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Vicchan loved Yuuri’s new apartment in St. Petersburg. It was warm, spacious, and already smelled like a loving mix of the place’s three inhabitants. Victor — Makkachin’s Victor — had taken every step to ensure that Yuuri would feel at home, and that included the little shelf that had been made into a shrine just for him. There, Yuuri placed his favorite chew toy and a framed copy of their first photo together.

It was a neat little trick to the afterlife, he thought, being able to hop from one place to another as long as your photo was placed in a shrine. It allowed Vicchan to visit any of his favorite people whenever he wanted — Yuuri and Victor, his family, even Yuuko and Nishigori at Ice Castle. Sometimes, he wished that it worked for any picture anywhere, but he supposed that it was only fair. After all, as far as his Yuuri knew, Vicchan had been gone a long time ago.

Vicchan often wished he could have hung on just a little longer for his Yuuri. The separation had hurt them both, but only Vicchan could see Yuuri smiling and hear his voice again. Only Vicchan could feel Yuuri’s touch when he curled up next to him. Only Vicchan knew that he was still there for his Yuuri.

A cheerful bark, bigger and louder than his ever was, snapped him out of his reverie. He yipped as Makkachin padded over to him, tail wagging. He stood corrected; there was at least someone in the living world who knew he was there.

Makkachin boofed a second time, raising her paws up to his shrine and smiling. Vicchan was more than happy to nuzzle her in greeting. She craned her neck and picked him up by the scruff, then gently set him down on the ground. He was a grown up ghost dog, more than capable of leaping down on his own, but Makkachin always insisted on treating him like a puppy. He didn’t mind, really. It was nice being carried again.

“Are you staying the night?” she asked, wiggling in place.

Unlike Hasetsu, Makkachin couldn’t come and go around the building as she pleased, even with her perfect behavior. She occasionally played with other dogs in the park when she was taken out, but that was nothing compared to the attention she received from the Katsukis and their customers. Yuuri and Victor could only stay with her for so long before they had to leave for training. So a visit from him was just the thing to lift her spirits.

“All night,” he drawled, “and maybe even ‘til tomorrow! You’re going to Potya’s in the afternoon, right?”

Yuuri would be competing again soon. According to Mama Katsuki, he and Victor would be getting on the plane to France tomorrow evening. Angry, hissy Yurio wouldn’t be joining them, so he would watch Makkachin in the meantime. Vicchan sorely wished he could come along;  he liked Potya, despite the cat spending most of her time glaring at him.

A soft click had both poodles turning toward the front door just in time to spot a familiar head of silver peak through. Makkachin’s Victor awwed and cooed as she bounced around him in greeting while Vicchan trailed behind her, unseen. He watched as he spoke to her, asking her if she had been a good girl in his absence and rewarding her with belly rubs when she barked in affirmation.

Vicchan really liked Victor — he had from the moment he arrived at the onsen with Makkachin in tow. He was a soft, sappy goofball with a heart bigger than all of Russia. And if Makkachin was to be believed, then he gave belly rubs on par with Yuuri. By his sudden appearance, Vicchan supposed it was time for Makkachin to go on her afternoon walk.

“I’ll be quick, I promise,” she chirped, nosing at him affectionately. “Then we can play!”

Victor chuckled, likely amused at his poodle barking at thin air. He ruffled her ears gently and smiled. “Are you saying goodbye to Vicchan, girl? I promise we won’t take too long.”

That was another thing he liked about Victor, he understood. While he couldn’t see or feel him, he truly believed that Vicchan was there. Months ago, he had come to visit his shrine after Makkachin’s accident. Victor knelt by his picture and thanked him for saving her then, as if he knew he had been the one to draw Mari’s attention. He promised to take care of Yuuri before leaving Japan, and welcomed him to their home upon setting up the shrine. And, like he always did when he took Makkachin out on her walks, he bade him farewell as they left.

Left with no one to talk to, Vicchan decided to explore the apartment. When Yuuri first put his picture up on the shelf, the living room had been empty. Victor had always been organized, but his lack of time living in the apartment showed — books in neat rows, a single set of utensils tucked away with spotless plates, personal belongings in neat rows on shelves, just enough food in the fridge and cabinets until the next regularly scheduled grocery run, and Makkachin’s playthings in their little corner.

Months later, the apartment was still as pristine ever. Yuuri’s gaming systems stood under the television, installed and ready to be played. One of Mari’s hand-knitted blankets draped over the back of the couch, now accented with bright cushions that Phichit had sent over — Yuuri’s half of the outrageously cheap set they fought for one Black Friday. Textbooks and manga intermingled with novels, and a hoard of external hard drives joined the DVD cabinet. Photos lined the tops of drawers, pictures taken in Hasetsu and from old photo albums and secretly sentimental coaches. Makkachin’s toys were were still scattered in the corner, with Vicchan’s shrine close by.

It didn’t take long for Makkachin and Vicchan to return, the latter with his phone held between his cheek and shoulder. Makkachin padded over to him after getting her paws wiped.

“Yakov made Yuuri go home,” she explained. “He called Victor to make sure he actually does.”

Vicchan had only ever seen Yakov Feltsman a handful of times in the past few months. He was gruff and cranky, and glared at Victor with an almost perpetual look of frustration. He lived with his ex-wife and invited Victor and Yuuri over to their home once a month of dinner. He fed Makkachin treats when he thought no one was looking, and was responsible for buying half her toy collection. He was also the only person who could convince Yuuri to go home at a reasonable hour.

It helped that he had the absolute power to ban anyone from the rink, gym, and studio.

