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Paying for Poison

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"Moya zvezdochka1" Viktor blinked as he heard the endearment said almost tenderly on his alpha's salacious tongue. Glancing over across the back of the car's bench, he saw the bulk of the man that used to be the light of his life looking pointedly out the window. Lolling his head to see what it was that Ivan was looking at, he found he recognized where they were. Heart thumping in a way that it hadn't in years, his breath caught. The Megasport Palace stretched above them. Vaguely he wondered if they were there to see a basketball game, and he winced at the hazy memories of hands finding their way where they had no business. An involuntary whimper escaped his throat, and he turned back to Ivan.

 Crawling across the seats he wrapped his arms around his alpha's neck and hid his face into the crook of a broad shoulder.

 "Vanya… can we please go home?" he asked as sweetly as he could, releasing the only weapon he had against what he was expecting to come. If he could successfully arouse Ivan enough with his pheromones, then he'd at least know who was going to be touching him that night. The sharp slap across his thigh signaled that whatever was planned for the evening could not be changed, and he stopped releasing pheromones immediately. "I'm sorry, Alpha." came the quick apology. "I was only thinking of spending the night with you."

"Don't lie, zvezdochka." Was all Ivan said before shoving Viktor away. Flinching away from any other hit that might land, Viktor waited, but blessedly, none came. "Get out of the car. At the very least you can watch the programs while I speak to other businessmen."

Schooling his face to remain neutral, Viktor nodded and exited the car. Waiting in place for Ivan to come around the other side and wrap a possessive arm around his waist, he fell in perfect step. It was only then that he realized what he was wearing. He didn't remember being told to put it on, but that didn't mean much. More often than not, Ivan would tell him what to wear and he'd obey without even thinking. But it wasn't often that Ivan would ask him to wear a button down shirt, tie and slacks under his thick, tailored overcoat. Tentatively, he reached up to feel how his hair was styled, and found it to be slicked back with a strand or two framing his forehead. The tackiness of his eyes told him he was wearing eyeliner, and the sweet cherry flavor on his lips spoke of lip gloss. Even his collar was the demure black one instead of the gaudy jewels to which he was accustomed. He was dressed professionally that evening. Odd.

Looking up and finally taking in the other spectators that were filing into the sports complex, he saw much the same. No one was dressed for a basketball game, there were no painted faces, no jerseys, in fact - the crowd looked very familiar. Then he saw the banners and gasped. Rostelecom Cup. Ivan had brought him to a Grand Prix competition. The question was why? He hadn't been to any ice skating events in… well, he wasn't sure how long, but it had been a very long time. One banner boasted the year 2017. And that answered that question. Had it really been five years since he had dropped out right before Sochi's Grand Prix Final?

Ivan handed their tickets to an usher and in exchange they were given a program, which Ivan handed to Viktor. Biting back the urge to eagerly look through it and see if there were any skaters he knew, he held it politely, and allowed himself to be guided to the elevators to take them to a box suite. Leaning into Ivan, he almost hid his eyes from the bright, harsh lights that could only be in a sporting venue. Funny that he used to live beneath these lights, and now he wished he could disappear into a shadow. A familiar pounding in his chest bespoke of anxiety instead of the excitement he used to feel upon entering such a place. If it had been five years, all of his friends would no longer be there. He didn't even know if Yakov would be there, he'd been thinking of retiring from coaching years ago - there was no reason to expect any familiar, friendly, faces. 

They entered their usual box, that was often shared with Ivan's business associates, and Ivan deposited him into one of the chairs. Viktor smiled his thanks and began to remove his coat, draping it carefully over his arm before casually opening the program. Letting out a small breath, he realized that he recognized none of the names, at least, not any with whom he'd once been on a first name basis. The few Russian competitors were from Moscow, not St. Petersburg. One from Japan and one from Thailand (that oddly, he noted, had the same coach), a couple from the United States, and eight others from random countries spanning the globe. Taking a controlled deep breath, he settled resignedly into his seat. The foolish hope that he'd be able to even get down to the rink, and then back stage, was far too much, but he would have tried if he'd known any of the competitors. Of course Ivan would have made sure that none of them would know who he was personally.  The Japanese competitor, however, was very attractive. 

It certainly explained his attire, however. Ivan hardly could allow his spouse to dress scandalously at the events he used to compete. Small things to be thankful for, Viktor supposed, being able to be comfortably clothed.

Vaguely, he recognized the hand that entered his vision, holding a glass of wine.

"Thank you, Vanya." he tilted his head up and offered a small smile as he took the glass. Ivan settled into the seat next to him, obviously waiting for something else. Viktor scrambled, "And thank you for bringing me. I'll enjoy seeing the programs."

"That's not all you're here for, remember." Ivan muttered and Viktor recognized the threat. Viktor chanced a glance around the box that was filling with others he didn't recognize. So that was it, Ivan had opened up the pool of potential 'customers', as he called them. A wave of nausea rolled through Viktor's stomach. Of course ice skating patrons would be the logical place to solicit business. He'd been Russia's hero for several years, after all. Many would pay handsomely for a night with him.

"Of course, Alpha." Viktor said meekly, the blush on his cheeks pretty, but not the coy shyness that Vanya had come to expect. Rather he felt like he would rather vomit. Ivan grunted in approval, and sat back, arm draped over Viktor's chair.

Viktor didn't even notice the show starting, didn't register the programs being performed right before his eyes. He didn't see Ivan step away and strike up conversations with the wealthy sponsors behind him. Unseeing eyes were merely fixated on the ice. Competitor after competitor went, scores being announced, cheers and sympathetic winces from the crowd thundered around him, but nothing brought him out of the stupor he allowed himself to sink into. It was his escape. Ivan hadn't liked how the medicine had made him so vacant, but Viktor embraced it fully. If he didn't fully recognize what was going on, he wouldn't have night terrors, he wouldn't have to remember.

That is, until Christophe Giacometti's name was announced. Viktor looked up to the speaker sharply, and then flinched away from it. If Ivan had noticed the recognition, he'd be furious and they'd have to leave immediately. But Ivan wasn't next to him any more. Viktor looked over his shoulder and saw Ivan's handsome smile winning over some besotted business man and his wife.

"Of course, we'll be back to see the Men's Free Skate. Moya zvezdochka wouldn't miss it! He has such fond memories." He was saying, and Viktor cringed. It was a common pattern. With basketball or hockey there was usually a few games in a row they would attend, the first would be introductions and wooing, the second the tiniest of samples of the product, then the third would be when paper invitations would be extended. So it seemed this would be no different.

Reaffixing his gaze on the ice, he didn't see Chris, instead he saw the Japanese skater take to the ice and position himself center circle. Glancing down to the program, he saw the name 'Yuuri Katsuki, coach Celestino Cialdini' and a brief biography. Had he imagined Chris' name over the announcement? He didn't think so.

The music started, and Viktor watched carefully. As Katsuki moved, Viktor's breath caught. He was beautiful. Music seemed to come from his movements rather than over the sound system. There was an emotion there that seemed to be disappearing from the programs others were performing, and it was stunning. Then he began to recognize some of the elements, and he blinked. Chris must have choreographed Katsuki's short program. Only he'd be brazen enough to put in such a sexual movement, and then to see it from the lithe Japanese man, Viktor was entranced.

As Katsuki finished, took his bows and picked up a rice ball tossie, Viktor was starting to piece together a plan. Most of it was hopeful, merely wishful thinking, but if luck was on his side for once, maybe, just maybe, he could reach out to Chris.

 


 

It was a hard won couple of days, keeping himself coherent enough to be able to tell when they'd be leaving for the free skate program. Wanting nothing more than to retreat back into daydreams and nothingness. He'd found an old pass in a memory book with its lanyard. With a blue pen, he fixed the year to be current. It was sloppy, but it'd have to do, and he knew full well that security guards didn't look as closely as they should. Placing it under his shirt that Ivan had told him to wear, he ensured it wouldn't be visible through the fabric, and he buttoned his overcoat for extra measure.

As he reached Ivan's study to wait for his mate to be ready to go, he opened the top drawer and took out one of the small invitations. The date on it was after the Grand Prix final, almost a month away, and he hoped that Katsuki was an honest, good man. If not, then all of this would be for naught, and the punishment if he were caught would be unthinkable. Shoving away the trepidation of what Ivan would do if his actions were discovered, he wrote Chris' name on the invitation and shoved it into his pocket.

He was waiting for Ivan on the couch when the alpha entered the study.

"Eager, are you?" Ivan chuckled. "Perhaps we should go to these damned events more often if it gets you off your ass and into the car."

"Yes, Vanya." was all Viktor could say. But he had to fight back his protest as Ivan produced the bottle of pills. The hormone dosage would be increased that night. The sinking disappointment in Viktor's stomach was almost too much, but he fought to stay present. He couldn't argue, knowing that Ivan wanted to display just how deep into submission Viktor would be able to go. He wanted to display how responsive Viktor could be toward others, even outside a full blown heat. Dutifully he placed the pill in his mouth and gave a swallow, opening his mouth afterward for Ivan's inspection that he had indeed taken it.

Once at the Palace, Viktor fixed his face to the neutral vacancy that Ivan expected, and drank the wine, nibbled on the offered aperitifs, and waited until Ivan was deep in a conversation about American stock or some such nonsense. The pill was making him far more hazy than he wanted to be, and he could feel his mind slipping away in moments before he jolted it back in horror. This was his chance and he couldn't lose it to the hormones that Ivan forced on him. Once he knew he wouldn't be able to continue this further without losing himself completely, he left his coat on his chair and sidled up to the alpha and whispered his need to use the restroom.

"Do you remember the way?" came the grumpy murmur. A palm came to his cheek, and he was grateful that he was sweaty enough to warrant a freshening up.

"Of course, Vanya." Viktor purred softly against his ear, giving him a kiss on the cheek for good measure - ever the doting omegan partner. His touch lingered on the alpha's hand, and it wasn't entirely for show. He hated how good it felt to have contact with another while the medicine raced through his body.

"Be quick."

And Viktor was. He'd have to be fast, and prayed that Ivan would be too distracted by the prospect of money to notice he was taking far longer in the bathroom than what would be acceptable. If anything, he'd feign getting lost. As if he could get lost in the venue he'd performed in for years, even with the medicine that Ivan kept pumping through his veins.

In the elevator, he pulled the lanyard out from under his shirt, and double checked that the narrow paper that was in his pocket was still there. Going through security, his old pass working as he'd hoped, he fought through the haze his head was in. Desperately hoping he wasn't walking as though he was as drunk as he felt, he found one of the young Russian skaters that was stretching against a wall. The boy couldn't have been older than 16, and had headphones blaring in his ears. Viktor tapped on his shoulder, mustering every ounce of confidence he could to show that he belonged

"Skater Katsuki?" he asked, ignoring the double take the young skater gave him. Yes, he was Viktor Nikiforov. No, he hadn't been seen on the circuit in five years. But that didn't matter. This was his domain, drunk on fake hormones or not.

"Locker room, I think." the boy shrugged at him. Viktor nodded and headed toward the door that he knew led to the lockers.

 


 

Yuuri hated the moments before competitions with the fire of the burning sun. His stomach was tight and rolling, forehead beaded with a cold sweat. Hands trembled as he took a drink from his water bottle, and he adjusted his hips into a stretch against the bench. One earbud was hanging from his ear, and the other was tucked into the collar of his Japan jacket so he could still hear the announcements. He'd learned his lesson before, when Ciao Ciao had found him in a secluded corner, absorbed in his music and barely making the ice with seconds to spare. If he wanted to warm up alone, he had to pay attention.

It also helped to hear whenever the door to the locker room slammed shut as it just had. He took a deep and calming breath, and turned to go see who had come, half expecting Phichit to appear around the corner. Instead he saw a man in dark trousers, silver hair slicked back, and a lanyard that was clearly not from this competition. Press, probably. And Yuuri scowled.

"Um, sorry, this area is for skaters onl-" Yuuri's voice strangled in his throat as the man before him turned. His appearance was much changed - thin, like he needed to eat katsudon for months before regaining his old figure, his eyes were glassy, cheeks flushed as though he had a fever. It seemed as though his legs trembled beneath his own weight. But Yuuri would know that face, that hair, anywhere. Years of watching him and far too many posters on his bedroom wall ensured that he'd recognize him even in this state. But the look on the other man's face banished any thoughts other than what seemed to be wrong. "Are… are you in heat?"

"Skater Katsuki?" Yuuri's eyes widened as he nodded, and suddenly Viktor Nikiforov was clutching at his coat. He barely registered that his childhood hero knew his name, he couldn't think on that when Viktor's voice was on the edge of breaking. Desperation lined his every movement.

"Yes th-that's me.  Um… Mr. Nikiforov… Do… do you need help?"

Viktor shook his head violently and shoved his hand into Yuuri's pocket. Yuuri only had time to squeak before Viktor was backing away, breathing heavily. "Please… please buy me."

Chapter Text

"Skater Katsuki?" Yuuri's eyes widened as he nodded, and suddenly Viktor Nikiforov was clutching at his coat. He barely registered that his childhood hero knew his name, he couldn't think on that when Viktor's voice was on the edge of breaking. Desperation lined his every movement. 

"Yes th-that's me.  Um… Mr. Nikiforov… Do… do you need help?"

Viktor shook his head violently and shoved his hand into Yuuri's pocket. Yuuri only had time to squeak before Viktor was backing away, breathing heavily. "Please… please buy me."


 

"… What?" Yuuri asked, taking a step forward, and Viktor held up an open palm to stop his advance.

"Can't stay." he muttered, and fled the locker room, leaving Yuuri standing there flabbergasted. It took him far too long to move into action, and he ran out the door. Looking up and down the hall, he found it to be empty.

"Wow, Katsuki, you're really losing it…" he whispered to himself and sighed, taking a few steps in the direction he hoped Viktor had gone. His steps were hurried as he continued talking to himself under his breath. "What in the world was that?" 

"Hey, did he find you?" a thick accented voice came from down the corridor. Yuuri turned and saw Anton Kuznetsov walking toward him casually. It was his first year in the senior circuit, and was the one giving Yuuri and Peach a good run for their money. He was certain to podium.

"Who?" Yuuri asked him, a little cross from the interruption. He needed to find Viktor. His body rotated away, trying to signal that it wasn't a good time for Anton to be talking to him.

"Nikiforov. I didn't know he was on your team." Anton's tone was almost accusatory, and Yuuri gulped.  So he hadn't had an insane hallucination. Viktor Nikiforov had been there, and what was more, it seemed he'd asked for him specifically. 

"Yeah, he did. Thank you." he said softly, taking another step, but Anton continued.

"Was hoping to talk to him more. What's he been doing all this time?"

"I don't know." Yuuri frowned at his shoes, trying to piece everything together. He shoved his hands in his jacket pockets and felt a piece of paper that had most definitely not been there a few minutes ago. "Um, he's not… you know, on my team."

"Oh." Anton suddenly seemed to deflate, mimicking Yuuri and shoving his hands in his Russian skate jacket. "That's too bad. I was hoping he'd made a comeback as a coach or something."

Yuuri chuckled hollowly, "If he did, it wouldn't be for me."

"Oh, well. " Anton shrugged and began to walk back from whence he had come. "See you at the bottom of the podium."

"Sure thing…" Yuuri muttered distractedly, not realizing the snub from the teenager. He almost tore the door to the locker room off its hinge to get back inside. That short interlude most assuredly had given Viktor enough time to escape, and it had been clear from the way he had fled that he wasn't interested in sticking around for Yuuri's questions. But he'd left something behind. Pulling the paper out of his pocket, he scanned the text. If he had thought his anxiety was bad a moment before, it was nothing compared to what it was after reading the invitation.

 

Omegan Auction

December 12, 2017

Champion Figure Skater Viktor Nikiforov Headlining

Limit of One Night per Omega

Black Tie

 

'For Christophe' was scrawled up at the top in a shaky hand, and on the back there was an address and details of how to RSVP. Yuuri was breathing heavily, scraping any coherent thought he could through his mind. Viktor had disappeared from figure skating right before the Grand Prix Final in Sochi, 2012. He had cited a broken ankle in a heart breaking press conference, and Yuuri remembered the devastation that he'd never be able to skate against his idol. Soon after that, a publicist had issued a statement of Viktor's permanent retirement, and not one reporter had been able to reach anyone for comment. His coach Yakov had eventually admitted that Viktor wished to cut all ties with the skating community, and that was that. Amidst the chaos of Viktor falling from the top of his career to the vague lines of articles that referenced his records that were now all broken - Yuuri even holding one for the highest free skate program score - Russia's hero had faded to complete obscurity 

What was more, Yuuri had heard from Chris himself that Viktor had completely disappeared from all of his friends' lives. Even Yakov hadn't heard from him after the announcement of retiring was published, and the publicist team had said there was no forwarding information. They'd been hired to do the single announcement, had never worked with Viktor before, and were instructed to give no comment. No one had been able to reach him, his apartment abandoned and Makkachin taken in by Yakov's ex-wife. Everyone had been left to think that the injury had affected the great skater so much that he couldn't stand being around anyone that reminded him of his old life. Chris had known something to be terribly wrong, and Yakov had attempted to enlist the police, and there had been a search conducted. Nothing had turned up. Viktor was just simply gone. Rumors of suicide had persisted for a while, but when Yakov's temper had proved to be far worse when the subject of Viktor's fate had been brought up, even the speculative whispers had stopped.

