I promise.” Glancing up, Yuuri sees a flicker of sadness that he can’t explain cross Viktor’s features.

“I should have told you, I suppose. But I really thought you knew.”

“I can be oblivious, sometimes.”

Yuuri would spend the rest of the day making katsudon if it meant wiping the frown from Viktor’s face.

“So you really thought I only danced, huh? I guess that explains the banquet.”

What?” A red-hot spike of fear jumps down Yuuri’s spine at the mere mention of the banquet. He’s avoided the details for so long…

“Well, you know, you were talking about getting out of here and doing some other kind of dance with me. I could have sworn you were propositioning me.” Viktor’s eyes glint. “Imagine my surprise when you meant classical dance.”

“Oh, god,” Yuuri moans, face buried in his palms. He wants to melt into the mattress and never have to acknowledge this ever again. “I really did that?”

“You don’t remember?”

Yuuri’s face grows hot. “I was so drunk, Viktor,” he moans. “All I remember is asking you to dance and then introducing ourselves. After that, it’s black.”

Viktor blinks and leans back against the wall. “Huh.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Well, it’s just… you don’t remember asking me to teach you, then?”

What.

What.

Honestly, this has all been way too much for just one day. Sooner or later, Yuuri’s brain is going to short circuit.

“I asked you to teach me?

Viktor, usually the pinnacle of patience, has become the picture of exasperation and disbelief. “Of course! You leaned into my shoulder the minute the music stopped and whispered, ‘teach me, Viktor.’ How could I say no?”

“Oh, god.

“Did you actually think I just showed up having barely talked to you and declared myself your teacher?”

“…Maybe?”

“Yuuri! You’re a prince! I’d never be so forward!”

“I didn’t really think about it! The most beautiful dancer I’d ever seen was offering to teach me, I wasn’t about to question it.” And it’s an embarrassing confession, to be sure, but a smile twitches on Viktor’s lips in response and Yuuri can’t regret it.

The room suddenly feels so small for Yuuri to be sitting so far from Viktor. He sits back against the wall as well. Their shoulders touch.

“I’m sorry. For forgetting. It sounds like it would have been a memorable night.”

“Oh, it was. I can tell you all about it sometime, if you want?”

Something about his tone tells Yuuri that Viktor wants him desperately to say yes.

“Well, we have plenty of time now.”

Viktor grins, and Yuuri suffers through a half hour of embarrassment after embarrassment as Viktor recounts the various ways in which Yuuri made a complete fool of himself in front of literally everyone that matters. Of course, Viktor doesn’t see it that way—he uses words like glowing and shining and breathless and perfect. In front of them on the mattress, the sides of their legs press up against each other. Viktor’s hands rest on his own thighs.

In a bold moment, Yuuri reaches out and covers Viktor’s palm with his own. He adds it to the list in his head of “ways to make Viktor smile his best smile”, right after “bring him katsudon”.

It’s a quiet and achingly intimate moment.

“Thank you, Yuuri.”

For what? he wants to ask, but he doesn’t, because deep down he knows.

“You’re welcome, Viktor.”

Viktor’s brow knits together for a moment and he pauses. “You could… You could call me Vitya.”

“Vitya?”

A ripple of pleasure crosses the pools of his eyes. “Yes. It’s… a nickname. For friends.”

There’s a fine tremor in Viktor’s hand. Yuuri gives it a squeeze. “I’m honored to be your friend, Vitya.”

Viktor laughs, then, and it’s a piercingly beautiful sound that goes soft around the edges. He squeezes Yuuri’s hand back and nestles their bodies even closer together.

“Perfect.”

 

 

The next morning, they stretch together, run on the beach together, and lean on each other in exhaustion once they make it back to the palace. At first, Viktor worries that he is imagining it, but knows he isn’t when Yuuri takes Viktor’s hand and drags him to the barre: they are closer, physically, in everything they do.

It makes sense that things would be different after yesterday. Viktor tries to forget the morning, but he clings to the evening with every bit of energy he has to spare.

He clings to the feeling of Yuuri leaning against his side, his head resting on Viktor’s shoulder; to the feeling of their hands intertwined, trembling at first with the newness of it all; to the sound of Yuuri’s voice pronouncing his name as effortlessly and lovingly as if he had been practicing his whole life.

Vitya, Vitya, Vitya.

He lets it soak him from head to toe.

If it were anyone else, Viktor would have worried that Yuuri’s sudden tendency toward physical touch was a result of yesterday morning’s discovery. Anyone else might have taken the knowledge that Viktor let strangers lay their hands on his body as permission to do the same.

But this is Yuuri, whose cheeks still get a dusting of red whenever Viktor reaches out to correct his technique. Viktor knows that the change must have come from elsewhere.

