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Chapter Text

 

 

This can‘t be happening. Not now.

There‘s a splatter of crimson in the sink, heavy brush strokes of colour on a white canvas. Deep crimson fading to vivid scarlet fading to pale salmon fading to washed-out coral.

Yuuri is bleeding.

At the centre of it, there‘s a dollop of indigo, biting against the reddish-orange hues, clashing, ugly.

Unbidden, Yuuri's mind goes through the colour wheel, trying to find a better complement for the canvas of his sealed fate. Green would make for a stark, jarring contrast. Black would create a simplified, subdued look. A desaturated umbra would make for a warm, earthy effect.

No. It had to be indigo.

Yuuri stares at the rich, deep blue of the star-shaped flowers, splattered in crimson, and finds himself caring more about the colours clashing than the fact that he is dying.

It‘s like one of those shitposts on tumblr.

For the aesthetic.

Hysterical laughter bubbles up at the back of his throat.

I appreciate that you‘re dying, Yuuri, but what about the aesthetic?

 


 

It takes him ten more minutes to compose himself enough—no, scratch that.
He doesn't compose himself at all.
He isn't the least bit composed. He is decomposed.

He‘s still shaking and hysterical and he can still taste the blood lining the inside of his mouth. He‘s pretty sure when he opens his mouth other people will see it clinging to his teeth.

He barely bothered to rinse it off the sink before he left the bathroom.

There‘s cold sweat on his forehead and running down his spine. His vision is swimming.

But ten minutes have passed and his slot is drawing ever closer and the one thing worse than the mortification of having to go up on that stage right now would be the mortification of not showing up and having to face the consequences of that for the rest of the weekend.

He makes his way back across the hall, stopping by his table for a few minutes, exchanging a few apologetic words with Kenjirou before he’s off again, through the artist’s alley and toward the stage.

All the people milling about, too loud, too close, always touching, are making his skin crawl.

He makes it to the stage with seven minutes to spare because even in his panic he is too terrified of being rude not to be diligent and he lets the backstage personnel attach a small mic to his collar so he can speak hands-free and he stands where they guide him, waiting for the previous artist to leave the stage under friendly applause.

He winces as the host rattles off his previous accomplishments and insincere praises and then his name is called.

Heißt mit mir unseren nächsten Gast willkommen, ihr kennt ihn als YKatsu, please welcome Yuuri Katsuki!“

His mind goes blessedly empty as soon as he steps into the glaring spotlights.

The smatterings of applause penetrate his ears, but not his brain. He carefully avoids taking a look towards the audience, focusing on the host instead.

She shakes his hand with a plastic smile and gestures toward one of two padded red chairs standing opposite each other on the stage.

He sits on the very edge of the cushion, stiff.

As soon as the host asks her first question, his fingers automatically reach for his fidget cube, but it’s not there. He left it at his booth, a conscious decision that he now regrets. Instead, he starts tugging at the hair tie on his wrist.

He stammers his way through questions on his past and current projects, on his routine, on Japan, on the damn cursed fucking Ghibli pokémon project, because he has yet to go through a single interview that doesn't bring it up. As if he didn't move halfway across the world to get away from it.

His fingers are itching, itching to start moving, to start creating, itching to do.

He twists the hair tie tight around his wrist as the host translates his answers into German—because his German still isn't even close to good enough for an interview—and then finally, finally, she says the words he’s been itching to hear, the words that have him on his feet in an instant.

„And now, I‘m sure you‘re all looking forward to seeing Yuuri create something for us. Wollt ihr Yuuri etwas für uns malen sehen? Ja? Alright—Yuuri, they‘re all yours!“

She points toward the flip chart, a tempting blank canvas waiting for him, and the camera mounted before it, set up to broadcast his painting process on the large screen at the back of the stage for the audience to watch.

He takes a deep breath.

This he can do. This is his.

Camera and audience aside, this is his.

His supplies are set up on a small table to the side of the flip chart, and he lets his eyes glide over the pencils, the charcoal, the markers, the ink. Apart from the ink, none of them are his favourite tools, but his paints won‘t do on the stage like this—it takes too long to work with them.

There are twenty minutes left in his slot. He‘s prepared for this—he‘s got a motive ready that he knows he can do, simple and quick, but effective, a popular theme.

He stares at the blank canvas, his hands trembling.

All he can see is crimson and indigo, clashing, clashing.

Star-shaped flowers and blood on a pristine white canvas.

Pressure is building in his lungs and he swallows, thick, sticky, prickling.

Crimson and Indigo.

He grabs a pencil and starts working.

 


 

Yuuri can taste copper on his teeth.

He barely registers what he‘s doing as his hands abandon the pencil first for the ink, applied in bold, quick brush strokes, then the markers, the only colours he can use here.

Crimson, scarlet, pale salmon and washed-out coral.

In the middle of it all, a smattering of pale green leaves, surrounding a single, pristine star of pure white.

Because his body might be mocking everything he‘s learnt about colour theory, but that doesn't mean he has to.

He‘s thankful that he doesn't have to talk as he‘s working, that the host isn't asking him questions about his process.

Instead, there is music playing in the background, something soft and instrumental, something ethereal.

Something to go with the dreamlike piece he was planning on doing.

Something seizes in his throat.

This isn't the piece he‘s been planning.

This is different.

Yuuri glances over to the host, who is watching him, wide-eyed, her lips parted.

Oh God.

He looks back at the canvas.

What is he doing?

He‘s never tried this piece before. Is it even working? Worse—this is violent, bloody, macabre. There are sure to be children watching in the audience, and here he is, filling a canvas with blood.

His time is sure to be almost over by now—nothing he can do about it now.

He sets the markers down and puts a last few finishing touches on the canvas with the ink before he steps back.

It‘s rough, a lot more sketchy than he normally would have liked anyone to see.

It‘s... different.

It‘s his alright, he can see his own hand in the brush strokes, in the delicacy of the forms, in the hatched shading. But at the same time, it‘s all that he isn't.

It’s bold, it’s in your face, it’s... angry.

There’s a face on the canvas, but it’s rough and half-hidden in shadows, only barely recognisable as such, as are the neck and shoulders.

Below that, the body is split open in pale bone colours, and ribs and sternum hinted at with a few strokes, and underneath it the spine lies shattered into individual vertebrae, splinters of bone.

In the hollow of the rib cage, a heart is barely visible, black with shadows and blood.

And snaking out from that hollow, from that shaded depth, cloaked in tiny pale green leaves, is a star shaped white flower. It’s tangling with the cracked bones, squeezing, suffocating.

It makes Yuuri queasy to even look at it, that pristine white, the only part of the canvas not covered in colour. It’s a blank, a vacuum. It shouldn't be.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Yuuri isn't entirely sure which part of this day is making him the most nervous.

There‘s so many contenders.

Is it the fact that as of seven p.m. tonight, his artwork will be publicly visible to anyone in this city who steps foot into Ciao-Ciao‘s, to be scrutinised, criticised and scoffed at by school children, art students, business men and retirees alike?

Is it the fact that sometime after seven p.m. tonight, he is going to have to stand in front of an assembly of friends, colleagues and strangers; people he loves, people he admires and people he doesn't even know, and produce words with his own mouth that make him somehow sound competent and intelligent and like he‘s an actual adult who knows what he‘s doing?

Is it the fact that right after he has produced those very sounds with his mouth that will most likely be heard by one actual-together-person and musical genius Victor Nikiforov, aka nikiforlove, that very same actual-together-person and musical genius is going to perform in front of that same assembly of friends, colleagues and strangers and completely upstage Yuuri to the point that no one will actually remember that it was an event to celebrate the opening of Yuuri's art show in the first place?

It‘s probably all of those things.

He shouldn't fret, Yuuri thinks as he curls up more firmly in his bed, it‘s probably a good thing that no one will remember anything about Yuuri or his art once Victor has performed. At least then the whole thing will not be remembered as a complete disaster of mediocre art and awkward mumbling, because Victor does neither mediocre nor awkward. Yes. Maybe if Yuuri frames the event in his mind as an intimate concert of nikiforlove in a café that just happens to be displaying Yuuri's art on its walls rather than an art show opening for Yuuri where freaking nikiforlove is playing a short set as accompaniment, the whole thing doesn't have to be completely disastrous.

Yuuri still cannot believe nikiforlove is going to play at his art show opening. He knows Victor‘s only doing it as a favour to Chris who‘s only doing it as a favour to Phichit but still—the fact that he‘s connected to Victor Nikiforov by only two degrees of nepotism…
It‘s not all that surprising to be honest. The city is big, but its art scene not all that much. Everyone knows of nikiforlove, and between his fame within the limited circles of Ruhrgebiet indie artists and musicians, and the fact that Phichit knows literally everyone in this city, it‘s not all that unlikely that Yuuri knows someone who knows someone…

Still, Yuuri never would have expected that nikiforlove would actually condescend to play at a tiny café for an art show as insignificant as Yuuri's. Surely he has better offers. Surely the fee can‘t be much—not that Yuuri would know, since Chris is responsible for the planning of the opening. All that Yuuri has to do today, having already delivered the artwork and arranged it in a visually pleasing way on the walls of Ciao-Ciao‘s café, is show up and say his piece. But whatever they are paying nikiforlove, it can‘t be much—if they‘re even paying him at all. So Yuuri really doesn’t understand why he would do it at all. But then again, nepotism.

He should count himself lucky. The fact that the opening has been advertised on the internet and around the Ruhr area as featuring a set from nikiforlove will surely attract a lot more visitors than would otherwise find their way to Ciao-Ciao‘s tonight. He imagines the tiny café being cramped full of eager nikiforlove fans and for some reason it does not make him feel better in the least.

Yuuri snakes his hand out from under his blankets and grabs his phone, tapping away with a few well-practised movements until he finds what he‘s looking for.

The soft first notes of nikiforlove's Eternity trickle into the room from Yuuri's Bluetooth speakers.

A smile spreads on his face automatically. He has to admit, underneath all the anxiety and preemptive mortification, there‘s a part of him that‘s really excited. He‘s been in Germany for just under three years, and he‘s known of nikiforlove for just under three years minus two weeks. But he‘s never actually had the chance to see one of his shows. nikiforlove might live and work in the same city, but his shows in the area are few and always sold-out within the shortest time. And the last couple of years, as his popularity in indie circles skyrocketed, he‘s been touring Germany a lot, as well as some shows in the Netherlands, Belgium, even Austria and Switzerland.

Tonight will be the first time that Yuuri gets the chance to experience all his favourite songs, like Eternity, live. God, he hopes Victor will sing Eternity. He lets the soft humming of guitar strings wash over him as he rolls over on his back, letting the blankets fall away and exposing his skin to the cool morning air. Victor‘s deep, smooth voice picking its way through the lyrics in his own particular cadence that has become his signature over the years still makes Yuuri shiver.

 

Eventually he does have to get out of bed, however reluctantly.
Phichit is in rehearsals before his evening shift at Ciao-Ciao‘s, so he‘s got the apartment to himself for now. He should make use of the quiet to get some work done.

He settles at his desk with a pot of tea and after half of the first mug he feels awake enough to start working. He checks his social media first, replying to some comments and taking note of the stats on his last few posts. He posts in his stories on Instagram and shares another reminder of the opening tonight. While he‘s at it, he gives a shout-out to a few of his favourite artists who've uploaded new artwork. He‘s got a couple of DMs with enquiries for commissions and orders for prints and he replies to the former and notes down the latter to get them ready for shipping.

Next is his e-mail—that requires a lot more effort than the social media. He sorts through spam and newsletters to find the ones that are actually important. Some organisational issues for his conventions this summer, some more orders in his shop, a note from the printer with an estimate for the new comic. The packaging material he ordered has shipped, and there‘s even a reminder from Celestino about the opening tonight. As if Yuuri has thought about anything else in the last two weeks.

He replies to the more urgent messages with a healthy amount of reluctance, then sorts the ones that don‘t need replies into their respective folders—conventions, bills, shop, commissions, correspondence—leaving only the ones that he has yet to reply to in his inbox.

When he finally logs out of his e-mail account, he feels drained, and so is his tea.
He gets up to go to the bathroom and makes another pot of tea, and then he can finally draw. It‘s past noon and he should probably eat something, but he‘s not going to stop now that he finally got around to the fun part of his work.

Only now does he put his music back on, a mixed playlist heavy on indie and soft electronic music that is his go-to for drawing, and pulls out his sketchbook and pencils—as much fun as it is to draw digitally, warm-up sketches need to be done in pencil. There‘s nothing that loosens up the muscles and makes the movement flow from his fingers onto the paper quite the same way.

He makes his way through a few quick gesture drawings, increasing the time intervals used for each sketch until he‘s found a comfortable level of detail, then he closes his eyes and rifles through his dreams, his thoughts and emotions this morning as he lay in bed, his favourite songs at this time. Trying not to think about it too much he sketches out half a dozen thumbnails for possible new illustrations, selects the best two of the bunch and draws a few alternate versions of them, before setting them aside to revisit later.

Then, with a sigh, he turns back to his computer, tugs his Wacom tablet closer and pulls up the sketches for On Love: Agape. He lets his eyes flick critically over the roughly sketched comic pages, his eyebrows drawing down. The longer he works on this project, the more he looks at the thumbnails he sketched, the more uninspired it seems. Sequential drawing is not his forte; the flow of the story is stiff and the panel sequences are repetitive, and no amount of detail added is going to change that.

But most of the artists he talked to, the blog entries he scoured and the questions he asked his followers seemed to agree that an actual story told in comic form is his best bet for a new project—easier to draw in new followers if his illustrations are part of a story that they can get invested in, and adding a comic book will diversify his portfolio, attract new clients and open up new areas of work for him.

And he likes the idea of Agape, he does. He isn't a storyteller by nature, but he‘s come up with an idea that would be visually intriguing. That doesn't change the fact that he he‘s never really learnt sequential art, though, and it doesn’t matter how good the idea is if the execution is rubbish.

But he can’t back down now, not after he‘s already teased the project endlessly on his social media and built up expectations, not after he‘s already gotten an estimate from the printer. He will have to follow through.

Yuuri sighs, pulls up the next page and gets to work.

 


 

Phichit stops by after rehearsals to drop off his things and change, but they barely have time to go over the plan for the evening before he needs to leave again for his shift.

Thankfully they’ve already selected Yuuri's outfit three days in advance because Yuuri went through the entirety of his wardrobe (and all the clothes on his floor) on Wednesday before giving up and begging for Phichit's assistance in finding clothes appropriate for an art show opening.

Yuuri may be a struggling artist, but despite what French independent films might want to make you believe, he does not have an immaculate dress sense. Phichit, as a drama kid, however…

So Phichit goes over the outfit with him once more, already halfway out the door, then tells him again to be there by 6.30, as if Yuuri wouldn’t be through the door at 6.15 anyway, because better to be early in case something comes up and maybe I should just leave the house with another five minutes to spare in case I forget the way or someone tries to talk to me on the street or there’s an accident blocking the road and the sidewalk too or—point being that Phichit unnecessarily reminds him what time to be there and very necessarily reminds him which shoes he’s supposed to wear with his outfit before he’s out the door and leaves Yuuri alone in a quiet flat once more.

There’s no way Yuuri could concentrate on work any longer, so he decides to call it a day and instead takes a really long, really hot shower.

By the time he’s out of the shower, has gone over his remarks once more sitting on his bed in his underwear, gotten dressed, dried and styled his hair, gone over his remarks again, put in his contacts, decided to try and put on a bit of make-up but found that it looked stupid and taken it off again, listened to some of his favourite songs in an attempt to calm himself down and psych himself up at the same time, and gone over his remarks one final time, it’s 4.30.

It’s a fifteen minute walk to Ciao-Ciao’s. Maybe he should get there by 6, just in case?

That still leaves him with more than an hour to kill, though.

He wants to move.

Briefly he considers changing out of his clothes again and dancing for a little while. He wouldn’t have time to go to the studio, but in a pinch the living room does well enough. But then he would have to take another shower after, do his hair again and that just seems like a wasted effort.

But he also cannot possibly sit still for another hour. Hunching over on the edge of his bed, he longs for Vicchan, back in Hasetsu. He hasn’t seen him since he left Japan three years ago, and it’s moment like this when he misses his dog most fiercely. Taking a walk and playing with Vicchan would be the ideal thing to get rid of his excess energy and take him out of his head right about now. But Vicchan isn’t here and so Yuuri is going to have to cope on his own.

With a sigh he grabs his 3DS from the bedside table and scoots back on the bed until he can lean his back against the wall. Just one more hour.

 


 

Invariably, Yuuri is late by the time he sets his handheld aside—well, not late, exactly, but he definitely won’t make it to Ciao-Ciao’s by 6. He might make it by 6.15 if he leaves now.
He gets up off the bed, smooths down his pants and shirt and picks up the blazer he’d taken off while he was playing. He puts it on, checking his reflection in the mirror once more. It is a good outfit, the dark grey slacks and faded black v-neck sober and understated underneath a navy blazer. The cuffs of his slacks are rolled up to show the dress boots he will put on before he leaves. His shaggy shoulder-length hair is pulled back in a half ponytail so that it doesn’t fall into his face, although a few strands have already escaped the hair tie.

He looks… he looks a lot more put-together than he feels. He looks exactly like he would expect someone to look who’s on his way to an art show opening in a small café. He also looks like someone he would expect to see at a nikiforlove show. Both of that works.

With an involuntary movement, deeply ingrained by years of habit, he pushes back the sleeves of the blazer. He can already hear Phichit's complaints as he tugs on the fabric to make it sit more firmly around his forearms, but he doesn’t care. When Yuuri was younger, back before he went to university, he loved wearing long-sleeved clothes—in fact, the longer, the better. He loved having oversized sleeves that he could bury his whole hands in or twist his fingers into. But once he got into art school, once he spent even more hours and hours every day drawing, he got sick of the long sleeves getting in the way, smudging his sketches or having to be folded back over his wrists over and over again. He got into the habit of wearing shirts whose sleeves he could easily roll up, and less loose-fitted sweaters with sleeves that wouldn’t slide back down each time he pushed them back. It was a habit reserved for working hours at first, but as the years went on and the hours that weren’t working hours became more and more scarce in true artist fashion, it had bled over into all areas of his life. If Yuuri wants to push back the sleeves of his blazer, Phichit is going to have to live with it.

He turns away from the mirror and collects his bag on the way to the door, pulling on his boots in the entryway. Door already open, handle in his hand he mentally goes through the list of important things he needs to bring. Phone, wallet, keys, note cards with his remarks. Extra business cards just in case. His fidget cube is in his pocket. It disrupts the clean lines of his outfit, so he’ll have to take it out before Phichit sees him, but for now its form is reassuring against his thigh. It’s leagues better than twisting his fingers into the already worn out fabric of oversized sleeves.

Yuuri reaches into his messenger bag one last time, just until he hears his keys jingle under his finger tips, and he pulls the door closed behind him.

 


 

There are so many people.

Ciao-Ciao’s is crowded—no, it’s crowded on a normal day, the café stuffed with as many tables as will fit the small space, usually all of them occupied.
But this—this is something different.

Some of the tables have been moved away from the back wall and lined on one side, holding a small selection of snacks and drinks. At the back there is now a small stage area. nikiforlove’s equipment is already set up, though Yuuri has yet to see the man himself. He’s no doubt secluded away in some back room, preparing for his set. Yuuri envies him. He would rather not face the press of the crowd if he didn’t have to, but instead he’s been greeting the guests as they come in, making awkward small talk in German and English, answering questions and listening to Celestino, Chris and Phichit talk him up non-stop. He’s forgone having a drink in favour of concealing his fidget cube in the hand he doesn’t need for handshakes, thumb constantly turning and turning the spinning disc.

There have been a few familiar faces, the Nishigoris and a couple of his colleagues from the tea shop. A few other artists from the city, some of Phichit’s friends from uni. Yuuri was relieved to see the friendly faces, and also silently thanked Chris for having the foresight to have written invitations given to all of Yuuri’s personal guests so that they would be able to make it inside even when the café was already full to burst with strangers. Because Yuuri doesn’t recognise the majority of the people here, and while he’s sure to thank them for coming and make half-hearted attempts to talk to them about his art, he knows they’re all here for nikiforlove. Well, hopefully that means that the crowds will disperse somewhat after Victor’s set, at least.

Yuuri knows it’s almost time for his opening remarks. He wishes there was some way to skip them, but all these people came here to (ostensibly) look at his artwork, and he can’t very well pretend that this has nothing to do with him. But words—words are not his craft, not at all. He’s put a lot of thought into what he wants to say but it still sounds clumsy and stilted and it’s in German and even after three years his German is still awful. He can already tell that those are going to be five minutes that he will never want to think about again for the rest of his life. At least he can comfort himself with the thought that once he’s made it through, he gets to experience nikiforlove up close and personal. Very up close from what it seems, since Yuuri will say his piece from the little stage area and then just step aside to leave the floor to Victor.

Celestino makes his way to Yuuri through the crows, catching his eye with a short nod.

"Sind wir soweit?“, he asks and Yuuri returns his nod with more confidence than he feels. He‘s pulled the note cards out of his back pocket and clutches them in one hand while the other has turned his fidget cube and is now repeatedly running his thumb along the edge of the joystick.

He watches Celestino walk to the stage area with a detached sort of numbness. He stops by the microphone and clears his throat, a booming sound that is by itself enough to get the attention of most of the guests.
"Liebe Kunstfreunde“, he begins, and the rest of the room falls silent, the buzz of conversation rapidly dying down, "welcome to Ciao-Ciao‘s and thank you for joining us tonight! I am thrilled that so many of you have found your way here today to celebrate the latest addition to our art gallery here in our humble establishment. As many of you might now, I make it a point to support artists living and working in this city—it‘s difficult finding a footing in the art scene, and so much raw talent goes unrecognised. It is a privilege that a young artist as imaginative and talented as Yuuri Katsuki is joining the long line of artists showcased at Ciao-Ciao‘s. Yuuri, dein Applaus!“

One hand outstretched toward Yuuri, Celestino steps aside and applause echoes through the small room. Yuuri ducks his head with a sheepish smile and steps toward the stage area. The smooth plastic of his fidget cube digs hard into his palm as he closes his fist around it.
"Vielen Dank, Ciao-Ciao“, he murmurs, too quiet and accent too pronounced after Celestino‘s ebullient German, still accented but perfectly understandable, "vielen Dank euch allen.“
Yuuri takes a deep breath and makes the mistake of looking up into the crowd, all those expectant faces staring at him, waiting for him to say something intelligent or funny. Words stuck in his throat he lets his eyes glide over them, looking for Phichit or Yuuko, someone familiar, someone he can anchor himself to.
Instead his eyes are caught on a flash of silver. Victor Nikiforov is standing at the edge of the room, next to the door that leads to the back area. He‘s leaning against the door frame, unobstructive, no doubt trying not to draw any attention until it is time for him to take the stage. His long hair is draped in a shining braid over one shoulder. His eyes are fixed on Yuuri.
Yuuri forces himself to look away, bringing the note cards in his hand up to find something to say, and promptly drops them.
They flutter to the ground in a flurry of pale teal and there‘s so many of them and now they will be all out of order and—Celestino steps forward immediately, kneeling down to pick them up, giving Yuuri a reassuring gesture and a smile in the process.

Yuuri swallows and presses his thumb against the worry stone side of his fidget cube.
You know this, he thinks, you know what you want to say. Just open your mouth.
And he does.

"Vielen Dank euch allen für euer zahlreiches Erscheinen heute Abend. Danke für euer Interesse und eure Unterstützung. Ciao-Ciao‘s ist schon seit langem ein fester Teil meines Tagesablaufs…“

 


 

By the time the applause picks up once more, he barely remembers what he said, except that it was some approximation of what he‘d written on his note cards. He‘s sure he’s messed up with his German a few times, and some of his feeble attempts at jokes fell flat, but all things considered it could have gone much worse.
And now none of that matters anyway, because he finally, finally gets to step off the stage while Celestino takes his place again in order to announce nikiforlove.

Yuuri goes off to the side of the room where snacks and drinks line the tables and finally picks up a glass of champagne. He doesn't really like champagne, but it‘s alcoholic and now that Yuuri doesn't have to do any more public speaking, he can drink.

Phichit is beside him in an instant and gives his arm an affectionate squeeze and beams brightly at him. "Good job“, he whispers, and Yuuri gives a non-committal shrug.

And then Yuuri forgets everything that just happened, because Victor has somehow made his way through the crowded room to the stage area and is picking up his guitar that‘s been resting on the guitar stand off to the side while premature applause drowns out Celestino's last words.

Yuuri shoves his fidget cube into his pocket and slams his glass back on the table so he can applaud as well.

Victor smiles at the crowd and sits on his stool with an effortless grace, pulling the mic that was relinquished by Celestino a little closer.

"Vielen Dank und guten Abend zusammen“, he says and Yuuri's eyes widen because Victor has an accent when he speaks German. Yuuri has never heard him speak German, has only ever heard him sing in English, and while Victor‘s English isn't flawless (in fact, Yuuri might have discovered a small mistake here or there in his lyrics while he was obsessing over them), there‘s barely a hint of an accent to be heard in his voice.

"As some of you might now, I‘m nikiforlove”, he continues in German, “and it‘s a pleasure to be here today at Ciao-Ciao‘s, playing for such a talented artist as Yuuri. Since this is not about me, however, I want to encourage you to take another turn around the room and look at the beautiful artwork on display here tonight while I play—I have selected my songs here tonight to go with Yuuri's art, and I‘m sure both art and music will benefit from it. So please don‘t see this as a concert of nikiforlove so much as a subtle soundtrack to this wonderful art show opening.“

Yuuri‘s mouth hangs open and he helplessly, blindly, reaches over at Phichit, accidentally punching him in the arm in the process.

"Did you know this? Did you know he was going to do this?“

He can see Phichit‘s grin from the corner of his eyes, but can‘t tear away his gaze from Victor.

"No idea“, Phichit says, "it‘s brilliant though, isn't it?“

Yuuri doesn't respond, because the next moment, Victor‘s fingers touch the strings of his guitar, and then he‘s plucking the opening notes of Eternity and Yuuri wants to melt into the ground for multiple reason.

The chief of which being that Eternity is also the title of one of the pieces showcased on the walls of the café, and not by coincidence. It was inspired by nikiforlove‘s song, and it‘s been one of the most popular pieces on Yuuri’s social media to date. (Correction: it’s been one of Yuuri’s most popular pieces since he came to Germany. Since he became YKatsu. The rest doesn’t bear thinking about.) Surely Victor must be aware—surely Victor researched him before his set tonight and saw his own lyrics quoted on Yuuri‘s post. He shouldn't be surprised—Yuuri‘s cited nikiforlove as his inspiration in his Instagram posts multiple times, but somehow realising that Victor is aware of that makes it so much worse.

The second reason, however, is that the opening notes of Eternity do things to Yuuri. It‘s his favourite nikiforlove song for a reason, and those first few plucked strings contain so much concentrated emotion for him that it gives him goosebumps hearing them here, live, plucked by Victor‘s very fingers only a few meters from him.

Phichit knows better than to interrupt him when he‘s listening to Eternity but Yuuri can see his smirk in his periphery and only refrains from smacking him in order to not destroy the moment. Instead, he silently reaches for his champagne glass.

 


 

"I think this might be my favourite“, a quiet voice says next to him in English, a voice deep and smooth and slightly accented. Yuuri can feel his shoulders tense.
He turns slightly to see Victor standing next to him, eyes fixed on the pieces that Yuuri had been eyeing critically moments ago.
"I—um—you…?“
"Ah, I…“, Victor smiles and takes a sip from his wine glass, "I took a turn around the room earlier, after the sound check, before anyone else was here. There‘s a lot of beautiful pieces, but I think I like this one best.“

Yuuri turns back to the painting. It‘s far from his favourite. It‘s a watercolour, a recent one, a figure half submerged in water, delicate pastel swirls interrupted by stark white wherever the figure’s skin breaks the surface. It‘s an Ophelia motive, not the most original, but it‘s not bad per sé. Yuuri actually rather liked it when he first finished it, proud of the smooth colour transitions and stark contrasts that don‘t come easily to him. But the response on his social media was underwhelming at best, and so Yuuri spent so much time staring at it, convinced that something had to be wrong with it, that now he can‘t looking at it without without seeing every single flaw.

"Why this one?“, he asks turning his Radler bottle slowly in his hand (after that first champagne he had Phichit get him something more palatable from behind the bar), "It’s not exactly my best. Most people prefer darling heart, or Niemand or, you know, um… Eternity.“

Victor smiles at that.

"I like Eternity. It‘s very heartfelt, very raw. Looking at it I can tell that it means a lot to you. But this one… this one feels a lot more carefree. It has the same depth as Eternity, but it‘s a lot more playful.“

Yuuri nods slowly.

"I see…“

Victor turns away from the painting and finally looks at him.

"Can you tell me what inspired it, Yuuri?“

There‘s no teasing tone in his voice, only genuine curiosity. He knows this isn't one of his pieces inspired by nikiforlove songs.

Yuuri bites on his lower lip, slowly pulling the chapped skin off it. He knows what he would say—has said—to this questions if any of the other guests asked him.

He drains the last of his Radler.

"Do you want to know the truth?“

Victor perks up slightly. "Please.“

"I don‘t really get inspired, most of the time.“

He turns away under Victor‘s surprised gaze to set the empty bottle down on a table, then turns back.

"To be honest, most of the time I just decide I want to do something. I will think of a concept I want to work with and I will construct a motive around that concept with a lot of trial and error, with a lot of thumbnails and messy sketches that get thrown out until I find the one that sticks. For this one, that concept was negative space. You see how the figure‘s skin is actually left blank on the canvas? For Niemand I wanted to do something with an intense black-white contrast. For darling heart, I really just did something with a couple because I thought it might be popular. I know I always write song lyrics with my art and cite them as inspiration, but the truth is most of the time I select the song and the lyrics that go with it a long time after I've come up with the idea for the artwork.“

Victor looks at him a little incredulously and Yuuri thinks he might have been too honest, but he doesn't really care; he hasn't eaten a whole lot today and there’s a pleasant warmth in his stomach from one glass of champagne and two bottles of Radler.

"What about Eternity?“, Victor asks, voice more quiet now.

Ah, Yuuri thinks and somewhere he finds a small smile to give to Victor.

"Hmm, Eternity is the exception that proves the rule, I guess. I really did sit down with the express intention of drawing something inspired by that song. It‘s been a favourite for a long time, it‘s just…“, Yuuri hesitates, but presses on before he can doubt himself too much, "well, as you said. It‘s heartfelt. Raw. It‘s sad, but it‘s not depressing. It‘s hopeful. I just—I guess I wanted to draw something that can express an emotion as complex as that.“

Somehow they've made their way along the wall, a few tables are over, and are now standing where Eternity is showcased, both regarding the artwork quietly for a long moment: a lone figure in a snowstorm, a lake, deep and dark, in the distance.

"I don’t think I can talk about it very well. Words aren’t exactly… my thing. Sometimes I think I’ve put everything I can’t express about that song into this piece.“
Yuuri hesitates again, his fingers clenching around his fidget cube in his pocket.
"What do you say? Have I succeeded?“

Victor says nothing for a while, only stepping closer to the glass that frames the painting, examining the details.

When he finally steps back and meets Yuuri‘s eyes, his expression is unreadable.

"I think you've expressed yourself beautifully.“

Yuuri ducks his head in a nod, then motions with his empty hand in the general direction of the bar.

"I, um, I need another drink. Do you…?“

Yuuri is relieved when Victor follows his steps easily across the room at the unspoken question.

"Thank you“, he says as they make their way to the bar, "thank you for coming here, you know, playing. It‘s made a huge difference to this event. I, ah, I want this to go well for Ciao-Ciao and everyone.“

Victor smiles at him when Yuuri looks over his shoulder.

"Of course, it was my pleasure. I was very excited when Chris approached me about it. Ciao-Ciao‘s is quite the name in this city, after all, and I‘m always happy to play a show on home turf.“

Victor‘s eyes widen slightly, words faltering, when Yuuri steps behind the bar without a second thought, grabbing another bottle of Radler from the fridge.

"Uhm, is that…?“

"It‘s fine“, Yuuri waves him off, "they won‘t let me pay for anything tonight anyway.“

He makes eye contact with Phichit across the room, holding up the bottle, and Phichit gives him a thumbs up. Yuuri nods, satisfied, and opens it with the bottle opener behind the bar. Then he grabs a glass and fills it with water from the tap.

"Anything for you?“

Victor shakes his head slightly, apparently still stunned, and holds up his wine glass, still half full. Then he seems to think better of it.

"Actually, you know what? I could use some water, too.“

Yuuri hums approvingly.

"Good choice. Smart. Staying hydrated.“

He fills a second glass, which he sets down in front of Victor, and they both empty them with long, greedy gulps. Then Yuuri sets them into the dishwasher with practised movements, grabs his Radler and steps out from behind the bar.

The café has indeed emptied somewhat after Victor’s set ended, but a lot of people are still standing outside the doors, smoking or chatting, flitting back in once and again to grab another drink or take another turn about the room. Yuuri can understand them—it’s April, and while the spring chill can still be felt at night, the cramped café, filled as it was with people, had been stuffy and warm by the time Victor set down his guitar. Yuuri wouldn’t mind stepping outside himself for a breath of fresh air, but he’s still technically the guest of honour, and right now, he’s just happy he can capitalise on Victor’s attention, if only for a few minutes.

When Yuuri turns to Victor, he sees him also take in the room, the carefully arranged tables, the snacks and drinks, the stage area.

“Chris did a good job organising this thing”, Victor’s saying, “He managed to tailor it perfectly to Ciao-Ciao’s’ atmosphere and your art style. But I guess that shouldn’t surprise me. He’s very good at his job.”

“Yeah.” Yuuri nods, letting his eyes wander over to where Christophe is standing close to the door, immersed in a conversation with a young couple. “I should thank him again later. This wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without his help. And he did it for free, too, which… thank God, to be honest, because I wouldn’t have been able to afford it, and I don’t think Celestino would have liked to make that kind of investment for me.” Yuuri takes another long draft of his beer before he continues. “I guess it pays to be best friends with the city’s one and only true social powerhouse.”

Victor smiles at him, a crooked thing sitting in the corner of his mouth.

“You’re referring to Phichit.”

“Who else?”

“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever really had a conversation with him before this, but he’s just always around wherever something’s going on. Festivals, readings, parties, fundraisers… plays, of course. He’s involved in everything. It’s impossible to do anything in this city that remotely has anything to do with arts or culture and not be aware of Phichit Chulanont. And you know what? I don’t think I’ve heard a single bad thing about him. These are the most snobbish, pretentious and petty people for miles around, and none of them has anything negative to say about him? I think he must have sold his soul to a poodle.”

Yuuri snorts into his beer.

“Yep, that sounds like Peaches alright. Did you know that he’s barely been in Germany as long as I have? I mean, he's still a student, for fuck's sake. He came to the city on an exchange program just before he graduated high school. One semester. Barely five months. By the time he went back home he’d already won the hearts of the entire Ruhrgebiet, so he quietly finished school and came back here within a few weeks. Somehow snagged a spot at the city's prime theatre programme right off the bat. He’s a fucking miracle is what he is. Not that I’m complaining—that miracle got nikiforlove to play at my art show opening after all. Um.”

It seemed like the right thing to say in the moment, but as soon as it’s out of his mouth, Yuuri knows it’s too honest, can hear how uncomfortably awed it sounds, and he clears his throat.

“Sorry—that was probably… I mean, you already know I really like your music, I just… well, I never got to see you perform before today.”

Victor laughs, a teasing glint in his eyes.

“That’s quite alright, Yuuri, I appreciate the compliment. I am hurt though, that after all these years I can entice you to my show only when it’s free.” Victor places a hand on his chest dramatically, right above the heart, and regards Yuuri with a heartbroken expression.

“What can I say, Victor? I am quite literally a starving artist who cannot afford to follow you on tour, and your shows in the city are always instantly sold out.”

Victor blinks at him in feigned surprise.

“Quite literally starving! Now, we can’t have that, Yuuri, not when there’s free food around!” He drapes an arm over Yuuri’s shoulders and leads him toward the tables at the side of the room. “Come on now, I believe I’ve seen some Blätterteigtaschen around here somewhere. Oh, what is your stance on Mettbrötchen?”

 


 

The hours creep on and Yuuri and Victor are still talking, occasionally interrupted by a guest wanting to chat to Victor or having a question for Yuuri. They separate then, Victor graciously and Yuuri with much more reluctance, but whenever the curiosity is sated and they are both free again, Yuuri finds himself gravitating back to Victor. And Victor doesn't seem to mind; that‘s what Yuuri hopes, at least, as Victor seems to seek him out too, a couple of times, to pick up their interrupted conversation again.

They talk about art and music, mostly, and Yuuri tries with moderate success not to rave about Victor‘s songs too much. Victor seems so pleased at his compliments, though, that Yuuri finds it hard to hold back; he wants to see that warm little smile over and over again. He also lets Victor wheedle details about On Love: Agape out of him, because he seems genuinely interested and Yuuri can‘t find it in himself to deny him. In return, Victor tells him about all his guitars and how he‘s been trying to teach himself to play the Irish Bouzouki to mix up the sound of his songs, and Yuuri could listen to Victor‘s voice for hours (and he does), the level, smooth hum of it and how it slips into an ebullient drawl more and more often with every glass of wine that Victor drinks. His English is very American in vocabulary and he‘s very liberal with his effusive exclamations. Amazing seems to be his favourite, and Yuuri stores away that information, tucks it carefully between his ribs.

(This is where it all started, he will think much later. This is where it began.)

It‘s only when the scraping of wood against concrete snaps them out of their conversation that they notice how the café has all but emptied of guests. Phichit and Celestino have started dragging the tables at the sides back to their original positions. Victor and Yuuri, sitting on one of them, take in the emptiness of the space. Yuuri was aware that most of his friends and colleagues have already said goodbye, Yuuko and Takeshi returning home some hours ago to relieve their babysitter, Seung-Gil and Emil from the tea shop following soon after. Chris is still around, straightening up the stage area, making Victor jump to his feet.

"Ah, I should probably get my equipment packed up“, he says with an apologetic look toward Chris, and Yuuri nods.

"Go ahead. I‘ll see if I can help out Phichit and Ciao-Ciao.“

He ducks his head when Phichit regards him with a knowing look as Yuuri joins them.

"Anything I can do to help?“, he asks in German.

"Na, bist du von Wolke sieben zurückgekehrt?“, Phichit chirps and Yuuri wordlessly punches him in the arm, looking at Celestino instead.

"We‘ve got the tables, I think“, Celestino says, "but the dishwasher should be done by now, you can unload it and get another load going.“

Yuuri nods and heads back to the bar. He doesn't actually work at Ciao-Ciao‘s, but he‘s helped Phichit close up enough times that he knows the routine.

 

It‘s past midnight by the time the café is all straightened up and ready for closing, and by unspoken agreement the five men reconvene by the bar for a last drink after Victor‘s equipment has been piled up by the door.

"How are you getting home, then?“, Yuuri asks, while Celestino cracks open the good Grappa, pouring five glasses, "You‘re not driving.“

Victor shakes his head, but before he can say anything, Phichit cuts in.

"Home? Who said anything about going home?“, he says, not even looking up from his phone, "No, you‘ll come dancing with us.“

"Uhm….“, Victor exchanges a glance first with Yuuri, then with Chris, "Do I get any say in the matter?“

"Nope.“ Phichit glances up for a moment, meeting Yuuri's eyes. "I've got a lead on a few good parties tonight. It‘s your night, so you get to decide. Would you rather techno, 90‘s or mixed music?“

Yuuri knits his eyebrows.

"Those are the only options, really? Isn't there anywhere with decent music?“

"That‘s decent by your standards or by mine?“, Phichit says, at the same time that Victor interjects, "Aw, Yuuri! Have you been so deprived of decent music tonight?“

Yuuri blinks at him. "Victor, no! That‘s not—you know that‘s not what I meant! It‘s just—I mean, does any of that sound like any fun to you?“

Victor shrugs.

"I like 90‘s music.“

Yuuri sighs. "Of course you do. In true millennial fashion.“

"Ah, Yuuri“, Chris pipes up, turning the Grappa glass that Celestino has handed him in his hand, "unless I‘m very much mistaken, and if so I would please like to know your skincare secret, you‘re as much a millennial as any of us here. Well“, he gestures toward Celestino, "with the exception of our excellent host of course.“

"Well, yes“, Yuuri grumbles, "but that doesn't mean I have to be a cliché.“

He winces as Chris, Victor and Phichit burst into laughter.

"What?“

"Yuuri“, Victor informs him with a gentle smile, "I have some bad news for you. You‘re trying to make a living as a freelance artist in a foreign city. You post on Instagram daily. You wear the cuffs of your pants rolled up. You are the millennial cliché.“

"He‘s right, you know“, Chris continues, "You own and have played every single Pokémon game, regardless of time and financial constraints. I‘ve seen you wear flannel shirts. And I have yet to go to your and Phichit‘s place and find that you don‘t have any avocados in your kitchen.“

"You‘re ganging up on me“, Yuuri mumbles, arms crossed in front of his chest.

"My dearest darling Yuuri“, Phichit says, grinning, "You regularly refer to your life as a dumpster fire and yourself as a garbage person. You love everything that involves Matcha tea. There is literally a fidget cube in your hand right now. You brought this on yourself, my friend.“

Yuuri closes his fist more firmly around the cube, though he knows it’s pointless trying to hide it now. "I—…“, he begins with an uncertain glance toward Victor, then he sighs, "my liking Matcha tea is not a millennial thing. It‘s a Japanese thing.“

"Ah, that‘s one point of, what, ten, that you can contest?“, Chris says with a grin, "You can‘t argue them all away. Admit it, Yuuri. Just because you don‘t like 90‘s music doesn‘t mean you‘re not one of us.“

Yuuri uncrosses his arms and hurriedly grabs his glass.

"Can we just drink now?“

Celestino takes that as his cue, perking up. "Ah! Finally some words I understand“, he says in German. "Pick up your glasses, boys, and let‘s drink to a successful night.“

Yuuri ducks his head, not having considered that Celestino was cut out of their English conversation.

"Entschuldige, Ciao-Ciao“, he says, "wir sind jetzt fertig. Kein Englisch mehr.“

Celestino waves his words away and lifts his glass and the others follow suit.
"All of you have done excellent work today“, he says, "to a successful art show, and to Yuuri.“

Yuuri stares down into his grappa as the others follow suit. He can already feel the clear liquid burning in his throat—he knows Celestino doesn't do things by halves when it comes to grappa. Still he takes a deep breath and a big gulp, feeling his eyes water as his throat and stomach heat up.

He looks up when a phone is shoved in front of his face, taking in the information Phichit is showing him. He feels a slow smile spread on his face, viscous and bright like the grappa tingling through his body, when Phichit says, "And now I don‘t want to hear a single word of complaint about the music for the rest of the night.“

Yuuri downs the last of his drink, then spreads his arms to both sides, coming to rest on Chris‘ shoulder and Victor‘s arm. "Jungs“, he says, "Wir gehen tanzen!

 


 

Yuuri doesn't know how Phichit rustled up a club that plays electroswing at a moment‘s notice. Knowing Phichit he thinks it might be entirely possible that he‘s had that party organised specifically for him within three minutes after Yuuri complained about the music choices. He‘s not about to question it.

He‘s pleasantly buzzed and he‘s swing dancing with Victor.

He‘s living his best life.

 

After Celestino had locked up the café and they had said their goodbyes, they had made a quick stop at Yuuri‘s and Phichit‘s flat to deposit Victor‘s equipment, since Victor‘s own place was too far out of the way, before piling into a taxi.

Yuuri doesn't remember who paid for it, but he also can‘t be bothered to think about it right now.

Victor is a good dancer. He doesn't seem to know much more than the basics of swing dance but he follows Yuuri‘s lead with grace and excellent instincts. They switch leads for a fast-paced discofox and both of them are breathless with laughter and exertion by the end of it.

Victor’s braid, a dark blueish colour in the subdued light of the club, whips around his shoulders as he moves. In his patterned wool pants and matching waistcoat, he fits seamlessly into the crowd of petticoats and suspenders surrounding them. The bridge of Victor‘s nose and the tips of his ears are red when he’s out of breath with movement, and that‘s another piece of information that Yuuri tucks safely away in his ribcage.

He drinks another Radler and also the brightly coloured shot with the obscene name that Phichit presses into his hand at some point, and reluctantly he relinquishes Victor to Chris and dances with Phichit, and then he dances with Chris while Victor leads Phichit around the dance floor. They dance all four of them together, too, not in pairs, just moving with the music on the dance floor, and it‘s only when Yuuri finally sits down, breaths panting and feet aching, that he realises how dizzy he feels. He’s lost all sense of time and he leans back on the padded bench until the back of his head rests against the wall and he closes his eyes just for a moment.

The next thing he feels is a warm touch on his shoulder and he opens his eyes with some effort and someone holds out a glass with a clear liquid to him.
Yuuri looks up and it’s Victor smiling at him, loose hair that has slipped out of his braid falling around his face, making it softer.
“It’s water”, he says, sitting down on the bench next to him, “drink up.”

Yuuri grabs the glass, reassuringly heavy in his hands. “Smart. Staying hydrated”, he murmurs, and he’s not sure Victor can hear him over the noise in the club, but he nods and holds up his own glass of water. Yuuri drinks.

The water is cool and refreshing in his tacky mouth and dry throat, and Yuuri shifts a little so he sits straighter, feeling a little more awake. He spots Phichit and Chris curled up together in a large arm chair, and he chuckles. The rest of the club is significantly more empty than he last remembers.

“We should probably get them home”, Yuuri says, and when Victor leans closer to hear him better over the din of the music, Yuuri can smell his sweat and the last traces of his aftershave.
“Yeah”, Victor replies and the rumble of his voice feels like a vibration in Yuuri’s stomach, “it’s getting late.”

Yuuri finishes his water in greedy gulps, then heaves himself upright. “Well, come on then.”
He holds out his hand to Victor and pulls him to his feet.

 


 

It turns out that Chris and Phichit were only “resting their eyes” and quickly regain their energy. By the time they stumble out of the club into the cool April night, they’re already laughing again, shouting nonsense into the still air. Yuuri is thankful for the cool breeze calming the dizziness still swirling around him. Phichit links their arms and pulls him forward and begins loudly complaining about how hungry he is. Victor and Chris are walking a few paces ahead of them. Victor has taken off his waistcoat and rolled up his sleeves, and his silvery hair, barely held together anymore by the hair tie at the middle of his back, shines softly in the yellowish glow of the street lights.

It only takes them a few minutes to make it to the next underground station. Trains are running through the night, but Phichit and Yuuri need to go in the opposite direction from Victor and Chris, so this is where they part ways. There’s a train coming just as they descend the stairs to the platform, so there’s no time for long goodbyes. Yuuri thinks it’s probably for the better, even if something in him clenches, waving to Victor over his shoulder as he and Phichit run for the nearest doors.

“I’ll stop by tomorrow to pick up my stuff”, Victor shouts after them, and then, “Good night!”

Yuuri and Phichit collapse into empty seats as the train takes off. Yuuri feels dizzy.

“God, I’m knackered”, Phichit says, and Yuuri nods vaguely. He promptly gets elbowed in the side and before he can voice his protest, Phichit asks: “Did you have a good time?”

A wide, involuntary smile spreads over Yuuri’s face. “Yeah”, he says.

A few minutes later, his phone buzzes with a message. It’s from a number exchanged only hours earlier, sitting together on a table at Ciao-Ciao’s, knees almost touching.

Victor
03:17 let me know when you two have made it home safe. Good night 💖

 

Chapter Text

 

The next morning, Yuuri wakes slowly, drifting up from the depth of his dreams, warm and comfortable and heavy wrapped in his comforter.

And then he rolls over.

Dizziness crashes over him suddenly, spinning the room around him, and nausea punches him in the gut. With some difficulty he extracts his arms from the tight prison of his blankets and clutches his hands over his face, shutting out the dull morning light. On the edges of his fingers he can feel the smile spreading his lips wide.

It takes him a while to convince his muscles to work together long enough for him to sit up, smooth back the tangled strands of his hair and finally push to his feet to shuffle into the bathroom. He‘s in his boxer briefs and the black v-neck from last night, and only when he blinks at his surprisingly sharp reflection in the bathroom mirror and sees his bloodshot eyes does he realise that he forgot to take out his contacts the night before.

