When Yuuri returns to Hasetsu for the first time in five years, it’s with a Juilliard degree and 7,000 undeserved euros freshly deposited in his bank account.
When Yuuri returns to Hasetsu for the first time in five years, it's because Yuuko asks.
And when Yuuko asks—really, really asks, managing to make her e-mail sound firm—it's always better to take the path of least resistance.
Yuuri flies directly to Fukuoka from Warsaw, sending an abrupt message to Phichit with a promise to be back in New York for Christmas. The impromptu trip ends up involving too many airlines and too many connecting stops, but the disorganized mess, at the very least, leaves Yuuri no time or space to overthink what he’s doing and why.
It’s convenient, until he arrives in Fukuoka and has to be confronted with two e-mails from Minako-sensei and four missed FaceTime calls from Phichit.
Phichit is a lot less scary than Minako can be, so Yuuri, mouth dry, tackles that hurdle first.
"I e-mailed your sister," Phichit sings, as soon as the call connects. He’s lying down on their couch in his pajamas, looking exactly like he’d been waiting for Yuuri to call. "She said she’ll be picking you up from the airport."
"She—you what?" Yuuri searches the airport for the time, wracking his brain for timezone calculations. Midnight in Japan is 10 A.M in NYC, which means—
"You skipped class," he says, accusingly, turning back to the screen.
"Anyone would if they got a random e-mail saying their roommate won’t be back until Christmas," Phichit manages around a yawn. "Glad to know you got there safe, though."
"Yeah—sorry for not—" Yuuri stops. "I’m sorry for being so sudden."
"It's fine," Phichit says, smiling drowsily at the screen. He doesn’t ask why Yuuri suddenly decided to come back to Hasetsu, just as Yuuri knew he wouldn’t, blinking and squinting on his end of the video call instead. "Hey, is that—is that Victor Nikiforov behind you?"
Yuuri whirls around, heart in his throat—only to be faced with the new arrivals bookshelf outside the tiny airport bookstore, five-tier and supporting at least 200 translated copies of Victor Nikiforov’s most recent book, one shelf deliberately arranged to feature the author’s hundred kilo-watt grin on the back cover.
"Don’t scare me like that," he hisses back to his phone, face burning.
Phichit is predictably unapologetic, peering in closer like that would help him get a better look behind Yuuri. "Wow—wow, he gets an entire display to himself," he marvels. "In Japan."
Yuuri wants to point out that Victor’s not an internationally renowned writer for nothing, but it probably won’t go over well—considering he himself is guilty of having a U.S release version of the same book somewhere in his carry-on bag, and Phichit is sitting two steps away from a bookshelf full of all of Yuuri’s limited edition copies, one of which autographed and another won from an online prize draw.
He’s told Yuuri more than once that people don’t follow their favorite writers like they would a celebrity, but Yuuri will always argue that most writers, to be fair, don’t have fancafes and fan Twitter accounts and fan Tumblr blogs.
Most writers, to be even more fair, aren’t Victor Nikiforov.
"They’ve got no idea where he is, you know," Phichit says, conversationally. "His radio show’s went on hiatus two weeks ago, and he’s been inactive online since the last leg of his European tour. I’ve been following tweets for, like, two days now, and apparently he just up and disappeared without telling anyone where he was going."
Yuuri frowns, searching Phichit’s face for signs that he’s joking. "What? He disappeared?"
Phichit gives him a one-shouldered shrug. "I don’t know—but the rumor mill’s saying he just took an impromptu vacation—guy deserves it, is what I think. He churns out books like he’s Stephen King—"
"Just like that," Yuuri says. "He up and went, just like that."
"Just like that. No one’s been able to contact him, according to the forums. But how people know that, I have no idea." Phichit nods, contemplative about the efficiency of deprived fans. "Sounds like someone I know, though."
Yuuri sighs; he considers apologizing again, but this is Phichit, and he’s not even sure what exactly he’s apologizing for.
"You should get some sleep," he says instead, because not even the chirp in his voice can hide how tired Phichit looks. "And don’t skip any more class."
"Sure," Phichit says. The word barely comes out through another yawn. "Yuuri?"
