Chapter 1: être désespéré (To be in despair)
Ahh! It's finally here! I can't even begin to describe how good it feels to have this out! ( •ﾟдﾟ• )
This is a work of love based on Alli's brainchild as well as the support and ongoing world building I've been able to cultivate in the WWV server. I want to give a special thank to every last person in there for pushing me to be the best version of myself and for always encouraging me to tell the story that suits me best. I truly hope this meets your wildest expectations.
Once again a million thank you's to Alli for allowing me to go wild with this interpretation and for the wonderful accompanying art. (✿◠‿◠)
A special thank you to my forever beta Precious @savedbythenotepad and my keysmashing scream beta Sat @satbiym and to @opemjamjar for listening to my weeks of inner turmoil as I worked through this.
Now without further ado, I bring you Le Retour. Please enjoy!
BONUS NOTE: For your listening pleasure, Melancolie by Patrick Watson ft Safia Nolin inspired the overall feel for chapter 1.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There are whispers that still course through the city of Le Marais, a city made to hold lovers and dreamers safely in its wake. Whispers from a time when lush mounds of meadowy terrain housed equally lush estates of the finest aristocrats; whispers that set those same estates aflame with scandal, Those whispers still course through the city, with it an audacious rumor turned tale that is forever eternalized in a painting that lived in the heart of the Carnavalet Museum. Housed within the frame was the imagery of two lovers, bound together seemingly by chance or - as a few romantics would say - by a fate that would never dare to keep them apart.
In the painting a man with raven black hair can be seen melting into the gentle caress of a luminous man with argent-hued hair. Their eyes remain shut, mouths slightly agape almost as if the very essence of their love is pouring right into each other, and suddenly it’s a sin that there isn’t another portrait of what happens next should they draw closer.
The most striking feature of this painting, the thing that made people unable to move away, was how these lovers were holding on to each other, not with a desperation born from urgency and ephemeral heat, but a longing of returning to the safest place they have ever known. That feeling of certainty, longing, completeness set within an array of carefully splotched fiery red and no remnants of soot in sight, made scholars deem it a visual of never ending passion. Others had marked the painting as a piece that simply gripped the viewer’s heart, making it such that no matter how much one tried to look away, it felt nearly impossible to do so.
To this day, it is said to bring to tears to any and all who view it.
This beloved painting sat surrounded by a plethora of mini paintings, each filled to the brim with the imagery of sunflowers: some as yellow as the sun, some as red as mulled wine, all bunched together until it simulated a busheled field within a garden. Almost made mythical by the whispers that flowed through the city, there were still rumors of the veracity of its existence. The origin of it all clinging on to the hope of many who wished beyond compare that it did exist somewhere in the countryside; however despite a wildly crazed effort to find it, the location could never be found.
Rumor had it that should the mythical garden ever be located, it would unravel the beautiful tale that was tethered to the subjects in the famous painting. A bittersweet one of how Lord Yuuri Katsuki had fallen for the irrevocably beautiful drifter, turned soldier, turned imposter, Viktor Nikiforov.
Born into a life of nobility, Lord Yuuri Katsuki happened to be the first blood-born male heir of Earl Toshiya and his wife Countess Hiroko, a younger kin to the Lady Mari. The Katsuki clan had a predetermined history to uphold, involving nobility and royals alike who had been seeking their guidance and knowledge for generations that went beyond the written record carefully curated in their personal library. The library remained Yuuri’s favorite place to escape to, tucked away in an estate located by many stretches of hills, meadows, and an ocean away from the heart of Le Marais, adjacent to a sea of their own.
The smell of salt water was something that Yuuri had grown accustomed to, along with the sound of seagulls gently cawing in the morning, and the sight of the sun with the way it cascaded against the gentle blue ocean waves. This was a home he always knew would be carved in his heart for as long as he lived, because when things seemed to be filled with disparity, he would find that it took him less than a few breaths to recenter in the space, granting him nothing else but peace and serenity.
There was a price for the peace he was able to hold in his heart however, because Yuuri was never one who would discredit the knowledge that above all else, he would always be ruled and obligated by his duties. No matter what it asked of him, he would always serve. Being the first male heir, he found himself in the subtle expectation to carry on the legacy of the Katsuki scholars, he would soon find that he’d become the youngest to lead the front. His sister Lady Mari of course was an amazing scholar in her own right, however she was tethered to the estate itself after falling in love with a noblemen within their confines.
It would be something Yuuri would envy for quite some time as he unfortunately would not garner that same good fortune. For Yuuri he wouldn’t find love in his own town, because he was encroached within being the first scholarly heir in this present generation to be cast into a society further away from everything he’d ever known, who needed their knowledge the most. This fact both terrified and excited him and after years of being immersed and cultivated in his upbringing, what else really could he be ready for besides doing his part in the name of his family?
Regardless of the impending duty that befell him, Yuuri thoroughly enjoyed the time he spent at the Katsuki estate because he had so much to look forward to. He would enjoy his days learning about different ways to transpose calligraphy, about folklore from a past he could only dream of when his imagination could not keep up, about different cultures and traditions, about arithmetic in a way that made others heads spin, and soaking up the remaining time he had by reading stories to Mari in the sunlit corridor of the library or being read stories by her. Some of Yuuri’s favorite stories were fairy tales because it allowed him to envision what he wanted outside of this life of duty. But more importantly it allowed him to see that what he wanted was what his parents thankfully had —true love. Despite their kinship starting from a dowry they had grown to love each other so deeply that he swore it was the same type of love he read about in his books.
Yuuri and Mari often drifted in and out of the imaginative world of prose as it tucked them away from the discourse of the reality they lived in. Though they were protected from most of it, it didn’t stop them from teetering in their tracks when they heard their father relaying news about wars that were ravishing villages farther away from them. There was a slow but steady change in the air that could stand to threaten nobility as they knew it. But they didn’t want to think of the way they could be torn down, especially if it didn’t somehow involve a fire-breathing dragon. They knew though that eventually they would have to face the reality of it all, how humans could be awful to each other for gain, for fortune, for anything that could benefit a person. It’s this hunger that made a growing amount of politicians within other nobilities scramble to protect themselves, and this is where Yuuri’s fate seemed to fall over it all.
There was a nobleman by the name of Yakov Feltsman who had done his part for the country he loved. Fighting through wars that helped to prosper and maintain the peace that the region desperately needed, he had done well enough to garner a title of his own as a Marquess. Yakov had found lately that he was nowhere near the glory days of when he had valiantly fought through those wars, but he still upheld his common life duties and produced two heirs who would grow into that greatness, or so he hoped. Among his kin was Artem Feltsman who was the eldest out of the two, with his brother Yuri Feltsman being much too small of kin to worry about such things. Yakov knew that Artem would eventually need to be cast out into the same path as his own, but in doing so he wanted to be sure that the Feltsmans would be secured enough in both knowledge and brawn. That was why when he wrote to Earl Toshiya to ask for an unusual request, Yuuri found himself being put to his first test. How would he handle being betrothed at what was the beginning of his adolescence?
The fact that it had happened much earlier than anyone anticipated, Yuuri found he did not have much of a choice, as it would be going against the Katsuki legacy if he were to profess any doubts that this was not his path. In order to strengthen their bond within it, Yuuri knew they would have to perform and do whatever was asked of them. It was this very conclusion that aided Earl Toshiya’s agreement to an agreeable dowry and an arranged marriage would soon be set. Yuuri would be tethered to this dowry keeping his title as a Lord as he would be married off to one Lord Artem Feltsman.
When he was told of the arrangement, Yuuri felt brave at first, with a hint of excitement singing through his veins. Not only would he be helping to aid in the glory that his family had built up, the arrangement would garner him experiences that would be one of many firsts for him. Traveling away from the only home he had ever known to meet the Feltsmans for the first time. From what his father was able to summarize for him, Marquess Feltsman was a kind hearted man with a stiff expression but he needn’t worry about that, underneath the hardened exterior was a soft and joyous interior. His lady, the Marchioness Lilia was even more stone-faced than most members of the noble household but she also held a certain air of grace and livelihood within her that it was hard not be in complete of awe of her.
As for his betrothed, Yuuri couldn’t deny that behind his thinly veiled excitement was the wonder of knowing that he soon would be meeting someone who would change his life forever. He wondered if Artem possessed the same characteristics that Yakov had. Was he brave? Was he strong? Did he have ambitions outside of the fighting the war for the sake of duty? These were answers that Earl Toshiya unfortunately did not possess, in truth, all he did know about their Artem was that he would remain an anomaly that people could not quite grasp.
From the photographs they were sent, Yuuri knew what to look out for before their first initial meeting. He appeared to have the same stone-cold expression, and from the letters of explanation from Yakov himself, he said his son was livelier than conveyed in photographs, and that his blue eyes were as serene as the very seas that were taking Yuuri to the shores where his future beloved was sequestered. Or so he thought.
Making it to the new shores that ebbed and flowed as gently as it did back at home, which was much further away now, Yuuri felt giddy as he walked alongside his father onto the brand new terrain. This would be the first of many journeys where Yuuri would step foot on the soil that would someday be his new home. Everything was much more extravagant than he ever could have imagined, much like the tales he loved so much! Banners of gold and magenta stood tall and Yuuri felt the pits of his stomach dancing the closer he walked towards the Feltsman clan. The way they stood made him feel like he was looking at an oil painting still waiting to dry, beautiful and effervescent. Silver hair, he looked directly for silver hair and when he spotted it, he realized that this is the first gaze of many that would ever fall upon his betrothed, Artem Feltsman.
Yuuri also realized at this moment that no matter how brave he felt, no matter how excited he was to carry on the lineage of Katsuki scholars within this predetermined union, the moment he gazed into Artem’s blue eyes that was once described as being as calm as the ocean blues, he felt tricked. These eyes were nowhere near the serene calm of the blue, they were piercing, they were ferocious somehow, they instilled something else in him that he never knew would stick for years -- fear.
“Stand up straight and no scowling! Please Artem, I need you to be on your best behavior!” An unfamiliar voice pleaded.
“If you continue to be this insubordinate we’ll send you away!” Marquess Yakov threatened.
“Then do it! I didn’t want to be here today!” The voice that came out of Artem was small but vengeful. He had every intention to have it his way.
Yuuri was the first to bow, waiting for a warm response to greet him but all that came back was the continuous sound of bickering. Marchioness Lilia was the one who continued to scold Artem until he successfully straightened out his petticoat and overall stance only to look at Yuuri with a bored expression. Her hands firmly gripped Artem’s shoulders as she attempted to prod him along to coax him into drawing closer to Yuuri.
“Darling, look.” Marchioness Lilia said. “This is Yuuri Katsuki. He’s travelled far just to be here for you! Won’t you say hello? He’s going to be your new friend.”
Artem was silent, his lips pursing down in a frown. He drew his arms together and merely shrugged his shoulders in indifference. It was clear from his posture that he wanted nothing to do with Yuuri, and wanted that fact to be explicitly apparent to all. Yuuri could briefly hear his father and Marquess Yakov exchanging booming pleasantries as if they were greeting a long lost brother who had returned from a titular journey. Afterwards he found himself in an impasse as he continued to stand there, completely frozen. He looked onto the ironclad armor of the guards that stood on either side of them, he looked at the way the wind blew against the banners allow it to flow freer than he felt, he tried once again in vain to smile over at Artem, but instead he felt his own mouth curling down. This was all so horribly uncomfortable.
If Yuuri’s legs could withstand the run and it wasn’t completely unbecoming, he would have rushed straight back to the docks demanding the crew to take him anywhere, as long as it was as far as possible from this uncomfortable silence.
“I can’t be friends with a pudgy pig mother. If I wanted that couldn’t I just go play with the animals out back?” Artem finally remarked.
Lilia smacked at the boy’s shoulders to reprimand him for his disobedience before flashing a brilliant smile to Yuuri, her lithe hand outstretched to him. Yuuri quickly averted his shocked expression to one of wonder as he looked on at the woman in front of him. Her form was naturally graceful like a gazelle, it was a wonder that she didn’t somehow rank higher than a Marquess, she could have said she was a Queen from the way she held herself and Yuuri would have been none the wiser. He graciously took her hand in his own, bowing before her and rising swift and proper as he had always practiced.
“Lord Toshiya, he’s so well-mannered for this age.” Lilia said wistfully as her eyes narrowed down over at her own son.
“I can be well-mannered! I just don’t want to be here!” Artem scowled.
“Artem, shall we have you escorted ahead of us to the garden where we shall join you for lunch?” Lilia asked, voice tightening.
Yuuri wanted to hide behind his father and never have to be near the boy again. Artem stared at them all cooly until his eyes switched back to being filled with indifference. It was a disarming change that Yuuri couldn’t quite get a grip on because his expectations of the ordeal was crashing down hard and fast. Artem was petty and apathetic, exhibiting none of the nicer traits that were so lovingly put in the letters they possessed. He wondered how that came to be when he found warmth in Lilia, how was it possible for Artem to be so cold?
Artem kicked down at the ground beneath him and turned his back to the Earl and Yuuri. He waved at the nearest servant who nearly tripped over themselves to get to his side quickly. Yuuri gathered that he was going to opt to go ahead after all. Yuuri turned his gaze over to his father who seemed to be calculating the situation himself.
“It must be the natural change.” Toshiya said warmly.
“Will he grow out of it?” Yakov inquired.
“There’s never been cases I’ve read where people haven’t! We can’t hurry on nature, we are at her bidding. Now come, we have much to go over, don’t we?”
Earl Toshiya followed Yakov as they walked together side by side a lit with the aspect of the union they had agreed to. All the while Lilia patiently waited for Yuuri, a small smile gracing her lips as she ushered him closer to take her hand once again. His tiny hands oblige as they feebly took Lilia’s in his own. It’s at that moment that he can hear another statement being yelled at from a distance from who he’s certain is Artem.
“I will never be friends with a pig. You cannot make me!”
Despite Artem’s protests throughout the duration of the first trip Yuuri had taken to the Feltman’s estate, the union would remain solidified if Yakov had anything to say about it. Though to his benefit, his prediction was partially true. He would never make any attempt to befriend Yuuri, or become anything to him other than being a constant reminder of how quickly dread could fill a soul. After their first initial meeting, the Katsuki’s and the Feltman’s had agreed that they would alternate in hosting each other. In the winter, Artem would arrive at the Katsuki estate whereas Yuuri would return in the summer to the Feltsman estate. Their hope was that the more time they spent with each other, the more something was bound to blossom.
How were they to know that this hope would remain nothing else but that?
In the earlier days the time they spent together involved Yuuri slinking along as Artem pretended to be a ruler that annihilated whole villages with no mercy. They would play games where they mimicked royalty, and Artem would make Yuuri double as his footrest and then be forced to entertain him as the court jester. There were other times where Yuuri would be in absolute fear that sea crabs would show up right in the lining of his pillow because Artem had placed them there just to hear his terrified screaming. He dreaded when Artem would come to visit, but soon he would find visiting the Feltsmans was even worse.
Artem was a relentless youth who found happiness in causing destruction. When Yuuri was at the Feltsmans estate, there was nowhere else he found he could hide besides the inner workings of Lilia’s beautiful garden. One year she had had a maze installed for the benefit of drawing Artem and Yuuri closer but what she didn’t know was that the maze would become Yuuri’s secondary oasis away from home. Yuuri was smart enough to know how to evade Artem when he least expected it, and he was thankful that Artem’s attention seemed to dull down the more increasingly frustrated he became. He could never figure out how to navigate the maze, not the way Yuuri could, and for that he was thankful. It would be something he’d never teach Artem, because quite frankly he didn’t deserve to know the tranquil workings of the garden that Lilia had so carefully created.
Artem and Yuuri could not have been further from polar opposites if they tried and often times as they were growing up he felt more like the abused sidekick rather than a friend, a confidante, or a potential husband. Artem’s closed off demeanor gave Yuuri nothing to work with, the icy blue hue of his eyes sending shivers down his spine. He could not recall even one moment in the summer days since they had been forced into their budding courtship, where his warmth came from anything other than the sun. As Artem grew, he became more cunning and cruelly calculated, constantly picking on Yuuri rather than getting to know him. He always knew how to get under his skin, playing on his anxious thoughts, disregarding his boundaries and space. More than often his manners were all but nonexistent and it became clearer as the days rolled by that Artem did not care to cultivate their relationship much to the Marquess’ dismay.
Then one day, Artem stopped talking altogether. This change occurred in the latter of their teenage years, when things were starting to become more serious than before. He avoided Yuuri faster than Yuuri could try to avoid him, and the last few visits between them ended up being a wild game of hide and seek except neither of them chose to seek the other out. It was a nice reprieve from constantly being on edge from what he might say next, eventually Yuuri found he was beginning to dread the color blue.
Despite these discrepancies, Yuuri still remained loyal to the duty he was meant uphold and at the tender age of 18, after years of being subjected to this failed attempt of becoming closer to the one he was meant to love, the day came where the dowry would come into fruition. He would marry Artem and leave the life he’d known behind. Sitting in his new chambers at the Feltsmans estate, being adorned by the finest powders and lip stains, Yuuri watched the growing sense of worry cloud over his mother’s eyes. He wondered if she had noticed of the twinge of sadness behind his eyes. It was the day of his wedding to Artem and the lack of happiness and joy that coursed through his body was alarming, even to him.
“My Yuuri, what troubles you on this joyous day?” Countess Hiroko asked him as she gently combed through his hair.
Yuuri looked at himself in the mirror, feeling everything all at once. When the ceremony was over, everything would change forever. This is where he would be bound until life left him. The thought of his family going back to their estate without him struck a nerve that dug deeper than he realized. He knew the chances of visiting would more than likely be minimal as he adjusted to life with the Feltsmans, to life with Artem, and those facts were what punched the breath out of him.
He would no longer be able to openly run to the koi pond that nestled in the alcove of peonies and brushes of bushes that encased him from the sun back at home. He would no longer know the order of the books in the library that he had spent much of his youth studying and cultivating. He would no longer be able to indulge in those storytimes with Mari on those especially hard days. He would be subjected to more hard days to come, especially now since Artem had chosen to stop his usually tyranny and opted for continued silence.
“What if I find I don’t belong here?” Yuuri asked softly.
“It is a difficult transition at first but patience is the greatest virtue we possess. Patience kept me grounded and now there is no way I could ever see my life without your father.” She reassured him.
Yuuri knew she was only trying to comfort him, but it did not make the situation any less daunting than before. Things may have worked out for his parents, but they were kindred spirits. Throughout their years of courtship, Yuuri could not amount Artem’s spirit to anything more than greed and spite.
“Mother,” Yuuri whispered even lower than before. “What if I can never grow to love him?”
It’s at this point that little gulps of air were barely making it down to his lungs. His heart began to beat even more erratically than before, he wanted love. He wanted to live in the tales that he readily escaped to when he needed it the most, but the tale wasn’t coming. The reality would need to sink in until it laced itself heavy on his bones. Something in the pit of his stomach clawed at him as he spoke the words. It would not be from lack of trying, but his whole being could not accept the partnership that Artem Feltsman had to offer. He could not accept staring into dulled and unfeeling eyes, accept that despite knowing he was doing right by what he was meant to do that every other nerve in his body was begging him to run. Everything was growing bleeker by the second, a darkness was threatening to take the last of his hope, and Yuuri didn’t know how to climb his way out.
“My darling,” Hiroko whispered as she cupped his face in his hands. “We do not go through challenges in this life without greater reward. You are strong enough to overcome whatever adversary befalls you. You will love him, as he will love you.”
As the last comment fell on Yuuri’s burning ears, he wondered who she was trying to assure, himself or her own self? He did his best not to fall apart in her welcoming arms as he nuzzled his head directly on her shoulder. How had the years passed by so quickly that he hovered over her like a willow tree. Tall, shivering, and ready to break. But he couldn’t because Yuuri needed to be brave. As he pulled apart from Hiroko, he offered up a gentle smile, brandishing a hand down the silk of his wedding attire before taking her hand in his. He was ready to walk, he was ready to be brave. Much braver than Earl Toshiya ended up being as he too was unraveling in nerves of doubts that seemed to surface during ceremony that would tether Yuuri to Artem till death did they part. He would keep on a brave face despite how his stomach sank, how his palms seemed to sweat, and how his voice seemed to crack even as he spoke his vows of forever. Artem barely bat an eye at the man, and opted to begrudgingly kiss the top of his hand that Yuuri had to present to him. As Yuuri walked alongside Artem down the aisle, he could see the growing grimace stirring at the corner of his mouth. Artem had made it clear from day one that he was wholly against this union, but as far as he was concerned he knew that their union was just the stepping stone that would lead him to solidify his claim over the state someday.
When the Katsuki clan make way to take their leave, Yuuri found himself caught in a standstill. He desperately did not want them to go, but with the finality of everything, there was no reason for them to stay. A new chapter was beginning for him and he had no choice but to watch them sail away from the balcony of his room. He found himself watching until the boat disappeared into the horizon, afterwards he remained in his chambers alone, guided only by the flicker of the lanterns that adorned his room. It was his wedding night and he did not know when Artem was set to appear. Would they go through with the tradition? Was it possible to despite the lack of physical interaction? Yuuri’s worries came to the surface as he heard a light knock on his door, he called out for the person to open the door and found a maiden who was ready to escort him to Artem’s chambers.
“Lord Artem has requested your presence at his chamber.”
He followed the maiden, heart pounding in his chest. This would be it, their first night together, and perhaps despite how much Artem appeared to loathe him, something would switch. As they make it towards the door, Yuuri found that the maiden didn’t dare to knock on the door and merely excused herself, rushing down the corridor. He could hear rustling behind the door, a clatter of sheets, sighs and moaning.
Against his better judgement, Yuuri opened the door to find a sight that would further confirm his prior suspicions. He truly could never love this man nor did he feel the man could ever come to love him. What he saw behind the chamber door was the sight of his betrothed, his husband lying with another woman. Sauntering kisses down her collarbone, gripping firm mounds of flesh in a way that stoked explicit expression, thrusting into her with equal amounts of passion and fervor that he had never seen before. Artem had found a bed-warmer and he wanted Yuuri to be fully aware that this would always be the case. Blue eyes marred with lust and triumphant coaxing met Yuuri’s gaze and all he could do was promptly slam the door shut before running back to his own quarters.
Yuuri allowed himself this instance to unravel into a blubbering mess. No matter how he looked at circumstances, deep in his soul he knew that the feelings he longed for were all but turned to dust due to being tethered to this loveless marriage for all of his days. The idea prickled at his very being, after reading so much about love, viewing it from the way his parents loved each other so ardently, he wanted someone he could love with as much fervor. After all that he had endured from years of being under Artem’s thumb however, he wasn’t sure if he would ever be truly worthy of it.