There’s something new in how Yuuri moves that morning. When it comes time to run through the routine he’s been choreographing, he doesn’t move away from Viktor—instead, he takes a step closer and places a hand square on Viktor’s chest.

Viktor wonders if Yuuri feels his breath hitch.

“Do not take your eyes off me.”

“Never,” Viktor breathes, and then forces himself to step back out of Yuuri’s reach; the only thing he wants more than Yuuri’s touch is to watch him dance.

And oh , is it a worthy trade off.

So much has shifted that Viktor would expect Yuuri’s dancing to be different, too. Still, he is not prepared for the sheer beauty of what he witnesses, not prepared for the understated power in each extension of Yuuri’s limbs and the passion woven into every movement.

Viktor does not look away.

(He could. Physically, he could— but he could never want to.)

Yuuri finishes, his chest heaving, and Viktor grasps the air for words but ends up empty handed. He picks Yuuri’s bottle of water off of the floor and takes it to him; it’s a thinly veiled excuse to be close to him once again, and Viktor doesn’t try to hide it.

Viktor approaches first, but it’s Yuuri that ignores the water bottle completely and closes the rest of the distance. Only a thin layer of air separates them and Viktor can feel the heat radiating from Yuuri’s skin.

“Vitya.”

“Yes,” Viktor breathes.

“Kiss me.”

And Viktor could say no—

But he doesn’t even consider it.

Their bodies meet and Yuuri’s lips are impossibly soft. Impossibly warm. Impossibly gentle. Impossible.

Their bodies meet and they melt.

 

 

Yuuri walks into negotiations that afternoon with red lips and red cheeks, praying that he doesn’t look as thoroughly kissed as he feels.

He barely pays attention the entire time, which is bad. Surely. But come on, how could he be expected to think of anything but Viktor for the rest of the day?

Vitya, kiss me. Kiss me, Vitya.

Vitya, Vitya.

How could he focus on anything else when he’s just realized he’s fallen in love?

 

 

Viktor thinks of nothing but Yuuri for days. Together, apart, it didn’t matter; reconstructing every lovely detail of Yuuri occupied his mind completely. Yuuri, Yuuri, with his dark hair, shining eyes, luminous smile. Viktor closes his eyes and sees how the lean muscle of his body ripples as he creates music with every delicate movement.

And his lips.

His lips.

Much to Viktor’s disappointment, and surely to Yuuri’s as well, they have enough self-control to not spend every minute together wrapped up in each other’s arms. There is something special about that connection, special enough and new enough that neither of them want to rush head-first too quickly.

But that’s all right, because Yuuri pecks him on the cheek when they greet each other each morning, and Viktor caresses Yuuri’s face each time he makes a correction to his pupil’s form. The quiet intimacy is enough.

Viktor should have known it could not last.

 

 

It happens a week later, when the ambassador orders Viktor to his chambers. Viktor knows the drill—he lets his hair down. Knocks on the door. Moves to the bed.

“Actually, my dear, I have another task for you tonight. Sit still and listen.”

Viktor listens and, with each word, feels nausea churn more violently in his gut. He wonders cynically if Antonovich would regret ordering him to sit still if Viktor were to throw up on his shoes.

“—hear me?”

Viktor shivers as he feels the familiar, single-minded compulsion narrow his world.

The ambassador’s fingers weave into the hair at Viktor’s scalp and pull, forcing eye contact.

“Did you hear me? That was an order.

Viktor blinks. He does not have a reply.

“Answer me, Vityenka.”

He swallows. “I heard you.”

“Good. Very good.”

And Viktor stands, walks from the ambassador’s chambers, and obeys.

 

 

Though some time their days by the sun, Yuuri prefers to time his by the ocean. The vast stretch of water is visible from his bed, from his desk, from his bath, and from the dance studio downstairs. His chambers face north and every morning he wakes to sunlight skimming off its surface and into his eyes, the cries of seagulls echoing in his ears. As he practices in the studio, the tide starts to recede, and when he heads to his chambers after dinner the water has come back in again, painted orange and pink by the sunset. And when he was a child and had trouble sleeping, his mother would open the window to allow the sound of lapping waves to reach his ears and soothe his nerves.

Yuuri knows the ocean. Yuuri loves the ocean.

When he opens the door to his chambers late at night to find Viktor standing in the hallway, the first thing Yuuri notices are his eyes—Viktor’s eyes that hold an ocean.

Yuuri loves him, but he does not know him.

That night, Yuuri’s first thought is tsunami. Though he has never witnessed one in his lifetime, he has heard of the violent storms, with winds and waves strong enough to destroy Hasetsu Castle in one fell swoop. The blue pools of Viktor’s eyes churn.