Yuuri stops his finger just before he can prematurely end the call.
"Good job, by the way," Phichit says, smile soft as it is sleepy. "I already told him why you won’t be back, but call Ciao Ciao at some point. You can’t avoid him forever."
Yuuri swallows. "I—"
Before Yuuri can finish, Phichit hurries on, shaking his head; "And don’t pull a Victor Nikiforov on me! I know you said you’ll be back by Christmas, but I don’t want you to, like, not contact me at all, okay? I’m here to listen—or talk your ear off."
Yuuri pushes up one corner of his mouth. He wants to say I know, but that feels too presumptive, even after years of friendship. "Yeah. Okay."
Phichit’s smile doesn’t waver, but the furrow of his brows looks like he doesn’t really believe Yuuri. But he only waves a hand, blearily crooning his bye’s.
Yuuri’s so distracted saying his goodbyes back that he doesn’t notice his sister until he looks up, stopping right in front of her and almost dropping his suitcase by the handle.
"A little warning woulda been nice," Mari says, looking Yuuri up and down like she’d forgotten his lower body exists.
Other than that, she gives no indication that they haven’t seen each other in five years, has barely talked, and Yuuri doesn’t really know whether he appreciates that.
"Sorry," he says.
"It's fine," Mari returns, a more resigned echo of Phichit as she gestures impatiently for him to hand over his carry-on backpack. "Let’s go, let’s go. Everything’s really busy, and I need to sleep."
"Busy?" Yuuri says, falling into step beside her. It strikes him as instinctive, following after his sister, even after months and months. "Because of the festival?"
"And the wedding," Mari says. "The town hasn't had a wedding in years so now everyone's excited. Lotsa preparations around the Castle and the hot springs." Dryly, she adds; "You came at a good time."
"Yuuko-san asked me," Yuuri says, voice quiet but fumbling at having to use dialect he hasn’t heard in so long. "She—she wanted me to come back for the wedding."
"I know." The look that Mari gives him is fleeting but sharp, then she shrugs and sighs, a perfect replica of his own. "At least someone can get you back."
It’s pointed, but Yuuri doesn’t say anything.
Mari leads him to the parking lot without a word, throwing his luggage into the trunk and waving him in. It’s the same car their family has always used, but Yuuri feels out-of-place in it nonetheless, a boy now too big for a child’s toy car.
"By the way," Mari says, sliding into the driver’s seat, "you might wanna sleep on my floor tonight. Or Mom and Dad's room. Wherever."
Yuuri pauses in the middle of putting his seat belt on. "Why?"
"There's all sorts of boxes in yours," Mari says. "We had to clear out one of the older, bigger rooms without warning so we sorta just—threw all the stuff into your room."
"Thanks," Yuuri tells her, flat. "Thanks a lot."
"No problem." Mari flashes a quick grin, out of place on her face as she starts the engine. "Welcome home, little brother."
Yu-topia is a lot quieter than Yuuri remembers.
He knows for a fact that Hasetsu is far livelier than a quiet coastal town should be, and his family’s hot springs resort has always been proof of that. There were always guests yelling about soccer and baseball in the main area, old men gossiping in the hot springs, his sister nagging at thin air before she realizes that Yuuri has snuck off to Minako’s studio yet again.
Or maybe it’s because they come back at around 1 A.M that it's all quiet, everyone asleep and the entire town still.
Mari’s gracious enough to give Yuuri a futon on the floor by her bed, which Yuuri accepts, suddenly too tired to even bother changing. He falls into dreamless sleep that night, listening to his sister’s familiar light snoring and the unprovoked creaks echoing perpetually across the house.
When he wakes up, the sun’s shining on his face, and his back is sore.
He rolls over and has to take a long moment to remember he’s not in New York, nor Warsaw, nor even Tokyo.
It’s like a switch being turned on, going about his morning routine from what feels like ages ago—but it’s muscle memory, padding through the wooden floors of the inn, dipping into the water until his face feels comfortably flushed, and walking into the dining area to his mother walking out of the backroom with a tray balancing too many sake bottles for so early in the day.
"Yuuri," she says, beaming. "Welcome home!"
