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What's Past is Prologue

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What’s Past is Prologue

A cemetery, in the heart of Verona:

How had everything gone so wrong?

Victor stands at his friend’s graveside, face tipped toward the sky while he lets the rain soak him, as if it could wash away the sorrow gripping his heart and radiating down his shoulders.  God, has it only been a few days since he and his friends plotted to gatecrash the Crispino’s ball?  If Georgi were here, he would tell Victor that even behind the clouds, the sun was still shining, and if Chris were beside him, he would complain that the rain was ruining his hair.

But both of them are gone, like the first delicate blossoms of spring, or a feathery dandelion in a summer wind.

Thunder rolls above him, shaking a sob out of his bones.

“Oh, my friends,” Victor whispers into the rain, “You had so much life left in you yet.”

Behind him, a twig snaps loudly enough to startle him momentarily from his grief. He turns, and peers at the man behind him through the drizzle. 

“I am so sorry,” says Yuuri Katsuki.  “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“What do you want?” asks Victor, wary in a way he never was until recently. 

Yuuri shifts, looking unsure of himself.  “I only came to pay my respects,” he says at last.  He pushes his dark hair out of his eyes where it drips down his face and squints through the rain at Victor.  “I’ll just leave you, my lord.  My pain at their loss must be nothing in comparison to yours.” 

Oh, no, Victor thinks, he doesn’t get to just walk away like that. Yuuri had not driven the sword through Christophe’s gut, but he had stood by the one who did, in spirit, surely. 

“Unfortunate for you, isn’t it?” Victor says, “The entire affair must surely have put a dent in your apprenticeship.”  And it isn’t fair, it isn’t kind, and it is definitely something he will regret saying in the darkest hours of the night while tears stain his pillowcase and his hand longs for a sword and a pen in equal measure; one to cut out his heart to keep it from aching, the other to preserve his pain before he goes numb altogether. 

“My lord?” asks Yuuri, eyes widening. 

“I mean, it was Anya who vouched for you so whole-heartedly, from what I’ve heard.  She was the one persuading the Crispino family to fund you, and now she’s gone.”

Yuuri stiffens.  “My lord, I don’t know what I’ve done to offend you enough for you to speak to me so.”  And oh, God on high, there is hurt in his voice. 

“Your darling patron’s son put my dearest friend in the ground I’m standing on,” Victor observes, voice cold.

“And Michele has paid for his foolishness with his life,” says Yuuri.  He seems about to say something else, but his jaw clicks shut as he thinks better of it.  “I’ll leave you. My apologies for interrupting.”  And he walks away, leaving Victor to the rain and the wind winding through the gravestones.

 

It started as a joke, something to laugh at, something to keep Georgi from mourning the pangs of unrequited love.  Georgi was mooning over Sara, and Chris suggested that he take his mind off of the whole situation. What could be more diverting than a masked ball, especially when it was being hosted by the family of your greatest enemy? And besides, Chris had said, coaxing, Sara would be attending as well.  After all, it was her father acting as host.  Georgi agreed, a little desperately, and then…

And then he met Anya.  She was beautiful, Victor could objectively admit.  Not what he would go for, (not by a long shot) but charming all the same.  And Georgi, well.  He had gone from being a shipwreck to becoming the hurricane, and Victor thought there was actually hope for his friend; Anya seemed equally amorous.

How could he have known more blood would be spilt than he had tears to shed?

He would have stopped it.  He would have, if he had but known. 

(So he told himself, losing his mind to what-ifs where he had stepped in and saved them, both of them.  Why hadn’t Georgi told him about the poison, about the drastic measures he planned?  Why hadn’t he stepped in for Chris when he challenged Anya’s foolish cousin?  He was the best swordsman in the town, and the surrounding ones to boot!  He had fenced before lords and ladies, and won medals for his art!  And he, the most renowned swordsman in a two-hundred mile radius, hadn’t been able to save his dearest friend from being skewered by a vengeful, sloppy teenager with poorer technique than Victor’s own horse.)

Blood on the cobblestones.  Blood on Victor’s hands.  Would that he could scrub the pain in his chest away like he had so carefully cleaned the blood from beneath his fingernails. 

And just like that, two lives had been snuffed out as Georgi, who despite his frequent rows with Chris, loved the man as dearly as Victor had—a brother in all but blood—charged after his friend’s murderer. Now, passion won; except this time, Michele seemed to know he fought a losing battle before their blades even clashed, unlike Chris.  Chris, whose last words, whispered between rattling, choking gasps, had been spoken with the intent to keep his friends smiling, even as his blood stained the street and tears clouded Victor’s eyes. 

And now, even Georgi…

Victor had never felt more alone.  He had escaped loneliness once years before.  He would choose death over having to live through it again, for a life of loneliness is crueler than any death Fate could devise.

 

The Popovich Gardens, three days prior.

Victor had given up on love.  He had not suffered from any tragic heartbreak himself (aside from the pangs of unrequited admiration, he told himself firmly) but watching his friend mope about like a kicked puppy did nothing to make him desire love’s sweet pain.  Honestly, it wasn’t hard to see that Georgi was barking up the wrong tree for any number of reasons, but apparently the term “fools in love” was far too literal; logic no longer applied to reasoning in the face of infatuation. 

“Have you seen him?” he asked Chris.  Chris blinked up at him, all wide-eyed innocence.

“Who, mon ami?” he asked blithely.  That was how Chris always spoke, really: blithe and unbothered, with a hint of sardonic mischief hidden behind rakish charm.

“Georgi, obviously, I can’t find him anywhere and we’re going to be late.”

“Ah, Victor, believe me, people like us can’t be late.  We are going to be the life of the party!”

“I don’t know how a party can have life if Sara isn’t there,” Georgi muttered, and Victor turned around.

“Georgi, there you are!” he cried.  “Look, I got us masks!”

“As if you won’t stand out, with your hair,” Georgi said.  “Fair as starlight; I bet you could win her over…”  Chris giggled.  Victor knew what was coming before he even opened his mouth to form the words.

“Nonsense, mon petit chou,” he said.  “With the mask and everything, he’ll likely look more like his dear uncle than anything else!”

“Yakov is bald, Chris,” Victor cried, clutching at his chest.  “How dare you compare me to him?” But the insult was as old as it was harmless, and Victor simply rolled his eyes when he caught sight of Georgi smiling for the first time in a week. 

He was more than willing to play the fool if it meant his friends were happy.

 

In novels, there is such a thing called foreshadowing. This can be anything as subtle as a storyteller’s mention of a crow to indicate impending doom, or thunder overhead to signify upcoming disaster.  In real life, such convenient warnings are nonexistent.  There is no easy prediction of how a life might change in an instant, no soothsayer’s cries of “Beware the Ides of March” to convince a doomed soul to remain amid four safe walls.  Looking back, there was nothing at all to make Victor think for an instant that this was a Bad Idea.  The sky was clear and the stars shone bright, and the interior of Crispino hall was warm with the glow of firelight and the smell of free-flowing wine. 

The Crispino and Popovich families loathed each other.  No one knew the rhyme or reason, they knew only the facts: that people had murdered one another in cold blood in the name of the feud that was slowly ripping their city apart.  Victor hated it.  He felt pain on his cousin’s behalf, really—Yuri didn’t deserve to deal with this at such a young age, though he dealt with it better than Victor could have.  For all his youthful temper, Yuri was becoming a good man, a good leader; Yakov was teaching him well.  The responsibility should almost have been Victor’s, but he had escaped by the grace of being born to the wrong son; Victor’s father had been the previous Prince’s younger son, while Yuri’s father was the eldest.  So when their grandfather, Nikolai, died, Yuri’s father took the position, and Yuri after him. 