But no, that’s not quite right, is it? No matter how tumultuous, Viktor’s eyes are not like water tonight.

They are fire—burning bright blue, the hottest flame there is.

“Vitya?”

“May I come in, please?”

“O-of course.” He opens the door wider, and Viktor crosses the threshold. They move into Yuuri’s bedroom.

He’s dressed in shimmering black silk, embroidered with silver around the cuffs and neckline. The ornamentation matches his hair that’s pulled into a braid down the back of his head. A few shorter, loose strands frame his face and emphasize the cut of his jaw and the curve of his neck that Yuuri’s gaze traces down to rest atop his collarbone.

Is this how Viktor usually dresses outside of training? Yuuri supposes he wouldn’t know.

Yuuri gulps. “You…” He forgets the rest of the sentence the second he looks back up to Viktor’s eyes, because they’re on fire and he has no idea what that means.

Viktor drifts closer, and Yuuri’s heart pounds out of his chest.

“Vitya…”

Viktor closes the rest of the distance, leans down, and takes Yuuri’s lips with his own. But it’s not like before, where they melted slowly into each other’s touch—

No, this time, just like Viktor’s eyes, their lips burn. Yuuri gasps, trembles, and kisses him back with equal force, surrounding himself with and stoking the flames. Sinking into the touch, he lets himself, lets them both, burn.

Viktor’s arm snakes around Yuuri’s waist, his hand resting open at the small of Yuuri’s back. The warm pressure grounds him and pulls him further toward Viktor, who has backed up so that the backs of his legs rest against the side of Yuuri’s bed.

Viktor brings his free hand to Yuuri’s neck, the heat of his palm seeping into the prickling skin just below Yuuri’s ear—and it trembles. As Viktor’s hand slides back to cup the base of Yuuri’s skull, it trembles like a flame in the wind.

It hits Yuuri, through the fog of his desire, that he has no idea what is happening.

“Vitya,” he tries when he pulls away for air. “What are we doing?”

Viktor’s fingers trace circles on his lower back. “Just relax, Yuuri.” Another kiss. “Relax.”

But he can’t, not anymore—the touch of Viktor’s lips, his palms, his fingers still threaten to light Yuuri on fire with need, but there’s something wrong and Yuuri cannot let himself succumb to it. With slight pressure from the hand at his back their hips connect, then their stomachs and their thighs and their chests until there is nothing at all between them but their clothes.

Viktor radiates warmth, but Yuuri wants to pull back.

How many times has Viktor been in this position with another man? How long has it been since he felt a touch this intimate?

Or more importantly: how long has it been since someone kissed Viktor and didn’t expect to go any further?

No, it’s not that Yuuri doesn’t want this. But Viktor? Yuuri will not be just another person to take pleasure from him. He refuses to use the man he loves—this talented, endearing, burning man—as a means to an end.

“Vitya,” Yuuri gasps, “we need to talk about this.”

Viktor tugs the tie from the end of his braid, shakes it loose, and lets silver hair cascade over his shoulders.

“Shh, Yuuri, it’s okay. Just relax. You’re so beautiful. Let me please you.”

“I don’t th—”

Viktor takes the rest of Yuuri’s sentence with his lips and sinks slowly onto the bed behind him, dragging Yuuri down with him.

Viktor is beneath him now, sandwiched between Yuuri’s body and Yuuri’s mattress and looking up at him with flames for eyes. Silver strands splay out around his head like a halo. The image is sublime, surely something from a dream. It should be perfect.

Yuuri’s gut churns.

The hand still at the base of Yuuri’s head tugs him downward—Viktor’s lips meet him halfway, but instead of settling on Yuuri’s mouth they press to his jaw and move slowly downward, downward, to the delicate skin of his throat.

Yuuri can’t breathe. His heart pounds away in his chest. His stomach twists.

“Yuuri, please.” Viktor breathes against Yuuri’s racing pulse point, “Let me please you.”

With those words, the world around Yuuri grinds immediately to a stop, his stomach lurching so violently that he almost throws up at the realization:

Viktor is begging.

Yuuri’s arms, supporting most of his weight, almost give out beneath him, but he musters all the strength and presence of mind he can to place a hand on Viktor’s chest and push him away. The revulsion returns when he realizes he’s pinned Viktor to the mattress, and he hastens to roll off of him. He sits at the edge of the bed, head in his hands.

“Vitya, what are you doing, I don’t… Why are you—”

“It’s okay,” Viktor whispers, paper-thin. “It’s okay.”

And Viktor doesn’t stop. He sits up as well and, anchoring his hands on Yuuri’s hips, leans across his lap to kiss the inside of Yuuri’s wrists.