"I’m—I’m home," Yuuri manages lamely, rushing to get out of her way. He ends up watching her deliver the alcohol to one of the tables, overwhelmed with a feeling that’s equal parts deja vu and unwanted nostalgia.
"Good morning, Yuuri!"—his father, popping out from behind the bar—"Mari said you got back late last night."
"Yeah," Yuuri says, blinking fast at the sudden blur of constant movement. "Around midnight."
"Did’ya get some sleep at least?" his father says, not pausing for even a second in his rummaging. "Jetlag not too bad?"
Yuuri feels wide awake, so awake that everything feels almost a little too real; he nods, stiff.
His father smiles. "Any plans? We could use an extra pair of hands—you wanna help?"
Not really, but Yuuri searches his itinerary for the day and finds that he doesn’t even know what he’s back in Hasetsu to do to begin with, so he nods again, tripping over a quiet, "S-Sure."
His father smiles at him, wide, and Yuuri feels six all over again, coaxed out of a petty tantrum and validated with a pleased smile.
He blames that for how willingly he accepts the list of chores given to him: bring the used glasses to the sink, sweep up the late October leaves outside, fold towels under Mari’s ever watchful eye. This is muscle memory, too, and it’s easy to get back to the swing of things, from the way he finds things where they’ve always been to how guests recognize him without batting an eye, clapping him on the back and saying some variation of, "Ah, Yuuri-kun’s back!"
And no one asks why he’s back. It’s like he was never gone, like there wasn’t a five-year gap between the last time they saw him and now, and like he hadn’t come back without warning anyone.
The silence nags at him, if he lets it, but Yuuri takes it all wordlessly, pretends not to notice the framed pictures of him in the main area every time he’s unfortunate enough to have to pass through it. Like if he doesn’t look at it, the bitter taste won’t return to the back of his throat, and he won’t be reminded of the fact that there are surely articles and YouTube videos up online now, and Celestino’s probably still waiting for a call from him.
Some things, luckily, are mindless enough that they’re not, and the monotony of chores making a comeback from his childhood lulls Yuuri into an escapist mode of existing.
The late autumn sunset has taken over the sky by the time he comes back from sweeping outside, back even more sore and dreading getting some time to actually think—only to be trampled onto the floor by a warm weight, sending him, and an old-fashioned leaf broom, crashing to the floor.
"Ah," says his mother from somewhere above him, a chuckle in her voice. "He got lonely, huh?"
He, Yuuri finds out after rolling himself over painfully, is a huge mocha-colored dog—a dog licking Yuuri’s face excitedly, one paw on his chest.
Yuuri, despite himself, is tickled into giggling.
"Bring him back to his owner, yeah, Yuuri?" his mother adds, laughing along. "Vicchan just probably got out of the baths. He’s staying in the old banquet hall."
It’s an effort to get back to his feet with a dog willingly cuddling him, and Yuuri’s regretful to untangle himself away. It’s an even bigger effort to comprehend what his mother just said, but he takes one look at the smiling dog panting up at him and allows his heart to melt, ushering him along past the main area.
The dog’s face is familiar—but Yuuri can’t place it, chalks it up to following too many dog picture accounts and the fact that all dogs are equal in greatness.
"Vicchan," Yuuri repeats, smiling down at the dog. "Is that your owner’s name? What about you—"
Yuuri stops at the same time the dog hurtles forward—and then everything short-circuits, stops working in Yuuri’s brain under the strain of having to register too many things all at once.
First, the dog’s name is Makkachin. Second, his owner is standing at the end of the hall, five steps away, hair damp and wearing the inn’s green robe like it’s commissioned couture.
The dog’s name is Makkachin, and his owner is Victor Nikiforov.
Yuuri’s only just taken this in when Victor—universally known writer and unwitting international celebrity—smiles at him, and Yuuri’s not entirely sure, all of a sudden, why human beings still haven’t developed the ability to turn invisible at will.
He almost doesn’t notice when Victor, eyes sparkling, straightens up to point at him and say; "Oh—"
And because it’s the next best thing when his mortal body won’t allow him the comfort of invisibility to deal with the constant cycle of what the hell is going on—
—Yuuri runs before he can hear what Victor says next.