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, months in just a meager amount of formative years and their marital “bliss” became more of a mark of obligation rather than the soul-connecting union that Yuuri continued to daydream about it. Artem grew more distant and cold as the months passed, he opted to keep his chambers separate from Yuuri and only ever showed up beside him for courtly appearances. If words were ever passed between them, Artem would merely scoff and avert his gaze from Yuuri at all costs. Yuuri felt like he had something akin to the plague, he often wondered if he was just as monstrous as Artem conveyed him to be. All the while he drowned his ebbing thoughts in the books that made him feel safe and connected to a realm that felt much more blissful than the one he endured.
Yuuri began to notice a meticulously cunning side to Artem, one that charmed to get his way, and one that was swift with recourse if it did not end up so. He chose to stay in the sidelines when it came to this, for he did not want to be the one judged upon.
Then one day, the talks of unrest and revolution that Yuuri had grown up learning and following slowly surfaced once again. With it came a time that demanded a war with as many men who were willing to go the distance and become the soldiers of the night, privy to bringing glory and order back. It was the calling that Artem had been waiting for, an escape. They didn’t know how long he would be gone for, but Artem was quick to sign up to follow within the Feltsman lineage. He was going to leave behind the petulant man who saw to it that his word was law, and hopefully return more dignified and hardened, just as his father had.
Yuuri never thought miracles existed until the day he was sent away. He also felt foolish for feeling that way. How could it have been miraculous to have a loved one sent away to fight in the war? Did the circumstances change if there was no love between them? While Artem would “valiantly” fight in the war to bring back his version of peace, Yuuri would be left behind to aide in tutoring the noble youth who were not quite of age and able to join the front lines. He remembered vividly how he had stood with the rest of the court bidding Artem a safe journey as well as showering him with a multitude of prayers to return home in one piece for even more honor and glory.
He remembered the way Artem strode over while atop his noble steed, those same apathetic eyes staring down at him. He did not intend to be warm to him even when the future was uncertain and Yuuri felt guilty for hoping he would never return. Even still, they both kept up for the sake of appearances, they were supposed to be doting husbands afterall. Despite the fact Artem kept bed-warmers in his room every other night. Despite the fact that they had never once connected in spirit or livelihood. Despite the fact that they did not love each other, they were doting husbands to the blind eye. The feeling of Artem’s kiss upon his hand felt more like a burn rather than anything pleasurable, one last lingering gaze of emptiness met Yuuri and before he knew it he was watching Artem ride away into the fog of the land.
No other words would be exchanged between them for six whole years as the war raged on.
Six years of peace for Yuuri and presumably six years of change for Artem. Yuuri had spent the last few years becoming a Lord of his own right. One who encouraged nobility and royals alike to be the best version of themselves. One who smiled warmly and never ceased to amaze those who came to seek his guidance of how wise he was with the little amount of years he had walked on the earth. One who sought out the comfort of books and did not pay mind much to the social affairs but still showed up for the sake of upholding his duty to the Feltsmans. While Artem was the brawn, Yuuri was their secret weapon of knowledge. And knowledge these days was a truly dangerous adversary to fight.
By the end of those six long years passing, a promising message made it back to the court relaying news that Marquess Yakov and Marchioness Lilia had hoped for. Artem and his esteemed vestige would be making their return. The war was over, and all of the nobleman who fought valiantly were due to come home and reap the benefits of the victory. Peace would once again be blanketed over the society for now until the next round, but for now the slow burn of revolution was finally overthrown. Talk was ablaze within the town, some soldiers returning far earlier than Artem, some of the men sought out the comfort of a saucy maiden, while others were returning to their loved ones.
“Isn’t it wonderful, Yuuri?” Lilia said in passing with delight. “Your husband will be back soon!”
Yuuri feigned a smile of happiness at the woman, though his heart was doing double time. He wondered if somehow Artem had gotten crueler with age. Previous messages from the battleground gave reports of Artem’s livelihood, how he was climbing through the ranks and proving to bring nothing but utmost glory to the Feltsman name. Despite how well he was performing however there were some grittier reports that insinuated how many fell under his sword, and Yuuri couldn’t help but wonder if it was all in defense or just another game where he came out victorious no matter the cost for Artem.
On that fateful day, Yuuri stood firm and tall, straightening out and brushing away any dust or imperfections on his outfit. The six years had been good to him as he focused on his scholarly duties as well as keeping up with his physique. It’d be more than half a decade since he’d last seen Artem and the last thing he wanted was to be told that he was still the same pig his parents had thrown to him as a feeble offering. He wouldn’t take that after how hard he had worked to refine himself. The first thing he heard was the galloping of horses approaching fast. The next was the resounding sound of horns signifying the processional line. Brilliantly colored flags of gold and magenta flew high in the sky, triumphant cries and cheers from other soldiers echoed. Soon the same noble steed from years ago came catapulting down towards them and Yuuri instinctively clutched at his own hands, fearful for what was to come.
Suddenly there he was in all his glory, Artem had returned safely back from the war.
As his gaze fixed upon him, Yuuri is taken aback. A shining, pearly white smile greeted him, the same silver locks that flowed in their own frame remained perfectly coiffed, his shoulders were broader, somehow he had grown taller. It’s then that Yuuri realized that Artem left for the war as a petulant boy but he came back an honorable man, at least that’s how the stature and general air about him held up. There was a chorus of laughter, followed by a barrage of tears, a beckoning for Artem to dismount his horse and get closer. Lilia’s arms outstretched to the man ready to receive him while Yakov appeared to be doing his best to hold back any emotion that did not make him appear stoic, but failing. Their son had returned and he looked even livelier than before. But the air of lightness and overall excitement could not fool Yuuri, he felt the shift in the atmosphere switch before him and there was no dulling the fear or ache of emptiness that exuded from this man, just as it had when he left.
That was when his gaze landed directly at the eyes of the man who wore Artem’s face. Yuuri found that the eyes that bore into him now were not the ones that haunted his nightmares. There was no apathy, there was no boredom, there was no malice. No, these eyes were different, somehow still the same hue of blue, but the main difference shook him to his core: they were filled with kindness.
Chapter 2: être accueillie avec prudence (To be received with caution)
Artem's return has lit up the estate with joy and solidarity, two emotions that Yuuri never thought he would ever feel at the Feltsman estate. The man who once tormented him appears to be repentant to his former ways and tries his best to get back into Yuuri's good graces. But after everything that's happened, can Yuuri allow himself to put his walls down? Can he forgive the past and move forward to a future that Artem is so charmingly waving in front of him? Or will he listen to his rhyme and reason that's telling him it's all a horrible trick?
ヽ( ＾Д＾ )ﾉ Hello and welcome back to Le Retour, here we go with Chapter 2! Ahh, I cannot thank you all enough for the wonderful reception that I've seen and received thus far. Thank you so much for believing in my ability to tell this story, as well as supporting me through the journey.
I just wanted to note to hopefully spare some from confusion, you as the reader are aware that a switch has occurred, but please be mindful that at this point in the story, poor Yuuri still has no idea about Viktor and probably won't for some time. It was a challenge writing a name that didn't belong to him but knowing that he was the one doing the actions. ρ(￣ﾍ￣ ﾒ)p I do hope though that you enjoy how these scenes unfold between them.
Today's chapter art was made by the lovely @ghostlybl, please visit her page and support her on all platforms, her work is simply fantastic!
Bonus Note: The tune that inspired this chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I hope this letter finds you well. We’ve heard through talk within the inner circle that your husband has returned from the war. Mother and Father send their warmest blessings, and wish for me to relay a simple message of “Welcome home.” from them to him. Whereas I wish to send you my deepest condolences. I cannot fathom how he still stands on this earth! I was sure the war fire would have been enough to take that devil down! Yuuri, it troubles me greatly imagining what’s to come. It was such a joy seeing you this past spring and as I write to you today, I must confess that I fear that that’ll be the last time I will ever get see you for however long he may choose to keep you locked up in that damned estate.
Please pardon my madness, and I truly am sorry for saying such foreboding things but the thought of him makes my skin crawl. It also makes me wonder if he can manage to draw out such an emotion in me, I can’t imagine what feelings he invokes within you. Yuuri, I feel that you’ve always been burdened to take on more than you’ve bargained for, and this clearly was far too much to ask of you.
I thanked the God’s when he went off and now that he’s returned I’m cautiously cursing them. I don’t wish for you to have to endure these unpleasantries day by day, and if I’m able to be frank, I often wish things were different.
The estate here remains less lively without you. Mother and father push forward and yet they still haven’t given up your study nook! It’s almost like a shrine to someone who’s passed when you’re just a few seas away.
Your niece, the Lady Akiko, tried a bitter green the other day. Her face was absolutely priceless, she despised it but managed and promised to endure it if her Uncle Yuuri heeded to his promise to sail the seas once again just to see her. I told her I hoped just as hard as she did that it would be soon. Was that foolish? Please protect yourself and do not hesitate to alert us if something is amiss, I’ll drag that dastardly husband of yours to hell myself.
With love and regard,
Where did Yuuri even begin? With Mari’s letter in tow, Yuuri found himself pouring over the contexts of her words in the library, struggling to find the proper words to reply back. Quill in hand, he dipped the tip into the ink container and paused as he drew it to the parchment paper. What he had to say back to her wasn’t nearly as alarming as he was sure she was anticipating. Since Artem’s return, things were settling in a vastly different way. The usual tense atmosphere he had grown accustomed to from all the time he’d spent at the Feltsman estate was suddenly open and light. It was a phenomenon he couldn’t quite wrap his head around. Did wars manage to change people this drastically?
The first initial meeting after six years being apart seared into his memory, even now causing a cautionary blush to bloom upon his cheek. Artem remained speechless, but his eyes carried more emotion than Yuuri had ever seen him hold. He looked at him as if he were completely brand new, as if it was the first time he was truly seeing him. Afterwards he was rushed away cast immediately into the mold that awaited him, the son who returned to add glory to the Feltsman name, and any time Yuuri had seen him thereafter was in passing. For the past couple of weeks he could’ve sworn Artem was sending him signals he couldn’t quite read. Each time their eyes met it felt like the electric current was coursing down his spine, edging him on the brink of madness because he had never felt this way before. Especially towards the man in question. Yuuri could hardly understand what it was that he was feeling now that it wasn’t an immediate default to fear. Yuuri found those same eyes haunted him in a new way, in a way where he wanted to continue staring back to decipher what had changed.
And truthfully Yuuri had never wanted to stick around that long to know that for certain until now.
Yuuri stewed in this new realization in one of his favorite places in the estate, the library. He placed the quill back down onto the table, taking a moment to step away from it entirely. His next tutoring session with the noble youth wouldn’t be due to start for another hour or so, granting him time to revel. He leaned against the opening of the bay view window that gave him a glorious view of the estate, noting just how alive and buzzing it had become with more life and laughter than he remembered. Maidens were giggling in a merrier tone, heartier laughter could be heard coming from the guards, and personnel who kept the estate in tip top shape even seemed to be going about their duties in a rewarding way. To Yuuri, the scene felt like watching the aftermath of what happened when everyone managed to take a sigh of relief, knowing full well that there would no discourse to greet them for ever doing such a thing.
Artem’s return truly had been a huge toss up for the estate. Though the others weren’t nearly as marred down as Yuuri had been by their ties to Artem and his past, it didn’t stop most of them who saw to the day to day tasks of the estate from sharing at least an inkling of the dread that Yuuri harbored for weeks after receiving the letter with news of his return. Who would have known that the Artem that had returned from the war would fill them all with such confusion and awe? Who would have guessed that the Artem that had returned from the war would bring them such charm and joy?
Suddenly, galloping front and center from his morning horse ride, he appeared. Same silvery hair that now moved with a precision that offered a glance at the eyes that were filled with life, rather than being used as a drape to hide a glare. His husband, who now greeted the estate groundskeeper in a merrier tone and joined them in a hearty belly bursting laughter. His husband, who now gladly went to lend a helping hand to a struggling elder who was trying their best to lift up a box. His husband who now even graced Marchioness Lilia with a kiss on her cheek as she embraced him once again for his safe return. Artem was charming everyone off of their feet, and those same eyes that Yuuri often recalled as of lately filled with a kindness he had never known, was spreading to any and everyone who stepped toward him. Nothing was blending together as it once was and Yuuri wasn’t sure if he was more confused or grateful for that fact.
“What are you ogling at?” A voice called out to him, startling Yuuri out of his reverie.
Yuuri quickly spun around to see Artem’s younger sibling in all of his glory, dressed in black and gold prints, he noticed the young master was also trying out a curious striped pattern on his stockings and judging from the way it was slowly bleeding down into each other, they must have been freshly marked.
“Ah! Master Feltsman, I wasn’t expecting you so soon.” Yuuri said warmly.
“Cut the formal pleasantries, it makes me so uneasy.” Yuri Feltsman groaned in discomfort. “How many times do I have to tell you? We’re family, so cut it out with that ‘Master Feltsman’ crap. I don’t own you.”
Yuuri smiled cautiously over at the blonde, bowing his head in apology. Even as he heard the sincerity in the younger boys voice, it didn’t settle the queasiness he felt when he stared at the intensely vivid green eyes that bore into him. Yuuri swore it must have been a Feltsman trait to have such an intense gaze. Yakov was surely the sole creator of the look, Lilia had her own grace with that same stare but usually warmth always exuded thereafter. Yes it was truly a trademark of the Feltsman lineage and yet somehow Artem’s own gaze suddenly was becoming less intense than before, setting him apart from their norm.
“Family -- of course, of course.” He replied, staving off the thought in his mind.
“Alright seriously, you’re worrying me, brother what’s on your mind?” Yuri asked concerned, crossing his arms.
“Nothing! It’s fine, I must have had a bad egg this morning.”
“You had toast with peach marmalade.”
Yuuri stopped in his tracks and locked eyes with the boy who was making it a huge effort to try to decipher how fast Yuuri was losing his own mind. There were a few more beats of silence that stretched on until they both couldn’t help but let out an honest fit of laughter.
“You’re right, I did. I’m sorry I don’t know where my minds been lately.”
“It’s failing you early, just like I predicted. See? I told you I’d surpass you sooner rather than later.” The boy smirked.
It was hard hiding any inkling of emotion away from the blonde, because their bond was something that truly lived up to every expectation Yuuri had in having a younger sibling. Yuri didn’t have Artem for the latter of his formative years, and though it was awkward initially and took some time to properly cultivate, he felt bonded to the other Yuuri. It was a blessing that he never once felt scared or a form of discomfort when it came to the younger Feltsman. He was truthfully glad that Yuri never looked down on him the way his older brother had. In fact, it had been a glorious few years watching the boy grow into the steadfast and sharp individual that he was. If Artem was meant to be the son who was mostly brawn, Yuri was making up for what he might have lacked in knowledge and that was all thanks to being tutored by Yuuri himself. It’s what he loved most about their time together, he loved being able to fuel Yuri’s eagerness to learn and he felt honored by his trust in him that he could guide him as best as he could.
As he swiped at the tears that fell from their laughter, Yuuri caught a glimpse of Artem once again from the window, he appeared to be looking straight up towards him. The expression on his face was one filled with sheer wonder. Slowly, a blush started to form over his cheeks and soon enough Yuri was right beside him peering out the window. His gaze soon locked onto his brother and when Yuuri turned to look over at the boy, he couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking. He was much too young to remember much about Artem but he was sure he must have been told stories from Yakov and Lilia and even those who wandered around the estate as time passed on. Though he wasn’t sure if the stories were more or less fabricated to something lighter just to protect the boy.
“He’s much more outgoing than people made him out to be.” Yuri remarked nonchalantly.
“I suppose he is.” Yuuri replied, tearing his gaze away from the window, finally walking back over to the table in the library. “You’ve brought your books right?”
Not taking the bait for the subject change, Yuri pressed on. “You knew him from before the war, has he always been like this?”
Yuuri’s mind searched for the appropriate answer. His earlier memories with Artem left much to be desired. After years of slowly coming to terms that he would be tethered to the man with such apathy in his eyes only to suddenly find empathy in them after six years of being away, he didn’t know where to begin in describing him anymore. He found there would be no surefire way to describe him anymore, and even if he had to, what would he possibly be able to say? Nothing in his books could help him come to terms with the way his husband had been acting as of lately. Even if Yuuri told the honest truth of all that he endured, how would anyone believe such prior vile acts from his youth would have come from the same man who was charming the estate at an alarming rate?
“Not always, but people are accustomed to change. That’s just how it’s always been in our nature.” Yuuri said brightly, thankful for his father's nonsensical logic coming in handy. “Why don’t we get a head start before everyone else arrives? We can start philosophy.”
Yuri, though begrudgingly, obliged as heavy groan escaped his lips. He found his usual seat and set his books on the table, quill quickly in his hand and ready to take in whatever Yuuri had to say, to teach. He had no problem hanging on every word he would tell him, because he trusted he would never lead him astray.
“We could go on about philosophy but couldn’t we just talk about Artem instead? I want to know more about him.” The young boy said once again to press his luck.
“Even if he does tell you more about me, pray tell what you would do with that information, little brother?”
Yuuri’s shoulders froze almost instantly but not in the way they used due to sheer fear, now they stiffened up from genuine surprise. Lately, Artem had been rather successful in actively catching him off-guard. It had been weeks upon weeks of Yuuri, who felt he had a proper sense of his surroundings, only to find Artem crashing down those defenses, yet somehow in the most pleasant way. He kept his gaze down on his notes, skimming through the lesson plan while realizing the words were beginning to blur together. He listened to the way the voice filled the space. He felt the way his heart steadily pounded in his chest the more he locked onto the way the man moved around the space.
“I’d blackmail you until you agreed to call me the better Feltsman.” Yuri partially joked.
“Blackmail? That’s a heavy subject. Is this what you’re teaching the youth?” The words rang out in playful manner.
When had Artem acquired a playful tone? Then before Yuuri could react, pale hands splayed on top of the materials in front of Yuuri, the space between their hands just far apart enough to nearly touch fingertips. The feel of the paper and ink marking his palms for a brief moment sent a shiver down his spine. He audibly gasped before he jolted backward to finally meet Artem’s gaze. His eyes were a lighter hue of blue this morning, softer than the previous days, a crinkling line kissed the creases of his eyelids.
“O-of course I would never teach such a thing! Just the consequences of it.” Yuuri said firmly giving the younger Feltsman a warning look.
In return Yuri stuck his tongue out at him before studying his silver-hued brother once again. “If you won’t tell me anything about yourself, why don’t you teach me combat instead?”
“Too dangerous at your age, dear brother. But perhaps, we might be able to come to an agreeable term, on the condition that you choose to behave and stop giving my poor husband anymore trouble or concern about me.”
As soon as he heard the term “my poor husband” escape Artem’s mouth, Yuuri felt his knees buckling from beneath him, thankful to take a seat before anymore could be said. The way he spoke about him was almost too much to handle, there was nothing bitter in the way he said term which made Yuuri cautious, albeit flustered in the same token. He found that he wasn’t sure how to adjust to the way his words seemed more tender than before. This was all too new.
“What’s your deal?” Yuri bartered.
“I’ll tell you more about myself, if you complete your studies in time.” Artem remarked coyly as his hands gently grazed against the lining of some of the books in the library. “We can even have the discussion while I teach you how to properly shoot a bow and arrow.”
With that being said, the blonde couldn’t help himself as he jumped out of his seat, gripping at Artem’s sleeve to be sure he had heard him correctly. “Really? Archery? You’d teach me that?”
“Of course, but again, only if you stop giving Yuuri here trouble and focus.” He replied.
Yuri rushed back over to his seat, more ready than ever to receive the daily lesson. When Yuuri felt ready and able to regain a semblance of composure, he found his eyes were once again too curious and traveled along with the sound of Artem’s steps as he wandered around the library. He searched for a book, and when he had found one that appeared to intrigue him, he hopped up onto the sitting nook near the biggest window in the space, allowing the sun to shine brightly over his face. With a flourish, he soon carefully skimmed through the pages with fervor. Yuuri had somehow successfully blocked out the impatient tone coming from the other Yuri who was eager to begin the daily lesson, all while he took in the sight of what his husband was doing and thinking to himself how at peace he seemed. It suddenly dawned on Yuuri he might not be able to continue with the subtle distraction.
“W-will you be around for the entirety of the session, my Lord? The group is about to begin soon.” Yuuri managed to muster out.
The man looked over at him and gave him a faint smile, a look of permission and acceptance lingered in his eyes. Generally Yuuri never questioned Artem’s motives or would ever have had the courage to question him, but the air in the space made him feel open and brave. But what came out of his mouth next was jarring.
“Would it be alright if I enjoyed a book while you teach the youth? I don’t think I’ve ever sat in on a lesson before.”
The reason he never had was strictly because Artem never cared to sit in on the lessons before. He was so far detached from anything that had to do with Yuuri that it wasn’t ever something they discussed, but now here he was eager to be in the space. Seemingly eager to be near Yuuri in any way. But what was even more unsettling to Yuuri was the proximity that Artem chose to do things now, especially when it came to being close to him. After years of being able to exist apart from each other, from doing their best to avoid each other, Yuuri couldn’t understand why it felt like Artem had suddenly actively chosen not to avoid him anymore.
Before Yuuri can answer him, a group of boys as young as Yuri all came catapulting into the library. Some were adjusting their coats as others were brandishing new gifts of golden jewelry and finer quills. As it always was for most of these lessons, they all came in to brag about the good “fortune” they were blessed with. For a moment, Yuuri is thankful for the distraction. Soon the once open table was filled with more books, quills, and harboring banter from the noble youth who were sent to Yuuri for the purpose of coming out more knowledgeable than the last session.
Yuuri took great pride in being able to uphold his own legacy as a bright scholar that the nobility in this region all nearly tripped over themselves to send their kin to. Through all the qualms he felt he had, Yuuri knew that his skill to educate and to absorb any new information that came his way was a blessing he could always have, and no one could take that from him. As Yuuri took attendance, his eyes trailed and looked at each face until he noticed one seemed to be missing.
“Did Minami not walk with you this morning?” Yuuri questioned.
As soon as he had spoken the name, the boys looked at each other and snickered under their breath. An unusual reaction, Yuuri thought to himself.
“I don’t think he’ll be around any time soon, Lord Yuuri.” A noble boy with ash blonde hair remarked.