“Viktor, stop! ” Yuuri’s voice comes out raw. Unthinking, he shoves Viktor away with a bit too much force, Viktor’s head falling to his lap. “Stop. Please… please stop.”

The strangled noise from Viktor’s throat tears right through him.

“I can’t,” comes a gasp from Yuuri’s lap. Viktor buries his face against Yuuri’s stomach, the warmth of his words seeping through the material of his shirt and onto Yuuri’s skin. “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I—”

He cuts himself off with a wracking shudder. Lying in Yuuri’s arms, clutching desperately to the cloth at Yuuri’s lower back, Viktor shakes violently enough to fall apart.

What can Yuuri do but try to hold him together?

“Shhh, Vitya. It’s all right, Vitya. Tell me what’s wrong.”

“I… I can’t, I have to—have to—”

A tremor rips across Viktor’s frame.

“Let me please you. Please. You have to… to let me…”

That cracked desperation does not belong in Viktor’s voice.

“You do please me, Vitya. Every day, just by being you.”

Yuuri feels rather than hears Viktor’s sharp intake of breath. The fists at Yuuri’s lower back relax and he takes it as encouragement.

“You don’t need to do anything different. I just want to sit here with you. We can talk. We can open the window and listen to the ocean. Whatever you want, that’s what would please me. Just not…” Yuuri swallows. “Not that, okay?”

Every muscle in Viktor’s body simultaneously turns to jelly in Yuuri’s lap. He takes a few shuddering gasps against Yuuri’s stomach.

“There we go,” Yuuri murmurs, pulling the errant strands of hair from Viktor’s face and tucking them neatly behind his ear. “Don’t worry, okay? This is perfect. I’m… I am pleased.”

When Yuuri had his first panic attack, it had been Mari that brought him out of it. She did not know how to deal with it properly, then, but she held him through it and that was enough. He remembers that, once the crushing panic abated, the first thing he felt was her hand tracing circles on his back. Now, the embroidered silk of Viktor’s shirt glides softly under Yuuri’s palm and he rubs the same comforting pattern between Vitkor’s shoulder blades.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, so softly that Yuuri would have thought he’d imagined it if not for the puff of air against his stomach. “I’m so sorry…”

“Shh, Vitya. I know. We’ll worry about that later. For now, just breathe.”

And he does, until the shaking turns to quiet trembling. When Viktor finally sits up, he avoids Yuuri’s gaze by keeping his own locked down on his hands.  

“Hey… Vitya, look at me,” Yuuri whispers.

Despite Viktor’s previous reluctance, he obeys immediately. He lifts his head, turns, and meets Yuuri’s gaze. The fire has gone out, leaving Viktor’s eyes an ocean once more, and relief ripples across the surface.

“I…” Viktor begins, but does not finish. He looks like he might drift out to sea. Yuuri holds tight like an anchor.

“I know.”

 

 

The worst part is that Viktor is still Viktor.

Perhaps it would be easier for him if the commands moved him like a marionette, tying strings around his limbs and dragging him forward even as his mind screamed to go back. It would be horrifying, certainly, to be trapped in his mind as his body disobeyed him, but perhaps afterward, when confronted with what he’d done, he could have said it wasn’t me and I tried to stop and most importantly I did not want this.

But the reality is much less clean, because even as the commands seize his mind and force everything else away, Viktor is still Viktor. He controls his limbs, his lungs, his words, even as he does and says things he never would have wanted otherwise. It’s not his body, nor his mind, but his will that has been hijacked.

I hear that the prince has taken quite a liking to you, Vityenka.

Viktor pulls his hair into an elegant braid with care for each strand. He dresses himself in his finest silk. He applies kohl to his eyes and dabs rouge on his lips. Not for one moment does he hesitate.

I fear that his trust in Rossiya in the negotiation room is… decaying. We need something to remind him of the benevolence of our kingdom.

Viktor walks through the palace with a purpose, tracing the unfamiliar pathway toward an oh-so-familiar face. His naked feet pad lightly on the hardwood.

You know what you need to do, don’t you?

He pauses. He knocks. And the whole time, his purpose echoes in his ears. Yuuri opens the door, confusion then a smile then concern flitting across his face, and Viktor’s whole body hums.

Please him like you please me.

The need to do so burns through every muscle and nerve in Viktor’s body. Every second that passes without compliance makes it worse.

And he tries. He knows one way to do this, and he tries.

Then Yuuri says, “Viktor, stop!” and the fire, suddenly, is inescapable. He can’t keep going, but he can’t stop, he can’t—

“I can’t—” he tries to say, but even that gets cut off because he can’t talk about it

“Shh, Vitya,” Yuuri says, and Viktor begs and begs and begs.