So why did he show up now? Why did he look as though he was about to fall over from heat hormones? Why had he sought out Yuuri, of all people? And what in the world did the auction mean? Surely it wasn't the black market auctions that sometimes cropped up on the news and then disappeared as fast. There wasn't any way that Viktor could be part of something like that, right? 

Ripping his phone out of his other pocket, Yuuri knew he needed more insight. This was far above his head, his comprehension. Dialing the Swiss skater-turned-coach, he choked when there was an answer. 

"Mon cher1! What a lovely performance you gave the other night. You did our program proud." Chris' praise flooded through the speaker. When Yuuri couldn't say anything, Chris' tone went from pride to concern. "Yuuri? Are you having an anxiety attack? Where is Ciao Ciao or that delectable Peach?"

"Viktor… Viktor was here." Yuuri finally managed. Chris was silent on the other end for a beat. When he spoke again, his voice was cold. After a few years of nothing from his best friend, he'd taken the rumors of Viktor's death as fact and had grieved heavily to the point where his own retirement from competitive skating had been the only option left for him 

"Don't joke, Yuuri. That's not funny."

"I'm not!" Yuuri's voice was strangled, and his lungs screamed so loud for breath that he started coughing. "Chris, he… he was here. He told me to buy him." 

"Yuuri, you need to find Ciao Ciao. I don't think you should skate if your panic attack is this bad…"

"No!" Yuuri shouted, hand flying to his hair, mussing his careful style. "Chris! Viktor was here! He gave me an invitation for… for an omegan auction… and then ran away, it says your name on it, and he told me to buy him!"

Chris was silent long enough that Yuuri looked at his phone to see if the line had disconnected. He was about to ask him if he was still there when he finally spoke, a deadly seriousness lacing his tone.

"Send me a picture of the invitation, Yuuri. Then get your ass to Ciao Ciao and tell him what happened… When do you fly to Japan?"

"T-two days."

"Tell no one else but Tino. Hopefully he's still there somewhere and we can get to him. But you need to pretend like nothing is wrong. Do you understand?"

Of course he didn't understand. It wasn't that the instructions were so complicated that he wouldn't be able to comprehend or follow through with them, it was that the situation was so damned bizarre that he was having trouble getting his thoughts straight.

"Yuuri!" Chris' urgent voice came through and jolted him from his blank, panicked thoughts. "Do you understand?"

"Yeah." Yuuri's reply was weak, and then he cleared his throat as everything fully registered. If Viktor was still there, maybe Celestino could act fast when he had not. His voice grew stronger. "Yes, I understand. I gotta go."

"Tell Ciao Ciao to call me when he knows something." Chris added, and then muttered, "I'll… I'll call Yakov…"

The line hung up and Yuuri had the distinct impression that calling Yakov wasn't something that he needed to know about. It seemed Chris was also shocked and talking to himself. Yuuri snapped several pictures of the invitation, his hand shaking as he held it leaving the first couple of photos blurry, and sent all of them to Chris, then started walking to try and find his coach. In his hand, his phone vibrated and almost made him jump. It was only Chris giving an 'okay' emoji to let him know the messages were received. The halls of the complex went by in a blur, the cheers from the crowd as someone finished their routine a dull roar in the background as he searched. Finally, he found the query of his search. Celestino was with Phichit in the green room, watching another competitor's program on the television there.

"Yuuri?" Phichit noticed him first, as usual, his dark brows almost hidden in his hairline. Ciao Ciao only turned from viewing the screen when he heard Phichit's tone and his eyes alighted on Yuuri with a puzzled expression. "What's wrong?"

"Ciao Ciao… I need to talk to you." Yuuri muttered, and Celestino frowned down at him and waited expectantly. It was clear his coach was expecting this to be just another one of his panic attacks, not the bombshell he was about to drop. "Alone."

 


 

Finally back in Hasetsu, Yuuri slumped to the table next to Celestino. The previous few days had been a whirlwind of things to do, between Chris, Yakov, and his own coach frantically contacting security, police, and searching for Viktor, and then flights to Japan. Nothing had turned up beyond a few security frames and Celestino slamming his fist on the table in the room after they viewed the footage.  After encountering Yuuri, Viktor had made his way dazedly back up to the third floor, the floor with the box seats, and then was whisked away from the arena by a large man with dark coloring. It had certainly seemed as though Viktor was in some sort of trouble. At least, the man had not been happy with him. It made Yuuri sick when he thought of it. 

Police had tried to identify the man with the video, but had no luck. Much to Yuuri and Celestino's dismay, they had not interviewed any of the attendees from the box that Viktor had been in before he'd journeyed below to find Yuuri. They cited that the box was rented by a corporation, and something about infringement of privacy laws and a possible prank. When Yuuri had moved to show them the invitation, Celestino had stopped him, later explaining that if the police were too afraid to go against the owner of the box for something as simple as an interview, the Bratva was likely involved, somehow. Later, Yakov had confirmed just that. If they had shown the invitation, whomever held Viktor might be tipped off by a corrupt officer. It was the one thing they had on their side. None of this had made Yuuri feel any better.

He had skated terribly, of course. The last one to take the ice thanks to his high score from the short program, he'd popped a few jumps, downgrading them from quads and triples to doubles or singles with one shaky triple axel-double toe in the second half. Somehow, he had taken bronze.

Shaken from his thoughts by the clatter of a few dishes placed in front of him by his mother, he gave her a weak smile. Katsudon, of course. While he hadn't won gold, his family always considered any podium slot a win, and consequently celebrated just as hard as if he'd taken the gold at the Olympics. The food smelled delicious, but he couldn't bring himself to enjoy it as much. Viktor's slight frame suggesting starvation the more he thought about it kept coming to his mind. How could he eat knowing that his hero was out there being abused, had asked him for help, and he'd failed to provide it?

"Eat up, Yuuri." Celestino said from his place at the table. "You need your strength."

Picking up the chopsticks obediently, Yuuri began to eat, making the appropriate 'mmm' at different intervals while still mulling things over in his mind.

"I can't go to the auction, Yuuri." Chris had concluded on their earlier phone call. "I don't think it's coincidence that Viktor has only shown up now, after everyone he knew has retired or wouldn't be at the Cup. I think if I were to go, then the whole thing would be shut down and we'd lose Viktor for good."

"Then what do you suggest we do?" Yuuri had asked, still completely exasperated by the way events had unfolded, and even more incredulous that Chris was refusing to go to the so-called party that was on the invitation. Even if his arguments made sense, the idea of not going was making his stomach roll. "We can't just leave him!"

"We're not going to!" Chris' voice was emphatic, and then he paused. "I want you to go. Yakov thinks it's a good idea, too."

"A good idea? That is a terrible idea!" Yuuri had been able to feel his blood falling from his face like a pebble from a ledge.

"Well… he thinks it's the best idea we have." Chris had corrected himself,  "Viktor will know you, and seems to already trust you enough to find you. Once you get to him, then everyone else can help take over. 

"I don't have any money. How could I win bids at an auction?"

"Yakov and I have that covered. Just… think on it, okay? Please?"

And of course, it had all he'd been able to think about in the hours since. Too many things could go wrong with their idea. The address on the invitation had simply been a pick-up point for cab drivers. Even if Yuuri was able to get to the actual auction, there was every chance that whatever money Yakov and Chris could give wouldn't be enough. There wasn't even any guarantee that Viktor's name would be on the list - what if it was some sort of code name that only the deranged psychopaths that attended these type of parties would know? And what if he bid on the wrong person? He could easily end up with an omega that was not Viktor. And even if all of it went smoothly, Viktor was expecting Chris, not him. How could he get Viktor to trust him enough with his life? And even if that went okay, there was getting Viktor out of an unknown place. If it was rural, outside of city limits, then there wouldn't be any taxis without ordering one, and that would draw too much suspicion. And if Yakov and Celestino were right, and it was the Russian mafia involved, that put Yuuri at a huge risk. That wasn't as bad as what he thought it would be, he was certainly willing to take the risk - but at the same time, he wasn't overly fond of the idea of being flayed alive and left for the Siberian tigers in the woods outside of Moscow.

"Yuuri, you're over thinking." Ciao Ciao muttered to him over their bowls of katsudon. Yuuri blinked out of his own head and nodded, fretting at his lower lip. A deep sigh came from the coach, and he gave a reassuring squeeze to Yuuri's shoulder. "We'll talk about it more later. 

Later, meaning outside of earshot from everyone that was trying to ignore Yuuri's odd behavior. Before Rostelecom, Yuuri had been looking forward to spending the last month or so of the Grand Prix season in Hasetsu. The first thing he had done upon arriving was take down all of the posters of Viktor. They felt like a violation of Viktor's privacy, now. He'd be in his childhood room for nearly two months before having to return to the States. It would be the longest time he'd spend at home in years, and the Final was in Nagoya. It hadn't made much sense for them to go back to Detroit just to come back and readjust to a new time zone once again, not when they had a rink that was practically private to give both Phichit and him the edge of unlimited practice and plenty of time to sleep. And then there was Japan's National competition just a couple weeks after Nagoya.

What was more, Phichit's 'future mate,' as he called Seung Gil, was going to come a few weeks early to take advantage of the same perks. Neither skater minded, preferring to compete against others when at their peak conditions anyway. And it gave Peach and Seung Gil time to share a heat and rut without having to suppress them. Needless to say, Phichit was ecstatic over all these prospects. And, thankfully, was taking the attention away from Yuuri's foul mood by chattering away with his parents and Mari about making plans for Seung Gil to have a good time while in Japan.

Yuuri was blaming his attitude on jetlag, and no one was questioning him on it. Celestino had decided that Phichit did not need to know about Yuuri's encounter, but Yuuri wasn't sure he would be able to keep up the act; he was already failing miserably, after all. He had no idea how he would be able to pretend everything was fine when he was considering entering into a Bratva hideout, attempting a rescue that he'd only seen in cheesy heist movies. At least Peach would be distracted by his boyfriend. His family, on the other hand, would know very quickly that something was wrong.

Yuuri finished what he could and excused himself from the table, taking his leave into the gardens. There was a slight bite to the ocean air and he breathed it in gratefully. The chill grounded him as he looked up to the sky. There were more stars here than in Detroit, but the bright of the three-quarter moon made them fade even more than the lights from the sleepy town of Hasetsu would. As beautiful as the night was, all he wanted to do was sink to the ground and sob out all his frustrations.

Viktor's eyes, glazed and wild, so desperate, haunted him every time he closed his eyes. As he exhaled deeply he knew what his decision was. There really had been no question. He would do it. He'd go to the auction and do his best to help his hero in any way he possibly could. Viktor didn't know it, but he had done so much for Yuuri in his own darkest times as a child. What sort of person would he be if he didn't at least try to help Viktor out in his?

Wandering away from the door, he sat on a small bench amidst the cypress and bamboo, pulling out his phone with a trembling hand. Never minding the time difference, it didn't matter if it was day or night, he dialed a man he'd only ever seen from across the ice, making a mental note to thank Chris for the phone number later.

"Mr. Feltsman? It's Katsuki Yuuri… I… I have some questions."

Chapter Text

Yuuri decided he didn't like Russian winters. Or rather, he didn't like being outside in a Russian winter. He had thought this before, five years prior when, unbeknownst to all that were involved in this plot now, things were set in motion at Sochi. Though, he wasn't entirely sure his shivering was from the cold this time.

"If you're worried about showing how you feel, pretend you're performing a routine. Focus on conveying the emotion you want your audience to see."

Yakov's voice echoed in his head. He'd had several coaching sessions about how to handle himself throughout the upcoming night; Yakov showed his infamous relentless precision even in social coaching. Yuuri had practiced, too, schooling his facial features in the mirror, making sure he knew what the muscles felt like when he achieved the nonchalance of an entitled celebrity. Just as his limbs could skate his programs without his mind, his face could now achieve a very uncharacteristic sneer of being better than anyone else. His role would be a thrill seeking figure skater that had some rather… dark proclivities.

They had opted for transparency in his identity for several reasons. He was an Olympian, after all, and the fact was if he went missing, Japan would make a fuss about finding their Gold medalist in time for PyeongChang in the coming months. It had also allowed them to make the reservation through a stroke of luck that had come from one of Yakov's contacts that had recognized Viktor even before Yuuri had received the dreadful invitation marked for Chris. The sponsor had been a guest in the box where the alpha now identified as Ivan was making contacts to set up this party, and had secured his own invitation that he'd passed to Yuuri. That sponsor's insight into the seedy underbelly of competitive sports had proven to be invaluable, though Yuuri had never spoken to him.

And that brought him to where he stood, at an abandoned taxi stand, the address from the new invitation. His hair was slicked back much like it was when he skated, and the tux Chris had shipped to him fit well, but it still made his skin itch and crawl, though again, he wasn't sure if it was the fabric or simply the situation. A heavy wool overcoat from some store that he'd never dream of setting foot in, lest his wallet break just from looking at the prices, was doing its job of keeping his body as warm as possible.

A strange calm had settled over him within the previous twenty four hours, almost a sort of resolution of whatever happened was out of his control. Though it was the exact opposite as he was packing for his trip. It was the bow tie he was carefully folding and placing in the garment bag.  For whatever reason, that small scrap of fabric would not fold just right between his trembling fingers, and he broke down. Chris had received a frantic phone call with Yuuri screaming that he couldn't do it. That he was bound to mess it up, because he couldn't even fold a tie the right way, how was he supposed to infiltrate the black market? And how could people be so horrible as to treat others like they were a prize in a gacha machine?

Chris had let Yuuri have his frantic tantrum, allowed him to cry and scream for as long as he needed until he calmed himself down enough to hiccup a 'sorry' through the phone.

"Don't be sorry, mon cher1 Yuuri. We're attempting the impossible quintuple axel. It'll be a miracle if we pull it off… How do you feel now?"

Yuuri's breath was steadying and he waited for the panic to come back and grip him once again. But nothing came. He felt strangely empty of any fear, as though it had left him amidst the cries and tears. "Determined." he told Chris resolutely, nodding even though the other man couldn't see it.

"Très bien2! Just remember that you'll have Ciao Ciao with you, and Yakov sent someone too. All you have to do is create an opening for Vitya to leave and then get out safely yourself."

Ciao Ciao himself was currently down the block in a parked car that Yakov had set up for his use. If they could manage it, he'd be the one taking Viktor to the next point in his journey. Yuuri had purposefully stayed ignorant of any details, in case the worst should happen and he couldn't escape. Though he thought their plan of making him appear inculpable was a good one, none of them could be completely sure. It all simply depended on how Yuuri would be able to conduct himself.

He was pulled from his thoughts as an unmarked, black luxury vehicle pulled up to the stop. The driver seemed innocuous enough, but Yuuri had a suspicion there was some sort of firearm beneath the driver's jacket. Coming around the vehicle, he held the back passenger door open for Yuuri. With a confidence he didn't entirely feel, the skater stepped forward like it was his first step onto the ice. The performance had begun.

"Good evening, Mr. Katsuki." the driver greeted him with a short bow that, had they been in Japan, would have been considered rude rather than the politeness that he was apparently trying to convey.

"Hm." Yuuri gave a noncommittal hum of acknowledgement, swallowing down the bile that was threatening to rise. It seemed as though his rudeness was expected, however, and the driver merely gestured for him to enter the car. Settling into his seat, he noticed a welcome basket that held champagne, canapes, crudités, some fruit and… a blindfold.

"If you please, sir." the driver told him as Yuuri raised an eyebrow at the unexpected item. Yuuri fought back a whimper and instead chuckled like it was to be expected.

"How am I supposed to enjoy the champagne if I can't see what I'm doing?" Yuuri hoped his voice conveyed the sass that he had tried to develop for that night, though he suspected it had a bitter edge to it that he wasn't intending. The driver opened his mouth to insist, but Yuuri was already reaching for the basket. He popped a grape in his mouth casually, like this sort of thing was a normal circumstance he encountered often, and then picked up the blindfold and tied it behind his ears. Suddenly, he was all-too aware of his heart pounding in his ears. "Let's go."

"Very good, sir." And Yuuri heard the car door shut with a dull thud, and within the next moment, the car was moving.

Breathing as normally as possible, Yuuri tried to fight off any thoughts of how they had already been discovered and he was on his way to his death, rather than the auction. Reminding himself that the secrecy behind the event had been there from the very beginning, and that they likely would not have been able to give this attempt without Yakov's friend explaining how these things usually went. Though the blindfold had not been mentioned.

Instead of dwelling too hard, Yuuri focused on the thought that Ciao Ciao was following at a safe distance, that even if he didn't know where he was, his coach did. He counted the turns, left and then left again, right, and then straight for a good while… but soon lost track of them as well as his sense of time. The drive took forever, and just when he was about to tear off the blindfold and demand to know what was taking so long, he felt them go over a bump and down an incline. It felt a lot like a parking garage entrance and they were suddenly creeping along at a much slower pace before coming to a complete stop.

"We have arrived Mr. Katsuki."

With those words, his previous irritation was engulfed with nerves once again. Pulling off the blindfold, he realized his former thought had been accurate. They were in a parking garage, though it was nicer than any other lot he had ever seen. The floors were a polished and painted gray, the walls lined with warm, neutral toned flagstone and embellished with chrome light fixtures. The vehicles that were actually parked were all high end brands that cost far more than his most lucrative sponsorship. But most importantly, there was no way to know which building he was under. Outside his window, however, he did see an elevator with a man in another impeccable suit like his chauffer wore. He was holding a tablet and was looking at the car expectantly.