“Yeah, seems that Minami’s folks are too broke to send him here.” A second boy with crimson locks bantered.
“The fortune’s gone right? It has to be. They put too much faith in his older brother to open up an apothecary in town and now they’re nearly bankrupt, what a shame.” Another boy snickered.
“Is it a shame? I heard they were scamming people! Not our fault they don’t know how to handle their finances, not like my father.” The boy with auburn hair spoke out.
“Maybe it’s because he wasted their fortune on that stupid red streak in his hair!”
Another fit of laughter escaped the youth in front of him. They were all not in the slightest as worried as Yuuri was and what became clearer to him as the moment dragged on was that they were actively choosing to ridicule the turn of events that fell onto Minami. The ones with more fortune than necessary proven by the way they flaunted their jewels and finer materials were openly bashing Minami for not being able to keep up with the way of a nobleman. But this truly was not the way to be noble, at least in Yuuri’s eyes. How had they already been trapped in the cycle of trying to one up each other so soon? He looked over at Yuri who was not at all impressed with the childish antics but before he could open his mouth to say something smart, Yuuri slammed down one of the books harder than anticipated onto the table.
It stopped the laughter all at once, even Artem had nearly dropped the book he was holding down onto the floor, his expression truly priceless. Yuuri didn’t know what was coming over him, but he felt remorse for the boy. He usually went on with each lesson as he was told, but he felt that out of the group, the ones he bonded with the most were of course Yuri but also the darker blonde haired boy who had the equal desire and passion to learn.
“The question was, did Minami not walk with you this morning?” Yuuri repeated himself carefully, voice steady.
The boys shook their heads feverishly, quick to get their quills back in their hands again. “No, Lord Yuuri, Minami wasn’t with us this morning.” They answered in unison.
The news troubled Yuuri more than he cared to admit, but the resolution was all too clear. He didn’t know if Lilia would ever agree to it, but to him it was worth the shot in fighting for it. If Minami was struggling at the moment he wouldn’t push for an increment of payment until things settled, because there had to be a proper turnaround. There had to be a way for him to continue until things picked up again.
“Take out a loose page,” Yuuri ordered promptly. “I want you to write the following statement until you reach the end of the page, both sides, ‘I will not laugh at the misfortune of others.’ Please repeat the statement so I know you’ve all understood’.”
“I will not laugh at the misfortune of others.” The noble youth repeated, a frown on their faces as they knew their hands were due for an ache unlike any other.
“Actually, let’s make it two pages, front to back.” Yuuri said, meeting the groans of the youth who were now even more embroiled by their own immaturity. “Not you though Lord Feltsman, you can go ahead and read along for the next lesson. Write down any questions you have and I will answer them for you. I need a moment.”
Yuuri kept a steadfast and stern gaze on the boys who looked as if they were about to question whether or not the punishment was really going to happen and when they saw how serious he was, they were mindful enough not to press the matter further for the time being. Soon the sound of their quills furiously rushing across fresh parchment paper could be heard in the space. All of them who dared to act above their own colleague, furiously wrote down the message until it was seared into their minds. He picked up the lesson plan he would have gone over with the group and diligently picked out some blank parchment paper to make a summary of the notes. His blood felt like it was boiling under his skin, how could they have turned on one of their own so quickly only because there was a chance that the fortune was not as vast as it once had been before? His quill moved quickly across the paper, he made sure to add in his own talking points in case Minami had grown confused. He didn’t want his lessons to end here, no matter the cost.
“This lesson’s off to a great start, I don’t know why I haven’t joined sooner. Are you copying the lesson for that boy?” A whisper trailed into his ear.
Startled, Yuuri gripped on his quill harder and merely nodded. Even as heated as he was, Yuuri felt himself start to crumble away from his overt confidence the more he focused on just how close Artem was. “I’ll personally deliver it to the Minami estate.”
“Why go through the trouble?”
Yuuri had anticipated flinching at a biting remark but instead found that Artem wasn’t challenging him, he was truly curious. Why would he go through the trouble of ensuring the educational material made it to the boy even though his family at the moment couldn’t afford such novelties?
“I believe in him, and I believe in his drive to be better.” Yuuri replied softly. “I-I don’t want to give up on him.”
“Wow. How selfless of you.”
Yuuri turned his head to look at the man beside him, his expression was even more out of character in any expression he could recall falling on Artem’s face. He looked touched beyond belief. As their eyes met, Artem cleared his throat and scratched at the back of his neck, resting the palm of his hand there until he could compose.
“I’ll deliver it by the end of next week, I don’t feel like I’ll get them all done today and I also want to add next weeks lesson.” Yuuri implored.
“I’ll accompany you.” Artem said quickly.
Yuuri raised an eyebrow and looked down at the floor. “You don’t have to do that, my lord. I know there are other things you need to attend to.”
“They can wait, I’d like to accompany you.”
Yuuri tilted his head to the side, his eye brow raised in wonder. A part of him wanted to ask if he felt well, but he quickly bit back the words before they managed to escape. Yuuri already knew he would probably take a carriage into the town to the Minami estate, but would he be able to handle the enclosed space with Artem as he accompanied him?
“Lord Yuuri, our hands feel like they’ll fall from our wrists, can’t we be done?” One of the boys whined.
Yuuri looked over at the boys and then back at Artem, who was already locked onto the group. His gaze glared over at them with a devious expression. “I’m sorry gentlemen, I just discussed it with Lord Yuuri, and it seems you may need to do an additional page for every time you question the assignment again.”
Another chorus of complaints and empty apologies came from the rowdy group of boys. Their repentance would never be claimed. Artem winked over at Yuuri as he shut the book he had in his hands and promptly placed it back from the shelf that he had found it on. Before it he made it towards the exit, he placed a hand on Yuri’s shoulder and smiled down at him.
“We’ll do the archery lessons tomorrow. At noon. Dear husband, if you have the time, won’t you join us?”
Artem had made it to the threshold of the doorway and stood still for a moment, as if he were bracing for the answer that could change the course of his day. This careful way that they spoke with each other, the new ways it turned into a sort of play where it was getting easier and easier to communicate, it all made Yuuri’s head spin even faster than before. Somehow he felt like he was able to grant the invitation a chance rather than outright rejecting it.
“I’ll be there.” Yuuri said.
The next day at high noon, Artem kept good on his word and was out in the courtyard with a beyond thrilled Yuri who was eager to learn how to shoot his first arrow. Donned in less formal attire, Artem and Yuri chased each other around with absolute glee before getting straight to the basics. It was a sight that Yuuri couldn’t help but watch from a bench closer to the garden that was adjacent to where they had set up the practice. It was a curious sight, watching the two brothers bond, but Yuuri would be in complete denial if he couldn’t admit to himself that it was a heartwarming scene. A circular target was being set up as Artem went over the proper technique with his younger brother. He carefully instructed him on how to properly hold the bow in his hands, going over the different segments of the bow and it’s purpose, and carefully withholding the arrows from a very excitable Yuri who grabbed at them like a tiger trying to catch their prey.
“Ah! No, you have to tell me what this is.” He chided.
“The string notch.” Yuri exclaimed.
“Good! And the piece in the center?”
“And for the arrow, what’s this part?” Artem asked as he rushed his hands through the feathery pillar at the end of the arrow.
“And its purpose?”
“Depending on how it’s made, it can help with the arrows path of flight. Can I please try now?!”
The older Feltsman smirked and shook his head once more. “I haven’t demonstrated the proper technique, so watch me closely okay?”
Then Artem performed front and center, carefully handling the bow and arrow with an ease that looked far too easy. His expression never changed from full concentration as he took his stance and carefully pulled back the string and released the arrow to hit right on the bullseyes target on his first try. He smiled broadly at the results and laughed as Yuri continued to beg him to let him have a go. He eventually gave in and helped him with his stance and positioning until Yuri was on his own releasing arrow after arrow and not getting enough air to get it anywhere near the target.
“Are you tricking me? Is this some sort of witchcraft?” The boy sighed in complete frustrating.
“Not witchcraft at all, it takes practice to shoot with accuracy and power, dear brother. You’ll get there someday.”
Yuri sighed before catching a glance at Yuuri over by the garden. “Brother! Why don’t you try?”
Yuuri froze for a moment before getting up to his feet and walking towards them. Artem had the bow slung over his shoulders and a warm smile was graced on his lips, even more evident the closer Yuuri approached him.
“I-I don’t really know how-”
“Husband, you wound me, you didn’t watch the presentation at all?” Artem asked softly, feigning hurt.
Before Yuuri could utter an apology, Artem was beside him with his arms stretched out. Yuuri realized that the man wanted him to mimic the stance and he obliged. The next thing that occured jolted Yuuri out of his skin for what felt like the millionth time since his return. Artem’s hand rested on his own and placed them properly along the regions of the bow. For a second, and Yuuri isn’t fully aware of it for the moment, he had forgotten to breathe. Artem seemed to notice as he looked over at the man quizzically, a gentle laugh escaping him.
“You can exhale, you won’t hurt anyone.” He reassured.
“It’s not that, it’s just...you’ve never willingly touched my hand before.” Yuuri murmured, almost embarrassed from the contact.
The man’s hand slipped from the pillowy softness of his palms and slunk down to the ridges of his wrist, his expression unreadable but his eyes seemed to be sparkling with joy. “If I don’t show you the proper way to do this, the bow might snap in half.”
“It’s going to if you two don’t stop with this lovey-dovey madness, just shoot the arrow already!” Yuri chimed in. Clearly he had just wanted to see Yuuri fail along with him to make himself feel better.
Yuuri blushed at the notion, they weren’t being lovey-dovey, if anything this was all just cordial, granted a lot more cordial than he was used to. With Artem behind him, Yuuri steadied the bow upwards, pulling back the string and faltering just slightly as he kept a gentle grip on the string. He didn’t know why but he felt like he couldn’t shoot, not when Artem’s hands were gently hovering by his sides to fix his stance to give him optimal results. Not when he was trying to figure out just why it was making him blush like mad so soon. Yuuri sighed and threw his reservations into the wind as he pulled the string back once again to take his first shot. The arrow landed on upper right corner of the target, but it landed nonetheless.
“Well done!” The man cheered.
“How!? How is that even possible? Have you held a bow and arrow before and never told me?” Yuri remarked.
Filled with indiscernible glee, Yuuri looked over at the man behind him and found his arms were folded in an approving manner. He then clapped his hands together and motioned for Yuuri to fetch the arrow, which he did so with pride. He had done it, he was able to shoot the arrow! The feelings that stirred within Yuuri felt euphoric and he was truly happy he had agreed to show up for the lesson, he was happy that he was able to share this moment with the two brothers. After the arrow was collected, he peered back over to find Yuri still lamenting over the surprise shot while also catching a distracted Artem stealing a quick glance at a golden locket.
It was peculiar as he couldn’t deny that there seemed to be a softer expression especially with the way his lips curled up. He looked smitten and suddenly the air felt like it was knocked out of Yuuri’s entire being. His anxiety came up to a full tilt as he thought about the contents of the locket. It had been a pleasant afternoon, but perhaps whatever was in the locket was helping Artem to get through the time. He immediately assumed the worst and thought that whomever was in the locket must have been one of the maidens Artem had been so fond of. Yuuri’s hand gripped harder around the arrow, not enough to break it but enough for it to make an imprint in his palms.
Yuuri didn’t say a word when he returned back over to the Feltsman brothers who were deep in conversation and laughing together. Something was brewing within him, a type of ache that wasn’t going to dull any time soon. Why had he agreed to come there? Artem was good about charming people into doing his bidding but somehow this time the situation felt different, it felt like he had wanted a nice time with him, and Yuuri felt for once that he might have had a shot at belonging in the space. And yet at that moment, with everything bubbling up in Yuuri’s mind, it couldn’t have been further from the truth for him. He gently set up another arrow into the notch, eyeing the center target, licking at his finger tip to surmise how the wind was going to flow.
“Going for another shot?” Artem questioned playfully.
Yuuri nodded, looking at him with much more intensity than he had originally intended, but it was clear from the way Artem whistled and backed away with his arms up in the air, that he knew Yuuri was awfully serious about something.
“With that intensity we should have taken up a session for fencing.” He remarked.
“My point would be on you before you could even say ‘pret’” Yuuri quickly sassed back.
Unscathed, Artem merely smirked before he replied, “Is that a promise?”
The playful tone was too much, it didn’t add up to what Yuuri was assuming already. It only aided into the thoughts that Yuuri was having about every interaction he had had with the man so far. He wasn’t trying to make amends, this was all a huge ploy. He was playing games with him, in a different manner now, but it was still a game to him. All of it would always be a game.
“If I make the bullseye, I want you to leave me alone for the rest of the evening.” Yuuri murmured.
“Fair barter, but what have I done to offend you?” He asked incredulously.
Yuuri steadied his hands, willing them not to fail him. He had been jaded, blinded by the notion that Artem would ever change. He was a fool to think Artem could ever have had given it a thought to be softer and less cruel to him. After catching him peering at that locket with smitten devotion, Yuuri knew it couldn’t have been for him, there was no way. He followed the protocol, stood in the precise stance that would allow the bow to align with the target in front of him. He pulled back the string meticulously, the sound of it winding back so tensely he felt it echoed the unease that was beginning to fester in the air.
He closed his eyes and with an exhale as he released the arrow, he prayed that along with it would be the naivety that he carried. The arrow met the center of the target. Yuri exclaimed with cheers and disbelief as he ran to check the validity of the target, to be sure their eyes weren’t playing tricks on them. Then Yuuri dropped the bow down to the ground and turned his back to Artem, his hands quivering all over again. He didn’t know how he could be this hurt so soon.
Before Yuuri walked away, he gave Artem the answer he had been wanting to tell him for years. “Everything.”
He didn’t have the heart to tell him that his assumptions were consuming his heart and mind at a rapid rate. How the thought of Artem carrying a flame for the ones who travelled into quarters while he attempted to maintain something close to kinship with him, that was what was concerning him. That was what made him feel this new difficult emotion of betrayal. Yuuri didn’t put it above Artem, but somehow it seemed to go down rougher than he had anticipated. He didn’t know how to properly express that he was hurt by the notion, and yet somehow still felt like it was his fault to begin with as he had allowed himself been wrapped up in the charm like everyone else had been.
Yuuri felt foolish and ungrounded and knew that the only safe choice at this point was to put his defenses back up again. He had to go back to the way he lived before without the notion of thinking things would get better. The way life panned out for him, it would always be the way it was meant to because that simply was just the fate that fell him. Even now he felt like he needed to be more guarded. And that would be what he would continue to believe until one of the main guards began gossiping about a particular visitor’s name Yuuri could recall on the spot. The name in question happened to belong to the one whom he thought was in the locket.
“He sent her and the others away this morning! I heard they’ve be instructed to begin different duties away from his room altogether!” A man exclaimed.
As Yuuri drew nearer, he could see the man who was talking so animatedly about the situation was one of the younger guards, who went by the name Georgi Popovich. As he rattled on about the keen differences he had noticed about their master, his admiration went to land on the lady Anya, who was as he put it ‘cast away without a second thought’.
“Perhaps Anya will consider taking my hand instead, it’s worth a shot isn’t it?” Georgi said, heart full of hope and promise as he walked along with the other guards who clearly saw him as disillusioned.
Anya, the woman with long raven hair, the one whose own gaze matched the way Artem’s used to look like with apathy and condemnation. Hers however had an extra stroke of power, it was filled with a longing to watch whatever she touched burn to the ground. It was Anya whom Yuuri found nestled beneath his betrothed on their wedding night all those years ago, and as hard as he tried to keep the memory locked away, it would rear its ugly existence back at the forefront of his mind without fail. It mainly was fueled by the whispers that came from housekeeping complaining about the visits that devolved between Artem and his bed warmers who never granted them a moments peace. And of the ones who visited Artem’s quarters, Anya appeared to be the favorite, but now she was gone. Why had he sent her away?
This question would plague Yuuri even throughout dinner where Lilia announced a banquet would be held in Artem’s honor to celebrate the successes he had endured since his return.
“My darling Artem, to you and for you, please accept this banquet as a celebration of what’s to come. Your father and I are so happy for what you have achieved, what you’ve turned out to be. To the glory you’re brought back to us, and to the legacy you will continue on with.” Lilia said, absolutely beaming with pride.
Glasses clinked together and Yuuri watched keenly as the general atmosphere grew merrier from the news. Rounds of congratulations resonated down the table while his own hands grazed over the fine golden patterns of the table cloth beneath him, barely touching the meal put in front of him. A swift kick from Yuri beside him brought him back slightly to the present. A banquet to honor Artem, another mandatory duty to show face. Yuuri wondered if he would be able to uphold it after everything that had transpired.
All throughout the rest of the dinner, Yuuri would find himself catching glances that Artem would cast at him from across the table, a new look flashing in his eyes. It was the one laced with confusion while also somehow asking for forgiveness while showing concern all at once. Yuuri had been the one to be abrupt with severing their contact, in hopes that things would have gone back to the way it used to be, as it had always been. But when he doesn’t tear his gaze away fast enough, he’s washed away with the pure emotion seeping into him from Artem’s gaze. Yuuri swore he could almost hear him in his mind asking him to relent. It was enough to make Yuuri reconsider whether or not he had truly lost his mind.
The last few weeks of tiptoeing around each other, with Yuuri trying his best to just steer clear of him while it felt like Artem was somehow still trying to meet him halfway. He’d never attempted that before, so why now?
After a few more attempts to stomach down any portion of his plate, wracked with uncertainty Yuuri promptly excused him from the table and rushed to the corridor closest to his room. His heart raced as his own hands defied him and shook along his sides. He couldn’t quite bring himself back to center. The Artem he knew always felt so distant and further away, in a place where Yuuri felt he could never reach. But now, he seemed attainable, he seemed open to a world that Yuuri had often dreamt of. Could he finally want all of that with him? Is that why he was so hopelessly hurt before? And if it was, did it mean he could forgive him even after everything?
Leaning against the panelling of the window, Yuuri fixated on the stars and the moon that shined brighter than he had ever seen. He questioned something that he never thought he would think at all in this lifetime. Even if he forgave him, would Artem be able to see past the uncomfortable outburst and unfair assumption?
Yuuri turned around against his better judgment, meeting the kind gaze again. When he looked into his eyes, he was stunned by how calm they made him feel, similar to the shores he had left behind back at the home he missed every single day. Before he could catch on, Yuuri found that his face was flushed, in both awe and confusion. The man took another step towards him and a gentle smile slowly rippled upon his lips, it’s enough to make his heart skip a beat again.
“I have to ask, out of curiosity. Why does it feel like you’re actively avoiding me?”
Yuuri waited a moment to find his voice and let out a heavy sigh followed by a breathy chuckle. “I’ve been embarrassed since the courtyard incident,” Yuuri started, lacing his hands together in nervous energy. “I’ve had a lot on my mind.”
Yuuri shook his head and failed to find the words. He wanted to tell him it was strictly about him. How he found himself at an impasse with his feelings. He felt desperate for answers, but felt tied down to the notion that he could not actively seek them. Just as it had always been. The gaze that met Yuuri’s softened with each moment of silence that stretched between them. His stomach began to jolt in terrible knots, but he did his best to maintain his composure.
“May I take a step towards you?” The man asked softly.
Out of habit to obey, Yuuri merely nodded, his gaze rested anywhere but at the man before him. In the distance he could see lanterns were in the middle of being lit by the members of the housing staff. The flickering light is what did him in when the contrast of the light from the fire reflected off the blue eyes before him. There was no hint of malice, but a world of wonder laden deep within the hues.
“I don’t know what it was exactly that I’ve done to offend you, but please consider this my sincerest apology.” Artem said.
“There’s no need to apologize.” Yuuri murmured. “What happened in the courtyard, it’s not my place to question. It’s my burden to carry.”
“But what happened exactly? Weren’t we having a lovely time?” The man sighed, looking out towards the window. “And besides, you shouldn’t have to carry these burdens alone, not anymore. Not when I’m here.” His voice was sure and filled with promise, a promise that Yuuri wasn’t quite familiar with.
“It’s always been that way though Artem, we both know that.”
A string of silence passed between them. Yuuri was much too embarrassed to share what was troubling him, and it seemed at this point in time Artem was not willing to let the subject go. It was this stubbornness that made Yuuri feel like he was seeing a side of him he had remembered. After a few more moments, Artem kicked at the ground and let out a small chuckle.
“No more. Please allow me a moment, there’s something I’d been meaning to do. I just didn’t want to in front of the court.” He began.
Yuuri’s heart skipped another beat, a part of him wanted to deny him, and yet he found there was a stronger part of him that wanted to know. “W-what is that you’d like to do?”
“I’d like to give you a proper greeting, one that you deserve.”
The sound of his boots clicked closer and closer, Yuuri instinctively shut his eyes waiting for the worst, until he felt both of his hands being brought into the overwhelming warmth of the man’s grasp before him. With a flourish, he felt his lips tenderly kissing on his knuckles, taking care to press on each individual one as if to savor the moment. When he finished, Yuuri found him lingering on the surface of his hands.
“I regret to say, that as much I wish for it, I cannot change the past. But the future, even in this present moment, I can take control of that. When you look at me, I see fear, a pain I cannot fathom. Regretfully I feel like you’re stretched somewhere far where I cannot reach. And I want the opportunity to change that.” He whispered softly.
“An opportunity to change that?” Yuuri questioned breathlessly.
“Will you give me that chance, dear husband?”
Against his better judgement, against every fiber of his being that screamed at him to continue the shunning, the more Yuuri looked into the blue eyes that gave him a new sense of hope, the more susceptible he was to saying yes. His hand was still gently latched onto his own, and Yuuri briefly responded by giving him a quick squeeze.
“What if I were to say no?” Yuuri asked curiously, a smile grew on his face as he found the man was clearly caught off guard.
When Artem managed to console himself, he looked at him with determination burning in his eyes. “I’ll gladly accept the challenge to change your mind.”
My study nook is my legacy for the estate, don’t you dare try to change it! I’ve sent a separate letter to Mother to ease her mind for my well being, as I always do. Mari, things have been rather ...strange around here. Not in a bad way so please don't send an army or rabid townspeople! It's hard to explain. I wish I was back at home just for the sake of being able to sit with you and discuss it. To be brief about the circumstances, it feels like I’m living in an alternative timeline. A timeline I think I might prefer.
Please give the Lady Akiko my regards along with an ample promise that I shall return once the summer solstice has passed and the leaves have turned a crisp color. Give her gentle reminders that she must remain obedient with her studies!
