They met at the seaside in the blistering July heat.
Christophe Giacometti had introduced them to one another late in the morning that day, as Victor lounged on the white-washed deck with nothing in his mind but the breeze through his hair and the sharpness of ginger-beer on his palate. The day had been far too hot for anything but his linen suit, and many other guests were in similar attire themselves. Though they had opted to stay in the shade out of concern for their milky complexions, Victor remained on the sunny side of the building, where there would be fewer acquaintances nosing around. The sun hadn't harmed Victor thus far, so he was inclined to enjoy it— the thick smog of London left him yearning for this very weather a majority of the year. He had closed his eyes, drawing in a deep breath as the sunlight warmed his eyelids…
Only for it to be obscured, shadow quickly chasing the light away.
At the call of his name, Victor opened his eyes to find Christophe there with another man standing just a step behind him.
Ah, the source of the eclipse.
The sun outlined this man's figure. Light seemed to escape into the darkness of his hair and eyes, and his spectacles glinted with what was left. Inquisitive, serious eyes peered out from behind those lenses. Victor looked up past the brim of his straw hat. Though Christophe was clad in linen and light colours himself, his guest had evidently not been prepared for the sun: he was dressed almost entirely in black, and a stiff starched collar sheathed his neck, mimicking the tall, rigid hat on his head.
What a curious individual.
"Good morning, Mr. Giacometti. I didn't know you would be here." Victor greeted, bowing his head with an amiable smile. "Who is this with you? I don't believe we've met."
"The first time we meet in a month and you inquire about my guest before me?" Christophe replied good-naturedly.
Victor gave him a wave of his hand. "We can reconnect over drinks later in the day. There's plenty of time at the seaside."
"Ah but you've accepted my invitation to the soirée tonight at six— though knowing you, it will likely be half-past seven."
“Of course!” Victor dismissed jokingly. “You know me too well.”
In truth, he had forgotten the event thanks to the luxury of having a Valet to manage his schedule, and being on vacation never helped his memory. No matter— he would remember now. Victor turned his attention to Chris' guest and extended a hand. "And you are…"
Despite appearing off-guard, the man responded promptly, taking his hat off before meeting Victor's gaze and taking his hand. "Katsuki. Yuuri Katsuki."
"The son of our business partners in the East." Christophe added in reference to his family's company. "The Katsukis deal in fine Japanese arts and crafts." Victor had known for a while that the Giacometti family dabbled in all sorts of business in addition to their Swiss clockwork distribution operations— these novel ventures were often spearheaded by Christophe, after all, and the man often sought Victor's insight on new opportunities. Thus far, Victor’s advice hadn't resulted in any losses (except, perhaps, their unwise investment in the faddish ventilated hat, which was borne more of personal grievance and brandy than informed market viability.)
"I see— how intriguing. It's lovely to meet you, Mr. Katsuki." Victor squeezed Mr. Katsuki’s hand gently before releasing it. Mr. Katsuki’s gloves were bronze kidskin— they reflected the enticing glimmer of amber in his eyes.
Christophe turned to Mr. Katsuki, gesturing to Victor with one hand. “As I mentioned to you before, Mr. Katsuki, this is Victor Nikiforov— a long-time friend of mine and a man of many interests.”
“That’s one way of putting it, I suppose.” Victor replied amusedly, his lips pulling into a smirk.
“I see.” Mr. Katsuki was likely confused but his expression didn’t betray it. His hand returned stiffly to his side and he bowed his head yet again, smiling genially. “It’s a pleasure.”
“Likewise.” Victor replied. He motioned to the two empty seats at his table in invitation. “You are free to join me, if you wish. There’s no better means of enjoying the fleeting British summer than with refreshments and good company.”
“I could do with a drink.” Christophe agreed, pulling a chair out for himself.
Mr. Katsuki followed suit, taking the seat directly across the small table from Victor and keeping his hat in his lap. It was evident from the shine of perspiration on Mr. Katsuki’s forehead that he was baking in the heat of his dark clothing; Victor knew for himself that such attire quickly trapped warmth. If they were in a private setting, he might even have suggested that Mr. Katsuki be divested of his coat. It was a shame, Victor lamented fleetingly, that propriety dictated their clothing stay on in the outdoors.