Ten minutes later he shuffles into the living area of the flat, now in sweatpants and his glasses. Phichit, sprawled on the couch, looks up briefly at the sound of his footsteps and mumbles a „morning“ before returning his attention to his phone.

Yuuri grunts. He is somewhat appeased by the fact that Phichit‘s hair, too, is mussed into something resembling a bird‘s nest, smudges of make-up still lining his eyes.

Crossing the living room to get into their tiny kitchen, Yuuri asks: “Tea?”

Phichit wordlessly lifts up a steaming mug in one hand. Yuuri grunts again.

A few minutes later Yuuri curls up on the other end of the couch, hands loosely wrapped around a mug of black tea that is just a little too hot to hold. For a long while both of them are silent, Phichit staring into his phone, scrolling and typing occasionally, Yuuri content to just stare into the distance, slowly waking up from his heavy hangover haze, and gathering together his recollections of the night before.

He remembers everything clearly until they left Ciao-Ciao’s, but once they reached the club, his memories are tinged in a few bright bursts of colour, interspersed with murky reddish darkness. He remembers the fast-paced beats in the club and knows there was a lot of dancing, he remembers drinking and laughing, he remembers bright, colourful city lights in the night, melting into one another, brake lights and street lights and traffic lights all blinking and winking in and out of existence as his feet are walking him down the street, an arm linked into his, and his gaze fixed on the soft shimmer of Victor’s braid coming loose.

He can’t help the small smile that comes to his lips at the recollection. It still feels so surreal, even in the harsh light of day. This time yesterday Yuuri was still more than happy to just see Victor play, maybe exchange a few pleasantries if he could muster up the courage. That his life would grant him the chance to spend time with Victor beyond that just seems so unlikely.

Next to him he hears Phichit click his phone screen off.

“So”, he says and drains the last of his tea, before setting the mug down on the coffee table, and Yuuri quietly braces himself, “you met Victor Nikiforov last night.”

Despite himself, Yuuri’s smile widens into a grin.

“Yeah. I did.”

Phichit regards him with a gaze that is somehow casual and calculating at once.

“Has he texted you yet?”

Yuuri blinks. “Why would he text me?”

With a sigh Phichit shakes his head, “For his equipment, for starters? It’s still here, remember?”

“Oh. Right.” Yuuri turns his head in the direction of entryway, where Victor’s guitar case, his amp, mic and a bag of other various effects lean against the wall. “But why me? I assumed he would text you about that.”

“Me?”

“Yeah”, Yuuri shrugs, “you’ve been his contact throughout all of this event, right? So I figure he’d approach you.”

Phichit purses his lips. “Not technically true; Chris has been his contact. But let’s say I give you that—didn’t he also text you last night? On the train?”

“He did?”

“Don’t you remember?”

Yuuri furrows his brows, thinking. “Vaguely. I did text him back, didn’t I?”

“Yes, yes, you did. You had me read over it twice to make sure it was okay before you sent it.”

Yuuri hums. “But that text was for the both of us. I’m sure he just sent it to me because I was higher up in his history since we’d just exchanged info.”

Phichit sighs deeply. “Whatever you say, Yuuri. Well, he hasn’t texted me, anyway. He hasn’t contacted you either?”

Yuuri turns his cooling mug slowly in his hands.

“I don’t know, I didn’t check.”

“Well, maybe you should”, Phichit says blithely, leaning back, “wouldn’t do to keep him waiting now, would it?”

“But—Peach… I’m over here, and my phone is all the way back there in my room!”, Yuuri whines, “I would have to get up.”

Phichit snorts. “Alas, poor Yorick. You truly are the most unfortunate soul on this bitch of an earth. Now stop whining and go get your phone.”

Yuuri glares at him, and sets down his mug before leaning forward as if making to get up. When Phichit looks away from him with a satisfied grin, Yuuri instead reaches out and flicks his forehead.

“Ow! Hey! Yuuri?!”

Phichit slaps his hand against his forehead with a satisfying whap. Yuuri shrugs, really pushing up from the sofa this time.

“You brought that one on yourself, Peaches. You know the rule.”

Phichit pouts.

“Yeah, yeah”, he mumbles, “no Shakespeare before noon on the weekends.”

“No Shakespeare before noon on the weekends”, Yuuri confirms emphatically, shuffling out of the room.

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child”, Phichit mumbles, and Yuuri stops in the doorway.

“I heard that! Watch yourself, Chulanont! Three strikes and I take away your phone.”

“You don’t even want your own phone”, Phichit calls after him, “what are you going to do with mine?”

Yuuri, padding into his own room, is about to call back something about how it isn’t about using the phone, when he sees his own phone blinking with the white light that signals a new message. Gingerly, he picks it up.

 

Victor
09:34 Good morning, Yuuri! 😊
09:34 I hope you had a good night’s rest. I’ll be in the area later today to pick up my car from CC’s. What time can I stop by to pick up my equipment?

 

Yuuri wanders back into the living room, eyes still fixed on the screen.

“He texted me”, he mumbles.

“No way”, Phichit deadpans.

“You’re not being helpful, Peach. What do I do?”

Phichit looks up from his own phone, eyebrow quirked. “Text him back, preferably?”

“He’s asking when he can come over to pick up his stuff.”

“Then tell him. Jeez, Yuuri, I know you always say you’re bad with words, but you should really have grasped the basics by now”, Phichit lowers his phone to his lap and looks at Yuuri with big, earnest eyes. “So if someone asks you a question”, he speaks in slow, deliberate words, “you come up with the answer you want to give and you tell it to them.”

Unfortunately, Yuuri has nothing in his reach to throw at him.

 


 

—> To Victor
10:41 sorry for the late reply, I slept late
10:42 we’re pretty much home for the day so you can stop by whenever’s convenient for you

Victor
10:43 Great! I’m on my way to CCs now, will stop by with my car.
10:43 Is there any parking in your area?

—> To Victor
10:47 there’s some parking along the street. There’s usually a free space somewhere. It’s free of charge on sundays, too.

Victor
10:51 👍 will be there soon!

 


 

Victor gets there after Yuuri has had a quick, panicked shower and changed into some actually clean clothes.

Phichit doesn’t seem to be bothered, still slouching on the couch with his hair mussed and in his rumpled sleep clothes when the doorbell rings.

Yuuri buzzes Victor up and then waits by the door, fidgeting, while Victor climbs the two flights of stairs to their apartment. He looks impeccable when he comes into view, his hair tied up in a neat ponytail, a light jacket open over a pair of jeans and a heathered t-shirt. His only concession to the late night are the sunglasses he’s wearing on a rather overcast April day, but he takes them off when Yuuri comes into view. His eyes widen slightly in surprise, but it’s quickly overtaken by a bright smile.

“Yuuri, hi!”

Yuuri, suddenly self-conscious, twists his fingers into the hem of his shirt, but he musters a smile of his own.

“Hi, Victor. Uhm, come on in.”

Stepping aside to let Victor in, Yuuri lingers by the doorway, unsure if Victor will take off again right away with his things. Victor, walking over to where his equipment leans against the wall by the door to the living room, turns to smile at him. “Thanks for letting me keep my things here. Leaving the guitar in the car overnight… the cold’s not good for the wood.”

Yuuri nods. “It’s no problem, really. It’s the least we could do after dragging you out last night.”

Victor laughs softly, a bright sound.

“I hardly think there was any dragging involved. I came quite willingly, you know.”

“Ah… good, that’s good.”

Victor lets his gaze wander through the living room from the doorway. “Hi Phichit!”

“Hey Victor!” Phichit, still apparently unwilling to get up, waves at him from the couch.

“It’s a nice place you have here. I didn’t really see much of it last night.”

“Well, come on in. Yuuri can give you a tour.”

Victor turns back toward him eyebrows raised. “Is that okay?”

“Ah, sure, yes. You just, um… do you want to take off your shoes?” Yuuri gestures to a shoe rack by the door.

“Oh”, Victor eyes widen a little again, “yes, of course. Sorry!”

“It’s no problem”, Yuuri mumbles, waiting as Victor slips out of his ankle boots, “I know people don’t always do that here, it’s just, you know, what I grew up with.”

“I understand”, Victor says, straightening up with a soft smile, “just because we’re in a different country doesn’t mean we have to let go of everything from home.”

There‘s such genuine understanding in his voice that for a moment it renders Yuuri speechless. “Ah, yes“, he finally says, "Thank you. For understanding. Well, alright…”

Yuuri leads Victor into the living room proper. The old hardwood floors creak under their weight as they move, muffled though it is by the rugs he and Phichit have placed around the room.

"This here is the living room, where we hang out, mostly. Through there“, he gestures toward the open door at the far end, "is the kitchen. It‘s tiny, but it does its job, I guess.“

Victor strides past the large corner couch on which Phichit lounges to take a quick look into the space that just barely has a stove, a sink and a fridge cramped into it, along with some overhead cabinets. "Cute“, he says, and Yuuri has a hard time reading from his voice if he‘s being mocking or genuine.

"Uhm…“, he turns around and faces the other end of the living room, where a large square IKEA shelf is used to section off a corner of the large room, "this is my work space.“

Victor is beside him again in an instant and Yuuri‘s voice nearly falters at the sudden interest alight in his eyes. "This is where you work?“

"Ah, yeah. With the big windows, this is where you get the best light in the flat. So I kind of annexed this part of the living room for myself, and in exchange I took the smaller bedroom.“

Victor steps slowly into Yuuri‘s work space, regarding at first the shelf itself that serves to divide the room. The square compartments hold an assortment of books—art books, reference books, and most of Yuuri‘s manga and comics—as well as boxes and piles of supplies and tools—papers and pens and paints, packaging material, folders with prints and originals, sketchbooks.

Then Victor turns around to where Yuuri‘s desk stands underneath the largest window. There‘s his computer along with his graphic tablet and his iPad, and strewn across the surface are a number of loose sketches and pens, along with a mess of indecipherable to-do-lists tacked to various flat surfaces.

Self-consciously, Yuuri watches Victor skim his fingertips along the wood of the desk, just shy of the papers strewn about as if he doesn't quite dare touch them. Yuuri’s breath seizes in his throat, holding, until Victor speaks again.

"You don‘t have a studio?“, he asks, quietly, absently, as if he‘s hardly aware of speaking at all.

Yuuri‘s breath punches out of him with a sudden laugh, tasting a little too bitter on his tongue.

"Ha, no! Who the hell can afford something like that? In this city?“

He bites his tongue when Victor‘s head whips around to him and the tips of Victor’s ears are turning read again. He’s pulling up his shoulders as if in an effort to hide it.

"Oh—sorry“, he says, "I just thought…“

"No, no“, Yuuri hurries to cut off his words. There’s something disconcerting about seeing Victor falter like that, "don‘t worry about it. I just, yeah… I don‘t make nearly enough at this point to be able to justify a studio. Someday hopefully. But at this time… well, I still work part-time in a tea shop.“

Victor stares at him, his fingers still trailing on the desk aimlessly.

"You do? But—“, he looks around the work space helplessly, then toward Phichit for a moment before meeting Yuuri‘s eyes again, "but you‘re so popular! You’ve got so many followers on Instagram, much more than me!“

"Uhm…“, again Yuuri twists his fingers into the hem of his shirt. He can feel heat distinctly rising up along his neck and face, "well. It‘s kind of an arbitrary number, Victor. I mean you've got many more on Spotify and YouTube, you know, the platforms for music. People don‘t really go to Instagram first to follow musicians. They go to Instagram to follow artists and photographers. And, you know, influencers, but that‘s“, he waves the words away, "the point is, you know, it‘s nice that all these people are interested in seeing my posts, but, well, they‘re free, so I hardly make my money by how many Insta followers I have.“

Victor‘s still staring, lips parted, and the colour has spread from his ears to his cheeks.

"Oh. I guess I never really thought about how any of this works for artists.“

“That’s okay”, Yuuri says with a nervous laugh, futilely trying to defuse the awkwardness, “I wouldn’t expect you to. I’m sure I don’t know anything about how it works for musicians either.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Victor nods and smiles, a little too brightly, turning back to the desk. “So this is where you do all your work? Doesn’t it get distracting, working in the living room?”

Yuuri shrugs. “Not really. I actually like not being alone in an empty studio all day. It’s nice to know Phichit is there, even if we’re both doing our own thing. There’s plenty of times when Peach is out for work, too, and if I really need to concentrate on something there’s always headphones.”

Victor smiles at his words, a little forced, a little too sad, but before Yuuri can open his mouth, they’re interrupted by Phichit’s voice from the couch.

“Strangely, no one ever asks if having Yuuri here all the time bothers me.”

Victor laughs, a sound that makes something in Yuuri loosen, and he shoots Phichit an unimpressed stare from across the room.

“I’m sure I’m very detrimental to your concentration when you watch SOTUS.”

Victor’s head snaps around to Phichit so quickly that his ponytail nearly hits Yuuri in the face.

“You watch SOTUS?”

Yuuri blinks, bemused, as something lights up Victor’s face, something genuine, something akin to the enthusiasm that had slowly spread through Victor, voice, face and body language, with every drink he had last night.

Phichit leans forward on the couch in order to see Victor better.

“Why yes, my friend of good entertainment, of course I do. Look who you’re talking to.”

Yuuri shakes his head with a small smile as Victor bounds over to the couch, and the two of them launch into a fast-paced discussion of the show that keeps rising in pitch. When Yuuri realises they aren’t going to stop anytime soon, he wordlessly passes by them into the kitchen to make tea. Not knowing what tea Victor likes or if he drinks tea at all poses a bit of a challenge, so he decides on the least controversial thing he can think of: Earl Grey.

Victor takes the mug that Yuuri hands him a few minutes later automatically, then does a double take and stares up at him from his place on the sofa.

“Thank you. Oh—Yuuri, I’m so sorry! I interrupted your tour!”

Yuuri smiles. “Don’t worry about it. The rest of the flat isn’t going anywhere, and you seemed to have a lot to talk about.”

Victor gives half a shrug and glances between him and Phichit.

“I guess so, yeah. I just never—I don’t really know anyone else who watches that show, so I don’t really get to talk about it.”

Phichit gasps, a hand splayed dramatically on his chest. “Excuse me? What kind of deprived social circle do you poor boy live in?”

“Ah, I—”, Victor hesitates, “I don’t know, Chris won’t watch it, he finds subtitles tiring is what he says.”

“Oh, yeah”, Phichit rolls his eyes, “I’ve had that discussion with him. Repeatedly.”

“So… yeah”, Victor says, tucking his face close to his tea and blowing softly across its surface, “I usually watch it with my dog, and obviously I can talk to her about it, but she doesn’t really have a lot of input to add.”

Victor goes for a smile that is probably meant to be wry but there’s a twist to his lips that looks much too sad and something in Yuuri’s stomach clenches painfully. As Victor looks down into his tea and takes a careful sip, Phichit searches Yuuri’s gaze over his head and Yuuri nods slightly.

“Well, you’re always welcome here to watch it with me!”, Phichit says, leaning back on the couch, “I talk about it with friends back home all the time, but it’s different to have someone right there while you watch it to scream about it with. And since my dearest roommate refuses to do that…”

Yuuri pouts slightly. “I watch with you, Peaches”, he says, “I’m just sitting at my desk while I do.”

“Please, Yuuri”, Phichit rolls his eyes at him, “don’t act like you have any idea what’s going on! You’re staring at your work the whole time, and your three phrases of Thai are nowhere near enough to help you understand. I bet you couldn’t even tell me what the main characters’ names are.”

Defensively, Yuuri raises his own mug of tea before his chest. “I can tell every time someone says hello or thank you, though”, he mumbles without conviction.

Victor watches their exchange with bright eyes and parted lips.

“Can I really?”, he asks finally, “Come over, I mean? To watch?”

Yuuri watches Victor’s profile, the hopeful tilt of his eyebrows, the wide, heart-shaped smile that spreads on his face when Phichit says “Of course! We could make it like a weekly thing!”, and he makes sure to deposit the image safely somewhere behind his sternum.

 


 

They do get around to the rest of the tour eventually, when the tea is finished and a weekly date set up for Victor and Phichit to watch their show. Though there isn’t really all that much left to the tour—back through the hallway, Yuuri indicates the door to the bathroom, located across from the living room, then turns toward the end of the hall.

“The door on the left is my bedroom, at the end there is Phichit’s. The tiny one is a storage closet. It’s pretty narrow, so we can’t really keep much in there, but it’s good storage for some of my old canvases.”

Victor nods, and in the dim, windowless hallway, Yuuri can just about make out his smile.

“Can I see?”, he asks, gesturing toward the door to Yuuri’s room.

Yuuri hesitates for a moment, mentally assessing the state of his bedroom at this time. It’s not too bad—there might be a few clothes strewn on the floor and the bed, but all things considered, it’s looked much worse. He’s not really sure why Victor would want to see it, but there can’t be any harm to it.

“Yeah, uhm, sure”, he says, and opens the door to let Victor step inside.

It’s a small room by German standards, but it felt huge after years in tiny dorm rooms in Tokyo, and since Yuuri doesn’t have to cram his desk into it, it’s plenty. There’s a double bed tucked into a corner, a wardrobe, a dresser and a book case, and not much more. There are indeed his clothes from last night still strewn across the floor, the towel, still wet from his shower earlier, crumpled on the unmade bed. Yuuri takes a careful look around the room, trying to see it from an outsider’s perspective, and tentatively decides that it doesn’t make him look terrible.

Victor, with an infallible instinct, makes his way toward the dresser, on which there’s a small CD rack packed with CD cases, a few digipacks and special editions lined up on top. Yuuri watches him run his fingers along the spines, silently mouthing names, a small smile playing his lips. His fingers stop and from the position and the colours of the case Yuuri knows instantly which CD it is. Victor carefully pulls nikiforlove’s latest album, Stay Close to Me, out of the line-up, a lopsided smile tugging on his lips.

“You still buy physical copies?”, he asks, turning the case over in his hands.

Yuuri shrugs, edging closer to Victor, trying to keep his voice casual as he answers. “Only my favourites. For everything else I use Spotify like a normal person.”

Victor grins a little wider as the implication does not escape him, and carefully slides the case back into place. He continues along the row of CDs and the next time he stops, his finger rests on the corner of the xx’s first album.

“You’ve got good taste.”

Yuuri can’t suppress a grin as he takes another step closer. “You like the xx?”

“Of course”, Victor murmurs, “Jamie Smith’s a wizard on the drum machine.”

Yuuri sighs wistfully. “Tell me about it.”

“Do you prefer xx or Coexist?”

Yuuri snorts before he can catch himself. “Please. xx, no question. Don’t get me wrong, Coexist is great, but it’s nowhere close to the genius of the first album.”

 


 

Before he knows it, Yuuri and Victor are sitting on his bed, surrounded by CDs and deeply immersed in a conversation. It shouldn’t surprise Yuuri as much as it does that they have a fairly similar music taste, what with nikiforlove’s music fitting seamlessly into the the array of Yuuri’s music library. They also trade recommendations back and forth—Victor promises to give Hayley Kiyoko a listen, and in return Yuuri makes a note of Sleeping at Last and a German band called Diary of Dreams.

It isn’t until their conversation finds a natural end and tapers off into comfortable silence that Yuuri becomes acutely aware that Victor Nikiforov is currently in his bed. Comfortable, too: he’s scooted back onto the covers and at some point, immersed in conversation, he pulled Yuuri’s large Appa plushie into his lap, running his fingers over its fur and along its horns absentmindedly as he talked. Now he leans back on his hands, the plushie still sitting in between his crossed legs (Yuuri can’t stop staring at it), and for the first time he seems to really take in the rest of Yuuri’s room.

His eyes wander over his walls—the one above his bed, in particular, which is covered in a cluster of photographs, posters and art prints. Yuuri follows his gaze hesitantly. Other than a Mononoke Hime poster and a large Moebius print, most of the prints are from other artists he’s met at conventions, all of them in a variety of styles far from his own, and he vaguely envies them all. All of them seem to have a much better command over their tools, are better with their composition, more imaginative with their ideas. Some days, Yuuri hates having this wall of talented people looming over him even when he wakes up, but most of the time, he likes to look at them to remind himself not to get too stuck in his ideas and to always try for things outside his comfort zone (in art, if nowhere else.)

Victor leans forward to regard one of the larger prints, a monochrome of patterns in black on a white background, just a splash of orange emphasising this part or that. The lines are impossibly thin and precise, the motives surreal shapes and figures bordering on the abstract, all natural patterns and brittle details. Yuuri can still find new angles to it every time he looks at it.

“Do you like it?”, he asks when Victor doesn’t seem inclined to say anything, but doesn’t tear his gaze away from the painting either.

“I’m not sure”, Victor says, and Yuuri laughs.

“I understand. I guess that’s how a lot of people feel about this artist.”

“Who’s it by?”

Yuuri hums and leans forward himself, running his fingers over the signature the artist had reluctantly bestowed upon the print when Yuuri bought it last summer.

“He goes by icetiger on social media, but he uses his name at conventions. Yuri Plisetsky. He’s so young, not even out of school yet, but he’s so talented, it’s a bit scary. He had the original of this piece framed with him when I bought this. It’s much larger, and I spent so long staring at the details I thought for sure he was going to kick me until I go away. I—I don’t think he likes me very much.”

Victor finally tears his gaze away from the piece to look at Yuuri.

“Why do you say that?”

Yuuri shrugs.

“I—I’m not sure. I feel like a lot of the people I meet in artist alleys don’t like me very much. I’m, you know, not very good at making small talk. I make it a point to take a look around the other tables as much as I can, but I never know what to say and—I don’t know. I feel like they might think I’m judging them? I’d like to connect with them more, but it’s just, I’m still new in the scene here in Germany, but everyone’s already aware of me, sort of, but then again not…”, Yuuri sighs, cutting off his rambling, “it’s just, it’s weird.”

“Wait, aware of you? What do you mean? Why would you judge them?”

Confusion creates a little crease in between Victor’s eyebrows as he regards Yuuri, and Yuuri really doesn’t want to be having this conversation. He flops onto his back on the bed, staring at the ceiling so he doesn’t have to meet Victor’s eyes.

“So you’re aware I came here from Japan three years ago, right?”, Victor makes a soft noise of affirmation and Yuuri goes on, “I came just after I finished my degree, but the thing is… people already kind of knew me in Japan by then. And by extension a little bit here and everywhere else too, because what with the internet being a thing, nothing really stays confined anywhere.”

Yuuri takes a deep breath.

“I did this project in my free time in my second year at Tokyo Geidai, a silly thing mostly for some social media hits, and, well.. It worked a little too well, maybe? It went pretty viral, first in Japan and then all over and… suddenly it was all anyone talked about, you know, all anyone expected of me. It was silly, it wasn’t even my own style, I was imitating this Studio Ghibli kind of style, you know?”, Yuuri vaguely gestured toward the Mononoke Hime poster, “and suddenly all of my social media was flooded with all these people who had seen that, all the comments on all my posts were just people asking when I would do more drawings in that series. I tried really hard to get them interested in the rest of my art, but they wouldn’t let up and…", Yuuri interrupts himself, biting his tongue, but unable to hold back the words that rush forward, "You know—this is going to sound really elitist and conceited, but—I went to Tokyo Geidai and studied fine arts and I really didn’t want that to be the only thing people remembered me for.”

Victor is still silent and still Yuuri does not want to meet his eyes, so he rolls onto his side, curling up a little, and reaches out for a pillow to tuck into the hollow of his body.

“So after I graduated I came to Germany and changed my screen name and got new social media accounts, and I became YKatsu. But I guess word has spread.”

Victor is quiet for a few more long moments and Yuuri does not stir, does not look at him. When Victor finally speaks, his voice is soft.

“And you think, what, that they resent you for your success?”

Yuuri winces. “No! God, no. It was hardly a success, anyway. I—… I’m worried they—I…”, Yuuri can’t get the words out, it just feels so silly trying to say it out loud. He bites down hard on his lower lip and takes three deep breath, trying to instil some sort of calm into himself. “I’m worried they think me a coward for running away”, he finally whispers, “or a snob for thinking what I had back then wasn’t good enough. And now—”, he takes a deep shuddering breath, braces himself, and rolls over, facing Victor, “and now I’m worried you’ll think the same.” His voice is barely audible.

Victor looks down at him from where he’s still sitting upright on the bed. There’s something pinched in his expression, but it’s a far cry from the disgusted, distasteful face Yuuri was half expecting. He holds his breath when Victor opens his mouth.

“I’m not judging you for the choice you made, Yuuri. And I’m sure no one else does, either. You’re the best judge of your own needs, and if you felt like—like you needed to get out from under those expectations, there’s no shame in that.”

Yuuri nods, his throat dry, and pushes himself back up until he sits across from Victor, the two of them now mirror images of the other; legs crossed, a pillow and a plushie respectively cradled in their laps, Victor leaning back on his hands, Yuuri curling forward into himself.

“That’s not all that it was”, Yuuri says, “the expectations, I mean. That was part of it, sure but… I also didn’t want my success to be built on someone else’s hard work, you know? I know there’s lots of artists using fanart as a stepping stone to bigger things, and I’m not judging them for that. In a field as competitive as this, you do whatever you can to distinguish yourself, and it’s not like it’ll make any sort of difference to the big corporations. They profit from it anyway, in the long run. But… that’s not the way I wanted to take. I wanted to make my own way, you know? Not build myself up on the hard work someone else has already done.”

He runs his fingers over the pillow, back and forth, over and over, listening to the soft whisper of skin on fabric.

“That’s why I wanted to leave that behind. Start new. But I think a lot of people wouldn’t agree with my decision.”

“Screw them.”

Victor’s sudden words make Yuuri start, eyes flicking up to meet Victor’s.

“Screw them, if they won’t understand. You made a decision that was good and right for you, and they don’t get an opinion on that. They don’t get to call you a coward.”

There’s an intensity in Victor’s voice that makes Yuuri shiver, and Yuuri blinks at him, a little dazed. Victor takes a deep breath, collecting himself, and when he continues his voice is soft again.

“Thank you, Yuuri. For telling me.”

Yuuri nods slowly. It had been surprisingly easy to tell Victor, in the end. Victor is easy to talk to. He always seems to know the right questions to ask, and his eyes on Yuuri are never expectant, always patient. Yuuri finds he doesn’t mind as much, telling Victor about these things. They drift back into comfortable silence for a while. Victor’s eyes roam over the art on Yuuri’s wall again, and Yuuri’s quietly thankful that the original canvas of Eternity is currently at Ciao-Ciao’s rather than its customary place above Yuuri’s dresser and his CDs.

Finally Victor shakes his head, tossing a few loose strands of hair out of his face, and turns to Yuuri once more.

“You don’t have to answer this”, he says, “but what was the project you did back then? The one that went viral?”

Yuuri grimaces involuntarily. He doesn’t like to think about it, much less talk. He keeps telling himself that he isn’t ashamed of it, that there is no need to be ashamed of it, but sometimes it’s difficult told hold fast to that sentiment. But this is Victor. Maybe with Victor, he can.

“It was…”, he starts, clinging to the corners of the pillow in his lap, “it was a series—I’d draw pokémon in that Ghibli style. Specifically, uhm, the Eeveelutions? You know?”

Victor hums. “I think so. I never really got into Pokémon, but I’ve seen them around, I believe.”

Yuuri nods. “It was cute, you know. And you can barely go wrong with anything including Pokémon. Or Ghibli. Much less combining the two. So, people liked it. Especially when I… you know, I’m a painter, in the end. Not a character designer. Not a mangaka. So I painted.” With a sigh, Yuuri traces his eyes along the Mononoke Hime poster on his wall, a reminder and a warning and a memento all rolled into one. “You know how one of the things Ghibli’s famous for are those gorgeous painted landscapes and sceneries? That’s what I did, I painted landscapes in that Ghibli style, and then I put pokémon into them, like in the meadows, on the hills. Bird-types flying in the skies. Those were the ones that really took off, you know, much more than the pokémon designs themselves.”

Victor sits up a little straighter, regarding Yuuri with bright eyes.

“You know what? I think I might actually have seen those online before.”

Yuuri snorts. “I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“I didn’t know it was you who made them.”

“That surprises me even less”, Yuuri says with a shrug, “barely anyone outside of Japan does, unless you’re actively interested and looking into it, like other artists might. Those images got passed around the internet without credit a lot. There’s a signature on them which you could use to find me, or rather my old accounts. If you really cared you could link them to YKatsu, I guess. But hardly anyone bothers. They’re just out there, now. I’ve given up on trying to control it. Even if I could, I’m not sure I’d want to. After all, I left them behind deliberately. The internet owns them now.”

Victor’s eyes have darkened with Yuuri’s last sentences.

“The internet sucks, sometimes. It’s your hard work. It should be acknowledged as such.”

Yuuri shrugs again. “It’s okay. Made it much easier for me to get a clean break when I came here.”

“I guess so”, Victor hums, but he doesn’t sound convinced, “I can’t imagine what it’s like to have your work out there without credit. I mean there will always be people uploading copies of my music to YouTube without permission, but there’s always still my name attached to it, and if someone is interested it will never be difficult for them to find me online.”

Nodding vaguely, Yuuri turns over the pillow to lay flat on his lap and smooths out the wrinkles in the fabric. “It’s sad, but I don’t know any popular artists who haven’t made their peace with that. It’s going to happen if you reach any measure of popularity at all, and there’s pretty much nothing you can do about it. On the internet, all images are free for all. That’s why I said social media is barely relevant to my making money. It’s good for getting your name out there, but other than that…”

“Yeah, you said”, Victor says, rubbing his chin contemplatively, “how do you make your money, then? If it’s not too rude to ask.”

Yuuri pulls up his shoulders uncertainly.

“Commissions. Freelance work. Selling originals, sometimes. We’ll see what the show at Ciao-Ciao’s will do in that regard. Conventions just about pay for themselves at this point, not much of a profit in that, either. But again, it’s good for getting your name out there, which brings more commissions in the long run.”

Victor nods, and Yuuri is slightly taken aback by the sudden smile on his face.

“So fascinating! You really know your stuff, Yuuri!”

Yuuri huffs. “Barely. I’m no businessman. If I could get away with it I would just sit and draw for twelve hours a day, the rest of it all be damned. But unfortunately, that’s not how this works.”

Victor chuckles softly. “Now that feeling I know intimately. There’s so little actually making music involved in being a musician.”

“Mhh.” Yuuri nods. “Capitalism.”

“Capitalism”, Victor agrees, eyes flicking back to the wall once more. “Oh, I’ve been meaning to ask”, he says, pointing out one of the photos in between the prints, “is this your family?”

 


 

They end up talking for hours longer, lounging on Yuuri’s bed at first, as Yuuri talks about Hasetsu and his parents and Mari and Vicchan, and in turn Victor shares stories from St. Petersburg and Makkachin. Then, when Phichit interrupts them with questions about lunch, they return to the living room. None of them really feel like cooking, but Yuuri, reminding himself that between the cab to the club and the drinks there, he’s spent much more money last night than anticipated, volunteers to cook rather than order something in.

The kitchen being only big enough for one, he listens to Phichit and Victor talk on the sofa right outside the kitchen door, a small smile on his lips, as he prepares a quick, hearty soup for the three of them (Victor having been unceremoniously invited along for lunch, to none of his protests). The conversation in the living room jumps around so rapidly that sometimes Yuuri can barely follow, from Phichit’s rehearsals (he’s currently in a production of Romulus der Große) to cosplaying to the relative merit of suspenders to Victor’s haircare routine.

Yuuri is content to listen in from his quiet spot in the kitchen, as he moves around, peeling and chopping onions and carrots, potatoes and courgette, only leaning over into the living room once in a while to check in about Victor’s food preferences. Fortunately, Victor does not appear to be a picky eater, and soon enough Yuuri places two bowls of vivid green courgette soup topped with shredded cheese on the coffee table and returning to the kitchen to get his own.

They eat on the sofa, bowls cradled in their laps, since Phichit and Yuuri do not own a dining room table, let alone a dining room. Conversation quiets down as they eat, but picks up again soon enough once the bowls are cleared away and replaced with fresh mugs of tea.

They talk for a couple of hours more after that, until Phichit suggests watching a movie and Victor excuses himself with a glance at his watch.

“I’m afraid I really need to get going”, he says, “Makkachin is going to have to go out, and I always try to take extra care of her on Sundays. I’ve already kept her waiting for too long.”

“Of course”, Yuuri says, following his example in getting up from the couch, “sorry to keep you so long.”

“No, please”, Victor gives him a reassuring smile, “it was my pleasure! I wish I could stay. But I also have a very adorable and very cuddly little lady waiting for me at home, and it won’t do to make a lady wait.”

Yuuri can’t help but chuckle at Victor’s tragic expression as he accompanies him to the door. Once he’s put his shoes back on, Victor leans over into the living room once more.

“I’ll see you on Wednesday for SOTUS, Phichit!” and Phichit gives him a thumbs up.

Then, having slung his guitar and his equipment bag over his shoulders and picking up the amp in one hand, he turns to Yuuri.

“And you promised to show me how to make Katsudon, Yuuri!”, he says, a warm smile turning his voice into something buttery, something soft that melts against Yuuri’s ribcage. “I, ah, I’ll text you?”

Yuuri bites his lips to keep his grin from spreading too wide on his face.

“Yeah. Yeah, of course. Take care. Say hi to Makkachin for me.”

Yuuri opens the door for Victor, laden as he is with his equipment, and, leaning against the door frame, he looks after Victor until he disappears around the corner of the stairwell with a last smile in Yuuri’s direction. Maybe, just maybe, he lingers a little bit longer, until he hears the front door click shut downstairs.

Only then does he turn back into the flat and softly shuts the door behind himself. Fingertips tangling, he can’t help a smile as he wanders back into the living room.

“Ah…”, Phichit hums from his place on the couch, “Parting is such sweet sorrow…”

Yuuri snaps out of his reverie, scowling at him. “I swear to God, Peach…!”

“Ah ah ah!”, Phichit grins obnoxiously wide, “It’s way past noon, I’m afraid! Du kannst mir gar nix!

Yuuri rolls his eyes. “Don’t be like this. It’s not… he’s just nice, is all.”

“Of course he is”, Phichit says, still grinning, “very nice.”

 


 

If there’s a persistent little pain in Yuuri’s head when he goes to bed that night, and just a little bit of nausea roiling in his stomach, and maybe the next day, too… that’s surely just the hangover, holding on to him still.

 


 

nikiforhoe
21:11 so what’s Yuuri’s deal?
21:11 Do you know if he’s seeing anyone?
21:11 He is gay, right? 😏

Stoffel
21:13 Victor…

nikiforhoe
21:14 Chris…
21:15 Come on, he is gay, right?

Stoffel
21:15 not sure if he’s all the way gay but he’s definitely into guys
21:15 I don’t think he’s seeing anyone, but I don’t think he’s the type for something casual

nikiforhoe
21:17 Who said anything about casual?

Stoffel
21:17 🤨

nikiforhoe
21:18 Chris please
21:19 I would love to have a longer relationship, you know I would
21:21 It’s not my fault that the guys I date turn out to be total crapbags or dull as paint after a few weeks
21:21 You would walk away from that too

Stoffel
21:23 are you really trying, tho?
21:37 look vitya I’m sorry. You’re a grown man and I’m not gonna tell you how to live your dating life
21:38 all I’m saying is maybe consider what you want out of this before you go any further
21:38 I like Yuuri and Phichit, they’re good friends and I’d rather not have that messed up by relationship drama
21:39 Yuuri is more than a piece of ass (fine tho that piece of ass may be)

nikiforhoe
21:41 It’s good to know that you think so little of me

Stoffel
21:41 vitya
21:41 for fuck’s sake
21:42 you know I don’t mince words. You know this about me. So let me tell you this
21:42 I know you’re not as shallow as you lead people to believe. I know there’s more to you.
21:45 but do you know why you end up dating crapbags or dull idiots all the time?
21:45 because you choose them for their looks

nikiforhoe
21:56 Alright, then how about this
21:57 You were there last night
21:57 If you can tell me in all honesty that you don’t think Yuuri and I would be good together, I will stay away from him
22:14 Yeah I didn’t think so

 

Chapter Text

 

It happens so quickly that Yuuri barely notices.
It’s not like ripping off a band-aid, still jarring and sudden in its quickness. It’s like when winter sometimes turns into spring overnight, the last of the chill dissipating with a warm breeze and next thing you know there’s flowers blooming all around you.

That’s how it happens.

He tries to keep track, at first, of how often he and Victor meet, but it becomes insignificant so soon, as Victor slots himself into Yuuri’s life as if he was always meant to be there. As if there were cracks, so fine as to be barely noticeable, in the fabric of Yuuri’s life, but they are filled seamlessly by Victor’s presence.

Yuuri might never have seen the cracks, might have never known there was something missing, but now that they’re filled with the gleaming gold of Victor, he can’t look away from them.

 

They meet for coffee at first—or rather coffee for Victor, tea for Yuuri, to be precise.

And then Victor is coming over once a week to watch SOTUS with Phichit—and Yuuri is there, of course, and the first time he still remains at his desk and pretends at working because it wouldn’t do to be obvious, but if during subsequent weeks he finds his way onto the sofa with the other men, neither of them comments on it.

Another time they cram into the tiny kitchen as Yuuri shows Victor how to make Katsudon—or rather Yuuri makes Katsudon while Victor watches and chats and asks occasionally if there’s anything he can do to help which Yuuri gently rejects by hemming and hawing for a while because he’s terrible at handing off the reins in the kitchen (but Victor doesn’t seem to mind).

And then there’s another time after that and another time and another time, until eventually it’s not so much making plans to hang out anymore so much as them just being part of one another’s life like they were always meant to be. Which maybe they did, considering how connected their social circles already are.

They hang out at Yuuri’s and Phichit’s place with Phichit in the evenings, watching shows or playing games, they take Makkachin for long walks in different parks throughout the city, surrounded first by delicate cherry blossoms, then the light, sweet-smelling apple blossoms, then the heady, heavy scent of the lilacs. Sometimes, when Yuuri works, they spend his lunch break together, and then sometimes they’ll go for a drink at night, all four of them, Yuuri and Phichit and Victor and Chris. They long since have a group chat between the four of them, and as a matter of course they all take Phichit out to dinner after they go to see him in Romulus der Große.

It feels so natural, spending time with Victor, feels so natural to tell him all about Yuuri’s day, even the mundane details that he usually only bothers telling Phichit. Some that he never really bothers telling anyone. The longer they know each other, the less Yuuri finds himself falling into awkward silences around Victor. There’s still silences between them, sometimes, but they grow more comfortable with every passing day. And still he discovers new things about Victor, and it makes his bones heat up from the inside.

Victor’s voice is deep and resonating when he sings, melodious and softly undulating when he speaks. He stumbles through his syllables when he’s excited, like he can’t get through them fast enough. When he’s contemplative, he makes soft noises in his throat, collecting the threads of his thoughts. His accent is more pronounced in German, not only because his English is better, but also because German mirrors the hard consonants of his native Russian, collects the schs and chs at that same well at the back of the tongue.

Victor’s sense of humour gives Yuuri whiplash. He can go from witty literary references to the silliest puns in no time flat. Sometimes he does both at once—Yuuri still hasn’t decided if the Tequila Mockingbird comment the other day makes him want to smack Victor, or propose. There’s this twitch at the corners of Victor’s lips when he knows he’s about to make a really corny joke, and it’s Yuuri’s favourite thing in the world. It takes Victor a little while to catch on to Yuuri’s dry sense of humour, his sarcasm and his deadpan hyperbole, and there’s still this little crease between his eyebrows when he looks at Yuuri trying to determine whether he’s joking or not.

Victor is both the most patient and the most impatient person Yuuri‘s ever met. If Yuuri tells him that dinner will need another three minutes before they can eat, he will spend all of them pacing restlessly through the living room or bouncing and fidgeting on the sofa. When Yuuri sits with Victor playing through one of his old RPGs on Yuuri’s SNES, Victor hurriedly skips through all of the dialogue, until Yuuri hesitantly points out that getting to experience the story is half the fun of the game. On the other hand, Victor can, and will, sit in front of Phichit’s hamster cage for forty minutes, almost entirely motionless, waiting for a glimpse of the small, furry animals. And when they talk, late nights sprawled across the sofa or piled in a booth at a bar, and Yuuri struggles to find the words to express himself in both languages they share, Victor’s quiet, accepting patience as he nurses his drink or counts the cracks on the ceiling is a cooling balm on Yuuri’s mounting anxiety.

Victor is so thoughtful, it makes Yuuri ache sometimes. He listens so intently to everything Yuuri tells him, and he remembers. He remembers how long to let the water cool down before steeping green tea, after he scalded the shit out of Yuuri’s genmaicha the first time Yuuri left the tea making to him. He remembers the names of Yuuri’s original characters and recognises them when Yuuri idly doodles them on his napkin. He remembers Yuuri’s quiet confession that sometimes, when he’s anxious, he doesn’t want to be touched. He sees the signs and quietly backs off, without ever making Yuuri feel guilty for it. And when Yuuri chooses, after a while, to seek out his warmth anyway, Victor accepts it with reverence.

 

Victor is, in his own words, close with his parents but he never really talks about them.

Victor is self-sufficient but he loves to be spoiled: loves to be cooked for, loves to hear the words “this reminded me of you”.

Victor comes up with a hundred new melodies and scraps of lyrics every day, humming them softly to himself, but when one strikes him that is special, he will drop everything—sometimes literally—to write it down or record it immediately.

 

Yuuri collects each and every one of these details he stumbles upon as he spends time with Victor, and he hoards them deep in his chest, uses them to line his rib cage and wrap his sternum in the soft tendrils of it. He heaps them on his diaphragm like a soft mound of fluffy feathers and stuffs them into every crevice of his lungs until he feels he’s full, full, full to bursting with nothing but Victor.

 

He feels heavy with them sometimes, not uncomfortably so: a pleasant, warm tiredness that weighs on his limbs, like a dream you’ve woken up from but that isn’t quite ready to let you go. Like heavy boots that you can feel with every step, a reminder that you’re grounded, and secure, and powerful. Like a weighted blanket, comforting. He sleeps, then.

Doesn’t think anything of it: Sometimes he just needs a nap. Besides, he’s been going out more, lately, hanging out with his friends, and between that and his work, and the tea shop, and dancing, it makes for a busy schedule. So he sleeps an hour longer sometimes, or two, or three. He wakes up warm and with a smile on his face.

 

Sometimes it tears through him like hunger. Like a famine, like he’s filled only with emptiness. Then he needs to feed it, and feed it he does. It helps that he often cooks with Victor and Phichit, and he relishes the aroma of their joint exploits, the warmth of a shared kitchen. He helps himself to a second helping, and a third, he feels like he will never get enough of this. Sometimes they get take out, too, or they go out to eat. And then there’s those moments when Yuuri’s just overcome with it, in the early afternoons or late at night, when even the thought of sleep isn’t as sweet as the prospect of something rich and buttery melting on his tongue and he finds himself baking cookies or cakes or muffins, his shirt stained with flour.

Phichit will joke about it, sometimes, tease him about being so domestic, but Yuuri has yet to oversalt their food, so he just smiles and leaves Phichit to think what he will think.
Maybe he just likes the taste of something sugary these days, the way it coats his mouth and settles in his stomach, all sticky-sweetness. He’s not gaining any weight, so surely he’s not overdoing it.

 


 

They’re cooking again, now, tentatively trying their hand at something German this time; they’ve had it at restaurants before, but never tried it in their own kitchen.

Victor’s chopping carrots and leeks and potatoes, bent low over the counter top, while Yuuri’s fussing with the pot, carefully skimming the foam from the surface of the broth. He doesn’t know how he found himself saying those words, he’s only been talking about helping his mother in the kitchens back home, when he was younger. But the story got away from him, it seems, wandering over from cooking with his family to growing up in food service to the regulars and tourists visiting the onsen, because this is what he finds himself saying:

“They always used to call me cute. I hated that. I’m not cute.”

And it wouldn’t be so bad, if it weren’t for Victor. Victor, who, without even looking up from the potatoes he’s meticulously dicing, calmly replies: “No. You’re too beautiful to be cute.”

And something in Yuuri pulls taut. He lifts his head, tension in every line of his body, and the ladle slowly sinks back into the broth, the foam for a moment forgotten. He stares at Victor’s features, relaxed and calmly focused on the vegetables in front of him, his hair slung into a loose knot at the back of his neck. There is no indication on his face that he ascribes any measure of importance to the words he just said. Just another idle comment, like he just talked about the quality of the potatoes.

And this is another thing about Victor, the way he says such things sometimes, such terrific, such intimidating things, and he says them so casually and so earnestly that it makes Yuuri’s head spin.

Because Victor does not realise that his words have sent Yuuri’s world reeling, have actually made his knees go weak like some damsel in a bad romance movie. He holds himself up against the counter and takes a deep breath because he feels hot all over, and because the silence has been going on for too long he shrugs and makes a sceptical noise in the back of his throat. Because what is he to do with a comment like that except brush past it? Because it’s—it’s too honest: no one just says something like that.

And that makes it so much more difficult to deal with, that it’s so painfully honest, in the way that Victor sometimes is. No one says something like that just to reassure or placate someone. It shows too much of one’s own hand. Were Victor a different person he might have said: “Of course, you’re a grown man. You’re not cute.” Or, worse, “Oh, but you are! So cute!”

But this—this is too much and too close and it sends Yuuri’s mind staggering off into a direction he’s promised himself over and over he wouldn’t go.

Victor thinks he’s beautiful.

That’s all that it is—Victor thinks he is attractive. It doesn’t mean he’s attracted to him. He wasn’t flirting—hell, he wasn’t even looking at Yuuri when he said it. He’s just a friend telling Yuuri that he’s attractive, as a matter of fact. The way that Phichit tells him he’s looking good—he’s looking gorgeous, Phichit would insist on him making the distinction—when they’re getting ready to go out together.

And they’re friends, he and Victor, they’re such good friends now and they tell each other what they think all the time, so why wouldn’t Victor tell him this? There’s no need to make this into something that it isn’t. So when Victor interrupts the silence a little later, asking about how the carrots should be chopped, Yuuri gratefully takes the opening to slide back into food talk and tries to put it out of his mind.

 


 

Later on they sit on the couch with their bowls of Gaisburger Marsch in hand, and it’s not bad: not as refined as the one they had at the restaurant, but just as good in its homemade way.

Phichit has a performance tonight, so they’re on their own this time, though there’s a generous helping of the hearty stew left over for him.

The moment just a little earlier is forgotten, the tension dissipated as they comment on the dish they created together, contemplating what could be improved the next time around. There’s a film running on the TV, but it’s one they’ve both seen before, so they don’t worry about talking through it. Victor chuckles when a supporting character appears on screen.

“Oh, I love her”, he says, lightly tapping his spoon against the side of his bowl, “what’s her name again? She’s one of those actresses who’s in everything. You know, you’ve seen her a dozen times before but you couldn’t say where?”

Yuuri nods. “Yep. I’ve definitely seen her before, in something other than this, I mean. No idea where though.” He spoons some more chunks of meat into his mouth, contemplating, then shakes his head, “Don’t know what she’s called, either.”

“She was in Fried Green Tomatoes. You’ve probably seen her in that”, Victor says, and he wipes a droplet of broth off his chin while Yuuri tries to keep his eyes focused on the screen.

“Um”, Yuuri blinks a couple of times, centring himself, “I don’t think I’ve seen that one.”

Victor lowers his bowl down into his lap, the spoon clattering against the ceramic.

“You haven’t? Yuuri! I—I’m shocked! I thought you and Phichit knew this stuff better than me! That’s queer movies 101!”

Yuuri shrugs, pulling his head between his shoulders a little, but at the same time Victor’s words make him perk up.

“It’s queer? What’s it about?”

Victor tilts his head to the side, considering. “Only implicitly, I’m afraid. It is, I don’t know, older than you, I think. But it’s set in the Southern US, and it focuses on female friendships, and women breaking out of their expected roles in society. It stars Mary Stuart Masterson, god, as the most amazing tomboy, I love her. And Jessica Tandy, of course, she’s a queen.”

Yuuri can only stare at him, open-mouthed. “None of the names you just said mean anything to me.”

“Yuuri!”, Victor splays a hand against his chest, scandalised, “You don’t know Jessica Tandy? Where is your eighties and nineties movie education?”

Yuuri shrugs. “I think my movie education might set in a little later than that. Who’s she?”

Victor chuckles. “Oh, no no, I’m not spoiling Jessica Tandy for you. We’re watching Fried Green Tomatoes together and you’re going to meet her in all her glory.”

Yuuri can’t help but grin. “I’m game. Is it on Netflix, do you think?”