If I can be frank for moment, have you ever read any books about hysteria? I feel like I might be experiencing that.
My husband has indeed returned, and truthfully I haven’t minded at all.
With love and regard,
Chapter 3: être conscient de l'inconnu (to be aware of the unknown)
After Artem's heartfelt plea for another chance, Yuuri mulls over the possibilities of how this will change their dynamic. From nightmares, to mutual understanding, to a trip to the Minami estate and then the titular banquet, Yuuri has a lot on his plate and he tries his best to navigate through another aspect of his life he's been avoiding: his feelings.
Important notice: Due to finals and other deadlines, I will be publishing the next chapter a little later than scheduled. Chapter 4 will not be up until April 27th. I'm sorry for any distress this may cause. Thankfully, Chapter 3 is 11k long, so take this as slow as possible to hold over until the next update!
Hello! And welcome back to Le Retour Chapter 3. ( •ﾟдﾟ• )
It's been a wild ride for me getting this done, specifically because there is a lot to take in for this chapter. So far it happens to be the longest chapter I've put out, so for that I'm both sorry but excited for you to experience it! I wanted to note that once again, to avoid confusion, at this point in the story, Yuuri does not know about Viktor and the switch but everything he feels is certainly real. (It's still a pain for me to type Artem knowing it's our Vitya but man is he holding his own)
Today's wonderful chapter art that accompanies the banquet scene was made by the wonderful Cerise! Please consider supporting her! (✿◠‿◠)
A special thank you to @stammiviktor for allowing me the space to talk through the banquet scene and for the reassurance of the direction it was going to go in<3
Also a special thank you to Kathe for this wonder artwork from chapter 2 for the archery scene!
BONUS NOTE: For your listening pleasure for this chapter, please enjoy the following tunes.
Way Down We Go by Kaleo Inspired the overall feel for Yuuri's anxieties, uncertainty, and nightmares.
Dinner & Diatribes by Hozier Inspired the overall feel for the banquet and the blossoming relationship.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Before anything was due to get better, they had to get worst first. That was the ideology that Yuuri had always followed when it came to the string of events that led him to the Feltsman residence. It was the same path he followed when he meandered his way through the same residence years later trying his best to avoid Artem Feltsman, the man who he was tethered to by marriage. But now, he found himself at a crossroads with the man, specifically after his heartfelt plea for forgiveness. Yuuri wondered if this meant that their relationship would be changing and if it was, was he prepared to handle the change? The logical part of him wanted to say yes because he was equipped to adapt, that’s what Katsuki scholars did. They constantly adapted to their surroundings no matter how difficult it might have been.
However the illogical part of himself had manifested the idea of change into the form of nightmares. Some nights were terrible, and generally ended with Yuuri screaming himself awake loud enough to startle the guards just down the hallway, fearful for his life. Other nights he’d wake up with tears trapped in the corners of his eyes, and he’d find himself doing his best to lift up his hands that shook from the visions that plagued him. The visions used to be about the torment that Artem cast upon him, but now at the pinnacle of it all, his nightmares were forcing him to acknowledge what he had chosen to abandon and leave unresolved. His anxieties of still not being good enough, despite the fact that Artem wanted to try to make at least their friendship work to start, the courtship was a whole other level that Yuuri could not wrap his head around just yet. He wondered if courtship was even on the table.
Those same dreams became more disruptive than he cared to admit. There were nights where he tried his best to keep his eyes open until the sun began to cascade across his room, the rays of light shining brightly from the horizon that gloriously reflected itself against the sea. The familiar sound of the robins and garden warblers were another indicator that he had successfully made it through another restless night and now he was free to be dreamless if he just allowed his mind to take a moment to shutdown without another thought. What Yuuri didn’t know though was how wrong he would be.
No matter how long he stayed up, it didn't stop the unsettling feelings from surfacing. No matter how he tried his best to be logical and one step ahead from the nightmares, they plagued him relentlessly.
The nightmares always began the same way, with him in the library completely surrounded by books that looked foreboding rather than whimsical. Somehow in the fold of it all, Yuuri would be surrounded by a stack of books writing into oblivion. Writing felt painful to him, the quill he held onto felt heavier with every word he tried to write, and when he blinked he saw that the parchment paper was riddled with Artem’s name and a plethora of question marks. A thud from the window adjacent to him shook him out of his writing daze, alarming him to a point that caused him to get up from his seat. As he abandoned his quill and common sense, he approached the window expecting to see the usual display of the estate thriving and moving forward as it always had, but instead he found it in complete ruin. He saw fire and remnants of black soot flowing through the air. He could smell dirt and manure more prominently than before, but what was jarring to him was that he did not see any people.
He found that there were no signs of life at all.
Frantically, he searched for any sign of life, where were the groundskeepers? The Marquess and Marchioness? Where was Yuri? The horses? The livestock? As he tried to account for nearly everyone and everything he could think of, the only person he could not bring himself to ask about was the person who his soul felt had caused the destruction.
Just as he always had done.
Yuuri rushed out of the room knocking over stacks upon stacks of books in the process, the booming louder than the last as they hit the ground. He ran until his lungs felt like they would collapse from within him. He tried his best to cry out for anyone, only to find no sound would escape his lips. No matter how hard he screamed and even as his vocal chords were straining with all of their might, no sound would come out. As he clutched at his throat in despair, he finally heard one voice answer him back, and it was one that still brought on too much confusion to bear.
Instead of relief, he could feel his hands shaking out of instinct. It's at this moment he was even more afraid of the loss of his voice, not because he wanted to scream, no, he could just feel every nerve in his body begging him to tell this figure to leave him be.
Without the ability to say what he wished, the next series of events happened all at once. The figure that called for him took longer strides in order to get to him and Yuuri couldn’t think to do anything else but attempt to run away. It’s all he wants to do. He does not want to confront it, he doesn't want it to succeed in ensnaring him, he just wanted to continue to run until his legs could not carry him any further. Despite his fears, it continued to call after him relentlessly, it begged him to turn around, even begged him to stop running, but Yuuri continued as if his life depended on it.
Truthfully it felt like his life was on the line if he slipped and allowed this figure to fully capture him.
As he ran through the estate, he peered over his shoulder to be sure he was still well ahead of the figure, though he noticed the tone it used was now becoming more sorrowful. Yuuri stopped for only a moment, thinking to himself that it had never been filled with sorrow before, this was new.
A part of him wanted to stick around to find out just why the tone had changed, but his need to survive was stronger than the curiosity. Or so he thought. When he tried to resume running, he immediately fell down onto the tiling beneath him. The pain of the fall overtook any other catastrophic thought he had and soon enough before he can fully adjust, the shadow had loomed over him. Trembling, Yuuri clasped a hand over his mouth, as if he were muffling the urge to scream. If this figure wanted him so badly, if it was going to take him, he wanted it to be quick. Soon, he felt tears clinging from the corners of his eyes. His lips continued quivering and as he removed his shaking hands, a small sense of relief washed over him when he finally heard his voice escaping his lips in a subtle whimper along with labored breathing from all of the running. He tried his best sit upright, both of his legs felt like they had been filled with lead.
If he couldn’t run, he had to ask for answers, it was the only logical thing he could think to do at the moment. "What do you want?" Yuuri whispered. "What more do I have to give you until you stop?"
From within the shadow of the figure, pale hands surfaced and drew closer to him. Unsure of what they would do, Yuuri shut his eyes tight, surprised that the next thing he felt were those same hands gently cupping his face. Yuuri expected a colder touch, however he was proven wrong the moment he felt utmost warmth. His heart began beating erratically within his chest, and he tried to pull away though instead the hands locked him in place. Finally, the tears that had not fallen just yet fell freely down his face, a mixture of fear and confusion took over his entire being. He waited a beat, wondering if these hands would slip down to the crevice of his neck, wrap all ten fingers delicately around the base of his throat until it decided to be brutish and squeezed until it fulfilled what he thought was the plan all along-- being sure he was silenced forever.
However, the hands moved instead to wipe away at the tears that had fallen from his eyes. From within the depth of the shadowy figure, Yuuri could hear it coo and utter words of comfort, along with shushes filled with reassurance. The pads from its thumb gently caressed and comforted him, until one hand gently rested to cup his right cheek from within it.
"I'm not here to hurt you." The figure murmured. "I'm here to-"
Before it could finish, Yuuri’s vision blurred and he felt his entire body being taken away in a falling sensation, it felt endless until a prick of pain resonated from his knees startling him back to reality. The shrill sound of the robin from his balcony window almost seemed deafening. Yuuri had fallen face down in a bundled knot of bedding and sheets. He was covered in cold sweat, and the light of the sun was in the perfect position to shine directly into his eyes as he turned to be sure of his surroundings once again. He was back to reality with the knowledge that the nightmare had gone uncompleted.
This cycle continued on for about two weeks and it was beginning to wane heavily on Yuuri’s physical prowess. While he was able to upkeep with most of his duties, he would be kicked awake by an impatient Yuri during their one on one study sessions. The younger Feltsman pondered over his well-being, even suggesting he attempt to take it easy. But Yuuri deterred the suggestion and insisted he was fine, that there was nothing to worry about. Even Artem was growing concerned and had taken to walking him back to his room every evening, always asking him if things were well. Yuuri continued to automatically respond with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes, hoping that they conveyed enough power behind them to say that things were fine, he was fine. Everything had to be fine.
After another particularly bad nightmare, Yuuri fell from his bed once again with a tremendous thud. Every time the voice from his dreams was about to tell him its purpose, he always woke up, with more questions than ever. What was the voice trying to tell him? How long would this nightmare plague him? Why has it chosen to plague him? A knock on his door startled Yuuri out of his daze, he couldn’t get up fast enough in order not to worry the housemaiden who saw him sprawled out on the floor. She quickly ran towards him to get him untangled from the sheets.
“My Lord are you hurt?” She asked, expressing utmost concern.
“It’s fine, I-I was clumsy this morning.” Yuuri replied, trying his best to hide his embarrassment.
The maiden was finicky and clicked her tongue within her cheek at the response. She pressed a hand up to his forehead immediately feeling how clammy he felt. “Are you ill?” She questioned, finally get the mess of fabric away from him and setting him down on his bed.
Yuuri vehemently shook his head, it wasn’t physically illness after all. It was just his thoughts that plagued him to the point of hysteria. He had always done his best to bear those feelings alone, as he didn’t want to burden anyone with his restlessness. And though having to handle it on his own felt like second nature at this point, the maiden would not be fooled as she continued to look over him with too much concern. It reminded him of the way his mother used to coddle him once upon a time. The maiden pressed around his face, his neck, and lightly tapped on his chest which surprised him more than anything else.
“I’ll run you a bath, my Lord, and I must suggest that you take it easy in your quarters for today.” She said. “I can feel the fatigue seeping out of you.”
Yuuri looked down to the floor sheepishly and let out a deep sigh. The truth of the matter was, he had been tired, so tired that he felt like he was nearing the state of the undead. His mind couldn’t catch up to all of the changes, even as pleasant as they were. He was having trouble coming to terms with his feelings, he did not want to face them even though he knew he would have to.
The root of it all was the trouble of adjusting to the dynamic that was still unfolding between himself and Artem. He thought if he could just not think of what was occurring, the easiest way would have been becoming submerged deep into his studies, to barely leave any room to be spoken to. The Marquess and Marchioness were more than pleased at his work and dedication to the pupils who sought him out, but only Yuuri knew that all of it was just so he could frantically try his best to not to have to think about himself, or anything that might have been stirring.
He pondered the suggestion for a moment from the maiden. He didn’t need to be at the Minami estate for another few days, and if he managed to just get some extra rest while the sun was still setting high in the horizon, it might do him some good. Perhaps it was time to get some genuine rest.
“I fear I must have overdone it this week.” Yuuri said with a small smile.
With a curt nod and a reassuring smile, she quickly rushed out with the tangled sheets and yelled out orders to draw warm water into the bath. Yuuri looked out to view what he could of the estate from his room, grateful that the best thing about it was that it gave him a direct view of the sea he loved so dearly. He tried to match his breathing with the way the waves ebbed against the coastline until a flash of fire appeared before him. Jumping slightly back onto the bed, he rubbed at his eyes to see the gentle movement of the waves once again.
It was just a vision, a fairly bizarre vision.
Another knock at his door signified that his bath was ready. Yuuri placed his hand on his chest, feeling the beating of his heart thumping against the palm of his hands. He wondered when this inner turmoil would end.
Submerged in the water, he appreciated the light scent of roses and patchouli that filled him with every breath he took in. He had to find a way to stave off his nervous energy, to find his center while doing his best to shove every catastrophic thought down where he couldn’t think of them for the time being. But sitting in the tub alone, despite knowing he was surrounded by the people who had cared for him for years, and despite knowing that nothing was truly set aflame, his uneasiness was still apparent, dripping through him as quickly as the droplets of water from the strands of his hair were falling back into the tub.
When the water had gone cold, Yuuri pushed himself out of the tub and wrapped himself in a towel, before being escorted back to his room. The maidens were due to comb through his hair while doing their best to dry him off and get him dressed for the day. However instead of getting dressed for the day, they returned with another billowy garment for him to shimmy into. He noticed his bed had been completely redone with new sheets and blankets, along with a plethora of more assorted pillows. He raised an eyebrow at the sight of them until he noticed a vibrantly beautiful bouquet resting on his nightstand. He recognized a few of the flowers from the garden that Lilia had been cultivating for years, but was curious as to why she would have sent them to him especially out of the blue.
The maiden who had just finished up drying Yuuri’s hair caught him glancing over to the bouquet, she tapped on his shoulder encouragingly, “Isn’t it beautiful? There’s a note attached to it as well, my Lord.”
“From whom?” Yuuri questioned.
Yuuri stepped towards his nightstand and took in the feel of each delicate flower between his finger tips. All of them were chosen at the correct moment of bloom, and he was appreciative more than anything else that they were there. Next to the flowers was as the maiden had told him, a piece of parchment paper folded in half. He gently opened up the paper to find a message in unfamiliar handwriting, his eyes widened as soon as he saw the signature.
It was from Artem.
Artem had never written him a note until today.
I heard from one of the house maidens that you weren’t feeling well this morning. Please accept this arrangement to bring you strength and wellness. I will be by to check on you once my obligations are complete. I do however have one question that I wish for you to mull over. It’s something I haven’t been able to ask you for the past few nights. Somehow it felt better to write it down rather than outwardly say it to you. It’s only a shame that I can’t see your expression, though I look forward to hearing your answer in person. Be mindful to think carefully on this.
Will you accompany me to the banquet?
The question was a simple arrangement of 7 words, and yet they filled Yuuri with indescribable feelings. Thankful that he was near his bedside he quickly sat down and scooted to the center of his bed, resting his back against the multiple mounds of soft pillows.
“Sweet gesture isn’t it? We never knew he had it in him.” The maiden said as she fetched the flowers to place them in a vase.
Yuuri tried to find the words to reply, but any formative response was lost on him. He held onto the letter, feeling his head falling heavy once again. He thought about his answer and was more surprised than scared about what he wanted to say, especially after this gesture that meant everything all at once. Eventually he allowed himself the opportunity to fall asleep, despite the chance that the nightmare might come back again, Yuuri felt exhaustion taking its toll on him and he wanted to be centered and sound of mind when he gave Artem his answer.
By the time evening fell upon the estate, Yuuri gently stirred from a much needed round of rest that alleviated the aches in his muscles and bones. His head felt much lighter than it had when he’d woken up previously, and he was more than grateful that the usual nightmares did not come to haunt him during this spell. As he shifted to his side, he felt the wind rushing in through the curtains that adorned his balcony door, finding a figure outside leaning against the railing.
He froze up at first, taking a glance at what was surrounding him. He still saw the fresh bouquet of flowers that were now nestled in a vase. That would be blunt enough to subdue the intruder wouldn't it? As his eyes adjusted, he could see shimmering silver hair illuminated by the light of the moon, he realized he didn't need to grab for the vase, but he felt an intense urge to duck beneath the covers. He couldn't believe he was here.
"Did I wake you?" The man called back to him. Yuuri could only shift around again until his back was completely turned to the man on the balcony.
"N-no, I did so on my own." He could hear a chuckle and then light footsteps coming back towards him.
He took in a deep breath in tandem with each step and then he felt a weighted shift from the edge of the bed. The man had taken a seat there and Yuuri, no longer being blinded by the fear he usually held found that instead he was immensely bashful. He didn’t know how long Artem had been in his room and a part of him was grateful he was asleep just for the fact that it allowed him the chance to avoid the shock he would have conveyed. Though he’d be fool to deny at the moment that he wasn’t shocked still. He shifted himself up in order to sit, his back welcomed the coolness of the headboard and he grew even more thankful for the plethora of pillows that he could grab on to, to busy his hands. He traced at the patterns of each pillow case, the abstract swirls effectively distracting his mind.
"Are you feeling better?" He asked.
"Much better than before." Yuuri replied softly. "I-I’m sorry I wasn’t awake when you came by.”
“You wouldn’t have known what time I would be by, that’s not your fault. Besides, you looked so serene resting. I haven’t seen you look like that before.” He tilted his head to the side, peering at Yuuri with utmost curiosity. He felt like he was being studied.
“Even still, I-I want you to know I meant to write back to you but as you saw, I fell asleep." He said quietly.
"Luckily I did mention I would be by to see you. I should have waited until you were awake though. So please, pardon my intrusion." He remarked with a wink.
Yuuri suddenly felt a heat forming on his cheeks, as he lifted his gaze to greet the ones he had been dreaming about on and off for the last few nights. These eyes should have been the ones that lulled him into sweet dreams, with no intent to harm behind them, just peace and ounces of worry. But his mind wouldn’t allow that just yet.
"I-I did want to give you a proper answer though. And again regrettably, I was indisposed to give it much thought." Yuuri began. "I'm sor-"
"Have you always had to say you're sorry for every little thing that might have been inconvenient to me?" Artem said abruptly.
Hesitant to say anything more, Yuuri merely nodded. Artem sighed deeply before he turned around completely to face Yuuri. His eyes were filled with remorse, but soon they were quickly cast down on the design of Yuuri’s bedding. He looked like he wanted to say something more, but instead when the man felt ready to look over at Yuuri again, the look in his eyes changed back to the usual kindness and patience. It made Yuuri’s heart double over once again.
“Y-you can’t look at me like that. It’s not fair.” Yuuri murmured.
“How so?” The man asked intrigued.
“When you do that, it makes me wonder what on earth I can offer you now. A-and I want to be able to offer you a lot, even if it’s just my companionship but I don’t know where or how to begin. I-I feel like I can’t catch up fast enough. I-...this is all still so new. I fear, this is what’s been making me so tired lately.”
There was an intensity that flashed in the man’s eyes, enough for him to be brave enough to scoot upwards to sit a little closer to Yuuri, but not enough where their limbs would accidentally touch. It was meticulous, it was careful, and profoundly new.
“Yuuri, I’m not asking you to trust me over night, I’m not even asking you to forget everything you know. I’m just asking for a chance to try to fit myself into your world. A world I’ve neglected for far too long.” He said.
He brought his knees up to his chest, mulling over the words as best as he could. Could he be even more frank with the man? Would he tell him all about the nightmares that came from his anxieties about the entire situation? Could he allow him the clearance to fit into a world he’d never shown interest in before?
Somehow his initial burst of words made him feel only slightly better, but it didn’t change the fact that he now had to fully admit that something did indeed change about him the man before him. Whatever it was, Yuuri couldn’t quite place it, even when he logically thought it out, he couldn’t quite get a grip on how he would go about accepting those changes. Yuuri found that he wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, and he’d never felt that way towards him before.
Yuuri knew though that if he continued to let these feelings fester up, if he continued to live with the past, he could never move forward. Hadn’t that all he had done while Artem was away? He found the longer they sat together in this silence, the longer that he mulled over the man’s complete understanding of his feelings, it was beginning to piece together for Yuuri that simply put he was overall just tired of running and having to protect himself from what he feared. He was tired of being afraid, especially now that there appeared to be no reason to be. He wanted to be brave. Yuuri gazed over at the man that was his husband and took his first step into being brave as he held out a feeble hand to shake it in solidarity. A new beginning, a full blown chance to adapt.
“I’m afraid, but I want to try. I really do.” Yuuri whispered. “Just please warn me if you have to go back to being-”
“Being a complete ass?” He said with a smirk.
Yuuri didn’t attempt to stifle in his laughter and nodded. “Yes, yes, that.”
Artem took his hand in his carefully and nodded in agreement. “I’ll let you know on the condition that you let me down gently if you’re going to reject my request.”
Yuuri raised an eyebrow wondering what request he was talking about until he remembered the handwritten note. He laughed again and for the first time felt brave enough to be coy with the man before him. “Who said I would be rejecting it?”
As their eyes met, Yuuri could feel something that had never existed before between them. There was a feeling of mutual understanding, was this what bonding felt like? Even as Artem made his exit it still made Yuuri’s heartbeat in over time, and when he realized it wasn’t beating out of panic but merely out of happiness, he had to laugh again into his pillows. Whatever came next, for once he felt certain that the man would meet him exactly where he needed him to be.
And that fact alone was exhilarating.
It had taken just a few days after Artem and Yuuri came to a mutual understanding and made amends that he found himself finally adapting to the change that was growing between them. Slowly, Yuuri felt life was drifting back into him for the first time since he had set foot on Le Marais. Yuuri found that most days when he spent stretches of time sequestered in the library mulling over new books and materials to teach the noble youth, there was something else that he was beginning to look forward to. It was something that had crept up on him as a pleasant experience, one that he found he truly didn’t mind at all, something he wanted more of. For the past few days, a soft chuckle would greet him at the doorway and he lifted his head to view the sight, he would see Artem leaning over the threshold with a small basket filled with an assortment of foods, sometimes it had wine.
“Drop the quill, you need some fresh air!” He demanded playfully.
“But these reports aren’t anywhere near done! I just need 10 more minutes.” Yuuri tried his best to protest.
“Yuuri, I even had the cook make your favorite today, do you want it to go cold?” He teased.
“He made the coq au vin early?” Yuuri asked intrigued.
“Along with,” The man began, before brandishing a baguette from behind his back, urging Yuuri to get out of his seat. “Freshly made this morning.”
Yuuri couldn’t help but smile as he placed his quill back into the opening of the ink canister. He knew he should have continued finishing up the rest of the work, but a small break couldn’t have hurt him too much could it? He closed his books and sighed while shaking his head.
“You can’t keep distracting me from my work, you know.” Yuuri said.
