“You must be Mikhail.”
Viktor nods. The woman has her arms folded, deep blue eyes dragging down his body from head to toe. She’s a beauty, with a fair complexion and hair that captures the light in scorching red hues, contrasting well with the green crop top and impossibly tiny shorts. Of course she knows how to highlight her best features; picking the right dress and style are basic skills for a Russian “sparrow”.
Inspection done, the corner of her eyes crinkle in a smile. “I’m Alina. Make yourself at home,” she says, moving aside.
“Alina”. An alias, no doubt, just as his is “Mikhail Orlov”.
Viktor steps into the apartment, taking in the couch and armchairs, the art on the walls, the flowers on the coffee and dining tables. He’s pleasantly surprised by the cozy vibe, having expected the apartment to be nothing more than a base for his first assignment, direct from Director Feltsman himself.
Within hours of receiving the mission, he was given a passport, a plane ticket, and ushered off to Vienna. Gain the trust of a CIA agent, extract information on his Russian contact. Funny, really, that Matron Baranovskaya bothers with euphemisms. “Gain their trust” and “build a relationship” and “encourage them to talk”. For a program that has its students strip naked and practice foreplay in a public classroom, it’s strangely conservative in its language.
Alina beckons from one side of the living room, rapping her knuckles on the door beside her. “This is your room; should be furnished with everything you need. I’m right over there.”
Viktor follows her finger to the door on the other side. “Thank you.”
As she sashays to the couch, Viktor retreats into his room. Closes the door and slips out the folder with information on his mark. “Yuuri Katsuki”, the sheet reads, with the black-and-white photograph of a dark-haired man in glasses. “CIA; in contact with Russian double agent. No known vices or criminal records. Insecure, anxious; ice skates when stressed.” The last line is marked with a red circle and underlined several times: “Seen chatting up men in bars”.
There’s a knock on the door, before Alina’s head pokes in. “I’m ordering takeout. Want in?”
“Sure,” Viktor says with a shrug.
“Great.” Alina’s eyes flick to the sheets in his hand. “How’s your target? Cute?”
Viktor quirks an eyebrow. “Does it matter?”
“Hell yeah it does. I’m not opening my legs for some wrinkly old dude, no matter what Matron Baranovskaya says.”
Something about Alina’s tone makes laughter bubble out from Viktor’s throat, spilling in soft huffs of breath. He hasn’t laughed in months; not since the fire - the incident that took away his parents and destroyed Yura’s legs, now darkened and scarred from horrific burns.
“You look so much better when you smile,” Alina notes, grin soft and open. “Menu’s on the coffee table whenever you’re ready.”
“I’ll be out in a minute,” Viktor says, his lips still curved. Alina’s positivity is infectious.
“All right. Oh, and,” Alina turns back, “Try not to fall in love, yeah?” She leans in, as though sharing a secret between the two of them.
“Because it’s easier than you think.”
“ Insecure, anxious; ice skates when stressed. ”
Viktor steps onto the wooden docks, snow crunching beneath his boots. There’s a lighthouse on one end, striped red and white and rising to the sky.
Lake Neusiedl is picturesque, with people gliding across the frozen waters, vestiges of the sun’s golden rays turning them into faceless silhouettes. Overhead, the wind carries a flock of seagulls, their wings spread white against the orange hues of the setting sun.
Breathing deep, Viktor walks to the edge of the dock, fingers tugging his scarf up to his eyes. He’s glad for the wintry season. Ice skating is one of Austria’s passions, and winter guarantees a natural skating rink in the form of Lake Neusiedl, one of the largest outdoor rinks in Central Europe with more than enough space for stress release.
Sure enough, there he is: Yuuri Katsuki, whizzing past Viktor, the end of his wool scarf flying out behind him. He turns to slip back into the crowd, weaving past children and couples as he smoothly, repeatedly, skates a broad figure eight. Once found, he’s easy to spot. Unlike the others, with their flailing arms and wobbling legs, Yuuri’s movements are slight and relaxed, gloved hands resting at his sides.
For the next hour, Viktor watches Yuuri. He’s doing it for reconnaissance, yes, but there’s something about the way Yuuri moves on the ice that makes him linger. Something that makes him recall his days of dancing in the Boishoi theatre, of leaping and twirling on stage before a captive audience.