“Yuuri…”, Victor whines, high in his throat, and leans over to playfully bump against Yuuri’s shoulder, almost splashing both of them with stew in the process, “you don’t watch a masterpiece like Fried Green Tomatoes for the first time on Netflix. Not that they have it anyway, I don’t think. But we have to, like, make an evening of it! Get popcorn! Make drinks! Snuggle up in our pyjamas! We can watch it on my VCR.”

Yuuri, who was attempting to finish off his food in order to prevent any further threats of spillage, almost chokes on his mouthful. “You have a VCR?”, he spits out between coughs, halfway between amused and surprised.

Victor just lifts a perfect, thin eyebrow. “You have an SNES. And a Nintendo 64.”

After a moment’s hesitation, Yuuri shrugs. “Fair point. Okay. So we’ll make it a movie night. We’ll watch Fried Green Tomatoes on your VCR. When are you free?”

 


 

He’s free, it turns out, that very weekend, and so is Yuuri, which is how Yuuri finally gets to see Victor’s apartment.

Really see it, that is. He’s been there a few times now, but only ever to pick him up or drop him off, or going along to collect Makkachin for her walk. Victor’s never really invited him in, though, but he’s done it so subtly that Yuuri didn’t even realise until he really sees Victor’s place now for the first time.

It’s a large flat, larger probably than his and Phichit’s, even though Victor lives alone. Or maybe it’s the open floor plan that makes it appear so big, the entryway melting seamlessly into the living room into the dining area into the kitchen. Only the bedroom and the bathroom are separated by a small hallway toward the back.

When Yuuri steps inside, Victor having opened the door for him, he is immediately accosted by Makkachin. The large poodle is familiar with Yuuri now, from all the walks he and Victor have taken her on together, but seeing her still reminds Yuuri of Vicchan with a strange mixture of fondness, homesickness and a pang of wistfulness. He bends down to scratch behind her ears extensively, speaking soft praises to her in Japanese and English, never mind the fact that she is trained in Russian. Yuuri is convinced that she understands what he’s telling her just fine.

Only after Makkachin has had her fill of pets and her excitement at having a new human in her space dies down a little does Yuuri straighten up and really take in the space around him.

There’s a large couch, light gray and sleek and modern, standing freely in the middle of the living area, facing a sideboard with a large flat-screen TV. Which Victor bypasses now, in favour of busying himself with a cabinet in a corner of the living room, the doors of which he opens to reveal an old fashioned tube TV. As far as tube TVs go it’s big, but it still pales in comparison to Victor’s flat screen and even the significantly smaller one that Yuuri and Phichit have. That problem, it turns out, is remedied easily by wheeling the cabinet closer to the couch.

While Victor fiddles with the cords of the VCR, Yuuri wanders through the open space into the kitchen, with half a mind to start making the popcorn. He can’t help but taking a look around the space as he goes. One side of the living area is occupied entirely by Victor’s instruments: a variety of guitars, both acoustic and electric, and other string instruments that Yuuri couldn’t confidently name, are lined up on the wall, in racks and hanging on hooks at shoulder height. There’s also a cupboard next to them that Yuuri suspects holds the rest of his equipment.

Another wall is covered almost entirely by a large multi-media shelf holding VCR tapes, DVDs, CDs and LPs. Yuuri spares a long glance at these, discovering many of the same CDs that he has on the shelves, among a multitude of others. He also finds Fried Green Tomatoes among the meticulously alphabetised VCR tapes, and pulls it out, depositing it on the sofa for Victor to find once he’s done setting up.

When he wanders over into the dining area and kitchen, however, Yuuri realises that the rest of the flat is strangely bare. It’s tastefully decorated, no doubt about it, a beautiful mixture of modern and vintage, but apart from the corner that holds Victor’s instruments, and another one where a large dog bed sits, slightly askew and covered in an abundance of toys, it’s too empty, too clean. It doesn’t feel lived in.

Yuuri takes in the blank walls, the spotless dining table, a tasteful centrepiece consisting of narrow table runner and two large, silverish-white candles in its centre. The candles haven’t been lit.

Unbidden, images of his in Phichit‘s apartment rise to the forefront of his mind, small and cramped and always feeling chaotic even when it was cleaned because there is just so much stuff. He‘s always felt a little self-conscious about it, about the cardboard boxes on his shelves holding his merch and packaging materials, about the used mugs always sitting on one surface or another, about the clutter of silly postcards and stickers and flyers pinned to their fridge. It‘s always felt so immature to him, so unfinished, and while he feels comfortable in the space as it is, he‘s always thought Victor must prefer something more refined.

Something like this.

Only now that he‘s here in this space does he realise that it doesn't go with Victor at all, not with the Victor he’s gotten to know in the last weeks, the Victor that gets excited about old movies and laughs unabashedly at corny jokes and somehow manages to coax a beautiful melody from Phichit‘s beaten-up old ukulele.

Makkachin follows Yuuri around the space quietly, sniffling at his hand every once in a while, nails clicking softly against the hardwood floors. She nudges him finally toward the kitchen area, and this, at least, feels a little less abandoned.

There‘s signs of life here, some coffee grounds spilled on the counter, some fruit thrown haphazardly into a bowl. A few bits and bobs strewn about the surfaces, flashes of colour in a space otherwise kept in shades of grey and white.

A notepad with a border of light blue flowers, and a matching pen. Yuuri can just make out the indents of writing from the previous sheet on top of the blank paper.

A few mismatched magnets on the fridge, some with Cyrillic writing on them that Yuuri cannot hope to decipher, one in the shape of a guitar, one heart-shaped one in rainbow colours. Yuuri smiles softly at the last, and traces his finger along the edge of it.

Pinned in between them—Yuuri realises with a sudden lump in his throat—is a piece of paper, slightly scuffed and crumpled at the edges, lined top and bottom with black duct tape.

A setlist. nikiforlove’s setlist from the set he played at Ciao-Ciao’s. There’s a swooping feeling in Yuuri’s stomach, a sudden drop, like he’s falling free, and he looks over his shoulder, unsure if he’s relieved or disappointed that Victor is still all the way on the other side of the room, busying himself with the VCR.

When he turns back, Yuuri’s gaze falls on the only other thing pinned to the fridge, a photograph. It’s an old-fashioned glossy print, slightly curled at the edges, depicting three people. Two young women and one man, their arms around each other, their faces crinkled with laughter. From their clothes Yuuri would guess that it was taken in the late eighties or early nineties.

His eyes catch on the woman in the middle, a slender figure in high-waisted jeans, her feathered shoulder-length hair gleaming a distinct shade of silvery blonde.

“Ah”, he mumbles, half to himself, “Are these your parents?”

“Come again?”, Victor’s voice calls from across the room, and Yuuri hesitates, unsure if he even wanted Victor to hear. But he clears his throat and repeats himself, louder this time, if a bit unsteady.

“This picture—are these your parents?”

Victor straightens up, looking over to where Yuuri is standing, and it’s like something sets in his face; some undefinable quality of it that had been previously open is now closed.
“Mhh.” He makes a noise of assent in his throat that doesn’t sound unkind, and makes his way over into the kitchen. “My parents and my godmother.”
He comes to stand next to Yuuri, looking at the picture, and when Yuuri braces himself and spares a glance at Victor, there’s real fondness on his face, settled in the cradle of a small smile.

“This is my father, Andrei”, he points at the man, broad-shouldered but not tall, a kind face framed by a well-groomed beard. “And my mother, Sofia.” He indicates the woman in the middle, the one whose hair is the same shade as Victor’s. The poor quality of the picture and their faces, scrunched up in laughter, do not allow Yuuri to see which one of them has Victor’s eyes. “And this is Polina”, Victor continues, pointing at the woman to his mother’s right, a bit shorter than her, her hair darker and shorter, and a pair of thick-framed glasses on her nose. “She’s my mother’s best friend since university.”

Yuuri nods with a small smile, looking up at Victor again, waiting. Waiting for what, he’s not sure—some kind of elaboration, a story maybe. He remembers telling Victor all about his family when he’d asked about them, that first day, lounging on Yuuri’s bed. How his parents had met, what Mari’s been up to, how he himself came to join their little family so much later, the day he got Vicchan. He waits, patiently, eyes tracing Victor’s features, but not for long, because Victor blinks once, twice, then turns away from the fridge, opening an overhead cabinet, pulling out a rustling bag.

“I picked up some popcorn kernels!”, he says, voice cheerful, “It’s always best making it yourself, right?”

Yuuri stares at Victor’s back for a moment, trying to tamp down the disappointment welling up in him. After all, it isn’t like Victor owes him anything. If this isn’t something Victor wants to talk about, then Yuuri isn’t going to press him. After all, they share plenty of things with each other. Plenty. Victor talks to him all the time, about his music. About movies. About food.

Yuuri watches as Victor pulls out a large pot and puts it on the stove. “Brown sugar, or white?”, Victor asks.

Yuuri swallows around a heaviness on his tongue.

It’s not like Victor doesn’t trust him. It’s not.

 


 

Little later they’re both curled up on opposite ends of the couch, a large bowl of popcorn between them. The fresh, sweet aroma of it still pervades the air in the flat, and Yuuri is glad that they both prefer their popcorn sweet rather than salty. The sofa is decked out in blankets and pillows should they need them, and for the moment, the hum of the tube TV and the low rumble of the tape in the VCR are the only sounds between them.

Victor bounces slightly in his seat as the title card appears, shooting Yuuri a grin, and it’s enough to make him forget all about his earlier reservations; Victor invited him here, and Victor is excited to share this with him, and that is enough for Yuuri.

The movie catches Yuuri by surprise at every turn—he had dutifully not looked up anything more about it after making plans to watch it, so Victor’s vague description is still all he knows about it. The moment the light-hearted, youthful romance in the American South is cut short, rather jarringly, with Buddy’s death, Yuuri is riveted.

He has always preferred the tragic movies to the comedies, has never seen happy endings as a requirement. As much as he, rationally, hates the bury your gays trope, he will always willingly give himself over to the tears of a tragedy. He believes firmly that there are no happy endings in life, and while many who feel the same way would prefer to at least have them in fiction, Yuuri would find a certain inexplicable comfort in sad endings.

He knows that Victor does not feel the same way—they’ve talked about this before—so when Idgie’s heart breaks over the death of her brother, Yuuri is intrigued to see what would make Victor, who so loves his happy endings, recommend this movie for them to watch.

He barely notices how the popcorn slowly disappears until his fingers are scraping against the last unpopped kernels in the bottom of the bowl, and only the caramel sweetness still clinging to his teeth and the slight ache in his jaw makes him realise he must have had a part in that.

Victor regards him out of the corner of his eye with a lopsided smile. “You must’ve been hungry. Perhaps we should have made some proper dinner first.”

Yuuri feels the heat climb up his skin as he flicks his gaze down into the empty bowl. He’s been so engrossed in the movie that he didn’t even notice Victor eating any of the popcorn at all—did Yuuri eat it all on his own? There’s still a gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach, so maybe he didn’t. He should have had a decent dinner before he came.

“Sorry”, Yuuri mumbles, not meeting Victor’s eyes, who must think him selfish now, or greedy, “I didn’t even notice.”

“Don’t worry about it”, Victor replies with an easy laugh, “we can always make more.”

Nodding vaguely, Yuuri turns his attention back to the movie, until Victor reaches out and plucks the empty bowl off the sofa, setting it down on a side table before he stretches out his legs, his feet coming to rest just between Yuuri’s thighs and the heels of his feet, having pulled his legs close to his chest. Yuuri can feel the heat of them through the fabric of his jeans, and forces himself to keep his attention fixed on the screen. He feels like if he acknowledges that closeness between them, Victor might take it away again, choosing to keep his distance, and he has not yet decided if he wants that or not.

They watch Idgie and Ruth taking a drunken swim in a pond and Yuuri feels like there is a tension growing between them, a rope slowly pulling taut. It lasts all of ten minutes, until Makkachin jumps up on the couch with them, flopping down on Victor’s outstretched legs and propping up her head on Yuuri’s thighs. Yuuri can’t help but smile as his arms, previously slung tight around his body, loosen and his hands reach out of their own accord to ruffle thoroughly through Makkachin’s curly fur. The dog huffs contentedly under Yuuri’s fingers and Yuuri can feel Victor’s eyes on both of them. He keeps watching the movie.

They take a break about halfway through, Yuuri pouring out soda from Victor’s fridge for them while Victor rustles up some sandwiches to placate Yuuri’s still grumbling stomach. They even make another batch of popcorn, and when they return to the couch, they rearrange themselves around Makkachin, who is now sprawled in what was formerly Victor’s corner. Yuuri huddles in his own corner still, Victor leaning close to him, feet propped up on the coffee table. They pull a blanket over themselves once the sandwiches are devoured and the plates set aside, the dark gray fabric warm against Yuuri’s bare arms. A little too warm perhaps, but Yuuri doesn’t have it in him to cast it off.

He knows he’s supposed to be watching the move, and he is, he’s paying attention, but also Victor is so close, and if Yuuri glances over, he can see each individual pale lash framing his eyes, twitching every time Victor blinks. He can trace the delicate profile of his face, strong jaw and gently sloping forehead, long silver-blond hair slung loosely over one shoulder. He can see his eyebrows draw together when Buddy jr almost follows in the footsteps of his namesake, can see Victor glancing at Yuuri to see his reaction at the subsequent release of tension.

Yuuri can see his eyes fix on the screen, straying no more, when Ruth’s health starts to deteriorate. Yuuri hears his soft gasp and sees Victor draw his bottom lip between his teeth as Idgie sits up at Ruth’s bed. Yuuri can read every emotion of the scene in the lines of Victor’s face, the way the quiet music and the soft words move him.

And when Idgie steps away from the bed, turning her back in order to hide her tears, the first tears crash down Victor’s own face, a barely audible noise of distress sitting on his tongue.

Yuuri wants to reach out, wants to wipe off the tears from Victor’s skin, to dry up all that sadness, soak up all that raw vulnerability. He’s never known Victor to look more human than this, never seen him look less larger-than-life.

Yuuri feels the sight of Victor’s tears like a stitch, like something piercing him, deep inside.

On screen, Idgie grasps at Ruth’s now lifeless hand and Yuuri feels his own eyes sting when he watches Victor, eyes puffy and narrowed in emotion, the tip of his nose tinted red, a wobble in his chin, and thinks: I am in love with you. You are crying over the death of a fictional ambiguously queer woman in 1930’s Alabama and I am so in love with you.

The thought startles him, for a moment, but he knows right away that it’s true. Somehow, in these last weeks, he has fallen in love with Victor. Is still falling, falling.

Victor sniffs quietly as Idgie is still sobbing on screen, and retrieves his arm from under the blanket to quietly wipe away his tears.
Yuuri, emotion settling heavily in his throat, gathers up all of his courage to reach out and gently squeeze Victor’s forearm for a moment. A warm touch, reassuring. For a second their eyes meet, and Victor’s lips twist up in a wry little thing of a smile with a whispered sorry. Yuuri shakes his head, dismissing the apology, and hurriedly focuses his gaze on the TV screen again.

 

When the movie wraps up, it’s on a hopeful note, and Yuuri feels warm and full inside his chest, a fluttering contained in him that hadn’t been there before, as if something spread its wings.

While the tape noisily rewinds in the VCR they discuss the movie, in hushed tones at first that steadily rise in pitch and volume. Yuuri can see Victor’s excitement gleaming in his eyes when Yuuri tells him, quite honestly, that he loved the film. Neither of them mentions Victor’s tears, but it doesn’t feel like there is a need; there is really nothing to say about it.

Their conversation moves on naturally through other movies that Jessica Tandy and Mary Stuart Masterson have been in, to the question of if either of them has ever tried fried green tomatoes (neither of them has) to if there is a decent American diner anywhere around (Yuuri knows one, and promises to take Victor soon), to their opinions on visiting the States (neither of them has been, but Victor would like to go some day; Yuuri, with the current state of their politics, isn’t keen).

It is getting late however, and Yuuri has work in the morning, so after a while, Yuuri reluctantly takes his leave, after bidding a sleepy Makkachin an extended goodbye.

“I had a lot of fun”, he tells Victor, hovering uncertainly near the door, trying not to think too much about how this feels like the end of a date, “thank you for sharing that movie with me. I honestly still can’t believe I’ve never seen it before, it’s exactly the kind of movie I would obsessively watch.”

“You’re very welcome”, Victor replies, smiling down at him, “you can start watching it obsessively now.”

Yuuri huffs a quiet laugh. “Maybe I will.” He forces himself to meet Victor’s eyes, despite the painful plummet his stomach takes when he does. “Good night, Victor.”

“Good night, Yuuri. Text me when you get home, will you?”

Yuuri nods and finally takes his leave with a last small wave, hurrying down the stairs before he can look back once more.

He doesn’t wait until he’s home to text Victor.

 

—> To Victor
23:21 can I just say that that food fight is peak gay?

Victor
23:22 Oh, absolutely
23:22 To all future content creators: if it doesn’t have a gay food fight what are you even doing? 😂

—>To Victor
23:25 imagine how much better brokeback mountain would be with a foodfight
23:25 am on the train now

Victor
23:26 Carol
23:27 Philadelphia

—> To Victor
23:29 OH MY GOD
23:29 Philadelphia with a food fight
23:30 can you imagine
23:31 “I am divine! I am oblivion!” and Joe just throws a handful of flour on him

Victor
23:31 rude

—> To Victor
23:34 ok but Victor
23:34 VICTOR
23:35 SOTUS

Victor
23:36 How dare you come into my house

—> To Victor
23:37 just
23:37 Kong and Arthit at that food place. Arthit trading their plates and heaping the spicy sauce on Kong's food
23:38 Kong taking a long hard look at Arthit, at the food, and and just.... throws it at him

Victor
23:39 Ok it’s decided
23:39 SOTUS needs a food fight
23:39 Should I write to the creators or will you do it?
23:40 We should probably get Phichit to do it, he’ll get through to them
23:40 He speaks their language

—>To Victor
23:41 also Phichit can get literally anyone to do literally anything for him
23:41 I’ll talk to him I can get him on board for this
23:42 he’s never been one to back down from a food fight

Victor
23:43 OH
23:43 Do you have a lot of food fight experience, Yuuri?

—> To Victor
23:45 excuse me
23:47 I though we had just established that food fights are peak gay culture
23:48 so of course I have

Victor
23:50 Alas, I am a fake and an impostor
23:50 There have been no food fights in my life

—> To Victor
23:51 You have truly been deprived
23:51 the sacred initiation rituals must be honoured
23:52 you have been relegated to baby gay until this slight has been righted
23:52 I’m home now

 

He’s snickering quietly at his phone when he kicks open the door to the flat. The place is empty and dark, his phone screen the only light source in the darkness until his fingers find the light switch in the hallway. Phichit either isn’t home yet or already in bed, though Yuuri suspects the former. He dumps his bag in the entryway and slips out of his shoes before making his way into the living room, still texting Victor.

He reluctantly admits to himself that he’s already hungry again, but it’s late, and he’s got rather a bit of the headache on his way home. It’s quite possible that he didn’t have enough to drink today—that must be it. He fills up a glass of water from the tap in the kitchen and drinks it in long gulps.

He opens the fridge, but there’s nothing in there that he could eat right away, so he decides to forgo food in favour of sleep—hopefully his headache will fade until the morning.

He texts Victor good night, and it’s not until he lying in bed, staring at Victor’s reply, wishing him sweet dreams, that Yuuri once more considers his earlier realisation.

He’s in love with Victor.

He should probably figure out what to do about that, but not now—now, it feels like the best thing in the world. It feels safe, like sinking into the onsen after a long but utterly satisfying day in the dance studio. Yuuri lets himself sink, settles down into the feeling lapping against his skin and lets it relax every knot of tension in his muscles.

He’s in love with Victor, and just for this moment, he’s happy.

 

Chapter Text

 

It’s unexpected when Victor picks him up after work, but not unwelcome.

He’s there a little while before the end of Yuuri’s shift, and he takes his time looking around the crammed little tea shop. Yuuri glances at him in between customers, watching Victor regarding first the teapots and mugs with interest, then moving on to the brightly coloured empty tins with all sorts of different patterns and motives, before finally reaching the shelf with biscuits and tea-flavoured chocolates and other various snacks.

Yuuri loves working in the tea shop. Customer service is not at all his natural inclination, and there’s days when making himself show up at Teeburg Nishigori is the hardest thing he’s doing all day. But if he has to have a part-time job, which, at this point, he does, he’d rather it be at the Teeburg than anywhere else.

There is a perpetual smell of tea, deep and earthy and intense, in the shop, so pervasive that you never really get used to it, even after spending several hours in the shop. The space itself is crammed full of shelves packed with all sorts of tea paraphernalia, packaged and bagged teas, sweets and small gift items, in addition to the rows and rows of large tins full of loose leaf teas lined up behind the counters. Measuring these out for the customers, and of course advising them in the selection of the right blend, is the brunt of Yuuri’s work in the shop.

He loves it; he genuinely likes almost every single tea lined on the shelves, and going through the rows, selecting the right tin, opening them up to a cloud of a sweet, dry smell, and then the rustling sound of the scoops through the tea leaves as he measures out the required amount, is like meditation to him.

It makes it easier to deal with the customers, queues of them lining up before the counter at times, especially in winter. As does the quiet atmosphere of the shop, voices always hushed, as if there was something in the air that inspired a reverence in people. It also helps that Yuuko and Takeshi, the owners of the shop and Yuuri’s employers, are two of the kindest people Yuuri has met, and have quickly become close friends in the two and a half years he’s worked at the Teeburg. The Nishigoris are also one of Yuuri’s few chances to speak Japanese in his day to day life, and this, combined with the fact that Yuuko makes the best green tea Yuuri has had in Germany, makes the shop feel a little bit like home.

It’s not his shop, but still he feels oddly proud and protective when he sees Victor look around with a quiet smile on his lips, picking up this item or that, humming appreciatively every once in a while. When the end of Yuuri’s shift creeps closer, Victor approaches the counter once there are no other customers around. He’s selected a small sandglass designed for the perfect steeping time, and a small matte tea tin depicting a floral pattern in pastel shades of yellow and green. He’s looking over Yuuri’s shoulders at the rows of tins behind him, and Yuuri steps aside with a smile to give him a better view.

Kann ich dir irgendwie helfen?”, he asks in German, for the benefit of Yuuko who is in the back area and who prefers him to speak German at all times in the presence of customers, even if he knows it’s not their first language. He doesn’t disagree, but still it feels strange to talk to Victor in German.

Victor hums, tilting his head to the side with a small smile. “I’m not sure. Which one’s your favourite, Yuuri?”, he replies in the same language.

“Ah”, Yuuri looks over his shoulder, considering, “Not sure I could narrow it down to one. It really depends on what I’m in the mood for. Are you looking for a green tea, or a black? Or maybe a non-caffeinated option?”

This is easy, going through the script of a customer conversation, even if it is in German; he’s had enough practice by now that he’s well-versed in all things tea-related.

“What would you recommend for a quiet night in, curling up on the couch with a book or a movie?”

Yuuri walks Victor through the options, picking up and dismissing suggestions based on Victor’s likes and dislikes, until Victor finally settles on a mild herbal tea with notes of vanilla and lemongrass, one of Yuuri’s personal favourites. Yuuri measures out the tea directly into Victor’s newly purchased tin and rings him up.

Then he takes care of the couple of other customers that have come in since, until there’s another lull, and he calls out to Yuuko in the back.

There’s the sound of footsteps and then Yuuko is pulling aside the curtain separating the two areas.

“Is it time already? Well, alright then, you head on out, I’ll take over here. I’m sure Emil will be along soon for the second shift.”

Yuuri nods, pulling up his shoulders a little. “I can wait until he gets here, if you’d like. Just in case.”

“It would be no problem at all”, Victor says on the other side of the counter and Yuuri starts a little.

“Ah, Yuuko, you remember Victor?”

The two had met briefly at the gallery opening, if Yuuri remembers correctly. It’s not Victor’s first time stopping by the shop, but so far Yuuko has never been around when he did.

“Of course! Nice to see you again, Victor!”, Yuuko turns to Yuuri with a bright grin, “That’s quite alright, you hop along. I’m sure Emil will be here in a few minutes, you know how he is. I can hold down the fort until then.”

“Alright, if you’re sure.” Yuuri dips his head again, then turns toward Victor. “I’ll just grab my things”, he says, before diving behind the curtain.

It only takes a couple of minutes before Yuuri has rinsed out his usual tea cup, grabbed his bag and his jacket and Yuuko has waved them both off with a chipper “Schönen Feierabend!

 


 

The afternoon sun is starting to dip beneath the highest treetops when they reach the Japanese gardens, not far from the tea shop. They have become one of their favourite spots for their walks, be it with Makkachin or on their own, the flowers blooming in bright colours throughout spring, filling the air with their heady, sweet scent.

The place doesn’t hold a lot of nostalgia for Yuuri, having never had a comparable garden around Hasetsu, but he appreciates the nods to the Japanese culture nonetheless.

Though April has already bled into May, they have been having a cool few days lately, all cutting breezes interspersed with rain showers. Victor buries his hands in the pockets of the light trench coat he’s wearing, the bag with his purchases around one wrist, the paper rustling against his leg with every step. Yuuri is thankful that he grabbed his jacket this morning rather than just a flannel shirt to wear over his longsleeve, because the air has hardly warmed up throughout the day.

They fall into conversation easily, Yuuri recounting stories from his work day, and Victor in turn describing his progress with the new songs he’s been working on, and the shenanigans Makkachin got up to on their morning walk.

Yuuri’s in the middle of describing this one obnoxious customer who just couldn’t make up his mind and had Yuuri running around getting at least a dozen different teas off the shelves, when Victor laughs. It’s so sudden, a startling sound at a point in the story that does not warrant it, and Yuuri stops in his tracks for a moment, bemused.

“What? What’s so funny?”

Victor’s still chuckling with a shake of his head.

“What kinds of teas were these that he asked you to get, Yuuri?”

Yuuri shrugs, not really seeing why it’s relevant.

“Just a whole bunch of different flavoured black and green teas. Why?”

“Anything they had in common?”, Victor enquires, not reacting to Yuuri’s question.

Yuuri furrows his brow. “Not really, no. Some were fruit flavoured, others more creamy… let’s see, there was the Ananas, Cream Tea and Amaretto black teas, of the green there was the Aprikose-Pfirsich and Earl Grey and… what else was there?”

Victor hums thoughtfully, a smile still on his face.

“So in other words, all those early in the alphabet? You sort your teas alphabetically on the shelves, yes?”

Yuuri lifts his shoulders, mentally going back over the teas the customer had requested. “I guess so, yes. But I don’t see what—”

“So all of those teas would have been high on the shelves, yes?”

“Uhm, yes—…”

“Have I mentioned that those are rather nice skinny jeans you’re wearing today, Yuuri?”

“I—”, Yuuri stops again on the path, looking down at himself, his legs clad in tight-fitting grey stone-washed jeans, as he feels a hint of heat creeping up his neck, “thank you, I guess? But what—why…?”

Victor sighs, and his smile has faded a little.

“Yuuri—have you considered that maybe he wasn’t very interested in the teas at all, and rather just wanted to check out your ass while you got the tins off the shelf?”

Yuuri’s mouth drops open.

“I—he—what?”, he sputters, “No! He wouldn’t—I mean, why, uh, why would anyone even want to… uh—”

Victor lifts an eyebrow at him.

“Yuuri, everyone would want to. You can’t seriously tell me you’re not aware that you have a very shapely behind indeed.”

“I—No! No, that’s not… I mean, it’s not, uh, special. It’s just a butt.”

“Ah, Yuuri…”, Victor sighs wistfully, lifting his gaze into the sky, but there’s a smile playing on his lips again, that twitch in the corner of them that makes something in Yuuri’s chest flutter, “you really need to stop being so hypercritical of yourself.”

Yuuri blinks a few times, trying to process what he just heard through Victor’s faint accent and the breeze tearing at his syllables.

“Uhm, excuse me”, he finally says, with as much indignation as he can muster, “did you just say hybuttcritical? Did you seriously—? Because if you did, I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to punch you in the throat now. It’s true. I don’t make the rules.”

Victor is laughing before Yuuri can even get halfway through his threat, and Yuuri very purposefully avoids eye contact, striding forward. “You know that was the worst one yet? I’m afraid I really can’t be your friend anymore.”

“Aww, Yuuri!”, Victor whines between laughter, “you can’t? No ifs, ands or butts?”

Yuuri’s groan of exasperation is deep and heart-felt, as is his facepalm, but they only make Victor laugh harder. “You’re ridiculous”, Yuuri says, and Victor just shrugs.

“I am delightful and hilarious and so are my jokes.”

Yuuri can’t help but shake his head. “If I had even half of your self-confidence…”

That seems to give Victor pause; he stops laughing and tilts his head with a thoughtful gaze at Yuuri.

“Why don’t you have even half my confidence, Yuuri? You don’t give yourself nearly enough credit.”

Involuntarily, Yuuri scoffs. “I think I give myself exactly as much credit as I deserve.”

Victor stops in his tracks and after a couple more steps so does Yuuri, looking back at him. Victor’s gaze as he searches Yuuri’s face is unreadable and Yuuri feels the nerves tingling under his skin. Has he said something wrong now? Was he rude without even noticing? There’s strained lines around Victor’s mouth and on his forehead and surely Yuuri has fucked up now—

“Do you really think so little of yourself, Yuuri?”, Victor finally says, and there’s a sad tinge to his voice, “or is that the anxiety talking? Because when I look at you I don’t see all those things you probably think of yourself, and I think neither does anyone else. I see a talented, beautiful, kind man who is strong and resilient and a wonderful friend, and to think you can’t see it…”

Yuuri stares down at the gravel path, shoving his hands into his pockets. “Look”, he says, trying to keep his voice firm. He doesn’t have his fidget cube. Why doesn’t he have his fidget cube? He’s doubly thankful for the jacket he’s wearing now—the sleeves are too narrow to push up, otherwise he’d already be scratching at his arms. “I know I’m none of those things, and I appreciate you trying to make me feel better, but you really don’t have to—” lie to me, Yuuri doesn’t say, but it seems Victor understands him anyway.

Victor takes a step toward him, Yuuri can hear the crunch of gravel underfoot, his shape approaching from the corner of his eye, but he doesn’t look up.

“Is that what you think of me? That I would lie to you?”

Victor’s voice is soft and nothing but kind, and yet his words make a wave of shame and guilt crash over Yuuri. He’s disappointed Victor. Victor must be disappointed in him, right? Isn’t there a tinge of disappointment in his voice?

“I’m sorry”, Yuuri says, and his voice sounds too hoarse, too frail in his own ears, “I don’t think you’d lie to me, you know, intentionally. But I know these things aren’t true, you just… you don’t know. You have this image of me that isn’t true at all but you can’t see all the things that I see in myself. The things that make me weak and selfish and unkind.”

Victor sighs. It’s barely audible, but it makes Yuuri curl in on himself. Victor must be so annoyed with him.

“So, what? You’ve somehow tricked me into thinking these things of you? Have you also tricked me into thinking you’re beautiful?”, Victor’s voice is still kind, with a slight tinge of amusement.

Yuuri can feel tears of frustration and shame build up in his eyes and he clenches his fists in his pockets. He shrugs vaguely.

“Have you ever stopped to think, Yuuri”, Victor continues, “that it might be the other way round? That it’s your brain that has tricked you into believing these things of you?”

Yuuri takes a deep breath and lets it out in one long huff, trying to stave off his tears.

“That seems unlikely”, he says.

“You—”, there’s more amusement creeping into Victor’s voice now, and Yuuri wonders if he’s being made fun of, “you have anxiety. You know this. I know, because you’ve personally told me only a few weeks ago. I know that it’s not that easy—I know that being aware of it doesn’t make it go away. But you are literally the only person who thinks of you like this. If you asked all your friends, your family, your coworkers, your fans… they’d tell you the same thing I told you. So do you think it’s more likely that you’ve somehow tricked literally everyone around you into thinking you’re a good person—or that maybe what you believe to know about yourself isn’t all that reliable?”

Yuuri shrugs again. “Maybe I’m just very good at tricking people.”

Victor gasps, loud and dramatic enough that it makes Yuuri look up in surprise. A smile plays on his lips, but there’s a tinge of sadness around his eyes.

“Yuuri! Did I just hear you willingly admit that you’re very good at something? Do my ears deceive me? Now how do we apply that kind of conviction to the rest of your skills?”

Yuuri can’t help it; he laughs. It’s more of a huff of breath, weak and not convinced, but it’s enough to dissipate the burning in his eyes and some of the tension in his frame.

“Ah”, he says and hesitates, biting his lips, “I’m sorry, I just—I have a hard time…”, he takes a deep breath, trying to collect his thoughts, “It’s not that I think you’d, um, lie to me. I can believe that what you’re saying is the truth for you. But that doesn’t mean it’s the truth for me. Does that make sense?”

Yuuri half turns and takes a tentative step forward, relieved when Victor follows his example. It’s easier to have this conversation when they’re moving, next to each other, looking out over the path, and Yuuri doesn’t have to look at Victor, and Victor doesn’t keep looking at Yuuri.

“So…”, Victor’s words are hesitant when he speaks again, “it’s not that you don’t trust me to be honest with you?”

Yuuri sighs and rubs a hand over his face in frustration, swiping his fingers under his glasses.

“Of course not, Victor, that’s—that’s not what this is about. I would—I do trust you, with everything else. This is just… hard. Can—can you try to understand that? I mean—…”, Yuuri tries to bite his lips against the words, but they slip out nonetheless, “can you honestly say there’s nothing at all you’ve held back from me?”

He can hear Victor’s breath hitch next to him, and pulls his shoulders up, wondering if he went to far. But when Victor replies, his voice is thoughtful.

“No. No, I suppose you’re right.”

Yuuri nods slowly to himself. “I suppose we’ve only known each other for a few weeks after all. Maybe”, he hesitates at the hopefulness of his statement, at all the future implied in it, “maybe we’ll get there in time.”

Victor hums quietly. “I would like that”, he says.

 


 

They walk in silence for a long while, both lost in their respective thoughts, the painful tension slowly dissipating. Yuuri stops and smiles at the ornamental building in the classic style of Japanese architecture, surrounded by a meticulously kept rock garden. Narrow paths weave through it, interspersed with small clusters of plants and water elements, softly trickling.
It does remind him of Hasetsu, of the garden at Yu-topia Katsuki, and of Hasetsu Castle. It’s familiar, but in a way that still only a pale imitation of the real thing. It’s not Japan, and he cannot even quiet his mind and pretend for a moment that it is.

It’s different—the trees and the grass that douse the park in fresh spring green are different, and so are the bird calls surrounding them. The very air tastes different, the smells crisper somehow. There’s no one else around them, no German to be heard, and they themselves have been silent for a while now, and yet Yuuri can still feel the form of English and German on his tongue, not unfamiliar any longer, but not feeling like home the same way that Japanese does.

There’s not an excitable brown poodle sniffing about his feet, and even if there was, it would be the wrong one—as much as he adores Makkachin, she’s not his, she’s not his Vicchan. And next to him are not his parents, is not Mari, not even his classmates from Toyko Geidai. Next to him is Victor, Victor who’s never been to Japan, and who could never understand all the ways in which standing here feels wrong and right at the same time, even if Yuuri tried to explain.

And yet—yet, he’s overcome a sudden need to make himself understood, to have someone there who knows what is missing when he looks at the sight before him. He wishes there was someone—anyone here in the city who knows his family, or who’s been to Hasetsu before. As it is, Yuuko and Takeshi, who are from Fukuoka, are the next best thing he has. He makes a mental note to meet with them for dinner soon, for a night of Japanese and nothing else.

For now, though, for now his mouth opens and what he says is: “There’s a castle in Hasetsu that looks something like this. Well—it’s much larger, of course, and actually a little more modern in style. Which… it makes sense because it’s barely older, I think, than this park. It was rebuilt only in the sixties. There’s these ornaments on the roof—have you ever heard of Shachihoko?”

Yuuri just keeps talking, and he is so thankful that Victor lets him, Victor just listens with an occasional hum or nod or a question for clarification. And so Yuuri tells him whatever he can think of about Hasetsu, about Yu-topia, abut his family, about Minako-sensei. He’s really not used to talking that much, and sometimes his English fails him when he’s trying to explain specific concepts to Victor and it becomes clumsy and halting, but Victor doesn’t seem to mind.

So Yuuri keeps talking.

 


 

The afternoon is slowly bleeding into evening, a blue tinge creeping into the shadows underneath the trees. The gardens are quiet in the spring chill, only a few other people strolling along the paths, far away, fading into vague shapes.

Yuuri can still hear the gravel crunching under their shoes, can hear the birdsong in the trees turning solemn in the dusk, but most of all he can hear Victor’s laugh, low and warm and musical, trickling like syrup down his spine.

Victor is laughing, laughing at a joke that Yuuri has made, his head thrown back, blue glinting at him from the corner of his eyes. It makes Yuuri forget all about the earlier tension, about the twinge of homesickness, about the cold breeze that has been cutting through his light jacket a moment ago; it fills his stomach with a pooling, heavy warmth.

He grins along as he continued his story, torn between watching Victor intently for every single reaction running through his body and studying the trees around them in order to actually concentrate on his story.

"... and now, Mari, bless her, I‘m sure she meant well. Maybe she thought she was being subtle? I‘m not sure to this day. But, you see, she had a boyfriend at the time, so obviously, when she was telling me about this super nice guy in her business classes, it was only for my sake.“

"Obviously“, Victor agrees, his laughter subsided but the mirth still evident in his voice.

"So she kept going on about how nice this guy was, and how good-looking. And really, shouldn't she invite him along when we celebrated my birthday, just so I could get to know him?“

"And did she?“

"Oh, yeah. So this guy I don‘t even know comes along to my eighteenth birthday. And that whole night was a big disaster, though that may be a story for another time. Let‘s just say I got a little too drunk and threw a drink in this guy’s face, because apparently he had mortally offended me for reasons I still don’t remember in the slightest. And obviously I barely say a word to Mari’s friend all night, after all I had my own friends along, and the two of them were more interested in talking to one another anyway.“

Victor shakes his head, grinning.

"So how long until they were dating?“

"Couple weeks after my birthday Mari and her boyfriend split up, she and Fuyuki-kun were dating by the new year. They were together almost until I graduated university.“

"Wow. But, wait—was he even—well, he wasn't gay, obviously, but was he even bi at all?“

Yuuri shrugs, kicking at a larger pebble on the path.

"I don‘t think he was, to be honest. We never talked about it. I asked Mari once, oh, this must have been about a year after they started dating? I asked her if she didn't think it weird that she wanted to set me up with him first, and she honest to God didn't even remember that that‘s what she‘d told me.“

Victor laughs again, quieter now, a low chuckle in his throat that makes Yuuri‘s spine thrum.

"So were you very disappointed?“

Yuuri snorts.

"Sure, I was heartbroken. Dodged a bullet there. I mean, Fuyuki-kun was a nice guy, but he was dull as ditchwater. He and Mari met in business class after all. You can imagine how much he and I had in common.“

"But Yuuri“, Victor says, a hypnotic lilt in his voice, "aren‘t you literally running a business right now?“

"Ugh, God, I mean, yeah, technically, but don‘t remind me. It‘s the worst part of this job, I wish I could do without it.“

"It is rather dull, isn‘t it?“, Victor says, clasping his hands behind his head, looking up into the darkening sky, "But, alas, it‘s necessary for us in order to do what we love.“

Yuuri makes a non-committal noise of assent, regarding Victor from the corner of his eyes.

He wonders if and how it was different for musicians—does Victor even have to register his work as a business, or can he just declare himself a freelancer like photographers often do? It is how Phichit processes the odd photography jobs he sometimes does.

He’s still wondering if it would be prying to ask about it, and how to best phrase the question when the unusual silence settles on his ears. Only now does he realise how much he’s been talking in the last hour, barely leaving room for Victor to get a word in, gliding from one story into the next. The sudden absence of his own voice feels like a pressure on his ears. It makes the words stick fast in his throat.

He should probably ask Victor a question, allow him to take the reins of the conversation for a while, but nothing will come to his mind, nothing spill over his tongue.

And Victor, too, seems to be content to walk in silence, clasping his hands behind his back, looking into the trees. He’s probably worried that saying something will send Yuuri off on another long, rambling story that doesn't really have a point.

As the light fades slowly into dusk, they start making their way back to the entrance of the park by unspoken agreement, and Yuuri’s already resigned to walking the rest of the way in silence and saying an awkward goodbye at the subway station as Victor hurries to get away from Yuuri’s insecurities and his endless boring stories. He’ll probably never text Yuuri again and in the future Victor will regale his friends with stories of the boy who wouldn’t shut up.

But before Yuuri can pursue that train of thought any further, Victor opens his mouth just as they are leaving behind the Japanese Gardens, his hands still clasped behind his back with an air of nonchalance.

“You know, my mother met my godmother at university”, he says, his tone lighthearted, but there’s something strained in it that Yuuri can’t quite define, “when she fell off a balcony and broke her arm.”

“Oh”, Yuuri says, snapping his gaze to the side to study Victor’s profile, surprised at the sudden change in topic, “oh. Wait, your mother or your godmother?”

“My mother, she was the one who broke her arm.”

“Oh”, Yuuri says again, a bit lamely, uncertain if saying the wrong thing, asking the wrong question, will result in Victor closing off once more, “was she okay?”

“Ah, she was fine, eventually. She was pretty drunk, or so I was told, at some party or other with other students. She wasn’t very steady on her feet and somehow managed to stumble off the first floor balcony. It wasn’t a deep fall, but she had quite a few scrapes and bruises and a broken arm. Now, from what I’ve heard she didn’t even mind it very much, she was so drunk she was just going to get up and go back to the party.”

Yuuri nods, a little breathless, not daring to interrupt Victor in his story.

“Now, Polya, she wasn’t one to drink or party a lot, but she lived in that same dorm where the party took place, on the ground floor, right where mama came tumbling down. When she heard the commotion she came out to check and as the only sober and therefore the only reasonable person there, she gave mama rather a talking to when she tried to get up and go back to drinking some more. She got someone to call an ambulance and sat right there on the curb with her until it arrived, listening to mama whining about how she was barely hurt and being berated for a no-fun goody-goody.”

Victor chuckles and Yuuri carefully wraps himself in the warmth of that sound.

“Seeing as all the other people at the party were either too drunk to care or didn’t know mama at all, Polya went along with her in the ambulance as they took her to the hospital.”

“That was kind of her”, Yuuri says, and Victor nods.

“You would think so, wouldn’t you? Mama wouldn’t agree, though. Even after she’d sobered up and her arm had been set in a cast, she still maintained that she would have been fine and Polya didn’t need to fuss over her. She says the same thing to this day, to be honest, every chance she gets, but truth be told, I think she loves having Polya fussing over her.”

Victor stretches out his arms behind his back and over his head as he walks.

“After mama went back to her dorm, Polya would stop by regularly to check on her, since all her friends apparently were, in her words, ‘negligent knuckleheads’. That’s what she told mama, anyways. But…”, Victor hesitates, a slight falter in his steady steps as he throws a quick glance over his shoulder, “they both knew it was just an excuse. They—they were together not two weeks later.”

“Oh.” Yuuri finds himself blinking rapidly, looking up at Victor. “Oh. They were a couple?”

Victor makes a non-committal noise that Yuuri interprets as assent.

“That’s nice”, he says with a smile, then creases his eyebrows, “Ah, that can’t have been easy though, right? At that time, in Russia—or rather”, he thinks back quickly, “that would have still been the Soviet Union, then?”

Victor nods thoughtfully next to him. “I don’t believe it was. They had to hide it, obviously, though of course intimate friendships between women were then, as they are now, regarded with much less suspicion than men. And the law, obviously, only applied to men, anyway. Still, they needed to be careful and you could never be quite sure who to trust with information like that.”

Yuuri bites his lips, watching Victor from the corner of his eye. “I can’t imagine what that must have been like. Having to hide like that. Japan may not be the most open-minded, but historically being gay has never really been illegal there.”

“Yeah”, Victor sighs, “I think it would put a significant strain on anyone, having to hide who you are like that. Having to hide who you love.”

“But your mother… she married, in the end.”

Victor nods again. “Out of necessity, I suppose. I suppose she could have stayed unmarried, in theory, but times were strained back then, societal pressure high, and my father… well, he could offer a certain security, I suppose.”

“I get that. But—uhm, it’s nice that they are still close though, your mother and, ah, Polina? After they broke up. I mean, they must be still close, if she’s your godmother, right?”

“Ah”, Victor said, straightening a little, “about that. They—they didn’t, actually. Break up, that is.”

Yuuri blinked, trying to wrap his head around Victor’s words. “Wait—they’re still together? Is—I mean, does your father know?”

There’s a small smile on Victor’s face, something sad and bittersweet. “Oh, yeah. He was aware when they married.”

“So—He’s your mother’s beard? Or—ah, is he also gay?”

Victor chuckles, barely audible. “No, no, I don’t think so. But papa has never really had an interest in marrying, finding a wife. He did want children though, and as a Party member and son of an influential family, he was expected to start a family and lead a respectable life according to the Party’s ideals. So—yeah, I guess in a way, they are each other’s beards. He and mama were, and still are, good friends, and it was a beneficial arrangement for both of them. I don’t think papa’s ever had any interest in men, though. I don’t know if he’d identify with today’s concepts of asexual or aromantic—I never really talked to him about it. That kind of thing isn’t exactly easy to talk about in Russia, now less than ever.”

Yuuri can see a cloud passing over Victor’s face, and he gets it; he’s not an expert, but he’s heard enough about the recent developments of queer rights in Russia.

“God”, he whispers, it slips out of him almost involuntarily, “I—that must be awful. To live through the decriminalisation and finally be able to be yourself with impunity at least from the law, only to have it then taken away again within your lifetime.”

Victor nods to his words. “Thankfully my parents kept their arrangement quiet even when it was decriminalised. After all, public opinion was still plenty negative, and my father still had and has a position to maintain. But—yeah, that was a blow to mama and Polya. That’s—”, Victor clears his throat, “that’s kind of why I’m here, actually.”

Yuuri looks up at him with creased eyebrows. “What do you mean?”

“I’ve been exiled”, Victor says with a laugh, but it sounds bitter, stings painfully in Yuuri’s chest, “my parents have known I was gay for a long time. I’ve never really been subtle about it. Never needed to be, not at home, anyway. I suppose my parents were hoping by the time I grew up I wouldn’t have to hide who I am anymore. But all those steps backwards in recent years, the increase in violence, the legislation… my parents thought it best if I didn’t stay in Russia. I can’t say I disagreed—I never wanted that kind of life. The life my parents were forced to lead. I—”, Victor hesitates, tears at his hair in a rare nervous gesture, “was terrified of it, actually. So my parents set me up with funds and some open-minded contacts in Europe, and they sent me on my way.”

“Victor…”, the syllables almost stick in Yuuri’s throat, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Victor waves his words away, “I don’t—it was the right choice for me. I miss my parents, but I… I couldn’t bear living a life where I need to wear a mask all the time. Be something I’m not because people expect me to be.”

Yuuri nods slowly, some of Victor’s words of the last few weeks finally clicking into place. “You haven’t been back?”

Victor shakes his head. “No. And I’m not sure I will be. There may be a day when Russia is a safe place for the queer community, but I don’t think it will be in my lifetime. And I’m not sure I can go back before then. Not now that I know what it’s like not to have to hide. Mama and Polya have been over to visit me a couple of times. But I haven’t seen papa since I left Russia.”

“I’m sorry, Victor. He’s not—he’s okay with…?”

Victor laughs again, and it sounds a little freer this time. “Oh, no, he doesn’t mind me being gay. Not at all. He just works a lot, has never really found the time. He’s always been married to his work, that’s also, I think, one of the reasons why he never actually wanted to get married in the first place.”

“Oh, I see… I just—I wasn’t sure. When you speak of your parents, if you mean…”

“Ah—no, when I say my parents I usually think of all three of them. They’ve all raised me, they all love me like I’m their own. I’ve been lucky that way.”

Yuuri nods, and for a while they continue on, along the edge of the park and toward the nearest subway station, in silence.

Finally, Yuuri swallows his nerves and opens his mouth. “Thank you, Victor”, he says, “thank you for telling me.”

“Not at all.” Victor smiles at him, and all the bitterness in the lines of his mouth has drained away. “Thank you. For being so open with me, and for being patient. It’s—still not easy to talk about this sometimes. The paranoia runs deep, you know.”