"I know," Yuuko says, calmly pouring the tea.
"You know," Yuuri parrots back, taking the cup with a murmured thank you. "You knew Victor was staying at my family’s place—is staying."
"Your family’s place is your place too, Yuuri-kun," Yuuko says, waving a finger at him, voice mild. "What difference does it make?"
Yuuri sighs, putting his hands together tightly on his lap. "It’s Victor, Yuuko-san."
"He’s here for a vacation like everyone else," Yuuko says, sitting down across from him. "And since when have you called me Yuuko-san? Say Yuu-chan like you used to."
With Minako-sensei still out of town, Yuuri’s only choice of refuge had been Yuuko’s house, and he’d run all three uphill streets towards it without thinking—a fact that he regrets now, sitting in a living room full of wedding things he’s not in the mind space to comprehend at the moment.
In some ways, though, it’s fitting that this is where he ended up. It was Yuuko, working her first job at the Hasetsu Castle library, that introduced Yuuri to non-school books when he’d been desperate to avoid both people and piano practice. It was also her, two years later, that gifted him Victor’s first published novel as a middle school graduation gift.
Yuuri still thinks about how that felt, sometimes—how it felt to be on the cusp of adolescence and reading a novel written by someone only four years older, twenty-years-old and already proudly on the New York Times’ Bestseller List whereas Yuuri was still only thinking about New York as a distant concept in a distant world.
"Didn’t you want to meet him?" Yuuko says now, leaning forward.
Yuuri sips his tea. "I did meet him already."
"Yeah?" Yuuko blinks. "Just now?"
"No," Yuuri says shortly. "I used to attend his New York signings."
"Right, you told me this!" Yuuko is the only person Yuuri knows who can sparkle at will, and she displays this particular talent now, eyes bright. "You told him he’s your inspiration, didn’t you? And he said—" She sighs, wistful, which is how Yuuri knows she’s about to do a Victor impression; sure enough, she puts her cup down and places a hand on top of her chest, the other over her forehead. "He said, ‘Why, I cannot be more honored to be inspiring such a beautiful boy!’"
She says this in English, and Yuuri just stares at her, caught between sheepish and impassive. Then he remembers what he’d been about to say next, and he can’t help the way his expression sours. "That was the first time I met him," he says. "The next time I showed up to an event, he didn’t even remember who I was."
Yuuko’s mischievous grin gentles. "Well, you can’t expect him to remember every single fan, you know?"
Yuuri knows this, rationally, but it still stings, that Victor can write "Your kind words keep me going, Yuuri!" on the second page of a book, complete with a heart next to his signature, and then stare blankly at Yuuri the next time, asking if Yuuri wanted a photo. He knows it has nothing to do with him, personally—but maybe that’s what stings more, the reminder that he’s not even a blip on Victor Nikiforov’s radar.
He’s not asking to be remembered by a high-profile Hollywood celebrity here, just to be remembered if even fleetingly by the person that inspired him to get up and leave Hasetsu to begin with.
"He’s just—he’s all nice words," Yuuri mumbles, not quite meaning the bite he wants to be there.
"He’s an author," Yuuko says, gentle. "It’s his job to use his words to make you feel nice."
She’s right, because that was what Victor did, that was what he stood for: Victor Nikiforov’s novels made dreams and fairytales come true, made them accessible, made them so much realer than anyone could ever think of. He was both Prince Charming and the fairy godmother, granting wishes left and right with words and words alone. He was love and warmth and happily ever after personified.
Yuuko’s still smiling tenderly at him. "You don’t remember your own fans, do you?"
Yuuri doesn’t waste a beat. "I don’t have any."
Yuuko just makes a soft little huff that Yuuri doesn’t particularly want to understand, before plastering a close-mouthed smile back on. "Keep telling yourself that, Yuuri-kun."
Yuuri opens his mouth, closes it, stares down at what he can see of his reflection on the surface of his tea. "Is this why you wanted me to—" Come home, is what Yuuko had used, in her e-mail. It doesn’t fit right in Yuuri’s mouth. "—come back?"
Yuuko tilts her head. "Sure? But mostly, I just wanted you here for the wedding."