Of watching his parents and Yura smiling up at him from the front row.
Viktor’s gut twists. Now is not the time to grieve. Gritting his teeth, he shoves his hands in his coat pockets. Forces himself to focus on Yuuri, who glides by him a fifth time.
Every human being has desires, wishes, needs. The Matron’s strident voice echoes in his mind, but he does nothing to shove it out as he usually does. Fulfill that, and they will tell you anything.
What is Yuuri’s need? Viktor exhales a cloud of hot breath, keeping his gaze focused and even. Yuuri is wearing a plain down jacket and skating boots that have gone off-white, suggesting prudency, lack of concern for fashion, or both. He’s skating alone, so he’s not likely to have a partner, or even friends that he feels he can call on for support. Or perhaps he’s the type that prefers to be alone?
In that moment, Yuuri skates past again, and Viktor catches a glimpse of his face: chin tipped upwards, stars reflected in his glistening eyes.
Viktor knows then, heart clenching, what Yuuri desires. It’s the same expression he sees each time he looks in the mirror, at the long scar running down his leg like a broken seam.
The next day, Viktor waits on the ice.
He slides a foot out, experimentally, feeling the smoothness, the ease with which the blade glides across the marble-like surface. Alina was amused when he asked for a store that sold skating boots. I used to skate , she told him, eyes soft with memories. For a ‘sparrow’, she embodies none of the Matron’s teachings, none of the Matron’s harshness and impenetrable hard shell. No, Viktor finds himself liking Alina.
A telltale scuff of blades cutting through ice: Yuuri is coming.
Viktor inhales, pushes off, and on the right timing, twists his body into a tumble.
Arms wrap around his shoulders, breaking his fall. He looks up into brown eyes, rich and gentle and warm, and suddenly, he’s at a loss for words. How long has it been since someone has looked at him with such care, such genuine concern? How long has it been since the fire took that away from him?
It’s the shriek of a child that snaps Viktor back to reality.
Mission; he has a mission .
Straightening, Viktor gives Yuuri his most winsome smile. “I am so sorry,” he says in English.
Yuuri’s beautiful eyes draw wide. Then, softly, “Ты в порядке?”
Viktor’s smile widens; the pronunciation is flawless. “How do you know I am Russian?”
They introduce themselves: Yuuri claiming to be an importer of foreign wines, Viktor declaring himself a translator for the Russian embassy. For a while, they skate together, with Yuuri dropping in skating advice between their small talk. He’s open and kind, strangely so for an operative, and Viktor wonders if perhaps the Americans choose to preserve their officers’ innocence and humanity. Not everyone comes out of ‘sparrow’ training intact the way Alina did.
“I can teach you the basics of skating, if you’d like.”
Yuuri’s cheeks are rosy pink, and Viktor knows it’s not from the cold.
“I would like that very much.”
Viktor leaves then, right after, making some excuse about duties at the embassy. In and out: such is the ‘sparrow’ way.
He’s making his way to solid ground when Yuuri’s question makes him stop short. “What made you decide to come on the ice today?”
Viktor cocks his head over his shoulder. “What do you mean?”
“You were watching me yesterday, weren’t you?”
Heart thudding, Viktor keeps his gaze on Yuuri, who looks back at him with features schooled into an unreadable expression.
“You must be mistaken,” Viktor says after a moment.
Turning, he steps off the lake, Yuuri’s stare boring into his back.
They don’t talk about it after that.
Viktor returns for his lessons with Yuuri. Yuuri’s a good teacher and a good listener. He nods and laughs at all the appropriate points– artificial gestures that Viktor was trained to engage in –but Yuuri’s warmth seems real, as though he’s actually interested in the things Viktor has to say. So Viktor talks and talks, feeling more and more at ease with each word that passes his lips.
Viktor knows he’s in trouble when the next words slip out one day. “I used to dance ballet.”
Yuuri’s face lights up. “So did I! With my sister, when I was younger.”
“You danced ballet,” Viktor breathes. His heart is beating at a rhythm so irregular, so unfamiliar, yet he can’t look away from the way Yuuri’s smile glows like the Northern lights, soft and brilliant across the night sky.