The door was opened and he stepped out, ignoring the wish to have enjoy his evening that came from behind, and walked toward the elevator. He appraised the man that was guarding it, and noted the ear piece that curved around his ear and into his suit. It wasn't until he was nearly standing in front of him that he realized the guard had been appraising him too. Yuuri hoped he passed the test.

"Your name, sir?"

"Katsuki." Yuuri slid the invitation from the sponsor out of his pocket and handed it over. The guard seemed to scan the invitation for something that could only be seen under a UV light, and checked the tablet he was holding. Nodding once with satisfaction, he passed the thick paper back to Yuuri and pushed the elevator's call button.

"Enjoy your evening, Mr. Katsuki." he said as the doors opened to reveal a brightly lit space with the same coloring as the flagstone walls of the garage, and politely waved Yuuri inside the car. The man stepped inside for a brief moment to scan a key card and select the top floor of the building and then left Yuuri alone.

He fought back a snort of disgust as the parking garage disappeared from view and he was staring at his own reflection on the steel doors. It was a relief to see the expression he had so carefully practiced still in place, and he took a deep breath to steady himself further. So far, the plan seemed to be working, but he wasn't allowing himself to be hopeful just yet. Now, he needed to figure out how to get to Viktor and get them both out of there safely.

"Keep your face neutral, act like you belong."

Yuuri reminded himself once again of Yakov's words and stepped off the elevator into the most lavish space he had ever entered. Whatever it had been that he was expecting, he had not expected to see a brightly lit penthouse. The room he found himself in was large, couches and armchairs were scattered around in groups where people in tuxes and evening gowns were mingling. Somewhere there was piano music filtering through the air, and waiters and servers were flitting back and forth with trays of champagne and apéritifs. But before he could venture any further, there was one more obstacle to get through.

"Welcome, Mr. Katsuki. If you would come this way, please." a young woman greeted him with a nod of her head. His eyes traced to where her hand was pointing and he realized there was a coat check and, it seemed, a final security measure to pass through. Following her guiding hand, he strode over and unbuttoned his coat.  The usher helped him out of it and then gave him a polite smile. "There are no electronics allowed beyond this point, sir. If you would turn off any phones, tablets, or smart devices and leave them here, it would be appreciated."

With a natural frown, Yuuri couldn't say he was terribly surprised. Chris and Yakov had both told him to expect such a rule. Pulling his phone from his pocket, he saw a text notification from Ciao Ciao. A thumbs up emoji that would look to anyone else that it was in response to Yuuri's earlier 'Landed safely' message. Celestino had been able to find a place to park nearby that would not draw suspicion. So Yuuri turned off his phone, noting the time, and handed it to her. He supposed he was lucky they hadn't made him turn it off at the pick up point, as he was transmitting his location to Celestino through the GPS feature for an extra measure of protection. It was almost seven thirty. If his coach didn't hear from him by eight thirty the next morning, the authorities would be notified.

"It's all I brought." he told the woman, and she beamed at him.

"I understand, sir. There is just one more step and you can be on your way to your evening." she said far too cheerfully as she gestured for him to walk behind a partition, blocking the view of the rest of the room. Yuuri was skeptical as he stepped behind the painted wooden barrier, and she followed. There was a small table that carried a detecting wand and she picked it up. "If you would hold out your arms, please, sir."

Doing as he was told, she waved the device over his body. When it gave no signal of any other large metal or electronic device, she patted down his pockets, sleeves and pants. The irony of giving him privacy through this security check when he was there to help someone who likely would call the basic decency of privacy a luxury was not lost on him. He took a deep breath to stave off the nausea that came with the visceral reminder of being in a very dangerous place, and it must have seemed like an impatient sigh, because the woman looked at him apologetically.

"Thank you for your patience, sir. We have you fully checked in. Please enjoy your evening." 

There was that phrase, once again. As though he would be able to enjoy any part of this, and he could not fathom the smiles and laughs that he encountered upon stepping fully into the large room. Smiles and laughs that he would have to imitate if he were to make it through the night. Trying to look mildly interested in his surroundings, rather than ubiquitously revolted, and picking up a glass of champagne to blend in further, he began to walk around the large room. But with every step, he could feel himself becoming more and more green around his cheeks.

Spread throughout the space were portraits of at least twenty different people that were to be auctioned off. Plaques with numbers identified them, rather than their names, and held information about them as if they were products in a catalogue. Their gender, subgender, age, height, weight, nationality, body-type if they were in their heat or rut that night, as well as 'specialties,' 'services,' and limits as to what the potential buyers could not do with them. It was with renewed horror that Yuuri saw one or two of them were listed to be constantly kept in their heat or rut state. Yuuri supposed all of the information was provided by the monsters that had put these people in their position. As he walked, searching for Viktor's portrait and the number he would have to bid on, he began to realize that the pictures were repeating the same numbers and people here and there, and the poses and states of dress and undress differed on each of them. All of them, however, were meant to entice just the sort of clientele he expected, and Yuuri found himself desperately wishing he could help every last one of them.

He wanted to know their names, their stories, so he could give all the information to the authorities. Perhaps Interpol would be a good place to start. And even though he was fighting a stomach that was rolling like ocean waves each time he looked at a new portrait, he found himself studying them carefully, assigning names to their faces so he could remember them better later. Then, he finally came upon the first picture of Viktor, number 042, and stifled a gasp.

"When you find Vitya's lot, don't show any excitement. It'll draw attention from other potential bidders."

Trying to ignore the provocative pose he had likely been forced into, Yuuri studied his expression. It was much the same as when they had met nearly two months prior. This was nothing like the vibrant young man that had posed for skating posters, where his eyes were once bright, they were now glazed over and vacant, his infamous heart-shaped smile that had once been reserved for the ice and his fans was now wan and thin. He was only partially draped in a white sheet, as though the photographer had tried to make it artistic - ribs visible, muscle mass from years of physical training gone, and his shoulders jutted out from his narrow neck like the top plank of a wooden telephone pole.

Trying to ignore the same eyes that had haunted his nightmares for the past seven weeks, he turned his attention to the plaque.

Lot 042

Gender: Male

Subgender: Omega

Age: 28

Height: 180cm

Weight: 65 kg

Nationality: Russian

Body Type: Mesomorph

Yuuri quickly skipped over the services as he would not need, nor wanted, to know them and jumped to the limits list and the question he'd been wondering since he'd seen others' heat and rut statuses.

Limits: Permanent scarring, disfigurement, branding, marking, bonding, broken bones, or damage requiring surgical/long term repair (Non-negotiable)

Heat Status: Constant

Bile rose up in Yuuri's throat, and he fought it back down with a desperate sip of his champagne. He just couldn't look anymore.  Viktor being in constant heat explained how he had acted at Rostelecom, as well as the vacant expression in the portrait. It also posed a problem for Viktor in his escaping, and both Chris and Yakov had dismissed Yuuri's earlier theory that when he'd first met with Viktor that he was in heat. They had both insisted that he was a beta, and had not considered this to be a potential issue. Likely, they had said, Viktor had been drugged that night to keep him compliant. As he turned away from the portrait, cursing the one, glaring, oversight that could derail their entire plan, he locked eyes with another attendee. A podium mate several times over was there with his dark eyebrows raised at him, the man's pretty new wife on his arm, and his other hand already holding a bidding fan.

Skater Jean-Jaques Leroy was there to buy.

 


 

 

Yuuri had collected and registered his bidding fan and settled into his seat, uncomfortably aware of JJ's eyes constantly on him from behind. And furthermore, even when JJ had to look away for one reason or another, it seemed Isabella's gaze replaced her husband's. JJ hadn't approached him, nor had he attempted to make contact either. Yakov had warned him that he might recognize a few people, sponsors and the like, since it had turned out Ivan had been fishing for potential buyers at ice skating events for months even before he'd brought out Viktor at Rostelecom. But never in a million years would Yuuri have guessed that JJ and Isabella would play party to something so vile. In his head he was reevaluating every conversation, every encounter, he'd had with both of them.

Blood seething beneath his skin, Yuuri's thoughts ran rampant.  Sure, JJ had been cocky and annoying sometimes, but Yuuri had never thought him to be a bad person, and Isabella had always been kind to him. She had even once given him her water bottle when he'd been in the midst of a panic attack and Celestino had been busy with Phichit on the ice, and had sat with him until he'd calmed himself down. It was heart-breaking. It was disgusting. Worse even still, Yuuri would never be able to make eye contact with them again, as they had to be thinking that he was the same as them.

~*~*~

 

So wrapped up in his mental anguish was he, that he missed the first person that had been up for sale. It wasn't until the auctioneer had slammed his gavel against his podium, declaring them sold, that Yuuri pulled himself together. Desperately, he reached for Yakov's advice.

"Bid on a couple other people, otherwise they might suspect something is up. But don't win them!"

Right. He was pretending to be just as evil as the rest of the crowd that was sitting around him. Buyers, sellers, and their partners, if they had them, made up the audience. As the wooden twang of the gavel quickly faded, there was polite applause, and Yuuri tapped his hands together as quietly as he could. Then it was on to the next person, their images that had been displayed around the common area popping up in a slideshow on a large screen to the side of the auctioneer. He waited for a couple more people to pass by before acting on Yakov's counsel, silently reciting the nicknames he'd given them and their facial features, and mentally repeating miserable apologies to the first one he'd missed. Watching and preparing drafts of what he would tell Interpol, he finally raised his numbered card.

'I am so sorry, Ena-san3.' he thought as the auctioneer acknowledged his bid.

He brought his hand up a couple more times before appearing to decide the amount was too high, and then stilled politely. Following suit of all the other attendees, he clapped when a winner was designated, and forced a smile when someone let out a cheer of victory.

It seemed to go on forever, and he repeated his pattern. Cementing nicknames, committing features to memory, bidding a few times and then conceding, not daring to look over his shoulder at JJ and Isabella. He would not have been able to bear it had he known on whom they were trying to bid. Yuuri genuinely thought he was going mad. The whole thing didn't seem real. It was as if he was in a living nightmare from which he would never wake. There were so many, far too many, people being treated like stock animals and he realized he'd been right on what he had told Chris on the phone before. He couldn't do this.

His heart thundered erratically in his chest. The trickle of sweat rolling down his back itched so badly it burned. His breath was all but gone and his chest was restricting. The lights were getting dimmer, though he was sure his eyes were open wide. The roaring in his ears sounded like a plane engine was right next to him and…

"Lot 042 is up next." The auctioneer's dully registered through it all, and Yuuri's eyes shot up to the screen. Viktor's face, changed though it was, cut sharply through all else. Viktor was why he was here. No matter what his panicked body and mind were telling him, he could do this, if only because he had to.

"When bidding on Vitya…" Yakov's voice came to him once again, and he sat up straighter, as if the coach were sitting and speaking right next to him. "Let a few bids go by at first, as if you're trying to decide if you want him."

Yuuri obeyed, letting the starting price double before he raised his card. The number quickly rose into the mid six-digit range of Russian rubles before other bidders started to taper and fade.

"Don't drive the bids up too high. Pace yourself."

Yuuri seemed to forget that piece of advice, as the number was rising higher and higher. How high, he couldn't be exactly sure, as he wasn't paying attention to price. Every time he raised his hand, the auctioneer would only have time to point at him before calling the next spike.

"You don't want to show your desperation."

But Yuuri was getting desperate. He'd never forgive himself, and he was sure Chris and Yakov wouldn't either, if he lost this opportunity. He tried to let a few more bids go by before he raised his number again, his mouth dry and tacky, bile rising from the stone that had wedged into his gut. Raising his hand, he thought he caught a tremble, but quickly stilled it. Finally, it seemed as though only one other person behind him was countering his offers.

It happened again and again, until finally Yuuri glanced over his shoulder to confirm his suspicions that, yes, it was JJ who was fighting him for Viktor. Gritting his teeth, he fixed his eyes forward again, raising his card with a flick of his wrist over and over and over.

 

*~*~*

The gavel slammed and Viktor was declared sold. For a split second, Yuuri's stomach dropped to the floor, thinking he hadn't raised his card in time to oppose JJ's most recent offer, but then he recognized his own card number being announced and then the amount. He had bought one night with Viktor for three and one quarter million rubles. It was almost triple what the next highest amount had been so far. 

Yuuri couldn't help the relieved smile that split his face, and then immediately felt immense guilt over it. While the grin stemmed from the fact he had succeeded in one more step toward Viktor's freedom, there was absolutely no reason for him to be happy it. And then, he reminded himself once again, that he wasn't supposed to be his usual self. That the caricature Yuuri he was playing would, indeed, be boastful over his so-called prize. So he fixed the smile in place before it could fade into the absolute abhorrence he had for himself in that moment.

Rising to his feet, he followed what the other winners had done, walking down the split aisle toward the back of the crowd. Ignoring the enthusiastic clapping, whistles and jeers that surmounted around him for the high amount he had just declared for Viktor. As he passed JJ and Isabella, he wasn't surprised to see both of them frowning and glaring at him. Yuuri then realized that there was a svelte man waiting for him, clapping and laughing harder than anyone else, at the end of the aisle.

It was easy to recognize Ivan after seeing him so many times over the security feed. Placing one hand in his pocket so he could clench his fist, nails nearly breaking the skin of his palm, he clasped Ivan's now outstretched hand with his other one and firmly shook it. Ivan was still laughing as he threw an arm around Yuuri's shoulders, pounding his back enthusiastically.

~*~*~

 

"Either you are the horniest bastard in the world, or you are completely insane!" Ivan roared as he guided Yuuri away from the crowd that was now standing to enjoy the rest of the party for the evening. Viktor, being the headlining appearance, had been the last person sold.

Yuuri only gave a noncommittal, hollow, chuckle as he followed Ivan through a side door and down a hallway. Seeing more of the place, Yuuri could now tell this was someone's actual residence. The décor was still as lavish as it had been in the big room they'd just left, but it was gentler somehow.  Soft throws and pillows were on a chaise, and as they passed by an open door, Yuuri could see a kitchen bustling with caterers. If there was one thing Yuuri could recognize, it was the difference between a commercial kitchen and a home kitchen, as Yu-topia had both. How someone could ever host a slave auction within their own home, Yuuri would never understand. As Ivan led him into a private office, Yuuri's confusion only got worse. And, once again, he was fighting back vomit.

There was another portrait of Viktor. However, this one had no covering for him of which to speak. It was clearly an intimate boudoir photo, and obviously taken years ago when he had been far healthier. This wasn't just 'someone's' home, it was Viktor's prison. Yuuri had time to notice Viktor's gaze being clear, almost loving, in the picture before averting his eyes.This, unfortunately, Ivan noticed. 

"Does it bother you?" he asked, thin lips curling into a sneer as he gestured with a broad sweep of his hand toward the large frame that was the focal point of the room. "Surely you knew that he's my mate before coming here." 

'Of course it does…' Yuuri thought to himself before scrambling for an answer aloud, hoping he sounded dismissive, "No. I assumed that he belonged to someone."

"I must say, you really stole the show out there Skater Katsuki." Ivan seemed to buy into his answer, practically pushing Yuuri into a chair in front of a large desk. "Over three million rubles… how much is it where you're from?"

"Around five point five million yen." Actually saying it, the realization of the heavy burden he'd placed on Chris and Yakov hit him. All because he had been fighting against JJ. It was exponentially more than what they'd discussed was a possibility, but he couldn't go back on it now. He then vowed he would do anything and everything, for the rest of his life if he had to, in order to pay them back. They had told him that money wasn't an issue, but surely that amount had to sting their wallets at the very least a little.

Ivan whistled lowly and laughed again, "Why in God's name would you pay that much to fuck an ice skater? I'm sure you have plenty of options at work, yes?"

Yuuri shrugged. "Call it the thrill?"

"Hmm… if that were true, then any of the other lots would have done just as well, for a much lower price. Going against Leroy, I kind of get, because you faced off with him in the Olympics a few years ago, but even then…" Ivan settled himself behind the desk and gave Yuuri a piercing gaze that made him fidget, even as he slid a filled glass of champagne across the wood. There was no way he'd be able to make up a blithe excuse and wave this off. Yakov had told him to not get desperate, and he had. Yakov had told him not to drive the price up too high, and he had. If his mistakes during the actual bidding process cost them this chance…

"Um… actually, I've always been a fan of Viktor Nikiforov since I was a kid. He's the one that inspired me to start skating professionally in the first place." Yuuri could feel his cheeks turning red, and took the champagne to have something for his hands to do. "So… I guess you could say this is a life-long fantasy?"

Ivan blinked in surprise and Yuuri thought for sure he was about to be escorted out, before Ivan burst out in raucous laughter. "You have got to be shitting me!"

"Um… No?" Yuuri tried to shrug nonchalantly again, but was sure he just seemed like an embarrassed school child. This only made Ivan laugh harder.

"Ah, it's just as well." Ivan's boisterous cackling fading into chuckling as he wiped tears from his eyes. "I only have one year left with the little slut. He turns thirty next year, and no one will want to fuck him after that. He'll be too old. In fact, it's already becoming difficult to find buyers for him, so you'll forgive me if I was confused about how much you committed."

Yuuri's displeasure at Ivan's words showed on his face. Ivan guffawed indulgently as though they had simply disagreed on their preference for the weather, and pulled a tablet out from a drawer.


