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the sound of your breath in the cold

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"It's quiet," Yuuri says that night, as they sit together at the low-slung table. "Without him."

Victor hums. It is a noncommittal sound, neither agreement nor denial; it only is, much in the same way the decanter of unfiltered saké hanging from his fingers is, a simple consequence of gravity and pressure. There is a far off look in his eyes that Yuuri cannot identify.

"Are you worried?" asks Yuuri.

Victor blinks, slow and sensuous, his long white lashes a dust of snow on the ivory landscape of his cheeks. The unfocused haze of his eyes does not disappear, however, and he haltingly replies, "Worried?"

"About Yurio," Yuuri clarifies.

"Oh," Victor exhales. He pours a measure of chilled, cloudy alcohol into the empty cup in front of him. "No."

"You're not?" Yuuri says, his tone tinged with shock. "I thought you were—" Yuuri bites down on the last word. Closer, he had wanted to say, but as he felt it forming on his tongue, he knew it was not right.

Victor smiles at Yuuri's hesitation. It is a small and slyly amused thing against the lip of his lacquered saké cup. Then, in a tone to match, Victor asks, "Are you worried?"

Yuuri opens his mouth—ready to deny—but no dismissal emerges. Instead, Yuuri thinks of Yurio's twisted pout and the furrow of his fine eyebrows. He thinks of how Yurio stood on his tip-toes when he shouted, the tight fold of his arms across his chest, and the way he begrudged the smallest affections and courtesies. A curious sensation unfurls beneath his breastbone; it is not as heavy worry but not as light as concern.

"He's only sixteen," Yuuri replies.

"Yes," Victor agrees. "He is."

Yuuri waits patiently for Victor to continue but no elaboration comes. Instead, Victor hums again, indifferent, sips at his sweet, mild drink, and allows his stare to return to the middle distance. There is nothing over Yuuri's shoulder save for the opened porch door and, beyond that, the twinkling lights of Hasetsu in the night darkness.

The mystery of Victor's thoughts—of Victor—pulls.

"What are you thinking about, then?" Yuuri murmurs. Normally, he would not be bold enough—or impolite enough—to push for an answer, but his heart is full of confidence and his belly full of katsudon. There is a little bit of alcohol in his blood, too, and the combination briefly bolsters him. "You have a strange expression on your face."

Victor's eyes return to Yuuri as Yuuri trails off. He tilts his pale head in curiosity and prompts, "Strange?"

"Different, I mean." Yuuri feels heat rise in his cheeks. "You look... contemplative."

Victor's petal pink mouth quirks upwards. "I suppose I am," he admits.

And it's silly, Yuuri thinks, for Victor to feel so distant when he's less than an arm's length away; when he is sitting cross-legged on a flat cushion in one of the many rooms in Yuuri's childhood home; when he is dressed in the onsen's familiar sage-green yukata; when he is lightly drunk and delicately flushed; but it is not surprising. Victor is easier to understand when he is a figure on television or a poster hung on the wall or a feature in an idle daydream.

"So?" Yuuri asks. "Will you tell me?"

For the first time since dinner ended—since they devoured their katsudon and pulled bottle after bottle of chilled nigorizake from the ice bucket Mari brought them—Victor focuses all his attention on Yuuri.

"I was thinking about the quadruple Salchow," Victor answers. Then, after a pause, he adds, "And your hips."

Victor's voice is deep and low, as gentle and unfathomable as the moonlight that filters through the clouds and falls on the unfurling buds of spring blooming in the garden outside. It is not Victor's normal, careless flirtation; there is something expectant and patient in this, and it makes the hair on the back of Yuuri's neck stand on end.

"Oh," Yuuri says.

"Oh," parrots Victor.

In the dim light—with his hair falling loosely over his face and his yukata slipping from the curve of his shoulder—Victor turns into a creature that is both ethereal and dangerously human. He is so beautiful he makes Yuuri ache down to the hollows of his bones.

"Yurio can take care of himself." Victor sets his empty cup down on the table and frees his hands. "He may only be sixteen but knows what he wants, and he is unafraid to do what he must to get it."

"He's brave."

"No." Victor shakes his head. "He's ambitious. You're the brave one."

Yuuri has never been called brave in his entire life—or bold or daring—but there is no mockery in Victor's blue eyes, and such sincerity makes Yuuri feel light. Invincible. Nothing can stop him as he rises to his feet; as he walks to the other side of the table; as he kneels by Victor's side and curls his hand against the angle of Victor's jaw.

"See?" Victor murmurs as he leans, heavy-eyed and warm, into Yuuri's open touch. "Brave."

Yuuri does not correct him.

He does not have to.

.