“Sometimes I regret not pursuing it further.” Yuuri tilts his head. “Why did you stop?”
“I…” Viktor’s leg throbs. Like that fateful night, when he made an ill-timed jump on stage, the sickening crunch of bone ringing in his ears. “I found a different passion.”
In the silence that follows, Viktor takes the plunge, reaching out for Yuuri’s gloved hand. “Would you be open to dinner sometime? As thanks for the skating lessons.”
Yuuri considers for a beat. “Dinner sounds great,” he says, and Viktor releases the breath he doesn’t realize he was holding.
But he doesn’t release Yuuri’s hand.
Viktor returns to the apartment feeling warm, as if he’s carrying the embers of Yuuri’s kindness with him, cradled in his hands and heart. It must show on his face, for Alina shoots him a knowing grin when he enters the living room. She’s sprawled across the couch, all loose-limbed and surrounded by empty bottles of vodka.
“You had fun,” she says.
“And you’re drunk,” Viktor says.
She giggles, without denial. “I take it you’ve made progress.”
Viktor nods, shedding off his winter coat. “We’re having dinner this Friday.”
“Isn’t that a little emotionally intimate?”
“Only if I attend.”
Alina quirks an eyebrow but decides not to clarify. She tugs her legs back just enough for Viktor squeeze onto the couch beside her.
“Any progress on your mark?” he asks.
“I’ve worked mine for months. And when you’re on your own, when you get to know someone for this long...” Alina trails off, gives an unladylike snort. “‘Every human being has desires, wishes, needs,’ was it?” Her head falls back against the armrest.
“I think the Matron forgets: we’re human too.”
Yuuri is beautiful.
Viktor watches him through the window of the restaurant, struck by the smudge of his eyelashes, the faint pink of his cheeks, the way his hair gleams bright in the candlelight, slicked back and off his forehead. His fingers are fidgeting with the cuffs of a charcoal grey suit that shows off the width of his shoulders, the line of his lithe frame.
It has been an hour since their meeting time, yet Yuuri is still there. Waiting for Viktor , as if he’s worth waiting for. It reminds Viktor of Yura, waiting for him to return from dance rehearsals, from ‘sparrow’ training. From his mission here, in Vienna, far from home. (“Don’t do it,” Yura hissed. “You saw what they did to our parents, what they did to me —“)
We’re human too .
Viktor feels a foreign ache in his chest at the sad look that crosses Yuuri’s face. The realization that Viktor won’t show. He wants to burst through the doors, wants to say I am sorry for my tardiness and watch the brown of Yuuri’s eyes come alive with joy. But he doesn’t. Instead, he ducks further into the alleyway when Yuuri leaves the restaurant.
Follows Yuuri home, silent as a shadow.
Yuuri’s apartment complex is a modest building made of wood and five floors. The second Yuuri disappears inside, Viktor sweeps over to inspect the entrance: a lever handle, standard pin tumbler lock. Too easy. On the wall next to the doors is the list of tenants; apartment 328 is the only row devoid of a name.
After a night like that, Yuuri will want catharsis. Sure enough, Viktor finds him sliding his figure eights on Lake Neusiedl, wistful gaze trained on the ice. You did that , says a voice, but Viktor shakes it out of his head, teeth clenched. He did that for his little brother, who’s waiting—hoping—for his safe return.
It doesn’t take long for Viktor to pick the lock to the entrance of Yuuri’s apartment complex. Faster, still, for Yuuri’s apartment. Once inside, Viktor begins searching for anything that may contain information on Yuuri’s Russian contact. But Yuuri’s belongings are scarce, the apartment simple and bare. There’s no hint of personality in the place, no sign of Yuuri’s likings, preferences, hobbies - save for the framed picture of a dog by the front door. Viktor runs a finger down the photograph: a poodle pup, he deduces by the size and thick curls.
Why would Yuuri allow this much? Because a pet is unidentifiable? Dispensable?
Because he has no one else, the voice supplies, unhelpfully.
Viktor squashes the surge of emotion and busies himself with planting cameras. Blackmail is the trademark of a ‘sparrow’ and especially potent for agents like Yuuri, caught “chatting up men in bars”. Things like that shouldn’t be a weakness, but it is, and weaknesses are to be exploited. Shame loosens a tongue faster than alcohol.