"I suppose to someone like you that's always been a fan, his age wouldn't matter? Don't worry. I'll probably put him up for sale next year, if it makes you feel any better. How about I make sure you receive an invitation to that auction, and if you win him, you can live out your little fanboy fantasies 'til your heart is content." Ivan continued as he started tapping away on the tablet's screen. This was it. This was his chance to ask about the next part of the plan.

"Speaking of fantasies…" Yuuri began slowly, swirling his champagne in his glass, and eyeing Ivan.  At his tone, the other man looked up at him with a frown. Nearly faltering, Yuuri reminded himself as to why Yakov and Chris had insisted on him asking this next question. It was for his own safety. If the answer was no, Yuuri would do it anyway and beg for forgiveness, feigning that he could not help himself. If it was yes, then the story Yuuri would be offering the next morning would be far more plausible. "Another reason I am here is that I have certain… proclivities toward somnophilia. It is difficult to find a partner that would allow it, and even harder to find one that wouldn't sell a scandal to the press. I would like to perform this with Viktor, and I did not see this on his list of limits or services. I understand it is a… shall we say, unique request." 

"What's the drug?" Ivan asked immediately.

"It's my own prescription. Trazodone. I use it when at competitions to help adjust to jetlag. The bottle is in my coat pocket at the coat check. I'd be glad to hand it over for your inspection."

Yuuri could see Ivan mulling the question over in his head, as if he was weighing Yuuri's final bid against JJ's, and considering if drugging his mate was a risk he was willing to take. After what seemed an eternity, Ivan broke out into a leering sneer, "You're one of the sick fucks, Katsuki." he chuckled, "Alright. Let me inspect the pill and make a phone call to my physician. If it all checks out, I'll allow it, if only because you've been such a good customer and I would love to see you back" 

'As if that will ever happen…' Yuuri couldn't help thinking, even as he smiled back at Ivan's answer.

Ivan made a quick phone call to the coat check for them to bring the contents of Yuuri's coat, and then he handed Yuuri the tablet. There was a bank transfer form with the agreed upon amount already filled in. All Yuuri needed to do was input the account information and the transaction would be complete. He was entering in the numbers he'd memorized carefully when the woman who had checked him in came into the office and handed Ivan two prescription bottles and then left just as quickly. One bottle was empty and unmarked 

"A sign of good faith." Yuuri explained, before Ivan could ask. "I thought you might not want me to take my entire prescription in with me. One dose should be enough."

Ivan nodded appreciatively and busied himself with the other promised phone call, this one in Russian as he opened Yuuri's prescription and examined the contents. This part, Yuuri was not worried over. It had been his own idea originally, after all, and the prescription was one he used responsibly for years to treat his own anxiety at night, just as he'd told Ivan. He decided to not let it bother him that he'd offered far more truth to Ivan than he had originally intended in regards to how much he had hero-worshipped Viktor in the past. At least for now. He'd think about that, and the subsequent anxiety attack that was sure to come, later.

Placing the tablet with the input account numbers on the desk for Ivan's inspection. Politely sipping on the champagne, he sat back and waited patiently. The phone call ended, a single pill was dropped into the empty pill bottle, and Ivan picked up the tablet. An affirmative chime signaled the transaction was complete, Yakov and Chris significantly lighter a small fortune, and it was done.

"Let's go collect your prize, shall we?" Ivan asked him as he handed him the requested pill bottle.

 

*~*~*

Yuuri nodded, no longer trusting himself to speak, and followed Ivan back out into the hallway and up a flight of stairs. The home was extremely large, though not large enough to house all of the people that had been listed at the auction. Yuuri supposed that because Ivan was hosting, he had the ability to have Viktor under a closer watch, the others must have been escorted elsewhere for the night. He wasn't sure if this fact spelled luck or misfortune for their plan. On the more fortunate side, Viktor would probably know his surroundings much better and might know the security weaknesses. On the other, it meant Ivan would likely be extremely close by for the entire duration of the night. But before Yuuri could ruminate on this further, Ivan had stopped in front of a pair of French doors.

"There is a phone inside that connects only to my line. You will be locked in until morning, so if there is anything you need, just pick it up and I will come by shortly. There are no cameras, for your privacy, but there are microphones. Though I doubt much will be picked up, except for maybe you, eh?" Ivan rapped on the door to signal their arrival, chortling sickly at his own joke. Yuuri offered a small 'heh' in response.

"Part of it is the quiet." Yuuri said simply, hoping it was enough to deter anyone listening in as to what would most definitely not be happening behind the doors. "You will notify whoever is on the other side of those mics?"

 "Of course. Discretion is the number one rule for these events." Ivan took a key and unlocked the door. He swung it open and gestured for Yuuri to go inside. "Enjoy your evening!"

Chapter Text

Ivan had just left his bedroom, and Viktor promptly strode into the en suite and threw the faucet to the shower. Bending over the toilet, he shoved his fingers into the back of his throat until he was gagging and retching up the pills his alpha had just made him take. Trembling from the physical exertion, he counted the three capsules that still held their shape floating in the water below him, and he sighed with relief. It was auction night. And Viktor would be damned if he was going to miss this opportunity.

Seven weeks, nearly to the day, had passed since he'd sought out Yuuri Katsuki. And to be honest, Viktor had hated himself for every moment since. He knew that the hormones that Ivan fed him daily kept him easy to manipulate, kept his mind fuzzy and not working properly, but he refused to allow himself to hide behind that excuse. The earnest worry that Yuuri had displayed when Viktor had barreled into him haunted him several times daily. In those few precious moments of being away from the alpha that kept him imprisoned, the alpha he had once loved dearly, he had blown his first real chance at escape.

If he had just stayed with Yuuri. Had the wherewithal to explain that he was being kept against his will, that he was drugged, he wouldn’t have had to come back to the house that he and Ivan shared. Surely there could have been another way. But no, he had stupidly begged some nonsense about buying him, or something. He couldn't quite remember the conversation they'd had. But those large, earnest, honest, cinnamon eyes… those he remembered vividly.

He didn't recall making his way back to Ivan, didn't remember how he must have been whisked away from the competition, nor the beating that must have ensued from being gone from Ivan's side for too long. Viktor's next memory was waking up in his bed, bruises along his back and backside bemoaning, and the realization that he had completely missed his chance. He had fucked up, and it was completely his fault.

That thought alone had driven him into complete hysterics, sobbing and screaming until he was dry heaving, head pounding. And he hadn't been able to stop. He didn't know how long he had howled and shrieked, pulling at his own hair and scratching at his face and arms. He only knew that Ivan had been forced to sedate him to get him to calm down. When he had awoken again, there was another beating for his tantrum. 

After that, Viktor had been forced to resign himself to the hope that he wasn't remembering Yuuri's expression falsely. That the skater had gotten in touch with Chris, that his overpowering instinct to reach out to Katsuki hadn't been wrong. The hope was slim, at best, but it was there. And it was more than he'd had for a long time, and so he clung to it desperately. 

It would be hours before he'd know if his hope would come to fruition. He would simply have to wait for the time when whatever buyer had won him for the evening would step through his locked bedroom doors. Ivan had left him to prepare himself, the way he had been trained to do. Before taking the pills that would simulate a full heat-state, Viktor had been debating on how he wanted to approach the night ahead. If he took the pills, and help was indeed on the way, he would be in a state that would make it nearly impossible to act with a clear head. But if he was wrong, if that hope was more dangerous than what he could even currently comprehend, then he would have to fake it.

It wasn't the actual faking a heat that he was dreading, in moments of daring he'd done it before, successfully. But those lucid moments had come at a high cost. The memories of those he'd been with were viscerally clear, and then turned into night terrors that would last for months before he was able to get a decent night of sleep. The hope had won out in the end, however, and now he was simply stuck in the void of time to see if this gamble would turn out lucky.

But then, another sneaky, hopeful phrase creeped its way into the forefront. "Hope for the best, plan for the worst." Chris had once told that to him, some sort of English phrase he'd picked up.

He busied himself preparing for the worst first. It was a ritual that required him to pay careful attention to his appearance, and would take up most of his thoughts so he wasn't making the potential let down worse with fantasies of a rescue. Adjusting the shower to a humane temperature, he flushed the evidence of his rebelling down and then proceeded to scrub his skin pink. Then came the hair treatment, and shaving so his body was swimmer smooth, and another complete scrub down.

Taking a minute to enjoy the comforting warmth of the water washing over him, he allowed himself to wonder if Chris was on his way. When his fingers started to become far too pruned than appropriate, he turned off the shower and stepped out to continue the routine.

Carefully styling his hair, he realized that Ivan would likely want him to trim it soon after this event. It had grown out a couple inches since the last time he'd had it done, and it was starting to bunch around his ears in a way that annoyed him. But then the, almost unwelcome, reminder came that he might soon be able to grow it out and style it any way he wished. Perhaps he'd grow it long again like he had when he was in Juniors. 

That thought was quashed almost as soon as it had come. While he'd liked how he looked having the long hair, it had been far too high maintenance, even for him. Maybe just long enough to pull up out of his face when it was getting annoying. 

Makeup and hair done, he sent back out into his room and pulled a bottle of water from the fully stocked fridge that was kept there for these nights. He knew the kitchen would be on standby for anything the buyer would want, but most of the time they did not want any interruption. And so, there was champagne, several vintages of red and white wine, fine bottles of vodka, and plenty of luxury hor d'oeuvres ready for any sort of palette. Viktor was only allowed water until something else was offered to him directly, if the guest elected to feed him, and so he took advantage.

Next was the conundrum of what to wear. All he wanted to do was curl up in a favorite pair of pajamas for the rest of the night and read, somewhere far away from there and with a curly haired beast curled at his feet. But that was simply not going to happen one way or the other. He continued in his decision to prepare for the worst, and dressed himself in the skimpy lingerie that Ivan had selected for him. Pulling his terry cloth robe over his shoulders, he gave a sigh. He didn't know how much longer he had to wait, and the lack of things to do was dangerous to say the least.

Sitting on the bed, he found his gaze wandering to the armoire where he stashed a box of his only allowed precious possessions. Wondering if he would be able to take any of them if, and it was a monumental if, he was to be leaving everything behind that night, he tried to put the box from his mind. Well, he thought to himself, he certainly had planned as best he could for the worst. Perhaps he could allow himself a tiny bit of leeway to enact the first part of the phrase. 

He was at the armoire before he'd even made the conscious decision, and was sifting through the assortment of baubles, searching for the one thing he absolutely had to take with him. It wasn't much to look at, he knew. It was merely a scrap of fabric that had brown poodles in various poses with a dusting of pink clouds on it. He'd sewn it into a sort of makeshift handkerchief, and since he'd had it, he had never slept a night without it. Outwardly, he knew this sort of security item was childish, but inwardly, rubbing its softness between his fingers, or even touching it to his cheek had brought him far more comfort than most items that were found in his surroundings

Folding it carefully, he placed it in a coat pocket. The coat he would wear if the 'best' were to happen. Fighting back tears at the idea of the best, lest he spoil his perfect eyeliner, he clamped his teeth on his tongue to get himself to stop. The next thing, he supposed, would be clothes. He selected a thick pair of fleece lined sweatpants and a long sleeved black tee.  He grabbed the coat and some shoes, and stowed it all away in the bathroom under the sink. It was at that moment, as he was folding the coat as small as it could go, a sharp rap at his door echoed through the bedroom.

Shoving the items into the cupboard and closing it as quietly as he could, he stood in the bathroom doorway. Muffled voices and Ivan's unmistakable laugh came through the other door and Viktor felt his heart begin to sink. Surely Chris wouldn't be making Ivan laugh. 

The door opened, and Viktor absently fussed over his robe, making sure it was straight, and then realized with horror it was the wrong one. He was supposed to be wearing the flimsy sheer one, the one that would offer a look to the buyer at what they had purchased before the night would commence. But that scrap of fabric was clear across the room in the armoire, he didn't have time to get it and pull it on before the door would open. And sure enough, the door swung, and with it opening Viktor felt his soul crush. All hope banished itself with the sharp thump of the door on the jam.

The memory of Yuuri's eyes being honest and good was clearly just a trick of his own mind, for that was exactly who stepped into his room. Yuuri Katsuki was the buyer and hadn't passed his message along to Chris.

Ivan gave him a pointed stare, clearly telling him that his appearance was unacceptable before the door shut.  As Viktor heard the lock engage, and nearly choked. Before tears could betray him, he turned his head away from Yuuri, who was staring at him.

"Good evening, sir." Viktor made himself say demurely. "I hope you've enjoyed your evening so far."

The sound that Yuuri made was almost strangled, but Viktor couldn't bring himself to look at him just yet. He neither knew nor cared about what had the intruder upset. If it was the robe, then so be it. He was upset too. 

"Would you like something to eat or drink?" he continued, giving an empty gesture toward the fridge and making his way toward it to give himself a moment to blink the unshed tears dry.

"No, thank you." the voice that replied seemed forced.

Viktor squeezed his eyes shut for a second and then pasted on his old media smile - the one he used when he was tired, or emotionally drained, but still needed to be camera perfect. Turning, he cocked his head to the side, cutely.

"What can I do for you this evening, sir?" But Yuuri wasn't looking at him, to his relief. Though, the way he was looking around the bedroom was indeed curious. Taking a glance at Viktor, Yuuri took an uneasy step, but not toward him. It was toward a sconce on the wall. When they did make eye contact, Viktor couldn't read his expression. If anything, he looked worried.

"Mic?" Yuuri mouthed, pointing to the light fixture. Inwardly, Viktor sighed. Of course he wanted a private talk before they got started. He pointed toward the bathroom, but didn't make a move. Yuuri bobbed his head once in understanding.

"A shower first, I think…" Yuuri said aloud, answering his previous question and started toward the bathroom door. When Viktor still didn't move, the younger one peered over his shoulder. "If you would join me, please?"

Still smiling, but cringing with every step he took, Viktor followed. Yuuri shut the door behind them and went to turn on the shower. When Viktor moved to take off his light blue covering, Yuuri stopped him with a gesture of holding up his palm, peering at him curiously. 

"You're not in heat." Yuuri observed simply and Viktor froze in pulling the cloth over his shoulders again. "That's really good…" 

'Shit! Shit, shit, shitshitshit.' Was all his mind could think. Throat closing up, he just stared at Yuuri's shoulder, barely registering that he was digging into his pocket until he pulled out a pill bottle, and Viktor's eyes went wide. A hormone pill? Was the state Ivan had him in almost all the time not enough for this man?

"Please… please no…" His lips were moving, begging, before he could stop the words, but at Yuuri's frown that read as displeasure with him, he clammed his mouth shut.

"Oh! No… this isn't… I mean…" Yuuri took a step back, expression turning to clarity then surprise. Another step backward and his legs met the toilet and he plopped down on it. Eyes darted down to the ground as though he was piecing some things together. "Oh my god… I'm sorry… I'm not…"

Viktor stared at the fumbling man. Fumes of anger suddenly billowed into his chest. Viktor hadn't risked everything to simply end up here, again. If he had played it smarter, he wouldn't have got himself into this phenomenally large mess. If Yuuri had been as honorable as he had seemed, had pretended, then Chris would be here. Even if Viktor had made a mistake, there was nothing forgivable about the fact that the man was here, had used the invitation to leverage his own interests.

"Why are you here?" Viktor spat out bitterly through his teeth. "I thought… Maybe the whole damned sport is corrupt now…The invitation was supposed to be for Chris, not you… and now…"

Yuuri's entire body recoiled in a flinch. Viktor took a shaky breath, composing himself immediately as he ran his hand through his hair nervously. Angering a patron simply wasn't done. It was a mistake he'd only made once, and the consequences had been… well, he would simply have to deal with the punishment later. Perhaps if he smoothed things over, gave the best service he ever had, Ivan would show him some sort of mercy.

Looking back toward Yuuri, who was hanging his head in shame, Viktor felt a twinge of satisfaction. But this wouldn't do. He had to make this right. He'd have to do everything he could, maybe even offer things he didn't normally do unless they were asked for.  Whatever dignity he had left wasn't worth keeping in the face of Ivan's wrath. Forcing his expression and voice to soften, he took a trembling step forward.

"I'm sorry. I've disappointed you…" Viktor tentatively reached out and stroked Yuuri's hair, but snatched his hand back as Yuuri jerked his head up to look at him. He was surprised to see his eyes swimming with tears and took another step back, hitting the wall behind him.

"No!" Yuuri wheezed insistently, "No, Viktor… you … you could never disappoint me. I'm just doing this all wrong, and I am so sorry."

Viktor blinked at him, his mouth falling open slightly. "Wh-what did you just say?"

"I'm sorry."

"No… not that… before that." 

"You couldn't disappoint me, and I’m doing this wrong?"

Viktor shook his head. Squeezing his eyes shut, he covered his mouth and an involuntary sob escaped his throat. Taking a deep breath, he whispered shakily. "B-before th-that. Please…"

Yuuri stared at him. "You mean… 'no, Viktor?'"

Viktor broke. That had been too much. The entire evening, the last several weeks, the hope he'd been trying to stifle but had burned bright anyway, only to be smashed to jagged pieces and decimate. His own emotionally charged outburst that was sure to earn him more than just a few bruises, the trust he'd placed in a complete stranger to do the right thing, only to be betrayed… and yet. Yet, here Yuuri was, saying his actual name. Not omega, not slut, or whore, or skater, or 'little star'. In spite of everything, he still wanted to trust Yuuri, his instincts were telling him to and it was pointless, they were lying to him. His entire head swam with far too many thoughts, confused more than he ever had been in his life.