Yuuri stares at her. "As a pianist?"
Yuuko stares right back. "No, silly," she says, like Yuuri’s being ridiculous. He’s not. "As a friend."
Yuuri keeps staring.
"Takeshi would have wanted you in the entourage," Yuuko goes on, pouring herself more tea like they’re talking about the weather, "but we thought you might be too busy to come much earlier. We want you in the wedding, though, you know that, right? It’s been a while, I know—but we want you there. As one of our longest friends."
Yuuri, really, doesn’t know what he should say to that.
Yuuko gives him a toothy smile. "Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if we have internationally acclaimed Classical pianist Katsuki Yuuri play the wedding march for us."
"Yuuko-san," Yuuri sighs.
"Yuu-chan," she corrects. "It’s always Yuu-chan. No matter what."
Yuuri stares at her—taking in how she still has her hair up in the same ponytail she’s always put it in, the same way Yuuri’s still wearing the same kind of glasses, and how she smiles the same way she always has, even though they’re much more grown up now, even though she’s getting married in a month.
Yuuri sighs again, but he nods.
"Yuu-chan," he echoes, and that, at least, sounds like it fits.
Yuuri, while at Yuuko’s, had made the mistake of allowing himself to forget why he went there so hurriedly in the first place; it’s his own fault, then, that his heartbeat picks back up so fast, panicked, when he takes one step past Yu-topia’s entrance gate and hears Victor’s voice.
He’s speaking in—in Russian, fast and weary and hard all at once. It’s gotten dark, and it takes Yuuri a few seconds to find Victor standing by one of the trees, one hand in the pocket of his coat and the other holding up a phone to his ear.
Yuuri stares, unabashed, curiously watching the stiff set of Victor’s shoulders, and the way he reaches up to pinch the bridge of his nose, obviously frustrated with an argument.
Then he looks up, sees Yuuri, and breaks out into a smile.
Yuuri, instinctively, takes a step back, flushing. "I didn’t mean to—" he says, tries to say, only for his voice to be drowned out by whatever Victor says into the phone before hanging up, far too cheery for someone who’d just been replying in monotones two seconds ago.
Yuuri takes that time to try and speedwalk away, but Victor calls out; "Wait—Yuuri—"
He’s imagined this scenario many, many times, has imagined Victor calling out to him at a signing and recognizing him—but this is an entirely different situation altogether.
Yuuri turns back, hesitant, wary. His cheeks feel warm. "You know my name."
It's not a question, and Victor is confused, blinking rapidly as he comes forward into the light. Yuuri steps back; the idea of being close to Victor Nikiforov makes his body want to move away by instinct, and he obliges.
"Of course I do," Victor says, voice low but tone mournful. "You performed at Alice Tully with the Juilliard Orchestra."
Yuuri’s heart jumps at that, instinctive, happy at being recognized—then his thoughts catch up, and he narrows his eyes, suspicious, because something about this doesn’t match up. He sighs, tries again, "Why do you know my name?"
Victor blinks, like he’s not used to being called out on his blatant lies. Yuuri can’t imagine why, because Victor sure isn’t subtle about it. He can see the exact moment Victor resigns himself to having to tell the truth.
"I asked your parents," Victor says. "I wanted to know if it was something I did that made you run."
"Oh," Yuuri says, slow, pushing past a sudden spike of disappointment. "I was—I was in a rush."
"I see!" Victor brightens. "So it wasn’t something I did?"
"No—" Yuuri shakes his head slightly, taking another step back. "How did you know that I—that I performed at—"
"There are newspaper clippings of you, right by the entrance," Victor says. "Your parents were more than happy to share when I asked, the first day I was here. I was told you were in New York, though—"
"I came back," Yuuri says, shortly. It is, all of a sudden, hard to meet Victor’s eyes, so he doesn’t. "Are you—are you not supposed to be here?"
There’s a frozen second. "Pardon me?"
"I mean—it sounded like—" Yuuri gestures aimlessly downwards, at the phone that has long since disappeared back into Victor’s pocket. His face still feels way too hot. "You’re not here illegally or anything, right? Are you running away from—"
Victor huffs a laugh. "No, nothing like that. No crime syndicates." Yuuri finally chances a look up, just in time to see Victor raise both arms, bent at the elbow, lean and graceful, an I surrender gesture. Yuuri tries not to follow the line of his shoulders. "No mafia after my tail, no FBI. Why would you think that?"