“I—ah, of course. Of course”, Yuuri stammers, thrown by Victor’s sudden earnestness, “I can’t—I really can’t imagine what it must be like. This was… really brave of you.”

As they reach a traffic light, they stop, and Victor turns toward Yuuri fully. Yuuri’s eyes flicker toward the side, unsure if they want to meet Victor’s gaze or not.

“Yes”, Victor says, “I can be brave for you.”

 


 

They end up taking the subway back to the city centre together, where they will part ways for their respective flats.

With every station they creep closer, Yuuri’s mind is buzzing louder, his fingers twisting into the hem of his jacket. He's still reeling a little from Victor's story, trying to wrap his head around it. But at the same time, his head is also hurtling ahead of him already. For the last few hours, he blissfully ignored everything he still needs to do, but now his head is already compiling to do lists to check off the moment he gets home.

“I have my first convention of the season in a few weeks”, he says by way of conversation to Victor, who is draped on the seat opposite him, his long legs crossed elegantly, the bag from Teeburg on the seat next to him, “I still have so much stuff I need to prepare for that. I’ve wanted to get some new prints done and possibly an art book from last year’s Inktober? Maybe I’ll also manage like a promo thing for Agape? I’m not sure yet.”

He’s saying it more to himself, he knows, to keep track of all the things that still need doing. Victor most likely doesn’t care about the minutiae of his con-prep.

“Ah, where are you going this time?”, Victor asks.

“Not too far, actually, just down to Cologne. It’s a big one though, to kick off the season, so I hope it’ll go well.”

“I’m sure it will. Do you have a lot of events coming up this season?” Victor tilts his head to the side, regarding him curiously.

Yuuri nods. “Quite a few all throughout summer, yeah. I’ll be travelling most weekends from now until September, actually.”

Victor raises his eyebrows. “Really? That’s quite the busy schedule.”

“I’m afraid so, yeah. I’m lucky that business is slow at the tea shop during the summer months. It means I can do fewer hours now and make up for them when it gets colder again. As far as that is concerned, it’s the perfect job for me.”

“Hmm…”, Victor regards him thoughtfully, one finger tapping against his lips, “don’t you forget about me during the summer, though! With all your travelling and all the fascinating people you’re going to meet…”

Yuuri huffs a small, unamused laugh. “Yeah, there’s not much of a chance of that. Um, I mean… you know me. Not exactly the type to get into a conversation with strangers. Besides, I’ll still be around, you know. We just might have to scale down our plans a little bit for a while.”

“Of course. It’s unfortunate, though. First half of my summer’s pretty wide open. I mean, I’ve got a few more songs to finish up for the new album, and a festival show here and there, but mostly I’m fairly free until the tour.”

“Ah, that’s right!”, Yuuri takes in a sharp breath as he remembers, “you’re going on tour in late summer.”

“I am!”, Victor grins, “and this time I’d better see you at my local show! I’ve already put you and Phichit down on the guest list, so no excuses this time.”

Yuuri can feel his skin heat up, even as excitement flutters in his stomach. Guest list access to a real nikiforlove show!

“Victor—you didn’t have to do that. Really.”

“Well, I kind of did”, Victor shrugs, “because the show was already sold out, as you kindly pointed out to me. And I want you there! It’ll be nice to have a friendly face in the crowd.”

“Victor”, Yuuri repeats, a playful admonishment in his voice, “I’m sure all the faces at your shows are friendly.”

“Perhaps”, Victor replies airily, “but none quite so friendly as yours.”

They have reached the main station before Yuuri can reply, and here’s where he needs to get off and change trains, while Victor continues on. They part ways with a quick hug, and after all the emotions of the afternoon, Yuuri feels like he should say something, anything—another apology perhaps, or a word of thanks, but before he can think of anything, the doors are already opening, and he needs to hurry away before the train hurtles on with him.

He’ll think of something to say on the way home, and then he’ll text Victor when he gets there, he thinks.

Once on his next train he texts Phichit about dinner plans and then stops by the store in their neighbourhood when Phichit tells him there aren’t any. With ingredients for a quick meal, an array of snacks and some fruit for his peace of mind in his bags he finally arrives home. He’s exhausted as he kicks off his shoes—no matter how much he enjoyed spending time with Victor, all his anxiety and the fluttering excitement he always feels around Victor leaves him feeling drained, not to mention the six hours of customer service that preceded it.

He calls out, but it seems Phichit isn’t home yet. He slips out of his shoes and drags his bags into the kitchen, where he dumps them unceremoniously on the counter. He just about manages to shove the things that need cooling into the fridge and pull out a packet of pretzel sticks and a bag of small ready-made chocolate muffins before he collapses on the sofa.

He takes a few minutes to just catch his breath, staring into the dark fabric of the couch. He goes through his to do list again in his mind—there’s still a lot he needs to get done today, but he’ll just take a moment to relax and eat something, and then he’ll tackle his work with new energy. He turns on the TV and tears open the package of pretzel sticks, nibbling his way mechanically through one after the other with an episode of Avatar playing on the screen. Rather than pay attention to the show, Yuuri’s mind wanders back over his conversations with Victor—his kindness and his openness and the jokes that he had made. A kind man, who is strong and resilient and a wonderful friend replays over and over in his mind, and he huffs quietly to himself. If only you knew, he thinks. By the time he puts the half empty bag of chocolate muffins aside, he feels vaguely nauseous, heavy and sluggish. He’ll only close his eyes for a few minutes, just until this episode is over. Then he’ll get to work.

 


 

When Phichit comes home later that evening, Yuuri jerks awake on the couch, disoriented and with a raging headache. Phichit takes note of the plastic packaging piled on the coffee table and the crumbs covering Yuuri’s lap, and quips about Yuuri eating his feelings. Yuuri tries to laugh it off, but it feels like there’s a lead weight in his stomach, plummeting.

 


 

Stoffel
15:48 well, how is it going with your not-so-casual thing? 👀
16:44 you’re not ignoring me on purpose, I hope?
16:44 is it going that well? Or that badly?😉

nikiforhoe
19:37 Sorry, I was out with Yuuri

[nikiforhoe is typing…]

Stoffel
19:42 so I take it it’s going well then

nikiforhoe
19:43 CHRIS
19:43 I don’t even know what to say
19:43 I don’t know how to put him into words
19:44 He’s too amazing for words
19:44 AND I WRITE FOR A LIVING

Stoffel
19:44 who said anything about words?
19:45 actions, vitya, actions.

nikiforwoe
19:45 Be serious Chris
19:45 I told him about my parents today.

Stoffel
19:46 the real story?

nikiforwoe
19:46 The real story.

Stoffel
19:46 that is serious.

nikiforwoe
19:47 He’s been so patient with me
19:47 He’s still so patient with me

Stoffel
19:48 well, what’s the hold up then?

nikiforwoe
19:48 I don’t know
19:48 I’ve never done this before
19:48 I’ve never done serious before

Stoffel
19:49 victor I s2g

nikiforwoe
19:49 Relax, Chris I’m not running away
19:49 What I mean is
19:52 I don’t want to rush this
19:52 I don’t want to jump into anything
19:52 I want to do this right
19:53 I’m taking your advice, okay?
19:53 This is me, taking your advice. Go ahead and gloat.
19:55 I care about him

Stoffel
19:59 good

 

Chapter Text

 

The days slip by one after the other without Yuuri really noticing, and suddenly his first convention looms close.

He’s been so busy preparing new merchandise and making travel plans, and the rest of his time is taken up working on On Love: Agape. He’s given up on finishing the book in time for this first con a while ago, but he definitely wants to get it printed in time for the summer rush of conventions, so he can’t afford to slack off now.

He still has a shift or two a week at the tea shop, but other than that he buries himself in the flat, hunched over the desk at all hours of the day. Balancing his time between maintaining his shop, working on commissions and creating new projects is already a challenge throughout the year, but with the added strain of convention prep, particularly in the run-up for the first convention of the year, things are starting to fall through the cracks.

He gives up on some stickers he’d wanted to get done, has long thrown out the idea of making teaser comics for Agape, and he puts off going to the studio until he feels like he’s going stir-crazy. Then he drops everything and leaves behind those four walls that are closing in on him, escaping to the dance studio for hours on end until he’s exhausted and panting but he feels like he can finally breathe again.

And then there’s Victor.

It’s not like Yuuri isn’t seeing him at all; Victor is still stopping by once a week at least. They’ve made it through the rest of SOTUS by now, but they’ve found something else to watch in its stead, so their weekly movie nights don’t need to be discontinued. And Yuuri still tries to make plans with Victor beyond that, but the days slip by so quickly that Yuuri can barely think before another week is past. He keeps trying to set a day aside to spend with his friends, but there seems to be hardly one left where there isn’t some deadline or an important task of some kind looming.

Victor assures him over text that it’s no problem, and sometimes he stops by just to hang out while Yuuri works at home, but ends up either with Yuuri being distracted and getting nothing done, or feeling guilty for ignoring Victor. Either way it seems like he can’t win, and it makes his head spin.

He spends the days buried in his work, and more than once Phichit has found him hunched over his tablet in the dark flat, completely oblivious to the fact that the sun has long since set and the light drained out of the apartment. He stays at his desk until Phichit shoos him to bed more often than not, and while he hardly notices how many hours he put in throughout the day, the exhaustion slams into him full force as soon as he gets up from his chair on stiff legs and stretches his tense limbs and neck.

And yet—
And yet, as soon as he’s in bed, he lies awake with a tickling between his ribs, unable to think of anything but Victor.

He remembers all the times his phone hummed with a message throughout the day, prompting Yuuri to tell himself I’ll check that in a minute over and over and, holding his phone aloft in his dark bedroom, he replies to them. And he stares at the dark ceiling of his room and he pictures Victor’s smile, the one he smiles when he’s just tried a dish he’s never eaten before, or the small, private one Yuuri saw when Victor looked at Eternity at Ciao-Ciao’s. He thinks about Victor’s voice tickling in his ears, a teasing laugh and the quiet humming of a melody and his lilting accent.

Listening to nikiforlove, somehow, does not feel the same anymore—he still does it, nonetheless, lets the soft guitar sounds wash over him, re-examines the lyrics of every song in the light of everything he’s learnt about Victor. But he can’t lose himself in it in the same way anymore. It’s no longer something private, something just for him; it’s something he shares now, with Victor, by virtue of being his friend. He no longer has the option to find only himself in the songs, to cut out any thought of the actual person who wrote the songs and pretend that this is just his own. Victor Nikiforov is no longer an impersonal voice in a studio somewhere, singing beautiful songs that make Yuuri feel things.

He’s Victor, he’s real and close and Yuuri doesn’t understand him half of the time, doesn’t understand why he does the things he does or says he things he says any more than he understands why blue and pink make purple: only that they do, and that it’s beautiful, and Yuuri accepts it with as humble a thankfulness as he can muster and does what he can with it.

He tries not to entertain fantasies of what it would be like to be with Victor—or sometimes he does try, immerses himself in the daydreams of it with a painful wistfulness that borders on self-torture. He knows someone like him could never be with Victor; Victor, who is so beautiful, and talented and successful. Not when Yuuri is so underwhelming, so exhausting to be around, so fragile, so plain. He’s heard of all the gorgeous men nikiforlove has been with in the past, it’s hard not to when that’s a constant topic of gossip in the Ruhr area scene. He’s heard the songs that Victor sings about big love, about that person who is fascinating and inexplicable and at the same time as familiar to you as nothing has ever been before—he feels those songs in his bones when he thinks about Victor, but he knows he can never be that person for him. Victor—Victor who left behind his entire life, his family, so that he doesn’t have to hide who he is: he deserves someone who will be worth all that for him.

But still Yuuri indulges in those daydreams, revels in the blissful torture of knowing it’ll never be when he pictures the two of them curled up on the couch in Victor’s apartment, no more distance between them, just warmth on warmth and Victor’s hair tickling Yuuri’s throat where his head is tucked against Yuuri’s shoulder. Or their fingers intertwined on their walk through the park with Makkachin, stopping occasionally to trade soft kisses under a tree heavy with pale lilac blossoms.

Sometimes, even—and with increasing frequency, though he hates to admit it to himself—the two of them tangled in each other right here on Yuuri’s bed, sheets twisted around them and their breaths panting in the darkness, fingers grasping, desperately. His hands will stray, then, of their own accord, below the waistband of his boxer briefs and his teasing fingers, soft and ink-stained, aren’t Victors, long and hardened with callouses from the guitar strings, he knows. Afterwards, he’ll curl up, still panting but already ashamed, because Victor is his friend and doesn’t deserve Yuuri’s filthy fantasies.

 


 

Victor
08:41 [image sent]
08:41 It hasn’t rained in days, and yet Makka has somehow managed to find a puddle.
08:41 A big, muddy one, too.
08:42 This was supposed to be a quick morning walk, I’ve got studio time today😩
08:42 What are you up to today?

Victor

12:21 Have you ever heard of Maultaschen?
12:21 [image sent]
12:22 It sounds perverse but I think I’ll give it a try

13:02 Seal of approval 🦦👍
13:02 I have yet to encounter a cuisine that doesn’t have some type of filled pasta dumpling
13:03 They are all amazing

Victor
14:42 Remember to drink water! 😚

—> To Victor
14:51 wait there‘s pasta dumplings in german cuisine too?
14:51 how have i not encountered these before?

Victor
14:52 Apparently you tend to get them only down south
14:52 They‘re like a regional thing?
14:53 I don‘t know how authentic the ones I had were but they were good

—> To Victor
15:04 Damn I want to try them now

Victor
15:06 Me too
15:06 Uh, the real thing I mean
15:07 We should take a trip to the south sometime!
15:11 When you‘re less busy of course

Victor
17:17 I‘m heading home for the day
17:17 Here‘s hoping that Makka didn‘t get up to any more mischief while I was gone

Victor
17:34 [image sent]
17:34 The picture of innocence
17:37 Going out for our evening walk now!

—> To Victor
17:58 have fun!

Victor
19:12 Yuuuuuri
19:12 I‘m bored
19:12 I know you‘re busy but
19:13 I‘m boooored
19:13 What did i do with all my time before we were friends
19:13 Watching drag race without phichit‘s running commentary is just not as fun

—> To Victor
19:21 uh
19:21 how dare you watch drag race without us

Victor
19:22 Please, as if you haven‘t seen all of the episodes before

—> To Victor
19:24 we have but you haven‘t! we need to be there to witness it

Victor
19:25 Fine by me, it‘s no fun without you anyway

—> To Victor
19:28 tell you what
19:28 I dare you to solve this
19:28 the-impossible-quiz-game.com
19:29 and no looking up the solution online
19:29 that should keep you busy for a few weeks

Victor
19:30 WEEKS???
19:30 Yuuri what is this
19:30 I am confused
19:31 Is this seriously the Rocky music
19:31 Where did you find this
19:34 None of these questions make any sense
19:34 What does any of that mean
19:37 WAIT
19:37 Are those puns????
19:38 OMG they ARE

Victor
19:57 I‘m at question 23
19:57 Is that good?
19:57 How many questions does this thing have anyway?

Victor
20:15 ABUNDANCE

Victor
21:21 I‘ve had to start over more times than I‘m comfortable admitting
21:21 I really hate question 84
21:22 I have forgotten what a world without the rocky soundtrack sounds like
21:24 I have notes
21:24 COLOUR CODED ONES
21:24 How is a flash quiz game his complex i am unsure if i should be impressed or afraid
21:25 What kind of eldritch being created this?

Victor
21:37 Question 100!!
21:37 It keeps going...

Victor
21:46 You‘re not still working are you Yuuri?

—> To Victor
22:02 just had dinner
22:03 I was going to draw a little more after but Phichit won‘t let me get back at my desk

Victor
22:03 GOOD
22:04 Remind me to give him a treat next time I‘m over

—> To Victor
22:05 you‘re not training Phichit to keep me from working
22:06 speaking of, i hope Makka didn‘t give you too much trouble this morning
22:06 it certainly looks like she enjoyed herself though

Victor
22:07 Oh, she did. Thoroughly.

—> To Victor
22:07 How did things go at the studio today?

Victor
22:07 Completely unapologetic about it too
22:08 Pretty good! I got to play around with the bouzouki some more and it sounded pretty great on the recording if I do say so myself
22:08 Sent some samples to my producer, if she approves I might add the bouzouki to a few more songs
22:09 I already have some nice ideas for Your Hands

—> To Victor
22:10 that sounds great
22:10 I can‘t wait to hear it!
22:12 I remembered by the way
22:12 I‘ve got a convention in Stuttgart coming up this summer

Victor
22:12 !!!!

—> To Victor
22:12 there must be a place down there that serves authentic maultaschen right?
22:13 though i‘m not sure how i will survive until then D:
22:14 well i suppose there‘s always gyoza
22:15 and dim sum
22:15 and wontons
22:15 and pelmeni
22:16 am I forgetting anything?

Victor
22:17 Ravioli?
22:17 When‘s your con in Stuttgart?

—> To Victor
22:18 second weekend in July
22:18 it‘s a new one, we‘ll see how it goes

Victor
22:19 Ah
22:19 I‘ve got studio time that weekend

—> To Victor
22:19 how far did you get on the quiz?

Victor
22:19 But maybe i could move it around?

—> To Victor
22:28 ah uhm you don‘t have to do that
22:29 I think Peach wanted to come with me for that one
22:29 since it‘s new and all
22:29 he‘s got some new cosplays he wants to give a trial run

Victor
22:35 Ah
22:35 That makes sense🙂

—> To Victor
22:38 thank you though
22:38 for offering

Victor
22:40 Sure thing

 


 

It’s rare these days that Yuuri can be found without a snack in his hand or open on his desk.
And there’s nothing unusual in that, really.
He’s stressed, and so he does what he does best when he’s stressed: he eats.

It’s always been that way—Yuuri finds comfort in a good meal or a tasty snack, and as his free time gets more constrained, he trades the home-cooked meals for cheap junk food and sweets that he can eat at his desk, all sugar and empty calories.

It’s not ideal, but he doesn’t know how else to cope with the stress in a way that isn’t even more self-destructive or a lot less productive. The physical strain and all the travelling once the actual conventions start keep his weight somewhat in check, and once the strain of it dies down a little, he’ll work off the rest in the dance studio.

So it really isn’t unusual that the wastebasket next to his desk fills up with plastic packaging more quickly than usual, that he finds himself at the store staring down the candy aisle more often, that he’ll wake up with cravings, sometimes, in the middle of the night, his stomach churning almost painfully, until he sneaks out of bed and finds the bag of Paprika potato crisps stashed in his desk drawer.

Admittedly, he doesn’t remember the cravings being so vicious, doesn’t remember feeling so drained and wan after he’s gotten caught up in the pages of Agape once more and hasn’t eaten anything in a few hours. Doesn’t remember the weak feeling in his knees that he sometimes gets when he gets up in the morning now that won’t dissipate until he’s found something to eat with a lot of sugar that will go straight into his blood stream. He doesn’t remember the bouts of nausea and sluggishness that overcome him, often in the evening, that seem to be unrelated to what and how much he’s had to eat that day. It makes him want to drop his head on the desk right then and there and sleep until he feels better, utterly unable to keep his eyes open and trained on the screen for a minute longer. And he does, more often than not, take a nap, at the desk or, if he can manage it, a few steps across the living room on the couch.
He tries not to do it when Phichit’s home, and when he’s out Yuuri usually manages to wake up before he comes home, because that seems like the kind of thing that would make Phichit force him to go to bed early, or even take a break for a couple of days, and Yuuri can’t afford that right now.

All things considered, though, he tells himself it’s not that unusual. He’s working long hours, so it’s no wonder he’s tired. He doesn’t eat as regularly as he should, and probably doesn’t drink enough either, so it’s no wonder he feels a little woozy sometimes. It’s just the stress, paired with a healthy dose of anxiety about the upcoming events and everything that could go wrong—it’ll pass in time. He’s always made it through this before. It’s not that unusual.

 

What is unusual is this:

It’s Wednesday and Victor’s due to come over for their weekly film night soon. Yuuri hasn’t showered or, in general, moved a lot today, but Phichit has pried him away from his desk and he’s changing out of his pyjamas into decent clothes. And Phichit, who was puttering about the living room collecting some dirty dishes, eyes him thoughtfully.

“Yuuri, have you lost weight?”

Yuuri, half a cheese-filled pastry currently hanging from his mouth as he’s wriggling into his pants, looks up.
He bites off the drool-covered bit of the pastry he’s been holding between his teeth before taking the rest of it in his hands, chewing and swallowing before he manages to say: “Huh? Have I?”

He looks down at himself, at his stomach where he’s always been most prone to gain weight. He can’t really see any difference; he feels like his skinny jeans fit him the same way they always do, but he supposes that in itself is remarkable: there seems to be a distinct absence of the soft layer of fat that usually collects around his midsection and his hips by this time in the season.

“I don’t know”, he says, frowning, and takes another bit of his pastry, “maybe? I haven’t really been paying much attention to that lately.” It’s true: his weight has been the last thing on his mind, but Phichit doesn’t look like he’s convinced. "It‘s probably the stress“, Yuuri says with a shrug in response to Phichit‘s sceptical look, "there‘s just been a lot going on.“

"If you say so.“ Phichit turns away and Yuuri finishes zipping up his pants and eats the rest of his pastry. He forgets all about it for the rest of the night, caught up as he is in Victor‘s company and the easy laughs the three of them share.

He doesn‘t think about much after that either—occasionally the moment does cross his mind when he‘s eating and a niggling feeling of guilt over his bad eating habits makes itself known. But he shoves the thought to the back of his mind, as he‘s gotten very good at doing over years of stress-eating.

 


 

Victor
11:02 Makkachin had her check up this morning and everything’s looking good
11:02 She did very well
11:03 And she was very brave as always
11:03 [image sent]

—> To Victor
13:38 awww pupper 💖💕💗💖
13:38 good girl makka!!!!

Victor
13:44 Yes she is!! The very best!!!
13:45 And I’m making sure she knows
13:45 By spoiling her rotten today

—> To Victor
13:57 she deserves it
13:57 what are you two up to today?

Victor
14:00 We’re resting on the couch for now
14:00 She’s sleepy
14:01 I’ll take her for a long walk later when she’s up

—> To Victor
17:17 sounds like a great plan! Hope you had fun

Victor
18:27 We did! Just came home now
18:27 Took her to the river, she loved it
18:28 Now she’s all powered out again
18:28 How have you been faring today?

—> To Victor
19:56 sounds like you had a great time
19:58 mh not as good as I was hoping
19:59 I inked one page and got halfway through colouring another
19:59 it’s just not going fast enough
20:01 but I don’t want it getting sloppy

Victor
20:02 Don’t push yourself too hard
20:02 You still need to take care of yourself yuuri
20:03 And it will be no use to rush through this if you’re not going to like the result
20:04 It’s okay to take your time
20:04 Your fans will wait

—> To Victor
20:21 I don’t even have fans
20:22 but i’ve been talking so much about how agape will be out by june
20:22 i don’t like having to backtrack

Victor
20:25 I know, but sometimes deadlines just don’t work out
20:27 There’s no shame in that

Victor
22:47 I’ve been listening to the Hayley Kiyoko songs you recommended by the way!

 


 

The next time he really considers Phichit‘s words is just about a week before he leaves for his convention. The prep for the con itself is all but done, he just needs to pack his bags, and then there’s the dreaded live event to be planned for, but he‘s still finishing up the last pages for Agape so he can send the data off for printing before he leaves, so that the comic is ready in time for his next convention two weeks after this one.

The last few days have been fairly productive and he‘s optimistic that he will be able to finish everything on time if he stays focused in the next days, so he takes a few hours off one afternoon to go to the studio.

Rifling through his wardrobe he grabs his largest pair of yoga pants by sheer force of habit—usually, he would need it at this point in the year. But when he pulls them on, even the tight, stretchy fabric of them feels a little loose around his thighs and hips. He pinches at the creases in the fabric absently, wondering if he‘s maybe stretched them out too much in previous years. With a shrug, he slips out of them and exchanges them for a pair in his regular size, though even those don‘t seem to fit quite as snugly as they usually do.

He dismisses the thought as he pulls on a soft pair of sweat pants over them and heads out for the studio.

He starts at the barre, as he always does, stretching leisurely and keeping up his form, reintroducing the poise into his body that was foregone in favour of sitting hunched over his desk for hours every day, and laying down the painful, cramped tension in his shoulders in favour of the tight, controlled tension of an impeccable posture. It wouldn‘t do, after all, to neglect the things that Minako spent so many years teaching him—even from half a world away, Yuuri knows Minako‘s tone of disappointment on the phone would be his undoing, not to mention the wrath that would be sure to follow the next time he visits home.

When his body feels both relaxed and coiled tightly like a spring at once, he steps away from the barre.

The studio is actually part of a large gym facility that allows use of a few small dance studios for their members. The studios can be rented by the hour for an extra fee, but are otherwise open to everyone with a membership to the gym, so it is always a bit of a toss up how many other people will be there at a given time. With the odd hours he‘s keeping, though, often coming on weekdays during work hours, Yuuri rarely needs to share the studio with more than one or two people.

He‘s alone today, and he‘s thankful for that—he‘s always felt the most at ease on his own in the studio, when he can let himself go and just give himself over to the music for a little while, without having to be considerate of someone else in the space, without being watched.

He plugs his phone into the audio system of the room and selects a song, and then he’s moving.

He starts with ballet, because he always does. But also because the tightly controlled movements and the light-footed feeling of elegance they produce give him a sense of focus and control like no other dance style does. Then he moves through a progression of increasingly freer styles, occasionally stopping to switch to a different song, until he‘s just moving, just feeling, mixing elements from different dance styles in any way that feels right with the music.

It barely takes half an hour before he‘s panting and sweaty, trying to catch his breath with hurried gasps to a painfully burning long. It‘s much quicker than he would usually hit his limit, and then as a rule the fatigue would settle in the muscles in his limbs much more quickly than he would lose his breath. It‘s a little disconcerting—he‘s not been to the studio as much lately as he usually would, but he doesn‘t usually get out of shape this quickly, even when he does put on weight.

And it all felt so effortless, at first, too, so light on his feet. He could feel the music coursing through his veins like lava, warming him from the inside. Not it feels like that lava is trying to burn its way out of him through his sternum. He‘s hunched over, hands on his knees, trying to suck all the oxygen he can into his bloodstream.

When he feels like he can stand straight once more, he collects his bag and his phone and takes a long draught from his water bottle before moving to leave the studio. The door opens before he can reach it, though, and another regular in the dance studio enters, a girl maybe a few years older than him who comes in to practice her hip-hop dance. Yuuri can vividly picture her moves from the few times they‘ve been dancing in the same studio at the same time; she‘s pretty good. Not classically trained, but her movements are sharp and precise and she‘s got a good sense of rhythm.

He cannot for the life of him remember her name, though.

She does not appear to have the same problem as him though.
"Yuuri!“, she exclaims when she sees him, her face falling a little "Oh, gehst du etwa schon?

Yuuri grimaces a little at her disappointment in seeing him, but he gets it; after all, he also prefers to have the studio to himself.

"Ja, keine Sorge“, he hurries to assure her, "you‘ll have the place all to yourself in a moment!“

She looks a little flustered, opening her mouth, and Yuuri waves away what was surely going to be a half-hearted apology, smiling at her for good measure.
"Really, don‘t worry about it. Viel Erfolg!

He hurries out the door, but he can still feel her eyes on him as he‘s leaving until the door‘s fallen all the way shut, like she wants to make sure that he‘s really gone.

He feels a little shaky on his way to the locker rooms, his chest still twinging a little, his knees a little weak. He really hopes he‘s not coming down with anything—that‘s the last thing he can afford right now. He‘s peeled off his damp clothes down to his boxer briefs and is towelling off his sweaty hair a little—he‘ll take a proper shower when he‘s home—when he spots the scales by the showers, and all of a sudden Phichit‘s words pop up in his head again.

Have you lost weight?

Before he can think too much about it, he steps onto the scales in his boxers and holds his breath as the digital display counts through the numbers.

He has lost weight.

And not just a little.

It‘s not an unhealthy amount, but he doesn‘t think he‘s been this light since he started university and gained the obligatory weight of feeding himself for the first time.

Yuuri thinks back over the way he‘s been eating lately. He‘s not misremembering it, is he? He has been eating a lot of junk food and snacks, but he‘s also been working so much, maybe he‘s skipped more meals than he‘s aware of? Maybe it‘s something else, maybe he is getting sick. Maybe he has an ulcer or something like that? Would an ulcer make him lose weight? What even are the symptoms of an ulcer? Or maybe it‘s something in his bowels?

He briefly considers googling which illnesses can make one lose weight, but rapidly dismisses the idea—he knows his anxiety would run rampant with what he‘s sure to find, and he can‘t deal with that right now.

He‘s not feeling sick, not really. He‘s been a little tired lately, but he‘s been working so much, that is to be expected. The aches in his chest are surely to be attributed to that overexertion as well, he thinks as his chest gives another small twinge of pain.

As long as he‘s not feeling any sicker, surely losing a little weight is nothing to worry about. For now he‘ll just take it as it is, and if any more symptoms crop up, he can still go and see a doctor then. Surely it‘ll sort itself out.

 


 

—> To Victor
17:32 It’s done! It’s all done!
17:32 I finished the last page today and the layout is all set
17:33 phichit’s friend leo is currently proofreading it since he’s a native speaker

Victor
17:33 !!!!!!

—> To Victor
17:33 he said he’ll get it back to me by tomorrow

Victor
17:33 Yuuri!!! That’s amazing!! Congratulations!! 💖💖💖

—> To Victor
17:34 then I can send it off to the printer on friday before I leave
17:34 thank you!
17:35 I’m just glad it’s finally behind me tbh

Victor
17:36 That calls for a celebration!!
17:36 You up for dinner tonight?
17:39 Or do you still have too much to do?

—> To Victor
17:41 I think I can take a night off

Victor
17:42 Amazing!💖💖💖

—> To Victor
17:43 Peach also said sth about going out
17.44 you got anything in particular in mind?

Victor
17:46 Well…
17:46 If it is to celebrate we should have katsudon, right?

—> To Victor
17:49 oh god, katsudon sounds like heaven right about now…
17:50 the only place in the city that serves halfway decent katsudon is kind of expensive though…
17:50 unless I make it myself

Victor
17:51 No!
17:51 No cooking for you, you’ve been working more than enough already!
17:52 I’ll treat you! And the guys, too! We’ll make it an outing 😊💕

—> To Victor
17:53 no, victor, that’s too much
17:53 you don’t have to do that, it’s not that big a deal

 

[The Hazing Crew]
Peaches 🍑, Victor, Chris, You
Victor
17:54 We’re going out for Katsudon tonight! My treat!😄
17:54 Our boy finished his first comic book! 😭💕
17:54 A cause for celebration!
17:55 The man himself will let you know when and where

 

Victor
17:55 I beg to differ! It’s a very big deal!
17:55 Shhhhhh just say Thank you, Victor and accept it.

—> To Victor
17:58 … thank you, Victor and accept it

Victor
17:59 😱
17:59 I am so proud😭😭😭

 


 

Yuuri very nearly cries when the bowl of katsudon is set down before him. The smell is absolutely mouthwatering, and the size of the helping is very generous, and it’s all he can do not to tuck in immediately.
He’s ravenous.

But he waits politely until the other three have also received their dishes, not really participating in but following the easy conversation that flows around the table all the while. When Phichit’s main course, a vegetarian donburi, is finally set before him, Yuuri finally picks up his chopsticks and with a hastily muttered itadakimasu, he digs in.
The others follow closely behind, the same word mumbled in varying degrees of confidence between them, and then for a while there’s silence at the table, interrupted only by the occasional expression of appreciation for the food.

It’s only when the worst of the hunger is sated and their bowls start emptying that the conversation picks up again.

“So, Yuuri”, Chris asks between bites, “when will we be able to hold that masterpiece of yours in our own hands?”

Yuuri focuses his eyes on the piece of tonkatsu he’s picking up and pulls up his shoulders slightly. “Well, it’s hardly a masterpiece. But, um, it should be here in about ten days, I guess? If all goes well with the printer.”

“I’m looking forward to it! You’ll set a copy aside for me, won’t you?”, Chris grins, “After all, what use is it knowing the artist if you won’t even get a signed first edition out of it?”

Yuuri looks up blinking. “I—uh, yes, of course. If you want that.”

Victor, who is seated across from Yuuri, next to Chris, leans over into Chris’ space with a wide grin.
“I hope you’re planning on paying for that signed first edition, Giacometti! You know our boy doesn’t work for free.”

Yuuri opens his mouth to say something, but Victor cuts him off before he’s even made a sound.
“Shush, Yuuri. Even your friends need to pay you for your work!”

Chris, however, looks scandalised.
“How dare you suggest that I wouldn’t pay, Vitya! You know I appreciate beauty and hard work, and am more than willing to pay for it.”

“That’s funny”, Victor says, draping his arm nonchalantly over Chris’ shoulder, but there’s a teasing quirk to his lips, “I don’t recall you ever paying for any of my albums.”

Chris gasps. “That’s because you wouldn’t let me! And I have yet to meet a more stubborn person than you on this good earth.”

He turns his attention back to Yuuri. “You know, once he wouldn’t accept my money, so I tried to sneak it into his shirt pocket when he wasn’t looking. When I came home at the end of the night, it had somehow made its way back into my wallet like some sort of magic trick.”

A smile tugs on Yuuri’s lips. Having been on the receiving end of Victor’s stubborn generosity, he knows how hard it is to resist.

“I will have you know, though”, Chris continues, turning back to Victor with a triumphant grin, “that I have bought a digital copy of each of your albums anyway, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about that.” He reaches out and briefly pats the top of Victor’s head, before shrugging out of his grip. “Now eat your katsudon, Vitya.”

Victor pouts and mumbles something that sounds like “devious minx”, but he does return his attention to his food.

Yuuri has just picked up another bite of rice and egg, believing the conversation to be over, when Phichit pipes up next to him.

“That’s all nice and good Chris, but how can you possibly claim that Victor is the most stubborn person you know when we’re right here at the table with Mr. Pigheaded?” With a grin, he jerks his head in Yuuri’s direction.

Yuuri just manages to swallow his food before his mouth drops open in shock. “Phichit!”

“Oh, don’t act like it’s not true!”

Chris props up his head on one hand, regarding Phichit with an intrigued look. “I’ve heard stories, but I do think I haven’t had the pleasure myself. Do tell.”

“Well”, Phichit begins, and his voice sounds way too gleeful, “the other day I was trying to pry Yuuri away from his desk for dinner, you know? I figure I just get something that would be impossible for him to eat at his desk while still working. So, I get the messiest possible thing that everyone needs two hands to eat—”, Phichit takes a breath and Yuuri can see both Victor and Chris open their mouths to say in unison with him, “Döner”, and Phichit laughs, breathlessly, in between words, “—exactly, so I get döner for Yuuri, falafel for me and I figure we sit down in front of the TV with napkins in our laps so we can get thoroughly messy, but what does he do? Grabs his döner and goes back to his desk.”

By now, Yuuri has buried his face in one hand, so he can’t see Victor’s expression when he says “Yuuri! So rude!”, but it makes him wince.

“I needed to finish that page”, he mumbles from behind his palm.

“And how did that go for you?”, Phichit asks sweetly.

“I got döner sauce all over my tablet.”

“You got döner sauce all over your tablet”, Phichit repeats emphatically, to Victor’s and Chris’ laughter, “and spent the next half hour cleaning it in a panic because you were worried it would short out or something. And your döner got cold and you didn’t get to finish that page.”

Reluctantly Yuuri puts down his chopsticks so he can cover his face with both his hands.

“And what is the moral of the story, Yuuri?”

Yuuri sighs and rattles off the practised phrase in between his fingers. “It’s okay to take a break.”

“Good boy.”

“Okay, okay, I admit that’s pretty stubborn”, Chris says, fond amusement in his voice, “but have you heard about the time that Victor was on tour and all of his equipment malfunctioned?”

Victor huffs an exasperated sigh, and Yuuri chances a look up, now that the focus isn’t on him anymore. “That entire day was cursed.”

“You would certainly think that it was, and yet, do you think it kept Vitya from finishing out his set? Of course not, it wouldn’t do to disappoint the fans!”, he shakes his head fondly, “it all started before he even reached the venue…”

The rest of the meal, plus dessert and another drink after that, is spent with Chris and Phichit trading stories about Victor and Yuuri’s respective stubbornness. Victor didn’t seem to have a problem laughing along with Chris’ stories, even adding another detail here or there, and slowly Yuuri, too, managed to let go of some of his embarrassment. He was definitely eager to hear more about a different side of usually so considerate, obliging Victor that he hasn’t really gotten to see before.

After they’ve paid and are making their way out of the restaurant, it’s over Phichit’s story of how Yuuri earned the nickname Cakesuki among Phichit’s theatre troupe—a story involving an obstinate cupcake recipe and way too much buttercream—that Chris finally admits defeat and grants Yuuri the questionable honour of being the most stubborn person Chris had ever met.

 


 

Later, they’re sprawled on the couch in Yuuri and Phichit’s flat, the three of them—Chris having begged off early, as the only one among the four of them who has a regular day job that requires him to be up in the morning.

Yuuri leans back into the cushions, still feeling full and satisfied with katsudon and the dango he’s had for desert. His eyes are drooping with a pleasant, warm heaviness as Victor and Phichit are chattering to either side of him. He lets their conversation drift over him in waves, slipping in and out of focus so that he only catches snippets of them here or there, not processing them clearly enough to get a picture of their topic.

A fond chuckle and a warm hand on his arm finally rouses him enough for the words to penetrate the tired haze around him.
“Maybe we should call it a night, huh? I believe Yuuri could use some decent sleep.”

He blinks his eyes open and with some effort lifts his head from where it was leaning against the backrest to look at Phichit.

“Don’t let me interrupt your conversation”, he murmurs, “I’m fine right here.”

And it’s true—the couch is not the most comfortable place for sleeping, and the chatter around him keeps him from slipping too deep into sleep, but at the same time he feels the most relaxed, the most at peace he has in a long while, right here between his best friend and Victor, the air between them warm and comfortable after an evening of food and conversation; it feels like home.

It feels much more restful than his dark, stuffy, too quiet bedroom only a few metres away, where he already knows he would start fretting again about all the things that still need doing tomorrow, keeping him awake despite the his bone-tiredness. For now, he’d much rather doze out here, revel in the easy comfort of his friends a little longer.

But Victor is already sitting up, smoothing his hands over his knees in a decided gesture.

“No, Phichit is right. I should let you rest. You’ve worked hard today, and it’s getting late.”

Reluctantly, Yuuri also sits up, lowering his legs from where they were propped up on the cushions, and rubs his face with both hands in an attempt to gather his wits about him again. He feels a little out of it still, a little woozy, the fog of sleep not quite lifted from his mind.

“Alright. Okay, if you’re sure.”

“Of course”, Victor gives him a small smile, “you’ve got a long weekend ahead of you. You should rest up. Is there a lot you still need to get done tomorrow?”

Yuuri grimaces a little, as the reality of his works comes crashing down on again him a little earlier than anticipated.

“Uhm, well…”, he shakes his head a little, gathering his thoughts, “a fair bit, yeah, though mostly small things. Packing my suitcase, preparing some sticker sets, that kind of thing…”

Victor nods and Yuuri runs a flittering hand through his hair as the thought occurs to him again that he’s been pushing away every time it entered his mind in the last weeks.

“God, I still need to prepare that show painting, too.”

“Yuuri!”, Phichit exclaims on his other side, “You haven’t done that yet?”

Yuuri gives a half-hearted shrug. “I’ve been concentrating on Agape”, he mumbles.

Victor tilts his head to the side and regards them both curiously. “Show painting?”, he asks.

“Ah, well, it’s this…”, Yuuri begins, but before he can get anywhere, Phichit cuts across him, “Yuuri’s been invited to do a live painting on stage!”

Victor’s eyes widen almost comically and his mouth drops open. “Yuuri! That sounds amazing, congratulations! Is that—I have no idea, is that a big deal? It sounds like a big deal!”

“It’s not—”, Yuuri begins, but once more, Phichit won’t let him finish. “It is a big deal! Especially for an artist who hasn’t even published his first comic book yet! You know, this kind of thing is usually done mostly with established comic book artists.”

Yuuri shakes his head resolutely, even over Victor’s impressed wow!. “It really isn’t that big of a deal”, he says, “it’s just because they had a time slot left to fill, and I happened to be available and dumb enough to agree at short notice.”

“Ah”, Phichit says, stroking his chin in a mock-thoughtful gesture, “that’s what you say, but do you have any actual proof?”

Yuuri shrugs. “I think the fact that they only asked my three weeks before the actual convention is proof enough.”

“Ah, yes”, Phichit replies with a nod that is somehow infuriatingly sarcastic, “because conventions are notoriously well-prepared and would never think of dragging out their program planning to the last possible moment.”

Yuuri scowls at him. “It’s not—”, but seeing Phichit’s expression he knows he’s not getting anywhere, so he turns his gaze to Victor instead.

“It’s really not that big of a deal. Uhm, I just… they ask me a few questions about what I do, my projects and process and that kind of thing, and then I draw or paint something live on stage and people can watch. It’s just a gap filler between other events, really.”

Judging by the lopsided smile on Victor’s face, he’s not convinced, but he seems to be content to let it go.

“Gap filler or not, that sounds like a wonderful opportunity though, Yuuri! It could get some new people interested in your art, right? Are you going to do something Agape-themed?”

Yuuri shrugs. “Probably… I haven’t really thought about it yet, as I said. I need to figure out something I can easily do in twenty minutes, but that still looks effective from a distance or when seen over the big screen.” Yuuri twists his fingers in his lap, looking down. “It’s not exactly my strong suit. My sketches are always really messy, it takes me a long time to make my art look decent. So I’m really not sure why I thought it was a good idea for me to do this.”

“You’re going to do wonderfully, Yuuri!”, Victor says, and while Yuuri’s not looking up to see his expression, the sincerity in his voice is enough to make something expand in his chest, “I may not be an expert, but I love watching you work, it’s fascinating.”

Yuuri nods, unsure, drawing his lower lip between his teeth thoughtfully. “I’m just gonna have to practice it a few times so I don’t need to think too much about anatomy and perspective and that sort of thing, and can just focus on the details.” Despite his uncertainty, a few ideas are already flicking through his mind, making his hand itch for a pencil. Maybe he’ll sketch out a few ideas before bed.

“That sounds like a plan. See, you’ve got this.” With a smile, Victor reaches out, just the lightest of touches at Yuuri’s shoulder as he stands.
“I’m going to take my leave then, let you both get some sleep.”

Yuuri nods, scrambling to his feet as well to see Victor to the door.

He’s hovering in the living room door as Victor pulls on his shoes in the entryway, kneeling to Yuuri’s feet and looking up at Yuuri from between soft silver strands of hair as he ties his laces.

“I suppose I’ll see you after your con then?”

Yuuri inclines his head in a nod. “I guess so. Uhm, I’ll be back sometime on Monday. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“Please do”, Victor says as he gets smoothly to his feet again, “I expect a running commentary of everything that happens, alright?”

Yuuri can’t help but return Victor’s smile. “I’ll do my best.”

“Then, good night, Yuuri.”

Victor takes a step forward and envelops Yuuri in a tight hug, his arms warm around Yuuri’s shoulders, his hair tickling at Yuuri’s neck.
“You’ll be wonderful. You’ve got this, Yuuri.” The words are murmured close to his ear, and Yuuri can’t help but wrap his own arms a little tighter around Victor’s waist. The warmth of Victor’s words drips into the last recess of Yuuri’s body, and Yuuri feels alight with it.

Their hug goodbye lasts a good moment longer than it usually does, but then they won’t be seeing each other for a few days, so can Yuuri really be blamed for lingering a little longer on their contact? He likes to imagine that Victor is just as reluctant in letting go of him.

But they do step away from each other in the end, arms falling to their sides, and Yuuri glances up to meet Victor’s eyes once more.

“Good night, Victor.”

Victor nods and opens the door, only to hesitate halfway through, turning back.

“Vitya.”

“Excuse me?”

“You should call me Vitya”, Victor repeats, his voice unreadable.

“Oh”, Yuuri says, fingers twisting uncertainly into the hem of his shirt, “like Chris does? I guess I always figured that was something between the two of you.”

“No, that’s… ah, I prefer it if my friends call me Vitya, to be honest. Victor is so—it sounds so formal. So you, ah, and Phichit, too, really, should call me Vitya.”

“Vitya”, Yuuri says, to test the sound of it on his tongue, “alright. If—if that’s what you prefer.”

Victor nods with a small smile, and turns back toward the door.

“Good night then”, Yuuri calls after him softly, “Vitya.”

And with a last glance back, the door closes behind him.

Yuuri takes a couple of deep breaths, listening to Victor’s steps retreating down the stairs, then he buries his face in his hands with a low groan, sliding down the door frame until he’s sitting on the rough old floorboards between the living room and hallway.

When he finally lifts his head, he can see Phichit watching him from his seat on the couch, a wide, shit-eating grin on his face.

“Shut up”, Yuuri groans.

 

Chapter Text

 

[image description: a booth at an artist alley, draped in dark blue tablecloth. The back wall of the booth holds framed artwork, on the table itself prints, originals and smaller items that cannot be clearly recognised are displayed. At the front of the table there’s a banner fastened to the tablecloth, reading “YKatsu - illustration”.]

whykatsu This weekend you’ll find me & my booth at Conneko in Cologne - Table 1-E15 👋 I’m bringing new prints and originals, artbooks and for the first time, stickers and holographic postcard prints of some of my more popular recent artworks. Come say hi, and if you want you can watch me work live on stage Saturday 14:30! I will be creating an exclusive artwork on the comic stage to be auctioned off for a good cause. Thank you for your continued support 🙏 #conneko #connekocologne #connekoköln #conneko2017

♥ Liked by nikiforlove, phichit+chu and 3,534 others.

softassemblage I can’t wait! I want to see the holographic prints in person 😍

honeybeans are you ever doing more ghibli art

mellifluous_ramen I wish I could be there!!!!! 😭 will you be selling the holo prints and stickers in your shop later?

nemesis-list love your style

caramel_nook more ghibli pokemon please!!!!!

 


 

[The Hazing Crew]
Peaches 🍑, Vitya 🌸, Chris, You

You
19:21 table is all set up and I made it to the hotel room
19:22 now we wait

Vitya🌸
19:23 Saw your post, the table looks beautiful!!!

Peaches🍑
19:25 totally!💯
19:25 love how you placed the holo prints, they’ll def be an eyecatcher

 

Vitya🌸
19:26 Are you staying in for the rest of the night then?

—> To Vitya🌸
19:31 I’m not sure… it’s still early
19:31 might go out for a while and take a look at the neighbourhood
19:32 I think there was a store at the corner, might get some snacks for the weekend

Vitya🌸
19:32 Sounds great!
19:33 Have you had dinner?

—> To Vitya🌸
19:35 not yet but I’m sure I’ll find sth on the way
19:35 what are you up to?

Vitya 🌸
19:36 Chris is dragging me out for drinks tonight so I need to get ready soon
19:36 but for now I’m still hanging out on the couch with my darling
19:37 Good luck on the hunt!

 

—> To Vitya 🌸
19:39 give makka some pets from me
19:39 thanks. I‘m still trying to make myself get up from this bed.
19:40 It‘s so soft.
19:40 So comfy.

Vitya 🌸
19:40 I will!
19:41 You can sleep soon. Dinner first tho!

—> To Vitya 🌸
19:43 Yes, Mom.

Vitya 🌸
19:43 Oof. That‘s one kink I can definitely cross off my list😬

—> To Vitya 🌸
19:46 Vitya! 🙈 Is there even such a thing as a mommy kink?

Vitya 🌸
19:47 Far as i‘ve been informed there‘s an everything kink.

 


 

A noise outside his door makes Yuuri start in his bed, jerking up suddenly, blinking dazedly into the light.

Soft sunlight streams into the room through the half-closed curtains.

„Shit“, he hisses, blindly rifling through the sheets for his phone. He finds it wedged underneath a pillow, and clicks it on with hurried hands.

It‘s 06:41.

He breathes a sigh of relief. He doesn't need to be at the convention centre until eight. There‘s still time. With a groan he runs both hands over his face.

He must have fallen asleep last night, before he even managed to go out and get some dinner for himself. His stomach is reminding him of the oversight with angry growling.

He doesn't even remember falling asleep—he was just texting with Victor, and then there‘s just the black well of deep sleep.

Victor.

He picks up his phone again, enters his passcode.

 

Vitya 🌸
19:47 Far as i‘ve been informed there‘s an everything kink.