Yuri, whose easily recognizable blond head was nowhere in sight.  Good.  Already, Victor was starting to think he should have come with only Chris, but his friend had insisted that this would cheer up Georgi, and Victor was such a sucker for puppy eyes. He had to admit, they looked fine in their garb.  Victor knew violet suited him well, mixed as it was with gold, setting off his silver hair and blue eyes as the assets they were.

(Because really, would his renown be so great if he didn’t look so dashing?  He knew the answer, and it was and always would be of course not, you’re nothing without your looks and talents.)

He had lost Georgi after all of three minutes.  Victor turned to take a glass of wine and by the time he turned back, his friend was gone.

“He’s fine, Victor,” murmured Chris, “he knows to keep to the sidelines.  He’s a man who yearns from afar.  Are you alright here?”

“I believe so, yes.  I’m not technically representing little Yura tonight, but I plan to find Lord Crispino and have a word with him over the bloodshed in the streets earlier today.”

“Does his little highness know?”

“He hates when you call him that, and no, this was my idea.”

“Good luck, mon ami.”

“Ha, thank you, Christophe.” 

Victor watched Lord Crispino take another swig from his wineglass and laugh at something the man next to him was saying.

“Indeed, and here’s to our noble Prince, whose interference did nothing but cost me a pageboy,” he said loudly, and the broad-shouldered man laughed uncomfortably.

“You’ll not catch me speaking ill of the Prince, Lord Crispino,” he said.

“Signore Cialdini, Prince Yuri has let the Popovich family destroy this city, and now boys are dying in the streets,” Lord Crispino said, so self-assured it made Victor sick.   

Oh.  That was unacceptable.                                                

Victor started forward with the intent to give the elder Crispino a pleasant surprise—after all, who would turn away the Prince’s cousin?—but his plan was foiled when he collided with another guest, decked in silks of crimson and ebony. 

“Damn,” he cursed at the same moment the other man said, “Ouch!”  The glass of wine in Victor’s hands flew out of his grasp—he was distantly grateful that it did not stain his costume, just shattered on the floor—and before he could even think to tell his accidental attacker to watch where he stepped, a man with eyes deeper than a well of dreams was bowing to him, apologizing as if he had slapped the king instead of running into another guest.

“Please, forgive me, I wasn’t watching my surroundings,” the man said, black hair gleaming raven-blue in the light of the many candelabras.  He bowed again, a little frantic. “You’re not hurt in any way I pray, my lord?”

“Ahm,” said Victor, who had received education from the finest tutors and had read every sonnet by any poet of note and suddenly could not, for the life of him, recall how languages even worked, although he himself spoke no less than three.  The man—an angel, surely—stopped bowing to look at him with blatant concern.

“Oh, God, you have a concussion,” he said.

“No, no, I really don’t, I’m fine,” Victor hastened to assure him.  Damn the Crispino family for choosing a masquerade as their theme; covering any part of this man’s face was a crime against mankind, against art, against Italy herself. 

“Oh,” he said, “well, that’s good, I suppose.” He didn’t move on, though, and Victor was suddenly half-afraid that he would disappear like a puff of smoke.  It seemed he remembered how to speak after all, as a thought occurred to him.

“Well, I mean, my pride might be a bit damaged,” he said, and before his new companion could say apologize again he continued, “but luckily I think you could make it up to me yet.”

“Of course, anything!”  Ah, so eager, how encouraging.  But still too nervous to shine properly.

“Dance with me?” Victor asked and please, dear God don’t let me sound as desperate as I am.

“I…” he looked so unsure, as if waiting for the rest of a joke. 

“Please,” Victor begged. “I lost the people I came in with, and the orchestra is especially talented tonight, it would be a shame not to let them know how appreciated they are.”

This made the man flush, but he was smiling, soft and unsure, but genuine.

“Alright,” he said.  Victor held out his hand.  There was nothing so rare, really, about two men dancing together at an event like this.

“I never caught your name, by the way,” he said, trying to sound offhanded.

“I never offered it,” the man said.  “I’m Yuuri, um, Katsuki that is.  I’m Sir Cialdini’s apprentice.”

“Yuuri,” Victor purred.  “Marvelous to make your acquaintance.”

 

 

Villa Plisetsca, now:

They never mention how life is supposed to go on.  Once the curtain goes down, the audience is typically left to wonder, to assume, to hope for the best.  But hate does not heal in a day, and the golden statue erected to commemorate Georgi and Anya’s love served only to remind all who passed it just how much had been lost, rather than the reason why.  An anxious peace settled over the streets of Verona, though anyone would readily say (in the privacy of their own homes) that they felt uneasy, as though the blood spilt had poisoned the streets further, rather than cleansed them.  A wrongly placed word, an unchecked glance, and Victor could see it only too well: someone would snap, and the cycle would start again only to leave ashes in its wake, and the city would not remain standing at the end of it all.

Everyone could feel it, which is why Victor is currently seated before his cousin Yuri and uncle, Yakov, who is not only their remaining family, but the prince’s advisor. (He had long given up advising Victor, though sometimes Victor wishes he would.)

“Something must change,” Yakov says, glaring at Victor as though this was all somehow his fault.  “They have not yet learned, even with the deaths of so many on their hands, they push the dagger onto the other family,” Victor mutters bitterly.

“Why?!” asks Yuri, standing and slamming his palms flat against the table.  “Why are they being so stupid?  Popovich’s son is dead, Crispino’s niece is dead, his son is dead, and they’re still happy to let their family’s blood stain the streets? My people’s blood?!”  And while Victor could see so very clearly the boy Yuri had been when he took up his position, he could see the man he was becoming, forced to grow up too quickly and shed not only his uncontrollable anger but also his innocence.  In their place, a cool sense of judgment and something like compassion has grown, and Victor and Yakov do what they can to nurture it.  Yuri breathes deeply, holds it for a moment, and then asks, more calmly, “What can we do? What can I do?”

“We have options, in theory,” Yakov says.  “We can simply arrest them all, or execute them all.”

“Their lust for power is at the heart of this, power and vanity,” says Victor.  Yuri scoffs. 

“Clearly,” he says.   “What do I do, strip them of their titles? Exile them to separate corners of the globe?”  Victor thinks of Georgi’s exile, when everything fell apart, and winces.  Yuri sighs.

“I need a day,” he tells them.  “And you do too.  We’re so close to this, you especially, Vitya, and it’s hard to think.  If I have to make a decision right now I’m gonna have them beheaded and their guts strung out like banners.”  Yakov and Victor nod, standing.

“Until tomorrow, then,” Victor says, while Yakov just clasps the Prince’s shoulder, and they leave the room.  The great oak door closes behind them with a bang.

“Vitya,” Yakov starts.

“Sorry, Yakov, busy,” Victor says, quickening his steps.

Vitya.

Confronted with that tone, Victor knows better than to bolt.  He expects a lecture, but instead receives a question.  “You have spent more time in the fencing yard than you have spent sleeping for these last few days.  Have you written anything at all this last week?”

He thinks of crumpled pages with smears of black ink like a knife wound through the parchment, of broken quill pens and the fear that crept into him and burrowed inside when he spent too long in the company of his own mind.  He shakes his head. 

Yakov sighs, but all his uncle tells him is, “Don’t do anything stupid, boy.  You survived when the others didn’t, that means something.”  And it shouldn’t matter to Yakov; he had never discouraged Victor’s “scribblings” point-blank, but he also never spoke about them when he could push Victor out into the field and hone him into an extension of a weapon, as keen as the blade he held.  Victor’s mask must be slipping, for Yakov to comment on his writings as though he knows how much Victor needs them.