Victor has an accent Yuuri still can’t place, even now, an amalgamation of all sorts of things that Yuuri only feels hyper aware of after years of listening in closely to his schoolmates to try and figure out what he’s saying the same way and what he’s saying differently. It feels worldly, the way Celestino’s occasional swing from American phrases to Italian intonations of Yuuri’s name feels like a reminder of his years of experience when Yuuri and Phichit aren’t too busy being amused by their mentor’s dramatic flair.
Being around Victor should feel much the same way, except it’s Victor Nikiforov.
Victor Nikiforov with a successful novel debut at age twenty. Victor Nikiforov, who is a known hardcore philanthropist. A very vocal advocate for the arts. Fluent in and capable of writing novels in three languages. Victor Nikiforov is a lot of impossibilities come to life in a career meant for the quiet and self-isolated, and Yuuri has fallen into that world unfairly expecting to be someone special in it.
He’s Yuuri’s inspiration personified, is the bottom line, and he’s here, physically, just when Yuuri has decided to resign himself into living the rest of his life quietly.
If it wasn’t for meeting Yuuko again, Yuuri would be very much convinced he’s having a very long jetlag-induced dream. But there’s too much cognitive dissonance at work for that to be an option, and for Yuuri to know what to do.
"Hasetsu just isn’t—it’s not usually anyone’s first choice," he replies too late, quiet. "Unless they’re running away from something." He clears his throat. "I—I really didn’t mean to eavesdrop."
Victor’s smile is too bright. "It’s not like you understood any of it, of course."
The disappointment can be excused, and Yuuri’s discomfort around him understandable—but there’s just something underneath Victor’s obvious personable tendencies, and the unintended charisma behind it, that doesn’t sit well with Yuuri. Maybe it’s the lack of care in the way Victor speaks, or maybe it’s just that Yuuri hates being looked at like this: insignificant past the few things the other person knows about him.
Yuuri stares at Victor, suddenly ruffled, reminded of all the times he’s left a signing feeling dissatisfied.
Victor misunderstands the look. "Do you know who I am?"
"Of course I know who you are." Yuuri wishes he was above being offended by that, but he’s not. "The problem is no one knows where you are. The world thinks you’ve disappeared."
"Don’t know how I could have managed that," Victor says, smiling still. "You won’t tell the world, would you, Yuuri?"
Victor says his name weird, too much emphasis on the u, too intimate considering the only times they’ve talked are over a fresh copy of a newly released book—none of which are instances Victor even remembers.
If Yuuri looks a little too incredulous, Victor would just have to forgive it, by virtue of being ridiculous. "I won’t," Yuuri says, with yet another step back. Monotone, he adds; "Enjoy your stay."
"I will." Victor takes one step forward, and they go like that for a few moments, Yuuri blatantly trying to force space between them and Victor not having it. "Your parents told me I can enlist your help with that."
"No," Yuuri says, instinctive. "Actually, you—you can’t stay here."
Victor just blinks at him.
"There are nicer places," Yuuri continues, senselessly.
"It’s a nice town," Victor points out, all too close, standing half an arm’s length away. He hums, leaning back to tap a finger against his lips. "Are you always this honest about wanting people away, Yuuri?"
Yuuri flushes red. "It’s just—it’s weird—"
"I didn’t realize I wasn’t allowed to visit this part of Japan," Victor says, cheerful. "I was here before you were."
Yuuri’s mouth falls open at that, and he gets ready to point out that he was born here, that he grew up here—but Victor’s right. Of course he’s right. It has nothing to do with Yuuri, Victor being here.
It’s still not fair, though, that of all the times Yuuri could have come back, it just had to be in the same month Victor Nikiforov has decided to spend his vacation here.
Maybe that’s just karma at work.
"Right." Yuuri nods dully, turning away, already booking a flight back to New York in his head. "Yes. Fine. I’ll see you around."