A moment was spent poring over the items on the extensive tea room menu before they ordered two glasses of lemonade and a sandwich platter. Apparently, neither Christophe nor Mr. Katsuki had taken breakfast, and Victor raised an eyebrow at this.
“How could that have happened?” He remarked playfully, “in my experience, the Giacomettis feed their guests in a very timely manner.”
“We arrived on the train not an hour ago.” Chris explained as he removed his gloves. “Unfortunately, the provisions for our journey were misplaced.”
“An hour ago! And your first act after arriving at the seaside is to call upon me?“ Victor exclaimed, picking his glass up for a sip. “I’m flattered.”
“Mr. Giacometti spoke well of you,” Mr. Katsuki said, placing his gloves gracefully to the side, “and he had heard you were at this resort. Though I certainly did not expect to meet you so soon.” There was a hint of reproach to his words that was accentuated with a cool glance towards Christophe. Christophe appeared seemingly innocent, and Victor’s curiosity was piqued.
“Oh? Why is that?” He asked carefully.
“It was simply poor planning,” Christophe explained vaguely.
After a contemplative pause, Mr. Katsuki answered. “Well, I would, under normal circumstances, be delighted by an impromptu trip to the British seaside; I’ve never been before…” There was a pregnant pause in which Victor could feel Mr. Katsuki had a lot to say.
“Yes, and isn’t it splendid?” Christophe enthused, pausing to take an exaggerated inhale. “The air is so fresh!”
“But upon arriving in London this morning after a two-and-a-half month sea voyage?” Mr. Katsuki continued, dark eyebrows knitted and hands folded in front of him. “Forgive my frustration, but there were many opportunities at which you might have informed me of this itinerary, Mr. Giacometti.”
Victor watched in complete delight as Christophe seemingly shrunk into his chair— not because he enjoyed his friend’s suffering, but rather because he was enjoying this new dimension to the reserved Mr. Katsuki of minutes ago. Christophe’s blunder would certainly explain Mr. Katsuki’s misguided attire.
“I-It was just a little sudden.” He finished sheepishly, believing he’d overstepped his bounds. His cheeks grew red.
“A little?” Victor laughed, charmed by the man’s sudden delicacy. “There’s no need to restrain yourself, Mr. Katsuki. You’re among friends here.”
“Then it was a lot— no, very sudden.” Mr. Katsuki decided, straightening up with some restored confidence. The blush on his face remained, adding a pleasant rosiness to his skin. “But it’s alright. I do like the sea. Thank you for inviting me here, Mr. Giacometti.”
“Of course. And I really do apologise for the surprise— it just slipped my mind.” Christophe said, bowing his head. “What matters now is that you’ve arrived and joined us. Nothing rejuvenates the senses more than the sun or the sea.”
Mr. Katsuki slowly nodded as he gazed out over the horizon. “It reminds me of home.”
The beach, situated just below the gentle hill at the edge of the resort, was speckled with fellow guests. Most of them strolled along the promenade with parasols over their heads. Though it was relatively early in the day, there were already many bathing machines— little cabanas on carriage wheels that Victor always found peculiar— along the shore and in the water. They were there for modesty— no well-bred lady would dare step into broad daylight in her bathing costume, so they were carted into the waves instead. In Victor’s opinion, that was too much pomp and circumstance for a mere dip in the sea, and he was glad he did not have to abide by the same rules.
“Do you live near the sea in Japan, Mr. Katsuki?” Victor inquired, catching the other man’s attention.
“Yes, my family’s home is near the beach.”
“To live so close to the water must be wonderful.”
“It would be if not for those creatures.” Christophe remarked, his eyes following a noisy flock of seagulls that was gathering around a picnicking family. “The sound they make is just dreadful.”
To picnic directly on the beach was a beginner’s mistake, as any resort frequenter knew. The gulls, having studied humans and their ways, could spot a well-stocked basket from quite a distance. Belligerent squawking ensued as the family began waving their arms around to deter the birds.