Knees giving out, he fell down the wall into a heap on the floor. A fist was shoved into his mouth and his other hand gripped his eyes as sobs wracked through him. Curling in on himself, he bit into the terry cloth covering his knees and clenched his eyes shut. Arms going protectively over his head and his hands gripping his hair. He trembled before the man who held his entire fate in the palm of his hand. He was so scared. 

There was the sound of a step, and a shadow of Yuuri kneeling in front of him. Then a gentle voice asked, "Can I hold your hand?"

Viktor didn't want him to, but somewhere in the back of his head a voice told him it would be the first step to digging himself out of the hole into which he'd so spectacularly thrown himself. Not quite being able to voice the consent Yuuri was offering him, he only nodded his affirmation.

But rather than trying to lace their fingers together in some sort of intimate initiation into further physical contact, Yuuri slid his palm against his, grasping the whole of his hand. The touch strong, firm, and determined. Blinking, Viktor peeked up, falling even deeper into his confusion until his watery gaze met the cinnamon eyes he thought he had falsely remembered. It was nearly the same expression seven weeks ago. Worry, caring, genuineness, but now it also held determination. Their hands linked together wasn't a touch of faux intimacy. It was camaraderie. As if, skater to skater, they were in this together. 

"Viktor…" Yuuri let out a quick sigh, blinking away his tears. "I need to apologize for a lot. I'm sorry I'm not Chris. I'm sorry I scared you into thinking I bought you for… for less than honorable intentions. I'm sorry for… for messing this up… but I’m not here to s-s-sleep with you." His eyes clenched shut as if the thought of spending the night together was revolting and Viktor was nearly indignant, but he stayed quiet. That dreaded hope was starting to twinge in his chest once again, and he was trying to extinguish that flame as quickly as it had come. "Chris couldn't come. W-we thought Ivan would recognize him…" Viktor started to fidget, his insides squirming as the flame of hope started to burn brighter. He couldn't breathe. "So… so Yakov and Chris sent me instead. They gave me money to get the chance to talk with you, to see if we could get you out. I have a car waiting for you if we can figure out a way to let you escape."

"Y-yakov? And Chris?" The muscles in Viktor's hand started working and he was suddenly grasping Yuuri's hand like it was the last lifeline he'd ever be cast. "They sent you? They know I'm here?"

"Yes!" Yuuri looked relieved that his words were sinking in, and he continued, his voice now more reflecting the confidence in how their hands gripped each other tight. "They're so worried about you. I… We… we thought if it was me coming in instead of a complete stranger, you'd know that… that I wasn't… wasn't like the others. We thought, since you found me at the Cup, that a familiar face would be better. We never thought that you might assume otherwise. I would have explained better before… but I thought we were both just playing along for the mics."

It was as if Yuuri's words took the last bit of sanity Viktor had left. There was a long pause as they stared at one another, and then Viktor giggled. And, oh god, he hadn't done that in so long. Not genuinely, anyway. The sound was foreign to him and he slapped his other hand over his mouth in shock over the outburst, and then burst out into teary giggles once again.

"Vi-viktoru?" Yuuri's voice lapsed into his Japanese accent, thoroughly baffled. Viktor didn't know how, but the way his name sounded in Japanese was even more lovely than how Yuuri had said it before. Fighting to regain control of himself, he struggled to stifle his wildly inappropriate laughter.

"I'm sorry… I just…" Viktor snorted into his palm and took a deep breath, still grinning. "You know that stupid American phrase? 'When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me?' It just popped into my head and…" he broke off into another fit of giggles. "Chris loved that phrase, picked it up from some competition, and I never understood it."

Yuuri's face was blank, staring at him as though he had truly gone completely mad. Viktor could tell he was fighting his own grin, the urge to smile dampened by the gravity of their situation. The way he was still laughing breathlessly, however, won out and Yuuri chuckled. It was the second most beautiful sound he'd heard that night, after Yuuri saying his name. They watched each other smile for a moment before the sound of the shower pounding the tile and the way they were still gripping each other's hand brought them both to their senses.

"I…" Viktor began hesitantly, his smile turning sad and shy, "I have a lot to apologize for too."

"You have nothing to apologize for." Yuuri scowled at him, though he didn't seem angry at Viktor. "Let's just… let's get you out of here, ne?" 

Viktor couldn't speak, a fresh wave of emotion forcing tears to his eyes again, and so he just nodded as he breathed deep. Yuuri waited patiently as he willed himself to calm. Viktor's eyes wandered, trying to compose his thoughts, to quell the raging waves of hope and fear into something more manageable so that he could focus. Once his gaze found the pill bottle that had somehow made its way to the sink's countertop, his cerulean eyes narrowed. Suspicion flared, though he didn't mean for it to be present.

"Then… what's the pill for?" he asked, trying to keep his voice casual. Paranoia of Yuuri being a plant by Ivan invaded his mind, and it was as if Yuuri could sense it. His grip on his hand tightened before the erratic thoughts could truly take root.

"That's for me." he said firmly. "It's a sleeping pill and it's for me. But before we get to that part… Mr. Nikiforov, I was-"

"Viktor." the older man corrected, finally tearing his stare from the pill bottle and back to Yuuri's face, which was now twisting into stupefaction. "I… Just… Please. Viktor."

"Viktor." Yuuri amended, and then continued, "I wasn't counting on being locked in together. Plus the fact that it seems like this is… his house?" Viktor nodded that the assumption was correct, "Do… I don't know how we're going to get you out of here. Is there a fire escape at one of these windows, or do you know how to get out of the room?"

Sucking his lower lip between his teeth and chewing on it, thinking. "I've broken out before. Don't forget, it's my house too… kind of. I can open the door, and probably sneak to the stairs." 

The force of Yuuri's exhalation was as if he'd been holding his breath since entering Viktor's room, and his lips turned upward with relief. "Good. Then… um. In order to make sure that Ivan isn't going to come after both of us, or… or any of his connections… you're going to sneak out. I don't know if you know my coach, Celestino Cialdini… but he's waiting with a car. I don't know where he's supposed to take you, but Yakov was the one that arranged all of this. He'll keep you safe."

"I met him a long time ago, on the circuit…" Viktor bobbed his head slowly, "Does he still have that stupid pony-tail?" 

Yuuri chuckled, "I'm pretty sure he was born with it."

"What car is he driving?"

"I don't know the model, but it's a beat up, blue little thing, it looked like it was from the Soviet Era."

They shared another smile and then Viktor frowned as he realized that Yuuri had only been talking of him escaping. "But what about you? You're coming with me, right?"

"That's what the sleeping pill is for." Yuuri shook his head and Viktor's chest tightened with dread, "I'm going to take it, and then I need you to… t-to hit me, to make it look like you escaped on your own." 

"No! Vanya will kill you!" Viktor's voice was strangled with panic, and his fist shot out and clenched the lapels of Yuuri's jacket. "I can't just leave you here! I won't."

"I have family… I can't have the Bratva after them. And we're banking on the fact that I'm w-well known to keep him from, um…"

"He's not part of the Bratva! Not the way you think. They helped him fund these stupid auctions and use him to sell their own people, but he's not under their protection or anything… He's just a front man that got in too deep."

"That's even better." Yuuri insisted, gently untangling Viktor's fist from his jacket and giving it a reassuring squeeze. "I can tell him that Celestino knows where I am, and if I don't return then he'll have the Japanese consulate after him. The Olympics are in two months, and I won Gold at the last games. It will be more dangerous for him to hurt me. But if we both leave…" he cleared his throat and changed tactics, "Yakov, Chris and Ciao Ciao wanted this to look like it was on your own, and I agree. And if you make it look good… or rather… bad… um, if you h-hit me hard enough, Ivan will be more likely to believe it."

"But… isn't taking drugs dangerous?" Viktor grasped at straws to try and stop this stupid plan, "I mean, do you even know how it will work, how you'll react to it? What if you don't fall asleep?"

"It's my prescription. I need a sleep aid sometimes. I'll definitely fall asleep." 

"Oh, damn you…" Viktor huffed and brought both his hands to his eyes to stop further tears from falling. Yuuri moved sharply and there was a rattle that brought his head back up. The pill bottle was open and Yuuri was swallowing. "No!" Viktor scrambled to his feet and held Yuuri's face with a bruising grip, trying to force him toward the toilet. "Throw it up! Please!" 

"Now it's not even a question." Yuuri planted his feet, firmly pulled Viktor's hands off him and gave him a wan smile. "We have about fifteen minutes before I won't be able to walk straight. I'm going to make it look like our champagne glasses were switched and get you some clothes." 

Before Yuuri's hand could turn the doorknob to the bathroom, he spoke, defeated, "I have clothes under the sink."

"Okay." And then Yuuri stepped out to give him privacy. 

Fear gripped Viktor's stomach and chest, not only for what would happen to Yuuri, but for what he also had to do in order to get to Celestino. Whatever he did, he mustn't get caught, not when Yuuri was risking so much. They were on the top floor. It would be a miracle if he could get to the street without being seen.

He pulled his clothing on with shaking hands, and splashed cold water over his face to try and clear his head. Mapping out his own plan of how to break through the lock as quietly as possible and then to make his way through the penthouse to the fire escape stairs. The problem was that those were by the elevator. He could only hope that he'd be able to slip through the party goers as unseen as possible, and if worst came, he would simply run. He would make it. It wasn't a matter of choice or ability, it was just what had to be done.

Viktor was patting his face dry, wiping off his tear-smeared eyeliner, when Yuuri came back into the bathroom. 

"Ready?" Yuuri asked, his voice tinged with nerves. Viktor nodded at first and then shook his head.

"I don't want to hit you."

"I know… I'm sorry. Just…" Yuuri sighed and leaned up against the counter, loosening his bow-tie. "You were pretty angry earlier, right? See if you can tap into that. Get mad at me. Or pretend I'm someone else that you're mad at. It might make it easier."

Humming thoughtfully in response, Viktor finished drying his hands on the towel and set it down. Breathing deep, he began trying to summon up whatever anger he could. It wasn't working very well.

"Can I ask you a favor?" Yuuri's voice came tentative and small. Looking toward him, Viktor blinked expectantly, "Can you stay with me until I fall asleep?"

"Yeah." Viktor agreed, swallowing thickly. Pushing himself off the counter, he turned squarely to face the man he was about to hurt. The man who was doing everything to see him to safety. "I can do that."

"Thank you…" Yuuri replied quietly, and then clenched his bowtie in his fist and stood. "Okay. I’m ready."

Clenching his jaw, Viktor curled his hand into a fist. Looking right into those cinnamon eyes, he found his resolve. Yuuri had clearly been through hell to get them to this point, surely he could do his part and take them the rest of the way.

"Be careful when you wake up… Don't let him intimidate you. Talk about a refund, or pressing charges, or something.  That'll get him to shut up."

"That's a good idea. I'll be careful. You be careful too."

"I will. And Yuuri?"

"Hm?"

"Thank you."

Chapter Text

It really wasn't a very good lock. Viktor knew this from sneaking out late at night whilst Ivan slept so he could steal a bit of milk or bread or whatever food he thought would go unnoticed to be missing. Feeling the latch give, he pocketed the wires fashioned from paperclips and took a shaky breath. Glancing over his shoulder at the sleeping Yuuri, the man's brow was furrowed even in sleep, he winced seeing the sprouting bruises. His left eye was far worse than his right, his lip split and still weeping a few drops of blood. Flexing his sore hand, Viktor debated for a split second before rushing back over to the bed.

Placing a quick kiss above the worst bruise, he took a breath and caught his scent. He even smelled of cinnamon bark and deep wooded scent that would, in any other circumstance, be comforting. "Be safe, Yuuri…" he whimpered so softly he could barely hear himself.  Before he could lose his nerve, he dashed back to the door. Silently turning the handle, he peeked through a small crack. He didn't really expect there to be anyone there. Ivan liked to stay at his own party well into the night, and he hated anyone wandering into their personal quarters. As he thought, the coast was clear, and he shut the door quietly behind him, the click of the catch barely sounding. Keeping his steps quick and light, he hurried through the hall and down the back staircase.

Music, laughter and the rumble of conversations met his ear as he descended, and he paused at the corner. Knots turned in his stomach and he held his breath as he chanced a quick look. Ivan's office door was shut tight. He flinched as a server came out of the kitchen and bustled through the very door he needed to reach, ducking back onto the stair.

He gasped and brought both of his hands to his lips, in a steeple, forcing his breathing to become regular. Considering his clothes, he knew he didn't look dressed for the party, especially with an overcoat that wasn't allowed through the security check. What was more, his features were extremely notable. It wasn't the first time he cursed his silvery hair, if he were more ordinary looking, he likely wouldn't even be in this situation.

"What the eyes fear, the hands do1" he muttered to himself. Drawing his hand into his pocket, his thin fingers curled around the poodle handkerchief. Deciding that acting as though he belonged would be the best course of action, most people would notice someone sneaking, but someone that held themselves with confidence could pass through most anything. He was about to step out from the corner hiding him when he heard the door on the far side of the hall open.

Flinging himself back into the stairs, he fell backwards. He almost slid down them as his hands came into contact with a sharp edge of a step, biting back a grunt from the impact, and hoping the thud signaling him being there had gone unnoticed. Precariously perched, he didn't dare to move his foot for better purchase. Breath held, he listened for the footsteps that were alarmingly getting closer.

His throat went dry as the steady gait of the newcomer drew near, a large shadow of a figure coming into view. The muscles of his body began to tremble as he couldn't bring himself to look up. If it were Ivan, he'd already be snarling and lashing out at him. He barely had time to register that the man's feet were clad in shiny dress shoes before one of them lifted to the bottom stair. Then all at once, he was being lifted by his arms and he found himself looking into dark blue eyes.

The man's expression was surprised, and the corners of his mouth were turned upward in a genuine quirk of a smile.

"Good." Was all he said with an approving nod, and Viktor had no idea what that meant. He choked through a gasp as his feet were placed steadily on the step above the other. Not knowing what to say, who this person was, other than him being an attendee, judging by his tuxedo. He was tall, tall enough that Viktor was only barely gazing down at him. "Don't take the elevator. Take the stairs. Give me two minutes and then go."

"Wh-what?" Viktor hissed his question, but the man was already hurrying back down the hall with quick, long strides. Trying to piece together what he had meant by giving him two minutes, it was too slowly that he realized that he might have been another person with Yuuri, someone that was trying to help him. Though, he figured that Yuuri might have mentioned if there was another planted buyer there. But then he wondered if simply waiting was just giving the man time to fetch Ivan, keeping him there with a promise of something that would allow his escape, and ice filled his stomach. He couldn't just wait around.

Taking a few jogging steps through the hallway, he nearly tripped again when he heard a loud roar on the other side of the door he needed to get through.

"MOLCHALIN!" the bellowing voice echoed along the walls, and Viktor whimpered involuntarily. Even if it was his own mated last name that was being called, he assumed it was being used to summon Ivan's attention. He had to hurry.

Ducking quickly by the open kitchen door, he could hear the party coming to a standstill before gasps and jeering laughs filled the air. Someone was shouting again, but all he could make out was something about the auction being rigged. Perhaps this was for what he was supposed to wait the two minutes. Opening the door a crack, he could see the party goers all crowding around something that he couldn't see, and he could hear Ivan's voice angrily retaliating. Then the unmistakable sound of a fist meeting flesh, he should know as he'd just done it himself, and a flurry of security running toward the crowd, shoving people out of the way.

Eyes wide, he looked toward the elevator and the door that led to the escape stairs. The entryway was empty. His insides jolted as his feet moved before he even knew what he was doing, striding quickly toward the exit. Ivan roared something in a fury and he glanced over his shoulder - his mate was still blocked by the crowd, but even so, he quickened his steps.

Reaching for the door handle, he whined softly when it wouldn't budge.

"Net, net, net, net2…" he whispered, trying the handle again. Of course only Ivan or his security would have the key. Desperately, he shoved on the handle, feeling it give slightly before it jammed again. He tried again, putting all his weight into pushing the handle down, jerking it against itself, and muttering prayers and pleas. A crack of metal on metal sounded as he felt it break and give. A breathless 'ha' of relief escaped him as he threw the door open and began to run.

They were twenty-eight floors up, and he knew the top ten used the private elevator as their main source of entry. The floors below eighteen all used a communal one that Ivan nor any of his associates would really be watching. Even still, he wasn't sure if he wanted to chance using it. The man from before, the one he assumed had caused whatever fight Ivan had ended up in, had told him to use the stairs. He didn't know how long he would have before Ivan would notice he was missing. Yuuri and him and hoped that it wouldn't be until morning, but then he couldn't remember if he'd heard the emergency door shut. Certainly not about to turn back around to check, he skipped as many stairs as he could on his bad ankle, it twinging as his weight fell on it repeatedly.

His mad dash caught up to him about seven floors down, his head swimming and dizzy from going around and around, the sight of the same staircase stretching out over and over before him causing vertigo. It didn't seem like he was getting anywhere, save for the descending numbers notating which floor he was passing. But he kept going. He couldn't stop. It wasn't until he noticed the number '14' on an engraved placard that he began to slow down, taking the steps one at a time until he reached the twelfth floor. It was here he decided he needed to take the communal elevator that the rest of the residents in the high rise would use. He wouldn't look so out of place there.