—>To Vitya 🌸
19:51 i have a guess as to who told you that…

Vitya 🌸
19:51 I have a guess that you would be guessing right
19:54 Are you up yet?
19:59 Go and explore Cologne for me!
19:59 Cologne is such a nice city.
20:13 Yuuri?
20:25 You fell asleep, didn‘t you?
20:31 Yuuuuuuuri
20:39 Well, I guess that‘s good night then!😄😴

 

Yuuri shakes his head. He can‘t imagine how he managed to fall asleep before eight o‘clock, but he remembers feeling just so heavy and the sheets were warm and soft around him… Normally, he would lie awake for hours the night before a convention, spiralling in circles of nerves and excitement. He‘s never had more than four hours of sleep before a con, let alone ten.
He vaguely wonders if not being sleep-deprived for once will make it a different experience, but he doesn’t exactly feel well-rested. He feels just as tired as he always does.

He sighs and swings his legs out of bed, phone still in hand. He‘s still wearing his clothes, wrinkled and sweaty from the night. Scooting up to the edge of the mattress, he texts Victor back.

—> To Vitya 🌸
06:45 Oof I did fall asleep
06:45 Seems like I needed it
06:46 Hhhhh i didn‘t even set an alarm i‘m lucky i woke up in time
06:46 Sorry for ghosting you

 

After he‘s taken a shower and gotten dressed, he pulls his hair back in a half ponytail and puts in his contacts, stowing his glasses safely in their case in his messenger bag. Once he‘s double checked he‘s got everything he needs—wallet, phone, room key, artist‘s pass, his cash box with change, headphones, pencil case and fidget cube—he pulls the door to his room closed behind him.

He didn't have dinner last night, nor did he pick up any snacks for the day, but there‘s bound to be a bakery somewhere along the way where he can find something to eat.

 


 

Vitya 🌸
07:01 Good morning Yuuri!
07:02 Don‘t worry about it, I assumed you‘d fallen asleep
07:02 You’ve really been pushing yourself lately, huh?
07:02 It‘s ok to listen to your body when it tells you to slow down

—> To Vitya 🌸
07:31 i just need to make it through this weekend
07:31 On my way to the con center now
07:34 Picking up some sustenance on the way
07:34 [Image sent]

Vitya 🌸
07:35 That looks great! 😋
07:35 What are you getting?

—> To Vitya 🌸
07:37 don‘t know yet
07:37 Preferably one of everything

 


 

Yuuri makes it to the convention centre without any more problems, a large paper bag from the bakery stuffed into his messenger bag and a paper cup of oversteeped tea in his hand. Bag deposited behind his table and the last of the bitter tea drained, he‘s just started unpinning the cloth he used to cover up his booth over night, when there‘s an excited shout behind him.

„Yuuri-kun!!“

He winces and forces himself to turn slowly.
Behind him there‘s a kid with a streak of bright red dyed into his bangs and an artist‘s badge around his neck, staring up at him with wide eyes.

„Yuuri-kun!“, he repeats, his voice climbing another octave, before he continues in rapid-fire Japanese, „I can‘t believe your booth is right next to mine this year! I almost fainted when the plans were sent around and I saw your name on the list right there next to mine! It‘s my first year with one of the bigger booths, you know, so far I could never afford it but I just thought I‘d give it a try and I never expected to get a booth right next to Yuuri-kun, that is so cool! This is going to be the best convention ever, don‘t you think?“

„Uhm, sure“, Yuuri says, trying to make sense of the gush of words. He does remember the kid—might even have on of his postcards on his art wall at home from when they met at an earlier convention. He can picture his style now, bright and bold, the anatomy a little wonky, but solid pieces that grab your attention. He can‘t for the life of him remember his name, though.

„Ah, I didn't realise you were next to me“ he says, non-committal, shifting his stance slightly in the direction of the next table in hopes of getting a glimpse of his name on a banner. „It‘s, uhm, good to see you again. Please take care of me this weekend.“

The kid gives a determined nod and even a quick bow and steps aside, obviously eager to have Yuuri looking at his booth.

It‘s quite a contrast to Yuuri‘s own subdued setup, his pale pastels and clean inks against the dark blue background; the kids bright red table cloth is completely covered in colourful prints and merchandise and draped in fairy lights. A banner pinned to the front of the table declares his name as Lohengrin.

Yuuri takes another step closer and picks up one of his business cards as casually as he can manage, turning it over and stifling a sigh of relief when he spots a name on them.

Right next to the business cards there‘s a display of postcards, painted landscapes of wind-swept meadows and billowing trees. In the centre of each, fluffy clouds in pure whites or soft twilight oranges and purples form distinct animal shapes.

„I really like these, Minami-kun“, Yuuri says, running his fingers along the edge of one of them, „they‘re beautiful.“

Kenjirou‘s eyes seem to go impossibly wider and more shining at his words. „Thank you so much! These were actually inspired by Yuuri-kun‘s Ghibli landscapes—I've always loved those artworks so much!“

„Ah“, Yuuri retracts his fingers like he was burned, „I see.“

He doesn't meet Kenjirou‘s eyes when he turns away from his table. „I should really finish setting up my own booth now.“

„Of course!“, Kenjirou gives an excited little bounce at the words, and follows on Yuuri‘s heels as he returns to his own table, chattering away all the while. Yuuri sighs and submits himself to his fate. When he finally unpins and pulls away the cloth covering his artwork, Kenjirou gasps in what seems to Yuuri an exaggerated volume and starts flitting about from one side of his booth to the next.

„Ah, these are the new holographic prints, aren’t they? They look so fancy! This one‘s my favourite! Or, no, that one! Oh, and there‘s Eternity! It looks so good in a large format—ah, but that‘s a print, right? I've read that the original is in an exhibition right now, that‘s so cool! Have you sold it yet? Do you think you‘re going to sell it? If I could have that original in my room I think I would die, but I couldn't afford that. I still have the small original that I bought at MAC from you last year, though, it‘s framed over my desk. I can‘t wait to read Agape! I know you said it wasn't finished in time for Conneko, but you‘ll be at Comic Con later this summer right? I‘ll be there too, I‘ll pick it up then! I thought about pre-ordering online, but I would much rather get it in person from you and have it signed. To Kenjirou. Maybe you could draw a lil thing in it, too? Do you do that? I know a lot of people do that now when you buy their comic books. I don‘t have any myself yet, so I don‘t know…“

Yuuri works quietly, putting the last touches on his booth—he sets out his folder with his original paintings and drawings, too expensive to leave out over night, pins the few enamel pins that he had made to a display. He lets Kenjirou chatter away in the background, only occasionally making a noise of assent or acknowledgement, though he doesn't think Kenjirou would need it to keep the conversation going. But he has to admit that the easy flow of Japanese is comforting to his ears, calms something in him down, despite how uncomfortable his effusive praise makes him.

Once he‘s set his cash box in a nook under his table and stowed away his bag out of sight, he steps out from behind the table to take another look at it from the outside.

It looks alright—always a little plain, a little bland, he thinks, compared to the other artists around him who create bold, colourful artworks, but the lines are clean and the contrast of the dark table cloth makes the black and white ink artwork stand out.
It‘s as good as it‘s going to get, anyway.

„Say, Minami-kun“, he says, and the boy is by his side in an instant, regarding his booth with a nod of approval, „I've got an event on the comic stage this afternoon“, Yuuri says, and before he can get any further than that, Kenjirou cuts in, „yes, the live drawing! I‘m so unhappy that I can‘t go and see it, but I need to stay with my table, right? It‘s so sad, I would love to see Yuuri-kun work in person! I have a friend who will go and record it for me though so I can see it too, but still, it‘s just not the same…“

„Don‘t worry, you‘re not missing anything special“, Yuuri murmurs, „don‘t expect too much. But, uhm…“, he hesitates, but in the end it can‘t be helped, „since you‘re here, would you mind keeping an eye on my table for me? I‘ll be gone for about an hour, after all, and—since I‘m on my own this time...“

„Yes!“, Kenjirou bursts out over Yuuri‘s awkwardly trailed off words, „of course! It would be my honour! I will make you proud, Yuuri-kun!“

„Ah“, Yuuri says, shifting uncomfortably on his feet, „really, you don‘t have to do anything much. Just, you know, keep an eye on things so no one takes anything. And, uhm, I don‘t think anyone much is going to turn up, but if anyone asks just let them know where I am and when I‘ll be back.“

„I can do that! I‘m honoured to be able to help Yuuri-kun out!“

Yuuri sighs, realising that it‘s pointless to try and talk down Kenjirou‘s fervour.
„Alright then“, he says, „there‘s some minutes left yet before the hall opens, I‘m going to take a quick look around at the other tables.“

Kenjirou waves him off cheerfully and Yuuri does just that, trailing in between the tables in the aisles around him, ducking his head and giving awkward nods and half-smiles to the artists sitting behind them or milling around.

Most tables are finished setting up at this point, their artists perched behind them expectantly or having a furtive breakfast before the first guests arrive. Some tables are unmanned, their owners taking the opportunity to say hello to friends and neighbours—or check out the competition, depending on temperament—and a few are still in the process of setting up, putting the last finishing touches on their spreads. Yuuri sees a few familiar faces and names, most of all familiar art—he‘s always been better at remembering the artwork than the people behind them. He also spots Yuri Plisetsky‘s blond mop of hair a few corners away from his own booth. He‘s still in the middle of furiously slapping artworks on his half-empty table, something a little more vicious than his customary scowl on his face, so Yuuri decides it might be better to leave him alone for now. He‘s not sure he wants to say hello at all—he‘d like to look at Plisetsky‘s new artwork, but interacting with him is always vaguely terrifying.

Yuuri is going to have to find some time to take a closer look at some artists’ work at some point during the weekend—he likes to leave each convention with at least one or two new additions to his art wall, and he’s already seen some prints that are sorely tempting. He tries to leave the shopping for the end of the convention, though, when he has an idea of how much money he made and therefore what he can afford to buy.

For now, he makes his way back to his table as the tannoy announces the beginning of the convention. It’ll be a little while longer before the first guests find their way into the artists’ alley, but Yuuri should probably also get some breakfast into his system before the work begins for real.

 


 

—> To Vitya 🌸
09:03 table all set up, convention’s open
09:03 [image sent]

Vitya 🌸
09:05 Have fun!!!

—> To Vitya 🌸
09:14 I’ll try

Vitya 🌸
09:15 Are you nervous?

—> To Vitya 🌸
09:26 kind of?
09:26 the realisation hasn’t really set in yet that this is happening today
09:27 up until now I was only thinking as far as getting the table set up

Vitya 🌸
09:30 But you’re all prepared, right?

—> To Vitya 🌸
09:47 yeah, motive is set and sketched it out a few times yesterday
09:48 should be fine
09:48 more nervous about the interview part tbh
09:48 art I can do
09:49 but I hate speaking in front of people

Vitya 🌸
09:59 you’ll be fine, Yuuri!
09:59 you did wonderfully at Ciao-Ciao’s
10:00 I’m sure you’ll do great once more 😊

 


 

The hours slip by way too quickly—to his surprise, Yuuri gets a few people asking for commission right off the bat, and those keep him busy throughout the morning. They’re not complicated things; he doesn’t take complex commission at cons because he is both worried about not finishing them in time and not being able to do them well under pressure. But with the inevitable interruptions by other customers, it still takes him a while to get them done.

The hall is packed rather quickly and a lot of people are milling about the artist’s alley. Yuuri does his best to greet the ones who linger at his table; he’s terrible with small talk, and never quite knows what to do except say “hello” and wait if they will ask him a question. But despite his terrible social skills, he makes a surprising amount of sales. Most of them are small things, postcards and stickers, few people bother to even flip through his original drawings. But it could be worse, he thinks, as he tries not to listen to much to Kenjirou making enthusiastic if a little awkward conversation with every person who stops at his table. The holographic prints in particular seem to attract glances, just as Phichit predicted, and Yuuri’s sold a fair amount of them already. Enough that he’s worried of running out before the weekend’s over.

By the time noon rolls around, two commissions are finished and a third is in the works, but Yuuri feels his attention slipping. With every second that slips away, he finds his thoughts drifting more and more to the stage event due in only a few hours. He tries to avoid it, tries to concentrate on the drawing, but every few seconds the reminder slips unbidden back into the forefront of his mind, making him cringe. It’s not until his trembling hands make a stupid mistake while inking that he finally puts the pen down, leaning back in his chair. He twists his fingers together, squeezing his knuckles until it hurts, in an attempt to stop them shaking. It doesn’t help.

There’s going to be so many people there. So many people.

Yuuri stares out over the artist’s alley, taking it all in and completely unseeing at once. This is a huge convention. The comic stage is in the centre of the hall, at the border between the artist’s alley and the merch dealers. Even for an event that no one is interested in, there’s going to be hundreds of people in the vicinity of the stage who will witness him falling apart. There is a good number of artist tables who can actually see the stage from their booth, Yuri Plisetsky among them. There is going to be people still hanging around from the previous event, and people already saving seats for the next one.

There’s going to be so many people there. Watching him. Waiting for him to make a mistake.

His forces his fingers to unclench, fumbling for his bag under the table, reaching for his fidget cube. Even before his skin touches the smooth plastic, he can already tell that it’s not going to be enough. He grabs it anyway, though rather than making use of any of its sides, all he can do is clench his hand around it until the rounded corners of it press painfully into his palm.

He can’t do this.

There’s people strolling by his table, giving curious glances to his artwork, to him, sitting frozen on his chair, staring into nothing. He should greet them. He should smile.

He can’t do this.

With his free hand he reaches under his table again, grabbing his phone. Fumbling awkwardly, he manages to unlock it one-handed, and then he hesitates, his thumb hovering over the two top chats in his history; Phichit and Victor.

He tries to take a deep breath, but it sticks somewhere in his airway, arrested, and his lungs are starting to burn. He knows that Phichit would be there for him, has always been there for him when Yuuri needed him, no questions asked. He also knows that Phichit has a shift at Ciao-Ciao’s today. And he knows that he really, really wants to talk to Victor.

He tries to take another breath. He’s sure his eyes would be watering by now, if they weren’t so dry from his contacts.

He’s never reached out to Victor like this before. Has only ever avoided him when he was unwell, as far as he had any choice in the matter. He never wanted Victor to see him like this, but he can’t do this. He needs to be on stage in an hour and he can’t breathe.

His thumb presses on Victor’s name.

—>To Vitya 🌸
12: 54 I can’t do this

Vitya 🌸
12:55
What’s wrong?

—>To Vitya 🌸
12:56 I can’t do this
12:56 I can’t do this alone

Vitya 🌸
12:56 Yuuri, what’s going on?
12:57 Where are you now?
12:57 Can I call you?

 

Something unclenches in Yuuri when that last message rolls in. He hates phone calls, hates them, and he’s not sure he could really speak right now. But the thought of hearing Victor’s voice… it’s enough to get him to his feet, to take the two steps to the side so he can lean over to Kenjirou’s booth and catch his eye.

He gestures vaguely to his phone and then to his table and manages to force out exactly three words, hoping that it’s enough.

“Minami-kun, could you…?”

Kenjirou’s face inexplicably lights up, and he waves Yuuri away. “Of course, of course, go ahead! I’ll keep an eye on things!”

Yuuri just about manages a grateful nod before stumbling away from his table. He weaves his way through the crowds, a cold sweat on his back, phone and fidget cube still clenched painfully in his hands, until he reaches the nearest wall of the hall. His first choice in panic-attack location, the bathroom, is not exactly a possibility here; they are all going to be packed, with long queues outside waiting for their turn, but behind a heavy glass door he finds a back stairwell, devoid of people.

He’s probably not supposed to be back here, but he doesn’t care. He drags himself up a few steps before collapsing onto one, back resting against the cold concrete wall, knees drawn close to his body. He unlocks his phone again, skimming over the dozen messages Victor’s sent in the few minutes of silence from Yuuri, before he types out two letters with shaking fingers.

—>To Vitya 🌸
13:05 ok

It takes barely a few seconds before his phone begins to vibrate in his hand, lighting up with Victor’s call. He accepts the call and presses the phone to his ear, but he doesn’t trust himself to speak, just concentrating on getting oxygen into his lungs instead.

“Yuuri?”, Victor’s voice sounds out from the speakers, tinny and far away, and yet so close in the echoing quiet of the stairwell, “Yuuri, are you okay?”

He sounds worried, and Yuuri’s stomach clenches in guilt, but at the same time it feels like the sound of his voice alone is enough for Yuuri’s lungs to unfurl a little for him to breathe a little easier. He sucks in the air greedily.

“Vitya”, he manages to croak out before his voice deserts him again.

“Okay”, Victor says, with a little panicked squeak, “you’re having a panic attack.”

It’s not quite a question, but not quite a statement either, to Yuuri makes as much of an affirmative noise as he can manage.

“Okay”, Victor repeats, sounding calmer now, if a little forced, and Yuuri can hear him take a deep breath and let it out slowly, like he’s trying to calm himself. Really, it would be funny, if Yuuri had any mind for a sense of humour right now.

“Can you breathe with me, Yuuri? Just listen to my voice, and breathe. In, two three four, out two three four…”

Yuuri focuses all of his senses, his entire being, only on Victor’s voice in his ear, his soft vowels and clipped consonants, the small intakes of air in between phrases, the calm tone of it, with the slightest waver hidden behind. He breathes.

He breathes, slowly, slowly coming back to himself. He hears Victor’s little praises as his breaths become deeper and more measured, the pleased little noises he makes in his throat. His lungs are still burning, still feeling heavy and constricted, but finally he doesn’t feel like they will collapse in on him any second now.

“You’re doing so well, Yuuri”, Victor is saying now, “you’re going to be okay. You can do this, you’re so strong.”

Yuuri takes another deep, wavering breath, and decides to try and trust his voice again.

“Thank you, Vitya.”

There’s rustling at the other end of the line, and in his mind’s eye, Yuuri can see Victor nodding.

“Of course, Yuuri. Anytime. I hope what I did was okay, uhm, I tried to read up on—… but I wasn’t sure what—uhm, what you need from me.”

Yuuri bites his lip against the pain that shoots through a different part of his chest at Victor’s words—thoughtful, so thoughtful it makes Yuuri ache.

“Just talk to me”, Yuuri whispers, his voice still hoarse.

“Okay, uhm, what about?”, Victor asks, and it’s almost enough to make Yuuri smile. He doesn’t think he’s ever heard Victor sound so unsure before.

“Anything”, he says, “just—” let me hear your voice, he doesn’t say, “talk.”

“Alright”, Victor says, and he starts talking.
He tells Yuuri about his morning, his breakfast and his walk with Makka, about his night out with Chris, the drinks he had and the bars they went to and the people Chris flirted with. Yuuri just listens, silently, letting Victor’s voice wash over him, trying to calm down the burning pain in his lungs, the roiling nausea in his stomach. His trembling finally subsides somewhat, and he manages to carefully unclench his fingers from around his fidget cube, flexing them slowly and smoothing out the angry red indents in his palm with his thumb. He’s glad that it’s his left hand, because there’s no way he would be able to draw with it right now.

And that was the wrong thought to have, because his breath is hitching again in his throat. Victor interrupts himself mid-sentence to ask “Yuuri? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, sorry”, Yuuri murmurs, “sorry, I’m alright.”

“Alright, Victor echoes, but he doesn’t go on with his story, “Ah, Yuuri… I don’t know when you… but it’s twenty minutes to two now.”

Yuuri lets out a long, harsh exhale. He’s not late yet—he needs to be at the stage at 2:15, but he’s sweaty and dishevelled, and he should really stop by his table again before it’s time. He needs to return to the reality at hand.

“Yeah”, he says, “I—I should probably get going soon.”

Victor sighs at the other end of the line.

“Listen, Yuuri. I’m not sure how much anything I can say right now is going to help you. But I know that you can do this.”

A sceptical noise slips out of Yuuri’s throat, but Victor presses on.

“No, Yuuri, you can do this. You’re an amazing artist, and it’s a delight listening to you talk about your passion. I’m—look, I’m not even saying it’s going to be perfect. Maybe it’ll be a bit rambling, any maybe you’ll stumble here or there, but I love listening to your rambling, stumbling talks about art, because all of your passion and all of your enthusiasm and all of your life are in them. I dare you to find anyone who wouldn’t be delighted to listen to you talk about what you love. It’s what makes you so special, that you feel everything so intensely. So no, it’s probably not going to be perfect. But it’s still going to be wonderful.”

Yuuri swallows around a lump in his throat that threatens to dissolve into tears. A part of him wants to argue, but there’s barely anything he can honestly disagree with in what Victor says. He does love art, more than any other thing in this world, except maybe dancing and, by extension, music, both of which are in a way also art. He loves them deeply, and he feels them deeply, and he enjoys talking about them, even as he worries that no one will want to hear what he has to say. Well, he’s at a comic convention. Where else is he going to find people willing to listen to him ramble about art, if not here? He takes another deep breath.

“Thank you”, he says, “Vitya, thank you.”

And then, before Victor can say anything more, and before Yuuri can do something really stupid, he whispers, “I really have to go now. Thank you. I’ll text you when it’s over.”

 

As soon as he hangs up, another wave of nausea comes crashing over him, clenching painfully in his stomach, making him reel even where he’s still seated on the stairs. He feels like bile is about to rise in his throat, and so he pushes himself up on his feet, knees still shaky under his weight. Shoving his phone into his pocket, he slips out of the stairwell back into the hall, scanning along the wall for the closest bathroom. He finds one a couple dozen meters down, but as he suspected, there’s a whole host of people queuing up in front. Yuuri turns, palm already hovering before his mouth, when he spots a single stall disabled bathroom in a nook around the corner, the door ajar. Hesitantly, Yuuri makes his way toward it, looking around to make sure no disabled person is around, waiting to use it.

Then he slips inside, slamming the door shut and locking it behind him.

The echo of the bolt sliding shut has not yet faded when Yuuri is already hunched over the sink, heaving. But instead of bile and the remains of his breakfast, a shuddering, wet cough is making its way up his throat. It leaves him sputtering, his diaphragm convulsing painfully with each cough, gasping for each burning breath once more.

His hands are clenched, white-knuckled, on the sink, as he feels, with an unfamiliar horror, something crawling up his airway.

With a few last hacking coughs, he spits out a small, deep blue flower into the sink.

 


 

This can‘t be happening. Not now.

There‘s a splatter of crimson in the sink, heavy brush strokes of colour on a pale canvas. Deep crimson fading to vivid scarlet fading to pale salmon fading to washed-out coral.

Yuuri is bleeding.

At the centre of it, there‘s a dollop of indigo, biting against the reddish-orange hues, clashing, ugly.

Unbidden, Yuuri‘s mind goes through the colour wheel, trying to find a better complement for the canvas of his sealed fate. Green would make for a stark, jarring contrast. Black would create a simplified, subdued look. A desaturated umbra would make for a warm, earthy effect.

No. It had to be indigo.

Yuuri stares at the rich, deep blue of the star shaped flowers, splattered in crimson, and finds himself caring more about the colours clashing than the fact that he is dying.

It‘s like one of those shitposts on tumblr.

For the aesthetic.

A hysterical laugh bubbles up at the back of his throat.

I appreciate that you‘re dying, Yuuri, but what about the aesthetic?

 

It takes him ten more minutes to compose himself enough—no, scratch that.
He doesn't compose himself at all.
He isn't the least bit composed. He is decomposed.

He‘s still shaking and hysterical and he can still taste the blood lining the inside of his mouth, he‘s pretty sure when he opens his mouth other people will see it clinging to his teeth.

He barely bothered to rinse it off the sink before he left the bathroom.

There‘s cold sweat on his forehead and running down his spine. His vision is swimming.

But ten minutes have passed and his slot is drawing ever closer and the one thing worse than the mortification of having to go up on that stage right now would be the mortification of not showing up and having to face the consequences of that for the rest of the weekend.

He makes his way back across the hall, stopping by his table for a few minutes, exchanging a few apologetic words with Kenjirou before he’s off again, through the artist’s alley and toward the stage.

All the people milling about, too loud, too close, always touching, are making his skin crawl.

He makes it to the stage with seven minutes to spare because even in his panic he is too terrified of being rude not to be diligent and he lets the backstage personnel attach a small mic to his collar so he can speak hands-free and he stands where they guide him, waiting for the previous artist to leave the stage under friendly applause.

He winces as the host rattles off his previous accomplishments and insincere praises and then his name is called.

Heißt mit mir unseren nächsten Gast willkommen, ihr kennt ihn als YKatsu, please welcome Yuuri Katsuki!“

His mind goes blessedly empty as soon as he steps into the glaring spotlights.

The smatterings of applause penetrate his ears, but not his brain. He carefully avoids taking a look towards the audience, focusing on the host instead.

She shakes his hand with a plastic smile and gestures toward one of two padded red chairs standing opposite each other on the stage.

He sits on the very edge of the cushion, stiff.

As soon as the host asks her first question, his fingers automatically reach for his fidget cube, but it’s not there. He left it at his booth, a conscious decision that he now regrets. Instead, he starts tugging at the hair tie on his wrist.

He stammers his way through questions on his past and current projects, on his routine, on Japan, on the damn cursed fucking ghibli pokémon project, because he has yet to go through a single interview that doesn't bring it up. As if he didn't move halfway across the world to get away from it.

His fingers are itching, itching to start moving, to start creating, itching to do.

He twists the hair tie tight around his wrist as the host translates his answers into German—because his German still isn't even close to good enough for an interview—and then finally, finally, she says the words he’s been itching to hear, the words that have him on his feet in an instant.

„And now, I‘m sure you‘re all looking forward to seeing Yuuri create something for us. Wollt ihr Yuuri etwas für uns malen sehen? Ja? Alright—Yuuri, they‘re all yours!“

She points toward the flip chart, a tempting blank canvas waiting for him, and the camera mounted before it, set up to broadcast his painting process on the large screen at the back of the stage for the audience to watch.

He takes a deep breath.

This he can do. This is his.

Camera and audience aside, this is his.

His supplies are set up on a small table to the side of the flip chart, and he lets his eyes glide over the pencils, the charcoal, the markers, the ink. Apart from the ink, none of them are his favourite tools, but his paints won‘t do on the stage like this—it takes too long to work with them.

There are twenty minutes left in his slot. He‘s prepared for this—he‘s got a motive ready that he knows he can do, simple and quick but effective, a popular theme.

He stares at the blank canvas, his hands trembling.

All he can see is crimson and indigo, clashing, clashing.

Star-shaped flowers and blood on a pristine white canvas.

Pressure is building in his lungs and he swallows, thick, sticky, prickling.

Crimson and Indigo.

He grabs a pencil and starts working.

 

Yuuri can taste copper on his teeth.

He barely registers what he‘s doing as his hands abandon the pencil first for the ink, applied in bold, quick brush strokes, then the markers, the only colours he can use here.

Crimson, scarlet, pale salmon and washed-out coral.

In the middle of it all, a smattering of pale green leaves, surrounding a single, pristine star of pure white.

Because his body might be mocking everything he‘s learnt about colour theory, but that doesn't mean he has to.

He‘s thankful that he doesn't have to talk as he‘s working, that the host isn't asking him questions about his process.

Instead, there is music playing in the background, something soft and instrumental, something ethereal.

Something to go with the dreamlike piece he was planning on doing.

Something seizes in his throat.

This isn't the piece he‘s been planning.

This is different.

Yuuri glances over to the host, who is watching him, wide-eyed, her lips parted.

Oh God.

He looks back at the canvas.

What is he doing?

He‘s never tried this piece before. Is it even working? Worse—this is violent, bloody, macabre. There are sure to be children watching in the audience, and here he is, filling a canvas with blood.

His time is sure to be almost over by now—nothing he can do about it now.

He sets the markers down and puts a last few finishing touches on the canvas with the ink before he steps back.

It‘s rough, a lot more sketchy than he normally would have liked anyone to see.

It‘s... different.

It‘s his alright, he can see his own hand in the brush strokes, in the delicacy of the forms, in the hatched shading. But at the same time, it‘s all that he isn't.

It’s bold, it’s in your face, it’s... angry.

There’s a face on the canvas, but it’s rough and half-hidden in shadows, only barely recognisable as such, as are the neck and shoulders.

Below that, the body is split open in pale bone colours, and ribs and sternum hinted at with a few strokes, and underneath it the spine lies shattered into individual vertebrae, splinters of bone.

In the hollow of the rib cage, a heart is barely visible, black with shadows and blood.

And snaking out from that hollow, from that shaded depth, cloaked in tiny pale green leaves, is a star shaped white flower. It’s tangling with the cracked bones, squeezing, suffocating.

It makes Yuuri queasy to even look at it, that pristine white, the only part of the canvas not covered in colour. It’s a blank, a vacuum. It shouldn't be.

 

 

There‘s a deafening silence for a few endless seconds, and Yuuri wonders if he should say something—some remark about what he‘s created, or thanks to the audience for their attention.

But before Yuuri can get his lips under his control again the host has already beat him to it—the host who probably knows that this is not what Yuuri was planning on doing, who is probably just as shocked as he is. But she is a professional, after all, meant to be accustomed to dealing with situations like this.

„And there we have it, look at this stunning artwork that Yuuri has created for us, seht euch das an! Immer für eine Überraschung gut, wie man ihn kennt, Applaus für YKatsu!“

It‘s like her words break the tense silence roaring in Yuuri‘s ears and all at once a wave of noise rushes over him, applause and cheers deafening as Yuuri bows awkwardly and mumbles a few words of thanks into his mic.

The host steps closer to him, arm outstretched in a friendly gesture as the noise dies down.

„This is something very different from your usual work, Yuuri—does it have to do with the new project you've been teasing, what‘s it called again?“

On Love: Agape“, Yuuri replies automatically.

„That‘s right! Do you want to tell us about that? Erzähl‘ uns von deinem neuen Projekt.

This, this is his out—this artwork has nothing to do whatsoever with Agape, is nowhere close to it in style, whether the host is aware of it or not, but Yuuri can talk about Agape in his sleep with all the work he‘s put into the project over the last six months, and so he does. Anyone who‘s looked at his teasers for the new comic closely enough could probably call him out on it, but there‘s no way anyone here has paid that much attention to him, so he just keeps talking about Agape in hopes that eventually, they will forget about the disaster of a drawing he just delivered.

His slot is almost over anyway. The host has to wrap it up soon, there‘s not even time for questions from the audience—to Yuuri‘s immense relief, and groans of disappointment from the audience. No doubt they were looking forward to chewing him out for being an actual human disaster.

He signs the artwork at the behest of the host—and this is another thing: he knows it will be auctioned off for charity at the end of the convention and now he‘s fucked that up, too: there‘s no way anyone is going to pay money for something as messy as that.

He practically flees the stage under another rumble of applause that sounds nothing short of relieved in Yuuri‘s ears, and all but shoves his mic into the hands of the stage personnel before fleeing back to his booth.

 


 

The rest of the day passes in a distant haze—Yuuri‘s barely aware of what he‘s doing, but he seems to be going through the motions well enough, because no one says anything about it.

He takes a wordy report of what happened at his table while he was away from Kenjirou stoically. There were a lot of people, according to the boy, asking after him while he was gone, and he answered their questions as well as he could and sent them off to the stage drawing if they were interested, and a few were asking about commissions but he told them to come back later and then there were some who just wanted to buy prints or something of the sort, so he sold them, and put the money right there, and he made a meticulous list, too, of all the things he sold so Yuuri would know—…

Yuuri nods and nods and keeps nodding until Kenjirou stops talking and then he says „Thank you“ and lets the boy get back to his own customers.

Word of his public breakdown—Yuuri can‘t really think of it in any other way—apparently makes its way quickly around the hall, because it doesn't take long before more and more people come around to get a look at him.
Some try to talk to him, mentioning that they have seen his live drawing, out of a morbid curiosity, maybe, wanting to know what had led to his meltdown, or else out of a sense of pity, wanting to assure him that it wasn't all that bad.

Yuuri doesn't listen to anything they have to say.

He keeps his head down and decides not to take any more commissions for the day—he doesn't think he could draw anything right now that doesn't involve blood-spattered flowers, so he sends them away, even the ones that ask for something just like that, just like the monstrosity he produced on stage, eyeing his wares with disappointment that none of his prints show anything of the sort. He doesn't understand them, and he can only shake his head, sending them away.

Now that he isn't drawing anymore, his hands are trembling again.

Yuuri waits with unabashed longing for the con day to end, so that he can finally get away from all these people and back into his hotel room.

His phone keeps vibrating in his pocket, but he doesn't take it out, doesn't dare to, not even to switch off the vibrations and be rid of the constant reminder against his thigh.

Seven o‘clock creeps ever closer and the crowds are starting to thin around the artist‘s alley, and with it comes a slow, gradual sense of relief.

It‘s short-lived, however, shattered thoroughly when a jolt goes through Yuuri‘s body as someone kicks his table, sending some of his prints sliding over the tablecloth. He lifts his gaze slowly, only to look into the scowling grimace of one Yuri Plisetsky.

„What the fuck was that earlier, Katsudon?“

Yuuri winces at the allusion to his old screen name as much as at the reference to the live event. Right. Plisetsky was able to watch his disaster of a showing live from his table.

„I—that‘s not…“, he begins, but Yuri interrupts him immediately.

„I mean, what the shit is wrong with you? It‘s bad enough that you had to steal my name—there isn't room enough for two Yuris in this scene—but now you go after my niche, too?“

Yuuri blinks, confused, when the meaning of Yuri‘s words registers.

„I, uh… I don‘t know what you mean? I don‘t think what I did was anywhere near your style.“

Yuri scoffs.

„Yeah, no shit. I wouldn't be caught dead presenting something as sloppy as that one stage! Seriously, with that line weight? Pathetic! No, I wasn't talking about the style, shithead. But that dark stuff—that morbid shit—you better stay away from that! That‘s my niche.“

Yuuri sighs.

„Don‘t worry, I‘m not going after your niche. Although I hardly think you've cornered market on morbid art, there’s plenty of others who do stuff like that. I mean, here today alone there‘s, uhm, honig—“

„Shut up, I know who my competitors are, and I didn't come here for a lecture. I‘m just here to tell you you better stop with that shit, you've been poaching my customers all afternoon.“

Yuuri feels a tendril of irritation creep up his spine. He lifts one hand to push his glasses back up his nose, out of habit, and when he realises he‘s not wearing his glasses, runs the hand down his face instead.

„If what I painted was so shitty, then why are you worried about me taking your customers? Why would they come to me anyway?“

That gives Plisetsky pause, if only for a second, before he all but snarls, „How should I know? Customers are stupid!“

A few stragglers walking past the table at that moment cast them suspicious glances.

„Listen“, Yuuri says, just wanting to be done with this conversation already, „I‘m not planning on making any more art like that. Like you said, it‘s not like it‘s any good. I‘m not trying to poach your customers or encroach on your niche or anything of the sort. It—“, he really doesn't want to be talking about this, but if it‘ll help get Plisetsky of his back…, „It was vent art. I got it out my system. I‘m moving on. Can‘t you do the same?“

Plisetsky‘s eyebrows draw, if possible, further down still.
„Fine“, he says, „but I‘m watching you, moron!“

He starts to walk away, but before Yuuri can even breathe a sigh of relief, he turns on his heel again.

„What are they doing with that piece of shit now anyway?“

Yuuri shrugs. He really can‘t imagine why the boy wants to know. „I guess it was supposed to be auctioned off with some other pieces tomorrow afternoon? Not sure they can still… I mean, it‘s supposed to be for charity.“

Plisetsky just grunts his acknowledgement and turns to finally walk away, hands shoved deep into the pockets of his purple leopard print hoodie.

 


 

It‘s much later than Yuuri would like by the time he‘s finally made it back to the privacy of his hotel room.

Between getting his booth covered up for the night and gathering his things, the crowds of people still lingering around the convention centre, and the rush hour traffic on the subway, another couple of hours slip away, and by the time he‘s in his room, darkness has already descended on the city.

At least he didn't have to stop anywhere else to buy food—he still has more than half of what he bought in the morning, and he doesn't feel very hungry now, nausea still washing over him.

In the sudden quiet of the hotel room, the buzzing of his phone in his pocket feels deafening, and finally Yuuri fumbles it out of his pocket.

Before he can even begin to look at any of the messages that have gathered, the vibration jolts through his hands again, and it doesn't stop: Victor is calling him.

Yuuri swallows and throws his phone across the bed, where it bounces off a pillow and lands face down on the sheets. After a minute or two, the buzzing sound lets up.

He can‘t talk to Victor right now—he can‘t—he can‘t face this. There‘s no way he wouldn't break down if he heard Victor‘s voice right now, and this time it wouldn't just be a panic attack.

The thought of it alone sends a sharp stab of pain through his lungs and—oh God. That‘s it, isn‘t it? He‘d always thought that pain when he thought of Victor was just a jolt through his heart, or whatever it is that people call butterflies. The pain, maybe, of wanting someone he can never have. He thought it was just being in love. He doesn't remember feeling it before, but then, he‘s never been in love the way he is with Victor, nowhere close.

But that‘s not what it is. It‘s not his heart, and no butterflies in his stomach either.

It‘s his lungs.

He has Hanahaki.

That little blue flower, that smudge of indigo in between shades of red that appears before his eye every time he so much as blinks, is proof positive.

He has Hanahaki, because he loves Victor, and Victor doesn't love him.

 

Something constricts in his chest and he tries to suck air into his lungs.
It feels like there is a resistance there, like his diaphragm is stretched to tight and won‘t expand, like trying to breathe through a plastic bag.

He‘s lying on his bed, paralysed, eyes fixed on the ceiling, hands twisted into the sheets. Is he hyperventilating, or is it the disease? He can‘t even tell anymore.

He doesn't know the first thing about Hanahaki.
Well, he knows the first thing, the thing that everyone knows: Hanahaki is a disease you can get when you‘re in unrequited love, and it makes flowers grow in your lungs.
He doesn't know the second thing.

What even are the symptoms? Is there a treatment? As far as he‘s aware the disease isn't usually fatal these days, but he really couldn't say. It‘s not like it’s a very rare disease, you do hear about it here or there. But he‘s never had a reason to learn more about it—no one around him ever had it.

He stretches out his hand until it finds the smooth, cool surface of his phone, and closes his fingers around it. He should look it up.

Unlocking his phone, he moves to open his browser, but before he can, his eyes catch on the notification from the last message that Victor sent.

Vitya 🌸
21:03 Please let me know you‘re okay

It‘s enough to make his eyes burn with tears, and with a trembling thumb, he taps on it, opening his chat history with Victor.

There‘s at least a dozen messages over the last six hours, a few calls interspersed with them, growing increasingly worried and frantic, particularly after Victor obviously conferred with Phichit and realised that he hadn't heard from Yuuri either.

Guilt constricts his airway as he skims the messages, not daring to read them too closely, before he scrolls back down to reply.

—> To Vitya 🌸
21:12 i‘m ok. Sorry, I need some time to process

He‘s barely hit send when the little message of „Vitya is typing…“ already appears on top of the screen, and Yuuri has to sit up suddenly as a new fit of coughing wracks his body. All the muscles in his stomach and back clench painfully as he struggles to catch his breath in between coughs. His eyes are watering again, this time from the pain and lack of oxygen, and he hurries to scramble off the bed, abandoning his phone on the mattress.

He slams the bathroom door open against the wall in his hurry to get inside, and then he‘s hunching over the sink again, doubled over with the nauseating and utterly wrong feeling of something moving up through his airway.

One last shuddering cough and then he‘s retching, before another dollop of blue drops into the sink.

It‘s larger, this time, accompanied by a short, squat stem of furry green, two flat, broad leaves and a purplish bud. It‘s covered in blood again, bright red spatters of it painting the white ceramic.

Yuuri shudders looking at it, and retches again. If there was anything in his stomach, he thinks he might actually throw up. His airway and throat feel scratched raw, even though there don‘t seem to be any thorns on the flower, and there‘s cold sweat clinging to his neck and back from the effort of bringing up the flower. His mouth feels tacky and dry, covered in the sharp metallic taste of blood and something else, a light, organic taste, distantly familiar.

He feels tired, so tired.

He forces himself to reach out one trembling hand and turn on the faucet until a trickle of water dilutes the blood into streaks of orange and pink. Fighting against a new wave of nausea, he gingerly picks up the flower and carefully rinses the blood and sticky phlegm off the petals.

He doesn't know if the particular type of flower is important with Hanahaki, but until he does he probably shouldn't throw it out.

Once the sink is cleaned of blood, he leans down and rinses out his mouth before drinking a few greedy gulps of lukewarm water. Then he takes the flower between two fingers and returns to the bedroom.

He sheds most of his clothes on the way to the bed, knowing that once he‘s settled back on the mattress, he won‘t have the energy to move again. Then, leaning back on the soft pillows, he picks up his phone.

He quickly exits out of the chat with Victor, trying not to look at any of the messages he‘s sent since Yuuri‘s reply. Then he opens the chat with Phichit, who has called him twice since he sent that message to Victor.

Sorry, he types out quickly, i‘ll be ok. Don‘t want to talk right now.

Then he turns off vibration on his phone and opens his browser.

 


 

Hanahaki Disease

„Flower Disease“ redirects here. For diseases affecting plants, see plant pathology.

Hanahaki Disease, colloquially also known as the flower disease or lovesickness, is a parasitic disease situated in the lungs. Approximately 80% of the population are carriers of a Hana parasite, but the disease remains asymptomatic in most of them throughout their life. Drastic changes in the hormonal balance can cause the parasite to take hold and spread through the lungs, leading to the disease commonly being referred to as affecting people who are unhappily in love. However, Hanahaki has also been known to manifest in times of grief, after childbirth and during puberty or menopause. The disease‘s course extends between four weeks and six months, depending on variant and the host‘s hormonal balance. Today, less than ten percent of Hanahaki cases are recorded to be fatal.

 

Hanahaki Disease

Other names: Hanahaki, Flower disease, lovesickness

Specialty: infectious disease

Symptoms: Fatigue, increase in appetite, weight loss, nausea, difficulty breathing

Complications: malnourishment, osteopoenia

Duration: 4 weeks - 6 months

Causes: Hana parasite, exacerbated by hormonal changes

Diagnostic method: Based on symptoms, blood tests and classification of the Hana specimen

Treatment: Surgical removal of the Hana parasite; or increase in energy intake and rest, and steroids to improve lung function until the disease runs its course

Frequency: 45 per 100,000 per year (USA)

 

Hanahaki is caused by the Hana parasite, of which there are currently eight known variants. Most people are asymptomatic carriers of the parasite from an early age. The parasite is transmitted by air and settles in the lungs until such time as the disease breaks out. In the majority of people the disease never breaks out or remains so mild as to be unnoticable. A person can only carry one Hana variant at a time.

Sudden changes in the hormonal balance, caused by infatuation, grief, childbirth, puberty or menopause can cause the parasite to grow and take hold in the lungs, leading to the breakout of the disease. Theories that Hanahaki can also be caused by hormone treatment of transgender individuals are as of yet unproven.

Hanahaki Disease progresses through five stages. In the first, the once dormant parasite takes hold in the lungs by spreading roots through the tissue. It feeds off the host‘s energy, leading to an increase in appetite in the host and possible weight loss, if the energy intake isn't adjusted accordingly. Once the parasite has firmly taken hold in the host‘s system (usually after two to four weeks), it moves on to stage two. The parasitic plant continues to grow, building out leaves and the first flowers, taking up more of the host‘s lung volume. Due to the plant converting the carbon dioxide from the host‘s blood stream into additional oxygen, the decreased lung volume can go unnoticed for a long time, especially in people with limited physical activity. The continued increased metabolism can lead to continued weight loss which, in combination with possible changed eating habits, often leads to the early stages of Hanahaki being mistaken for an eating disorder. Since the parasite thrives off the hormones in the host‘s bloodstream, it releases chemicals that in turn increase the hormone production, leading to a feedback loop that exacerbates the pre-existing emotions of the host, increasing existing feelings of love, grief or irritability.
The disease moves into the third stage once the first blooms of the Hana parasite are fully formed. These are then shed and expelled through the hosts trachea. Due to the extensive interlacing of the parasite with the host‘s lung tissue and blood stream, the expelled flowers are often carrying blood. The third stage of the disease can be accompanied by a reduced lung capacity and feelings of pressure in the lungs, as the parasite continues to grow…

 

Chapter Text

 

[Video description: A cell phone quality video of a flip chart set up on a stage, Yuuri before it, drawing. In the background, a large screen is visible, broadcasting Yuuri’s work. The video cuts in just as Yuuri is setting the first bold strokes of ink on the canvas. The video follows Yuuri’s movements, sometimes focusing on Yuuri and the flip chart itself, sometimes on the large screen broadcasting the canvas. Soft, dreamlike instrumental music can be heard over the white noise of the convention centre. Occasionally, there are murmured words of exclamation and gasps from the person recording or someone in their vicinity. Yuuri is visible mostly from the back, occasionally his profile comes into view when he considers the canvas or reaches for a different pen. His expression is intensely focused and absent at the same time, his movements are sure and steady. He draws with a single-minded attention, and as the video progresses and the artwork becomes more detailed and more expressive, more murmurs bloom in the audience, most of them awed-sounding, but none intelligible, except for a very soft whisper of what the fuck… close to the camera. After the last finishing touches are put on the artwork, Yuuri steps back, pen still in hand, regarding it, straightening his back. Then a jolt seems to run through him, and he lifts his head with a haunted expression, turning to face first something or someone standing off-screen on the stage, then the audience. For two seconds before the video cuts off, it appears like he’s looking straight at the camera.]

YKatsu Live Drawing Conneko 2017
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1,054 Comments

 

Effervescent Oats

Ok but how does he make it looks SO EFFORTLESS??? How does he draw something LIKE THAT like it’s noting at all???

👍 3.8K Reply

Slowpixels

It’s gotta be black magic tbh. Drawing that in twenty minutes? I could work three days on that and not get anywhere close

Ineffable

How dare he hoard all the talent for himself. Rude.

Leisure is my middle name

Uhm excuse me but talent is a lie. I’m sure this guy worked very hard to get as good as he is so don’t you dare discount his hard work by calling it talent just to make yourself feel better

Show more replies

 

Untoward

CAN I MARRY A DRAWING???

👍 1.7K Reply

Love City

Forget the drawing I wanna marry that guy!! Can you say HOT DAMN

Naked legumes

I know, right???? STEP ON ME, DADDY

Love City

Step PAINT ON ME, DADDY

Naked legumes

😏😏😏

 

Denimology

Who the fuck even is this guy

👍 79 Reply

View 18 replies

 


 

Yuuri awakes the next morning with his head still swimming, clouded with dreams about symptoms and side-effects, variants and hormones.
In his dreams, vaguely medical sounding nonsense floated through his mind, relayed to him with increasing urgency by a number of faceless strangers.
In his dreams, he picked at a nick in his skin as he let the increasingly dire prognoses wash over him, scratching and tearing at it until it burst open, revealing something which at first he thought to be a splinter or an ingrown hair, something tiny he tried to pick out of his skin, until he finally got ahold of it between two fingernails, intent on plucking it out. He tugged at it and felt it slither through his veins, growing longer and longer, thicker and knotted, and he kept tugging at it and tugging, until he started to unravel from the inside, his blood vessels unfurling on the inside of his skin until he was empty, empty.
In his dreams, the pale blue of his veins was curling around him, yarn, fraying.

He wakes up in the morning with the shrill sound of his alarm.
Resting next to his curled palm is a pencil, and scattered on the other side of the bed are sheets of paper covered in flowers he doesn’t remember drawing.

 


 

It’s not until Yuuri has had a decidedly too long shower, coughed up more flowers twice and gone through half the pastries left in the bakery bag that he dares picking up his phone again.
He’s still eating, one handed, sitting on the bed, making his way through a custard danish that has gone slightly dry, flaky pastry crumbling into his lap. He still feels vaguely nauseous, but at the same time he’s wan and sluggish with hunger, and he knows now that it’s the parasite that makes him eat as much as he does, that made him lose that weight despite his terrible eating habits lately.
He hates that a messed up part of him is relieved: his relationship with food has never been the healthiest, and being able to eat whatever he wants and however much of it he wants without gaining weight is a bit of a dream come true to him. It’s not exactly worth all the other symptoms and implications that come with it, but he’s fucked up and has never tried to deny that, so a part of him latches onto the one almost positive aspect of this whole disaster as he shoves danishes and bread rolls into his mouth.
With the other hand he unlocks his phone and almost chokes on puff pastry when he sees all the notifications on the screen. So many of them, and not just Phichit and Victor, like he expected. No, there’s Chris and Yuuko and Celestino, too. Even Mari and Minako, and a few people from Tokyo Geidai he hasn’t been in contact with in years. Then there’s countless notifications from Twitter and Instagram—what the hell happened? Has he done something stupid without realising?