“But you should be aware that you have every right to deny me.” Artem replied with a coy smile.
Yuuri thought about that statement for a moment, and while a part of him knew that he could’ve, it just had never been a thought that crossed his mind from the years they had known each other. Denying Artem anything in the past felt like asking for a headache and being branded with a mark that forever tallied him as his enemy, but now he wasn’t so sure that was the endgame anymore. If he were to deny him now, he’d actually understand the boundaries and gladly back off without question. That courtesy, that ability to make him feel like he wasn’t doing wrong, was what made it harder for Yuuri to deny him these days.
It helped that Artem actively sought out spare time to spend with him. The first instance of many was from when he had kept good on his promise to accompany him to the Minami estate. It was an experience that invoked even more confusion but amazement in him. Artem was already waiting for him in the carriage by the time Yuuri had arrived with the assignments. After carefully placing the books and papers inside, he gently pulled himself into the carriage and sat across from the man, their knees just a centimeter away from touching the entire way.
Making it to the estate, Artem made his way out of the carriage first and took in the sight of it all. They were still well off than most in the town considering their connections and ties to nobility, which made it harder to surmise how anyone could have thought they had burned through their fortune so quickly. Yuuri peeked out, feeling determined as he scooped up the curated lessons in his arms and jumped directly down from the carriage.
“Yuuri! I would have helped you get out!” Artem exclaimed, quickly rushing to him. “Are you okay? You haven’t twisted your ankle have you?”
The concern that washed over the man was still too foreign of a look for Yuuri to decipher clearly. He brushed it off with a quick succession of nods before he replied, “Yes, yes, I’m fine. I’ve done that plenty of times. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Artem looked half impressed and concerned as the seconds drew out, but Yuuri was quick to lead them straight to the front door, praying that his cheeks hadn’t turned completely crimson. If Yuuri had an ounce of bravery to tide him over for the moment, he would have been able to admit to the man that even if he had helped him he would have been hesitant to take it. Sometimes he was afraid to be this close to him still. The thought of his hand on his, being able to feel his warmth, being able to feel the way his fingers delicately grazed against his skin in a way that felt pleasant rather than uncomfortable, it sent a small quiver up his spine.
With his hands full, Artem was at least able to help in a different way by knocking on the door. They waited a few moments before the door swung upon at a rate that nearly knocked Yuuri off of his feet.
“Lord Yuuri? What are you doing here? I mean not that I’m not grateful that you’re here, but why are you here?” A voice chirped rapidly at him.
“Minami, if you could, please direct me to your study. I have your lessons.” Yuuri said, laughing nervously as he studied the boys expression.
Minami looked at him like a deer caught in complete ambush. “My lessons? O-oh...but we couldn’t-” Minami began.
“It’s been taken care of. There’s no need to worry.” Yuuri said warmly.
“Ah! Lord Artem, Lord Yuuri, what a pleasure to see you both!” A voice boomed from the end of the foyer.
“I’m sorry to intrude, but I have some things I wanted to drop off for the young Lord Kenjirou.” Yuuri said.
“Oh? And did you come to spar Lord Artem?” The elder Minami gentlemen said, laughing with robust jest.
“I’d gladly accept the challenge if that’s what you’re offering.” Artem replied with a smile.
“My...I don’t think I’ve seen a smile on you before Artem. The war really did shake some sense into you.”
“My Lord please!” A feminine voice called out.
Yuuri felt it had to be the lady of the house and he was correct, she looked as if she were frantically trying to reign in the situation before it devolved into even more chaos. He peered over at Minami, noticing that the red streak the other noble youth were making fun of was still prominent in his bangs. Though he had never seen anything like it before, Yuuri couldn’t help but feel like it was a signature that fit the boys rambunctious spirit alone. He shifted the books into one arm and shuffled his hair with the other free hand and nudged him along to lead him into their personal study. As he peered back to see how Artem fared with Lord and Lady Minami, he could hear a chorus of laughter and felt comforted that their stay would end up being a while, rather than a short lived one.
Minami was quick to devour the material which Yuuri found enlightening. He never once questioned the lesson or dozed off as the other noble youth, save for Yuri, had done. He was poised and always asked questions at the appropriate times until they fell into a comfortable silence just reading material together, until they heard the sound of two swords being unsheathed followed by a yell for--
“En garde!” The elder Minami exclaimed.
“My Lord please, you really should take it easy!” Lady Minami pleaded.
“Have you no faith in me? I’ve fought in the wars, twice!”
Yuuri and Minami rushed to the window to find Minami’s father and Artem across from each other wielding swords. Yuuri had never seen Artem with such a weapon before but a part of him shivered from the thought of it, he definitely didn’t want to be on the receiving end on whatever blow he was prepared to give.
“Your positioning could use a little more work.” Artem remarked, as he looked at the gleam that bounced off of his sword.
“On the contrary, you’ll be surprised at what I can do standing this way!”
Before either man was able to swing, Minami’s father conceded to defeat after a small cracking sound was heard from the small of his back. Artem was able to escort the man back into the estate where Lady Minami continued to pester on about how foolish he was to even attempt such a thing. Yuuri and Minami quickly scampered back to the table before anyone would notice they’d seen the whole thing. But Artem was smart enough to detect that they had.
“He’ll be fine.” Artem said, taking a seat in the study. “But his dignity might be in shambles.”
He stayed for the rest of the lesson and Yuuri was able to successfully be comfortable with the proximity during it all. It helped that Minami commanded most of the conversation, and though Yuuri expected Artem to grow impatient, it turned out he was wildly invested in anything the boy had to say. As the end of the lesson grew closer, Yuuri shuffled through the rest of his paperwork and heard the man asking Minami a simple question.
“Why would you ever allow them to talk to you that way?” He asked.
“I don’t know. But they said that at the rate we were going, I’d be a drifter soon enough.” Minami said sadly.
Yuuri stopped short and looked over at Minami who was trying his best to hold it together. He knew all too well that feeling of overwhelming pressure that gradually built up until it felt like it would crush him. For Minami it was especially harrowing with the new development that his family was hit with the possibility of not being able to keep up with a society that was so fast paced and only cared about the next level of luxury. It was something he wished he didn’t have to bear. He was still too small to serve if another war ever came, so all he truly knew and had was the capability to learn.
“I think you’d be the most adventurous one. That’s what they do you know, go on adventures.” Artem encouraged.
Yuuri watched as the man knelt beside the boy, his expression filled with patience. Minami looked over at Artem with shimmering eyes, he was trying his best to be brave.
“But they travel from place to place with nowhere to go. And I love my home here.” Minami said softly.
“Even if that’s so, drifters eventually always find somewhere to anchor. And if you love this home as much as I can feel you do, when the time comes you’ll find your way back.” The man replied encouragingly.
“But my mother always said that being a drifter is a fate worse than death.” Minami said curiously, his voice wavering less as he grew calmer.
Artem laughed and shrugged off the notion. “I think being cooped up in one town that demands far too much from you is a new form of torture. But it’s fair to see it from two different sides. Maybe the life of a drifter wouldn’t be for her, but it doesn’t mean that if it happened, it’d be the end.” He continued.
Yuuri felt compelled to add on to the narrative, touched by the man’s view. He never knew he had felt this way. “No matter what they say Minami, I’ll always believe in you. Even if you were a drifter, that doesn’t make you less of a person. You’ll just have a much more colorful view of the world. You’ll also have the experience that people wish they could have because with that under their belt, they get to lead such fulfilling lives.”
Minami’s eyes were now shimmering with hope and gratitude “Fulfilling enough to work on pirate ships right?” Minami perked up.
“Sometimes, they do.” Artem chuckled. “But sometimes, they’re just looking for a new place to call home. One that won’t spoil their spirit, and when they find it, it’s worth everything.”
Yuuri didn’t know why, but he felt that the words that Artem conveyed to the boy was a fever dream. However, he couldn’t deny that he was touched by the display in front of him. As Artem continued to converse with Minami, he could see the boy tensing up less and relaxing into the notion that no matter what came he would be okay. It was a message he never knew Artem was capable of telling anyone.
By the end Minami was begging Yuuri to give him books about pirates and to learn more about other worlds beyond the seas that kept them tethered to their town. He gave Artem an exasperated look for help and what he got in return was a hearty laughter and a gentle shrug.
“Perhaps next time. If I can’t be by, I’ll have Lord Feltsman drop by for me.” Yuuri said, bowing to the Minami’s.
“You’ll come back Lord Artem?!” Minami asked excitedly.
Artem beamed brilliantly before kneeling before the boy. “I think he might have meant my younger brother, however if I’m not too busy with the estate, I’ll try my best to stop by.” He said with a smile.
“Thank you for everything Lord Yuuri, it was a pleasure to host you in our home.” Lady Minami said with utmost appreciation.
“The pleasure is all mine, my Lady.” Yuuri said taking her hand in his and kissing top. “Please be sure he stays on top of the work, and he’ll be up to par if not better than the rest.”
As they exited, Artem held the carriage door open for Yuuri who slipped in, and he followed immediately after. They let their knees touch on the ride back home. Yuuri could feel his cheeks burning from the contact, but he hadn’t minded it. From the look on Artem’s face, he was almost sure that he hadn’t minded either. When they returned, Artem was the first one out and he waited for Yuuri to follow. This time he doesn’t extend his hand and Yuuri is able to jump out of the carriage again with ease. He looked over at the man and smiled at him.
“You did great with Minami today. Thank you for coming.” Yuuri said.
“The pleasure was all mine, truly.” Artem replied, voice softer than before. “Did you really mean what you said to him, that even drifters could lead the most fulfilling lives?”
Yuuri stopped for a moment and thought of his answer carefully before giving a small nod. For the first time in weeks, perhaps ever, Yuuri shared a fact with Artem, one that the man simply could not have known about him.
“I used to envy drifters. I always wanted to feel the freedom they felt. But then I felt remorse for them because I couldn’t imagine how lonely it must have felt for them. Traveling endlessly with nowhere to rest their heads and feel like they’re home.” Yuuri began. “However, when you told Minami that eventually they anchor, that gave me...hope.”
As the last word left his lips, he locked his gaze with Artem’s, and he studied the way he looked as much as he could. His eyes were glistening with emotion, one that Yuuri had never seen on him before, it looked like he was almost close to crying. But instead he let out a small breath of laughter and cut off the distance between them.
“Dear husband, I fear that even after spending the afternoon with you, I crave more of your time. Can I walk you back to your room?”
“That’d be fine, thank you.” Yuuri said softly.
As they walked in tandem together, Artem began sharing what he would be involved in as the estate was getting ready for the Feltsman banquet. Yuuri of course would be in attendance out of obligation but a part of him felt excited for once to be going. He couldn’t help but wonder if it was really fine for him to be the one that Artem would be walking in with. He couldn’t help but wonder if maybe it was better if the man went alone or with someone that wouldn’t be him? When they made it to Yuuri’s door, Artem bowed to him.
“Thank you again for your time.” Artem whispered.
“The pleasure was mine to give it to you.” Yuuri remarked, all too late to catch his mistake. “M-m-my time I mean, I-I uh…”
He’d never said anything so bold before, but soon his anxieties were silenced by the way Artem briskly took his hand in his, giving it a small squeeze this time, rather than kissing them as he had previous months before.
“Until tomorrow? And soon we’ll be both at the banquet together?” He asked.
Yuuri breathlessly uttered a small yes, before watching Artem briskly walk away from him, his back was turned until he decided to glance back at him. There was an indiscernible look that Yuuri couldn’t quite place, something that appeared to be at the tip of his tongue. But Artem merely smiled warmly and waved a gentle goodbye.
Banners of gold and magenta hung up freely against the walls. Chandeliers were hung up high in the main ballroom and Yuuri couldn’t help but feel out of place as he always had for these social affairs. He tugged at the ruffles of his blouse and straightened the navy blue coat that he donned for the evening, along with cream colored slacks and boots he wished he had broken in sooner. Though he had agreed to accompany Artem to the banquet, there was still other odds and ends that kept Artem from fulfilling his end of the bargain in escorting, he was told he would meet him there naturally. Yuuri wasn’t upset or surprised, the banquet after all was to commemorate his successes since this return, so what would it look like if he wasn’t preparing for a grand entrance? The gathering was as lovely as ever, and no one could deny the fact that Marchioness Lila knew how to throw a party.
It took only a few more moments before he saw Lilia and Yakov appearing at the entrance of the room hand in hand. A round of applause and praises were thrown Lilia’s away, a robust amount of cheering and clapping were sent towards Yakov who, while still looking absolutely stern, did manage to have a hint of a smile on his face. Every other guest bowed and curtsied as they made their way through the room, and before anyone could say anything else, Lilia was handed a champagne glass that she lightly tapped with the tiniest spoon.
The murmuring that filled the space before had ceased completely and she brandished an award winning smile to the occupants of the party.
“Thank you for all for coming to the Feltsman estate tonight, it’s one of my greatest honor to be able to host you.” Lilia said. “And thank you on behalf of my family, for coming to celebrate our fondest moment. The return of our son!”
Right on cue, Artem entered the room gracefully, he donned a magenta hued coat with golden buttons. His blouse and trousers were black while the collar of the typical ruffles that adorned the dress shirt were a vivid white. Yuuri couldn’t help but notice one other small item of clothing that Artem had chosen to wear tonight, he could see that his hands were enveloped in white gloves. He gave his best smile and joined Lilia in the center of the room, bending down slightly to give her a peck on the cheek just as Yakov had rested a firm hand on his shoulder. He could then see Yuri joining the fold from the other side of the room, immediately rolling his eyes.
“Do we have to do this mother?” Yuri pleaded.
“It’s tradition!” Lilia remarked, “My dear guests, please join us as we kick off the evening with a dance. Please choose your partners wisely, if you make a mistake, I’ll never let you hear the end of it.”
A chorus of laughter filled the room and soon Lord’s and Lady’s alike were choosing their dance partners and taking themselves to the center of the room. Yuuri usually opted to stay out of the formal dance, even though he knew the moves out of obligation, he’d never been chosen when it came to being paired up. That’s when he meets Artem’s gaze from across the room, a gentle smile formed on both of their lips and Yuuri is the first one break eye contact out of nerves. Something about him just seemed so peculiarly dashing tonight. He was sure others would more than likely seek Artem as a partner at this rate, but what happened instead was Artem politely denying a line of people until he made it to Yuuri.
“Forgive me, there was still so much left to be done that my mother thought it was absolutely imperative for me to be there for. But I’m here now.” He said.
“Artem? Will you be joining us tonight? Perhaps with your husband?” Lilia called out with a smile.
Murmurs began to fill the space as the guests wondered if he would actually go through with dancing with Yuuri. From the sheer history of past banquets, this was new to them. They’d never seen Artem so close to Yuuri, and it was even harder to look away. He took a look back over at Lilia and then over to Yuuri before he extended his gloved hand to his.
“What a profoundly wonderful suggestion, Mother. Yuuri, will you dance with me?” He questioned, flashing a brilliant smile.
Yuuri was at first hesitant, unsure of what to do. He had watched Artem dance in the past and before he just looked listless while moving in the meticulous way that kept him in tempo. Most partners could not keep up with him due to the glares he used to showcase, but now Yuuri found he was more worried about not being able to keep up with him. He didn’t want to make him look like a fool for choosing to pity him with a dance. The man seemed to be able to read through all of his worries as he drew closer. He let out his signature chuckle the tone of his laughter was not laced with any other ulterior motives.
“Are you sure you won’t prefer another partner?” Yuuri murmured, a small blush forming on his cheeks.
The man tilted Yuuri’s face up by his chin, the look in his eyes indiscernible. “I’m sure of it, I choose you. I can lead, if you wish?”
Usually Yuuri would have given in out of fear, but now he found that he was giving in out of mutual obligation. He was thankful for Artem’s decision to wear gloves, though he couldn’t help but note that it was still completely warm to the touch. They walked to the center of the room where the other participants made room for them to stand across from each other. The sweet sound of a violin echoed through the space, Yuuri locked eyes with Artem, and the dance was underway. As they bowed to each other, Yuuri took a tentative step forward and was surprised to find that he moved with gentle ease alongside Artem.
“Are you sure you’ve never danced before?” He asked curiously. “You move with such agile precision.”
Yuuri nodded, as he turned to pivot his foot just slightly to avoid falling. “This would be my first time doing so.”
The next thing Yuuri knew, he was mindful to step backwards, allowing the man to lead him effortlessly in a way that made his heart skip a beat. He found that when he danced with him, they moved in perfect sync with each other, always knowing when and where to step, while trusting the other to lead and follow through. Every pivot, every turn, they were matching each other in intensity and skill, he never knew the man could dance like this, and he wondered if the room of spectators were becoming just as enthralled as he was.
Yuuri could hear other pairs stumbling out of the pattern and muttering apologies and obscenities, but soon the pattern changed forcing Yuuri to be paired with someone else whose steps were much heavier than Artem’s, whose hands would not grip on his as gentle as as before, and whose form was much clumsier.
As he swiveled around the space, he met the same blue eyes that he had been growing accustomed to for months now, and they seemed to convey the same message-- they desperately wanted to go back to dancing with each other. Yuuri found that he doesn’t feel as bashful anymore, he wanted to maintain the eye contact for as long as he could. Another change in the pattern occurred and with his hand outstretched Artem received him comfortably and with ease. Yuuri’s smile grew broader with every step they took together afterward.
“Welcome back.” He murmured into his ear.
The man’s arm now was carefully draped around Yuuri’s waist as they continued to move to the rhythm. Yuuri could feel another blush forming before he spun back into the fold to be opposite of the man again. Just when the audience believed the initial dance was finally over, the music began to pick up. They began to clap to the quickened pace and Yuuri watched as Artem adjusted the ruffles of his collar slightly before giving him a broad smile, motioning for him to come closer. Yuuri did just that in two longer strides, and he’s surprised when the man managed to sweep him off of his feet, literally. He had raised him up and off the ground by the waist before placing him back down, their hands intertwined in each others as they adjusted to the faster rhythm.
“You could have warned me, my Lord!” Yuuri said, laughing.
“It would have ruined the surprise! Besides, I’m delighted by your reactions.”
The pair decided to opt out of switching to different dance partners and stuck by each other. The man had managed to continue to surprise him by dipping him low, granting Yuuri a view of a smile that was absolutely infectious.
“I didn’t know your leg could go that high.” He smirked.
“Let me up, please! This is embarrassing!” Yuuri laughed as he tapped him square in the chest.
All of the patrons who watched on as they danced together started to murmur amongst each other once again. In the past, Artem had never been seen with Yuuri for too long, aside from the very beginning of the night when he would have to go from person to person to greet them while acknowledging Yuuri’s existence as “his husband” to them. Even now, as the music slowed down once again and his hands drew Yuuri closer by his waist, they could not deny the look on his face -- he was absolutely smitten.
Yuuri didn’t know if it was from the proximity or if it’s in the way the air somehow felt lighter than before, but for the first time ever he was genuinely having fun. The man dipped him down low once again, gently securing a hand on the small of his back. When he brought Yuuri back up, it was the perfect opportunity for him to burrow his face in the lining between his collarbone and chest. Artem smelled like a mixture of musk, jasmine, and vanilla. Yuuri’s breath caught in his throat as he became aware of just how easy it was for him to burrow in somewhere he hadn’t before. He quickly held in his breath as he gasped and the man felt it instantly.
“Remember to breathe, Yuuri.” He chuckled.
Yuuri let out a nervous giggle and nodded. “Sorry, I guess I just got a little light headed.”
“Have you been swayed?” He pressed on.
“In more ways than I can handle right now.” Yuuri admitted.
“Wow, I should have tried to dance with you weeks ago. You’re much more candid than you’ve ever been before.” He said.
Yuuri gently withdrew slightly from his chest as they glanced at each other, face to face. He studied the man before him carefully, his eyes searching for any ounce of logic to let him know that falling under whatever spell this was was absolutely dangerous. But he couldn’t find it, all he could see was a look of adoration. All he could feel was that same adoration brewing in his chest. He did not want the night to end, and if it were possible he wanted to stay just as they were for as long as possible.
As he kept gazing into Artem’s eyes he relished in the fact that he could still see the same kindness that he had grown accustomed to. He felt himself getting sheepish once again, he was suddenly very hyper aware of how close they were, but he found that it was something he was willing to see through. He wanted to start remembering how well his hand fit in his. He wanted to take in the scent of cologne again. He wanted to memorize the way his lips that no longer scowled now dipped beautifully into a gentle smile.
Then Yuuri began to chuckle to himself, how insane could it have been for him to start to fall for someone who he was already tethered to? Despite the growing comfort of it all, he was astounded to find that even with such a beautiful emotion, he still felt a certain fear along with it. What if he felt everything all at once while the man before him was just being cordial.
“Where have you gone to now, Yuuri. It’s lonely here without you.” The man whispered.
“Somehow while I’m with you, I’m still wondering if this is really enough?” Yuuri said quietly, his eyes twinkling as they continued to stare at each other.
It was a comfortable silence, one that didn’t make Yuuri nervous or flinch. But the look of longing in the man’s eyes quickly changed to something Yuuri could only match up to disappointment. Confused, he beckoned for him again and the same light and kindness came seeping back in almost instantly. He couldn’t quite decipher what the man was thinking before he was dipped down just to be brought up again to be face to face with him. It was almost as if Artem was trying to convey in his movements that all of would always be enough. That this moment they were sharing together was worth more than Yuuri could comprehend.
The music crescendoed and filled the space with the melody of harps and strings. As they swayed together in tandem, Yuuri carefully laced his hand in his, feeling comfortable enough to rest his head in the crook of his chest once again. He’d never been held by Artem before. But the way he held him felt like returning to a place he’d never known he needed to be in. He could hear the beat of his heart pacing steadily against his ears. Artem wrapped his arms around him, almost as if he didn’t want to let him go.
“Can we stay like this forever?” The man whispered down to him.
Yuuri clutched onto the man in response, a small smile curving on his lips. He ducked his face into his chest as he stifled a fit of giggling. The man looked at him with one eyebrow raised, a small pout forming.
“The aspect of forever means there would be no ending.” Yuuri said simply.
“Exactly.” The man replied. “I think if I had to be anywhere for that infinite amount of time, it’d be here.”
Yuuri looked up at him, his will completely stolen away from the words he had spoken to him. It was something he had wished to hear so many years ago. Words of promise that made him feel wanted, that made him feel worthy of something like love. He found himself wondering if things had changed enough for him to consider actually putting forth the effort to love him.
“God I wish I knew what you were thinking.” He whispered.