Opening up the door onto a hallway lined with apartment doors and numbers, he gave himself a moment to wipe the sweat beading off his brow before entering the empty space. He still didn't trust exiting through the lobby where the doormen would know his face, but he could take the service elevator where mail and deliveries came through. These were luxury apartments, ones that he would have perhaps bought himself had he continued in his skating career, and if he'd found a mate that wasn't a terror from hell. Vaguely, he wondered if the people behind the numbered doors knew what was going on, just a few floors above them, right under their safe noses. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but he bit it back anyway. It wasn't fair of him to expect any lay person to know of what went on behind the closed doors of the elite business men who paid over the top prices for privacy.

Pushing the button to call the service elevator, he shifted his weight from foot to foot, rolling his sore ankle as he waited. The cheerful chime of it opening seemed to be laughing at his flight as he slammed the button to take him to the first floor. Taking out his handkerchief he pressed it to his nose, panting. Almost there, and then it was looking for a beat up, blue Soviet car.

This elevator, he realized, was much slower than the ones the residents used. It descended steadily, the groaning of the cables uninsulated from the car, and he impatiently tapped his fingers against the railing he was leaning against. His mind on Yuuri in the gilded tower above, rather than what he had to do next.

"Please keep him safe…" he prayed quietly, desperately, to any deity that might be listening. Not much of a religious man himself, he figured it couldn't hurt to enlist any extra help that may or may not be out there. If Yuuri was a believer, so much the better, he hoped his plea would reach those gods if they existed.

The elevator groaned to a stop and the doors opened on yet another hallway. This time, however, the service exit was in sight. It renewed his energy and he broke into a full sprint. Shoving the door open he stepped out into the freezing night.

The air burned his lungs as he took a deep breath. He knew better than to start crying, the tears would freeze before they even reached partway down his cheeks. The sidewalk was empty, and the street was quiet. The glow of the streetlamps was almost inviting, had they not cast sinister shadows upon every wall. Snow silently fell from the sky, lightly dusting the cars that were parked along side the road, and making his footsteps crunch beneath him.

He didn't know where to go. The apartment building was large, taking up most of the block on its own, and he didn't think it would be the best idea to go toward the main entrance. Doormen were among those that might alert Ivan prematurely, unknowingly or not, if he called to ask if they had seen him. But Yuuri hadn't told him where Celestino might be waiting. It didn't seem as though he knew himself, anyway.

With a shiver, he decided to walk along the block, behind the building, and hope that Celestino knew to not watch the front entrance, or at least was parked somewhere along where he'd be able to see him from more than one angle. He supposed if it came to the worst, he could find an all night diner or bar, and beg to use a phone, if Yakov still had the same number, and he could remember it properly.

As he walked hurriedly along, cursing himself for not choosing a thicker coat, or thinking of gloves, he busied his mind in trying to remember his coach's old phone number. The night was the sort of quiet that only winter could bring, the clouds and snow muffling any sound in the city that would normally signal its being alive. It wasn't until a car was almost next to him that he realized it was there. And it was blue.

Watching, wide eyed, as the car pulled into an empty parking spot, he noted it certainly fit Yuuri's description, and when a large man with a pony-tail that would cause a horse envy stepped out of the driver side door and looked at him, his heart leapt. He almost slipped on a patch of ice as he jogged over, embarrassing for a former skater, and Celestino was giving him a wide smile.

"You made it!" the relief was etched in Celestino's voice and face, and Viktor couldn't help but return a tired, wan smile.

"I-" he began but then couldn't finish, tears threatening to spill over. Celestino shook his head and came around the car to open the door for him.

"Hurry. We don't want to hang around too long."

Almost diving into the passenger seat, Celestino was settling in the other seat as he was fastening his own safety belt. The door was barely shut before the car was squealing and swaying into the road, away from Ivan. And away from Yuuri.

"Here." Celestino handed him a woolen hat that had been resting on the center console, "Cover up your hair. We have a bit of a drive ahead of us. And I need to make sure no one is trailing. Your hair will be a dead giveaway."

"… Would you be able to lose them in this thing if there are people following us?"

Celestino gave a loud, short bark of laughter. "Don't discount this old thing. The owner keeps it in good condition. Though, yeah, you're right, it doesn't look like much."

"Alright." Viktor pulled the hat over his head, tucking his fringe into the edges. The scent of it was oddly calming, cinnamon and wood, and he knew exactly who was letting him borrow it. "Celestino?"

"Yes?" the coach asked as he blinkered his way onto a main road and into traffic, checking the mirrors.

"Will… Do you think Yuuri will be okay?"

Celestino's smile was tight as he stared forward at the road. "I really hope so. But really, he's got a good head. I wouldn’t have let him do it if I didn't think he'd be able to make it out alright."

Viktor hummed skeptically as he remembered how much Yuuri had fumbled at the beginning of their encounter, and flushed with shame at how awful he had treated him. "I wasn't very nice to him. I thought that he was… really there."

"You mean as an actual buyer?"

"Da3." Viktor's voice was small and apologetic, and he stared at his bruising hand. Celestino glanced over and noticed him looking at his hand.

Celestino sniffed but didn't seem to be angry with him. "He won't let that bother him. If anything, he'll just worry about scaring you. By your hand, though, it looks like you did what he asked?"

"Da. I didn't want to though." Viktor hurried to add. "I… it's… I didn't want to leave him behind, but he took a sleeping pill before I could stop him and…"

"That's a good thing." Celestino reassured him, and reached into his winter coat pocket. He brought out an instant ice packet, and snapped it with his broad hand, shaking it to make it activate. "Put this on your hand. Was there any other trouble? Do you know if Ivan suspected?"

"I don't know for sure. But I don't think so. There was a man who caught me," Viktor explained as he took the ice pack, wincing as he placed it on his hand. Celestino stiffened at his words, and Viktor shook his head, "I don't think he told Vanya! He told me to take the stairs and to give him two minutes… and when I left, there was a fight going on in the party. I think he caused it to distract Vanya, and the others."

"Did you know him?"

"No."

Celestino was quiet, a frown forming as he checked and rechecked the mirrors. "What else?"

Viktor told him all that he had seen, trying to put it all together in his own head as he spoke, but neither of them felt any better about it as he finished his story. Celestino asked more about how the encounter with Yuuri went, and Viktor choked through it, wiping his eyes as he explained how it had, at first, nearly gone terribly wrong. The coach had a few more questions about how Yuuri acted, what his expressions were like, his body language, and Viktor answered to the best of his ability; though, he admitted, he hadn't been paying very close attention to what Yuuri was doing.

As he finished his story, silence stretched between them, and Viktor pulled out the cloth from his pocket and wiped his eyes before fiddling with it between his fingers. He stretched his hand and then was thrown into the car door as Celestino took a sharp turn onto a highway. The car shook with protest as they sped up, and Viktor clenched his hands on his knees. When he drove before, his passengers knew it would be a white knuckle ride, but it was nothing compared to how Celestino was weaving in and out of the few cars that were puttering along at a safer pace in the snow.

"Where did you learn to drive?" He demanded as they passed another car who blared their horn and offered a rude hand gesture at them.

"Italy. The land of sports cars." Celestino boasted proudly.

"I thought that was Germany!"

"I'll pretend you didn't say that."

Viktor's shoulders tensed as they fishtailed through a patch of ice, but Celestino handled it well and they were back on a straight line within a second. The Italian was driving furiously, and Viktor assumed it wasn't only because he enjoyed driving fast, so he said nothing else about it. Instead, he decided to change the subject.

"Where are you taking me? Are we going to St. Petersburg?"

"No. We're taking you out of the country as fast as possible, but I don't know where. Right now we're on our way to see the Plisetsky's. Do you remember the kid, Yuri? Yakov said you'd met him before."

'Plisetsky'… the name rung a bell, but his memory was terrible in the best of times. The way Celestino had said 'kid' led him to believe that Viktor might have never even met him at all, and perhaps Yakov was mistaken.

"I don't remember him. Who is he?"

"He's one of Yakov's skaters. He's young, only sixteen. This was his second year in the Senior bracket. He took gold at the Grand Prix a few days ago."

"And Yuuri?"

"Took silver."

Viktor smiled softly at that, wishing he could have watched it.  Maybe he could find a video of it later when he arrived… wherever he was being sent. He then frowned as he began to wonder again about how the evening had gone. Yuuri had said he hadn't known where Celestino was going to take him, and now the Italian admitted he didn't know where he'd be going after they met up with the Plisetsky's.

"Why all the secrecy?" he asked, and then added,  "I don't want to seem ungrateful, because I am, but… it's worrying not knowing what's going to happen next."

For the first time since he'd handed him the ice pack, Celestino looked at him and clapped his hand on his shoulder. He supposed it was supposed to be comforting, the way he squeezed, but it felt odd to be touched. He thought back to how Yuuri had held his hand, his warmth and quiet courage, and nearly started crying again.

"Yakov and Chris were the ones that set this whole thing up." the coach began to explain. "None of us knew what we were going to encounter tonight. Everyone was worried that we're going up against the Bratva. So in case any of us were compromised at any point, we wouldn't know what the next step beyond our own task was. 'Hope for the best, plan for the worst.'"

"That sounds like Chris." And Celestino barked a forced laugh, nodding. But Viktor continued before Celestino could say anything more, "But Vanya isn't in the Bratva, I don't think. He's just a business man. The Bratva use him as a cover… but that's all. He always threatened me to not mess anything up for him, because he'd turn me over to them if I did. Said it would cost him more than I was worth if I caused him any trouble."

The sharp hiss that Celestino emitted told him he was thinking of Yuuri. Viktor wasn't sure how long they had been driving, or how long it had taken him to get out of the apartments, but he was sure it had been at least an hour since he'd left Yuuri sleeping and bruised. He wondered if his absence had been discovered yet, and he hoped not. He didn't miss how Celestino checked his phone to see if there were any missed calls or notifications from Yuuri.

"It was a good plan." Viktor offered the small reassurance. "I didn't want to do it, but Yuuri was right. The Bratva wouldn't want a missing or injured Olympian on their hands. Especially one from a foreign country."

"You were an Olympian." Celestino muttered. And Viktor flinched.

"But I was… was dating Vanya of my own will." he said quietly, trying to not think of the details of years before, or how he had broken his ankle, "And I was injured."

Celestino shook his head, as if shaking off his own morbid thoughts and stretched his neck until it cracked. "I'll go to Mass twice a week for the rest of my life if it means you both are safe." he muttered, more to himself than to Viktor.

There was silence between them again, and Viktor looked out the window. As if a divine symbol, they were crossing Moskva River, and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was glowing like a beacon on the other side. He couldn't help the quiet scoff under his breath, even as he offered up another silent prayer. It was funny, he couldn't remember the last time he'd prayed or even gave divine providence any sort of thought, and here he was, praying harder than he ever had in his life.

He considered what he had to offer. Supposing that he and Yuuri did come out of this alright, he figured going to church would be a small price to pay. But he didn't believe, so that gesture seemed hollow. What he could do, however, was do anything and everything to make sure Yuuri was alright. If Ivan kept Yuuri, Viktor knew he would go right back to him if it meant Yuuri would be released. Somehow, though, he doubted it would work out that way.

It seemed to take forever for them to reach their destination, especially now that the conversation had left them to their own thoughts. The clock on the dashboard signaled it was two-thirty in the morning, and Viktor could feel the adrenaline that had got him to this point fading, leaving him aching and tired in his bones. He'd forgotten to take the ice pack off his hand, and he shivered as he removed it and placed it in a cup holder, massaging the blood through the bruises gently.

Scooting down in his seat, his knees bumping the dash, he watched the city fade by through the window. There weren't any landmarks he recognized anymore, and it seemed they were coming to residential areas. Neighborhoods would pop up only to be swallowed again by hundreds of trees, and the street lights were becoming fewer and far between.

Finally, though, they pulled off the highway and started making their way through suburban roads, potholes littering the ground and forcing him to sit up straight so they didn't jolt his back. The houses were small, and humble, but well kept. Each one silent and dark, with only their porch lights on to signal any sort of life.

When they turned into a gravel driveway, he stiffened and looked at the house. It was like the others, small and well kept. Only there were lights on in the first story windows, offering a warm and welcoming glow. Whomever these Plisetsky's were, they were waiting for them.

With his good hand, he opened the door and followed Celestino toward the front stoop. The door slammed open, making Viktor jump and nearly bolt back to the car.

"Where the hell have you been, Ciao Ciao?" a voice shouted before a blond head popped out into the cold. "Get the fuck inside!"

Viktor stood rooted to the ground, staring. The head floating in the entryway belonged to a kid that was… tiny. How so much anger could simply explode from something so small, he didn't know. It wasn't until Celestino's overly large hand clapped his shoulder, laughing, that he began to walk toward the small angry Russian.

"Don't worry. Yuri's always like that."

"I'm always like what?"

"Yura, quit scaring everyone." Came a more level voice and another boy's face came into view. This one more serious, a leather jacket framing his shoulders. "The last thing we need is the neighbors calling the police."

The small blond scowled but stopped yelling. "Just get inside…"

They entered and a wonderful smell of tea and food made his mouth water. It was instantly hot and he was removing his hat and unbuttoning his coat before he even realized what he was doing. He knelt down to undo his boots, wet from the piling snow, and slowly registered that the two boys were staring at him.

"Shit. It really is you." The blond muttered in Russian. Viktor removed his shoes and stood, offering a tired smile.

"Zdravstvuyte.4" He said, clutching Yuuri's hat in his hands awkwardly. Celestino was also removing his shoes, a second later, clearly not accustomed to Russian customs. Viktor took off his coat and the older boy took it, hanging it up on a coat stand next to the door. Without having any other frame of reference for the young boy, Viktor tried his best to place him, but came up blank. "Ah, congratulations on your gold at the Grand Prix."

Yuri only scoffed and crossed his arms, "As if I'd let that pig take another one from me."

"Yura!" The older one chided and Yuri looked properly chastised. Viktor didn't know who 'that pig' was, but he could only assume it might have been Yuuri. He frowned slightly at the insult, but didn't pry.

"Well, come in. Deda's5 made pirozhki." he muttered, switching to English and led them to the small kitchen. There were two chairs squeezed into one side of the table, that Yuri and the other boy took, and Yuri pointed to the chair next to him. "Sit there. I gotta go get my phone."

"Spasibo6." Viktor told him as the young boy scurried out of the kitchen, and took the seat he was told. Celestino followed and plopped heavily into the one next to him, and smiled at the darker boy that remained, still standing and waiting for Yuri.

"Altin, have you met Nikiforov?" Celestino asked him, and the boy shook his head once for 'no'.

"It's nice to meet you." Viktor said, standing slightly to offer his hand. "Mr. Altin?"

"Otabek Altin. But just Otabek is fine." he corrected and shook Viktor's hand firmly.

"He's a fellow skater, from Kazakhstan. Took fourth at the GPF this year." Celestino explained and Viktor smiled.

"Congratulations Otabek." Viktor replied settling into his seat. He could hear thundering steps clamoring down stairs from the front room and an irritated voice speaking in Russian.

"How the hell would I know that? He just got here." Yuri was saying into his phone as he entered the dining room again. Giving a dramatic roll of his eyes, he shoved the phone in front of Viktor unceremoniously. "He wants to talk to you."

"He?" Viktor blinked in confusion.

"Yakov." Yuri supplied with a shrug, and Viktor's eyes went wide as he took the phone.

"Nikiforov, why don't you take that in the other room?" Celestino suggested mildly.

Viktor nodded and left the table, going to the front room where he'd left his boots. There was a fire going in the pot-belly fireplace in the corner, and he settled himself onto the couch near it. His hand shook as he lifted the phone to his ear.

"Y-yakov?" he asked quietly, almost not daring to believe he was about to talk to the man who was the closest thing he'd ever had to a father.

"Vitya!" came the familiar gruff voice, sounding a bit more tinny over the line. Viktor choked out a sob and bent his face into his knees, shaking as he cried. "Are you alright? What happened?"

It was a moment or two before Viktor could speak, gasping for air as he tried to register that this was actually happening. He was in a traditional Russian home, he was warm, he was safe, and he was talking to his coach. The entire night faded away, and all he could think about was wanting to see Yakov's face, in person. "I-I'm fine, Yakov. Yuuri got me out."

He could hear Yakov's sharp intake of breath, the one he'd heard when one of his skaters fell out of an axel during a performance. It was so familiar, so normal. And he couldn't help but let out a soft, breathy laugh through his tears. Sitting up, he curled his feet onto the couch cushion, quite forgetting he was a guest. And then, he remembered precisely why this conversation was anything but normal.

"But Yuuri is still there, Yakov. I'm so worried for him. Do you really think he can get away?"

"One step at a time, Vitya. Don't make an elephant out of a fly.7"

"I'm not!" Viktor insisted, and then mumbled, "But it's not like this is a 'fly' of a situation… this is definitely more of an elephant."

But Yakov continued. "And don't discount Yuuri Katsuki. He helped to get you out, didn't he?"

Viktor absently reached into his pocket to find his poodle handkerchief, and remembered it was in his coat. Crossing the room to fetch it, he gave a few deep breaths before he could respond to his coach's question.

"He did. But it doesn't mean I'm not worried." He continued, pulling the cloth out and tucking it into his hand. Yakov sighed on the other end.

"So am I. But there's nothing to be done but wait for now. Keep your worries close, but your common sense closer." Yakov told him. "And tell me what happened tonight."