Cameras set, Viktor slips back out, locking the apartment behind him.
Alina isn’t drunk when he returns. “How was dinner?” she asks.
“Fine,” Viktor says, his voice coming out harder than he intended.
She tilts her head. “You are wishing you attended.”
Viktor’s lips press together. “Would you have?”
“I already do.” Her smirk turns soft around the edges. “Many times.”
Oh, Viktor thinks, his stomach boiling with guilt and regret and something else entirely.
She- they -are beyond compromised.
Viktor’s heart leaps when the intercom crackles to life with Yuuri’s voice. “Hello?”
“It’s me, Mikhail.”
Viktor wills himself to ignore the hurt that bleeds from that one syllable. “I wanted to apologize for last night.”
A pause, before Yuuri sighs. “Come on up.”
At the buzzing noise, Viktor slips through the entrance doors and up the stairs.
Yuuri is waiting for him, body resting against the doorframe. Viktor’s eyes can’t help but rove down the lean figure. Yuuri’s t-shirt is one size too big, slipping off the line of a shoulder, while his shorts cling to bare thighs, pale and smooth.
Alina’s right; it does help to have a cute mark.
“How do you know where I live?” Yuuri asks, softly.
“Can we talk inside?” Viktor counters.
Yuuri hesitates, but he steps in, gestures for Viktor to do the same.
“Cute dog,” Viktor says, nodding at the photograph.
“Thanks. He, um…” Hair falls across Yuuri’s forehead as he looks away. “He died a few months ago. Before I could-” he swallows, “-say goodbye.”
Viktor pulls in a breath. In his nightmares, he still sees the orange flames consuming his parents, hears the sirens and shouts and screams. Without thought, he grasps Yuuri’s wrist, tugs him close. “Прими мои соболезнования,” he whispers, nose sinking into dark strands. “I am sorry.”
Yuuri doesn’t respond. But when Viktor pulls back, he catches the stutter in Yuuri’s breath, the way his lashes sweep over eyes bright with unshed tears. He looks so vulnerable like this- so beautiful -and Viktor can’t find the words to comfort him, the silver lining in this godforsaken world.
So he kisses Yuuri instead.
It’s too soon. Yuuri’s still smarting from the last rejection, no doubt, and all they’ve shared between them is skating and a history of ballet. But Viktor wants to show Yuuri that he understands, that they can be alone in this, together.
And when Yuuri sighs, hands slipping around Viktor’s neck, Viktor works up the courage to admit that yes, yes , he wants this, mission be damned.
He wants Yuuri.
Viktor doesn’t recall when they moved to the bed, when their shirts and pants came off. But Yuuri is working his way down the line of Viktor’s throat, teeth scraping skin, and Viktor can’t bring himself to care. What does matter, though, is that Yuuri still has his underwear on. Reaching down, Viktor slips his thumbs into the waistband of the sinful piece, slides them off in one smooth pull. Straightens to shimmy out of his own briefs, chuckling when Yuuri lets out a whine of disapproval.
“Patience,” Viktor whispers, tugging Yuuri in for another kiss.
He has had practice with so many, learned every possible way to tease another. But no one, not a single partner, has made his heart thud as hard against his chest. Made him so eager to please.
Gently, Viktor pushes Yuuri into the mattress, hands sliding down the width of his shoulders, the plane of his chest. Feels his throat grow tight at the sight of Yuuri, from his dark hair tousled against the pillows and his eyes dark with want, to the line of his abs and the thick curve of his cock. His, this is all his . Or could be, if this weren’t part of a mission.
Viktor swallows. The mission. The cameras . There are enough in the bedroom to capture them from various angles, taint any possibility of ever seeing Yuuri again. Not like this, with Yuuri spread out beneath him, soft and beautiful and pliant.
“Mikhail,” Yuuri says, reaching for him.
Taking Yuuri’s hand, Viktor presses it to his heart and sinks down to suck bruises at the dip of Yuuri’s throat, the ridge of Yuuri’s collarbone. Savors the way Yuuri gasps and arches, the way their cocks slide together. The marks will fade, but until then, Yuuri will bear the shape of his mouth wherever he goes - Viktor’s , not Mikhail’s.