“Thank you, Uncle,” Victor says, voice strangled.  “I’ll keep that in mind.”  And before he really can do something foolish, like set Crispino Hall on fire or run Lord Popovich through with his own sword, Victor sets off to the one place he could channel his rage into something that might not tear him apart.  In this case, the sword was mightier than the pen after all.

This, of course, makes him think of Yuuri, and he doesn’t want to think of Yuuri.  He had said horrible things to the poor boy, and some part of him that had hidden quietly for these last few awful days whispers that a poem of apology might be in order, but that would mean thinking and Victor didn’t want to think.  Of anything.  Certainly not eyes full of hurt and sorrow nearly as deep as his own blinking at him through the rain. 

“Ah, Lord Nikiforov!” It’s Signore Cialdini’s voice that hails him, stopping Victor before he can retreat to his practice.  And oh, speak of the devil, it’s the man himself.  Yuuri avoids eye contact, and really, Victor can hardly blame him.  It doesn’t stop the disappointment when Victor knows he is the cause of Yuuri’s hesitance and darting gaze.  

“Signore Cialdini,” says Victor, bowing slightly, “how may I be of assistance?”

“I am here for a word with the Prince, but I wanted a word with you as well, actually,” Celestino says.  He gestures in front of him.  “Walk with me for a moment?”

“Of course, my lord.”  And really, Victor hardly has a choice; to be rude to one of Verona’s oldest families simply won’t do, not when they need Celestino’s support if they want to deal with the Crispino and Popovich families. 

Celestino glances at Victor.  “I know that you are a relative of the Prince, my Lord.  I just wonder whether I have permission to be honest, as a citizen of Verona?”

“Good sir, I wish you would.”  Celestino nods his thanks.

“This city is sick,” he says bluntly.  “It has been since I retired here, and I don’t know that even Rome has seen such hate and terror in the streets since Nero.  It has spread from the families themselves into the people’s hearts, and every drop of blood causes more anger to bloom like some fleur du mal. I just wondered, my Lord, whether anything can be done, before further blood is spilt?”

“Lord Cialdini, I…” Victor sighs.  “I can’t say.  I wish I knew.  One would think that the death of a son and a niece, the death of their children, would be enough to break through this veil of hate; grief is perhaps one of the strongest emotions we can feel.” 

“Aye, but perhaps their hate is stronger.”  Celestino says.  He looks at Yuuri, trailing quietly behind him and asks him, “Will you be alright if I leave you for a moment while I seek an audience with The Prince?  You would be allowed to accompany me, I’m sure.”

“Or,” says Victor, “I would be far from opposed to your company should you choose to stay.”

“I-but, that is, I-I have some errands to run,” Yuuri stammers, unable to meet Victor’s eyes.  “Lord Nikiforov has better things to do than babysit me, I’m certain.”

“You don’t require babysitting,” says Victor, before Celestino can say a word.  “And though I wouldn’t want to detain you, perhaps I might accompany you on your errands?”  Only years’ worth of training in etiquette keeps him from wincing at how desperately hopeful he sounds.  Yuuri looks like a stag caught alone in a clearing by a group of hunters. 

“It might be helpful,” says Celestino, and Victor can’t tell if he feels the tension between them and is feigning ignorance, or if he truly is that unaware.  “The streets are dangerous, Yuuri,” he continues, “I would hate to lose my star pupil to a random skirmish.”

“Very well then,” Yuuri says, hesitantly.  “I’ll see you at the Hall, then, Lord Celestino?”

“I’ll be home in a few hours, I should think,” Celestino says cheerfully.  “Lord Yakov is a friend; it’s really he who requested me here.”  He clapped Victor on the shoulder.  “I shall see you, Lord Nikiforov.”

“Until later,” says Victor, and then he’s left alone.  With Yuuri.  He has no idea what to say.

Oh God, what does he say?

“I’ll just leave you then, my lord.”  Yuuri bows and begins to hurry off but Victor stops him with a touch to the wrist. 

“Wait, I thought I was coming with you.”

“My lord, you needn’t spend any more time in my company than necessary,” Yuuri tells him bluntly, still walking away from him.  Victor jogs a little to catch up and falls into step alongside him.

“You don’t want me to come with you then after all?” he asks.

“No, that’s not- that’s not what I’m saying.  But the last time we met you made your thoughts about me quite clear.”

“Yuuri, no, stop a moment,” Victor pleads.  “That’s precisely why I wanted to walk with you, I- I only wanted to apologize.”  Yuuri tilts his head to the side, confused.

“Why?” he asks.  Such a simple question, so many answers could apply. 

“Because…” begins Victor, but where to start? Because I am so tired of fighting?  Because without the people that shoved their way into my life I’m lost again?  Because my mind won’t let me rest until I erase that look on your face from my memory, even though it’s my thoughtless words that put it there to begin with?

“The world has quite enough hate in it, don’t you think?” he says instead.  “I just don’t know if I can bear to add more to it at this point.”  Fighting takes passion, and passion is a byproduct of emotion, and emotions require an energy that Victor can’t seem to summon anymore.  He can’t make the emptiness ache less, but he can mend the gap his unkindness caused, perhaps.  He would do anything to ease that hollowness, just a little.  This had seemed like an achievable step, in his mind at least.  Less easy in reality, it turns out.  “I’m sorry, Signore Katsuki.  Losing- losing the two men I considered brothers, it took its toll.  But I shouldn’t have lashed out as I did.  It was cruel.  And—”  He cuts himself off.

“No, my lord, go on,” Yuuri whispers, and Victor can feel the weight of his gaze.

“I couldn’t let them die in vain,” he says softly.  “My friends died for some sick family feud that neither of us are even part of, but we were drawn in by association.  I think we’ve both lost something dear to us.”  Yuuri nods, looking a little overwhelmed by Victor’s confession.

“Anya reminded me of my sister so much, but also of my mother’s friend Minako.  Both of them are back home, and home is a long way from here.  Anya took me under her wing, and when she heard what I wanted to do, why I was in Verona at all, she marched right up to her father and said that she wished to join in the family’s legacy of promoting the arts, as she put it.  She vouched for me at my first meeting with Celestino, said that she would reimburse him in full if he wished.  She had no more than one of my poems.”  He smiles, but it is a sad thing.  “I think that’s why it hurt so much when you implied I only cared about her for her financial support,” Yuuri continues, tone just a little sharp.

“I had no right,” Victor says firmly.  “I truly regret saying that, you know.  If you never wish to speak to me again after this, I’ll not blame you.  However,” he swallows, “it would please me greatly if we could, perhaps, start again?”  Yuuri considers him, shadowed slightly by the trees lining the path through the courtyard, and then sticks out his hand.

“I’m Yuuri Katsuki,” he says, “Apprentice to Lord Cialdini, one of Verona’s finest poets.”

“Victor Nikiforov,” Victor returns, grasping his hand with relief.  It’s callused in places, and so very warm.  “Occasional swordsman, member of the Prince’s Guard.”

“And an occasional poet yourself,” Yuuri says, and pulls his hand away, flushing. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.  Shall we go?”

Victor smiles, his first real one since Chris.

“Lead the way, sir.”

 

Villa Crispino, three evenings prior:

Victor had never felt more alive, not on the fencing court, not riding through open fields on his beloved horse while the wind caressed his face, not perched beside a stream with a pen in his hand and a blank page before him and three languages at his disposal.  Yuuri took all that he thought he knew, shuffled it around, and returned it to him as a work of art. Victor was realizing that the world contained so much more than he thought it did.

He could dance.  Oh, goodness, could he dance.  Victor hadn’t danced for ages, but dancing really was a bit like a duel: quick, light steps executed while watching your partner, attuned to their every movement, down to the slightest flick of the wrist, the subtlest quirk of the mouth.  Victor was used to surprising people, keeping them on their toes, outdoing them at every turn; it seemed an era since someone had managed to surprise him, on or off the field. 