“It’s not much at all.” Yuuri bantered coyly.
Almost in an instant, he felt the man’s hand gently sifting through the tendrils of his hair. Yuuri could feel his lips parting slightly, as their faces drew closer than before. He was hit with the scent of a peachy balm from his lips that were curved in a way that one would do to prepare to envelope another's into a gentle kiss. With bated breath, he braced himself before —-
The music had ended completely and an uproarious applause resounded around them, startling them both to pull apart before any contact could be made. Sheepishly, Yuuri bowed to the man and waved off to the crowd who continued to whistle on and clap at the duo, all while he tried to come to terms with what had nearly occurred, their first kiss.
“Such chemistry!” A woman exclaimed.
“Magnificent footwork!” A gentleman cried out.
“Get a room already, geez!” Yuri yelled out.
A chorus of laughter rang out again, but all Yuuri focused on was the feeling of the man’s arm wrapping around his waist as he pulled him along the space once more. His eyes were still fixated on his lips and he grew more bashful as each moment drew out. Would he have drawn in closer? Were his own lips soft enough and able to fulfill a kiss properly?
“There’s still more dancing we can do tonight, shall we?” He said with an adoring smile.
Snapping out of the thought, Yuuri nodded in agreement and allowed himself to be whisked away once again into a territory he found he was happy to explore. Once the night had dwindled down, they had snuck away from the dreadful chore of having to say goodbye to guests who were tuckered out and at this point too drunk to know just what they were saying. But Artem and Yuuri were on their own high of exhilaration after dancing the night away together, so much so that they even attempted to continue waltzing down the corridor that led to Yuuri’s bedroom in lieu of walking down to it as they had for several nights. It was a routine Artem had implemented just to be able to catch up with the man and exchange stories about their day, and it always ended the same way, with Yuuri giving him a simple wave as he readied himself to close the door and Artem returning the gesture before telling him, “Until tomorrow.”
But tonight, as they made it to the doorway Yuuri found his hand clasped firmly onto the man’s as they finished their final waltz. His cheeks were flushed and they were laughing together with reckless abandon, they didn’t care who could hear them. The evening was young, but unfortunately the fun would have to come to an end. Artem brought Yuuri’s hand up to his lips and tenderly kissed at his knuckles again before giving him a wink.
“You danced beautifully tonight. Thank you for accompanying me to the banquet.” He said.
“It was my pleasure to be there with you. Truly.” Yuuri said softly.
As their hands withdrew from each other, Yuuri looked down to the ground as Artem scratched at the back of his neck, unsure of what else to say. But it was evident that the both of them were completely overcome from the joy that left a smile that wouldn’t leave their lips.
“Until tomorrow?” Artem said softly, though he looked as if he did not want Yuuri to back up behind the door just yet.
Yuuri nodded, his hand felt for the handle and he led this time, drawing himself back in. As he leaned against the door, he gave the man another reassuring smile. “We have a lot of tomorrow’s to go, I promise.”
The man stepped forward to him, tilting his chin up to his, and Yuuri found that he could once again take in the scent of the peachy balm on his lips. He could also feel his breath as he gently sighed against him, unsure of how much closer he would get. The feeling of his forehead pressed delicately onto his felt sensational, the way his silver tendrils tickled his cheekbones even more delightful. Would they close the gap tonight?
“Yuuri…” He uttered softly with longing.
If he drew any closer, Yuuri was going to allow him the opportunity to kiss him, in fact he wanted it more than he could convey. As he closed his eyes, anticipating the contact, what happened next was enough to once again withdraw themselves from the moment. Another hapless interruption.
“My lord! A letter has come for you!” A guard exclaimed from down the corridor.
Neither man jumped away from the other, but Artem noticeably grew irritated at the interruption. Yuuri simply cleared his throat and let out a small giggle as he backed away once again. There was a time and place for everything, and tonight simply just was not their time. As Artem mouthed a simple phrase of “forgive me” towards him, Yuuri did his usual wave and he returned it just as he always had.
As Yuuri closed his door, he let out another sigh and allowed his feelings to overwhelm and consume him. This feeling was the exact one he had always read about in his books. The one where the protagonist would be swept away into a beautiful storm that would allow something wildly beautiful to grow. But just before he could get away from the door, he could hear cursing from the other side and urgent whispering.
“Are you sure this is where it’s from? It’s still far too early.” Artem hissed.
“I-I’m sure my Lord, it came directly from the town. There’s been no mistake.” The guard said.
Yuuri’s stomach dropped as soon as he heard the tone of his voice, and somehow it felt like the evening soon crumbled before him. He hadn’t heard that tone in so long, and while he wasn’t fearful of it, he was genuinely surprised. What could have caused such an upset to Artem?
“Prepare the usual items for me, and send back that I’ll ride out at dawn.” He said.
“And if they demand for sooner?” The guard asked.
“He’ll know to wait.” Artem said before stomping down the corridor in a hurry.
Unsettled, Yuuri withdrew from his door finally and rushed over to stand at the balcony, taking in as much fresh air as his lungs would allow. Perhaps it was a matter that he hadn’t been told about just yet, Artem was particularly busy with many tasks. But still the tone and the urgency he spoke with was enough to send chills down his spine.
Who could have wanted his attention this late at night? And who exactly was it that was waiting? Who was he? Even if he did not have the answers now, the only thing Yuuri could do was hope that it would come tomorrow.
Chapter 4: être conscient de celui qui garde un secret (to be aware of the one who keeps a secret)
After the banquet, Artem rides off into town making Yuuri question once again where he stands. A series of odd events have fallen over the Feltsman estate, one that questions the man's character even further as well as making Yuuri more cautious than before. Only the caution does not last long, as now Yuuri actively wants to desperately uncover the secrets that his husband seems to be weaving. The only issue now is, if he finds something that may be too much, how will he handle it?
ヽ( ＾Д＾ )ﾉ Hello and welcome back to Le Retour, Chapter 4 is here! Things are about to heat up and we are inching closer to the portions of the story I cannot wait to share with you all. As always I am so humbled by the wonderful reception. Thank you so much for the continuous support through the journey.
Today's chapter art was made by the lovely @ghostlybl, please visit her page and support her on all platforms, her work is simply fantastic!
Bonus Note: The tune that inspired this chapter
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Yuuri made his way to the library before dawn, hoping that what he had heard from the other side of his door last night was all a hoax. Perhaps the sheer delirium from the banquet had set in too much and far enough to make him hear things out of context. That’s what he hoped for with all of his might, however that hope crashed down the moment he saw his husband approaching his horse with a sizable pouch tied to the hem of his pants. It became clear with each passing moment that he watched him getting ready to embark into town, that the bit he had heard last night, the tightness in his voice, the curt and vehement way he snapped at the guard who had interrupted them was all real. Though the tone made him feel fearful, it was mainly because he had to settle with the notion of knowing that everything remained in the bleary area that Yuuri could not quite navigate through.
He hadn’t heard such a sharp tone from the man in ages, yet somehow it seemed different, almost desperate. Yuuri couldn’t help but wonder if he was afraid of something or someone. He also couldn’t help that his curiosity continued to peak. It’s current origins surrounded itself around who Artem was meeting in the town that required such urgency. His mind flashed briefly to the locket that Yuuri knew for a fact he still carried around religiously. Over the last few weeks he didn’t dare to question the contents but it didn’t stop his mind from going back to his original thought of just who was inside of it. Even with how much closer they’d gotten, he found that a part of himself would always wonder if there was someone else in the confines of the locket. He wondered if he ever found that to be true, would his heart be able to handle that? Did he have the right to be upset?
Clutching at his chest, he felt his heartbeat becoming more erratic than before, he knew at that moment that all he had to do was steady his breathing. And so he willed his anxieties to fester and flow away from him, just as he always had, alone in his sanctuary. He focused on the smell of the books, the feel of the golden lining from artworks that were affixed on the walls, then his eyes were transfixed on Artem once again. He watched as he donned a magenta cloak and rode off into the shadows of the night which was finally being overridden by the rise of the dawn, in the horizon Yuuri could see glints of yellow and red surfacing.
Yuuri didn’t know how long he had stood by the window even as the sun cast itself brilliantly over the estate beckoning a brand new day. The soft awakening of the estate and the whispers that echoed in the courtyard that went as far as the stables that held the other livestock brought on a sense of comfort. Life moved forward, even when he currently felt stuck in his version of limbo. He wondered when he would let his guard down and stop being suspicious of Artem’s every move. When would he come to his senses and agree that he no longer felt like a threat, because now everything felt like something new. It felt like something he couldn’t quite place because he’d never experienced it before. He wasn’t aware that subconsciously he was standing there by the window waiting for Artem’s subsequent return until a swift kick to his lower back shook him back to the present. As Yuuri turned, he was greeted with concerned green eyes that searched his own honey brown ones.
“You weren’t at breakfast this morning, you’ve never missed it.” Yuri said nonchalantly, studying his face further.
“I w-wasn’t hungry. Time must have slipped by, I was so deep in my work.” He replied, chuckling softly.
“I see. Did your work today include pining after my brother?” Yuri asked curtly.
Yuuri froze for a moment before he turned his gaze down to the ground. This was a topic he still wasn’t particularly ready to talk to the younger boy about, especially when he struggled to process through the myriad of feelings. There was no black or white solution and Yuuri was surely sinking deeper into a gray area. He had fun at the banquet, he was having fun spending time with the man, but his instincts wanted to remain cautious. However, Yuuri knew that nothing about his actions so far were filled with that caution at all, despite the one time he had snapped at Artem during their impromptu archery lesson. In fact Yuuri didn’t want to admit that this was the first time he had ever felt illogical after years of having to be logical.
“Of course not,” He finally replied as he walked over to the table where untouched notebooks and novels were waiting for him.
“I’d beg to differ. You had a really weird dreamy look on your face at the banquet last night. Are you two officially making this work?” Yuri pressed on.
“Making what work? We’re already married, that’s a huge task in itself.” Yuuri tried to joke.
“And you’re absolutely sure of that? That this is the man you married?”
The next sentence sent a chill down Yuuri’s spine, of course it was Artem, it had to have been. Despite how much kinder he was, how his eyes were filled with warmth now, how the sound of his laughter sounded like something he imagined could heal 1,000 souls rather than make them tremble in its wake, it was his husband -- nothing else in this world would make sense.
“Why would you ask that?” Yuuri countered.
The boy sniffed as he walked over to the window, leaning against the paneling as he took in a deep breath and sighed. “Father was saying someone’s been taking too many coins out of the depository. At first I thought it was a fluke, he is getting older by the day after all. But then my brother said something really peculiar.” Yuri began.
Yuuri braced himself for what the boy was about to tell him. He hadn’t been checking the finances in a while because Lilia had appointed the task to another person in order to allow him the chance to focus on teaching the noble youth. Generally the steady input and output of money throughout the estate was enough to keep everyone comfortable, but Yuuri knew it had to be bad if Yakov was noticing a discrepancy. Yakov may have looked aloof at times, but he certainly was no fool. His throat constricted the longer Yuri took to continue, he ended up twisting a piece of paper between his fingers in order to keep himself centered.
“Of all the stories I’ve heard about Artem, I’m finding now that they really don’t add up to the man who’s here now. If we look past all the great deeds and charms, something isn’t right. I’ve dealt with my end of accepting it but it’s you who I’m concerned about.” Yuri said as he walked away from the window and sat beside the him.
“What do you mean?” Yuuri urged.
“I was blinded by the charm for a while, because it made me happy to think about how everyone was wrong. There was no way my brother could want me dead because what kind of person would want that? A monster. And I already know you don’t think this guy is a monster.”
“Artem you mean--”Yuuri began.
“I don’t think he’s Artem, Yuuri. I don’t know who he is, but I don’t think he’s the same man people think left and then came back.” Yuri said. For the first time ever, Yuuri could see a hint of regret and portions of fear in the boy’s eyes.
“Yuri, it’s okay. He’d never--” Yuuri tried to muster out.
The man who came back, the man Yuuri for the time being had no doubt was truly Artem, despite his past threats and because he hadn’t mentioned them once since, Yuuri had assumed he let that bitterness go. Yuuri would bet his life on the fact that the man who was here now would never hurt the boy, not after all the bonding they’ve done.
“All of my life, I’ve heard the house maidens and guards talking about how it’s a miracle that I wasn’t drowned from infancy because that’s how much he hated me.” The boy’s eyes narrowed in discomfort from even having to utter the words. “The peculiar thing he said was that he had always wanted a younger brother to take under his wing. That he saw me fit to rule over him. It was the most selfless thing he’s ever said.”
“He’s been full of surprises lately hasn’t he?” Yuuri replied.
“Imagine our surprise then, when someone brought him a document to sign, I finally noticed that he was signing with his left hand.” Yuri said, splaying his hands across the table.
Yuuri raised an eyebrow at the final statement, unsure of the significance until it clicked. His eyes widened.
“You always said to follow my instincts, trust my judgement, and know that logic would never fail me. Logically speaking, how could that be possible if my brother is right handed?”
Unsettled from the new information, Yuuri rushed back to his room to collect his thoughts grateful now more than ever that the man he watched leave the estate this morning was still further away. People could come back being completely different, that was the art of war. No one ever came back the same and if they did then their skin had to be thicker than the hardest boulders surrounding the world. Yuuri didn’t know how he had allowed himself to be this blinded to not look for smaller clues or nuances that Yuri was able to. But now he felt determined to finally see through the act of being cautious. He would study the man, continue their routines as usual but try to pick up on other things that could further suggest what the younger Feltsman was insinuating, they might have had an imposter.
How would it have been possible for that to occur? Yuuri heard stories about individuals who appeared to share the same face but he’d never seen it with his own eyes. The rational side of him knew that it would add up with portions of Artem’s personality that had changed completely since his return from the war, but if that were true, that meant that the real Artem could have been out there somewhere still.
Throughout the next couple of weeks, Yuuri kept tabs on his husbands affairs. He kept a closer look at the books that kept up with the amounts there were deposited and withdrawn from the depository, he even tried his best to study Artem’s mannerisms and tried to compare it to the way he used to act in the past. But the past Artem was becoming a distant unpleasant memory and the man before him was the one that he found he preferred to have. If Yuuri never had the answer, he felt like he could live with that, but then his guilt began. How could he do that to the Marquess and Marchioness if this man truly was not their son?
More letters continued to come for Artem, more unknown withdrawals kept showing up in the books, and more unsettling feelings continued to surface for Yuuri because despite how he tried to be thorough with his investigation to get down to the truth, every moment he spent with the man he found himself giving into something he never knew he could feel. Would it have been so bad to have kept things the way they were now? When would Yuuri be able to go forward with his life instead of being held back by the past he desperately wanted to forget?
Another dawn passed and Yuuri watched Artem depart right on time once again. It was the end of the month and the usual time for him to go into town with the same pouch he had time and time again. The contents were still unknown completely to Yuuri but he didn’t doubt it was some of the money that was coming out from the depository. He was willing to turn a blind eye to it, until one of the maidens approached Yuuri with a handwritten note from the man.
“Lord Artem sends his regards, he has a meeting to attend to within town.” She said warmly.
Yuuri gently dismissed her with a kind smile and looked at the note in it’s perfect lettering. Artem had always hated practicing his writing, and yet much of it looked like chicken scratch. But this lettering was articulate, it was beautiful beyond compared and even rivaled Yuuri’s.
I regret to inform you that I will not be around to meet for our daily stroll today. I promise to make it up to you by extending the time by double if you’d have me. I also could not stop thinking about how lovely you looked a few afternoons ago as we strolled through the garden. That blue flower suited you so well, I hope you’ve pressed it along with the others that you told me you’ve kept.
I hope to return before dusk, but should the stars and moon align in the sky before then, please consider this letter a token of my appreciation that you will soon collect.
Clutching onto the flimsy paper, Yuuri looked out to the horizon. The same feeling of dread and guilt began to surface. How many more sweet exchanges would he allow himself before he put his duty first once again? That was the whole reason he was posted at the Feltsman estate wasn’t it? Before the maiden made it out of the study, Yuuri prompted her to fetch him a horse to ride out into town. He had to get answers, no matter how jarring they were.
Donning a cloak of a deep forest green, Yuuri set off by horseback to try to find exactly where Artem had gone. He made sure to wait until dusk had finally started to set and the guards that usually accompanied him returned to tell him what part he was still lingering in. The trot was a short journey away from the estate, which was enough time for Yuuri to try to form his thoughts. He wasn’t sure what or whom he would find, but he hoped more than anything that it wasn’t any of the things that he feared. He knew he owed the thorough search to Yuri especially and of course to Yakov and Lilia, because they had every right to know if something was truly amiss with their son. As he entered the town, his horse whined and stopped to trudge along to an opening in an alleyway where it met with Artem’s usual stead, that was patiently waiting for his return.
Getting off his horse, Yuuri leaned against the cobbled brick walls, eyes darting through various groups of people jovially singing and dancing away. He’d never been to this part of town, but he had heard a lot about the vitality of Bohemia. That’s when he spotted him at a corner inn, descending a set of stairs with a companion who had accepted yet another sizable pouch, the very same he had seen for so many mornings. Yuuri squinted to get a better look when he froze and clutched at the hem of his cloak. The vision he saw had long raven hair, devilishly red lips, and a completely apathetic expression. He soon realized that the companion that the man grimaced and begrudgingly followed was none other than Anya, the maiden that had been sent away months ago.
With heavy feet, Yuuri strode over to the building and peered down at the steps that he had seen them descend from. A part of him wanted to follow, but he didn’t have the courage to do so. Not for the sake of what he might find, but for the fact that whatever it was, he wasn’t ready to know at the moment. Instead, Yuuri stared at the entrance of the inn, he never generally drank when coming into town, but certain circumstances called for it and he considered this a special one. A bell rang from above him as he entered, the inn was dimly lit with assorted lanterns and candles. Not many people populated the space, which was a blessing. He peered over at the bartending counter and saw a man with vividly green eyes and a mop of blonde hair wiping through a tray of glasses.
“Ah, looks like we have a new visitor. What’ll it be for you?” The bartender called out toward him.
Yuuri steadied his hands on the handle of the door before letting go and removed his hood completely. The bartender immediately dropped the glass he had been working to wipe the grime away from. It was a curious gesture to Yuuri as the more he stared back into his green eyes, the more he couldn’t help but think the man looked as if he had seen a ghost.
“P-please pardon the intrusion but I’m-” Yuuri began.
“Did you drop another glass again? What’s gotten into you?” Another voice rang out before appearing from behind another doorway that was directly behind the counter.
His skin was tanned and face was jovial as he beamed over at the bartender, but that all changed the second his gaze landed on Yuuri as well, only this time on top of looking at him as if he’d seen a ghost, his mouth dropped wide open.
“Holy sh-” The man began.
“Do you think he sent him here on purpose?” The bartender hastily muttered.
“I don’t know? He would have told us right? This is insanity!” The olive-toned man retorted.
“I’ve been trying to tell him that for weeks, but he’s been as stubborn as an ox!” The bartender mustered out.
“Well what should we do? And why do we keep saying ‘he’, can’t we just say his name?”
“Non! I wouldn’t do that just yet mon cherie. I want to know how much he knows.”
As they continued to go back and forth with each other, Yuuri took in the new information that somehow both of these men knew about him. And if he had to further deduce the reasoning why, the man he had been following had a part in it. The green eyes that were filled with shocked were now muddled with curiosity. He brandished a hand to the many stools that were in front of the counter.
“Take a seat won’t you?” The bartender offered.
Yuuri nodded being mindful to keep his cloak on in case he needed to hide. As he walked over his brain went into overdrive with worry, despite the confusion, he found that at the root of it all, he just wanted to be sure that Artem was safe. He sat directly in the center and felt the burning gaze of the men before him searing into his entire being.
He could only chuckle softly before he dared to ask, “Would you mind giving me a spirit?”
The bartender smirked before placing a mug before him, “Will ale do?” He asked.
Yuuri nodded once more and waited as he poured the drink into a brown mug. As he picked up the handle he waved a feeble salute to the man and drank down as much as he could in one go. The ale was bitter and sour all at once, but it was enough to just put some sense of ease into himself.
“Please forgive our manners, but I’m Phichit, and this is Chris.” The olive-skinned man said with a warm smile.
“Ah, I was just about to ask for your names, my mind was elsewhere though.” Yuuri whispered, tapping his fingers around the base of the mug he held. Chris gave Phichit a warning look before going back to his prior wiping duties. Yuuri began to notice that the man looked on at him with a careful weariness, it was a feeling that Yuuri tried his best to stave off but more than anything he was just curious as to why he felt this way towards him. The silence seemed to drag on and Yuuri continued to drink until the mug was empty. When Chris tapped at the barrel below to suggest the chance for a refill, Yuuri politely declined.
“Forgive me Lord Yuuri,” Phichit began. “But what brings you here?”
“Just Yuuri’s fine! Please, there’s no need for titles.” Yuuri interjected. As for why he was here? Perhaps the ale finally made him feel brave enough as he said aloud, “I followed my husband here, I’ve been worried about him and didn’t know how to ask him what exactly is going on here so I just--”
He followed him blindly into town, watched him go down the stairs with a woman he hadn’t seen in months. Instead of gaining answers, Yuuri received a muddled train of thought and more willingness to face what he had been pushing down. His exact feelings towards the man who may or may not have been actively deceiving him.
“Right, Yuuri. I wish we could tell you more but unfortunately it’s something that we’re not entitled to tell you.” Phichit said apologetically.
“Yes, when your husband stops being a coward maybe he’ll finally fess up.” Chris retorted.
Phichit sucked in and gave out a heavy sigh as he pressed the bridge of his nose. “It’s been years, Chris. When are you going to let it go? He made the decision and he hasn’t let us down, not even once.”
“Yeah? But at what cost? Now we have a tyrant who comes in like wildfire every other week, disrupting the peace. Which is saying an awful lot considering there’s not many to follow here!” Chris bartered.
Yuuri raised an eyebrow as he tapped on Chris’ hand. “A tyrant? Are you calling my husband a tyrant?”
Chris pursed his lips before he shrugged, “Would you disagree?”
“I don’t know what to believe anymore.” Yuuri admitted.
If Artem had been creating discourse through the town, a part of Yuuri wouldn’t have been so surprised, but now there was a new part that wanted desperately to not believe it at all. The man who wrote him notes, sent him flowers, began to care for him and his well-being, he couldn’t have done all that while still creating havoc, could he? That’s when Yuuri began to feel tears pooling up in his eyes, Phichit immediately drew out a handkerchief to pass to him before looking over at Chris, almost as if he was seeking guidance on what to say next.