Viktor took a deep breath and recounted the night's events in as much detail as he could, curling himself back up on the couch, fiddling with the handkerchief between both his hands, his shoulder cradling the phone to his ear. He had a feeling this would not be the last time he told this story, and the thought made him wince, wondering if those that heard it would think less of him for how he'd treated Yuuri.

Yakov gave no judgement, however, and merely listened, giving a grunt at the pauses to indicate he was still there. As he finished with the drive with Celestino, Yakov was quiet for a moment.

"I'm proud of you, Vitya." he said finally, an edge of emotion to his voice that Viktor had never heard before. "You did good, my boy."

That started up another well of tears, but Viktor held them tight. "I missed you, Yakov."

"I did too." Yakov returned gruffly, and Viktor smiled. "Now I can get Lilia off my back. She's been calling me all night asking if I heard from you."

Viktor gave a hollow laugh, and thought of the people he'd left behind in St. Petersburg. The severe ballet teacher wasn't someone he worked with very closely, but she had never been unkind to him. Just terribly, traditionally Russian and brusque, much like her ex-husband. Then there was Georgi, and the other coaches and skaters that shared the rink. But there was one he was wondering about, selfishly, he thought, above all else.

"I have a question…" Viktor began slowly, trying to decide if he truly wanted the answer or not.

"What is it?" Yakov asked, uncharacteristically patient. It was at that moment, Yuri came into the room holding a plate of several pirozhki and a cup of hot tea with a spoon of raspberry jam. He stood before Viktor, who placed his feet back on the floor with an apologetic wince, to which Yuri rolled his eyes. Viktor hesitated before taking the tea and one of the steaming hot buns. He'd hoped that Yuri would retreat back to the kitchen, but instead, the teen slumped onto the couch next to him, plate perched on his knee as he began to munch on his own. So much for privacy.

"What happened to Makkachin?" Viktor asked finally, and Yuri peered up at him. To his surprise, and slight dismay, Yakov burst out laughing, nearly making him drop his tea.

"Yakov!" Viktor pouted back through the phone, scowling, which seemed to only make Yakov laugh harder.

"Just tell him how the damn dog is, Yakov!" Yuri snapped from beside him, and Viktor jumped at the outburst.

"Yurachka! Stop eavesdropping!" A stern voice came quietly from the doorway, and Viktor turned to see an older gentleman, for that was the only way he could describe the man with a scarf and driver's cap, popping his head through the door and frowning. "Leave him to his talk, he'll talk to you when he's done."

Yuri scowled and muttered unintelligibly as he stood, but he left the pirozhki behind. He popped over to the front door and grabbed a pair of shoes and hurried back to the dining room. Viktor returned to his phone call, smiling slightly at how familial the interactions were here, even if he was a stranger. Yakov wouldn't be laughing if the news were bad, and Yuri had said how the dog is, not was.

"She is fine, Vitya. Lilia took her in and she spends the days lounging in Lilia's studio on an over-stuffed pillow. We know she misses you, though. She still goes by your locker when she comes to the rink and sniffs around."

Viktor didn't know whether to laugh, or cry some more, but he was grinning in spite of himself as he imagined his beloved pup endearing herself to all of Lilia's students.

"Now we can talk more about Makkachin and everything else later. For now, you need to get ready to go."

Viktor sighed, he had almost forgotten that this was not the last stop for him that night, and that he wasn't going home to St. Petersburg. "Where am I going, Yakov? Why can't I come home?"

"Switzerland. I want you out of the country where Ivan can't get to you easily. I don't know when your flight is, I left that to Yurochka and his grandfather. But Chris will be waiting for you."

It was a mixed bag of emotions, thinking that his travel arrangements had been taken care of by the angry teen in the other room, and the fact that he'd be on his way to see his best friend. The grin from news of Makkachin spread, though, and he nodded. If Yakov trusted the boy enough, then it would be good enough for him, and Switzerland wasn't a terribly long flight from Moscow. He'd made the trip years before, after nationals, to spend his birthday and New Year's with his friend.

"Thank you, Yakov. For everything."

"Just get there and call me when you get settled." Yakov deflected the gratitude roughly. The time for emotional conversation was over. "And go talk to Yura. He's been impatient to see you again."

"Again?"

"I told him you might not remember. Go talk to him about it. I have things to take care of here."

"Da. Goodnight."

Yakov's grunt was all he got in reply and he reluctantly pressed the button to end the call. Putting his handkerchief in his pocket, he gathered his tea and food and made his way back into the dining room. Yuri and Otabek were sitting there talking quietly with the old man he'd caught a glimpse of earlier, but one was missing.

"Where's Celestino?" he asked them, finding no reason to switch to English when all of them could understand each other in their native tongue.

"He went back into the city to wait for Yuuri. He'll text us if he hears anything." Yuri explained around a mouthful of fried dough. Viktor's chest tightened and he sat down in the chair that was between Yuri and the elder gentleman. "I thought you'd want to say bye, but he said Yakov was more important, so he went out the back."

"I didn't get to thank him." Viktor said sadly as he stirred his cooling tea. He hadn't actually eaten any of the food that was offered yet, and it smelled wonderful - but it just didn't feel right to eat not knowing what was happening elsewhere.

"He knows." The older man spoke to him, "And you should eat. It's been a long night and it isn't over yet."

Viktor obediently took a bite of his pirozhok8, expecting to not be able to eat very much, but the way the crisp breading melted over his tongue and how juicy the meat and vegetables were, he was suddenly starving. "Vkusno!9"

The elder man laughed and Yuri grinned widely, even Otabek's lips were quirked up and that was something that Viktor assumed didn't happen very often. He seemed the more serious type.

"Deda makes the best pirozhki in all of Russia!" Yuri laughed enthusiastically, looking like the young man he actually was. Viktor couldn't help but grin along with him and took another bite before realizing he was being rather rude.

"Ah, I'm sorry, sir. I didn't introduce myself." Viktor put his pirozhok back on his own plate and extended his hand toward Yuri's grandfather. "I'm Viktor Mikhailovich Nikiforov. Thank you for letting me be here."

Yuri's grandfather shook his hand with a chuckle, "Don't worry so much about formalities. I am Nikolai Ilyich Plisetsky, and you're always welcome here."

"That's very kind of you." Viktor smiled and picked up his tea. It was sweet and a perfect compliment to the food he'd just eaten, and addressed them all. "I owe a lot to all of you. Thank you for helping me."

"But you don't remember me, do you?" Yuri was surly in his pout, and Viktor tipped his head to the side apologetically and swallowed the bite of his pirozhok he had just taken.

"I'm sorry. No."

Yuri sniffed dramatically, and flung his arms to link behind his head as he tilted his chair backwards precariously. "Well. We only met once, so whatever."

Viktor was about to apologize again, but then Yuri received a nudge from Otabek with a pointed look at his own watch.

"Oh, shit! Yeah, you gotta go!" Yuri flung himself out of his chair with a clatter of his chair and plate, almost spilling his tea before Otabek caught the cup and steadied it. Going to a side table, he pulled out a drawer and fished out a packet of papers. "Here Nikiforov, your passport, visa and tickets. Beka is going to take you to Switzerland. I'd go, but Yakov said he'd kill me 'cause Nationals are coming up."

Viktor took the pile of papers that Yuri thrust in his face and peered at his passport, the photo still had his long hair which he'd cut when he was turned twenty, opting for a more adult look as he exited his teens. "It's not expired?"

"Nope. Yakov checked. Your… whatever the hell he was, didn't register it as lost or ask for a replacement. Looks like he never planned on taking you out of the country." Yuri seemed to be unable to help his next muttering comment, which earned a snide eye from Otabek, "Piss-eating sonofa…"

Ignoring Otabek and Nikolai chiding Yuri's foul mouth, and him arguing back indignantly that his insults were justified, he examined the plane tickets, one in his name and the other in Otabek's. His coach and friends, friends he hadn't even realized he'd had on his side, had done their best to think of everything to keep him out of harm's way as they extracted him. Looking over the table, the surreal feeling of finally, finally, getting out was starting to settle in his chest. Warmth spread through his stomach and limbs. Even if he didn't know the three that he was sitting with very well, he could tell he would have loved to meet them earlier. He could almost see how they might have had many meals similar to this one, with Yakov, Lilia, or Georgi adding their own chaotic personalities, Makkachin trying to beg food off their plates. He found himself hoping that such a meal could take place in the future.

The future, something he hadn't dared to think of in a long time, and now he had one very nearly in his grasp. It was only a few hours away, and then who knew what else was in store? He joined in laughing along with Nikolai, allowing the hope he'd so fiercely stifled to bloom fully in his mind. Somehow, he'd be okay.

And so would Yuuri.

Chapter Text

The first time he'd been shaken awake early, disoriented and foggy from his sleeping pill, an angry voice screaming in his face, he'd teared up and cried. Ciao Ciao's heavy arm had come around his shoulders and reassured him he was safe, but after that, their rehearsals had held no such comfort until after he'd been able to get dressed and pull himself together. And even then, it'd been a clap on the shoulder and a quick apology before attending breakfast together.

But now, he was lost in the floral and fresh scent of lavender and some type of citrus, perhaps lemon. Residual heat pheromones lingered on the pillows and blanket that did not cover him. Even if somewhere in his head he didn't recognize the bed, it was comfortable, and he certainly did not want to wake up - it was comforting even in being foreign.

At least, it was until there was the sudden sound of a door slamming and someone bellowing:

"Where the FUCK is he?!" a fist was curled into his lapel and he was jerked upward. Murderous gray eyes filled his blurry vision. One was bruised and swollen, but that seemed to only add to the threat.

"Huh? Who?" his mind waking after his body, which was instinctively pushing away from the breath laced with old alcohol. A wave of nausea overcame him and he gagged violently. That seemed to be repellant enough for his attacker, and he was left in a heap on the comfortable blankets, trying to fight back the contents of his stomach that were threatening to surface. As he breathed, he wracked in brain momentarily, trying to piece together where he was, why he wasn't in Hasetsu. A waft of the scent of lemon and lavender brought a name to the forefront, and he knew.

Viktor.

He was still playing the playboy, and he had to get it together soon, otherwise their plotting together might be discovered. Glancing around, he noticed his tuxedo was appropriately scattered, his jacket and tie scattered on the floor, pants over the back of an armchair, and his shirt hanging off one of the bed posts. A wave of embarrassment took to his face, even if it was all according to his and Viktor's agreement the night before. The mics would have at least picked up that he'd requested a shower, and so he was in Viktor's light blue robe, and… yes, he still had his boxers on, he reassured himself as he shifted on the bed, pulling the robe back into its rightful place after Ivan had jerked it.

"What the fuck happened last night, Katsuki?" Ivan still loomed over him as his fingers fumbled across his clothing, and he shook his head to clear it further.

"I don't know." he said flatly, hoping he seemed appropriately discombobulated. He realized that he was mostly telling the truth. There was no way of telling what happened after he'd passed out, but Ivan being this angry was a good sign. This was good. He tried to remind himself that the fury being unleashed at him was something he should be happy about. It meant that Viktor had been able to escape. And yet he still felt the quiver of fear in his stomach. Taking a breath, he brushed his sleep mussed hair out of his eyes and winced as his palm brushed his brow. "He… hit me."

Ivan was glaring at him, but he turned his body slightly toward the door. "Go get the audio. I want to hear it myself." And Yuuri realized that there was more than just him and Ivan in the room. Looking up he saw two security guards, the woman that had checked him in and another man he didn't recognize. The man nodded curtly and strode out of the room. "And you, Katsuki, you're going to tell me exactly what happened after I left."

Yuuri glared back up at Ivan, and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. Finally getting a good look at the alpha, he realized that he was not the only one that'd had a roughing up, though Yuuri couldn't quite find it within himself to feel any sort of pity or sympathy for him.  He did vaguely wonder how it had happened, but didn't care enough to ask. He had more pressing matters to attend. The situation wasn't in his control, and he needed to change that. He was supposed to be the angry customer, he'd bought a service - even if he had no intention of going through with any of it - and Celestino had drilled it into his head that he had to appear just as irate as Ivan if he were to get out of there safely. Summoning the anger wasn't hard. He'd never been so furious in his entire life, had never hated anyone before.

"First, he wasn't in heat like advertised." Yuuri said coldly, channeling his actual anger into false words. "He was a sobbing mess after we went into the bathroom and I spent the first part of the night trying to calm him down. After I showered, I left him in there to come out here and get some champagne and put the pill into his. I went back into the bathroom and we talked about skating for a few minutes, but he must have switched the glasses, must have watched me drug his, because after a bit I started to get dizzy. I guess he hit me then to stop me from calling you, 'cause that's the last thing I remember." 

Standing and drawing himself up to his full height, he squared his shoulders as if that was all he had to say. Ivan remained quiet, still glowering, as he began to pick up his clothing. He wasn't about to have the rest of this conversation in naught but his boxers and Viktor's robe. As he stepped toward the bathroom, Ivan gave a low growl, and Yuuri glared back over his shoulder. Apparently, he wasn't allowed any further privacy.

With a confidence he did not feel, he tossed Viktor's robe onto the bed and pulled on his pants. If Ivan thought that him getting dressed in front of others would shake him, he was sorely mistaken. Yuuri practically lived in locker rooms where anyone could walk in, had his body and weight scrutinized in countless media articles, and, all that aside, he grew up in an onsen. Only the embarrassment of possibly giving a show remained, but, he reasoned, wasn't that exactly what he was supposed to be doing? Ivan's steely gaze never left his, aside from when Yuuri had to look away to grab the next article of clothing.

It was as he was tucking his undershirt and dress shirt into the rumpled slacks that the other security guard came back with a laptop under his arm. The computer was placed on a small writing desk and opened, before Ivan shoved the other man's hands away, navigating to the files he wanted himself.

"Good evening, sir. I hope you've enjoyed your evening so far…" an echo of Viktor's voice came through the speakers and Yuuri almost dropped his shoe. Recovering by sitting on the bed, he began to put them on, concentrating on making his fingers move. It was already bad enough that he had to live through the previous night, and now it all came rushing back to him painfully clear with his own voice and ruffle of his clothes as he had moved coming through the audio track. Thinking back to their conversation, he sincerely hoped that they hadn't spoken too loudly in the bathroom.

Ivan's back was to him, but the two security guards were watching him closely. He glared at them too, tapping his toe onto the carpet to push his toes into place. It was then that he realized the woman was holding his overcoat, which meant she had his phone. He wanted it desperately, but didn't know what sort of notifications might come through. Celestino, Chris ,Yakov, and he had all agreed to not message each other until Yuuri gave the all clear that he was safe. Yuuri had also erased both Chris and Yakov's contact information and all of their conversations and call logs for good measure. But even so, if Phichit had questioned how his trip to Russia was going, or wanted to start a conversation about his and Ciao Ciao's odd actions during their time in Hasetsu, it could spell disaster.

Yet, he wanted to turn it on, too, if only to allow his GPS to notify his coach that he was more or less okay. The need of having some sort of connection outside of the horrid place he was in was nearly obsessive, and he began to feel the tell-tale signs of panic beginning in his thrumming heart. If Ivan didn't believe his story, if the audio didn't match up, then he might have just switched places with Viktor.

Frantically, he wracked his brain for the lines he was supposed to say if Ivan began to threaten him. That he was an Olympian, that Celestino knew where he was, that the Japanese government would get involved… A low sob that didn't come from him suddenly echoed through the room and he was brought back to the audio. The sounds of the shower running had been hissing through the speakers, and Yuuri blinked back tears at what had made Viktor cry in the first place. His name being spoken aloud.

Perking up his ears, he listened more intently to see if what was actually being said could be understood. Thankfully, all he could hear was his own soothing tone, but nothing else. No actual words were making it through the speaker. Ivan's shoulders had stiffened at the crying, but he remained silent. The security guards' faces remained impassive, though they did steal glances toward the computer, then the bathroom door, before looking back to Yuuri.

Tapping his toe nervously, he quickly changed the motion to one of impatience. His mind wandered back to his phone, trying to think of an excuse to have it. He realized he didn't even know what time it was, and then remembered how Celestino would be calling the police if it became too late in the morning. Thinking he'd momentarily block Phichit, hopefully before any errant texts might come in, and decided to give it a try. It was worth the risk.

"What time is it?" he asked, attempting to keep his voice aloof.

"Shut it." Ivan snapped, not taking his eyes off the computer, as if staring at it would enable him to actually see what had gone on the night prior.

Yuuri frowned, but persisted. "Pause it, then. I told my coach I'd be attending. He doesn't care how I take the edge off from competitions, and he's the one that introduced me to these types of… soirees in the US. If he doesn't hear from me by a certain time, he's calling the authorities and the Japanese Embassy."

That got Ivan's attention. Rounding on him, his face twisted into a snarl, he looked as though he was about to throttle Yuuri. "You little shit…"

"My phone." Yuuri insisted lowly, as he tried to keep his face from showing any of the fear that was bubbling up from his gut.

Ivan stared at him for a beat, trying to see if Yuuri was bluffing. Thankfully, he was not, and was able to win the contest. Ivan nodded to the security guard sharply. His coat was passed to him and he fished out his phone, turning it on and waiting for it to load up completely. Navigating quickly to his texts, he hit the 'block' button on Phichit's slew of texts about how in love he was with Seung Gil before anything new could come. Noting that his location option was still highlighted, he then sent off a quick text to Ciao Ciao, letting him know he was still there without giving any other details. Pocketing the device, he looked back up into Ivan's glare and frowned.