Hesitantly, he opens Twitter, which boasts the most notifications, in hopes that that’s where he’ll find out most quickly what’s brought on this onslaught.
Skimming the replies and comments left in his notifications, a weight settles in his stomach. They feel eerily familiar, somehow. Have the Ghibli illustrations somehow gained traction again? Have they finally been connected with his new name for good, and will now haunt him even more than they already did?

With as deep a breath as he can muster, he taps through to the post that he seems to be tagged in most often.

It’s a video.

 


LAY ME DOWN IN FLOWERS🌸🌹🌺
@pseudofloral

Can we talk about this gorgeous piece of art for a hot second? how is this even possible? How can a human being create something like this?
[Video description: A cut from the same cell phone video, including only the last couple of minutes of footage as Yuuri finishes up the drawing, up to the point when he stares into the camera.]

2:20 819K views

9.8K Comments 382K Retweets 568K Likes

Midnite 🌘 @art hell @midnighthalcyon
@pseudofloral
FUCK I JUST CRIED 😭😭😭 That artwork, the music and the EXPRESSION ON HIS FACE just…. Hauntingly beautiful.

3 more replies

Love_City @love_city
@pseudofloral
YES Can we talk about this gorgeous piece of art for a hot second? And the painting’s nice too, I guess.

1 more reply

Saturn in retrograde @Saturn_wasabi
@pseudofloral
OK BUT Who is he and where can I buy that????? [shut up and take my money.jpg]

Erstwhilechild @erstwhilechild
@pseudofloral
It’s not that special tbh. I could do better than that.

4 more replies

M a c r o s u n s e t @macrosunset
@pseudofloral
How about you credit the artist if you like him so much?

Late Night Wherewithal @nightwherewhital
@pseudofloral
DOES ANYONE KNOW THE ARTISTS NAME?

 

Pat leisure crow @patcrow
@pseudofloral @nightwherewithal
YKatsu instagram.com/whykatsu

 

Late Night Wherewithal @nightwherewhital
@pseudofloral @patcrow
THANK YOU YOU’RE A SAINT

 

Fetching @fetchingdraws
@pseudofloral @nightwherewithal @patcrow
Are you sure? That doesn’t look anything like what he did in the video

 

RAW ME HOWL @howls_hoe
@pseudofloral @nightwherewithal @parcrow
ARE U STUPID? It’s katsudon’t the style may b differnet but I’d recognize that shading anywere

3 more replies

AILUROPHILE @ailurophile1
@pseudofloral
Is he ok? Can anyone tell me what’s going on there, he looks devastated at the end 😰

1 more reply

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Yuuri feels like he’s being smothered, slowly, softly, with a pillow.
The short clip from his live drawing replays over and over on his phone screen, silently, the volume turned all the way down. Yuuri can’t look away, and at the same time, he doesn’t really see.

He’s never really seen himself work, has never had an occasion to, but now the video is right there in front of him, and he stares at his hands moving over the canvas, mesmerised. He can’t help but wince with every wrong stroke set on the canvas, every line that’s out of place. But he tries to look at his work objectively, really tries, attempting to see what it is those people saw who left those loud, gushing comments on the video. It is an effective motive he supposes, strong colours and clear lines, probably surprising enough in the context to catch people’s attention. He can’t deny that there’s emotion in every stroke, every movement of his hand. It’s all there, all on the canvas where it hadn’t been in his mind or on his face—his expression in the video is as utterly blank as his thoughts had been while he was creating the piece, shocked into numbness, but every last emotion he hadn’t let himself feel, hadn’t allowed to penetrate into the barrier of his brain had still been there, flowing from his chest through his spine and out through his hands onto the paper.

Yuuri can read every drop of his feelings for Victor, every insecurity, the fear, the utter terror of the illness residing in his rib cage, painted right there on the canvas, and, with a chill running over him, he wonders if everyone else can read it just as easily.

The video reaches its ending once more, and Yuuri gets a momentary glance into his own eyes as he stares into the camera—he hadn’t been aware of the cell phone filming him yesterday, had barely registered any details at all, only looked back into the audience in fear of their reaction to whatever monstrosity it was he had created. He stares into his own eyes and he can see the moment the numbness snaps like a rubber band, how the backlash of reality jolts through him, in the way his entire face, that painfully maintained blankness just shatters, for a split second before the video cuts out.

Yuuri closes Twitter before the video can loop again, a nausea of a different kind suddenly cresting over him.
Everyone saw. Everyone’s seen that moment of his—his unmaking. And not only have they seen it, they’ve picked it apart, commented on it, shared it around for more people to see, as if they had any right to it. Everyone had seen—hell, Victor had probably seen. Had seen every one of his emotions in the set of his jaw, the bend of his shoulders. Victor had seen, and after having seen, there’s no way that Victor doesn’t know.

Before Yuuri was even given the chance to come to terms with his situation, to process it even a little bit, it has already been torn out of his hands, ripped apart and passed around. Before Yuuri could decide if he wanted to share this, with whom and how, the choice was taken from him, forcibly, and now the whole world knows, knows more than they have any right to.

He can’t deal with this.

Ignoring the notifications still rolling in on the screen, he locks his phone, clutching it in both hands resting in his lap.

He doesn’t have time.

He wants nothing more than to bury back into the blankets, shut out all the light of the morning and sleep, sleep for a couple of days until his mind has had a chance to process all of this, to really understand what is happening to him. But if there’s one thing he doesn’t have, it’s time.

He needs to go—needs to get dressed, get back to the convention centre. He’s got a whole other day of work to get through—the convention, getting his things packed up and then three hours’ travel back home—he won’t get back until late that night. It’s so much, but there’s nothing, nothing, nothing he can do to avoid it.

Another fifteen minutes of trying to gather his strength and he swings his legs off the bed, crumbling pastry flakes all over the hotel carpet. That flower, mockingly blue in tone, is still resting on his bedside table. He hasn’t looked up his variant yet, sleep having dragged him down last night as he was reading through the general info on Hanahaki. He cannot do it now. He needs—he needs time.

There isn’t time.

His legs feel heavy as he drags himself around the hotel room, collecting his things together; his clothes and effects, the sketches scattered on the sheets, the various chargers from the various power outlets. He stands before the bedside table for a long minute, staring down at the Hana specimen, wondering what to do with it. It’s already wilted a fair amount, curling in on itself overnight. Should he keep it? Throw it out along with the other flowers he coughed up, dumped in the bin in the bathroom? What else is he going to do with it? There’s nowhere he can put it where it won’t get crushed.

He’s not sure he doesn’t want it to get crushed.

There’s going to be plenty of other flowers in his future that he can use to identify his variant. He doesn’t need this one.

He places it at the top of his backpack, delicately resting on his pencil case, before he checks out of the hotel.

 


 

Stoffel
01:23 Have you seen the video yet?
01:25 youtube.com/watch?v=....

nikiforwoe
07:06 Video?
07:07 Oh
07:07 Hang on
07:31 OH MY GOD
07:31 THAT WAS STUNNING OH MY GOD 💖💖✨💗✨
07:32 HE’S SO AMAZING 😱
07:32 Just… HOW
07:33 And to think he was so worried about not doing well
07:33 After his silence yesterday I really thought it’d gone badly but this is beautiful 😍
07:39 God Chris fuck how is he so gorgeous
07:40 Just look at him so focused I’m swooning
07:40 Is he even real?

Stoffel
07:51 woah, calm down there, Romeo 😬
07:52 it’s certainly beautiful. He did well
07:52 It is rather different though, isn’t it?
07:52 Or is this the style he’s going for with Agape? I haven’t really seen any of it yet

nikiforNO
07:54 Oh
07:54 Well yeah, I guess it is different
07:55 It doesn’t look much like what I’ve seen of Agape so far
07:56 Maybe he just wanted to try something different?

Stoffel
07:57 I’m not saying it’s bad or anything 🤷♂️
07:57 It just doesn’t seem very… like him
07:58 right?

nikiforNO
07:59 Yeah, I guess so…

 


 

Yuuri feels like the con is impossibly more crowded today than it was on Saturday.

It’s not usual—Saturday tends to be the stronger of the two days—but people are crowding around his booth, browsing through his artwork, demanding his attention.

Yuuri is distracted and absent-minded all day, barely able to concentrate on the questions people ask him, but not really thinking about anything else, either. Just sort of—floating through the noise.

He doesn’t take any more commissions this day either, too worried about people asking him to do anything like the art he created yesterday. He couldn’t possibly draw anything like that right now—he’s not sure he can ever draw something like that again.

He feels bad about it—he doesn’t like turning people away, and commissions are where he makes the best money, too. But he’s got standards for the things he sells his customers, and he knows he couldn’t produce anything that lives up to those standards right now. Besides, with how much he gets interrupted by other customers wanting to buy something, he’s not sure he’d have the time to get anything done at all.

A lot of people coming to his table bring up the live drawing, most of them expressing their regret that they didn’t get to see it in person the day before. Everyone seems to have seen the video, though—not surprising, maybe, since Yuuri seems to recall seeing Conneko’s official twitter among the notifications of the post. They all seem so genuinely excited about it that Yuuri has no idea what to make of it—he can just force a smile and shrug and come up with a suitably vague answer when they ask him if he’s going to do more art in that style.

Quite possibly the worst of all is when Kenjirou’s gush of excitement breaks over him during the lunch lull—a solid ten-minute monologue about Yuuri’s technique in the video and the beauty of the motive, and the flawless execution. It takes Yuuri most of those ten minutes to realise that there must be another video out there, a longer version, containing possibly the entirety of his live drawing, since some of the things Kenjirou references aren’t even in the video he saw on Twitter. He can’t even bring himself to be surprised anymore, let alone embarrassed. He just waits until Kenjirou has said apparently all he can think to say about it, then thanks him for his support and suggests they trade some prints, which seems to actually make Kenjirou tear up. Yuuri ends up with an A4 print and another postcard for his wall, and diligently signs the prints Kenjirou has picked out from him. He knows, somewhere, it’s sweet that the kid seems to care so much about Yuuri’s art, but he feels so undeserving, and he doesn’t have nearly enough energy to refute all of Kenjirou’s compliments, so he can’t help but feel relieved when the crowds pick up again, forcing them to each attend to their own tables.

By the end of the day, Yuuri has sold out of a few of his prints and most of his holographic postcards, has even managed to sell a few originals, and his cash box seems heavier than he could have dreamed before the weekend began. He knows he should be relieved that it went well—and a distant part of him is, knows that his profits from his weekend will pay for the expenses of his next few conventions that are coming up. But mostly he feels relieved that it’s over, finally; that he can go home.

While he doesn’t dislike conventions in themselves, the constant social interaction leaves him completely drained by the end of it even on a good weekend, when he’s at his best. And this time—well… his social energy is depleted to the point that he doesn’t even feel bad about putting on his headphones, shutting out the rest of the world around him with satisfyingly loud music the second that the convention ends and he starts packing up his table.

He only takes them off briefly to say goodbye to Kenjirou once he’s all packed, then grabs his suitcase and backpack. He dips his head in half a nod to Yuri Plisetsky, who is carefully stowing a large, rolled up poster in his suitcase, and—did Yuuri imagine that or did Yuri actually nod back at him? In any case, his expression seems to be the least pissed off that Yuuri has seen so far.

He shrugs it off and makes his way out of the convention centre. There’s still a long journey ahead of him before he’s home.

 


 

Peaches 🍑
21:18 Victor said you texted him, are you ok? Did something happen? Sth other than the live drawing I mean?
21:21 if it’s about the show I’m sure it’s nowhere near as bad as you probably think it was
21:21 I’m sure you did amazing and in any case you made it through I am so so proud of you
21:23 if you want to talk I’m here anytime

—> To Peaches 🍑
21:32 sorry, I’ll be ok. Don’t wanna talk right now

Peaches 🍑
21:33 ok! That’s ok! But if you change your mind you can call me
21:33 anytime
21:34 or if it’s easier text me and I’ll call you

 

Peaches 🍑
00:41 OH MY GOD YUURI
00:42 THERE’S A VIDEO!!!! WHY DID YOU NOT TELL ME THERE’S A VIDEO
00:43 well nvm this doesn’t look like anything official so maybe you don’t even know
00:43 but OMG YUURI YOU DID SO WELL, THAT’S AMAZING 😱
00:45 seriously I’ve never seen you do anything like this
00:45 I hope this is not why you’re upset bc it’s beautiful? ??? ?? you should be proud of that!!
00:47 seriously tho, what came over you?
00:47 it’s so different.

 

Peaches 🍑
08:22 Ohhhh that kind of blew up overnight didn’t it? Have you seen this? [twitter link]
08:22 everyone’s raving about it
08:25 good luck for your second day!! ^O^ 🎉 I hope everything goes well today! text me if there’s anything you need!
08:33 or we can talk when you come back tonight, I’ll be home

 

—> To Peaches 🍑
20:13 on my way home now. Should be there around half past ten

Peaches 🍑
20:15 🙌 ^O^ Safe travels!
20:17 Have you eaten? There’s leftover Auflauf

—> To Peaches 🍑
20:20 Kartoffel or Nudel?
20:20 nvm both sound great

Peaches 🍑
20:20 Nudel! 😄 I’ll save you some!

 


 

Yuuri spends most of the journey home with his headphones stuck firmly over his ears, staring out the window of the bus.

He lets the music wash over him as his eyes track the slowly descending darkness over the cities they pass along the way, the day falling away in deepening shades of red and orange that make him shiver. The sun dips below the horizon in the end, leaving him in the dark blue velvet of night.

After that, the only illumination for his eyes to track as the bus glides along the Autobahn is the headlights and taillights of the cars all around them, flashes of red and white like lightning strikes. The vibrations of the engine are humming along his body, the sound of it drowned out by the music, but the feeling of it alight in every nerve.

He goes through The xx and Hayley Kiyoko first, but then his fingers hover over the playlist that Victor sent him a while ago of his favourite songs, uncertain. Everything in him wants to indulge, wants to feel close to Victor in any way he possibly can—wants to know him better, know him more. But he’s not alone—as much as the bus is dark and quiet around him, he’s surrounded by people. He can’t very well risk coughing up a flower right here. He has managed not to all day—not since his shower in the morning, and he suspects that it has something to do with the numbness that has descended upon him. But, left alone on this bus for hours with nothing but his thoughts, he can already feel it lifting, and listening to Victor’s favourite music can only possibly make it worse.

But Yuuri has always been a master of making bad choices.

He taps on the playlist.

The first song starts with a single, mournful violin, and it’s so Victor that it makes his stomach flutter.

Is it is stomach? He’s not sure anymore—there’s something, some feeling in his torso, that feels too tangible to be only in his mind, too fleeting to be entirely physical.
He concentrates on his body entirely, trying to take in every sensation, every signal that his nerves send through his spine, as if he could detect the physical presence of the Hana by sheer force of will. As if he could somehow feel the roots creeping through his lungs, hear the flower petals unfurl with a whisper. He takes a deep breath, measured and drawn-out, concentrates on the expansion of his diaphragm, the steady flow of the muggy air on the bus through his airway. It doesn’t feel any different than usual, not now when he’s been sitting quietly, calmly, for a couple of hours, his body at rest, his heart rate steady.

He still doesn’t feel sick.

He feels tired, and hungry again, and he misses Victor something fierce, like something physical torn from him, something visceral.

But he doesn’t feel sick.

Surely it’s not as bad as all that? Surely this will pass. He did read something last night, about the disease running its course in some cases, without any treatment or surgery. Maybe his is one of those cases. Wouldn’t he feel worse if it wasn’t so?

After all—yes, he is in love with Victor, so in love with him that sometimes he feels like he’s about to burst with it (and isn’t that feeling suddenly a lot more sinister now?), but he’s not unhappy. He’s not pining, he’s happy to be Victor’s friend, happy that he gets to spend time with him, to see him happy in turn—it’s enough for him. He doesn’t need anything more than that. It’s enough. It’s enough.

It’s just hormones, after all, just chemistry, that’s what the site said. The Hana parasite feeds off the changes in his hormone levels, so… so once some time has passed, once the novelty of his feelings has worn off and his hormones balanced out, this will all go away. It’ll go away, and he’ll be fine. As long as Yuuri keeps it together until then—doesn’t do anything stupid like destroy his friendship with Victor by making his feelings known, he’ll be fine.

All Yuuri needs to do is not say anything. And isn’t that what he’s always been best at?

Yuuri has barely finished the thought when his lungs seize up painfully, and a cough wrenches itself from his throat. He curls in on himself, trying to suppress the coughing that travels up through his chest, trying to keep it quiet, both hands clasped over his mouth. His eyes are watering with the effort of it, in vain. He can’t stop, barely has time to suck in short, wheezing gasps of breath in between the convulsing coughs. He pushes himself up from his seat and stumbles down the aisle toward the back entrance of the bus, into the small on-board toilet. He leans his back against the door as he keeps coughing, and heaving, and, finally bringing up a stem with two small, deep blue flowers, bordered by a little green fringe of leaves.

Sucking in greedy breaths now that his airway is free again, Yuuri stares down at the Hana in his hands, smudging his skin with red. There’s that taste in his mouth again, clinging to his teeth—the rusty, dull taste of blood, yes, but something else, too. Not quite sweet, but light, almost fresh, and so familiar. It must be the taste of the Hana specimen.
Reluctantly, after another few seconds to calm his painful, hurried breathing, he lifts his hands toward his face and, with revulsion turning his stomach, smells the flower.

At first, all he can smell is the sharp scent of the blood, but, turning his face to lean closer to one of the blossoms, there’s something else, too. A scent just like the taste in his mouth, a little fainter, but less fleeting. He closes his eyes to concentrate on it. It smells like fresh cucumbers.

He runs around his tongue around his mouth to confirm—no, he’s not imagining it, now that he’s identified it, the similarity is undeniable. Is his variant a cucumber plant then? Yuuri doesn’t think he’s ever seen one up close, but he’s pretty sure cucumbers don’t have blue blossoms. He can’t bring himself to care—with shaking fingers he drops the flowers into the sink, then reaches out to press the button below the sink to wash his hands.

The tap gurgles quietly. Nothings comes out.

“Shit”, Yuuri sighs, not the least bit surprised and too tired to even be annoyed. He feels the heat of oncoming panic rise up through his body into his face as he grabs two of the coarse paper towels from the dispenser and wipes the blood off his hands as best he can, before wrapping the flower in the crumpled paper and shoving it in the bin. With another paper towel he wipes off the sink, leaving faint red streaks on the off-white plastic. Yuuri bites his lips, feeling sweat beading on his forehead as he grabs another paper towel and another, to wipe away the blood, which just seems to dry and cling more firmly to the surface the harder he tries.

His breathing is laboured and painful again for a whole different reason when he finally gives up, sliding down the wall into a squat, tucking his head between his knees. Tears are dripping on his glasses and past them onto the dirty bathroom floor, and for a few hysterical seconds, Yuuri considers catching them on another paper towel to wipe the sink with. A huff of laughter rises in his throat, turning into a sob before it leaves his lips.

This is going to be his life now. Hiding out in bathrooms, wiping blood off sinks.

He can’t deal with this. He might be able to not say anything to Victor, but how will he ever hide this from Phichit? Maybe he should just tell him about it when he gets home? It might be easier than trying to hide it from him, and it’s not like Phichit doesn’t already know how Yuuri feels about Victor. They’ve never really talked about it, but judging by Phichit’s knowing grins, and the way he keeps finding excuses to leave Yuuri and Victor alone when they all hang out together, he’s well aware.

While Yuuri appreciates (and is slightly worried about) Phichit’s enthusiasm about his love life, he hasn’t yet found a way to tell him that Yuuri and Victor are friends—and that’s all they’ll ever be. It’s probably for his own benefit more than anything, if he’s being honest; he has a feeling if he was forced to say it out loud, he would break his own heart.

And that was probably more than anything a reason not to tell Phichit—in his endless supportiveness, Phichit would probably try to make Yuuri talk to Victor, or even take things into his own hands with some sort of well-meaning match-making, and… the inevitable rejection and ensuing awkwardness would most likely wreck Yuuri’s friendship with Victor.

Yuuri may not understand everything about his Hanahaki just yet, but he’s fairly certain that losing Victor should be firmly on his “not to do” list.

No—he’s going to have to try and keep this from Phichit, as much as he dislikes the idea of keeping anything from his best friend. But, he tries to tell himself, this is not a big deal—it’ll pass, after all, it’ll pass, and no one will ever have to know.

Yuuri lifts his head when his breathing has finally become more measured again, and he pulls himself to his feet.

He really needs to get out of here—there’s bound to be someone outside already waiting to use the bathroom. Streaks of blood still paint the sink, but there’s nothing he can do about it now. At least the lights are low enough in the cramped stall that it isn’t immediately visible.

After he’s cleaned himself up as much as he can—wiped his eyes and glasses, blown his nose—he unlocks the door and hurries back to his seat, feeling the eyes of the other passengers burning on his back.

 


 

Vitya 🌸
07:43 Yuuri!!
07:43 I just saw your video!!! 💗
07:43 You did so well, I’m so proud of you!!!!
07:44 You were so beautiful
07:44 Your art I mean.
07:45 You always manage to surprise me.
07:45 That was really something different.
07:47 I’m not gonna tell you your concerns weren’t justified, because you have a right to those concerns
07:47 But you really should be proud of the way you pulled through
07:48 I know yesterday was really stressful for you, but I hope you feel better today
07:49 And I can’t wait to see you again
07:49 I hope you will tell me all about it.

 

—> To Vitya 🌸
20:25 You liked it?

Vitya 🌸
20:27 OF COURSE! You did beautifully!!
20:27 I’ve been raving about it all day, just ask Chris
20:27 When do you get home?

—> To Vitya 💗
20:31 Late tonight
20:31 I’m exhausted, gonna try to take a nap
20:33 Text you tomorrow?

Vitya 💗
20:34 Sure! But let me know when you’re home safe!💜

 


 

When Yuuri finally drags his suitcase up the stairs to the apartment, he feels just about ready to collapse. Though his luggage is noticeably lighter than it was when he left, his muscles are aching and trembling by the time he reaches the landing and fumbles for his keys in his bag. The door opens before he can even slide the key into the lock, and on the other side is Phichit, grinning at him.

“Yuuri!”, he chirps, “You’re home! Okaeri!”

Tadaima”, Yuuri mumbles in reply, hauling his suitcase inside and dumping his bag and backpack unceremoniously on the floor next to it, before kicking the door shut behind him. Then he slumps forward into Phichit’s arms.

Phichit catches him on instinct, wrapping his arms around Yuuri in a firm embrace, but Yuuri can practically feel the surprise in the tension of his muscles. Phichit and Yuuri are close, and fairly open with their physical affection, but Yuuri’s aware that he’s rarely the one to initiate it. Usually, it’s a mixture of Yuuri’s strong sense of personal space and his worry of being a nuisance that are holding him back, but he’s too tired to care, and a long, comforting hug from Phichit sounds just perfect right now.

Phichit seems to understand well enough, because he holds him, wordless, for a few minutes, Yuuri’s head buried against his shoulder, one hand petting in soothing motions over Yuuri’s back. It’s not until Yuuri straightens up again with a soft groan that Phichit speaks once more.

“Long weekend? How did it go?”

„The longest“, Yuuri sighs as he slips out of his shoes, leaving his things behind in the entryway in favour of wandering into the living room and unceremoniously collapsing onto the couch.

„Wanna tell me about it?“, Phichit asks, plopping down on the cushion next to him, „So far I only got the Spark Notes version.“

„You haven‘t used Spark Notes once in your life“, Yuuri mumbles, a little because Phichit went to school in Thailand and Germany, where Spark Notes isn't exactly the norm, but mostly because the dusty old book that Phichit Chulanont hasn't gleefully devoured the moment it was assigned to him hasn't been written yet.

Yuuri doesn't really want to talk about it, hasn't quite figured out yet what to tell Phichit at all, but he knows he‘s already put him off for far too long.

„Hang on“, he says, pulling his phone out of his pocket and firing off a quick text to Victor, as promised, letting him know he‘s home. He locks the phone and stares down at the dark screen thoughtfully. Then he takes a deep breath.

„I, um… kind of freaked out on Victor on the phone yesterday“, he finally says.

„So I heard“, Phichit says, and Yuuri‘s not sure what he thinks about the fact that Victor and Phichit talk about him so much, „though he didn't use those exact words, to be fair. But yeah, you called Victor when you were having a panic attack?“

Yuuri nods slightly, pulling his shoulders up. „Well“, he amends, „more like he called me after I texted him in a panic.“

„Ah. Yeah, that sounds more like you.“ Phichit pulls his legs up onto the couch and crosses them. „And he talked you down, huh?“

„Mhh.“ Yuuri can‘t help the soft smile that tugs up the corners of his lips, remembering Victor‘s own panic, his clumsy words—somehow, it was so much more reassuring than if Victor had been completely calm and collected in the face of Yuuri‘s anxiety. Getting that glimpse into Victor‘s own uncertainty, the limits of his competence, it made Yuuri feel so much safer, somehow. So much more understood.

„He did, yeah. He was surprisingly helpful, actually.“

„Well.“ Phichit grins. „If this keeps up, it seems like you won‘t have any use for me soon.“

Yuuri huffs. „Don‘t worry. Your particular brand of annoying is irreplaceable. I could never go to Victor for show tunes performed by hamsters, and his collection of pretentious literary quotes also leaves something to be desired.“

„Ah, well, it‘s nice to be appreciated!“ Phichit claps him lightly on the shoulder, preening a little. „So he talked you down and you went and knocked it out of the park, huh? That wasn't the piece you were planning to do, was it?“

„Uhm, no… no, it wasn't. I, ah, decided to do something different.“

„I saw. How come? What flipped your switch?“

„I, uh…“, Yuuri chews on his lips, thinking fast, trying to string together words that he could present to Phichit that would make sense of his actions, „I just. Uhm, it was something Victor said when he was trying to reassure me. About how people would see how passionately I feel about art. And, well, it made me realise that I was playing it safe. The motive I had prepared was safe. It wasn’t something I felt passionate about. It was bland. Something that would be pandering, thoroughly uncontroversial, but by extension thoroughly unremarkable. I—I didn't want to do something like that. I felt like… unremarkable just wasn't cutting it anymore. I wanted to be remarkable. So I threw out my concept and decided to do something different.“

„Well, you certainly succeeded in being remarkable.“ Phichit gave him a long, contemplating look. „I can‘t say I‘m surprised, I always said you had it in you. But… that must have been some speech that Victor gave you.“

Yuuri stares down at his hands, guilt churning in his stomach at Phichit‘s easy acceptance of his lies. „Ah well, I just… you know, he‘s always saying how amazing I am, and I know he‘s just being nice and it‘s… you know, he doesn't know all that much about art, he probably… anyway, I guess I just wanted to try to live up to that? Be as good as he thinks I am?“

This, at least, is not a lie—Victor‘s faith in his abilities is at once humbling and exhilarating, making Yuuri feel like he can achieve anything. Anything is within his reach if Victor believes he can do it. Victor makes him want to go above and beyond, makes him want to move outside his comfort zone, makes him want to be more.

Phichit just shakes his head with a deep sigh and looks at him with something like pity in his eyes.

„Yuuri“, he says, „you are amazing. Whether Victor thinks so or not. I wish you could believe that about yourself.“

Yuuri shrugs, but before he can say anything to debate Phichit‘s words, he goes on.

„No, look—I like Victor, you know I do, and it‘s great that he‘s good for your self-confidence, but I really wish you didn't make your self-worth dependent on what some guy thinks of you. Victor or no Victor, you should believe that you are a skilled and talented artist, because you are.“

Yuuri dips his head down, stomach twisting uncomfortably at the praise.
„I‘m not, not really, not yet. But I can be, for Victor, I—…“

„Screw Victor“, Phichit interrupts him, and it makes Yuuri‘s head snap up in sudden irritation. „Sorry“, Phichit amends immediately, „It‘s not—it‘s not about him, but Yuuri, this doesn't sound like you. Since when are you the kind of guy who defines himself by the opinion of some man he just met? If you‘re not happy with where you are right now, by all means, better yourself and strive for more, but do it for yourself. Not for him. I just—I just don‘t want you to come crashing down and be back to square one when—, if, uhm, you know, it doesn't work out.“

Something cold settles in Yuuri‘s chest at those words, Phichit‘s voice and the warmth of the apartment suddenly feeling very far away. His earlier irritations turns into dread, a lead weight in his torso. He knows he should be considering Phichit‘s words, knows on some distant level that he has a point, but right now, all he can think of are those last words, reverberating in his skull like an echo chamber.

If it doesn‘t work out.

When it doesn‘t work out.

Even Phichit knows—knows that Victor isn't going to stick around, that Yuuri isn't good enough, not the kind of person someone like Victor is going to waste his time with for long. He‘d hoped—hoped that at least his friendship with Victor might be something lasting, something he could hold on to. But if even Phichit expects Victor to fade out of their lives eventually…

His lungs lungs seize suddenly, violently in his chest, and he feels the tell-tale itch of irritation at the back of his throat. He breathes in, carefully, shallowly through his nose, trying not to make his airway close up anymore.

„Excuse me“, he says, barely more than a whisper, before he folds his legs off the couch and hurries out of the living room.

He distantly hears Phichit calling something after him, but he doesn't stop. As soon as the bathroom for has clicked shut and is locked behind him, he tears open the small cabinet next to the sink and grabs a fresh towel from one of the shelves. He just barely has the presence of mind to grab one of the dark grey ones, which won‘t show stains immediately. Then he buries his face deep into the still folded up towel, hoping to stifle his coughs.

The effort of holding back the noise tearing out through his throat makes him sink down onto his knees on the cold tile, but at least this time it doesn't take long. It‘s not even a full flower that is splattered into the terry cloth this time, just a few mangled petals and leaves.

Still trying to catch his wheezing breath, he wraps them firmly in toilet paper and flushes them, not daring to throw them in the bin for fear that Phichit might discover them. Then he wipes away the sweat beading on his forehead and washes his hands, hoping to make it sound as much like a normal bathroom break as he possibly can.

When he returns to the living room, he tries his best to not appear frazzled, to not draw any unnecessary attention to his hasty departure, although he suspects that it‘s long too late for that.

Clearing his throat slightly, he slumps back down on the couch, facing Phichit like he‘s all ready to pick their conversation back up again.

Phichit returns his gaze with a frown.

„You okay?“

Yuuri clears his throat again, hoping he doesn't sound too hoarse. „Yeah, sorry about that. I, um, had a lot of junk food this weekend, so…“ He makes a face, implying something unpleasant, and Phichit seems to buy it, because he mirrors his grimace.

„Oof, I really did not need to know that, jeez, Yuuri. Well, anyway, uhm… I hope you know that none of the stuff I said is anything against Victor. I think Victor‘s a great guy, and I like that he‘s good for you. I just… well, I worry. It‘s not like you to get like this over… well, over anyone.“

Yuuri presses his lips together, nodding.

„I know. I know that. It‘s just that Victor is… well, so much, and I don‘t really know how to, uhm, deal with that. It‘s still hard for me to believe sometimes that he‘s, uhm, that we‘re friends. I know that I shouldn't change who I am for him, and I‘m not trying to but… I just don‘t understand how I am possibly, ah, interesting enough for him.“

Phichit‘s frown deepens, creases etched deeply into his youthful face.

„Yuuri. Do you think you‘re interesting enough for me?“

„Uhm“, Yuuri hesitates, „not—not really? You've just proven so persistent that at some point I stopped questioning it.“

Phichit clicks his tongue impatiently. „Yuuri! You‘re supposed to say yes so that I can chew you out for implying that I‘m less interesting than Nikiforov and make you see the error in your thought process!“

Yuuri shrugs. „You‘re underestimating my thorough lack of interestingness.“

„Clearly.“ Phichit scowls, but only for a moment before he dissolves into laughter, breaking the tense atmosphere between them, to Yuuri‘s relief. „You‘re plenty interesting enough for both me and Victor, Yuuri. I wish you could see that. You‘re a talented artist! You went to the top ranked art school in Japan, on a full scholarship. If you don‘t trust in your own skills, trust in the Japanese education system, you know they‘re a bunch of hardasses. You wouldn't have gotten in if you didn't deserve it. Plus“, he continues, before Yuuri can open his mouth to protest, „you are kind and funny. You‘re a good friend. And a great cook. Victor can count himself lucky to have you in his life.“

Yuuri sighs deeply, leaning his head back on the couch cushion. „I don‘t-...“, he begins, but he knows from experience that Phichit can argue about this for hours, so he cuts himself off. „You are a good friend, Peaches“, reaching out blindly until his hand finds Phichit‘s arm and squeezing lightly. „But I am thoroughly beat. I got next to now sleep this weekend. I really need to get to bed.“

„Of course!“, Yuuri can hear the smile in Phichit‘s voice when he speaks, „it‘s late. You go on and get to bed. We can still talk about everything tomorrow.“

With some effort Yuuri heaves himself off the couch again.

„Did the rest of the con go well, though?“, Phichit asks as Yuuri picks up his phone.

„Yeah.“ Yuuri smiles in relief that in this, at least, he can be honest, thinking of the well-filled cash box sitting in his backpack, a little bit of tangible reassurance for the next few months. „Yeah. It went well.“

 

Chapter Text

 

Yuuri and Victor meet the next day, and Yuuri begins to resent the easy way Victor has with words. It’s making his life so much more difficult to bear.

They meet at Victor’s place in the afternoon, when Victor has gotten his work for the day out of the way and Yuuri has slept most of the day away, combating his exhaustion. He still could have kept sleeping, might not have left the bed at all except in search of food, but Victor’s texts have done a much more thorough job of waking him up than any alarm. The prospect of seeing him, being close to him again, draws Yuuri out of bed like the pull of a magnet, and Yuuri doesn’t even try to resist.

After Yuuri has crouched down on the floor to bid Makkachin a lengthy hello with lots of pets and ear scritches, and then tried not to lean too much into Victor’s hug, they wander into the kitchen. Victor’s chatting away animatedly while he’s making tea, clearly in a good mood, and seeing that smile on his face, wide and warm and soft, and hearing the rush of words tumbling from his mouth, stumbling over one another, sets Yuuri’s thoughts alight with affection, and he hopes that it’s not written too obviously on his features.

Victor carries the conversation virtually by himself, Yuuri only chiming in once and again with a nod or a hum or a quick affirmation, which leaves him with plenty of time to watch Victor move about the kitchen, setting water to boil, grabbing mugs and measuring out tea. Yuuri follows every one of his movements intently, tracking the slight fumble as Victor sets the filter into the teapot, the way he scoops out a spoonful of tea, taps it against the rim of the tin to shake off any excess, watches too much of the tea slide off the spoon and drops all of it back in to start again. The way he gets distracted by his own story several times, stopping in his movements, gazing at Yuuri askance, as if silently asking what he was just about to do, then turning away when he remembers, only to repeat the whole procedure a few sentences later.

It makes Yuuri feel warm, so warm, when he’s been shivering all day since he got out of bed, wrapped in layers to ward off the chill, despite the late spring warmth outside the door. It warms him down to his bones, or rather from his bones outward, lapping in waves through his muscles and nerves and finally coating his skin.

When the tea is finally steeping, they settle on the couch, Yuuri taking the mugs while Victor carries the teapot in careful hands. Victor’s chatter tapering off, they are left in silence that is not quite tense and not quite comfortable for a few minutes, until Yuuri, who kept an eye on the time, lifts out the filter from the pot and settles it on a coaster, before pouring tea for the both of them.

Settled back into the cushions, the mug cradled in his hands, he feels Victor’s eyes on him for a few breathless seconds.

“It was beautiful, you know?”, Victor finally says, all in a rush, “the artwork you did.”

Yuuri tenses.

He knew it was coming, but he really doesn’t want to be talking about this. He’s sick of people telling him that the illness making a home in his chest is beautiful, and it stings particularly painfully hearing it from Victor. It’s not beautiful, he’s not beautiful—just messy, and sick, and painful. Even knowing that the growth is, in a way, a physical manifestation of his feelings for Victor, he can’t find any beauty in it.

It’s not his love for Victor that is killing him, tearing him apart from the inside oh so slowly—no, it’s his own inadequacy, every single fault and flaw that puts him so far beneath Victor. It’s all his silences and his awkward jokes, his stubbornness and the way his hair is always a mess. It’s everything that Yuuri hates about himself. It’s all of him that’s disappointing. It’s all of him that’s not enough.

And yet people insist on calling it beautiful and the word is starting to make bile rise up in Yuuri’s throat. Hauntingly beautiful, that’s the phrase that Yuuri keeps reading in comments and retweets, people taking delight in the morbidity of it, revelling in the gory details and all the pain, revelling in his pain, and Yuuri wants to take every single one of them and shake them by the shoulders until the image of his artwork disappears from out of their skulls, until he can shake it out and take it back from each of them, until it is only his, his, his again, his own, his private property, his innermost, to be buried deep within his core and never see the light of day.

It was never meant to be seen and picked apart by tens of thousands of people.

Yuuri can see his Hanahaki in every stroke of it, and he’s surprised that everyone can’t see it, too. But among all the comments and theories he’s seen concerning the video, he has yet to see a mention of it. No one has approached him yet with a gaze soft with pity and hard with accusation saying You have Hanahaki!. Not Phichit, not Victor, not Mari. He expects it every time someone looks at him too long, too sharply, like it’s etched into his features, and Yuuri feels like it is. But maybe it isn’t written on him as plainly as he thinks; or maybe it’s just that no one bothers to read it.

Yuuri tightens his fingers around his cup of tea, swallows the bile back down, and forces a hollow smile. “I, uhm, thank you”, he says, “it’s really not that special.”
He’s tempted to take a sip of his tea, just for something to do, somewhere to look, though he knows it’s too hot yet. Maybe it would scorch away the lump sitting in his throat.

“Oh, but it is!”, Victor insists, scooting forward a little in his seat, so much enthusiasm alight in his eyes. “That video… watching you work, it was like nothing I’ve ever seen. The way you take images, the way you take emotions and put them on the paper, so tangible, so immediate… I couldn’t look away. No one sees the world like you do, Yuuri, it’s like—it’s like the universe was made just to be seen by your eyes.”

And just like that, Yuuri is rendered speechless again, all the words taken out of his skull and replaced with static. He’s immensely thankful for the two scalding hot cups of tea they have between them, because if it weren’t for them, Yuuri might do something supremely stupid like throw himself at Victor, consequences be damned.

The fact that Victor can say things like that like they are nothing keeps taking Yuuri by surprise. It makes the warmth in his bones burn deeper, scalding him until he’s sure his skin must be peeling off his body.

“I…”, he says, but there’s nothing he can possibly add to something like that.

“You…”, he tries again, but Victor defies explanation.

“That’s not…”, he says, but there is nothing that this is not; this is everything.

Yuuri has always known that Victor has a way with words, even before they met—beauty comes easy to him. It’s everywhere in the songs he writes. But he wasn’t prepared for the sheer force of it, to be on the receiving end of Victor’s praise. It’s so overwhelming, and yet, here Victor is, praising Yuuri’s talent as if it was anything significant, as if it didn’t pale to something dull and grey in the face of Victor’s effortless genius.

And now Victor’s looking at him so earnestly, waiting for him to find his voice again, when all Yuuri’s throat can give him is more flowers.

He feels the cough creeping up on him like a tickling in his throat, and he just has the presence of mind to lift his tea cup to his lips and pretend to take a sip, so that when he starts coughing a moment later, very convincingly spilling a swig of hot tea on himself, it appears like it just went down the wrong pipe. He coughs into one hand, the other hurriedly setting down the cup on the coffee table before he spills any more, then retrieves a tissue from his pocket. He’s quickly taken to carrying some around at all times. He coughs into the tissue while Victor hurriedly scoots closer to him, gently hitting his back with his flat palm.

Yuuri can taste the flower petals on his tongue as they tumble out into the tissue—thank God it’s not a whole flower this time, that would have been a lot harder to hide.

Once his airway feels free again, he surreptitiously wipes his mouth and crumples the tissue hurriedly in his hand before straightening up. Victor peers at him worriedly, half a smile on his lips.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, sorry”, Yuuri forces out, his voice still hoarse and his eyes watering, but thankfully that’s not too unusual after just choking on something, “I wasn’t expecting it to be so hot still, I just…”, he makes a vague gesture with his hand. “Sorry”, he repeats, patting away at the stain on his jeans with his tissue. At least it seems nothing spilled onto Victor’s expensive looking couch.

“Don’t worry about it”, Victor says with a slight laugh, “just take your time. The tea isn’t going anywhere.”

Yuuri nods and somehow manages to return his smile, clearing his throat against the uncomfortable feeling of rawness there, then picking up the mug again and taking an actual sip this time, slowly and carefully, soothing the pain.

“So, uhm”, he begins then, determined to take the opportunity to steer the conversation away from his artwork, “did you have any plans for us today?”

 


 

They end up making dinner together and watching another film from Victor’s VCR collection, curled up on the couch with Makkachin between them.

Their conversation as they’re cooking is a little more comfortable, a little more easygoing, Yuuri talking a little about the more harmless experiences of his con weekend and Victor updating him on his progress on the new album, in between chopping and stirring, Makkachin weaving in and out between their feet, begging for scraps. It relaxes some of the tightly coiled tension in Yuuri’s gut with how normal it feels.

Once the stroganov is quietly simmering away, they’re standing in front of Victor’s media wall, debating movie choices. For once, Yuuri is not in the mood for something soft and sad, not with Victor here and the flowers still tickling his throat; it’s too much of a risk. So it takes them a while to agree on something, but finally they decide on a classic Monty Python, as far from romantic as you can possibly get, and settle down on the couch once their dinner is ready.

The stroganov is good, though Victor admits that it’s probably not very authentic, but the meat and the rich, creamy sauce along with the healthy helping of rice he’s having with it help to replenish his waning energy. The film isn’t as funny as Yuuri remembers it being, but he still enjoys it, encompassed by the warmth of Victor’s flat, the blanket draped over him, and the presence of two breathing bodies next to him. He doesn’t think anything of his eyelids drooping and the film’s dialogue slowly drifting out of focus. He just lets it happen.

 


 

He wakes up with no idea of how much time has passed, and fingers softly carding through his hair.

He tenses the moment his brain is awake enough to register the sensation as what it is, his eyes flying open. He’s still on Victor’s couch, slumped over awkwardly, a painful crick in his neck. Makkachin is curled up in the hollow space that his body creates, head pillowed on Yuuri’s lap, huffing gently in her sleep. Victor is leaning against the backrest next to him, peering at him in concentration, free hand now hovering just next to Yuuri’s temple, like he pulled it back when Yuuri woke up.

As soon as Yuuri meets his eyes, a smile crinkles the corners of Victor’s eyes and tugs up his lips, lighting up his face with warmth that Yuuri feels like a burn on his skin.

“Hi”, Victor says, almost whispering, like he doesn’t dare disturb the quiet, or maybe like he doesn’t want to wake up Makkachin. “Sleep well?”

Yuuri quickly averts his eyes—facing that bright blue trained on him first thing when he wakes up is just too much, like something out of one of his daydreams. He can already feel it constricting his chest. “Sorry”, he murmurs, carefully straightening up as much as he can without disturbing the sleeping poodle, and takes a deep breath, “I didn’t mean to fall asleep on you.”

“That’s quite alright”, Victor says, “it seems like you needed it.”

Yuuri nods vaguely, and begins to very, very carefully slide his hands under Makkachin’s head resting on him, lifting her up as gently as he can, trying not to wake her up. Her ear twitches slightly, but other than that she doesn’t seem too bothered when Yuuri slides out from under her and carefully deposits her head back on the cushion warmed by his body heat.

Victor has been watching him curiously, without a word, throughout the process, and Yuuri pulls up his shoulders to try and shield him against that intense gaze, a question alight in them.

“Ah, I’m just going to…”, he says, gesturing vaguely down the hall before following his movement, effectively fleeing from Victor’s watchful eyes. Victor just gives him another smile and a hum before Yuuri disappears into the bathroom.

It’s not until the bathroom door is firmly closed and locked behind him that Yuuri allows himself to think about what just happened. He fell asleep on Victor’s couch while they were watching a movie, he was out for who knows how long, and Victor petted his hair. Yuuri lifts his hand and thoughtfully runs the strands that Victor touched through his fingers, as if he could detect a difference in them. Was Victor just trying to wake him up gently in order not to startle him, or Makkachin? Did Yuuri have something stuck in his hair that Victor was just trying to remove? Yuuri quickly glances at himself in the mirror, but he cannot detect anything out of place, except that his clothes are wrinkled, and his eyes still unfocused with sleep. Did Victor—

The thought is interrupted by the tell-tale seizing up of his lungs that he’s already expected, and he quickly strides across the bathroom to gather some toilet paper that he can cough into without leaving any bloody evidence. It’s sad how quickly this is starting to become a routine.

He coughs into the soft tissue, trying to muffle his sounds as much as he can—the tiled bathroom is going to amplify the noise enough as it is. But this time it’s not just a few petals, he can already tell as he doubles over with painful convulsions of his diaphragm, his abs and back muscles protesting the overuse they’ve been experiencing over the last few days.

This is going to be more.

His knees go weak and he drops down onto the rug before the sink as his body shudders with coughs, cold sweat trickling the back of his neck from the exertion. He tries to gasp rapid, shallow breaths in between coughs, attempting to get some oxygen into his blood as his thoughts begin to go fuzzy around the edges with dizziness. And still the foreign body lodged in his trachea won’t budge. He can feel his muscles spasm more violently, his stomach twisting when his oesophagus clenches along with his airway, and he just manages to spin around on the rug, turning toward the toilet as he retches, dry and scratchy at first, then throwing up the remainder of his dinner. It hits the porcelain with a sickening splatter, but Yuuri can see bright petals of blue among the sickly, off-white mass, and finally, finally, something is moving in his airway. He heaves again, his stomach clenching painfully on air, but he can feel something touch the back of his tongue and reaches into his mouth with two fingers, pulling the Hana out of his throat with a last painful heave.

He gasps for air as soon as the foreign matter leaves his mouth, greedily sucking in deep breaths, swaying on his knees with dizziness, the bloodied stem of flowers clutched tightly in his fist. When the room slowly stops spinning around him, and his thoughts start to come back into focus, he stares down at it. It’s a stem with three unopened fuzzy buds branching off it, tinted a purplish red in colour, and the the end of it one fully bloomed indigo flower, a little larger than the ones he’s had before, around the size of a ping pong ball. He swallows around the taste of bile in this mouth, then he carefully picks apart the Hana specimen into smaller pieces, dropping them into the toilet bowl, before flushing thoroughly, until no evidence is left of his attack except for the shaking of his limbs and the way his hair is sticking to his forehead with sweat and the fabric of his sweater clinging to his back.

He pulls himself up on his feet carefully and washes his hands and face at the sink, rinses his mouth. He still looks wrecked and harrowed, when he glances up into the mirror.

He looks unhealthy.

He looks sick.

Biting his lips, he runs a hand over his face, thumb sweeping along the dark circles under his eyes.

“Yuuri? Are you okay?” Though Victor‘s knock on the door is gentle, his voice so soft, like a flower bud—like the words are a fragile thing—they still make Yuuri jump, convulsing painfully in his chest.

Of course—Yuuri may have managed to hide his coughing, if he was lucky, but there’s no way Victor didn’t hear him throwing up. He’s going to have to come up with some excuse, reassure him somehow. He’s going to have to say something. He can’t—Victor can’t find out. Yuuri straightens up and takes a last deep breath, trying to collect his wits about him as best he can, before turning toward the door and unlocking it with unsteady hands.

Victor is standing in front of the bathroom, eyes wide and worried, shifting uncertainly from one foot to the other.

“Sorry”, Yuuri murmurs, clearing his throat, before Victor has a chance to ask the question he can read in his face again, “I’m sorry about this. Ah, I’m alright. I just—well. I should probably get home.”

Victor looks at him, chewing on his words silently for a few moments, and Yuuri takes his chance to slip past him down the hall, back to the living area, and starts gathering his things. Part of him baulks at the thought of having to leave Victor, but he also knows if he stays right now, he’s not going to be able to hide this much longer. Victor would ask too many questions that Yuuri wouldn’t know how to answer, or else he’d do or say something stupidly thoughtful again and Yuuri would have another attack—no, it’s not worth the risk.

Victor’s steps are right behind him.