“You dance like you fight,” Yuuri said, a quiet murmur in Victor’s ear as he spun Victor, and for a moment the room was a blur.  “And you fight like you write; every movement is poetry.”   Touch soft and delicate and entirely at odds with the sharpness of his gaze, Yuuri drew him back in, holding him so close, too close, not close enough.  Victor gripped his hand like it was the only thing that kept him standing.

“Something tells me that, as Signoree Cialdini’s apprentice, you are far from clumsy with words,” Victor said.

“I’m starting to think that poetry cannot be taught,” said Yuuri.  “He reads my work, edits it; we discuss the great Classics, the obscure gems, the new upstarts, like that one in England that writes plays but calls himself a poet, though I do like his rhyme scheme.  Still, no matter how much I learn, when I put pen to paper, there’s always something missing.”

“These things take time to find,” Victor says.  “And even when you find them, they’re easy to lose.”

Yuuri watched him from beneath dark lashes, long enough that they brushed his mask every time he blinked.  Victor could write sonnets about them.

“Is that why you haven’t published anything in so long?” he asked.

“You know my work well?” Victor asked.

“So well,” said Yuuri, perhaps a little tipsily.  “So, so well, Lord Nikiforov.”

Victor twirled him, unsure how to respond to that.

“So is it?” Yuuri asked.  “Is that the reason?”

“Yes,” Victor confessed. “But I’m starting to think I might find it again.”

“I’d like to find mine,” Yuuri said. “My, my thing, something, what’s the word, tangible?  Every time I try to put it in words, the thoughts feel too floaty.”  He dipped Victor just as the music swayed to a halt, and Victor clutched tightly at his shoulders.

“You would be such a beautiful muse, you know,” Yuuri whispered, one hand brushing Victor’s cheek before he helped him to stand again.  “Maybe you’re my something…”

“We could always find out,” Victor rasped.  Paying no heed to the people surrounding them on the dance floor, he lowered his voice.  “Find me, tomorrow maybe?  I’d love to take a look at your poetry, see your work for myself.  Perhaps we can find a solution to your problem.”

Yuuri smiled, slow, soft, and seductive in response.

But Yuuri didn’t call on him.  Instead, they met the following day in the street, standing with opposite houses, and Yuuri acted as though he were a stranger while their friends fought with sharp words and sharper swords.  And when Victor knelt, holding a bleeding Christophe in his arms while Georgi chased a self-righteous Michael over Verona’s streets, Yuuri hurried away, not bothering to look back as he chased after them.

Lies are cruel, and life is crueler, Victor thought, and then: Oh, that would make a lovely opening line for a stanza. 

Pity that his muse had betrayed him in the worst way.

 

The Verona Town Square:

“I think you need this,” Victor calls.

“Victor, I’m not wearing that,” Yuuri tells him now that he has stopped stuttering over Victor’s name.  (It had taken coaxing, but Victor was dying to know what his given name sounded like falling from Yuuri’s lips.  He was starting to wonder at what point it would be enough.)

“It would suit you,” Victor says, plopping the hat, in all its peacock blue and green glory, onto his own head.  “I think you’d look stunning in it.”

Yuuri shakes his head, turning back to continue through the square’s crowded streets.  Victor smiles, jogging a little to catch up with him. 

“Where to now?” he asks.  His companion consults his list.

“Celestino says he needs a book, and I need some lavender from the apothecary.” 

“Lavender?”

“It helps me sleep,” Yuuri mumbles.  “I have trouble sometimes.  My mind doesn’t want to shut up, which would be fine if it was doing something useful, but it’s not, so I do what I can to sleep.”

Victor is about to ask him what other methods he uses, the beginnings of a smirk teasing at his lips, but just as he’s turning to look at him, a tall man knocks into Yuuri, causing him to drop the loaf of bread he was carrying.

“Look where you’re going,” the man says roughly.

“My apologies, sir,” Yuuri replies, flustered.

“That’s hardly necessary, I would think,” says Victor.  He feels suddenly offended on Yuuri’s behalf.  “It was you who ran into my friend, after all.”  The man sneers, mocking.

“And he needs you to be his knight in shining armor, eh?” he asks. 

I could slit his throat before anyone even notices; no way are his reflexes faster than mine.

“Clearly there has been a misunderstanding,” Yuuri mutters beside him, touching Victor’s arm gently.  “We’ll be on our way.”

“It’s your cousin’s fault, Nikiforov,” the man calls.  “Blood on our streets, fighting all hours of the day, kids dead, and what does your cousin do? Commissions a statue, that’s what.  A bloody useless statue.”

And that makes Victor stop, because he himself is a hard man to offend, but Yuri is family damn it, and Victor has never been one to allow an insult to slide if it affects someone he cares for.

“That’s two people I value that you’ve insulted,” he says darkly, one hand going for the hilt of his sword at his side.  He draws it, and the blade cuts through the air as he lets it tap lightly on the man’s shoulder.  “I would be careful if I were you.  I’m always prepared for a duel, but the real question is: Are you?”

They’re attracting a crowd, and Yuuri tugs at his sleeve, nervous.

“Victor, please,” he says.  “Does your cousin really want to see you get into a fight?  If you issue a challenge, it’s more blood in the streets, and more to clean up.”  His words make Victor freeze, torn between honor and duty.

“Think carefully on the next words you say,” he says finally, sheathing his sword and turning sharply.

“Meddling with the enemy after his sponsors stole your friends from you? Who’s side are you one?” jeers the fool, and Victor’s had enough, the grief is too fresh, but it isn’t Yuuri’s fault, not at all, he knows; pride is to blame here, tearing people apart even when they have no stake in the fight at all.  This man didn’t know Chris, or Georgi, or Anya, and he doesn’t know Yuuri, but he’s about to know Victor.  His blade is in his hand again before he can think, and he makes a subtle motion with his wrist that leaves the bastard gasping, crying out sharply as blood oozes from a cut in his cheek, just below his eye.

“Let that remind you, every time you see it,” Victor tells him, “not to speak on things you don’t even understand.  You don’t know half of what happened, and it wasn’t your friends that suffered.  We are all trying to put ourselves back together; bridges are better breached than burned.  Remember that.”  He turns, looking over his shoulder at Yuuri and motioning for him to follow.  He does, falling hesitantly into step beside him as Victor returns his sword once again to its sheath.

“How dare he?” Victor mutters.  “How can he say that? You’re not the enemy, you never were, you’re not Lord Popovich, nor Lord Crispino.  You’re just you.  You didn’t kill—” He inhales, exhaling slowly.  “You didn’t kill any of them, those two bloody idiots did, with their inability to look beyond the past and let go of things that cannot be changed, things that happened before either of them were even born, that neither of them had a part of.  It’s their own fault, and now the rest of us have to live with the repercussions of their hate.”

“Victor,” says Yuuri, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder.  “Let’s go.”

“What? No, you still had errands to run…”

“I know, but they can wait until the morrow I think.  Come with me instead.”  He takes Victor’s hand, tugging him along, and Victor is too tired to do anything but follow. 

“Where are we going?” he asks, though he’s not even sure he cares about the answer.

“Somewhere,” Yuuri replies cryptically. 

They meander down streets, through an alley, away from the town square.  Yuuri finally stops before a villa with a solid, respectable sort of exterior, on a quiet street.  Plants hang under every window, and the stone has a warm sun-baked quality to it.