Victor watched in fascination. “They certainly do command one’s attention.”
“They must appreciate fine food and drink just as we do.” Mr. Katsuki said. Victor and Christophe turned to him in interest. “They have neither kitchen nor hearth— what can they do but fly around and hope for dropped scraps?”
“They can schedule an appointment with my secretary so we may discuss their fowl trade practices.” Victor replied in a serious tone, though the grin spreading across his face gave his tease away. “Then we may begin to consider food allowances.”
It took a moment for an uncontrollable smile to grace Mr. Katsuki’s features— a genuine one, nothing like the facsimiles Victor saw and produced so often. Mr. Katsuki, it appeared, possessed a sense of humour.
“Mr. Katsuki,” Christophe said solemnly, placing a hand on his heart, “I apologise on Mr. Nikiforov’s behalf for that absolutely terrible pun.”
“Is it truly terrible if all parties involved enjoyed it?” Victor asked, gesturing towards his friend. “I happen to know you have a penchant for wordplay, and Mr. Katsuki at the very least smiled.”
“But whether it be from enjoyment or politeness has yet to be made clear.”
“It was a good pun,” Mr. Katsuki confessed, still smiling but now with an amused look. “Though it, perhaps, wasn’t the best I have ever heard.”
Nodding slowly, Victor considered this opinion, and he put a finger to his lips. “I see— then I shall strive to impress with my comedic prowess . Will you be attending tonight’s soirée? Perhaps I will have the opportunity to then.”
“If Mr. Giacometti will have me, then I believe I shall.” Mr. Katsuki said, looking expectantly to his host.
“But of course!” Christophe consented. “But you had better be punctual, Mr. Nikiforov, or you may miss it.” Christophe smugly raised an eyebrow, and Victor tilted his head critically.
“You needn’t look so pleased with yourself.” He chided lightly before sipping at his drink. “Perhaps I will be on time— we shall see.”
“Is lateness not a concern of yours?” Mr. Katsuki asked, looking curious.
“The trick is not just to enter, but to make an entrance.” Victor declared, placing emphasis on the last word. “Lateness is simply a convenient means of doing so.”
“He has a flair for the dramatic,” Christophe explained to his guest jokingly. “Russians, you know.” Mr. Katsuki seemed to consider this comment with a furrowed brow, as though he was unsure of what to make of it.
“That’s right.” Smiling amiably, Victor dismissed Christophe’s jab as he retrieved his pocket watch from his jacket. ”But if I am to be timely, then I should return to my suite to prepare for tonight soon.”
“Prepare?” Christophe clarifies. “The soirée begins at six, and it is now barely quarter to twelve.”
“Ah, the price one must pay to make an entrance on a schedule.” Victor bemoans, sitting up in his seat. “But it will be worth it, if I am to be blessed by both of your presences tonight.”
Victor smirked at his friend’s remark, then extended his hand to the other man. “It has been a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Katsuki. I do hope to see you tonight, if you are not too tired from travel.”
“Oh. Of course, yes... I won’t miss it.” Mr. Katsuki agreed, shaking Victor’s hand. “Likewise.”
“Mr. Giacometti,” Victor said, turning to shake Christophe’s hand, “thank you for introducing us and thank you for your invitation, the time of which I will abide by for once in our long friendship.”
“I never thought I would see the day.” Christophe laughed, giving Victor’s hand a single, firm shake. “Until tonight, then.”
With a final tip of his hat Victor stood, attempting to make as little noise with his rattan chair as possible, and departed.
Six hours of preparation might seem excessive to the average dinner guest, but Victor Nikiforov was no average guest, and this would be no average dinner— at least, not with Mr. Katsuki’s introduction. It promised an interesting night for all; Victor had seen the wit and personality hiding under that reserved exterior, and he was determined to dig deeper. So many questions ran through his mind: of Mr. Katsuki’s voyage, his upbringing, his homeland...
Before he could ask them, however, Victor needed a beauty nap. There was nothing worse than attending a soirée with a fatigue clouded mind.