But Victor catches him by the wrist, shamelessly spinning him back. "Wait, but Yuuri," he says, eyes innocent. "I’m serious about you showing me around."
"What?" Yuuri says, squirming.
"I asked your parents about places I can visit, too," Victor says, a pout in his voice. "And they said I should ask you to take me places."
"I have work to do," Yuuri says, immediately, hoping it’s not obvious that he’s paling at the mere thought of having to acknowledge Victor Nikiforov’s physical existence any further. "Lots of it."
Victor’s actually pouting now, lip jutted out. "Your sister said you don’t regularly work at the inn anyway."
"I came back for a vacation of my own," Yuuri says, squirming more pointedly. "And I do have work to do."
Victor beams. "Music to practice?"
Yuuri narrows his eyes. "How do you know that?"
"Newspaper clippings," Victor reminds him. "But didn’t you just come back from the International Chopin Comp—"
Yuuri, heaving a huge sigh, manually snatches his arm from Victor’s hold. "Okay," he says, probably loud enough to be heard from inside the house. "Okay. I’ll—I’ll go with you."
"Really? Great!" Victor really has a talent for beaming, his whole face brightening so much at the littlest things that it hurts to look at him. "Tell me your—"
The front entrance slides open, interrupting him, and they both turn to see Mari there, face unreadable.
"Oh," she says. "You found my brother." To Yuuri, she asks; "Where did you run off to?"
"Yuu-chan’s," Yuuri says, turning away from Victor’s blinding smile. He nods at his general direction before brushing past his sister with; "I’m tired. I’m going to bed early."
"Lazy," Mari calls after him.
Yuuri spares three seconds to turn back and stick his tongue out at her.
News travels fast even if you're not in Hasetsu, and it takes all of two days for Minako-sensei to come back and leave disgruntled messages on Yuuri’s voicemail. Yuuri doesn’t actually listen to them, letting the first five seconds play and deleting them before he can make it past Minako saying his name, chastising.
It’s excuse enough not to hang around to help the people gathered in the inn’s main area starting to make food for the upcoming festival, even if it’s with a heavy heart that he tells his parents he’s off to the studio.
At the same time that Victor comes back from walking Makkachin.
"Oh," he says, mild. "Off somewhere?"
Yuuri single-mindedly ignores the part of him that rejoices at Victor initiating a conversation so casually. "I'm going to my old piano teacher's studio," he says, biting down on his lip while Victor watches him put on his shoes. When he looks up, the stare that meets him is contemplative. "Do you want—do you want to come along?"
It's a fleeting beat of surprise, but it's there. "Of course," Victor says, and manages to make it sound like that was his plan along.
They’re only a meter out the door when Yuuri regrets it. He can’t very well tell Victor to go back inside, though, even as every part of his head screams at him to do it, so he settles for walking as far away as possible, falling a step behind Victor and Makkachin. It doesn't do wonders; it’s hard walking beside Victor for reasons Yuuri can’t quite articulate to himself, but it is, somehow, equally hard to watch Victor’s back.
It’s just hard, to be around Victor.
It make Yuuri’s stomach churn and his heartbeat pitter-patter, and he spends the entire walk to Minako’s hugging his arms close to his body, never once meeting Victor’s eyes.
According to a half-asleep Mari—interrogated at 2 A.M. when Yuuri had woken up and had to wrestle with realizing that he hadn’t dreamt Victor up in Hasetsu—Victor arrived a week before Yuuri did, showing up early morning with two suitcases and his dog. He’s clearly a fixture in the inn already, because Yuuri knows for a fact Victor had been drinking with some of the other guests late last night, and because Yuuri’s mother had slipped into calling him Vicchan already, the syllables of which not lacking in any sort of affection whatsoever.
Victor is friendly, says Mari, which is a lot coming from someone who pays more attention to band members and idols more than she does the inn’s customers on a good day, the regulars included. He’d paid for a full month’s rent on their biggest room, and had taken full advantage of his accommodations, but hasn’t been vocal, exactly, about why he’s staying so long.
"Not that it’s any of our business," Mari had reminded Yuuri, before rolling over and falling right back to sleep.