Please him like you please me and he has to, he has to…

And then:

“You do please me, Vitya. Every day, just by being you.”

The relief comes slowly, a cool trickle that starts at his temples and works its way down his spine. Yuuri’s body is warm around him, Yuuri’s shirt soft against his cheeks, Yuuri’s fingers gentle as they tuck his hair behind his ear. Viktor’s breath shakes as it leaves his lungs and sinks into Yuuri’s shirt.

“…just not that, okay?”

Not that. Not that. It’s absurd on such a fundamental level.

Please him like—

“I am pleased.”

It hits him slowly: what he has done, what he was going to do, who he was going to... The revulsion makes a home in his gut and writhes with every comforting word that falls from Yuuri’s lips.

Yuuri says, “Vitya, look at me,” and, as Viktor instantly complies, another reality strikes him.

Viktor looks. Without hesitation. He doesn’t have a choice. He looks, and Yuuri is beautiful. Yuuri is concerned. Yuuri is forgiving. Yuuri—

Yuuri commands him now, too.

(For a horrible, terrible, split second, Viktor wonders if he was wrong about love. In the moment after Yuuri’s command fills Viktor’s head, he fears that it was not Yuuri he fell in love with, but Yuuri’s lack of hold on him. And now—)

(Now, Yuuri says, “It’s okay, take deep breaths. I’m here. Breathe with me.” And yes, they’re commands and no, Viktor cannot disobey… but that same love still blossoms in his chest at Yuuri’s voice. He knows then, without a shadow of doubt, that his fears were unfounded.)

They are quiet for a while. Despite everything, Yuuri does not push for information. He could demand anything yet he asks for nothing. Viktor lays across his lap, his hair tumbling across Yuuri’s thighs, yet the prince never tries to drag his fingers through the strands. Instead, Yuuri’s thumb rubs little circles on his back, a silent reassurance.

Viktor loves him so much.

“Let’s get more comfortable,” Yuuri suggests eventually, his hand gentle and prompting on Viktor’s shoulder. They slide back against the headboard, side by side. Quietly, Yuuri slips his hand into Viktor’s.

He turns, just a bit, so that he can look Viktor in the eye. Viktor braces himself.

“Can you tell me what that was?”

He wants to. Despite the nauseating shame he wants to, with every burnt-out cell in his body. Yuuri deserves at least that much. But can he?

Well, that’s the nature of the beast, isn’t it?

Viktor swallows, and shakes his head. That is all he can do, because it seems that even saying that he can’t say is too much information.

The flash of hurt in Yuuri’s eyes, Viktor expects, but he does not expect the self-doubt. Viktor’s own shame doubles in size, nearly bursting from him now.

And Yuuri must see that, because understanding settles suddenly and silently across his face and eclipses the doubt entirely.

“All right. You can’t tell me. But I can guess, right?”

It’s all Viktor can do to nod.

“I don’t think it was your idea to come here tonight.”

Oh.

Oh.

So that is how this is going to go.

Viktor’s shoulders stiffen. His chest is almost too tight to let him draw air. And he can’t affirm or deny the verity of that statement, but Yuuri seems to get the message and this is it, this is it, that loophole Viktor has been searching for in vain.

All he needed, it seems, was someone who cared enough to look closely.

“I don’t think it was your idea to want to ‘please me’.”

It wasn’t. It wasn’t it wasn’t—

“You didn’t really want to sleep with me tonight.”

Ah. There it is. Because Viktor did want, remembers wanting that more than anything, remembers the need to do so burning through every vein—

But this is Yuuri, and if Yuuri were in Viktor’s head right now, he would have stopped that line of thinking the second it began, would have dug through Viktor’s psyche to find its roots in fifteen-year-old Viktor’s fear of being the helpless victim, and he would have ripped those roots to shreds.

He would remind Viktor, you didn’t really want this, and Viktor would be forced to agree.

“Someone is making you.”

A splash of water lands on their joined hands. Viktor has not cried in years—

“You are afraid.”

—but he cries tonight, his tears rolling silently from his lashes and taking black kohl with them.

He cries because Yuuri is right, because that hopelessness that opened up within him is on the verge of swallowing him whole, because his body and mind and desires aren’t his half the time and he can never be okay with that again.

Because he loves Yuuri and look what he almost did tonight.

Yuuri wipes the tears from Viktor’s cheeks and Viktor squeezes his eyes shut.

“Should I be afraid?”

Viktor’s breath hitches. He looks up, instantly. “No, no, you’re okay. Don’t worry, Yuuri, you’re not in any danger—”

“But you are.” Yuuri holds his gaze, wiping yet another tear from Viktor’s cheek and saying, “Can’t I be afraid for you?”