“Home sweet home,” he says as he pulls out a set of keys.  He opens the door, gesturing for Victor to enter before him.  “After you.”  Victor smiles, charmed.  He barely has time to take in the marble floors and grand staircase, or the modest, elegant furniture made of sturdy dark oak, before Yuuri is leading him through the rooms until he reaches what must be the servants’ quarters, where he stops before a closed door.  He opens it, revealing another staircase, stone steps leading up an echoing chamber, spiraling beyond Victor’s view. 

“Spiral staircases take up so little room,” Yuuri comments.  “It’s easy to forget they exist when they’re not being constantly used.  They also tend to lead to overlooked places.”

Victor follows him up.  They pass one landing, a lone door shielding them from the house beyond, and they keep climbing, up past a second landing, until they reach a third.  Another closed door greets them, unobtrusive and undemanding.  Victor shakes himself.  They’ve walked up three flights of steps without a word passing between them, the sound of their shoes on stone the only thing to break the silence.  

“Four stories always seems a lot,” Yuuri mutters, almost apologetic.  “It will be worth it, I hope.”  His voice echoes against the stone chamber, and he braces one shoulder against the door while he grasps the handle firmly.  Yuuri twists and pushes, and the door gives with a creak of rusty hinges.  They emerge into what Victor can only guess was once an attic, judging by the low ceiling and lack of grand décor that would indicate a guest room, but there is furniture.  A tidy desk in a corner, a very small bookshelf with a few volumes stacked on it, two chairs, a hat perched precariously on the edge of a small table.  There’s a glass beside it, and Victor wonders whether it had once contained any wine.  There are several candles on the desk, heights staggered and wax frozen mid-drip, unlit.  But it’s not dark up here by any means; a huge, circular window overlooks the city, with its rosy, painted architecture and arches and bustling streets.  It’s peaceful, secluded and set apart as it is, and Victor feels like he can finally breathe, standing above everything and everyone, as if nothing can touch him here.  The sun is still high in the sky, and a sunbeam streams through the slightly dusty window panes to flow across the wooden floorboards and illuminate Yuuri’s features as he watches Victor’s reaction.

“I come up here a lot,” he says softly, as if afraid to break the stillness.  “It’s sometimes… overwhelming down there, and this makes me feel like I’ve escaped it.  At the very least, it’s quiet.”

“It’s wonderful,” Victor says truthfully.  “Like you’re completely above the chaos outside, an observer, but not forced to participate in the world below.”

“Exactly.”  Yuuri’s still watching him.  Victor walks to the window, looking out.  His eyes go a little unfocused. 

“Why did you bring me here, Yuuri?” he asks.  The window faces west, so the afternoon sun is strong.  It warms his face, wraps around him like a blanket.

“It’s only been two days since, well, everything,” Yuuri starts.  “I just thought—it seemed like you needed space.  Away from it all.  Because I still can’t wrap my head around it, everything happened so fast and I just… wondered if you were like me.”

Victor has done his best not to think about anything, really, and aside from his moment of weakness at his friends’ gravesides, this method had served him fine so far.  Last night he drilled himself over basic fencing positions until his hands felt raw and his muscles shook, and he fell into bed too tired to think about the way his heart felt as blistered as his palms.

“I miss her, you know,” Yuuri continues.  “Anya, that is.  She sort of adopted me when I came here, I guess.  She was like all the people I loved best back home wrapped into one person.  My mom, my sister, my tutor—she reminded me of all of them, in bits and pieces.  And I miss her.”  Yuuri bows his head, slumping like a puppet with its strings cut.  “I only knew her for a few years, too.  I can’t imagine what it must be like for you—”

“Don’t,” Victor chokes out.  “Just, please.”

 “Victor…”

“No, Yuuri, just—stop, stop this.  I can’t.”

A hand reaches out to brush Victor’s arm, but Victor can’t look at him, not when so many images are flashing before him, dancing past his inner eye.  Chris’ mischievous grin, Georgi’s overdramatic—though no less heartfelt—exclamations and penchant for causing a scene.  The adventures they’d had, secrets they’d shared.  Yura and Yakov were relatives by blood, yes, but Chris and Georgi had filled the cold void in his life left by his remaining family’s lack of warmth.  They had become Victor’s family after his own died of the Plague; God, was everyone destined to leave him? 

It’s this thought that punches the air from his lungs and leaves him gasping as if physically struck.

He’s never doubted Yakov’s love, nor even Yuri’s, hidden as it is by the boy’s scathing remarks.  But they have a city to run and keep under control and Victor always knew that they could get by without him, so easily, too easily. 

So where does that leave him now?

Victor wants to bolt, but there’s nowhere to run to, no place he can go to escape his thoughts.

The hand on his wrist moves up, over his arm, caressing his shoulder, brushing his neck and it stays there.  Victor startles at the sensation of skin on skin as Yuuri’s other hand hesitantly wipes his face; Victor hadn’t even realized he was crying.  Until this week, he hadn’t cried since he was 14 and lost, bereft without his parents and left with only a stern-faced uncle and a sulking younger cousin.  Victor turns his face away, ashamed that Yuuri has seen him cry twice now in the space of a few days.

“No, Victor, look at me,” Yuuri whispers.  Victor tries to curl away, but he can feel the light even behind his closed lids and he knows there’s no way he can hide, so he looks.

 Yuuri’s dark eyes are soft and warm in the sunlight.  There’s a kindness in them that is so strong Victor thinks he could touch it, like Yuuri’s soul is so bright it’s become tangible.  There isn’t a hint of judgment in them.

“I’m sorry,” Victor says.

“Me too,” confesses Yuuri, voice small. 

“Whatever for?” asks Victor.

“All of it,” Yuuri tells him.  “The people we’ve lost, your pain, my own, the fact that, even after all of this death, the hate still lingers.  It’s not fair.”

And he’s right, it’s not fair, not at all.  Victor distantly wonders if he should hate them.  It was their pride and their foolish feuds that took his friends from him, deprived the world of three beautiful souls.  Chris, Georgi, Anya, gone as if they’d never been.  But they had, and they had carved a crack in the hearts of those they left behind.  But hate is too exhausting an emotion and Victor is so tired. 

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” he says.  His voice sounds muffled to his own ears, as though he were speaking underwater.

“No,” Yuuri agrees simply.  “They were good people.”

“The best,” says Victor.  “The best I ever had.”  Yuuri hums. 

“I almost wish we’d never talked Georgi into going to that ball,” Victor says.

“Almost?”

For a moment, the silence stretches on in a way that is too unfamiliar to feel comfortable but too intimate to feel awkward.  They’re still standing in the lengthening patch of sunlight washing over the room, driving the chill from their hearts, and Yuuri is looking at Victor like he’s a lost wonder of the ancient world.  Victor rather thinks it’s the other way around; Yuuri is nothing short of a marvel, worthy of poetry and ballads.  Artists should be flocking to paint him, as if paints could properly capture the light he emits, like a star trapped in a person.  

“Of course ‘almost,’” he says at last.  “I mightn’t have had the chance to speak to you, otherwise.”

Yuuri flushes, of course he does.  But there’s a hint of a pleased smile at the corners of his mouth, and Victor finds himself smiling too, despite his still-wet eyes. 

“Oh,” is all Yuuri says though, suddenly shy.  The confidence he had felt while offering Victor a shoulder to lean on vanishes immediately, but he doesn’t back away.  Instead, he stays perfectly still, and Victor dares to take a step forward.  He’s so close he can see Yuuri’s eyelashes, a little wet themselves.  Something flashes through his expression—uncertainty?  It’s not fear though, far from it; if anything, it’s closer to want.  Victor leans his forehead against Yuuri’s.

He feels more than hears the gasp of surprise, but then Yuuri seems to fall forward into him, arms wrapping around his waist as he buries his face in Victor’s neck.  Victor allows himself to bask in the sureness of Yuuri’s grip, to grasp back just as tightly, then a little tighter.