“Yuuri, are you—are you sure you’re okay? You look really pale. Was it something you ate? Did I—?”

“Really, Victor, don’t worry about it”, Yuuri says and tries to gesture reassuringly while at the same time shoving his phone into his pocket, “it’s nothing. It happens sometimes. It’s, um—”, he hesitates, trying to find the least dishonest way to phrase it, “it’s a chronic thing.”

It’s a good choice of words, apparently: he can still see the worry in Victor’s eyes, his brow gently furrowed, but it implies that it’s taken care of, that it’s being treated, enough so for Victor to not ask any more questions.

Well, almost: “Are you sure you’re okay to leave? You’re welcome to stay and rest for a while.”

“No, that’s alright, I should really get home—thank you, though”, Yuuri says, already calculating his train times in his mind, but it would probably be more convincing if he didn’t have to brace himself against the table right at that moment because the action of turning around alone is giving him vertigo.

“Yuuri, please”, Victor’s voice becomes sharper and more pleading all at once, “you’re obviously not okay, I can’t let you leave like this. Just—just sit down for a minute, alright? I’ll get you some water.”

Yuuri can really only nod in response, because he’s not sure how much longer his legs will hold him up, and he sinks down on a chair, biting back a sigh.

The water is cool when Victor brings it, and it helps rinse away the sharp bitterness of bile and blood from his mouth.

Victor kneels before him, settling on his haunches, and Yuuri tries hard to stare into his water, but he cannot avoid Victor’s gaze for long.

“Look, you don’t have to say anything”, Victor finally says, “If you don’t want to talk about it, if this is private, I won’t push you. I promise. So please don’t rush out like this. You look like you’re about to collapse and I—I don’t want you to get hurt. Just stay. I have a guest room you can stay in, and I’ll leave you alone, I’ll leave you to rest”, he holds up his hands in a gesture of peace, “just don’t go home like this, on your own. Who knows what could happen?”

Yuuri turns the glass in his hands, leaving sweaty fingerprints on its surface, turning Victor’s words over in his mind.

“I—It’s really not that bad, I promise. Nothing would happen.”

“Still, Yuuri, please.” Victor settles one hand on Yuuri’s knee, warm, so warm, and Yuuri knows there’s nothing he could deny him right now, “for my peace of mind. Just—just stay the night. It’s already late. Rest, and I’ll drive you home tomorrow morning. No ulterior motives. Oh, unless—is there any medication or anything you need from home, because I could—”

“No, Victor, it’s—I’ve got everything I need”, Yuuri hurries to interrupt his worried rush of words. He takes a deep breath against the heaviness of it on his tongue. “Okay”, he whispers, “okay”, and the syllables are thorns, tearing into his lungs.

 


 

True to his promise, Victor gives him some clothes to wear to sleep and shows him to the guest room containing a comfortable pull out couch, before leaving him alone for the night.

Well—not before asking three more times if there’s anything else Yuuri needs. He even offers that Makkachin could stay with Yuuri for the night, but Yuuri determinedly assures him he’ll be okay on his own. He’s already put Victor out enough as it is, he couldn’t possibly take his dog away from him, too, no matter how much he wishes for a warm body to curl up next to in the night.

After Victor has wished him good night and pulled the door shut behind him, Yuuri stares at it for a long while, stares at the spot where Victor’s head was just moments earlier, and wishes there was some way he could just go out there, across the hallway and into Victor’s bedroom. Wishes he could just slip into Victor’s bed without comment or question, to be held until the morning.

Victor, kind and sweet as he is, would probably do it, too, would never send Yuuri away, no matter how uncomfortable it made him, but Yuuri can’t possibly impose on him like that.

He changes quickly into the loose t-shirt and sweats that Victor gave him and tries not to think too much about the fact that they smell like Victor, because every whiff of it is enough to make something in his chest clench painfully. Then he slides between the sheets of the pull-out couch, curling up with his phone in his hands.

He sends a quick text to Phichit, letting him know that he won’t be coming home tonight—and won’t that be a fun conversation to be had tomorrow—before he reluctantly flips over to his browser.

He really can’t put this off any longer.

 


 

Hanahaki Disease (cont.)

 

… The third stage of the disease can be accompanied by a reduced lung capacity and feelings of pressure in the lungs, as the parasite continues to grow. The roots now extend past the lungs and along the rib cage in search of nutrients. This can lead to the bones becoming brittle and fragile, causing bruising along the rib cage and even facilitating broken ribs.

Up until this point, a surgical treatment of Hanahaki is possible, in which the host’s chest cavity is opened and the Hana parasite removed completely. Depending on how extensively the roots have spread at the time of surgery, the treatment can leave behind a reduced lung capacity and osteopoenia even when fully healed. In addition to that, the removal of the parasite leads to a forceful break in the hormonal feedback cycle, throwing off the host’s hormonal balance. In the case of the Hanahaki being caused by an emotional event like infatuation or loss, this usually leads to the emotional response to the instigating event disappearing. The host will be prone to mood swings, irritability, depression and feelings of apathy toward loved ones. In the majority of cases, the balance rights itself again within a few months, a process that can be facilitated with the help of psychotherapy or psychotropic drugs. In a minority of cases, however, the hormonal balance remains permanently unstable and the above mentioned side-effect become chronic.

If a surgical treatment is declined, the symptoms of the disease can be managed with the help of steroids to increase lung function and suppressants to limit the Hana’s growth.

At the end of stage three the disease reaches a critical point. Depending on the host’s specific condition and the compatibility with the Hana variant, the disease can go one of two ways. At this stage, the Hana parasite is fully grown and prepares to produce seed for reproduction. The increase in nutritional needs for this leads to a build up in the hormonal feedback loop, sending the host’s mood and emotional life spiralling. The host is now prone to mood swings, including bouts of hysteria or depression, in rare cases even a psychotic break. If the hormonal event that caused the Hana parasite to take hold in the first place is already petering out, e.g. puberty winding down, a loss being accepted or an infatuation fading, the Hana parasite will not receive the necessary support from the host’s system and eventually withers. It is expelled in full and the host usually makes a full recovery.
If, however, the hormonal event is still in full swing, the host’s own emotional response will only help deepen the parasite’s hold on the system. The mood swings will balance into deeper, more sustainable emotions (e.g. feelings of love as opposed to infatuation), and the Hanahaki disease moves on into stage four.

Beginning with stage four, the Hana parasite has reached full symbiosis with the host, making a surgical removal of the growth impossible...

 


 

Yuuri sleeps like the dead that night, dragged down by exhaustion into deep, dreamless darkness, but he wakes in the morning with the first sounds stirring in Victor’s room.
He’s wide awake at once, which isn’t like him at all, but something about the knowledge that Victor is right there, only a few feet away from him, sends a current of electricity through his veins.

He feels much more clear-headed than he did last night, much of the cottony dizziness having dissipated.

He’s lying on the makeshift bed, biting his lips, staring at the ceiling, listening to rustling in the other room and eventually two sets of footsteps, one human, one canine, creeping down the hallway. He needs to come up with a plan.

Last night, it wasn’t too difficult to put off Victor’s questions, but this morning Yuuri is going to have to tell him something to sate his curiosity and dissipate his worry. Preferably something that he won’t immediately see through. Something that can cover all manner of sins that may crop up in Yuuri’s near future. Maybe it was a mistake to confirm to Victor the existence of an illness of some kind—maybe it would have been easier to pass it off as a one time thing, just something he ate, or a stomach bug. But Yuuri is very aware that this is not going to remain an isolated incident. He’s going to have more attacks in front of Victor, no question; the only way to prevent that would be not to see Victor at all, and that is absolutely not an option.

So maybe this is good. Maybe this is an opportunity to make it a little easier to be around Victor in the next weeks, until this… thing is over. The thought of lying to Victor weighs heavily on his mind, though, so he chooses his words carefully. What can he say that is as close he can get to being truthful, without revealing too much? He is sick, after all, even if it’s not exactly chronic.

 

He finally rolls out of bed after a long while of listening to Victor’s and Makkachin’s soft sounds in the living area, and puts on his glasses before he carefully pushes open the door of the guest room and shuffles down the hallway.

Victor’s sitting at the dining table, laptop open before him and eyes intent on the screen. There’s a steaming mug next to him and Makkachin is resting her head on his sweats-clad knees.
His hair is tied into a messy bun, a few strands hanging loose into his face. He’s the picture of domesticity.

Yuuri takes a deep, calming breath.

Makkachin lifts her head when he enters and wags her tail weakly at him, obviously unwilling to move from her position, which Yuuri can relate to. It takes Victor a moment before he can tear his gaze off the screen, looking up. His eyes widen a little and he opens his mouth to say something, but no sound comes out.

Yuuri shifts uncomfortably on his feet, suddenly aware that he’s still wearing Victor’s old T-shirt with the Russian writing on it that Yuuri couldn’t hope to decipher, and his hair must be a mess, all mussed up from sleep.

“Morning”, he mumbles as the silence stretches between the two.

Victor shakes his head like some kind of bubble has popped, and pushes up from his chair, displacing a grumbly Makkachin in the process.

“Yuuri, you’re up! Good morning!” He gives Yuuri a grin that seems a little too wide, too brittle. “Sleep well?”

Before Yuuri even has the time to nod, Victor is already bustling off into the kitchen, filling up the electric kettle.

“Uhm, I can make my own tea”, Yuuri says as he joins Victor in the kitchen, and though Victor waves him off, Yuuri pulls the tin of tea from the cabinet while Victor fetches a mug.

“Did you have a good night, too?”, Yuuri asks, and Victor makes a non-committal noise, before turning toward Yuuri, who is measuring out the tea into the filter.

“Are you feeling better?”

Yuuri lifts his shoulders against Victor’s scrutinising gaze.

“Yeah”, he mumbles, “yeah. Thanks again for letting me stay.”

He says thanks again but, selfish and thoughtless being that he is, he doesn’t think he actually thanked Victor last night. After all, Yuuri did not ask to stay.

“Any time, Yuuri”, Victor says, and this time, when he smiles, it feels a lot more genuine, but it’s also a lot smaller, a lot more tired; and now that Yuuri sees him up close, he can see there’s a papery hue to Victor’s skin and dark circles under his eyes.

Yuuri chews on his lips while he pours out the hot water.

“I’m sorry to put you out like this”, he says, whispering it out into the steam curling up from his mug. “I didn’t want to—I don’t—this doesn’t usually happen.”

That much at least is true—at least for now. But then there’s a warm hand on his should and an insistent voice close to him.

“No, Yuuri, please. Don’t feel bad. You didn’t inconvenience me or anything. I’m just glad I could help out. I—don’t take this the wrong way, but you looked pretty bad last night. Are you sure…?”

Yuuri nods, and absentmindedly opens a drawer to pull out a small saucer he can set the tea filter on. He’s been here often enough by now to know how to make his tea in Victor’s kitchen, at least.

“Yeah”, he says, “It just… took me by surprise, is all. It’s not usually that sudden. I’m really okay though, Victor. It’s not a big deal, I just…”, he sighs, running his fingers below his glasses, rubbing his eyes, “I really don’t like talking about it.”

Despite it being true, the falsehood of it almost sticks in his throat. He feels hot with the shame of it. Even more so when, predictably, Victor backs off immediately.

“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to”, he says, actually physically taking half a step back and taking his hand off Yuuri’s shoulder, the warmth of which he immediately misses, “I don’t want to push you. I’m just… worried.”

Yuuri sighs. “I know. I don’t want you to worry. And I want to talk to you about it, I do. I don’t want you to think that I don’t trust you.” He fidgets with the hem of his—Victor’s—t-shirt. “It’s just—this is… private. You know?”

“It’s okay, Yuuri. I understand. You don’t have to justify yourself.”

Yuuri doesn’t look up. There’s a distant quality to Victor’s voice; it doesn’t lack warmth, but there’s something removed to it, removed from Victor himself. It’s the way Victor talked to him when they first met, and it hurts enough hearing it, he doesn’t need to look up and see it written in his face too, doesn’t need to see Victor looking at him like he’s a stranger.

“I just want you to be okay. To be taken care of”, Victor continues, “Does, ah, does Phichit know?”

Yuuri wraps his arms around his body, fingers digging into the fabric of the shirt. “He, um, he knows the gist of it. Enough to… to make me take care of myself, I guess.”

This is where he’s getting into lie territory, and Yuuri’s squirming under Victor’s scrutiny that he can still feel on his skin, though he’s not looking up. He feels like a child scolded by well-meaning parents, and it’s enough to make his eyes burn. He just wants this conversation to be over with. He just wants to sit and have his morning cup of tea with Victor. He wants to pretend that everything is okay. Pretend that he isn’t sick.

Victor sighs deeply, and Yuuri can already hear his next words in his mind; how it’s not worth it to keep someone as exhausting as Yuuri around; or else how Victor has no interest in being friends with someone who can’t trust him with something as simple as that.

But instead, the words that come out of Victor’s mouth are: “You’ll let me know if there’s ever anything I can do to make this easier for you, won’t you, Yuuri?”

The tears are crashing down Yuuri’s face before he can do anything about it. He hurries to wipe them away, but already there’s a soft gasp of breath from Victor.

“Ah—Yuuri?”

“I’m sorry”, Yuuri whispers, not trusting his voice with anything more, “I’m sorry.”

“Did—did I say something wrong?”, there’s a distinct panicky tone to Victor’s voice now, and Yuuri can see him fidgeting out of the corner of his eyes, “I—please don’t cry, Yuuri! What do you want me to do? Do I—tissues? Or… should I just hug you or something?”

Yuuri is not a tactile person. He knows this about himself, his friends know this about him. Victor knows this, even though he’s a very tactile person and gets carried away sometimes. He knows to give Yuuri space when he’s anxious. Yuuri’s not anxious now (that’s a lie; Yuuri’s always anxious). Yuuri’s not very anxious now, just so overwhelmed by Victor, his kindness and understanding that Yuuri does not deserve, because Yuuri is a liar. But this is a first—Victor has never seen him emotional like this, not in person. The phone call a few days ago hardly counts—hardly prepared him for this, and Victor clearly doesn’t know what to do.

So—Yuuri is not a tactile person. But this is Victor, so Yuuri shuffles forward, arms still wrapped around himself and not looking up, until he can feel Victor’s presence right before him, his warmth. Victor’s panicked rambling finally falls silent, and Yuuri leans forward into his shoulder.

To Victor’s credit, his arms come up immediately to wrap firmly around Yuuri’s shoulders, holding him close. But then, this is something that Victor understands; a physical comfort. Neither of them says anything, but Yuuri breathes in Victor’s faint smell of coffee and faded cologne, and Victor slowly runs one hand up and down Yuuri’s back. Eventually, Yuuri unwraps his arms from around his own body and circles them around Victor’s waist instead, leaning even closer into him, and he cries some more because this closeness, the way he can feel Victor’s chest rising and falling with each breath, can hear his heartbeat faintly thrumming inside his body, makes something in him ache.

He knows this is something he can never have, but, just for the moment, he can hold on to Victor.

And so he does, for as long as he dares, until his tea on the counter has long since gone cold.

 


 

Stoffel
22:54 So how did it go with Yuuri?
23:27 I’m assuming your continued silence is a good sign
23:27 😏😏😏🍆💦
07:11 well…?

nikifordate
07:15 I honestly have no idea

Stoffel
07:17 ?

nikifordate
07:20 He stayed the night

Stoffel
07:21 Ooooh, congratulations, mon ami 😏

nikifordate
07:21 but only because he got sick after dinner

Stoffel
07:23 Oh. Not very romantic. Did you poison him, or what?

nikifordate
07:24 I don’t think so? I feel fine
07:24 He said it happens sometimes.

Stoffel
07:25 But he stayed over?

nikifordate
07:26 In the guest room.

Stoffel
07:26 ah.

nikiforwoe
10:04 I don’t know Chris
10:04 I think I messed up

Stoffel
10:09 What did you do?

nikiforwoe
10:13 I’m not sure. I made him cry.
10:22 Chris?

Stoffel
10:24 You said something thoughtless again, didn’t you?

nikiforwoe
10:25 I don’t know. I don’t think so.

Stoffel
10:27 Hang on. I’m calling you.

 

Chapter Text

 

[Image description: A digital artwork depicting an androgynous character with long, light hair in pristine white and silver clothes, standing barefoot in a forest landscape, surrounded by a curtain of vines, ferns and leaves through which pale sunlight filters. The character’s expression is serene, the atmosphere of the artwork peaceful and pure.]

♥ Liked by nikiforlove, christophe-gc and 8,784 others

whykatsu “nobis grandis et clara, nosque curabit.”
.
The preorders for “On Love: Agape” are now CLOSED! Thank you to everyone who preordered, I am so thankful for your support. If you didn’t order your copy yet, don’t worry: the story will be available for purchase in my store in a few weeks. I will start sending out the preorders as soon as I can. In the meantime, here is one final look inside the book.
#comicartist #comicart #illustration #agapecomic

mellifluous_ramen It’s so beautiful I cry 😭😭😭✨💕

leisure-ly I can’t wait for my preorder to get here, it looks so pretty.

milkybeleaguer WHEN ARE WE GETTING MORE OF THAT FLOWER ART JEEZ

midnighthalcyon ASGJFGKJSDZI LOOK AT IT GORGEOUS GORGEOUS GORGEOUS 😍✨

lohengrin_art くそかっこいいですよ!!! ☆*:.。.o(≧▽≦)o.。.:*☆

dulcetmochi we get more ghibli art yes soon? sorry my bad english

Todo-mi-corazon can you draw tododeku art I bet they would look great in your style 👍

 

Pseudofloral —> whykatsu
Hi, I was just wondering if you’re going to create more of that flower art from the video that’s been going around? If so could you do something with lilies haha they’re my fave it would look so beautiful. (10 d)

Love your art btw (10 d)

Or do something with peonies I saw this artwork today it reminded me of you [link] (6d)

You could at least reply just trying to support you (2d)

 

Effervescent-oats —> whykatsu

Hi there, love your art! I was wondering if you’re open for commissions right now? I’ve seen that video of your artwork at conneko and I would it if you’d do something in that style with my OC. It would go so well with their backstory! Please let me know if you’re available and your rates and I’ll be happy to provide more details. (8d)

Whykatsu —> effervescent-oats

Hi, thank you so much for your interest. Unfortunately I don’t currently offer commissions in that style. I’d be happy to do a commission in my usual art style though. Examples and details are provided here [link] (7d)

Effervescent-oats —> whykatsu
Uhm ok, what’s the problem tho? I’d pay you for it? (7d)

Wow it’s really rude to treat a paying customer like this you know? Whatever your art isn’t that great anyway (4d)

 

Milkybeleaguer —> whykatsu
When are you posting more flower art (13 d)

When are you posting more flower art? (11 d)

Will you post more flower art? (9d)

Post more flower art pls (6d)

[This user has been blocked]

 


 

The summer drains away like it’s nothing.

Yuuri’s follower count on twitter and instagram took a leap after Conneko, flooding his feed with likes and comments in numbers he’s only ever gotten close to once before. And just like then, they are relentless—Yuuri tries hard to be grateful for their support and the added traffic and sales they bring to his shop, but it’s difficult not to resent them when they keep flooding his DMs and comment sections with requests for more flower art.

He still can’t stomach that, turns them down, even the ones that offer to pay him good money for a commission in that style. He knows he shouldn’t; not only could he use the money, he also feels bratty and ungrateful, picking and choosing the commissions he accepts like that. Thankfully, there’s a good number of people asking for commissions in his regular style, too, just wanting a drawing of their OC or their favourite character, and that he can do.

He still has to turn down a number of them for sheer lack of time, in between conventions and work and the orders from his shop. He’s kept very busy between all of that, and as draining as it is, he wouldn’t have it any other way. All the things piling up on his to do list keep his mind engaged enough that he can easily suppress all the things he doesn’t want to think about. Any minute he doesn’t spend working he’s sleeping or eating, trying to keep his weight loss in check as much as he can and his energy levels up. He knows from his research, if he doesn’t feed the Hana enough, the disease is just going to progress faster, burrowing deeper into his body in search for nutrients.

He travels to conventions all over Germany pretty much every other weekend, dragging his things back and forth between cities, but always returning with a suitcase that is much lighter than it was when he left.

And then the prints of On Love: Agape finally appear at his doorstep.

The print turned out beautiful, with a sleek, shiny cover on the outside and intense colours and crisp details on the inside. Finally holding it in his hand, the physical fruit of his labour, running his thumb over the clean cut edges of the book, Yuuri feels something like pride well up in him. This is all his, this is the story that he has chosen to tell. It’s completely his own, an original story with original art, and something he chose to give freely, not something ripped from him by force.

He can’t wait to share it with the world.

 

And of course, the world doesn’t care.

Sure, there’s some people who pre-ordered a copy of the book, and Yuuri sends those out with a few extra goodies as quickly as he can, and the response is positive enough. He receives a few enthusiastic reviews and some well-meaning promos, and when he posts art of Agape’s characters now, it’s much better received, if not in quantity then in quality.

But the books he now displays in a prominent position on his table at conventions attract nary a glance, are rarely picked up and even more rarely purchased. It gives him a painful sting every time he sees the glances glide right over the story he invested so much time and energy into, barely even seeing it.

Instead, they still keep asking him about the flower art, and a stubborn few even about the ghibli pokémon art, and it makes Yuuri want to change his name again and move somewhere they can’t find him. But he’s not running away again. This time, he has got to see it through. Either it will all go away in time, the novelty of it blowing over and the attention returning to the art he’s actually interested in creating, or this is going to be his life now.

Maybe it is true after all, that you don’t get to choose your own image.

 


 

The main issue, of course, of his busy summer, is that he barely gets to see Victor. With all his preparations and how much he’s travelling, with the time he needs to recuperate and stay on top of his commission in between conventions, there just isn’t enough hours in a day.

They keep texting back and forth a lot, sometimes having long, aimless phone conversations when Yuuri spends a listless night in a hotel room far away. But the time they spend together in person starts to get few and far between, even more so when the summer heat settles over the city in earnest and Victor needs to begin his own preparations for his tour that begins late in the summer.

Being close to Victor is difficult and painful, his inevitable Hanahaki attacks growing harder to hide, but it’s nothing compared to the pain of not seeing Victor. More than a week, and he can hardly bear it. He’s beginning to find out by the end of June, when the glue that’s been holding together their weekly move nights, Phichit, has to start studying in earnest for his finals, and suggests skipping a week.

Yuuri’s not thrilled, but he can’t find it in himself to persuade Phichit away from his studying, particularly when Victor seems eager to add that it’s actually not a good time for him this week either. So Yuuri resigns himself to not seeing Victor until the week after, and it’s not a big deal, he tells himself; he has enough to do himself, and the time will probably fly by like it’s nothing.

Except by the time Friday rolls around and it’s been nine days since he’s seen Victor, Yuuri feels like something in him is about ready to give way. He feels tense, pulled taut like a bow string about to snap. He can’t concentrate on anything, sitting, listless, flinching every time his phone buzzes. Whenever his attention drifts away, he finds his hand idly doodling flowers on the nearest flat surface. There’s a pressure building in his chest—not the same as the attacks that have by now become familiar, but just as painful. Slower, less like it’s tearing him apart and more like it’s suffocating him with every minute that passes, like his lungs are slowly filling with sand, weighing him down.

He can’t think—can’t think of anything but Victor. Putting on nikiforlove’s music and listening to Victor’s voice flowing from his speakers is a temporary reprieve, a slight easing of the pressure, but by Saturday afternoon, something’s gotta give.

 


 

—> To Vitya 💗
14:12 What are you up to today

Vitya 💗
14:15 Hi Yuuri!
14:15 I was in the studio this morning
14:17 Running some errands all afternoon

—> To Vitya 💗
14:20 sounds fun

Vitya 💗
14:21 Not really
14:21 But Makka‘s excited, she gets to run around with me all afternoon

—> To Vitya 💗
14:37 what about tonight?

Vitya 💗
14:39 Don‘t really have anything planned
14:39 Why? What you got in mind?

—> To Vitya 💗
14:40 Don‘t know
14:44 just sucks that we didn‘t get to hang out this week

Vitya 💗
14:45 Awww Yuuri!
14:45 Do you miss me? 😉

—> To Vitya 💗
14:59 yeah
14:59 I miss you
15:09 sorry, is it weird to say that?
15:09 I just… sorry
15:10 forget i said anything

Vitya 💗
15:11 Of course not!
15:11 Not at all.
15:12 I miss you too! 💜
15:16 You could come over tonight if you‘d like?
15:16 I don‘t have anywhere to be tomorrow, just some paper work to take care of so that should be fine
15:17 I‘m not sure yet when i‘ll be home but i‘ll text you, yes?

—> To Vitya 💗
15:21 I don‘t want to bother you

Vitya 💗
15:21 Never!
15:22 You‘re always welcome
15:24 Makka misses you, too!
15:24 [Image sent]

 


 

And it doesn’t remain the only time, either—with all three of them as busy as they are, each with their own work and projects and responsibilities, their movie nights become sporadic, and tentative plans made between Yuuri and Victor fall through more often than not. Whenever they do manage to make time to meet, Yuuri grabs on to the opportunity with both hands, determined to make the most of it.

That’s how that first night he spent at Victor‘s place doesn't remain the only one.
It‘s like some boundary has been crossed after that first time, and suddenly it‘s like the inhibitions have been lowered. It just keeps happening, not just when Yuuri‘s unwell—after all, they don‘t get to see each other a lot, so every time they do they just forget the time again, and suddenly it‘s late in the night. And when Victor suggests that Yuuri could stay over, he finds himself accepting more easily with every time.

He‘s staying in the guest room, and he revels in the routine of domesticity they soon develop, the towel he uses and the breakfast they share in the morning.

It also happens more than once that they doze off on the couch while watching and never make it to their respective beds in the first place. Yuuri‘s embarrassment is outweighed by the warmth of Victor‘s body, so he pushes it aside, unheeded.

The lightness in his chest, the easiness of his breath when he wakes up leaning against Victor‘s shoulder early in the morning is well worth the pain in his back from sleeping in an awkward position.

He‘s surprised that Victor never wakes him up and makes him go sleep in the guest room when he dozes off on the couch. He knows for sure that Victor‘s still been awake at least a few times, when Yuuri wakes up in the morning with his glasses folded neatly on the coffee table and a blanket draped over him.

But Victor doesn’t wake him, and somehow keeps falling asleep right there next to him; they wake up half tangled up in each other, Victor‘s arm somehow draped over Yuuri‘s shoulders or his waist.

It‘s uncomfortable and cramped and leaves him aching, and he wouldn't trade it for anything. He barely remembers what it was like to breathe so easy.

After a few times that Victor‘s greeted him with a soft smile in the morning, Yuuri stops apologising.

 


 

Yuuri hates all the secrets he keeps accumulating.
They keep growing, one on top of the other, like the Hana blooms in his body. And like the parasite, they keep getting more difficult to hide.

There’s a box under his bed, filling up slowly but surely with sketches and drawings of flowers upon flowers, mangled and bloody, brittle bones and broken bodies. Yuuri keeps drawing them; he’s not thinking about it, he doesn’t want to keep drawing them, but they slip out of his fingers whenever he allows them to just work, covering sheets of paper, scraps and receipts and napkins.

He gathers them all carefully, taking trips around the flat and flipping through the papers on his desk to make sure he’s not left any of them lying around; it could happen so quickly, since he’s barely aware of drawing them most of the time. But Phichit still believes that there was no particular meaning to the artwork Yuuri created at Conneko, and he would like it to remain that way.

He feels like the worst kind of traitor, like a cheating spouse, sneaking around like this—but one drawing of a flower growing in a rib cage can be dismissed as a whim, two dozen on the other hand….

He stashes them in the box under his bed like porn or drugs and like any addict he cannot help but pull it out every once in a while, late at night, rifling through his treasures with a morbid fascination, revulsion and soft affection at once. He isn’t sure what compels him to draw them over and over, and he knows his followers would be thrilled if he picked out even a handful of these to share on his social media, but he can‘t stomach the thought. These drawings are not for public consumption. They are his, his alone. He can choose to not share them with anyone, ever, because they are nobody’s business but his own.

They are a depiction of his innermost self, the way that art always been for him, from the very first time he picked up a pencil and doodled on a piece of paper; a physical manifestation of those secret images inside his mind, the ones that no one else can ever see unless he chooses to put pen to paper and give them a tangible form.

This, at least, is in his control; he gets do decide who will see this innermost self of him. And he decides that no one gets to see it, ever.

 


 

But then, of course, Phichit is starting to suspect something.

Yuuri tries to act as normal as he can around his roommate, and Phichit makes it so easy for him. His laid back personality and his engaging presence make it so easy for Yuuri to forget about everything that‘s going on when they hang out.

They cram into their tiny kitchen to cook dinner or throw together an elaborate brunch for an ordinary Wednesday morning for no other reason than because one of them saw a picture of pancakes on social media. They watch shows together, Yuuri with his tablet propped up against his knees and Phichit with some cosplay project in his lap, an inevitable box of colourful sequins balancing precariously on his knee. And it‘s so easy for Yuuri to forget all about the flowers in his lungs, forget about how much he‘s been missing Victor, and just enjoy himself.

But as much as he likes to pretend not to be, he‘s still sick, and after a while he notices Phichit watching him more often when they‘re eating, feels his eyes follow him when he excuses himself to go to the restroom more often than any normal person would. Yuuri‘s been drinking a lot more tea and water in the last weeks, always carrying a water bottle around, as a handy excuse for why he needs to use the bathroom so often, but he‘s sure Phichit is starting to see through it.

So Yuuri limits his food intake to something akin to normal in Phichit‘s presence, taking in the bulk of what his body needs now when Phichit‘s not home, or late at night in his own room. A second box joins the first under the bed, containing a number of high calorie and high protein snacks and all manner of things that don‘t need refrigerating; packaged, processed buns, salami sticks laden with preservatives, packets of instant pasta dishes and a whole host of cup ramen.

Burning with shame, he carries the bags containing all the plastic packaging out to the communal bins out back of the building when Phichit‘s at school. It‘s this sneaking around that makes him feel a lot more sick, a lot more broken than his actual illness; he feels like an addict, lying to everyone who‘s important to him for the sake of his next fix.

And yet, at the end of the day, it’s all for nothing, because he may be able to hide his binges, time them so that Phichit won’t see; but his attacks don’t afford him the same courtesy. They come over him whenever they like, and Yuuri can feel Phichit’s eyes burning on his back, that toxic mixture of worry and suspicion, whenever he goes off to the bathroom.

It can only be a matter of time until Phichit hears him coughing and puts two and two together, or until Yuuri’s caught by surprise by an attack and doesn’t manage to get away in time. He’s starting to almost crave it, that moment—he knows it’ll be horrifying and painful, when it happens, but he’s tired of carrying this secret by himself, tired of hiding this from Phichit, who he’s shared everything with in the last two years and who’s shared everything with him, whose trust has always been implicit and unconditional, a trust that Yuuri feels he’s betraying every day.

So he’s growing complacent, lax in his efforts to hide his condition, not quite consciously, not quite by choice, but whenever he catches himself being a little careless, he can’t quite manage to seriously tell himself to do better. If it happens, a part of him thinks, it happens.

Maybe that part just wants someone to see his pain.

 

Yuuri‘s honestly really surprised when he somehow makes it through a whole con weekend in Stuttgart with Phichit none the wiser.

Or maybe a little the wiser; Yuuri‘s not sure if he‘s imagining the way that Phichit is watching him now, just a result of his paranoia, or if Phichit‘s really keeping an eye on him.

But the weekend is a single bustle of activity. The con is new but large, well organised and has attracted a sizeable crowd. Phichit has two new cosplays to debut, and a whole number of fan meet-ups and photoshoots throughout the con. So during the convention itself, Yuuri doesn't actually see all that much of him. He stops by every once in a while to chat or bring Yuuri some food or snacks from one of the various Japanese food stalls around the convention centre that Yuuri never has time to see himself, being confined to his table. Phichit also happily takes Yuuri‘s place at the booth for a little while each day, so that Yuuri can take a look around the con himself and take his time with it a little more than he ever can when he‘s alone.

But outside of the actual convention, Yuuri and Phichit are stuck to each other all weekend, travelling across three states, sharing a room at an AirBnB, going out to dinner at night.

Yuuri is very thankful that their room does not have an en suite bathroom—they need to go down the hall to use the bathroom, and that‘s definitely saved Yuuri‘s secret for now. Still he feels Phichit‘s eyes on him every time he goes to use it—tries with as much grace as he can muster to field Phichit‘s forced-casual questions when he comes back.

It‘s easier to justify his eating habits, though; the two of them always eat like crap when they‘re at cons together. It‘s an indulgence and a necessity at once: the weekend is somewhat of a small holiday, but the stress and strain of travelling and being on their feet all day also drains their energy. So they indulge in greasy fast food and hearty southern German cuisine, just the way they always do.

When they come home Yuuri is ready to sleep for two days straight (and he does), but he‘s managed to successfully hide all his flowers from his roommate, and Phichit has yet to confront him and demand an explanation for his behaviour, so all things considered it, he supposes it was a success.

 


 

Yuuri feels like things are starting to come crashing down around him when August rolls around, because Victor’s going on tour.

He tries to spend as much time as he possibly can with Victor in the week before he leaves, in a desperate attempt to somehow soak up as much of Victor’s presence as he can to live off of in the long weeks of drought, but he’s pretty sure that the parasite doesn’t care. And anyway it doesn’t really work out because obviously the days just before he leaves are the busiest for Victor.

It creeps up on him so quickly that they don’t even have the time to say a proper goodbye, despite the fact that they won’t see each other again for almost five weeks; the last evening they were planning to spend together, the four of them at Yuuri and Phichit’s place, falls through because of an emergency with Victor’s equipment. And so the quick coffee Victor and Yuuri grabbed after work a few days earlier ends up being the last time they see each other for a long while.

 

Victor’s first show is in Berlin, and he calls Yuuri from the car on the way there, and again from the hotel room the next morning and they chat, both still in bed and voices husky from sleep.

“That’s my least favourite part of touring”, Victor’s saying, “the shows themselves are amazing, of course, and I always love meeting fans. But being on the road all the time, the constant packing and unpacking, setting up equipment and tearing it down again… yeah”, he sighs, “I like travelling. Seeing different cities. But on such a tight schedule, never getting to actually stay anywhere…”

Yuuri nods, though Victor can’t see it. He’s staring at the ceiling, his phone put on speaker and resting on his chest. “Tell me about it. Travelling is just exhausting like that. I constantly feel like I need a shower.”

“Yes!” Victor’s exclamation flows through the speakers with a little chuckle. “Me too! Ha, I didn’t know that was a universal thing. But something about travelling just leaves me feeling so grimy.”

 


 

“So, where are you headed next?”

“The next show is in Nürnberg, but it’s not until Saturday, so I have a day to recuperate here. Then we’ll drive there on Friday.”

“So a bit more time to relax in between shows this time.”

“Yeah. I’ll need it, too. My voice is getting a little too strained, to be honest. How about you? You have a con this weekend, right?”

“Yeah. I’m in Frankfurt.”

“Oh! I’m in Frankfurt. On, uh, Wednesday I think?”

“Mh… I know. But, ah, I’m heading back home on Monday. Got work on Tuesday.”

“Ah… that’s a shame. Well, you’ll have to let me know how it goes.”

 


 

“Yeah, we’re getting to the international leg now. Two shows in Austria, one in Switzerland. A couple in France, too, that’s the first time. Netherlands after that.”

“Are you excited?”

“I am! I’ve been wanting to play in France for a while now. Though international touring is always more of a hassle. What with borders, different languages and whatnot. But between us, we have like six and a half languages, Yakov and me. I’m sure we’ll manage.”

“I’m sure you will. When are you back in Germany, then?”

“Not until September, I believe. I’d have to check the schedule.”

 


 

Victor’s been gone for two and a half weeks, and Yuuri finds himself trembling in his bed in the morning.

The steadily mounting pressure in his chest is becoming unbearable—it’s like there’s a weight on him, holding him down, a boulder or an anvil sitting on his rib cage and he needs to fight its weight with every breath he’s trying to take.

He’s constantly on the verge of tears, the physical pain and the emotional strain of Victor’s absence fraying his nerves, plucking at them, one by one, until they’re raw and irritated and ready to snap. He’s burst into tears at his desk twice in the last week, once when a drawing wasn’t working out the way he’d planned and once when he got a notice of an unexpected increase in his insurance rate. Then another time at work when there was a difficult customer chewing him out for something that was out of his control. He’d cried himself to sleep the last night, for no other reason than that Victor wasn’t there, and the red hot tearing in his chest.

Yuuri’s trembling, wrapped tightly in his blankets but shivering still. He cannot possibly survive a single day more without Victor.

But Victor is currently somewhere in Lyon, not even halfway through his tour yet.

Victor isn’t here, and Yuuri is alone in this.

He just needs to make it through somehow.

Maybe, if he just makes it through the next week or two without Victor, that’ll be too much for the Hana.
Maybe it will collapse, and he’ll be free of it at last.

He just needs to hold on until then.

 

Yuuri sits up in his bed and barely suppresses a scream at the sharp stab of pain through his torso at the movement. He tries to breathe through it, slowly and measured, until the blinding stars dancing before his eyes have dissipated and he can think clearly again.

This—this is new. This isn’t normal—not even his new normal of pressure and constant breathlessness. This is something else.

He drags himself out of bed and to the mirror on the door of his wardrobe, lifts his arms with a sharp hiss of pain to pull off the t-shirt he wore to bed.

 

The fabric bunches on the floor next to his feet, forgotten.

Yuuri’s breath stutters in his throat.

There are angry bruises painted on his skin, all along his rib cage. Nebulas of blues and reds and dark purples, bleeding in and out of each other, fading into pale skin at the edges. He can see them clearly; his ribs are a lot more pronounced than they were when Yuuri last dared to really look at himself in the mirror. When he lifts a hand to gently prod at them, tears spring into his eyes at the pain, but he doesn’t let up.

He runs the tips of his fingers carefully along them, feeling the hard protrusion of bone under his skin, and something else—something more irregular, hard bumps and smooth lines, like the veins on his arms and the back of his hands. There’s roots growing around his ribs, slowly creeping forward.

The Hana is growing, burrowing deeper, inching closer to his heart.

He stares at the glowing colours in the mirror for a long time, with a morbid kind of fascination, until Phichit knocks on the door asking if he’s up yet because Yuuri has a shift at the tea shop today. He hurriedly pulls his t-shirt on again before grabbing a fresh change of clothes from his wardrobe and heading for the bathroom to take a shower.

He hopes that the rush of water drowns out the sound of his coughing.

 


 

Vitya 💗
00:21 sorry I missed your call again
00:21 we were having some issues with the venue, it was a whole thing
00:22 we got it resolved in the end but I don’t think we’ll come here again
00:22 so uncooperative
00:25 hope you’re doing well!
00:26 I’ll call you back when I can

 


 

—> To Vitya 💗
21:03 I’m at this new hipster diner type place with Phichit and Chris
21:03 And they sell actual Fried Green Tomatoes
21:04 [image sent]
21:05 Not as good as the film made it sound, but it made me think of you.

 

Vitya 💗
01:13 Sounds great

 


 

—> To Vitya 💗
03:42 I miss you

 


 

Vitya 💗
19:02 I miss you too


 

August drags on ever so slowly, and Yuuri feels more drained with every day that passes.

Texts and calls from Victor grow sparser as the tour goes on and takes him to various European countries. Yuuri understands; Victor is travelling all the time, and must be exhausted. The days are probably running away from him with how busy he is, of course talking to Yuuri won’t be his first priority. Not to mention that he’s surrounded by his devoted fans every night now. Surely they are more exciting company than talking to Yuuri on his phone.

Maybe he’s taking a different one of them to his bed every night, before moving on to the next city in the morning. It’s his right; he’s unattached, young, attractive—and he’s free to indulge in his sexuality without fear of repercussions. Why wouldn’t he make use of that?

Yuuri finds himself thinking about it in bed at night, in a strangely detached fashion—picturing the faceless men Victor takes to his bed, the silvery curtain Victor’s hair makes around them, separating them from the rest of the world for a moment of bliss. He’s finding it hard to feel anything much as the days pass—mentally, that is.

His body is still a well of pain, one sensation bleeding into the next to set all of him on fire and draining him of all energy. But his mind feels increasingly numb, filled with nothing but a cottony static. He can’t find any enjoyment in himself, no spark of appreciation for music or art. There’s not even the familiar irritation when he scrolls through his social media, no more frustration driving him to tears.

Nothing seems to make sense without Victor by his side.

The only times when a sliver of bright emotion breaks through the numbness is when the chirp of his phone announces another message from Victor. It’s like sudden burst of energy runs through him, then, and he lunges for his phone in his haste to read it. For a precious few minutes it’s like he surfaces out of the deep, dark water, gasping for breath, only to sink back down into the depth when a reply isn’t forthcoming immediately.

He spends too much of his days now sleeping. He drags himself out of bed late, forces himself to sit at his desk for a few hours, listless and completely unable to concentrate. He goes back to bed for an early nap until his body’s need for sustenance drives him out again. He stops taking commissions, and the orders from his shop are sent out late more often than not.

Phichit attributes his misery to regular heartsickness over Victor not being there, and Yuuri is not going to correct him. He’d rather Phichit make fun of him for pining like a teenager than try and tell him the truth. When Phichit attempts to talk to him to make him feel better, Yuuri shuts him down hard and fast. He can’t talk about Victor—can’t talk about Victor not being there, not without falling apart.

So he counts the days until Victor returns, makes too many calls and writes too many messages that go unanswered—or are only answered hours and hours later. He figures he should probably stop and leave Victor alone, since Victor obviously isn’t interested in talking to him anymore, but this is all he has left. Besides, there are bursts of light, bursts of warmth in his life, when Victor actually finds the time to text him back or even calls him, and they actually talk, for a few minutes, even half an hour at a time.

And then Victor is so attentive and excited, and there’s so much kindness in his words and affection in his voice that it replenishes that dangerous well of hope sitting behind his sternum.

He cannot give this up.

 


 

It was really only a matter of time—Yuuri has always known he wouldn't be able to keep it from Phichit forever. Phichit is already watching him like a hawk, with that mixture of suspicion and worry that burns like acid on Yuuri‘s skin. So this—this was really only a matter of time.

Yuuri‘s morning shift at the tea shop left him drained and shivery, his body screaming for sustenance. On his way home he‘s stopped by the supermarket and filled his backpack with groceries and snacks, fully intending to cook a big hearty meal once he‘s home. But even after eating some granola bars on his way to the flat, once he‘s there and has set his backpack down in the kitchen the thought of having to go through the work of cooking before actually eating just seems too much. As does the thought of having to go and sit down anywhere more reasonable in order to have his meal.

This is why Phichit finds him on the kitchen floor, leaning against the cabinets, surrounded by paper packaging and plastic wrappers, steadily making his way through a handful of tangerines.

He hears Phichit‘s steps on the stairs and his keys in the door, but he knows he won’t be able to hide the evidence quickly enough, so he doesn't expend any energy on trying. Instead, he shoves the last two segments of the tangerine into his mouth, fingers already working on peeling the next one.

He‘s already made his way through several slices of bread and a package of deli meats, a dozen cherry tomatoes, three kit-kat bars and half a package of Jaffa cake.

He‘s starting to feel less drained as the carbs make their way into his system, and he thinks distantly how he‘s going to need that energy for what is about to come.

Tadaima“, Phichit calls from the door, “Yuuri, are you home?“

Yuuri takes a deep breath and pitches his voice so it will carry across the living room.
Okaeri.“

“Where are you?“, Phichit asks, his voice slightly muffled now as he no doubt bends over to take off his shoes.

“Kitchen“, Yuuri calls back, probably barely loud enough for him to hear.

Phichit wanders through the living room toward him seconds later, his eyes widening as he takes in Yuuri, his lap covered in crumbs, still shoving segments of tangerine into his mouth at a measured, deliberate pace, and the kitchen floor around him, crumpled plastic foil and an empty cookie box filled with tangerine skins.

“Yuuri“, he breathes, carefully, like he thinks he might spook him otherwise, “what are you doing here?“

Yuuri shrugs.
“I was hungry. Couldn't be bothered to cook.“

Phichit‘s gaze flicks over Yuuri‘s backpack, open, groceries spilling out, some of them placed on the counter before Yuuri decided he didn't have the energy to put them away.

“So you decided to have a meal right here on the kitchen floor?“

When Yuuri just shrugs again, saying nothing, Phichit carefully lowers himself to the floor, in the doorway to the living room, the cramped kitchen not really offering space for a second person.

“What is going on with you, Yuuri?“

Yuuri chews and swallows the last piece of his tangerine and consciously keeps his fingers from reaching for another one.

“Nothing. It‘s nothing. I just didn't… feel like I had the energy to cook. I just wanted to eat something.“

Phichit shakes his head slowly.

“Do you really expect me to believe that? Yuuri, this isn’t—please, talk to me, Yuuri.“

“I am talking to you, Peaches“, Yuuri says, and slowly starts to gather the packaging around him, trying not to make it look too much like he‘s getting rid of the evidence.

“No—no, you‘re not though, you‘re not! I‘m worried about you, and this—…! Please tell me what‘s going on.“

“There‘s—”, Yuuri takes a deep breath, “there‘s nothing going on. I‘m okay. I will be. Honestly.”

Phichit stares at him for a long time, silently, searching, and when Yuuri finally works up the courage to meet his gaze he winces, seeing that there‘s a wet sheen to Phichit‘s eyes.

“Why are you lying to me, Yuuri? Why are you shutting me out? This—you can‘t expect me to believe this is how a person who is okay acts. That this is what someone who is healthy does.“

Yuuri‘s blood runs cold, suddenly, and really he should have known—he couldn't hide this from Phichit forever, they were too close, they knew each other too well, but still some part of him had been hoping. Hoping that the problem would solve itself before Phichit realised. He hates seeing Phichit worried like this, and he hates the thought of having to acknowledge out loud that he is—that he might be dying.

“You‘re not well“, Phichit continues, “you haven‘t been well in a while. I can see it, Yuuri. I know you don‘t want to, but please talk to me. I can help you get help.“

Yuuri scoffs, can‘t help it, and shakes his head. He doesn't need to get help—he knows exactly what the doctors will tell him.

“Okay“, Phichit concedes, hands held up, “okay, one step at a time.“ He reaches his hands out slowly toward Yuuri‘s, and when Yuuri doesn't move away, clasps them firmly in his. Phichit‘s hands are warm and sweaty where Yuuri‘s are cold and numb, sticky still from the tangerines. “Will you tell me? Will you say it? There‘s no one else here. Just me.“

Yuuri‘s hands clench in Phichit‘s, the sinews in his wrists standing out starkly against his skin. He opens his mouth, but no sounds can make their way past his clenched teeth. Finally, he manages a minute shake of his head.

“Alright“, Phichit says with a deep breath, “alright, then I will.“ He holds Yuuri‘s eyes firmly, but there‘s so much kindness in his gaze, so much worry. He runs his thumbs over Yuuri‘s hand soothingly. “Yuuri… I—I think you have an eating disorder.“

There‘s a few seconds‘ breathless silence as Yuuri processes the words, and then—and then Yuuri laughs.

It punches out of him with brute force, surprising even himself, but he can‘t stop laughing, doubles over with it until he‘s gasping for breath and he sounds hysterical even to himself, he sounds mad. “An-... haaa, Peaches, no.“ More laughing, stinging in his sides and driving tears into his eyes. “An ED? Ha, no. God, no. I‘m not—god, that‘s what you think, right?—I‘m not bulimic, Phichit. I wish. I wish that was it. It would make me less of a moron than I actually am. It would be so much easier to fix, too.“

Phichit‘s eyes darken, but Yuuri can‘t help the breathy little chuckles that still fall out of his mouth.

“Yuuri! Stop—fucking laughing, this is not funny! God, I…“, Phichit shakes his head, tightens his hold on Yuuri‘s hands a little more, “how can you still deny this? Look at you, look at how thin you've gotten!“ Phichit yanks up his hands to illustrate his points, bringing Yuuri‘s bony wrists up in front of his face, as if Yuuri didn't see them every day when he‘s working, as if he wasn't reminded constantly of how frail his body has gotten. “All that sneaking off to the bathroom, and I've—I've literally caught you in a binge—and don‘t you believe I‘m going to let you go throw up, either! God, Yuuri, you‘re going to kill yourself if you don‘t admit you have a problem!“

Yuuri‘s laugh has tapered off into breathlessness, shuddering gasps soon bordering on sobs, tearing a hollow pain into his chest. He yanks his hands out of Phichit‘s grasp none too gently and cradles them protectively in his lap.