Viktor cannot form a thought, let alone a word of reply.

“Please, Vitya, what’s going on? Is someone threatening you?”

“No, no, I—” Viktor cuts himself off with a shudder. Yuuri won’t look away.

“Please. Tell me.”

And suddenly, with that command all Viktor can think to do is tell him, tell him , but the second he opens his mouth the words get tangled up in his throat, and he can’t, can’t tell him

“Stop, Yuuri, please, I can’t…” He’s going to be pulled apart. The contradiction plays tug of war with his tongue and his lungs and his will. Yuuri watches it happen, never breaking eye contact, and dammit, Yuuri makes him so happy and he’s so miserable and he wants to tell him every last thing but he can’t, help me, help me, help me.

“Oh. Vitya, I’m sorry, I didn’t… Stop, you don’t have to tell me.”

Viktor’s shoulders slump at the new order, the tension of paradox draining from his body.

“I think I understand.” Yuuri pulls his hand from Viktor’s and sits back, taking a deep breath. Viktor mourns the loss of contact. “I want to try something, okay?”

Yuuri’s eyes are bright with his idea, and if it were anyone else Viktor would not have trusted it. But this is Yuuri, so Viktor nods.

“Okay. Raise your right hand.”

Viktor complies, and that terrible tightness in his chest lightens just a bit. Dare he hope…?

“Put it down.”

Viktor complies.

“Stick out your tongue.”

Viktor complies.

“Tell me your name.”

“Viktor.”

“Tell me your age.”

“Twenty-two.”

“Tell me you hate me.”

“I hate you, Yuuri.”

The words echo back to Viktor’s ears a second later, and his stomach turns.

“Wait, no! I… I don’t, why are you doing this, Yuuri, I don’t hate you, I swear I don’t—”

“I know, of course I know. That’s why.” Yuuri takes Viktor’s hand again and it grounds him. “I know. I’m sorry to do that.”

“I don’t hate you, Yuuri, I would never—”

“Vitya, stop, it’s okay.”

At the command, Viktor’s vocal chords freeze and he gags on half-formed words. Yuuri realizes his mistake instantly. His eyes go wide and he starts waving his arms wildly in front of Viktor.

“Wait, no, don’t stop! I mean—wait—keep talking, or, no, don’t listen to me, do whatever you want, I don’t… Oh, god. I can’t...”

Viktor can only stare, open mouthed, as the realization dawns in Yuuri’s eyes.

“You’re—they—Vitya. A curse. A curse. Oh, god.”

Viktor barely stifles a gasp as his reality, locked within him for so long, escapes on Yuuri’s voice out into the world. There’s no taking it back, now. Hands joined, they breathe the truth together.

A curse. Viktor blinks. His vision blurs. His chest, minutes ago so tight with truth that he feared it might collapse into nothing, feels like it’s been pried open and spilled into the space between them. It’s painful. It’s vulnerable.

It’s freeing.

Viktor might be crying again; his vision is blurred and there’s a pitiful noise emanating from somewhere low in his throat, but there is no room for shame—not here, not now. He has too many years’ worth of silence to make up for.

He blinks a couple times, and sees Yuuri reaching out to him as if he wants to touch but doesn’t know where, or if he’s allowed. Viktor leans in, allowing Yuuri to cup his cheek with all the tenderness in the world.

“How long?” Yuuri whispers.  This, Viktor finds he can answer, if only vaguely.

“Years.” The admission nearly chokes him. 

“And you can’t… you can’t tell anyone?”

Viktor can’t answer that, but his silence is an answer in and of itself. “I want to,” he says instead. “I wanted to. For you.”

“I know,” Yuuri sighs, and at that very moment they both give up on the distance between them. Leaning back against the headboard, Viktor lets his head find a home in the crook of Yuuri’s neck, his ear resting on Yuuri’s shoulder and his forehead against Yuuri’s throat. “I’m so sorry I didn’t figure it out sooner.”

“You couldn’t have.”

Yuuri tucks Viktor’s hair behind his ears, his hand lingering for just a moment before joining Viktor’s on his lap. Their fingers thread together.

“But it’s you, Vitya,” Yuuri breathes, and Viktor has no idea what the words mean but he loves the way they sound, the way he can feel them hum in Yuuri’s throat and rumble in his chest. Viktor’s name is at home in Yuuri’s voice and his body at home in Yuuri’s arms.

If the ambassador expected Viktor to end the night in the prince’s bed, he certainly would not have envisioned it like this. They lie together quietly, fully clothed atop the covers and Viktor allows himself a moment to indulge in his smug satisfaction.