The light has shifted from gold into coral by the time they part.  Victor misses his warmth immediately, but he feels more whole than he has in years, like Yuuri’s taken his jagged edges and melded them back together into something gentler.  There’s hurt there, yes, but also peace, a sort of humming contentment. 

“Thank you,” Victor tells him.  Yuuri smiles.

“Of course,” he replies.  Silence blankets them again, but this time it’s soothing, not stifling. 

“I probably ought to leave,” Victor whispers.  He hates the very thought of it, returning to his town house alone, with only the empty air for company. 

“Stay for dinner,” says Yuuri instead, and Victor can’t refuse him.

They slip back downstairs, emerging from the door at the bottom of the staircase into the kitchens, and no sooner have they closed the door behind them than a cheery voice calls out, “Yuuri! There you are!”

“Phichit,” Yuuri says, and is that embarrassment coloring the tips of his ears pink?  Victor sees a dark-haired boy sitting on a little wooden table in the middle of the room, legs dangling down so that his toes brushed the floor as they swing back and forth.  He looks perfectly at home. 

“Celestino said that you’d be out all day,” the boy, Phichit, tells Yuuri.  “I didn’t expect you to be home.” He gives Victor a sly glance.  “And I certainly didn’t expect you to have company.”  Yuuri is definitely blushing now.  It’s adorable. 

“Hello,” says Victor with a little wave.  “I’m—”

“Victor Nikiforov, I know,” Phichit interrupts.  “I’ve seen you fence, though I’m rather more familiar with your poetry.”  Behind him, Yuuri splutters.  “I’m Phichit Chulanont, a sort of page-slash-pupil of Ciao-Ciao’s.”

“A pleasure,” says Victor.

“Likewise,” Phichit returns.  “Are you hungry, by any chance? I was about to make something.”

“We have bread,” offers Victor. 

“Perfect!”

It takes merely that very short conversation for Victor to decide that he likes Phichit.  He is at once both calm and energetic, with a warm, soothing presence and an openness that reminds Victor a bit of Chris.  He also possesses a knack for storytelling that might have put Chris’ own to shame.  Some of these stories are told at Yuuri’s expense, but they are told in such a way that even Yuuri, despite his initial embarrassment, can only roll his eyes and chuckle fondly, occasionally piping in with his own comebacks. 

Victor watches them move around each other in the kitchen, feeling perhaps a little useless but no less included.  There is a comfort to be found in the way they banter and chatter, as Phichit regales both of them with stories and anecdotes, and in what feels like no time, they are all sitting at the table in the middle of the kitchen, at Victor’s insistence.

“You’re a guest,” Yuuri had tried to protest.  “We should at least move to the dining room!”

“But it’s cozier here, Yuuri,” Victor had replied.  “I’ve had quite enough of formalities, haven’t you?” And that had been that. 

“So, Victor, may I call you Victor?” says Phichit around a mouthful of chicken.  Victor nods, and Phichit carries on.  “Things have been pretty mad in Verona’s streets here lately, eh?  I haven’t ever met either family, but we had all rather hoped tensions might die down a little in light of the recent tragedy.”

Victor impales a vegetable, fingers clenching over his fork to keep them from trembling.  “I might have hoped so too,” he says softly.  “Yuri—my cousin, that is—he seems unsure about how to resolve the issue.  As if a boy should have to deal with an issue like this when people’s lives could potentially hang in the balance.”  He pokes at the cut of chicken on his plate, ignoring the way Yuuri’s eyes linger on him.  “That level of responsibility…I wouldn’t want to hold someone’s fate in my own hands, but unless the situation is dealt with soon, riots could break out all over the town.  Some people thrive on causing strife, others on the feeling of fighting for a cause, no matter whether they were personally affected by the event that set it off.”  Phichit nods in understanding. 

“That sounds hard,” he says.  “Is he holding up alright?”

“He’s requested that our uncle, Yakov, and I attend a private hearing.  He has admitted that there’s no need to draw more attention to the situation than necessary, why stir up the fire further, right?”  Yuuri smiles at him, and Victor feels his knee brush against his own, a comforting warmth.  “In fact, Yuuri,” he says, hesitantly, “I wondered whether you might come with me?”

“Me?” asks Yuuri, “Why me?”

“You knew Anya, and Michael, in his own way, having been not only their project, but the Crispinos’ ward for several years,” Victor explains.  “I thought it might help not just Yura, but also Lord and Lady Popovich and Crispino, perhaps, to hear both sides.  I take it that you spoke to Anya throughout everything.”

“Yes,” says Yuuri.

“Cleansing the air between both families, putting all facts out into the open,” mutters Phichit.  “It couldn’t hurt, I suppose.  And if it helps the prince to come to a decision, then so much the better.”

“Exactly.”  Victor replies.  “Will you do it, Yuuri?”

Yuuri’s mouth is downturned and he rubs the back of his neck in discomfort.

“I’m not really one for public speaking,” he says.  “Do you really think it will help?”

“It’s worth a try, and honestly my cousin would appreciate it, even if he won’t say so,” Victor confesses.  “Please, Yuuri.  Help me put this matter to rest, peacefully for once.”  Yuuri stays silent, thinking, and Victor tries to read his thoughts in the way his eyelashes flutter over his cheek.

“Alright,” he agrees at last, “I’ll do it.”

Victor grasps his hand across the table, squeezing it briefly.

“Thank you,” he whispers. 

 

That night, he dreams of amber eyes and sun-warmed towers, and his smile when he awakens is soft but real. 

 

Villa Plisetsca:

“Yuuri!” Victor calls.  His voice echoes on the walls and Yuuri smiles when he sees him, walking a little faster.

“Hi,” he says, slightly out of breath. 

“Thank you for being here,” says Victor.

“I’m not late, I hope.”

“Only just.  Come in, come in, we’re just waiting on the Prince.  That’s the one thing that never has and never will change, he cares about his own time more than anyone else’s.”  He leads Yuuri through a wide doorway and into a room that is like a ballroom and a great hall in one.  It is long and bright, with six windows on either side that let in enough light to keep the space from being too drafty.  As the Prince and overseer of the city, Yuri Plisetsca is one of the wealthiest men in Verona, and it shows.  The room is grand, if a little bare and intimidating.  So Victor understands when Yuuri’s eyes widen a little as Yuri enters the room with Yakov trailing just behind him. 

“Victor,” says Yuri, sitting at the velvet-cushioned chair at the end of the room.  There are six chairs lined up on either side of Yuri’s—for lack of a better term—throne.

“Yura,” Victor hails, stepping forward, one hand tugging at Yuuri’s sleeve and pulling him along behind.  “Good to see you on this fine afternoon.”

“Yeah, whatever,” says Yuri.  He turns to Yuuri.  “It’s Katsuki, right?  Cialdini’s apprentice?”

“Yes, sir,” Yuuri says, bowing slightly. 

“And the Crispino’s ward, from what I understand,” Yuri continues.

“The Crispino family has been quite generous,” Yuuri tells him. 

“Hm, we’ll see.”  Yuri turns to Yakov, who stands just behind him.  “Bring them in, I guess. Have a seat, you two,” he tells Victor and Yuuri.  “I want these idiots to stop spreading malcontent in my city, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes, but if they don’t seem suitably moved by the time you two are finished, they’ll have to face appropriate consequences.”

Victor and Yuuri sit, side by side.  Yakov re-enters the room, followed by Lord and Lady Popovich and Lord and Lady Crispino.  Lord Crispino nods to Yuuri when he sees him, but Lady Crispino ignores him entirely. 