“I never said I didn't have a problem“, he whispers, the very words painful in his throat, “but it‘s not a fucking eating disorder.“

“Oh, it isn't, is it?“, Phichit asks, and there‘s something hard in his expression now, something stony that hides too much pain behind it, “then please, tell me what else it is supposed to be? Does this look like someone with healthy eating habits to you?“

Before Yuuri can react, Phichit has grabbed the hem of his sweater and yanks it up to his neck, exposing his skinny torso. “Phichit“, Yuuri yells and tries to wrench the fabric from Phichit‘s grasp to pull it back down, but when he hears Phichit‘s pained gasp, he knows it‘s too late. He‘s seen. Seen the angry purplish bruises along Yuuri‘s clearly visible ribs, contrasted starkly against his pale skin. They extend mostly at his sides for now, creeping slowly toward the centre of his chest where the thing is winding its way along his bones under his skin.

“Yuuri!“

Phichit‘s voice is horrified in a way that Yuuri has never heard, in a way he‘s never wanted to hear, and the sound of it makes tears burn in Yuuri‘s eyes.

“What happened? Did you get into a fight? Who did this to you?“ Another gasp and Phichit‘s free hand closes painfully around one of Yuuri‘s wrists again. “Did Victor—…?“

Yuuri‘s heart seizes at even the suggestion, at the mere mention of his name.

“God, no, Phichit, never! Victor hasn't even been here for three weeks! No—no-one touched me.“

His voice is a whisper on the last words, and tears are now running down Yuuri‘s face, mirrored by the watery quality of Phichit‘s voice when he asks: “Did you do this to yourself?“

Yuuri shakes his head, making the tears drop fast, crash onto his sweater where Phichit is still holding it up. “No, Peach, I didn't. I—… it‘s just… my ribs are just… a little bruised.“

The noise Phichit makes is between a laugh and a sob, a visceral thing, tearing out of his throat. “Just a little bruised?“, he asks incredulously, “Yuuri, that isn't something that just happens on—its own…“

Yuuri can see the exact moment Phichit puts two and two together, the way his face goes slack all of a sudden, his eyes widening. Both of his hands release Yuuri at once, his sweater falling back down to cover his bruised rib cage, his wrist, slightly reddened from Phichit's grasp, hovering uncertainly before his torso. Phichit almost scrambles backwards, away from Yuuri, as if he fears Yuuri might break if he touches him—which is fair, if Yuuri considers how he’s just waiting to hear and feel the crack of bone under the pressure in his chest any day now.

“No“, Phichit says, and then again, “no.“

Yuuri presses his lips together, tears still running down his face, but he can‘t form any words to reassure Phichit—there aren't any.

And when Phichit says it out loud he closes his eyes against the words as if it might keep them at bay, but the flood is unavoidable, and the words burn like acid in his veins.

“You have Hanahaki.“

 


 

The long silence shatters in the end when Yuuri’s phone buzzes in his pocket. Yuuri sends more tangerines tumbling through the kitchen in his haste to stretch out his legs so he can retrieve the phone from his pants, and with trembling fingers he unlocks it.

 

Vitya 💗
15:29 Finally made it to Enschede! Traffic was the worst
15:29 We’re almost two hours later than planned and yet they’re not ready for us at the venue. Can you believe?

 

Yuuri can’t help the smile that steals onto his lips—it’s entirely involuntary. Just this little sign of life from Victor, this little piece of information about his life makes the air flow a little more easily into his lungs, eases some of the pain burning along his ribs.

He hurries to type out a reply, in hopes that Victor will still be on his phone and able to text back.

—> To Vitya 💗
15:32 glad you made it there!
15:32 I’m sorry they’re being disorganised idiots. I hope you can start setting up soon.

 

After he’s sent his reply, Yuuri’s hands clench around his phone, waiting, willing for it to buzz again. He stares down at the white-knuckled grip until the silence around them once more becomes deafening.

Yuuri can see Phichit fidgeting out of the corner of his eyes, his hands fluttering, mouth opening and closing until finally, Phichit speaks up again.

“Does Victor know?”

Yuuri shakes his head.

Phichit scoffs. “No. He doesn’t. Of course he doesn’t. If he did, we wouldn’t be in this situation. Yuuri, he’s—”

“Peach, please don’t. Don’t say—”, Yuuri attempts to interrupt him, but Phichit presses ahead.

“—clearly in love with you, too, you have to fucking tell him!”

Yuuri lets out a long, deep sigh.

“Don’t do this, Peach. I can’t—I’m not telling him. Not until he needs to know, anyway. If he doesn’t feel the same way—I can’t put this on him. This isn’t his fault.”

“But what if he does feel the same way? Yuuri, you don’t have to suffer like this!”

“No. I know what I’m doing. There’s still time.” He closes his eyes briefly, repeating the words again to himself as if that will make them more true. “There’s still time.”

Phichit, however, isn’t having it. “What are you talking about?”, he asks, and his voice is rising again, echoing in the tiny kitchen, “Look at you! You look like you’re about to collapse any moment now!”

Yuuri shakes his head rapidly.

“There’s still time”, he repeats, “I’m only in stage three.”

“What does that even mean? What is that—”, Yuuri can see Phichit turning his eyes towards the ceiling, clearly trying to remember what little he knows about Hanahaki, “that means this can still go away on its own, yes?”

“Yes”, Yuuri says tonelessly, “by the end of stage three, it will either dissipate on its own, or—or it moves on to stage four.”

Phichit is as pale as Yuuri has ever seen him. “And then it’s…”, his lips move soundlessly and Yuuri can see him tiptoeing around the words Yuuri doesn’t quite dare think either. Terminal. Fatal. Over.

“Not quite”, Yuuri says, “even then, if—if the feelings are returned, I’ll be….”, he swallows, “if I move on to stage four, I’ll tell Victor.”

“But—hang on”, Phichit bursts out, clearly just having grasped onto another snippet of Hanahaki information in his brain, “what about the surgery, Yuuri? Why aren’t you getting the surgery?”

Yuuri shakes his head. “Surgery’s invasive and risky and it has crazy side-effects, Phichit. And I mean crazy. It can mess with your whole hormonal balance, permanently. It can change you.”

“You’re shitting me, right?”, Phichit says, and the harsh edge in his voice makes Yuuri flinch, “You know what changes you, Yuuri? Death. Death changes you pretty permanently, too.”

“You—you don’t get it, Phichit.”

“No, Yuuri—God, I can’t believe you! Have you actually talked to a doctor about this? Have seen a doctor?” When Yuuri doesn’t reply, Phichit drags both his hands down his face with a pained groan. “Shit, just when I thought I’d been mistaken about my best friend being fucking suicidal…”

Yuuri winces, taken aback.

“I’m—… I’m not suicidal. I don’t want to die.”

“Oh, you don’t? Well you sure as hell aren’t acting like it. You need to get help, Yuuri.” He scrambles to his feet apparently unable to sit still any longer. “We’re getting you to a doctor first thing tomorrow morning. Maybe they can talk some sense into you. You gotta—god, Yuuri, you have to get the surgery. Or you have to tell Victor. I don’t care, but any which way I’m not sitting idly by while you neglect yourself to death.”

Phichit’s increasing agitation feels like an itch on Yuuri’s skin and he shrinks back against the cabinets.

“Just—please, calm down”, he says, tired and barely audible over Phichit’s frantic pacing, “I’ll go to the doctor if you want but… don’t make a big deal out of this. It’s not. It’ll pass.”

Phichit stares, running both hands through his hair. “What if it doesn’t?”

“It’ll pass”, Yuuri repeats.

Phichit’s face twists into a pained grimace. “Do you really believe that? Or do you just say it so you don’t have to deal with what happens if it doesn’t?”

“I—”, Yuuri begins, his breath stuttering, “It’ll pass! I just have to—”

“Yuuri, stop! What you’re doing is—… this is madness! Victor wouldn't want this for you!“

Yuuri bites down hard on his lip, trying to contain a sob. He can already feel the tell-tale seizing up of his chest, the spasm in his diaphragm, more painful now for his bruised ribs.

“Don‘t act like you know what he would and wouldn't want“, he manages to press out between clenched teeth.

Phichit scoffs. “He wouldn't want you to die, that‘s for sure!“

Yuuri shakes his head, but before he can say anything else, the pressure in his chest becomes to much and he scrambles onto his feet, dragging himself up on the cabinets, and attempts to stumble past Phichit toward the bathroom.

“Sorry—I have to…“

A cough is already crawling up his throat, but it tapers off, startled, when Phichit suddenly grabs his wrist again.

“No, you won‘t!“, Phichit shouts, and Yuuri turns on his heel, staring at him incredulously.

Hunching over, a wheezing sound rattling in his chest he manages to croak out: “Do you—seriously still think—I‘m going to throw up?“

Phichit stares up at him, eyes widening, for a few moments, before loosening his grip. “Ah…“, he says, “I suppose not.“

Yuuri makes to turn away, but it‘s too late now— he can already feel something lodging in his throat, and then he doubles over as the cough rips out of him, violently. He falls to his knees almost instantly, the wave of pain running through his rib cage so intense that it makes him dizzy. He steadies himself with one arm while the other wraps around his torso, trying in vain to provide some form of support or comfort as shudders with coughs. They echo in his ear, deafening, almost drowning out the voice of Phichit now hovering close to him.

“Shit, Yuuri! Shit… What can I do? Tell me what I can do?”

He reaches out and touches Yuuri’s back, possibly to rub or pat it like he would with someone choking, but Yuuri flinches away from it, cannot stand the touch anywhere near his ribs right now. Instead, he reaches out with his free hand to grab Phichit’s, holding on to it, squeezing, hard. He hears a hiss of pain but then Phichit braces himself against it and steadies his grip against Yuuri’s. Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut, trying to concentrate on nothing but the grounding pressure of Phichit’s fingers as he hacks up bloody, mangled petals, and still his airway isn’t opening up.

He keeps coughing until he feels like every one of his muscles is cramping, until he feels like he might pass out from lack of oxygen, when something finally seems to give way. He greedily sucks in what little breath he can and uses it to cough that little bit harder, retching when the flower moves up his airway.

And then he feels something snap.

If the way Phichit’s hand twitches in his and the sharp inhale of breath next to him is any indication, Phichit could hear it, too, but Yuuri cannot think about that right now. He unwraps his other hand from around his torso to reach into his mouth, and roughly yanks the bloody flower out of his throat, sputtering and spitting out blood onto the hardwood floors.

He takes a deep, shuddering breath.

And then he screams.

 

Chapter Text

 

The next couple of hours are drowned in a haze of pain, and Yuuri only remembers bits and pieces of them. 

He remembers Phichit‘s voice around him all throughout it, high and hasty with panic. He remembers Phichit trying to help him put on shoes because of the sharp stab of pain that flares through him as he tries to bend over, leading to Phichit ushering him into a chair and slipping his shoes on for him. He remembers the strangely quiet atmosphere in the hospital waiting room, surrounded by people but drenched in a tense, heady silence, leaving him with nothing to focus on but the pain and Phichit‘s hand clasped firmly around his. He remembers the pinprick of pain as the nurse draws his blood, distracting him momentarily, the bright red colour—deep crimson and vivid scarlet and pale salmon—of his blood as it streams into the vial.

But the rest of it is strangely hazy, like it‘s covered with a layer of fog, only the occasional flash of colour shining through.

He knows he rode in a car with Phichit to the hospital—Phichit’s car it must have been. He doesn't remember much of the ride, other than trying to brace himself against every bump and curve in the road, every jostle that sent pain lancing through him. He remembers wondering briefly if Phichit was in any shape to drive, but a moment later the thought was chased from his head by another stab of pain.

He must have answered some questions at some point, the ones that Phichit couldn't answer for him, though he doesn't quite know what the questions were and which answers he gave.

He‘s also aware that he got an x-ray at some point, though he doesn't really recall the process of it. But he does remember staring at the backlit image of his torso, his bones outlined in crisp white surrounded by dark. He remembers staring at the centre of them, the hollow within his rib cage, the fine web of capillaries shaping out his lungs, and the pale grey shape sitting in the middle of it, dense and formless.  He remembers being convinced, at the time, that it was the Hana sitting in his body, intertwined deeply with his tissue. 

He only realises later, when the fog has cleared up, that it was his heart.

He remembers hearing the doctor‘s words, though these, too, he doesn't process until much later: one rib broken, a few more bruised.

And then there‘s just a lot of pain and dizziness in between all that, voices that he can‘t quite parse and people around him, touching him and prodding him.

He doesn't think he ever quite lost consciousness, but it was difficult to focus on anything but the pain and the way he can never quite catch his breath, and exhaustion weighed heavily on him, so he kept drifting away from the conversation around him.

And some point, though, they settle him in a hospital bed and evidently give him something for the pain, because after a while, it dulls down into something bearable, and the world starts to come into focus again. 

 

For a while there‘s just quiet, a dim room with distant voices, a couple other beds sectioned off for privacy, and Phichit‘s warm, clammy hand in his. He drifts off into some semblance of sleep for a little while, until someone enters the room at a brisk pace, heels clicking on the linoleum, not loudly, but in a normal volume that feels jarring in the silence.

They stop in front of his bed and Yuuri, eyes blinking open, makes an ill-advised attempt at sitting up, hissing in pain when he moves. Phichit‘s hand on his shoulder settles him back into the sheets.

It’s a woman who entered, middle aged, with curly hair slung into a reasonable knot at her neck and wearing a white lab coat over her regular clothes. She is carrying a file that she glances down at before she speaks.

"Hallo, Herr Katsuki“, she says, carefully sounding out all the letters of his name, "Ich bin Doktor Petra Lorenz, Ihre behandelnde Ärztin. Wie fühlen Sie sich?“

Yuuri attempts as much of a shrug as he can manage.

"Tired“, he replies in German, "Sore.“

She nods and glances down at her file again. "That is to be expected. I would like to discuss your condition, so if you‘d like to…“, she half-turns toward Phichit and leaves the sentence meaningfully unfinished, but Yuuri shakes his head.

"No, no, Phichit can stay.“ He squeezes his friend‘s hand. It‘s not like it matters, now that the cat‘s out of the bag, and he‘d rather not sit through this alone anyway. If nothing else, they have a better chance of parsing out the medical German between the two of them.

"Alright, if you‘re sure“, the doctor says, and when there are no protests forthcoming, she continues, " Herr Katsuki , you were brought in with one broken rib, and as many as four others are lightly to moderately bruised. It‘s a simple fracture, so if you avoid physical strain it should heal without a problem within a few weeks. Icing the area for short amounts of time and painkillers like Ibuprofen should help ease the pain. The more serious concern however is the underlying cause of the fracture… with how far the condition has progressed, I assume you are aware that you have Hanahaki disease.“

Yuuri nods, trying to focus on parsing out the German. Usually, it would annoy him that the doctor is speaking slowly and enunciating clearly, obviously aware of his foreign background, but right now he‘s glad of it.

"Can you tell us who has been treating you thus far and what treatment you have opted for? We wouldn't want to interfere with it somehow. We've sent blood samples to the lab, but it would also be helpful if you could let us know which variant you carry.“

Yuuri swallows, looking down at the sheet covering his legs, avoiding both the doctor‘s and Phichit‘s gaze.

"Uhm, I haven‘t. I haven‘t seen anyone about it yet. I don‘t know which variant I have.“

That seems to give her pause—she stares at him for a few long moments.

“Your Hanahaki has gone untreated so far?”

Yuuri nods, feeling the heat of shame creeping up his face.

“Can I ask why you chose not to seek help earlier?”

“I just—…”, Yuuri begins, still staring at the bed, but he’s not really sure how to finish the sentence. 

Dr. Lorenz sighs and flips through her file for a few moments, before turning toward Phichit. “ Herr Chulanont ”, she says, “I think it would be best if you step out for a moment, I think Herr Katsuki would be more—…”

“No!”, Yuuri interrupts her, a little too loudly, maybe, still holding firmly onto Phichit’s hand. He takes a breath, wills himself to calm down. “No. It’s not about Phichit, I just—… I— I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I figured it would just go away on its own sooner or later. I don’t—I never usually…”

Yuuri bites his lips, unsure how to put his thoughts into words. Phichit keeps silent, but he runs his thumb over the back of Yuuri’s hand in a calming motion.

The doctor cocks her head.

“Do you have an issue with doctors or hospitals, Herr Katsuki ?”

Yuuri squirms uncomfortably in his bed. “Not—not specifically”, he says, his voice barely more than a whisper, “I—uhm, I have anxiety, and, uhm, unfamiliar people and situations are difficult for me. And making phone calls, too.”

The doctor hums, adding a note somewhere in her papers. “Have you been seeing anyone about your anxiety?”

“Uhm… not—not since I came to Germany. I was in therapy back in Japan, but after I came here… I don’t know. I just never—”, he interrupts himself again, but it seems to be answer enough for the doctor.

“Well”, she says, “it certainly explains some things about your current condition. Since your symptoms are so severe, we assumed you might be carrying a particularly aggressive variant, but it might just be the lack of treatment causing this.”

At her words, Phichit gives Yuuri a stern look, but there’s too much worry mixed into it to be really piercing.

“The growth of a Hana parasite can be significantly slowed and controlled”, Dr. Lorenz continues, “with the help of suppressants that any doctor would have prescribed by now. The fracture of your rib indicates that you have reached a stage of the disease where the Hana is affecting your bone density, leading to osteopoenia which can facilitate broken bones. The lack of treatment would also explain your malnourished state. It says here that you’ve had a significant increase in your food intake since you fell sick, and yet you are underweight and exhibit symptoms of malnourishment. This is typical of untreated Hanahaki; the unsuppressed parasite has a rather ferocious appetite. We’ve got you on IV nutrition for now to combat those symptoms, but I would seriously recommend starting a treatment with suppressants as soon as possible. If there’s no further pre-existing conditions or relevant allergies, I would also suggest administering steroids in order to improve lung function. That should help increase your quality of life for the duration of the illness.”

She pauses, turning her pen slowly in her hand while regarding him thoughtfully. “Considering that you chose not to seek any treatment at all, am I to assume that you are not considering the option of a surgical removal?”

Yuuri nods uncertainly. “Um… yeah. I don’t—I don’t want to get the surgery. I just… I’m still in stage three, right? This will still clear up on its own.”

“There is a possibility”, the doctor concedes, “however, the surgery gives you a much better chance of complete recovery. Of course it’s a major surgery involving general anaesthesia, so there’s always a risk involved, but relying on the hope of the Hana collapsing on its own is quite an unnecessary risk to take.”

“But what about all the side-effects?”, Yuuri cuts in, “The hormonal changes? I read that people who are already suffering from mental illness are much more likely to have long-term effects after the surgery.”

The doctor presses her lips together. “The long-term effects can be managed very well with medication and therapy, Herr Katsuki ”, she says, but it does not escape him that she does not contradict his statement. 

Yuuri chews on his lips, carefully pulling the dry, chapped skin off of them. He thinks about Victor, about his smile, about the way his voice goes soft around the edges when they talk on the phone. About every time he said I miss you too.

“I can’t”, he whispers, “I can’t get the surgery.”

“Yuuri!”, Phichit snaps before the doctor can reply, “come on, you can’t do this! Listen to the doctors, they know what they’re doing.”

Yuuri shakes his head. “I can’t”, he repeats.

Herr Katsuki ”, the doctor says slowly, regarding him levelly, “I’m sorry to be so blunt, but since you refuse to let Herr Chulanont leave your side… I’m afraid I need to ask about your instigating event.”

For a moment Yuuri stares at her blankly, trying to make sense of the term. When he does, recalling what he’s read about the illness on his own, several things click into place at once.

“Oh”, he says. “Oh. Ah, it’s not. It’s not Phichit, if that’s what you were thinking. We’re friends, we’re roommates, but—he’s not… it’s not him.”

The doctor nods sharply, apparently satisfied with his reply.

“I see. I am right, though, in assuming your instigating event is an infatuation?”

Against his better judgement, Yuuri feels heat creep up into his face. The doctor doesn’t care about his feelings, it’s simply a medical question.

“Uhm, yeah”, he says with a nod, “He’s—it’s—”, he interrupts himself, sighs. “He’s out of town right now.”

A crease appears between the doctor’s eyes as she looks at him. “Out of town? For how long?”

Yuuri clenches his fist underneath the covers. 

“Two and a half weeks now. Uhm… it’ll be again as long until he comes back.”

Dr. Lorenz sighs, and pinches the bridge of her nose. “I assume that you’re usually in close contact.”

Yuuri just nods, unable to make himself form more words.

Herr Katsuki … again, the severity of your symptoms is not at all surprising, looking at how you continue to neglect your health. You really should have sought help when your anchor went out of town, at the latest. A prolonged absence can seriously exacerbate the disease.”

This really isn’t news to Yuuri; the way the last two and a half weeks have gone for him have proven that, so he just shrugs, unable to say anything in his defence.

With a shake of her head, the doctor flips through the chart again. “With your consent I’m going to prescribe suppressants and steroids for now. The nurses will be along to administer the first doses and explain to you what to look out for. I’ll also have them bring you some information on the surgery, and strongly suggest you reconsider your stance on that. I would also like to refer you to a therapist, and I urge you to follow through on that. I’m not a psychologist, but it seems to me that you could benefit from continued therapy. Herr Chulanont , maybe you can help out and make sure he actually reaches out, if it is too difficult for him to do on his own.”

Phichit gives a determined nod next to Yuuri.

“I would like to keep you here overnight”, the doctor continues, “so we can keep you on the IV a little longer. But barring any unforeseen circumstances, you should be able to head home tomorrow. I’ll check in with you again in the morning, in the meantime make sure not to strain yourself.”

Yuuri nods, biting his lips, not quite able to meet her eyes. “Alright. Thank you, doctor.”

Returning his nod sharply, she turns on her heels and sweeps out of the room, leaving them in silence again.

 

It doesn’t quite settle between them—it’s restless. Yuuri can see Phichit glancing at him now and again, can see him chewing up his words in search of something to say, and never quite managing to get something out. Yuuri gives him as much of a reassuring smile as he can manage, trying to let him know there’s no rush.

In the meantime, he’s just trying to process everything he just heard himself, trying to make sense of all the new information.

In hindsight, of course, it seems obvious that he should have gone to see a doctor when his first symptoms appeared, and downright idiotic that he didn’t. In hindsight, it makes sense that there would be ways to manage the symptoms. He does remember reading about it, but he realises now that he thought of his Hanahaki much the same way as the Germans think of a cold, with their old adage saying that a cold will last seven days if you don’t go see a doctor, a week if you do . In hindsight, it is easy to see the choices he made in the last week as unhealthy, but at the time, the thought of having to make the phone call to a doctor’s office, of having to acknowledge out loud his situation and have his symptoms be dissected and picked apart by strangers, seemed absolutely unbearable.

It still does, if he’s being honest, but now that it’s happened, there’s nothing to be done about it.

Their listless silence is interrupted a few times by nurses stopping by the room, checking his infusion, bringing him his first dose of suppressants along with a large, if rather bland, dinner, as well as an inhaler with something reminiscent of an asthma spray in order to improve his lung function. The nurse tells him a little about what the medications do and what he needs to look out for while he takes them, but he can’t really focus on any of her words. He feels drowsy and overwhelmed, and the fact that he can breathe a little easier after inhaling the spray tempts him to doze off right there and then. 

The nurse also leaves some pamphlets with him, containing the details of Hanahaki surgery, as well as a Living with Hanahaki brochure containing the different variants. He clutches them in his hands a little too tightly when the nurse hands them to him, crumpling the paper, until Phichit gently pulls them out of his grasp and rests them on the bed next to him. Yuuri stares down at them, tracing his eyes along the words, along the pictures of models in white clothes smiling plastic smiles, of the flower ornaments in the corners which Yuuri can’t help but find in very bad taste. 

He stares down at the way Phichit’s hands tremble a little as he smooths down the paper on the mattress, at the colourful woven wristbands circling his right wrist, and he’s reminded with a sudden clarity that feels like a punch to the gut just how young Phichit is. A boy just barely out of his teens, not even out of college yet, driving his roommate to the hospital with a broken rib.

Yuuri bites his lips, waiting for the nurse to leave them, before he finally opens his mouth to speak. 

"Thank you, Peaches“, he says, his voice hoarse, altogether too quiet, "for taking me to the hospital. For staying here with me. I—you shouldn‘t have to do that.“

Phichit sighs deeply and looks down at Yuuri‘s hands clutched tightly on his knees, fingernails digging into soft skin. Then he reaches out and takes ahold of both of them in his own, uncurling the fingers and squeezing them firmly in his own.

"You‘re right“, he says, "I shouldn‘t have to. But I hope you know that when I have to, I always, always will be there next to you.“

He chews on his lips for a few moments, his long, dark lashes fanning out against his skin when he looks down at their joined hands.

"Why didn‘t you tell me?“, he finally asks, his words no more than a whisper.

Yuuri‘s stomach clenches painfully as another wave of guilt washes over him.

"I don‘t know“, he replies, just as quietly. 

"Did you really think this would just go away? Or did you—did you….“, Yuuri isn‘t sure what it is that Phichit can‘t manage to put into words, but he‘s sure it can‘t be good.

"I—I don‘t know“, Yuuri says again, "I guess I just… wasn't really processing what was happening. There was so much going on and I just… I just couldn't afford to be sick and I didn't want it to be true, because it would mean… uhm. I guess I just thought talking about it, getting help, that would… would make it real.“

Phichit watches him thoughtfully for a long time, dragging his eyes slowly over Yuuri‘s face until his skin starts to itch under it and it makes him fidget.

"You know“, Phichit then says slowly, still not averting his gaze, "I hope you know that I‘m completely serious when I say that I think he likes you, too. I‘m not trying to make you feel better or teasing you. I may not know Victor as well as you do, but let me tell you that it‘s not for me he comes to our place every Wednesday. It‘s not me he picks up from work, or talks on the phone with for hours on end. You should tell him. Yuuri, you could end this right now, you could be better in a few days. But you have to tell him .“

Involuntarily, Yuuri‘s hands clench again, squeezing Phichit‘s hands probably a little too firmly.

"We—we‘ve been barely talking lately. Peaches, it‘s been two and a half weeks, and he‘s already forgetting about me. I was thinking, before he left, that maybe… but—Peach, if I tell him. If I tell him, and he doesn't feel the same way… I‘m scared. I‘m scared of what would happen to me, if I tell him and we fall out or—or he doesn't want anything to do with me anymore… I think I wouldn't—...“, he trails off, swallowing hard. He can feel a familiar tightness in his chest, but it‘s bearable. Perhaps the suppressants are already doing their job.

The knuckles of Phichit‘s hands are pale where they are clutched together.

"I understand you‘re scared, Yuuri. But if you tell him now, before you move on to the next stage, you can still get the surgery. You can still be alright—they‘ll make sure… you won‘t…“

"I‘m not“, Yuuri takes a deep breath, "I‘m not getting the surgery, Peaches. I‘m sorry. Losing Victor would be one thing, but… losing the connection to other loved ones in my life, you, my family… not being able to form lasting emotional connections in the future? What kind of life would that be? I can‘t take that risk.“

Phichit opens his mouth to reply and Yuuri can read from the hard look in his eyes that he‘s preparing to argue, but Yuuri just shakes his head.

"I‘ve made my decision, Phichit. And it is my decision to make. And I need you to please accept that.“

Phichit‘s face twists into something ugly, something of pain and anger. "You‘re asking me to just accept that you‘d rather die?“

In the face of Phichit‘s agitation, Yuuri somehow finds a smile. "No one‘s saying that I‘m going to die, Peach. There‘s still plenty that can happen before that. The Hana might not even make it that far.“

„You can‘t be sure of that.“

Yuuri shrugs. "We can never be sure of anything.“

"Don‘t—don‘t start with that philosophical bullshit! You have a choice .“

"And that choice is just as uncertain. There are no good answers here, Peach. I—I know that this isn't exactly fair. Not after the way I‘ve treated you the last few weeks. But I‘m asking you to trust me. No matter which way this goes, I… I need you with me for this.“

"That really isn‘t fair, Yuuri!“, Phichit says, his voice rising in pitch, and Yuuri can see the moisture welling up in his eyes, "You know there‘s no way I‘m going to leave you alone through this. You know that. You know that whatever you‘re asking…“

"I know.“ Yuuri smiles a watery smile, his own eyes tearing up in response to the pain and affection in Phichit‘s voice, "I know. I‘m selfish. I‘m sorry. I‘m sorry. You deserve better than this.“

"I do“, Phichit says, squeezing his hands even harder, almost painfully so, his tears crashing down on their skin. "I deserve something better than this reckless idiot of a best friend who falls in love so recklessly it almost kills him.“ He sighs. "But I guess this is all I have. Oh, I am fortune‘s fool .“

The last words are whispered in a spiteful hiss, but Yuuri can hear the teasing edge in them, and a huff of relief tears itself out of him, sending a stab of pain through his ribs that makes him wince. 

"Are you okay?“, Phichit asks immediately, and Yuuri nods quickly. 

“Yeah”, he says, “yeah, it’s nothing.”

Phichit regards him sceptically. “You should probably rest. You’re going to need it. I know you’re on a nutrition drip, and you had dinner, too, but do you need anything else? Do I need to sneak you some junk food?”

Yuuri gives him a tired smile. “Not so sceptical about my eating habits now, are you?”, he asks with a weak grin, “I can’t believe you thought I had an eating disorder.”

Phichit huffs a wry little laugh. 

“I was absolutely convinced, Yuuri. What with how you’ve been eating lately, and yet you kept losing weight… and then all that time you spent in the bathroom, sneaking off… it just seemed obvious to me. I didn’t even think any further than that.”

Yuuri nods slightly, pressing his lips together. “I understand why it would appear like that. But, ah… was it really so easy for you to believe I would have an ED?”

With an apologetic little shrug, Phichit shifts in his seat, pulling one leg up against his body. “Sort of?”, he says, “I know that you gain weight easily, and how critical you are of yourself, what high standards you hold yourself to. I figured it just kind of got out of hand this summer, with all the stress, or maybe you got it into your head that you’re not…”, he cuts himself off abruptly and looks away, staring pointedly down at the sheets.

“That I’m not what…?”, Yuuri asks carefully, a frown furrowing his brow. 

“Uhm.” Phichit fidgets a little, picking at the fabric of his trousers. “That you’re, you know… not good enough for Victor. Not attractive enough, or whatever. I mean… I could see how happy you were, getting to spend time with him. I figured… you being you, maybe you got it into your head that you needed to change yourself to be worthy of him. Which, I hope you know, is bullshit. Would be bullshit. No matter your weight, Victor could count himself lucky to have you!”

Yuuri stares down at his knees covered by the flimsy hospital sheet and doesn’t say how much he thinks all of that is true. Not about his weight, specifically, just about his… everything.

He’s not good enough for Victor. He doesn’t want to change himself for him; he knows it’s disingenuous and can never end well. But at the same time, he really wishes he could be the kind of person Victor would want to be with.

What he says instead is: “You know, I’m not going to lie. Before I knew what this was, I was kind of relieved that I didn’t gain weight the way I usually do before convention season. It was nice not having to think about what I’m eating for once. But this…”, he gestures to all of himself, encompassing his body that had moved decidedly past skinny now, “… I never wanted to look like this. I can’t even dance anymore, not really. Not just because I can’t breathe, but also because I’ve lost all my muscle mass.”

Phichit’s looking at him with a soft sadness in his eyes. “You’ll get it back”, quietly, but with enough conviction that Yuuri almost believes it, “You’ll make it through this, you’ll beat this thing, and you’ll get it all back. You’ll dance again.” He nods, as if to himself. “I know it.”


 

 

Hanahaki Disease (cont.)

 

… Beginning with stage four, the Hana parasite has reached full symbiosis with the host, making a surgical removal of the growth impossible. In this stage, the parasite leeches more of the host’s energy in order to produce seed, leading to increased fatigue and feelings of apathy. The specimen having reached its full growth further reduces the lung capacity and leads to chest pains and difficulty breathing. Stage four of the disease usually only lasts for a few days up to two weeks at most, depending on variant, for the time it takes the specimen to grow seed pods and expel the seed through the host’s airway, ensuring the specimen’s reproduction. Once the reproduction is complete, the disease moves on to the final, fatal stage, in which the parasite receives one last burst of growth, the roots closing in on the host’s heart, causing it to stop.

Once the disease has reached stage four, it is fatal in the majority of cases. These days, most people infected with the disease opt for the surgical treatment early in the diagnosis. Of those who decline the surgery, only about 30% move on to stage four. The only known cure for stage four Hanahaki consists in a sudden shift of the host’s hormonal balance, destabilising the parasite. This has only been known to happen in cases where the instigating event has been an emotional one; most likely a one-sided love being requited, though there have also been recorded cases of a loved one who was believed dead to reappear, families being reunited or a broken up couple reconciling causing a Hana parasite to destabilise. There is no record of fourth stage collapse in patients where the instigating event was physical rather than emotional. 

In the case of a fourth stage collapse, the parasite withers much the same as it may at the end of stage three, the roots retreating from the host’s tissue, and the specimen is expelled in full through the host’s airway. The lasting side-effects of this late-stage collapse tend to be much more severe, but the host recovers in the majority of cases. There have been few recorded cases of the collapse taking place too close to stage five, leaving the host too weak and the damage caused too extensive for the system to sustain. 

 

Variant: Borage

The borage variant of the Hana parasite ( borago officinalis effusus ) is a close relative of the borage plant ( borago officinalis ) and can be distinguished by its bright blue flower petals and the red tinted stems and buds that are covered in soft, hair-like bristles. 

The borage variant belongs to the more slow growing ones, with a growth period of between three and six months, and it’s one of the less destructive variants, due to the lack of thorns or pricks and the comparatively shallow root growth. The leaves and stems are toxic when ingested in large quantities, but harmless in small doses. 

If stage four Hanahaki is reached in a host with the borage variant, however, the seeding period is unusually short, lasting only a few days up to a week. 

Borage is known for its pleasant taste reminiscent of cucumber, and the leaves of the garden variant can be used in small quantities to flavour salads, sauces and cold drinks. The non-toxic, sweeter tasting flowers are also used as decoration for deserts. 

Traditionally, the borage variant is associated strongly with positive emotional instigation (i.e. infatuation), since the plant was historically said to have mood enhancing qualities, “to exhilerate and make the mind glad”. It was believed to be beneficial “for the comfort of the heart, for the driving away of sorrow and increasing the joy of the mind”. In western plant symbolism, the plant represents courage. In the German vernacular, borage is also called Blauhimmelstern , Herzfreude and Liebäuglein .

While there is a cultivated variant of garden borage that has white flowers, the borage Hana has only been recorded to bloom in blue.

 


 

Phichit picks him up when Yuuri is released the next morning, with a tentatively optimistic prognosis from his doctor. He‘s responded well to the suppressants, and after being on the IV nutrition overnight, he feels significantly less drained. His chest aches when he moves, even after his morning dose of painkillers, but he can breathe more easily after he‘s used his inhaler.

They drive home in Phichit‘s car, Phichit chatting away idly as he drives, but the tightness of his fingers on the steering wheel and the strain of his smile betray his discomfort.

When they make it back into the flat, the evidence of Yuuri’s breakdown the day before has been neatly cleaned away—there‘s no more groceries spilled in the kitchen, no more plastic packages strewn on the floor. There‘s no more flowers wilting on the hardwood floors—though he can still see a faint stain on the wood where blood had dripped and oozed off the petals.

Yuuri hesitates in the door of the living room, staring at the faded stains on the floor, while Phichit putters around him, putting away his things and putting the electric kettle to boil for tea. Yuuri‘s tongue is dry and tacky in his mouth as Phichit nudges him in order to press a cup of tea into his hands.

He takes it automatically, warming his cold, clammy fingers on the stoneware. When he opens his mouth it‘s without thinking, and the words tumble out.

“Where‘s my phone?“

Phichit gives him a sigh and a slight smile and retrieves it from the coffee table. Yuuri tries not to be too hurried in taking and unlocking it, eyes already scanning the notifications collecting on his lock screen. There‘s a couple of messages from Victor and a missed call from earlier in the morning. Yuuri‘s about to call him back, his finger already hovering over the call button, when he hesitates.

He shoots a glance toward Phichit and shuffles toward the couch, sinking down on the cushions, setting down the mug on the coffee table. When Phichit has followed him, making himself comfortable next to him, Yuuri pulls up his shoulders, clutching the phone in his lap.

“You haven‘t told him, have you? Or Chris?“

Phichit presses his lips together for a long moment before he replies.

“I haven‘t. But I‘m not sure—are you really going to keep from him that you were in the hospital? That you've broken a rib? He‘s your friend too, you know?“

“I know that“, Yuuri replies, a little too sharply perhaps. “but if I tell him now… he‘s just going to worry. Unnecessarily. There‘s nothing he can do while he‘s on tour.“ He shrugs. “There‘s nothing he could do either way, but… you know. I don‘t want to distract him from his work.“

“So you‘re just not going to say anything? Like there‘s nothing wrong?“

„Please, Phichit—I need you to promise me that you‘re not going to tell him. And not Chris, either, because there‘s no way he wouldn't mention it to Victor.“

A crease appears on Phichit‘s forehead. “So you‘re asking me to lie?“

“I—…“, Yuuri pinches the bridge of his nose, “No. I’m not asking you to lie. I‘m asking you to not share this secret with them, because it‘s my secret to share, and I‘m not ready to share it yet. Can you understand that?“

Phichit sighs, deeply, frustration and understanding rolled into one. “But if one of them asks directly? What am I going to say?“

Yuuri huffs a humourless laugh. “If one of them asks directly? Like hey Phichit, does Yuuri by any chance have Hanahaki for Victor ? I suppose you can tell them then, I don‘t think that‘s gonna make a difference at that point.“

“How generous“, Phichit replies with a deadpan stare, “and what if they ask how you‘re doing? You know I haven‘t been the only one to notice you haven‘t been quite yourself lately. Or, should I say, not as much of yourself as you used to be.“

Yuuri‘s body goes cold, suddenly, at Phichit‘s words, and he suppresses a shudder. He’s right, of course. If Yuuri’s lost enough weight to make Phichit think he has an eating disorder, he won’t be the only one to have noticed. And then there’s the mysterious illness he’s told Victor he had. Can Victor possibly have come to the same conclusion? 

“Well“, he says, trying to keep his voice calm, “be vague. Be reassuring. Jeez, Phichit, you‘re at uni. You know how to string a lot of words together without actually saying anything.“

Phichit crosses his arms in front of his chest, but Yuuri pipes up again before he can say anything. “Please, Peaches. I—I‘m asking you. I don‘t know how to talk about this. I don‘t know how to discuss my broken rib and my staying at the hospital without bringing up the Hanahaki. And I‘m not—I‘m just not ready to share it. I've already been forced to share this with the entire world. That wasn't exactly how I wanted it to go. This at least… let me handle at my own pace?“

The pinched expression on Phichit‘s face morphs into one of confusion. “What— what do you mean, forced to share it with the whole world?“

Yuuri shrugs, chewing on his lips. “Well“, he says, “I suppose it‘s my own fault. I should never have done that drawing—not there, on stage, with everyone watching. I didn't think at the time that anyone much would see it. But then again, I didn't think much at the time at all. I just… I just did.“

Phichit‘s mouth drops open. “That live drawing. I — of course. That‘s Hanahaki.“ Yuuri nods minutely, and Phichit curses softly, a hand coming up to cover his mouth. “ Fuck . I didn't—how did I not see that?“ There‘s the crease again on his forehead. “God, I‘m an idiot? How did I seriously think that you had an ED?“

Yuuri huffs softly. “I don‘t know, Peach. But I never wanted anyone to see that artwork. I wasn't even really aware I was doing it when I was doing it. I—I was in shock, I think. It was right after I found out. After the first time I—…“, he swallows, “it was after Victor talked me down from that panic attack.“

“God“, Phichit drags his hand down his face, apparently trying to collect his thoughts, “that‘s when—how did you hide this from me for so long? How did you manage to hide the flowers from me all this time?“

Yuuri shrugs again, helpless. “Please, just… Peaches, just promise me you won‘t tell them. And I mean no hints or heavy-handed allusions, just don‘t tell them anything. Promise me.“

Phichit‘s hands clench into fists on his knees, but he nods. “Fine. I promise. Now call him already, before you combust again.“

Yuuri breathes a sigh of relief and inclines his head. “Alright. Thank you.“ Reaching out with one hand to give Phichit’s arm a quick squeeze in thanks, he gets up and grabs his tea from the coffee table before heading into his room, phone clutched in the other hand. 

Despite his having been away only for one night, it feels oddly cold and unlived in. He opens the window to let in some of the summer warmth before he settles on his bed. He takes a breath and finally taps on Victor’s name on his phone.

 


 

Victor’s voice in his ear feels like a cool balm on his skin.

When the line connects and Victor’s “Hello?” reaches Yuuri’s ear, the effect is immediate. Yuuri can feel the now familiar pressure on his lungs relenting, the tautness of his nerves that he was barely aware of relaxing. 

“Victor, hi”, Yuuri says, sinking back into the pillows and the comforting presence of Victor, if only by proxy.

“Yuuri!”, Victor’s voice replies, high with excitement, “You called me back!”

“Yeah, of course”, Yuuri mumbles, “sorry I missed your call, I—…”, he hesitates, before concluding, “I didn’t hear.”

“No problem, I just hope I didn’t wake you? I only realised when I was calling that it was maybe a little early for you?”

“Ah, no. I was up, don’t worry. How was the show?”

They fall back into their familiar pattern of conversation so easily, and Yuuri’s prolonged absence from his phone doesn’t even come up again, because it has become so normal between them, these long periods of silence while Victor is travelling. While it makes Yuuri’s life easier at the moment not having to come up with an excuse, it also pains him, somewhere close to his ribs and at the base of his skull, the fact that his life got turned upside down in the last twenty-four hours and Victor doesn’t even suspect a thing.

Instead they talk about Victor’s shows and Dutch snack foods and Yuuri talks about his work shift the day before, like nothing more remarkable happened to him since they last talked than getting a new shipment of Darjeeling at the shop. But Yuuri clings to every one of Victor’s syllables, to every tone of his voice like it’s a life raft, the only thing keeping him adrift, and in a way, it is. Who knows, after all, when the next time will be that he gets to speak to Victor.

“The international leg is almost done, isn’t it?”, Yuuri asks at some point, in between taking sips from his slowly cooling tea, “and then it’s back for the second German leg of the tour?”

“Yep”, Victor says, “Only two more shows in the Netherlands and I’m back on familiar territory.” He yawns, the sound of his breath fading as he evidently turns his phone away from his face.

“I can’t believe it’s another two weeks before you’re back. It feels like it’s been forever.”

“Does it?”, Victor asks, voice still stretched from the yawn, “it’s felt like the blink of an eye to me, but then I feel like I haven’t gotten a wink of rest since I left.”

Yuuri’s mouth suddenly feels dry despite the sip of tea he can still taste on his tongue. He knows—he knows this isn’t what Victor meant, but of course his being away from Yuuri would mean nothing to him, wouldn’t matter to anyone but Yuuri himself. Of course Victor hasn’t been thinking about him as much as he’s been thinking about Victor. Unbidden the images rise to the forefront of his mind again, of Victor tumbling into bed with some suave admirer who chatted him up after the show, tall and fair and confident. Yuuri tries to close his mind against it, but he can’t help but see; skin on skin and hands grasping and a shudder running down a spine. He has to clear his throat.

“… so they’ll tell you where you need to go”, Victor is saying, “I would love to see you before the show.”

Yuuri shakes himself out of his sinister thoughts and forces himself to concentrate on Victor’s words. “I’m sorry, what were you saying?”

Victor laughs at the other end of the line, a low, throaty chuckle that makes Yuuri shiver.

“The show in the city, Yuuri! It’ll be the last stop of the tour and as I said I’ve had you and Phichit put on the guest list so… just let them know at the box office and you can come see me backstage before the show!”

These words make Yuuri’s breath stutter in his chest for a whole different reason—the thought of seeing Victor again, finally, after all that time, makes him giddy, even if the day’s still a couple of weeks away. The excitement of getting to greet nikiforlove backstage before a show pales in comparison to the excitement of being face to face with Victor again, hugging him, feeling his warmth.

“I can’t wait”, Yuuri says, and it may be the truest thing he’s said all day, “I still can’t believe you’ve done that for us. Makes me feel so special.”

Victor chuckles again. “You have no idea, Yuuri”, he says, almost solemnly for a moment, before he continues in a chipper tone, “Well, you can pay me back by welcoming me home properly after my long, hard, troublesome journey!”

Yuuri suppresses a grin at Victor’s dramatic tone. “We will.”

“Oh, you will, will you? Do you have something special planned? Are you going to bring me flowers to my dressing room, Yuuri?”

Even though his ears register the playful tone in Victor’s voice, Yuuri goes rigid with fear for a moment. Just a joke , he reminds himself, he doesn’t mean anything by it .

“Yeah”, he manages to croak out, hoping that his voice isn’t cracking too much, “most likely.”

“I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to… mh, being home.”

“Yeah”, Yuuri says again, quickly taking another sip of tea in between words to wet his scratchy throat, “it’s not the same here without you.”

 


 

Yuuri notices the effects of his medication distinctly in the next few days.

They don’t make his symptoms disappear, of course, but they do, he begrudgingly admits, improve his quality of life considerably. He still feels drained and tired a lot, but he has enough energy at least to stay on top of the orders from his shop and make it through the shifts at the Teeburg

His attacks have definitely gotten much rarer, granting the muscles in his back and abdomen some respite from the constant strain, as it does his broken rib, which he is thankful for, because coughing has suddenly become infinitely more painful. Like this, he can grant his ribs some much needed rest, and the sharp stabs of pain with every movement soon fade into a dull background noise.

He does still feel hungry all the time, and he feeds the Hana unabashedly, now that the doctor has confirmed to him that the best thing he can do about his cravings is indeed give in to them—and now that he doesn’t need to hide it from Phichit anymore. Quite the opposite—Phichit now enables his binges unapologetically, cooking hearty meals for him or bringing home greasy takeout and sugary pastries. They have döner and they buy grocery store cakes and eat them sitting on the couch watching silly movies, each of them a fork in hand, breaking off pieces directly from the whole cake.

Yuuri also finds one of those sports nutrition stores and buys some protein bars and shakes, even if it hurts his wallet—one of his pamphlets suggested these as a burst of energy that would sate the Hana more thoroughly than empty calories from fat and carbs.

The one thing that his medication and all the food in the world cannot combat, however, is the horribly empty feeling of being separated from Victor. It still grinds his nerves down into dust and sours his mood whenever he’s not currently on the phone with Victor or at least texting him. It leaves him distractible and irritated and miserable in an unspecific kind of way that he can only remember feeling during puberty, which he supposes makes sense given that it’s most likely his hormones running wild. 

Knowing this, however, does nothing to alleviate it, so Yuuri has no choice but to try and bear it as best he can. He barely makes it out of bed some days and others he snaps at Phichit for no reason and all of them he just begs, begs, quietly and fervently, for Victor to come home already.

When the day finally nears, Yuuri feels like he can sense Victor coming physically closer as he plays some final cities in the Ruhr area, can sense it like a tingling on his skin, like a breeze raising the hairs on his arms. He gets restless, counting the hours, impatient, until the last couple of days before the final concert of the tour, Yuuri can barely contain his excitement. He roams the apartment, blasting music as loud as he dares, dancing through the living room as much as his tired limbs and his beleaguered lungs permit. He chats to Phichit constantly in a need to talk that feels thoroughly strange to him but that he can still not suppress—and of course his only and constant topic of conversation is Victor. Where Victor is that day and how long it’ll be before they see him again and what he might be doing right now and did I tell you about that time when Victor and I were cooking and … 

Occasionally he looks at himself from a strange kind of distance and realises he’s acting way differently than he’s ever known himself to act and in those rare moments he also suspects the Hana and its hormonal feedback loop of influencing him, but the rest of the time those thoughts are banished from his mind by the sheer mass that Victor occupies in his head. And so he talks through and over Phichit’s rising annoyance and doesn’t really note the relief that joins in his roommate’s manner the closer Victor’s final concert creeps.

When the day finally dawns, Yuuri wakes up to a text from Victor and laughs quietly to himself in his bed. There’s nothing funny about the text itself, but Yuuri is just so giddy, he feels drunk with it.

 

Vitya 💗💗💗

08:13 Good morning, Yuuri! 💜 I can’t wait to see you tonight.