Yuuri arrived not much later, arms laden with overstuffed grocery bags. Yakov’s most successful way to convince him to leave was to shove perishable food his way, the suddenness of it preventing Yuuri from protesting too much. The three of them waited by the door, ready to welcome Yuuri home and relieve him of his burden. Victor pecked him on the cheek and took the brown bags, while he and Makkachin circled Yuuri as he slipped his shoes off at the entrance. It only hurt a little when Yuuri only responded to the bigger dog’s nuzzling.

Yuuri stood and divested himself of his coat and scarf. “I’ll just change real quick. Do you want to get started?”

Victor pecked him on the other cheek, heart-shaped smile stuck on his smitten face. “Let’s see what Yakov has us making today. The last meal made me question his taste.”

“The recipe said a pinch of salt,” Yuuri snorted.

Victor rolled his eyes, “No, it suggested a pinch, it said salt to taste .”

Yuuri swatted him fondly before leaving them for the bedroom. Victor blew him a final kiss before sauntering over to the kitchen, pausing briefly to coo at Makkachin to behave. The larger poodle took offense to this apparently, as she huffed in response.

“I always behave,” she pouted, “I have no idea what he’s talking about.”

Vicchan would have laughed, but a sudden wave of sadness had him looking down at the hardwood floors. He knew how it would go: Yuuri would emerge from their room dressed in sweatpants and the striped shirt he’d stolen from Victor a few months ago. (It was among his favorite swiped clothing and he wore it as often as he could.) Makkachin would pad over to him and use her shiniest puppy dog eyes to convince him to give her belly rubs — something Yuuri would be all too happy to give.

They would move on to the kitchen after a few snuggles, where Victor would be waiting. He would sneak a few kisses and cuddles of his own before they got to work on dinner. They would talk as they worked — about practice, the rink, and their next visit to Hasetsu. Last he heard, their skater friends would be joining them for an ice show there.

Makkachin would bounce between them, whining at them to drop some food for her now and then. They would set their perfect dinner down and eat together. While Makkachin probably wouldn’t have what they had cooked, her bowl would be placed under the table with a special treat just for her.

They would go to the couch after washing up, the fridge holding at least one additional container of leftovers because they always made too much. Yuuri and Victor would snuggle while Makka lay at their feet. Or maybe she would lay on their laps, sitting up now and then to be hugged as well. They would watch a movie or an episode of some show they found while flipping through channels. Perhaps they would call home. Though, he supposed it would be a little late in Hasetsu.

It was blissful and domestic. And Vicchan so, so wished he could join them.

A wet nose tapped his crown before Vicchan found himself being flipped over onto his back. He cried as Makkachin sniffed and rubbed him, laughing with every squeak.

“Were you jealous of my belly rubs, Vicchan?” she cooed, tugging at his ear. “Because I’m pretty good at giving them too!”

He wriggled away from her and bolted as fast as his little legs could carry him. He laughed as she chased him around the living room, barely dodging the toys and furniture in her path. He loved playing with Makkachin. She always knew what he needed. By the time Yuuri called her over to eat, Vicchan didn’t feel so down anymore.

They went to bed a little earlier that night. More specifically, Victor and Makkachin slunk onto their large, soft bed and went right to sleep. With Victor curled away from Yuuri and Makkachin snoring at their feet, Vicchan was left alone to watch Yuuri binge odd videos in the muted light of his phone. Though Yuuri wouldn’t see him, Vicchan sat at the very corner of the bed, his head resting just inches from Yuuri’s pillow. It reminded the poodle of how he used to crawl up on a teenage Yuuri’s lap as he streamed Victor’s competitions.

The last time they’d done it was nearly six years ago.

A lot of things changed about Yuuri since, but all the important ones stayed the same. He was still Vicchan’s sweet boy — warm, soft, and a stubborn mess. He worked too hard and sometimes let his worries make him think he wasn’t good enough. He took comfy clothes from poor Russians and unknowingly used his kicked puppy pout to get his way. He was better with dogs than people, and could be too polite and painfully blunt in the same breath.

Now though, he understood that he wasn’t alone. That there were others apart from Vicchan who thought the world of him no matter what he did. Yuuri was allowing people to support him, to love him like he deserved.

And in return, Yuuri loved more freely. He opened himself up to friends and family. He shared his doubts and let them talk him out of it. He basked in praise from his loved ones, slowly learning to accept their admiration. He loved Victor with the certainty to make him a part of his life forever. His Yuuri was so, so happy. It was all Vicchan ever wanted for him.

He just wished he could have been a part of it.

He supposed it was time to go. Makkachin would forgive him for leaving without bidding her farewell. After all, she would be busy preparing for her visit to Potya’s. He was sure that Yuuri and Victor would make the most of their time with her before they left. They loved Makkachin with all their hearts. So much, he thought, that perhaps he wouldn’t have to come as often. His Yuuri was in safe paws; he wouldn’t have to worry about him anymore.

Still, he stayed until Yuuri decided to settle down sometime past one in the morning. He watched him lay his phone and glasses on his bedside table and cocoon himself in the warm blanket. While he and Victor weren’t snuggling now, it was only a matter of time before Victor turned, still fast asleep, and snake an arm around Yuuri’s waist. Yuuri would turn toward him sometime later in the night as well. And, if Makkachin felt like it, she would wriggle herself between them.

Vicchan whined. He delayed his departure long enough; he should have gone hours ago when Makkachin had fallen asleep. All he had to do was leap off the bed, phase through the door, and return through his photo on the shrine. But something made him pause before he could stand. A warm hand reached over his head, resting just right on his flank.

Yuuri.

He had been certain that Yuuri was asleep, even more so that he couldn’t see or feel him anymore. Still, the hand lay there, his index finger moving as if to gently ruffle chocolate curls. It was Yuuri’s favorite way to coax him to sleep.

Vicchan nosed at the hand and snuggled closer. It wouldn’t hurt to stay for a few more minutes.