“Sit,” Yuri commands.  It is moments like this that Victor cannot help but respect his cousin.  He has grown into his role, even though he never chose it. The two families sit on opposite sides, the Popoviches to Yuri’s left and the Crispino family to his right, on the same side as Victor and Yuuri, and they glare at each other across the room.

“My lords and ladies,” says Yuri, and there is only a hint of sarcasm in his tone, “I have heard your stories separately, and now I would like you to hear theirs.  These two gentlemen,” he gestures to Yuuri and Victor, “were friends of your dear children; close friends, that is.  They knew nearly everything that was happening, while it was happening.  I have asked to hear their side of the story and request that you listen to them carefully as well.  It is in your best interests to find common ground, that we might let the dead rest in peace and peace return to this city you claim to hold so dear to your hearts.  Sir Nikiforov, if you would.”

Victor stands up, and it’s a story they want, so he tells them.  He tells them about Georgi’s broken heart, about Chris’s idea, about his misgivings and his own longing for excitement.  He tells them about how he met Yuuri (he does not tell them that Yuuri is the sole reason he lost track of both Chris and Georgi entirely) and he tells them of the disbelief he felt when he heard Georgi had all but proposed that same evening. Yuri looks absolutely disgusted by the thought, but he holds his tongue.  He tells them about the swordfight in the town square, about holding Chris in his arms as he bled out, about his horror when he found out about Georgi’s rash actions in going after Michael and his subsequent banishment.  He describes the way his friend wept, knowing that Michael, for all his cruel words and youthful stupidity, did not deserve to die, and his horror at having taken a life.  By the time he reaches learning of Georgi’s suicide, he is nearly in tears.

“But he loved her,” he says, squeezing his eyes shut and breathing out slowly.  “Dear God, he loved her.  I’ve never seen someone love another human with that much visible passion.  But the thing is, she loved him too.  And I just remember thinking she was so brave, because only a very brave woman would see Georgi at his most passionate and honest and think, ‘Yes, I’ll marry that.’  I spoke to her once, maybe twice.  But I could see that their connection, for all that it was brand new, was so real.”  He looks at Lord and Lady Crispino, begging them to understand.  “They loved each other enough to put aside every rumor they had ever heard about the other.  They were young, yes, but I think they loved more in the space of three days than some people feel in a lifetime, and were more open than the wisest philosophers of our time.” 

A sob echoes through the chamber as Lady Crispino bows her head, hands coming up to cover her eyes.  Lord Crispino stands and looks Victor in the eye.

“I am sorry,” he tells him, and the way his voice shakes tells Victor that he means every word.  “My son took someone very special from you.”

“And my friend took your son from you,” Victor replies with a pained smile.  “Death is cruel, and crueler still to those of us left behind, no?  But I think that it is not I who requires an apology.”

“I’ll not apologize to him yet,” Crispino says, glancing at Lord Popovich, and ah yes, that bitterness still lingers too strong.

“I don’t need either of you to do anything yet, except listen,” snaps Yuri from the room’s center.  “Signore Katsuki, I believe you have a tale to tell as well, yes?”  Yuuri nods.  He’s tense, Victor can see it in the set of his shoulders.  But he gives a small smile and nods for Victor to sit down again. 

“I came to this country after my parents died,” he begins softly.  “My sister was married and happy, but aside from her, there was nothing left for me there. My parents were not exactly poor, and as a child I was allowed to study poetry under one of Bashō’s own students.”  Victor blinks at him, impressed.  “When they died, they told me to pursue my passion, and to let it take me as far as the ends of the earth if that was what I wanted.  I couldn’t disappoint them, so I traveled here.  An Italian had once passed through our town in his travels, and his stories about poetry and art and music in this country were… inspiring.  So I left Japan and traveled to Rome.  Learning a new language so late was not easy, though I managed, but Rome held no success for me.  I heard someone reciting from a collection of sonnets and they told me that the poet was from here, and I decided to follow in his footsteps in the hopes that I might learn from him.  So I found myself alone in yet another city, and I must have looked as lost as I felt because that was when I met Anya.”  He swallowed, but Victor was entranced at the way Yuuri had lost himself to memory.  “She was so kind.  She offered me a gold coin and when I asked what she wanted in return, she said that I looked like someone who had seen many places and that all she wished for was a story.  Of course I obliged, but she didn’t just leave when I finished.  She told me that she was the niece of Lord and Lady Crispino, and that she liked me because I was interesting, and that if her aunt and uncle had taken her in when she was lost in the world, that they would surely take me in.  I had never met someone that…open. That willing to befriend a complete stranger.  Lord and Lady Crispino were generous enough to take me in and, at their niece’s request, fund my apprenticeship, with the promise that I would pay them back should my career take off, and dedicate the occasional piece to them.  Anya and I became inseparable, still were on that evening a few days ago, when she met Georgi Popovich.”

Victor leans forward, hanging on Yuuri’s every word.  His respect for the man has grown with every new offering of information, and his pride simply in knowing Yuuri fills his chest with a rare warmth he doesn’t think he’s ever experienced. 

“We talked, after the ball,” he continues, and his ears redden.  “She practically begged me to teach her how to write poetry, because mere words were not enough, in her opinion, to properly describe the wonderful man she had met that night.  He whisked her off her feet, made her feel treasured and joyful, like the world was suddenly more full-of-color than it had ever been.  I could understand.”  The words make Victor’s heart leap in his throat, and he knows they are directed to him, even though Yuuri refuses to look at him. “But I was wary.  I didn’t grow up feeling the need to choose where my loyalties stood in terms of important families, but I knew enough of people to know that it’s human nature to lie.  I thought Georgi might be playing with her emotions as part of a scheme, or perhaps out of boredom.  Imagine my surprise when I spoke to her the following day to hear her tell me she was already engaged.  And then, to my greater surprise, he didn’t leave her at the altar, he practically skipped to it himself.  I hadn’t seen a love-light that bright since—since my parents.  Victor, ah, Signore Nikiforov couldn’t have been more honest; they loved one another fiercely, more fiercely than I have ever seen in another couple.  Both sides could have gained so much through their ability to look beyond the past, but now it seems the entire city has lost more than it could have bargained for.”  He bows once, stiffly, to Yuri before returning to sit at Victor’s side.

“How dare you, you insolent child,” says Lady Popovich.  “You would dare imply that we are at fault in this?  Their whore of a niece took my son from me!”

“Don’t you dare speak ill of Anya,” Lord Crispino tells her, voice full of an eerie calm. 

“But why not? After all, if my darling boy hadn’t met that girl, he would still be here, he’d still be alive!”

“He took his own life!” Victor cries.  “If he hadn’t been banished, he wouldn’t have died; they should never have needed to hide their love.”

“As though we would have approved of his choice in bride,” scoffs Lady Popovich, standing up to glare at the Crispinos.

“As if our Anya couldn’t have done better than the poor bastard,” returns Lord Crispino.

“Don’t you dare!” Lady Popovich screams, and Victor almost startles at the seething hatred roiling off of her in waves.  He stands as well, sensing a fight, and Lord Crispino is on his feet beside him. 

“Your son is gone,” Lord Crispino says.  “He’s gone, and we’ve no one left to blame but ourselves now.”

Lady Popovich goes white as cold ivory before she starts forward with a cry.  For a split second, Victor thinks she is about to faint, and then he sees a flash of silver as she flies across the aisle.  He doesn’t speak, doesn’t draw his sword—doesn’t have time.  He lurches to the side to knock Lord Crispino out of the way, and then cold steel pierces through his side.

The pain doesn’t register at first.  All that he knows is that the room has gone silent and then a voice whispers, loud enough it’s practically a shout in the stillness, “No.”

After that it’s chaos.  His knees hit the floor, a pair of guards are restraining Lady Popovich, his cousin is cursing orders, and a pair of hands grip his shoulders.