"As you can hear, I'm telling the truth." he gestured toward the laptop, still playing the audio with muffled voices. When Ivan's eyes merely narrowed suspiciously, Yuuri swallowed nervously, when the sound of a door opening came across the speakers. It had been when he'd come out to get the champagne glasses, and he suddenly remembered Viktor's words of advice. "Unless we are discussing terms of a refund, since I clearly did not spend the night with him, I would like to go. I have a flight to catch."

It was almost worth seeing Ivan's expression widen and then twist into further fury as he mentioned getting the money back. Yuuri merely slid on his coat as if there would be no question of him leaving, but Ivan did not seem to be willing to allow him to go just yet. But before either of them could argue further, the sounds of a fist hitting flesh, hard, reverberated through the room. Yuuri's brow gave a sympathetic throb as he remembered the torment on Viktor's face as he threw the first punch, followed quickly by a second via a backhand. The poor man had mustered a third strike, but had not been able to continue, and Yuuri had examined his own face in the mirror and gave the okay. The hits had been dizzying enough, and his lip had split wide open. When Viktor had moved to wipe the blood away, Yuuri had stopped him, letting the red dribble down his chin and neck.

There were further noises of fumbling, which had been Yuuri quickly changing into Viktor's robe, before the bathroom door opened.  Yuuri was glad to note that Viktor helping him stumble toward the bed sounded exactly like he'd been dragging him. A rustle of blankets and Yuuri's own groan added to the effect, and then more susurrus of Viktor moving about the room for a minute before it all went silent. Yuuri remembered how Viktor had tossed his clothes around the room, and then sat on the floor near the bed, placing their hands together the same way they'd held them before. The last thing he could actually remember was Viktor's tear-jewelled eyes staring at him as his own eyes fluttered shut and his sleeping pill took its full effect.

"See?" Yuuri chimed in as the audio faded. Ivan shushed him as he continued to listen to the audio's silence. There was the sound of metal scratching metal, which Yuuri didn't recognize, but assumed it was Viktor picking the lock, and the door to the bedroom opening. There were more footsteps and the faintest hint of a sigh, and then the footsteps rushed and faded as there was a barely there click. The door shutting behind Viktor. If he'd been able, Yuuri would have cried in relief at the sound of Viktor's escape.

As it was, Ivan snarled, and slammed the computer shut, hard enough to hear a loud crack of plastic.

"Get the fuck out of here, Katsuki. You're lucky you paid so much for the one night, otherwise I'd be charging you more for damages."

The security guards moved to either side of him, reaching their hands toward his arms to which Yuuri growled softly, "Don't touch me." His strides were long as he walked out of the room, every muscle in his body begging to bolt. While the guards were not manhandling him out, they still walked beside him.

He was almost to the top of the stairs, a hand reaching toward the railing when Ivan's voice boomed from behind him.

"If you took a shower, why were your clothes scattered around the room, and not in the bathroom?"

Yuuri felt a stab of panic as he glared back over his shoulder. But instead of allowing the panic to take over, he offered the one scathing remark he had.

"Why don't you ask Viktor?"

 


 

It had been a long night, though, Celestino suspected, not as long as Yuuri's. The long drives to and from the Plisetsky's hadn't been easy with the snow continuing the pile up. On his return, he'd still driven like a bat out of hell, but with far more close calls than Viktor had experienced upon their fleeing. Finally, he'd been forced to slow down as he'd re-entered the city proper, impatient at the new traffic as the city had awoken. Though he was glad to no longer be in Nikolai's car, switching it out at the old man's house for a sleek and modern rental sedan, he'd still be glad to be completely done with driving in the snow.

His phone chimed again, pulling him from his thoughts.  He hurried to unlock it, scanning the text that had just come through.

Coming out the front entrance now.

Celestino's scowl immediately melted as he read Yuuri's text, and he let out a very long, relieved breath. His chest had been dangling on the wavering edges of tenterhooks since his student's GPS had come alive and a text reading 'Hopefully on my way soon' had come through, letting him know that returning to the building where he'd picked up Viktor was the correct choice. But it had been completely silent for nearly forty-five minutes. Had it been much longer, he'd thought, he would have called Yakov and started alerting authorities.

Keeping his eyes fixated on the front revolving doors, he sucked in another sharp breath at the sight of a disheveled, bruised Yuuri emerging into the just-breaking light of dawn. Behind him were two shadows that retreated back into the building, and Celestino watched carefully as Yuuri began to walk toward the end of the block, his phone in hand.

His own phone rang, and it was by his ear immediately. "Keep walking. I see you."

"I'd like to order a car, please." Yuuri's shaking voice came over the line and Celestino sighed. Clearly the young man thought he might still be watched.

"No one is following you so far. Walk another block and get around the corner so no one can see you from the entrance. I'll keep watching."

"Yes, thank you." Yuuri replied, the relief he was feeling evident. He muttered something about sending the address and then disconnected the line. Celestino kept an eye on the door as Yuuri faded from sight, rounding the next corner after a few minutes. When no one else exited the building, he pulled the rental car in gear and moved into traffic.

It didn't take long to find Yuuri, who was standing near an empty bus stop two blocks from the apartment building. Pulling in, Celestino had intended to get out and open the door for him, but Yuuri beat him to it, yanking open the door and all but falling into the front seat. The door was barely shut before Celestino was moving again, speeding his way around the corner and as far away from there as he could possibly get.

"You alright? Those bruises had better be only from Nikiforov."

Yurri's smile was weak and crooked, only moving the side of his mouth that wasn't swollen and split. "No. Ivan didn't touch me… I'm okay, I think. How was Viktor? Is he okay?"

"He was fine when I left him to come get you.  They had him talking to Yakov on the phone.  How are your teeth?"

Yuuri didn't speak for a minute as he probed his tongue along each tooth, checking for damage. "They're fine. He only hit me a couple times, he couldn't… he didn't want to do more. It looks worse than it is."

Celestino sighed heavily, and reached a large, broad palm and patted Yuuri's knee, "You're a good man, Yuuri. One of the best I know."

Yuuri flushed at the compliment and looked out the window, "Iie, it was just the right thing to do."

Celestino let it drop, allowing Yuuri his quiet, humble embarrassment, not pointing out that it was for that precise reason his statement was true.

"But he made it?" Yuuri continued to ask, "Nothing went wrong?"

"He made it." Celestino grinned, finally allowing himself the confidence he'd been faking throughout the night. "If Ivan seemed as lost as you say he did, then he hasn't a clue."

"Where did you take him?"

"Yuri Plisetsky's, and then they flew him somewhere."

"Yuri…? I hope he was nice…" Yuuri's good eye widened in surprise before continuing his questions, "Do you know what time his flight was or where they were taking him?"

"No. Yakov insisted on need to know. I'm not sure even he knows"

"When's ours?" Yuuri followed up, and Celestino knew he was not wanting to endure a nine hour flight to Korea without knowing a thing. He didn't either, and was considering splurging on the wi-fi option, if their plane offered it, and if they hadn't heard any news before boarding.

"Three hours. Hopefully we'll hear soon."

Yuuri was quiet after that, and Celestino didn't attempt to pry any more information out of him. The poor young man's face was ashen and he had the expression of needing to sort through his thoughts. It was an expression he knew well, though he was loathe to know it wasn't simply about how to improve his technical score in his next competition this time. From the corner of his eye, he could see Yuuri swallow hard periodically as they drove in silence.

They were headed straight for the airport, their scant overnight bags in the back seat. They would have to find a restroom where Yuuri could change before going through customs, but that wouldn't be much of an issue. There was a matter of breakfast, however, and Celestino thought about the pirozhki nestled in a paper bag in the glove box. Before he could suggest it however, Yuuri lurched forward.

"Pull over." he gasped, sweat breaking out on his forehead, his skin going near green. Unfastening his safety belt, he shoved it over his shoulder, and swallowed thickly. "Pull over!"

Celestino was quick to comply, veering to the shoulder of the road, and Yuuri flung the door open and fell to the asphalt, choking. Out of the car and around it before thinking twice, Celestino braced Yuuri's shoulders and held firmly as the skater emptied the scant contents of his stomach.

"That's it… get it all out." he murmured calmly as Yuuri gagged through a sob and retched again. When he was finished, Yuuri stayed bent over and trembling, hands in the sleet and his pants getting soaked through from the wet road.

"I hate Moscow…" he whimpered pathetically. Celestino's eyes softened sadly, knowing that the city didn't have many fond memories for him. The competitions were fierce and arduous always, and the weather constantly bleak when they had been there, but he knew full well Yuuri wasn't speaking of just that. The last time here had tormented him, cramming a lifetime worth of guilt and worry into just two months time. Even without the last twenty-four hours of what was no doubt a traumatic experience, it'd be enough for Yuuri to never wish to return.

"I know. I'm not really liking it too much myself." Celestino agreed, rubbing Yuuri's back firmly as he did when his student was in the middle of a panic attack. Silently, he wished that Phichit was there to offer his wrist as a grounding scent. It had been years since he'd offered to form a scent-bond with Yuuri, strictly for comfort purposes during anxiety attacks, but had then been informed later by Yuuri's best friend as to exactly why the conservative Japanese man had not been able to look at him for a week. In Japan, those types of bonds were reserved strictly for heat partners and family members.

Yuuri wiped his mouth and spit one more time before crawling back into his seat. Celestino loaded himself into the driver's side and pulled back into traffic. Yuuri was leaning his head against the cool of the window, eyes closed and breathing deep. All signs of an impending panic attack.

"Call Yakov." Celestino suggested as he realized what was happening. Now that Viktor and Yuuri were safe in their care, there really wasn't any reason to not be in contact with one another. Especially with finding out Ivan was not well seated within the Bratva, if Viktor's information was accurate. "Since he talked to Nikiforov, he might be able to help answer some questions."

"I don't have his number anymore." Yuuri sighed as he sat up, "Can you…? Oh, domo1."

The coach was already handing his phone over to him before he could finish his sentence. Yuuri took it and copied the phone number into his own contact list and dialed.

 


 

Hearing Yakov speak of how his conversation with Viktor had gone, Yuuri was relieved to know he didn't have to repeat too much of what had gone on between them. But that relief was nothing compared to knowing the younger Yuri had texted to let the old coach know Viktor and Otabek had boarded a plane to Switzerland safely within the half hour prior, with Yuri boarding a short flight to St. Petersburg just after. That meant Viktor was in the air just as he was exiting Ivan's apartment. Their plan had worked out beautifully.

"What happened at the auction?" Yakov asked after the reassurances were uttered. "Chris and I noticed it was a larger sum than what we'd planned."

Yuuri paled and his eyes began to water, even though Yakov's tone was completely neutral. He wasn't accusing or angry, but Yuuri still felt immense guilt.

"I… um… I got into a bidding war. There was…" this he hadn't even considered speaking of yet. In fact, he had momentarily completely forgotten the visceral details of the auction. But with Yakov's very reasonable question, it all came screaming back to him. "There was another person bidding…"

He shot a furtive glance to Ciao Ciao.  He had taught JJ for a few years, and Yuuri knew how proud he was of his former student. This would utterly devastate him.  Yuuri had spent his time in the car thinking of how much his life had changed overnight, how he'd seen things, and done things, that he'd never wish on another human being. Already he was sensing that the cost to him personally was steep, and he had no idea how much it'd affect him later - but he knew it would be far more than what he was currently anticipating. Now he was quantifying how much he knew, and asking how much he should let others know. The plan was to make a phone call to Interpol as soon as he was able. He'd gladly hand over JJ's name to authorities then, but for his mentor and coach…

No. He couldn't do it. To shatter more of the safe world they'd been in before all this happened was unthinkable.  One day, he would have to confess everything to Celestino, but not now.

"Yuuri?" Ciao Ciao gently prodded him from his thoughts just as Yakov gave a grunt over the phone to get his attention.

"I'm sorry…" Yuuri muttered, "The man really wanted Viktor. But I wasn't going to let him… let any of them win. I tried to keep the price low, I'm sorry Yakov. But after a while it was just me and the other person bidding, so I couldn't stop… I’m so sorry."

"Katsuki!" Yakov's voice was sharp, a commanding only a veteran coach could have. Yuuri sucked in a breath and realized he'd been rambling, that he was crying, and Celestino was gripping his shoulder with the other hand still on the wheel. Coach Feltsman's next words were said in a growl, but he didn't seem angry. "Don't you dare apologize for getting Vitya out of there."

"Sor… I mean. Um… okay." his reply was lame, he knew, but Yakov only chuckled dryly.

"Skater Katsuki - I never underestimate men's characters. These last few years you've been a strong opponent to my skaters, but I never thought you would be the one to help bring Vitya back." The old coach's voice got thicker as he continued to speak, which only made Yuuri's eyes tear up even more. "I was wrong about you, Yuuri. You did good."

"Ano… arigatou2, Feltsman-san…"  Yuuri said softly. "And… thank you for taking my call."

Yakov only grunted before continuing, "Let me know when you get back home. Yura was asking about you."

"Hai.3 I will."

As he hung up the phone, he sighed with relief and turned to the man driving. "They sent him to stay with Chris. His flight took off just a bit ago."

Celestino echoed his relieved breath and nodded. "We did it."

"Un.4 We did."

The large Italian's face split into a wide grin, and he burst out laughing. It was infectious. Yuuri started to crack up, too, ignoring the throbbing of his lip and cheek that were protesting his moment of chortling repose. All the tension, the hours of worrying, of planning, practicing, the entire night before being released back into the air as both of them whooped at their unexpected success. They were still laughing as Ciao Ciao navigated the car to the rental drop off at the airport.

The stress of travel, though, took them over. And they concentrated on pulling their bags out of the car, ignoring the attendants' stares at his face, and finding a bathroom. He had known he looked terrible, but actually seeing it was another matter entirely. One eye was all but swollen shut, a cheek scraped and dried blood still was on his chin.

"No wonder he bought the story…" he said with a wince as he washed away the worst of the night, the cold water stinging and soothing all at once. Now that he had a moment, he was realizing how much it was starting to hurt. "Do you have any painkillers?"

Celestino nodded and fished out a few pills and Yuuri swallowed them dry. After retreating quickly into a bathroom stall, he changed into a pair of gray pants, a soft blue tee shirt and tugged on his puffy blue coat that he usually used for his runs to Ice Castle or the rink in Detroit. Everything else was placed into a garment bag, and would be sent back to Chris once he returned home.

After checking in and getting through customs relatively easily, though the one checking his passport eyed him dubiously until he muttered something about a bar fight to explain his appearance, and then they were waiting at the gate to take them to Korea and then Japan. Celestino plopped a bag of food in his lap, and he was surprised to learn it was food Yuri's grandfather had sent along for his breakfast. Even cold, the pirozhki were delicious, devouring his way through three of them before remembering his competition diet wasn't supposed to be over yet.

He spent the hour before boarding unblocking Phichit and scrolling through social media. Peach had posted several photos of him grinning and Seung Gil's small smirk in front of various locations in Hasetsu and Fukuoka. Sure enough, several texts came through asking how he was faring in Russia, and begging to talk to him about why he'd been so secretive over the past few weeks. Yuuri still wasn't sure how to answer his questions. It wasn't that he felt Phichit would be in any sort of danger now that it was over, he simply wasn't sure how much sharing would invade Viktor's privacy. Surely Viktor wouldn't want it known to many people why he'd disappeared for so long, and it certainly wasn't Yuuri's place to tell anyone.

Which led him to wonder about how much contact he'd have with Viktor. He knew Chris, at least, would still be talking to him, as they worked together and had become fairly good friends over the years. But would Viktor want to talk to him? Yuuri at least wanted to have one more conversation, if only to apologize once again for scaring him, and to make sure he was okay. Beyond that, he decided, he'd let Viktor choose. It could be, Yuuri reasoned, that he'd be a reminder of his time with Ivan - and if that were the case, speaking to each other might be painful for Viktor.

That thought brought a twinge of sadness to his chest.  As he replied to Phichit, making the same excuse of his poor performance at Rostelecom Cup and getting his head back in the game his reason for being tight-lipped, he was left to wonder why the thought of not talking to Viktor was painful. He didn't think Viktor owed him anything. But he'd always felt an inexplicable draw to him, ever since he'd seen Viktor's brilliant blue eyes on a television screen, then on posters and in magazines, then the first time in Moscow, and finally, remembering them teary and apologetic, as he had fallen asleep in his bed.

The memory of lemon and lavender ghosted past his nose as he an Celestino listened to the call for them to board. Stowing their bags in the overhead bins and then climbing awkwardly into the narrow economy seats, he settled near the window and gazed out onto the tarmac, not seeing the men working below to prepare the plane for takeoff. He was missing Viktor, he realized. And all that knowledge did was send guilt and confusion spiraling through his head.

His phone vibrated and he almost dropped it before he could swipe his thumbprint to open the notification. He tapped on the screen and a breath of relief followed by a sob tore from his throat. It was from Chris.

"Yuuri?"

Fist in his mouth to keep from breaking down in their seats, Yuuri merely held out his phone for Celestino to see the message. It was a selfie. Chris and Viktor were both in the image, both of them with puffy red eyes from crying, Chris' grin spreading from ear to ear, and Viktor's smile smaller, but no less happy. He looked exhausted, and extremely pale under Chris' arm that was nearly crushing him into his friend's side. The text read Thank you.

Viktor was safe. They really had succeeded.