It’s when Viktor’s fingers curl against the inside of Yuuri’s thighs that Yuuri seems to awaken, making a grab for his wrist.
“Wait,” Yuuri says, low and thick, voice catching at the end. He shifts, and Viktor shivers at another brush of their erections. “Wait, I don’t know if this is… right.”
Because it isn’t, Viktor thinks.
“Of course,” he says aloud, pulling away. Smiles as the disappointment on Yuuri’s face shifts to one of surprise when he slings a leg over Yuuri’s hips.
“ I should be riding you instead.”
Yuuri pauses, fingers tightening around his wrist.
“There’s a bottle of oil in the nightstand,” he says after an eternity.
Obediently, Viktor goes.
It’s not right, and the least he can do is give Yuuri the best night of his life.
Yuuri is still asleep when Viktor rises to collect the cameras. They had clung and rocked and surged against each other, more than once, and Yuuri had dozed off after, pillowed on Viktor’s chest. His face is relaxed now, unlined, and Viktor wonders how an agent can be so charmingly innocent. So trusting.
Quietly, Viktor sits on the edge of the bed, brushes loose strands off Yuuri’s forehead. “I’m sorry,” he says, chest tight. “Truly.”
He freezes when Yuuri’s eyes flutter open.
“Morning,” he sighs, voice hoarse with sleep. ( Or perhaps some other reason , the voice in Viktor’s head adds.) “Have you gotten what you needed?”
It takes a second for the words to register, barely half for Viktor’s stomach to drop to his feet. “I’m not sure what you’re—”
“The cameras,” Yuuri says. He rolls up, half-naked, rubbing at his eyes. “You have three in this room alone.”
It’s not a question. Viktor watches as Yuuri pulls on a shirt, heat stirring at the way Yuuri’s muscles shift despite the icy fear in his veins. “When did you find out?”
“When you kept up a conversation with me, the first day we met.” Yuuri’s mouth twitches at the corners. “A man of your beauty would have no other reason to talk to someone like me.”
Viktor swallows, wants to tell Yuuri it’s not true, but Yuuri moves on. “So I had a colleague look you up. Your looks are far too distinct, even with a change in identity.” He looks up at Viktor through a fan of lashes. “Your real name is Viktor Nikiforov, a trained ‘sparrow’ for the SVR.
“You knew,” Viktor whispers. “You’ve always known.” At Yuuri’s nod, his brows knit together in consternation. “Then why did you let me in?”
“Because I had to find out what you wanted. And because, well.” Yuuri drops his gaze. “I had hoped otherwise.”
Viktor’s heart clenches. “But the cameras…”
Yuuri shrugs. “My handler and colleagues are more than aware of my preferences. I chose to be open so as to avoid… trouble.” His eyes dart back up, narrowing. “What is it you want from me, Viktor?”
It’s gratifying to hear his own name roll off Yuuri’s tongue.
But not like this.
“The name of the mole,” Viktor tells him, his voice sounding faint and distant, as though it isn’t his own.
“I can’t give you that,” Yuuri says.
“So where does that leave us?”
Yuuri studies Viktor for a moment, his gaze soft yet penetrating. Then he slides closer, touches Viktor’s arm. “Why did you become a ‘sparrow’?”
Viktor exhales, It doesn’t answer his question but he has no reason to be dishonest. “To provide for my brother. Both our parents died in a fire, and I had no other income after my career as a dancer was destroyed.”
“A fire started by the very organization you now serve,” Yuuri says.
God, he knows everything .
Noting Viktor’s flinch, Yuuri begins to talk. About how the CIA will protect him and his brother, how the CIA will pay him well enough to provide for them both. All you have to do is work for the American government , he says. Like it’s as simple as getting dressed. But it’s an appealing, passionate speech, as if Yuuri has rehearsed it before a mirror, practising over and over until he presents his pitch with just the right tone and just the right amount of care.
Only, with Yuuri, his words actually sound genuine.
“You’ll be my contact?” Viktor murmurs.
Yuuri hesitates. Then, mouth pulling into a smile, “Always.”