Many of the men Viktor has served tell him afterward to stay. Exhausted and satisfied, they like a warm body to keep them company as they drift off to sleep. Some like to talk, some to drag fingers through his hair. They like Viktor to play a lover, to warm their beds and stroke their egos. The ambassador is not one of these men. Viktor always leaves as soon as he has caught his breath, before Antonovich can tell him to. The man has no need for a sweet-talking courtesan; he knows what he wants, and orders Viktor to give it to him with little tolerance for deviation. Afterward, they part.

“Please him like you please me,” was his command, but Viktor should have known that was impossible because this is Yuuri they’re talking about, a man who hums contentedly when Viktor traces the outline of his slender fingers with his own. Nothing that pleases Yuuri would have pleased Antonovich, and everything that pleases Antonovich would have revolted Yuuri.

(Did revolt Yuuri, Viktor corrects himself.)

Even with the ocean waves lapping on the shore outside the window, Viktor has never known anything as soothing as Yuuri’s breathing: the rhythmic expansion of his lungs under Viktor’s palm, the rush of hot air against his head. Despite the pooling guilt in his stomach, he cannot be sorry that tonight happened. He’s horrified for even thinking it, after what he nearly did, but… but how could he wish for anything different, when feels so warm and cherished and safe in Yuuri’s arms? When, otherwise, he would right now be treading gingerly from the ambassador’s chamber toward his own empty bed, with Yuuri never to know the truth?

Of the night’s developments, this casts the biggest shadow: Yuuri knows. Viktor can’t decide whether he should be relieved or horrified, so he settles for a little bit of both.

Completely helpless and unable to stop himself, he’d nearly ruined everything tonight. He hadn’t even been able to give a warning. And yes, Yuuri knows now, but nothing else has changed. Viktor has not changed.

Before, there had at least been separation. Viktor’s life with Yuuri, formed of early morning sunshine and quiet touches, was wholly different from his life as the most prized dancer of the Royal Court of Rossiya. He was a different man in the East wing dance studio than he was on the stage, in Yuuri’s arms than the beds of strangers. In one, he chose freely; in the other, the encroaching, pitch-black helplessness had lately become so heavy that he could barely breathe.

And now they’re all mixed up, the ambassador and Yuuri and the orders Viktor cannot disobey. There are smudges of black on the unexpectedly beautiful parts of his life that he’d meant to keep secret and separate. But it’s too late for that, now.

Viktor is not what Yuuri thought he was. He is not what Yuuri signed up for, nor what he was surely hoping for.

Viktor is not his own, and for that reason alone Yuuri deserves so much better.

Despite all of this, Viktor cannot bring himself to move. Nestled at Yuuri’s side, his head resting in the crook of Yuuri’s neck and their fingers intertwined, Viktor simply tries to match Yuuri’s breathing. He will enjoy this, Yuuri’s arms and warmth and attention, for as long as Yuuri will allow.

 

 

Sometime in the night, Yuuri awakes with a jolt.

He had not realized they had even fallen asleep, but there they are, fully clothed and pressed up against each other, in Yuuri’s bed in Yuuri’s chambers and the memories of last night come back in a relentless barrage.

The knock, the kissing, the begging, the curse.

He’s still groggy from sleep but his heart is pounding and getting faster by the minute as his brain wakes up to this new reality that he’s only just now starting to fully process.

Viktor is under a curse. Viktor has to obey every order given to him. Viktor has no choice.

And Viktor cannot talk about it.

It’s so supremely cruel that Yuuri wants to cry, but can’t. This man in his arms, who has eyes like the ocean and a pink smile made of hearts and who has selflessly spent every morning for weeks and weeks teaching Yuuri everything he knows about their shared passion, this man deserves so much better—

Wait.

Wait.

Unbidden, Viktor’s voice from last week floats back to Yuuri:

You leaned into my shoulder the minute the music stopped and whispered, ‘teach me, Viktor.’ How could I say no?

(Oh yes, Yuuri. How indeed?)

Yuuri chokes on a gasp as Viktor’s sleeping body suddenly feels like a crushing weight in his arms. Yuuri pulls his hand back, scooting out from under Viktor and taking care to let his head down softly onto the pillow before he slides off of the mattress with what little grace he can muster. He heads promptly to the bathroom to empty to contents of his stomach into the toilet.

Okay, so he does not actually throw up, but hunched over the toilet his stomach convulses as it keeps coming:

Dance with me — the very first thing he said to Viktor.

And Viktor had, going promptly to Yuuri’s arms and staying with him for song after song.

Call me Yuuri — the last thing Yuuri remembers from the night they met.

And Viktor had. Viktor does.

Do not take your eyes off of me — Yuuri had commanded not even a week ago.

And Viktor hadn’t, not once.