“Man he really wasn’t kidding about the damage.” Phichit murmured.
“Hey, Yuuri?” Chris sighed, the intensity of his eyes bore into him, somehow causing the tears to stop for just a moment. “For what it’s worth, and hopefully it may give you a better peace of mind, the tyrant we’re talking about isn’t the same man you followed into town tonight.”
A part of him felt relieved to hear that, but in the same token he wondered just who it was that was creating that chaos and how had his husband been roped into it?
“Is it Anya?” Yuuri wondered aloud.
“She’s just the middle woman, but you’re certainly getting closer…” Chris replied.
Just then, a thud from below alerted Phichit to peek out of the window. Footsteps could be heard ascending up to the entrance of the inn, and Phichit immediately beckoned for Yuuri to get closer to him.
“Shoot.” Phichit exclaimed. “You have to hide.”
Yuuri blinked before sliding his mug over to Chis and walked over to the window to see what exactly the man had seen but before he could catch a glimpse, he was forcibly dragged down behind the counter. The smell of spirits and rags hit his senses almost immediately, he clutched at the ends of his cloak and covered his mouth.
“What are you doing?” He mumbled frantically.
“Stay hidden here okay? He’s here.” Phichit tried his best to explain.
Yuuri wanted to ask more questions, he felt like was in his own right to have those answers, but instead he was met with the sight of Phichit kneeling beside him, his pointer finger grazed against his lips in order to signal silence. Behind him, Yuuri could see that Chris was looking over at them wearily, his jaw tightened up. Whoever was coming, they both knew that Yuuri had to remain a secret, for a reason he felt he would never understand. The sound of the door creaking open made Yuuri freeze in his place, he immediately drew his knees in together. If he could shallow out his breathing, perhaps he’d be successful in not making a single sound. Phichit rushed off to the back, leaving Chris to his devices. But Chris seemed to be in control of the situation, Yuuri could see it from the way he cocked his hip to the side and slung an unused rag over his shoulder. Footsteps drew closer to the counter and Yuuri studied Chris’ face as it went from serious to a smirk.
“Ah, bienvenue étranger.” Chris greeted.
“Stranger? I was just here last week Chris, have you forgotten who I am already?” The voice joked.
Yuuri peered over and saw a gloved hand reaching to touch Chris’, they shook fervently until he was drawn in for a hug. The man at the counter was wearing a familiar cloak of magenta. He knew that voice, or at least he thought he did. This voice was soft and kind-- it belonged to the man whom up until now, Yuuri swore was his husband. The man removed his gloves and Yuuri caught a glimpse of lithe and pale hands contrasting against the dark counter. Then the hood of the cloak dropped down with ease and flits of silver reflected on the glasses that were left untouched behind Chris.
“It’s probably best that I continue on this way, for your best interest. One can never be too sure where curious lurkers may dwell.” Chris continued.
Yuuri could feel his heart panging out of his chest, was he about to reveal him? His worries soon died off however as soon as he heard a sigh and a slightly rhythmic tapping against the counter.
“I guess you’re right, we can’t be too careful anymore. Has he sent a reply letter?” The man asked.
Chris shook his head before turning around to grab a small glass and poured in a liquid that Yuuri couldn’t quite distinguish. “No letter, but he had no problem taking the satchel you dropped off the other day. I can never tell if he’s truly satisfied, and not in the fun way. Just how long are you going to keep up this act for Artem up? Will you ever return?”
“Chris…” The man sighed.
Yuuri strained to get a closer look but if he stretched any further he’d be exposed. However, just hearing the words “this act for Artem” being spoken to the man he had been curious about spoke volumes for him. Yuuri had gotten the answer he had been trying his best to deny all along, the man he had followed, the man that was giving him a great deal of joy that he’d never known, he truly was not his husband.
“Every time he comes here, it’s like a dark cloud looms around the town. Even the children cry.” Chris said dryly.
“Trust me, I don’t doubt it. The stories I’ve heard back at the court may only skim true horror.” The man smirked.
“This is the last of it for now, correct? I won’t have to feel his unwelcome presence?” Chris asked.
“He stated in his letter that this would be enough to keep him at bay for at least a year. So we can rest a little easier. He may know how to monopolize it, he may not. Whatever the concern is...he chose his path. I’ve chosen mine.” The man replied simply.
“And how’s that working out for you?” Chris cooed. “Your path with your lovely Yuuri?”
Yuuri didn’t know if his eyes were playing tricks on him or if he could see a subtle blush forming on the man’s pale skin from the reflection of the glasses across from him. He could make out a small outline of a lovely smile that graced his lips and Yuuri had to stop himself from subsciously raising up from his hiding place.
“He’s as perfect as I always envisioned. Quiet and reserved but he’s special.” The man answered.
Chris pursed his lips in surprise, his eyes narrowing as he drew the man closer to him. “Are you in love?”
“That’s more of an abstract feeling isn’t it?” The man chuckled nervously.
“Yet a fair question to ask cause I’d love to know what we’re getting ourselves into here.” Chris relented.
The man took a brief moment to pause, and it nearly drove Yuuri mad with want to just peek up to see his face more clearly, to see what made him have to take the pause to get his thoughts in order. He wanted to know more.
“I don’t think saying I love him would do the feelings I harbor any justice.” He whispered. “I was always searching for purpose, for adventure. And if you want my full honesty? He’s the adventure I’ve always been seeking, he’s the home I’ve always longed for.”
“And he’s worth the trouble? Even if it means endangering your life?”
Without hesitation the man replied, “He’s had my life and entire being the moment I saw him.”
The rustling sound of coins dropped onto the counter and Chris swiftly took it and swept it into a pouch of his own. The man rose from his seat and let out a deep exhale. Chris simply waved him off, and Yuuri waited until he could hear the sound of footsteps fading further and further away. The bell rang again and he heard the door shutting, he waited for a few more beats until Phichit appeared again to make sure the coast was clear. Once it was, Yuuri stood up and looked over at both of the men. He knew they couldn’t say anything more, so the best he could do was just nod at them to bid them farewell.
The last thing he caught before he exited was Chris who couldn’t help himself as he muttered under his breath, “Merde, what a fool.”
As Yuuri returned to the estate, before he could even dismount from his horse, he was greeted with the curious glance of the man he felt he had known, but knew for certain he surely did not. The revelations, everything he had overheard swam to forefront of his mind and all he could do to not give himself away was smile at him as if nothing was amiss. There were no other words left to be exchanged, and Yuuri was grateful that he didn’t wonder why he had rode out into town. The man grazed a gentle line with the pads of his thumbs against the rouge of his cheeks. Yuuri eventually drew away and walked steadily back inside, back to their usual routine. The man walked with him back over to his room, and still they did not speak a word to each other, but still Yuuri couldn’t help but notice the man had a smile on his face.
“How was your day, my lord?” Yuuri began.
He sighed and gave a brief shrug before he replied, “Nothing of interest to note. I’m just happy to be here now.”
He’s the adventure I’ve always been seeking, he’s the home I’ve always longed for.
Before Yuuri turned the handle, he peered back at the man and studied him closely. He finally understood all of the anxieties, all of the doubt, and all of the failed attempts at caution. The reason behind his denial and the reason why it took him so long to catch up was because he had never actually experienced the love that he had always read about in his books. He never knew how to react because no one ever sparred with him this way. Knowing what he did about this man, knowing the secret that he kept, knowing the consequences of what would happen if he was ever found out, Yuuri felt unsettled but in a different manner. He wanted to protect him, he wanted to hear directly from him just who he was, he wanted to hear him utter the words he had longed to hear for so long.
“Would you meet me in the garden tomorrow?” Yuuri asked.
“I suppose I’m free.” The man joked, before briefly taking Yuuri’s hand in his. “Is there a special occasion I should be aware of?”
The sensation of his hand in his own sent a feeling to his stomach that made it lurch in the best way. Those butterflies he had been denying himself, they were finally floating to surface. Yuuri gently squeezed his hand and smiled.
“I just want to spend time with you.”
That part was true, but Yuuri also wanted to be brave. He wanted to hold the conversation that he had been fearing for so long. He wanted to know just who this man was because he felt that he was ready to face the fact that he was falling for him.
That night when Yuuri slept, he dreamt of the same landscape that had been taunting him for weeks on end. The only thing he heard was the crackling of the fire that continued to burn and destroy the estate until it was nothing but ash. He held no fear in his shoulders and walked along the corridors searching now until his entire being felt the shadow looming over him once again.
Then he fell under a lazy spell, his entire body felt lighter, almost as light as the surface that hit his back all at once. As he turned his face, he smelled the familiar detergent and oils used on the sheets that was usually on his bed. He felt the way the wind blew, enough to blow gentle wisps of air into his face. It didn’t take long for Yuuri to register that he was in some form of his room in his dream. When he turned, he saw a figure that both startled him but also made his heart beam with a lightness he’d never felt before.
Yuuri studied the figure that laid beside him even more intently than before. A man with silver hair coiffed in a familiar way, with lips that glossed over so beautifully like a painting he didn’t want to dare to touch. Within moments, blue eyes stared back at him, and soon he loomed over him. Everything felt safe and warm, and Yuuri found he wanted to draw him in closer. They never once broke eye contact, and Yuuri felt himself melting against the simple touch of his hand against his cheek. He tried to find the words he wanted to utter again and again.
“Tell me who you are.” Yuuri murmured desperately.
The man simply dipped his forehead down against his. The heat of his body, the gentle way his lips curled up into a fond smile, the scent of his cologne, all of it was so vivid, so pleasant, and felt like he was right there with him. How long had he been hoping for this? But while all of it was nice it did nothing to stave away his uncertainty. Yuuri couldn’t help but wonder, just what was it that he had left to be uncertain about? The man before him may have donned his husband’s face, but he was different. He knew that was certain. He was someone else he didn’t know, but someone he wanted to know.
His eyes were as blue as the sea and they gave him comfort, but they could not give him the answers that he desperately needed. The answers he would ask for when he finally woke up from this wonderful dream and asked the man just who he was, would soon come into reality. Yuuri was ready to move forward.
Chapter 5: être fidèle à vos sentiments (to be true to your feelings)
ヽ( ＾Д＾ )ﾉ Hello and welcome back to Le Retour, here we go with Chapter 5! Ahh, there's so much I want to say, but the best thing I can conjure up is, if you're wondering if you can finally exhale with relief...perhaps. Apologies for the delay and the unusual posting date!
CW: There will be some general talk about the war, it's not too in depth but please advise as some of the language may be upsetting.
Dedication Note: This chapter in its full form is for Alli (littorella)
and Ely (ladynikiforova). They are both the most sweetest, loving, compassionate people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. But to Alli especially, I have been so nervous about this chapter because it takes directly from what you wrote for the prompt so many months ago. Do you remember when I thought I could finish this in a week? Or when I thought this would be just a simple oneshot? Look at the monster it's become! (And that's probably more so because I can't stop word-vomiting about this AU/verse). Thank you for your inspiration, thank you for allowing me to tell my version. I hope this brings you so much joy.<3
Today's chapter art is a preview and placeholder for an even grander work that will be available at a later date made by Ely<3. I'd like to take a moment to scream from the rooftops about how lovely Ely is. I thank her for fitting me into her schedule, for taking my breath away with her art, her beauty, her kindness. I am thankful for her resilience which guided me so thoroughly for this chapter. Her support for my writing and this story in particular has also meant the world to me. Ely is deserving of every positive accolade this world has to offer and again I am so humbled to have her art for this piece. Please support Ely, and tell her she's the best bean, because she truly is and I cannot wait to see the final piece. <3
Bonus Note: "Control" by Sabrina Claudio inspired the bulk of this chapter, great to listen around the scene that takes place in the garden, ✺◟( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)◞✺.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Yuuri woke up the next morning, his body tingled with a sense of loss. A part of him was almost disappointed that he hadn’t found the silver-hued man lying next to him as he did in his dreams. If he did find him beside him though, would it have been the atmosphere have been as carefree as his dreams conveyed? The revelation from the previous night began to trickle into Yuuri’s mind the more he became alert with his surroundings, and despite his general anxiety that surrounded the impending discussion, he still felt as sure as he could about going through with it. He knew more things now about this man who had called himself Artem. The man that slowly integrated himself into his life, the one who sent him into a frenzy, the one who somehow had charmed him enough to reconsider the aspect of spending more time together, wasn’t the man he had expected at all.
In truth, while he didn’t know what to expect going forward, he found that his thoughts were working overtime. The one thought that plagued him in particular, unsettled him beyond belief. If this man existed at the estate, it meant the real Artem was out elsewhere, lurking and doing only God knew what. He shivered at the thought, feeling empathy for anyone who had the misfortune of having to be near him. A part of him was still naive enough however to wonder if perhaps the actual Artem had changed, it wasn’t too far-fetched to think as stranger things had occurred. But the logic part of him knew after what he had ended up overhearing in the man’s conversation with Chris in town, that same feeling of dread he used to feel surfaced. That dread now lived somewhere in Bohemia, the quaint town that the man would often disappear to.
He grabbed for his robe and made his way towards the edge of his balcony, staring off to the horizon and allowed fresh air to completely fill up his lungs. Despite his general anxieties, Yuuri had made up his mind the moment he returned to the estate with the answers he had been seeking, and he knew there was only one thing left that needed to be resolved and to be known. He needed to ask the man just who he was, because Yuuri wanted to ease his mind, he wanted to know who he had foolishly fallen for. He wanted to know who had him by his heart and his soul.
Before he would get to the titular walk in the garden that he had proposed to the man the previous night, he was startled by a knock at his chamber door, where a housemaiden let herself in to give him a note from his “dear husband”. It signified that the meeting would be deferred as the man had gone off into town once more. The man stated in the same note that he would return just as the sun peaked high in the sky. The tone Yuuri could pick up from his words were light and playful, and he encouraged Yuuri to wait for him in their usual sitting area, he would absolutely come to him, he wouldn’t miss it for the world. Yuuri folded the note and placed it on his nightstand with a whimsical sigh, he felt smitten.
Dawn had barely broken over which meant it would be hours then until the meeting, and with that added time, it meant his nerves would naturally begin unravel at the thought of having to wait so long. How would he go forward to ask in a way that did not make the man feel completely alienated? How long had the man intended to keep his true identity a secret? The questions continued to grow the longer Yuuri sat with his nerves and unraveling anxieties. This would change the course of everything, but the part that stuck with him the hardest was the fact that he would essentially be confessing to someone for the first time just how he felt.
The other troublesome part though, would be dealing with the switch. If the man confessed to it, if he confirmed that somehow he had managed to switch places with Artem, and if the switch ever came out to anyone else that wasn’t him, Yuuri knew the man would be condemned for it. A part of him shook at the thought because Yuuri felt like he never wanted this man to be taken away. Logically, he knew luck wouldn’t be on their side forever, but he desperately hoped for it. For the first time in his life, Yuuri found someone he wanted to protect and he needed him to know that.
Eventually Yuuri got dressed for the day, choosing his outfits color scheme to be a dusty pale blue with a golden trimming. The soft blue color reminded him of the man’s eyes, his longing to be done with the task grew tenfold. As he walked down the corridors aimlessly, and looked at the overall atmosphere that surrounded the estate, he realized it was a far cry away from the reality of his nightmares where he saw nothing but fire and soot. The vision he saw in front of him now was a unified beyond compare, a feeling he’d never experienced at the Feltsman estate before. The harmony that traveled from person to person appeared like a scene he had read over and over again in his favorite tales about a land where nothing ever went wrong because everything was as it was meant to be. The man who returned to the estate did that, he had made those changes, he managed to make the overall atmosphere lighter, warmer, and everyone who had been subjected to it was better for it.
Yuuri found he wanted to thank him for that too.
The closer he approached the threshold between the dining area and the entrance to the courtyard, he soon made out the silhouettes of Yakov and Lilia taking a stroll. Lilia had always had a certain warmth about her, but Yakov never faltered away from his stern expressions which only grew more as Artem defied him in his youth. Now however, Yakov finally looked like he was able to relax, and all because the man that he thought was his son had taken on everything he had always hoped he would with dignity and class.
“Mother, father!” Yuri’s voice rang out.
Yuuri watched as the younger Feltsman came running straight towards the Marquess and Marchioness to show off his latest patterned designs on his clothing. Yuri had always been partial to strong animals, loving the tiger the best, so much so that he wanted his clothing to emulate the power of a tiger whether it was painting stripes or having the maidens sew little tiger heads where his pocket squares should have been. But today, he had presented a full blown blouse with the threading of a tigers head on it.
Yakov looked as if he was about to reprimand him until he said a statement that shocked even Lilia. “Did you have a maiden sew that up for you, or is it your own doing? Because it’s very nice.” He said, voice soft but gruff in the same token.
Yuri’s green eyes sparkled at the compliment before he nodded profusely, “After my studies with Lord Yuuri the other day, I went to one of the seamstresses and she showed me how!”
Yakov laughed as he rushed his hand through the boy’s blonde hair, rustling through the tendrils. “Just don’t do this to every single piece of your clothing my boy, you’ll give your mother here a heart attack.
Lilia sighed, even as she rushed her hands through the tigers head pattern, “I suppose I can get you more shirts to practice on. However, if you do this to your petticoats, you won’t be allowed to train under Artem for weaponry combat, do you understand?”
“Weaponry combat?” Yuri questioned breathlessly, his eyes pooling up with overwhelming delight. “Yes mother!”
He embraced his parents, and the three of them continued down the pathway together away from the threshold that Yuuri was fast approaching. He felt a strange pulling sensation ebbing away at his heart. In all of his years being with the Feltsman’s he’d never felt this strong of a sense of family unity before. Of course, they had their own version that they showed to esteemed guests but because of how troublesome Artem had been growing up, it crumbled the moment they were gone. No amount of discipline would be enough to try to dissuade him away from his stubborn faults, and so they remained complicit to his actions until finally he went off to the war and they finally found their voices again to take back control. Many wondered why they hadn’t chosen to threaten Artem with an ultimatum that involved taking his title from him completely. However, they didn’t dare try to entertain that until the younger Feltsman came into the picture. Despite that however, they held onto hope that Artem would someday change and be the man they had always wanted him to be.
He wondered would it break them entirely to know that the current reality they thought they were living was just one of many more facades they had to upkeep for years?
Yuuri stopped in his tracks and clenched his hands into fists. By having this meeting with the man today, he had to face another layer of deceit. He would in theory be actively keeping this secret from Yakov, Lila, and even Yuri, though the boy was already perceptive about what was occurring. Would he have the heart to confirm to him he was right? Would he have to courage to see it through? He didn’t hold any animosity in his heart for them at all, if anything he had been grateful especially to Yakov and Lilia for allowing him into their family even after Artem never wanted to accept his presence in it. Could he defy them? Was it considered defying them? More importantly, could he go forward with bringing that same deceit to his own family who had agreed to have him placed with the Feltsman’s to begin with? It was then that Yuuri became grateful for the hours that were left between his meeting with the man. There were so many angles he still hadn’t come to terms with just yet, and he wanted the chance to work through it himself.
And so Yuuri disappeared to the library to contemplate the rest of the questions that came to surface. He found that no matter how the scenario played out, his curiosity had peaked past the point of return. His heart had become much fuller than he ever remembered. So full that he wasn’t sure how to proceed with releasing his feelings because he’d never gone through it before. He further acknowledged that if he was going to be honest with himself, it felt thrilling to know that he had the ability to keep a secret. A secret that he concluded he would do his best to protect to feel the way he did now. He wondered if love always had made one abandon all rhyme and reason so easily?
When it came high time to face what he had been anxiously waiting for, Yuuri held his head high with his heart metaphorically sewed onto his sleeve. Something Yuuri loved about the Feltsman’s estate was the beautiful floral garden that they had watered and tended to for nearly decades. Lilia curated most of it and Yuuri had always remembered how much he enjoyed hiding away in the little pockets of bushes and flower havens she had created. There was a maze that had recently been set up that led to an extremely beautiful field, but Yuuri wouldn’t be navigating through that just yet. For today, he sat diligently on the oversized granite bench that rested underneath a cool shade right outside one of the many troves that lead to bushels of florals. With a book in his hand, he focused on the words and read fervently until he felt a light tug from the top until the book was out of his hands entirely.
“What are you reading today, dear husband?” The man said as he flipped through the pages, being sure not to lose Yuuri’s place in the process.
With a startled blush, Yuuri cleared his throat and replied, “The Tale of Tristan & Isolde,” As he rose up for the bench he continued, “I wasn’t expecting you so early.”
Yuuri peered out and away from the shade and saw that the sun had barely peaked to the highest point, but it soon would get there, depending on how slow they walked. He noted that as much as he wanted to quickly plow through the paths of the garden, his legs suddenly felt like lead. But that feeling soon eased up as Yuuri focused on the brilliant smile that graced the man’s lips.
The man gently placed the book back into Yuuri’s hands and chuckled, “I managed to get out of my meeting in town sooner, and on top of that, I’ve cleared out my duties for the rest of my day.”
Yuuri perked up, his heart beating even more frantically by the second, “So then that means…”
“You’ve got me for however long you need, even if you’d like, until I have to walk you back to your room.” The man answered with a wink.
Yuuri looked down to the ground bashfully, absolutely wanting that outcome, but a small part of him feared it wouldn’t happen after the confrontation. He placed the book down on the granite bench and peered over to find that the man had stretched out a lithe and pale hand towards him. His eyes were bright with the hope that he would take his hand, and of course Yuuri obliged. The strong tilt of his palm within his own was something he mentally preserved in his mind. He couldn’t help himself as he relished in the fact that he finally knew what it felt like to hold onto someone you adored.
“If I lead, will you follow?” Yuuri asked softly.
“I’d follow you anywhere,” The man replied with a heart-warming smile.
The two men proceeded to walk through a steady pathway, passing bushel after bushel of flowers in various stages of bloom. Some had fully bloomed with beautiful centers and delicate petals, others were mid bloom, and a very scarce few had barely budged open staying in their bulbous state. He stared at each of the flowers in their varying colors and wondered who would be out to cut the ones that wouldn’t bloom for the season. Despite how the seasons changed and no matter the storms that came and went, the garden stood in all of its breathtaking glory, so much so that he always felt like he was in a dream-like state, and Yuuri was glad he could share the space with the man beside him.