Viktor returns to find Alina sorting through photographs of her in an armchair, with a pretty olive-skinned woman seated comfortably on her lap. She picks them up, one after another. Sighs as she gazes at each photograph with color on her cheeks and stars in her eyes.
Viktor understands; he had just parted with a man who incites the very same feelings in him. “You haven’t shown these to your mark,” he guesses.
Alina doesn’t deny it, doesn’t even try. “Just imagining the look on her face gives me nightmares. I’m lucky she’s giving me enough intel to appease the higher-ups.” She tosses the photograph back to the pile, grinning. “But enough about me. You must have succeeded since you weren’t in last night.”
“Yes,” Viktor says, sinking into the couch. “And no.”
Alina straightens. “And he let you go?”
“Yes… and no.”
Her voice drops. “You’ve turned.”
“No, I…” Viktor looks away. “I don’t know. He gave me 24 hours to decide.”
Alina doesn’t say anymore after that. She leaves and returns with a bottle of vodka and two glasses. Fills them before mutely handing one to Viktor.
They drink in silence, questions circling in Viktor’s mind. What should he do? Can Yuuri be trusted? What would Yura want him to do?
A fire started by the very organization you now serve.
It’s true; his parents were accused of being traitors to the motherland and murdered in cold blood, costing his brother his legs in the process. Collateral damage , Director Feltsman had called it, utterly devoid of compassion. Of humanity . The smirk on the Director’s face still sends tremors up Viktor’s spine, when Viktor had, grudgingly, sought him out for a job.
And then there’s Yuuri. Kind, sweet, beautiful Yuuri. Offering him a way out, offering him–
“–a choice,” Alina says, her voice filtering into his thoughts. “When was the last time you had one?”
“Too long ago,” Viktor sighs. “But what if he’s lying?”
“Your mark?” Alina scoffs. “And what has the SVR done to deserve your trust and undying loyalty?”
Viktor lifts his glass, throws back a gulp of vodka. In so few words, Alina has given him his answer. “Join me,” he says. Waits for Alina’s wide eyes to meet his before he adds, “You’ve been compromised even before I arrived.”
A beat, then with a soft laugh, “Fine, you elegant bastard. We go down together.”
“I guess introductions are in order.” He raises his glass. “My name is Viktor.”
“Nice to meet you, Viktor,” Alina says, clinking her glass against his. “I’m–”
“–Mila Ivanovna Babicheva?”
“Are you an agent of the SVR, also known as a ‘red sparrow’?”
“Have you been in contact with Sara Crispino, personal assistant of the Chief of Staff of the United States?”
“Yes. She was my mark and I love her.”
The polygraph examiner whistles.
Viktor sneaks a sidelong glance at Yuuri, just in time to catch Yuuri’s furtive gaze. He smiles as Yuuri’s cheeks stain pink, his eyes darting off to the side. Yuuri was thrilled when Viktor turned up at his apartment with Mila in tow. I’ll do everything I can , he had said, setting up contact with his handler within hours of their defection.
(“And you wondered if you could trust him?” Mila whispered.)
“All right, angel,” the examiner calls. “Your turn.”
Viktor’s brows rise while Yuuri hisses, “That’s not his name.”
“Oh sorry. I meant ‘fair-skinned adonis’.”
Chuckling, Viktor settles into the seat that Mila has vacated. “Seems I am known by many names.”
The examiner grins, open and mischievous. “You have Yuuri to thank for that.”
In his chest, Viktor’s heart leaps. And keeps leaping, as he watches Yuuri’s blush spread, down his neck and into his shirt. Strange, how in a few months, he has gone from having nothing to having everything: friends, protection for Yura, a new home, and... Yuuri.
Yuuri who danced ballet, who let Viktor in, knowing he was an enemy. Who had pressed against Viktor, hot and eager and “hoping otherwise”.
“Just one final question,” the examiner says, brightly. “Do you, Viktor Nikiforov, swear, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health–”
“ Phichit ,” Yuuri groans.
“–to love, cherish, and to obey Yuuri Katsuki from this day forward?”
“Yes,” Viktor says, his heart steady.
The graph doesn’t spike.
Phichit and Mila are beaming, and Yuuri -
Yuuri’s face has gone soft and bright.
Every human being has desires, wishes, needs.
For once, Viktor thinks, the Matron is right.