“Victor, Victor, please.”  It’s Yuuri, because of course it is.  Victor smiles at him.  Lord Popovich and Lord and Lady Crispino watch, horrified, from the sidelines.  Victor is distantly grateful he can’t see Yuri’s face. 

“Yuuri,” he says.

“What have you done?” Yuuri cries to Lady Popovich, more furious than Victor imagined he could be.  “This is what your pride creates, what your prejudice does—it destroys people, even those that you care about.  When will you see that both sides are to blame?” His eyes go bright, and he gasps for air as though he were the one stabbed.  “How many more have to get hurt before you understand that the only way to move forward is to let the past die?”

Yuuri.”  Yuuri comes back to himself.

“Victor, it’s okay, you’re going to be alright, I promise.”

“I know that,” Victor says, smiling. 

“Just stay with me, we’ll get you to a doctor, everything is going to be fine.”

“A doctor would be nice, but I’m not planning on going anywhere anyway,” Victor says, one hand reaching for Yuuri’s cheek.  “The dagger was the size of a letter opener, darling.  I’ve had worse wounds from fencing.  It’s not in the right spot to do any permanent damage.”  Understanding floods Yuuri’s expression, though he looks concerned by the blood seeping into Victor’s shirt.

“You’re not hurt?”

“Well, that’s a matter of perspective.  It wasn’t expected, and I must confess it knocked the wind out of me.  It hurts like a hellhound’s bite, too.  But I don’t think any guts are spilling out.”

Yuuri pulls him in, and it jostles Victor a bit more than he’d like, but he can’t bring himself to complain. 

“I’ll kill you if you ever scare me like that again,” he whispers.

“I’ll haunt you until the end of your days,” Victor replies.

In the background, Yuri and Yakov are barking orders for Lady Popovich’s arrest, and Victor thinks he hears the word ‘banishment’ at least once, but he doesn’t care.  Yuuri’s arms are warm, his grip sure, and Victor could die happily right here, if he had to.  He’d rather not, though.  He hasn’t heard Yuuri’s poetry yet. 

 

The dagger, to no one’s surprise, leaves a scar.

“It’s not pretty,” Victor tells Yuuri, “but it’s far from my first.”

They’re walking through the courtyard garden behind Celestino’s villa, two days after the near-disastrous trial.  The doctor had ordered a bit of rest, as it was a bit more serious than Victor let on, but he stitched it up admirably, and instructed Victor not to do anything strenuous enough to tear up his handiwork.

“I don’t care,” says Yuuri.  “I’m just glad you’re alright.  Comparatively speaking.  You know, to what it could have been.”

“I rather think that hatred has taken enough lives here.  I don’t intend to add mine to the list.  No grudge, no matter how well-deserved, is worth killing someone.  Especially if the offence took place so far in the past.”

“It is best to let the past remain in the past,” agrees Yuuri.

“Even better to learn from it,” Victor says.  He stops in the middle of the path, a hand on Yuuri’s wrist.  “Yuuri, are you happy here?”

“What?”

“At the hearing, you mentioned hearing Celestino’s poetry once while you were in Rome and being so inspired that you came to find him all the way in Verona, and yet this city has brought you as much pain as anyone else.  I just wondered, I suppose, if you found it all worth it.”

“Of course, I’m happy here, I found—wait, Celestino?  When did I mention him?”

“Well, I mean, you said you found your inspiration in Rome, and then you come here and apprentice under Celestino, so I assumed…”

“Victor,” Yuuri laughs, “it wasn’t Celestino’s poetry I heard in at that street recital.”

“No?” asks Victor, confused.  Yuuri flushes.  He does that often, Victor’s noticed, and he thinks he’ll never tire of it.

“You don’t realize how well-known your poetry is, outside of Verona, do you?” he asks.  “Your collection of verses took the world by storm, you know.  I daresay I wasn’t the only one in awe of them.”

It takes a moment for the truth to dawn on Victor, but when it does, his expression breaks into a grin so wide he thinks it might split his face. 

“Yuuuuri,” he coos, “I inspired you?”

“Enough to cross a country find you,” Yuuri confesses, and Victor’s smile softens, turns a little shy.

“And find me you did, in the end,” he says warmly.  “But why did you study under Signore Cialdini, then?”

“I couldn’t ask you to take me on as a student!  I… I wanted to have something worth being proud of, before I approached you.  You deserved someone worthy of you and I just—I wasn’t.  But I wanted to be.  I’m still not, worthy, that is, but I think…”

“Go on,” Victor pleads. 

“I’m too selfish to give you up now,” Yuuri finishes. “I don’t think I could anymore.”

Victor can’t help it; he wraps an arm around Yuuri’s waist, the other hand coming to tilt his head upwards, and he kisses him.

At first, he wonders if he’s made a mistake, if he read him wrong, because if everyone leaves, what would possibly make Yuuri so different?

And then Yuuri kisses him back and he thinks distantly, Of course he’s different; he’s Yuuri.

Yuuri is smiling when they break apart, eyes wide with disbelief and something that looks a lot like joy.  Surely not even the sunlight reflected in Yuuri’s gaze could make them shine so brightly. 

“Be my muse,” Yuuri breathes, and Victor feels his fingers push the hair out of his eyes so that his vision is completely unobscured, and all he can see is Yuuri, Yuuri, Yuuri.

“Yuuri,” he whispers, delighted, just because he can.  “I wondered if you’d ever ask me again.”  He pulls him close, the leans back to take one of Yuuri’s hands in his, turns it over, and kisses the palm.  Yuuri seems confused by his words, and a part of Victor thinks, How drunk was he?  But he has so much time to explain everything, and does it really matter?  “I can do more than that, you know.  Let me help you, and I’ll see to it that your poetry surpasses anything I could ever create.”

“I don’t want to surpass you,” says Yuuri.  He looks almost terrified at the idea.  “I only want to be your equal.”  Victor melts.  You already are, he wants to say, but instead he leans his forehead against Yuuri’s and murmurs, “I’m so glad you found me.”

“Under different circumstances, perhaps.”

Victor pull back and shakes his head.  “I once shunned the idea of Fate, you know.” He gives in to the temptation and lets a finger trail over the soft skin of Yuuri’s cheek.  “Now I’m not so sure.  I found you, after all.  Surely Fate, if she exists, cannot be so cruel as I once imagined.”

“Surely I’m not enough to make up for the losses you’ve suffered.” And oh, Victor wants to scoff, to find whoever made Yuuri think such things, and run a sword through their throat. 

Oh contraire,” he says.  “You could be my everything.  I would steal the stars from the sky for you, for you shine brighter than any of them.  I ask for only one thing in return.”

Yuuri, overwhelmed, nods.  He licks his lips, and Victor wants to kiss him again; they look too dry. 

“Anything,” he tells Victor, who clutches him a little tighter.

“Stay close to me,” he says, pleading. 

A smile, soft and sweet as springtime. 

“If that’s all it takes to keep you, then I’ll never leave,” Yuuri tells him.

Above them, the sun breaks free of a dandelion cloud, casting the lovers, these Masters of Fate, in a glow that feels a lot like a promise.

You found me when I thought I was alone;

Before, I cursed those lovers holding hands.

You mend my broken soul, my sins atone,

Taught me truths I didn’t understand;

For I thought love beyond me, hope a lie,

‘Til you believed in me and gave me strength.

You gave my dreams a life, and wings to fly—

For you, my Heart, I’d go to any length.

The darkness that descended on my soul

You shattered, making way for love and light

With you, where I was broken, now I’m whole

So long as I have you within my sight.

My heart I now wear proudly on my sleeve

Stay close to me, my love, and never leave.

 

 

Fin.