In the hours before he appeared, Yuuri strengthened his resolution. First and foremost, he would complete the task of knowing who this man truly was by the end of the day. Whatever followed after, he resolved to handle as it came. As much as he knew it would be deviously deceptive to the ones he cared about, he found that the overwhelming need to be selfish for once in his life was strong. He felt entitled to have and cherish that feeling because it hit him like a downpour of rain when the day was particularly sunny just moments ago. He wanted to keep this secret, he wanted to keep this man if he’d have him. He wanted to have something to himself and while a part of him would always feel remorseful for keeping it away from the Feltsman’s and his own family, he knew at the end of the day, or perhaps he hoped anyway, that they would forgive him. No matter how he played out the scenario, he believed that would be true with whatever outcome came into fruition.
To ease his nerves, Yuuri squeezed the man’s hand and asked him, “Won’t you tell me about your morning?”
The man obliged and proceeded to talk about a task he was involved with. It included getting supplies to a local vendor in the area. The vendor had had a hardship due to a small case of arson, the perpetrator was never caught, but due to the overwhelming sense of community many pitched in to get the vendor afloat once again. Yuuri listened intently as they continued to walk throughout the garden and found himself subtly watching his posture and mannerisms. When the man spoke about the events, he heard the honest twinge of wonder and amazement in his tone. He didn’t slouch, he didn’t scowl, and that same lightness in his eyes that alarmed him before, now began to fill him with hope. When their eyes met for a longer stretch of time, Yuuri realized that before he hadn’t been good at maintaining eye contact, but now the only reason he had to look away merely was because he didn’t trust himself not to draw any closer because he desperately wanted to.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost, granted it’s the first time I’ve seen that expression with a smile and a glorious blush. Pray tell, what are you thinking?” The man asked curiously.
Where did he even start? After he had followed him into town and clearly heard him speaking to Chris about Artem, Yuuri realized he would have to atone for that misstep to the man before him. He wondered if he would forgive him for it, or if they would be doomed moments after he finally sought out the answers he had been dying for. But Yuuri knew that this automatic feeling of dread would be something he had to learn to shake off, because this man was a true unknown, but he felt that he knew him well enough to know that he wouldn’t dare react in the way that his former husband would have. Yuuri felt grateful for just a moment for that saving grace, with Artem truly not being here in this moment, there was someone even better in his place.
Yuuri gently withdrew his hand from the man’s before him. They stopped directly in front of one of the floral murals that Lilia had cultivated over the years. All of the flowers on the mural seemed to be mostly in bloom, with every hue imaginable present. He clutched onto the ends of his sleeves, bringing the material up and gently grazed a line against the fabric. Yuuri felt his cheeks warming up, the heat even travelled closer to the tips of his ears. He knew what he wanted to know, whatever came after he’d have to adapt and navigate around. Yuuri knew that he had the skills to do that, it was now or never.
“Who are you?” Yuuri whispered. His voice didn’t crack, he was clear, he was concise. He was officially crossing into the territory that still caused him ‘bouts of fear, for completely different reasons.
For a moment, Yuuri felt like he couldn’t breathe. He watched as the man before him slowly calculated his next statement, if there was a flicker of a doubt of what to say, he knew how to recover and quickly. His smile never faltered and Yuuri expected his blue eyes to darken, but instead somehow they grew softer than ever before.
“Did you hit your head this morning?” He tried to joke as he placed a careful hand against his cheek. “I’m Artem, of course.”
Yuuri felt a pit of doubt and embarrassment rising in his stomach but he had to push the limits even further. He knew this man was not Artem, he knew if he had asked Artem that same question years ago it would have been met with poking and prodding, with an absolute meltdown to follow because how dare Yuuri not know exactly who he was speaking to? This was a calmer and gentler approach, this was not Artem’s way. Yuuri shook his head and clutched onto the sleeve of the man in front of him. He immediately saw the look of surprise flash over his facial features.
“You don’t…” Yuuri began. “You don’t have to keep this a secret anymore. I won’t…”
“What secret Yuuri?” The man asked incredulously.
“About who you truly are because I know you are not Artem.” Yuuri said with conviction and without hesitation.
When Yuuri peered over at the man, he could see his eyes glimmering. It was the first time he had ever seen fear on his face. He didn’t want the man to fear him however, because there was nothing horrible that was going to happen, there would be nothing to fear, quite the opposite. Soon enough, Yuuri could tell the man was coming to the realize that there were no other ways for him to try to get himself out of the predicament. The more time that passed, the resolve came clearer across his face, he was found out. His hands shook as he gently took Yuuri’s in his, and his eyes widened when he found that Yuuri still clasped onto him. Yuuri figured he had rendered him officially speechless.
“What is your true name? I want to know.” Yuuri said.
The man’s eyes flickered into something indiscernible while still holding some ounces of fear. Fear of what, Yuuri could only imagine. He knew he had every right to storm back into the estate, to alert the Marquess and Marchioness that this man was not their blood born son. This man who had uprooted their lives in the best possible way somehow was an eerie carbon copy, from where Yuuri didn’t think he’d ever understand or know. But what he did understand was, this man was still the one he wanted to stay.
“You’ve found out then,” The man uttered, his eyes quickly averted Yuuri’s intense gaze. “I-I can explain.”
“A name,” Yuuri pressed on, “Please.”
Yuuri kept his focus on the way his hands shook within his own. The best he could do was gently graze his thumb against the lining of his palms. How could he assure him further that whatever he told him next he wouldn’t dare tell a soul? It took a few more moments before the man mustered up the courage to say the name of the one who had changed Yuuri’s life for the better.
“Viktor,” He replied. “Viktor Nikiforov.”
How was the man’s name even more devastatingly beautiful than the man himself? Yuuri slowly exhaled and nodded as he took the information in. Viktor, his name was Viktor. Viktor carefully squeezed Yuuri’s hands as he returned the sentiment and exhaled even further out. He seemed bewildered for uttering his own name after all of this time. Then the same fear and worry crossed over his delicate features, Yuuri felt his heart panging from the ache he felt, he didn’t want him to feel this way anymore.
“Viktor…” Yuuri repeated, “I like your name.” And he really loved him.
The moment Yuuri said his true name, he watched Viktor closely as he began to relax. His hands gradually stopped shaking like the branches of a willow tree between his palms, and he couldn’t deny what he saw spreading across his face. Viktor blushed a beautiful light red as soon as Yuuri had confirmed that he liked his name. His eyes still carried fear, but they were gentle, they were hopeful. They showed to Yuuri that he was trying his best as well to navigate around this deeply jarring conversation.
“How long have you known?” Viktor asked.
“Since last night,” Yuuri began. “I- I might have done some snooping around.”
“Typical for an intelligent thinker like you. I’m just surprised it took you this long.” He said, voice wavering slightly. “I’m sorry you had to find out in whatever way you did. I should have told you directly.”
Yuuri shook his head, before taking a closer step towards the man. “I can’t say I’m aware of how much you’ve carried on your shoulders, but I’m hoping you can finally ease your burdens now. I know who you are now.” And he wanted him forever.
Viktor registered the thought and a sad smile crossed his lips. “You know me as someone who’s betrayed you deeply for weeks, I’m afraid. It wasn’t my intention, and I’ve been torn up about. I don’t expect you to forgive me for it, but I--”
Viktor stopped short and had to take another moment to breathe. His eyes continued to shimmer, and Yuuri’s only solution at the moment was making sure he never let his gaze falter or ever let go of his hands. Yuuri didn’t feel an ounce of betrayed, if anything his curiosity of how this all occurred was what was at the forefront. And then the ultimate question that bubbled up inside of him was next to come forward, as uncomfortable as he figured the topic would be, he knew it was necessary information to know.
“Where’s Artem?” Yuuri asked.
A small chuckle escaped Viktor’s lips and he shrugged. “It depends on the day. He’s truly taken life in Bohemia to a new realm.”
“Has he been the one you’ve been seeing all this time?” Yuuri inquired.
“If he feels safe enough to be there, yes. If not he usually sends the girl with the raven hair.”
It was a lot of information to take in, but Yuuri was grateful for Viktor’s willingness to put everything out in the open. He steadied himself as he focused on feeling the way the ground curved against the sole of his boots. He processed the fact that Artem’s wasn’t far away at all, and he truly did lurk around in parts unknown. But if Viktor was seeing him for the past few months with satchels and there was missing money from the depository, that meant unfortunately some things never changed about the true Artem.
“Is he the one asking for the money?” Yuuri whispered.
Viktor nodded as he finally withdrew his hands away from Yuuri’s. He carefully grazed a hand behind his neck as his gaze casted down to the ground. “Yes, he has been trying to blackmail me unless I can get him what he calls “his allowance.” To him, I’m on borrowed time, which is something I’ve already come to terms with. When he beckons, I go to him. I give him what he wants. Then I deal with the consequences here. Thankfully the Marquess and Marchioness believe that it’s going to goodwill. I only wish it was.”
“Do you see him every time you go into town?” Yuuri asked.
“Just every time I get a letter and always at the last day of the month. Any other time I’m going into town I’m … I’m seeing my family.” Yuuri’s eyebrow raised slightly which Viktor caught onto immediately. “I mean not like that kind of family, I have brothers and sisters. Not biological, we’re all orphaned. I m-mean.”
“Viktor,” Yuuri said as he tried his best to stifle back a fit of laughter. “Are you flustered?”
Yuuri, thoroughly amused, found that his new favorite sight was watching Viktor as he lurched forward in surprise every time he said his name. Even if he’d never outwardly admit it, Yuuri knew he had the ability to fluster him. Riding the momentum, Yuuri felt brave enough to place a careful hand on his right cheek. He felt the soft terrain of his skin, the heat that emulated from his cheekbones, and he knew that the time to not get any closer to him was drawing closer and closer to the boundaries of impossible.
“I-” Viktor began, his breath slightly ragged. “No matter what happens, I want you to know, that all of this was worth it, to feel what I do now. I never knew my name would sound as glorious as it does coming out of your mouth.”
Yuuri felt his heart racing rapidly as it pounded against his chest. “What is it that you feel?” He questioned.
Another beat of silence passed as the winds softly began to trickle over them in the space. Viktor raised a hand to rest over Yuuri’s. “Do you need me to spell it out for you?” He replied.
“Just for confirmation, even if it’s bad.” Yuuri mumbled sheepishly.
Despite how much closer they had become, Yuuri knew that the man before him had power too. He had the power to destroy him in different ways that would make his heart break in ways he had only ever read about in his favorite stories. He wondered if Viktor was able to sense that, especially with what he followed up with.
“It’d never be bad Yuuri, because I’ve loved you all of this time.”
As the words left Viktor’s lips, Yuuri stared up at him with wide eyes. He didn’t know if he wanted to cry, to yell, but the panging continued tenfold. Viktor loved him and for once he finally was on the same page with someone who cared deeply for him. As much as his anxieties wanted to question it, just hearing that confirmation was more than enough for the moment.
“Won’t you tell me everything then?”
Viktor obliged, his posture becoming more and more relaxed, despite the subject matter he would have to dredge up. Yuuri listened intently as he recalled how he had landed at the Feltsman’s estate taking on Artem’s guise.
“I was an orphan, and well, I’ve still never found out who I truly am. For the majority of my life, I went down countless paths hoping to find an answer. I only know I was abandoned on church steps, taken in home to home. I never had anywhere concrete to stay, at some point I found that I drifted in and out of towns. Sometimes I’d even be stranded in certain ones for weeks at a time but I’d always have to leave.” Viktor said, voice soft and reminiscent. “I’ve seen so much of the world, but never really appreciated it because something always felt like it was missing. I wanted something bigger than the lowly identity I had. I could perform any tasks, I could be the best at whatever it was, but my status as an unknown drifter plagued me. Then when I found a family of friends who were just as lost as I was, it became clearer to me that I wanted to bring them and myself something that we’ve never had before. All of us were aching and searching for stability, because eventually you just get tired of not knowing where to tether yourself to. Having the chance of having that was something Artem proposed to give to me, in exchange for switching places with him.”
Yuuri felt a dull ache pound into his heart once again. Viktor being a drifter, travelling aimlessly around the world, and yet somehow a strange fate had his path cross with Yuuri’s and he couldn’t help but feel grateful for it. He also wondered if Chris and Phichit were in that found family Viktor had mentioned, but then he recalled that Viktor said he had sisters as well. Were there more of them in that tiny inn in the village? He knew there would be time to get the rest of that information, for now he was enraptured by the tale that Viktor had to weave.
“Artem climbed up the ladder in rank during the war. He seemed resilient but very ill-tempered so I’m not sure how much of the rank was actually learned rather than given to him. He really liked to bark orders and make things wholly miserable for anyone who didn’t see eye to eye with him. We never interacted up close and personally until the end of the first year. ” Viktor’s voice went lower than before as he recalled the next bit. “I was temporarily injured and when they brought me back to try to heal, he was furious about it. He wanted me to continue to fight no matter the cost, but he stopped because I guess once he saw me, he saw opportunity. When you washed away all the blood and the soot from the gunpowder away from my face, you could say it was like looking into a mirror.”
That was an understatement, especially to Yuuri now who studied his expressions carefully, being mindful not to callously reach out and touch his features-- his jawline, his eyebrows, his cheekbones, the supple plumpness of his lips. He looked like Artem, but the softest version of him, a version he never thought he’d ever get to see. Yuuri couldn’t help but wonder if Artem at one point felt appalled about Viktor, but he soon he would learn he had quite the opposite response, Artem would be delighted.
“One night, when the brigade was laying low, Artem requested for me to be brought into his private station. I still hadn’t healed up 100% and I was worried he was going to send me back and away from the war, before I had a chance to make something of myself. Instead though, he demanded to know just who I was and how was it that we shared the same face. And honestly I’d like to know that answer as well.”
“He didn’t harm you further?” Yuuri questioned.
“No, though he had ideas of trying to put scars on me to replicate his own once he went mad with the idea of switching places.” Viktor replied. The thought sent a shiver down Yuuri’s spine. It wasn’t surprising to him in the slightest, but he couldn’t imagine what Viktor must have felt as he tried to persuade him otherwise. “Don’t worry though, I told him it wouldn’t make a difference, who would ever look that closely?”
Yuuri’s mind immediately flashed to Anya, and perhaps a few housemaidens who were in charge of preparing Artem’s bath for him, but even then, as far as he knew the only scar Artem had that was prominent on him was a faded line against his thigh from an accident he had when he was little.
“What happened after he settled onto the fact that you’re...well identical?” Yuuri whispered. “And why didn’t anyone else in the group say anything of it?”
Viktor looked down to his hands, and continued, “I usually had something obstructing full view of my face. The men there were none the wiser. He made me the offer to have stability for myself and my family. He said that I could have his title. Be someone of value for once.”
But Viktor was already someone of value, beyond Yuuri’s wildest dreams. At that moment, the uneasiness he felt about Artem turned into a visceral anger. If the estate had had someone like Viktor from the very beginning, all the years Yuuri had spent miserable and on his toes would never have existed. However, the realization that had the switch never occurred, it meant it was less likely for them to have crossed paths. Yuuri stood bewildered again about the way fate had played this scenario into his hands. There was nothing that could be done, though Artem’s words unsurprisingly remained spiteful, Yuuri had to learn to let it go.
“You took his place here then, after the offer.” Yuuri said more as a statement rather than a question.
Viktor nodded, a breathy chuckle escaped his throat. “At the time it felt like a gift, someone who looked exactly like me who wanted to switch places and he happened to have the stature to boot. But I was curious about why he was so willing, especially with the life he described here. I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth would he ever want to be rid of the life he had, and he said he didn’t want to return to the trials and tribulations of his upbringing. He was tired of feeling caged. He said his life was constantly being tailored in a way that made him feel out of control, even as far as being forced to marry someone who disgusted him.”
Yuuri nodded and found he hadn’t flinched or felt harmed by Artem’s harsh words. He had said such careless and harmful things to him when he wasn’t avoiding him for so many years, all about how much he detested him, how he was a pig, how he was just a pawn in a bigger game, that it became second nature. Yuuri used to feel like the malicious words defined him, but when Artem had gone to war, he had the space and tried his best not to let his opinion define his worth. With being the intelligent scholar he was, with being the kindred heart that at least the other servants and even the Marquess and Marchioness were fond of, he knew what he had to offer. Without realizing it, Yuuri failed to see where Viktor had removed the small golden locket he had been fixated on.
He dangled the piece in front of Yuuri and with a warmth smile said, “I asked him to show me just who it was that he found so disgusting. I had to happily disagree with him, when I told him I would have been happy if that were my fate to be married, well...to you.”
Yuuri hesitantly opened up his hand as Viktor placed the familiar locket in his hands. He curiously opened up the piece and found that within the confines was indeed a picture, but the subject alarmed him. He found he was staring right back at himself. The picture was of Yuuri from so many years ago, his cheeks appeared fuller and there was a slight smile on his lips. In all honesty, Yuuri felt he looked dumbfounded, and then he grew hyper aware that this picture of him did not match up to the way he looked currently after taking the initiative to shed off the extra fullness of him. It was then Yuuri’s turn for his hands to shake as he stared at the contents in disbelief. All of this time he had believed it was someone else, but truly it was him. Viktor had carried this particular locket around for years. When he stared at the contents months ago with such a fond smile, he was looking at him, not anyone else.
“Why?” Yuuri asked softly.
“Hmm?” Viktor replied.
Yuuri looked over at Viktor, feeling his throat getting coarser from the overwhelming emotions he didn’t quite know how to handle. Could he cry now? Laugh some more? Instead Yuuri settled on being completely gobsmacked.
“Why was this enough for you to choose me?”
The warmth of Viktor’s smile resonated over to Yuuri, he gently took the locket back and carefully secured it in a secret pocket within his coat. Viktor drew Yuuri’s hands into his own and kissed the topped of his knuckles as he had done for weeks. Yuuri wondered if it was from finally being free from the burden of carrying such a secret, but he could see the fear had almost completely washed away. He wondered if Viktor felt as free as he did now knowing there was nothing left to hide.
“I’ve told you I’ve always been seeking a place to tether myself. I never knew how to find that, I thought it was all just senseless fodder, that it couldn’t happen to someone like me. Then when I arrived at the estate, when I saw you for the very first time, I knew that having you as my motivation to make it out of the war alive, to go through with the plan, to switch with Artem, it was worth it. You were worth it, you still are.” Viktor murmured, a blush formed even deeper on the lining of his cheekbones.
“How could you feel that way? I can’t imagine Artem ever had anything pleasant to say about me.” Yuuri murmured.
“Even with Artem going about how you were a nuisance to him, I begged him to tell me more stories about you, what I wasn’t prepared for was just how much more past expectations you would go. He never painted a great picture about you, but what he found annoying I found endearing.”
Yuuri felt his heart beating faster at the notion. He processed the fact that Viktor, who had nothing to lose, who had barely known him, who only had word of mouth to go by, still took that leap of faith to be with him. He took in a deep breath to stop the tears that wanted to fall. He felt visibly seen and vulnerable in a new way.
“Viktor…” Yuuri started, his voice filled with complex emotion.
“I am more than aware that this is a lot to take in. But everything I’ve told you up to this point, including my feelings, it’s all true. However I ask of you to not let my own feelings override yours, Yuuri. I know you’re a man of loyalty, and I know you will always do the right thing.” Viktor began. “That being said, I understand if you need to report me to the Marquess and Marchioness. I honestly wouldn’t blame you. But for what it’s worth, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. To be with you, and being by your side Yuu-”
Before he could finish, Yuuri mustered the courage to let go of his inhibitions and finally closed the distance off between them. He could not handle having the space between them be inches apart any longer. He could not handle every spark of emotion that coursed through his veins at this moment. Encased in the beautiful flower garden where flowers of various states of bloom were directly behind them, he captured Viktor’s face in his hands and crashed his lips against his. He moved in a way that was gentle, calming, and possessive. The kiss was Yuuri’s way to convey to the best of his ability what he was feeling. He only hoped that Viktor would completely understand.
As they pulled apart, Viktor stared at him with a new alertness in his expression. Yuuri felt his breath graze against his lips until he was pulled in once again. Their lips moved in a languid manner, Viktor weaved a careful hand up to rest against the lining of Yuuri’s neck. The taste of him was sweeter than anything he could have dreamed of, he sighed in content. In the beautiful place that always felt like a dream to be in, Yuuri felt like had had finally lived out a dream he desperately wanted to be true for years. He had kissed the man he was falling for, the man he knew loved him without a shadow of a doubt. Pulling apart again, Viktor rested his forehead against Yuuri’s, the tendrils of his silver hair tickling him around his temples down to his cheekbones.
“Have you any idea how long I’ve waited to do that?” Viktor whispered.
“I bet it wouldn’t beat my own time.” Yuuri challenged playfully.
Viktor raised a slight eyebrow intrigued, “How long have you waited?”
“My entire life.” Yuuri prompted without hesitation.
Yuuri felt Viktor’s hand brace him carefully on his shoulders as he pushed him slightly backward to get a good look at his face. Yuuri blushed, his lips still stinging from the power of their kiss. They stayed silent for a few breaths before Viktor cupped his face in his hands, a look of utter longing and love in his eyes. It was a look that Yuuri couldn’t deny that he wouldn’t mind be stared at in that manner for the rest of his days.
“You’re aware of what this means then, don’t you?” Viktor asked. Yuuri nodded in response while turning his head to place a subtle kiss against the palms of his hands.
“You’re gentle.” Yuuri said softly, nuzzling further into his touch.
He hoped the affection would make it clearer that his decision had been made. Viktor would not be reported to the Feltsman’s, because Yuuri couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from him from that day forward because Yuuri had chosen him. In Yuuri’s mind, Viktor was his rightful husband, the one who eliminated any fear or doubt in his heart, the one who looked at him as if his body were filled with stars, the one who gave him a safe place to land and rest at ease. Someone who made him feel worthy of being loved.
With a content sigh, Viktor could only laugh before he said, “I will protect you with my life. Never will you have to doubt what I feel for you, what your worth is, because you are everything to me.”
Yuuri brought up a handle to rest at the back of Viktor’s head, his fingers finding solace in the strands of his hair. He wanted him closer once again, to feel the soft pliance of his lips against his own. Words were always Yuuri’s forte’ but Viktor was a serious competitor that threatened to draw even more breath out of him. It felt amazing knowing he believed every word Viktor spoke to him. It felt like he could finally let go of the awful feelings of doubt, he could store away his anxieties for another day, because with Viktor by his side it was possible.
With Viktor by his side, he was prepared to storm the worst of it all. From that day forward, Yuuri acknowledged Viktor as his husband, and for all Yuuri cared, Artem was free to rot in Hell.