Every realization is a kick to his gut with a steel-tipped boot and he’s shaking now, but he no longer thinks he’s going to vomit. He’s struggling just to pull in air and his heart is pumping so fast that he can hardly tell one beat from another. But what really does it is one final realization, one last phrase in his own voice that emerges from his memory and kicks him square in the chest:

Vitya…

Yes?

Kiss me.

And oh, had he.

The most frustrating part of Yuuri’s panic attacks is how they refuse to bend to reason. What sets him off is usually something seemingly small and insignificant—sure, at the time it feels like the end of the world, but there’s always that part of him that knows it’s not. Yuuri’s mind is clinically terrible at not overreacting and he knows it.

But this time? There’s nothing irrational about it. This time, reason actually backs up every single one of Yuuri’s fears.

Stumbling from where he stood doubled over the toilet to the wall, Yuuri slides to the ground and wedges his head between his knees, fighting a losing battle for breath. His vision has narrowed to a pinpoint and every second feels like the ground has just been ripped out from under him.

He’s not quite sure that he’s overreacting this time, because he loves Viktor and their whole relationship is a lie.

Yuuri loves Viktor — is in love with Viktor — and he has forced him into all of this.

When Yuuri finally manages to breathe, the air enters his lungs in a ragged gasp. From the bedroom, he hears movement. Footsteps. The door opens.

“…Yuuri?”

His head locked between his knees, Yuuri cannot see any of the figure in the doorway, but he can still hear the concern plastered on Viktor’s face. It’s almost more than he can take. He sucks in more air, and hears Viktor’s breath catch.

“Are you okay? Do… do you want me to get you anything?”

Yuuri considers, for a moment, saying yes, because there’s a special kind of herbal tea in one of his bedside drawers that helps curb anxiety attacks—but if he said yes, would that be an order? He doesn’t know, and he has no way of knowing, either, because Viktor can’t tell him, which, coupled with Yuuri’s willful cluelessness, is how they got into this mess in the first place.

The worst of it seems to have passed, now, because his breathing is coming easier and his head is clear enough to recognize the decision sitting before him, the right choice already made.

He knows what he has to say. He looks up.

“We should end this.” His voice is still shaky, still nearly paralyzed with shock, but it does the job. Standing in the doorway is Viktor, looking torn between keeping his distance and rushing to Yuuri’s side. Yuuri had been right—concern is plastered in his every delicate feature.

At Yuuri’s words, concern morphs to confusion and, a split second later, fear.

“End what, exactly?” Viktor asks, each syllable measured, each halting letter sounding foreign on his tongue.

“You know what,” Yuuri whispers and looks away from Viktor’s face because he’s a coward.

Yuuri…”

And Viktor isn’t the one fresh out of a panic attack—so why does he sound like he’s just had the breath knocked out of him?

“I can’t do this,” Yuuri explains, his words dry and measured. Perhaps he should be crying, but the panic had receded and left a surprising, rational calm. “No matter how much I…” He swallows. “I won’t do it.”

I won’t do this to you.

When he finally gathers the courage to look up (because he is a coward), he finds Viktor’s ocean eyes shining with tears.

And it’s not fair. None of this is fair.

But seconds later, acceptance shutters itself across Viktor’s eyes like storm doors, forcing the tears out and away. “I see,” he says, and that is that. He doesn’t fight it, not even for a second, which is all the confirmation Yuuri needs that he was never Viktor’s choice in the first place.

But he loves you, cries some desperate voice within him. Yuuri shoves it away, shoves it down, and lets it suffocate. He will not allow his own desires to delude him again.  

He has missed so much. Misunderstood so much.

“I’m sorry,” Yuuri whispers, and it sounds pathetic even to his own ears.

Viktor waits a beat. “Do you need help, or…”

“No, I’m fine,” Yuuri replies, his nails digging into his thighs. “I’m fine. Just go, Viktor.”

Something horrid flashes in Viktor’s eyes the second he hears his name—not Vitya but Viktor , and Yuuri honestly had not expected the switch to have such an effect on the man, but calling him by such an intimate nickname felt terribly wrong now. Either way, Viktor is back to his expression of stone within milliseconds. Yuuri tries to forget.

Viktor turns on his heels and leaves. Seconds later, Yuuri hears the hallway door open and shut.  Much too late, Yuuri realizes his last words to Viktor had been an order. Just go, Viktor, and Viktor had, because he had no choice, because Yuuri was clueless and thoughtless, and there’s no way to tell what Viktor’s will would have been in that moment because Yuuri went and squashed it beneath his own.

Acrid bitterness fills his mouth and his stomach churns in disgust. He made the right choice.

Really, this is all the confirmation he needs.