Victor’s too easily amused to be someone who’s not willingly in Hasetsu, though, if not much else—this seems to be his first time really out of Yu-topia, because he points at every other thing and asks Yuuri to explain, as if a regular old convenience store that’s been there since before Mari was born needs particular poetic description.
Yuuri tries to sate the curiosity by occasionally giving muted one-word answers, but the near silence seems to neither bother nor deter Victor. He’s a bright-eyed chatterbox all the way up to the studio’s front door, and Yuuri’s almost apologetic when Minako opens the door and has to take a few moments to stare at Victor.
"You—" she begins, and Yuuri empathizes. "You’re—"
"Hi," Victor says, actually waving. "You’re Yuuri’s old piano teacher, yes? I wasn’t expecting you to be so young."
Yuuri wants to snort at that, and he disguises half of it in a cough, zipping up his light jacket for effect. It doesn’t work, and Minako turns steely eyes at him. "You know Victor Nikiforov?"
"I—" Yuuri says, finally allowing himself a look at Victor. Victor smiles back at him expectantly. "He’s just—he’s been staying at the inn for the past week."
"Yuuri’s showing me around," Victor adds, like this is a thing they civilly came to agreement on.
Minako looks between the two of them before shoving her door wider, gesturing Victor and Makkachin in first. Yuuri’s grateful, partly because he doesn’t know what he would have done if he’d so much as brushed arms with Victor, and partly because he gets to accept Minako’s raised eyebrow and be comforted by the fact that he’s not alone in recognizing how bizarre this entire situation is.
"What brings you to Hasetsu?" Minako says, rummaging around the studio’s mini-kitchen for drinks. Makkachin runs in circles around her, excited about seeing a new face.
For a second, Yuuri thinks the question’s directed at him, and he starts panicking, searching his head for answers that aren’t there—but then Victor answers, and he’s saved.
"Just a tourist," Victor says, with the same cheery cadence he’d used on Yuuri.
Yuuri takes it back—he’d thought, last night, that Victor spoke without care, but he listens in now and thinks it might be the opposite. Victor’s straightforward enough, but he is careful, saying words he knows will be accepted no matter what, almost afraid of rejection, of disagreement.
Yuuri can relate to that, can relate to being afraid of not being easily accepted, welcomed, but it’s a strange thing, to recognize that same sentiment in Victor Nikiforov, of all people.
He wanders down the hall, leaving that conversation behind him, and into the third room on the left. Minako’s studio is a narrow place with its own small kitchen and receiving area, and the rest of the space is taken up by five piano rooms, two on one side and three on the other. The last one on the left side has always been Yuuri’s room, even if it was never labeled, and this was the place he missed most, his first year at Juilliard.
His residence hall in freshman year had two practice rooms with Steinway L pianos on his floor, and the grand piano had felt foreign after years of playing on the uprights in Minako’s place. Playing on the grand piano up until then had been something reserved for bigger things—galas, recitals, and eventually, concerts, auditions.
Not really thinking, he sits down, running his hand through the keys before playing a part of Minuet in G. It’s the first piece he’s ever played in front of a big audience, hardly taller than the bench, and the memory remains fresh, even though the upright doesn’t feel as familiar under the pads of his fingers as it used to, like the car had felt when Mari had picked him up from the airport. The same exact thing in every conceivable way, and yet the feeling different.
Yuuri doesn’t get the time to pursue that train of thought, looking up to a knock on the open door.
"Are you not going to play more?’
Yuuri lowers the fallboard back over the keys before he looks up at Victor, who’s watching him with unreadable eyes. "No," he says, wincing at how dismissive he sounds. "Just—just seeing how it feels."
"No one uses this room much anymore, you know," Minako says, coming up behind Victor. "Not since you left."
It’s been five years, Yuuri almost points out, but Victor beats him to talking; "Do your students just use the other rooms?"
"Not like there’s a lot of them," Minako says, cracking open a can of beer in broad daylight. It’s comforting to see that much hasn’t changed. "There just aren’t as many people interested as there used to be."
Yuuri hadn’t realized he’s been staring at Victor until he notices Victor’s eyebrows scrunch together at that, lasting for two long seconds before his face smooths back into an unaffected expression. When he sees Yuuri looking, though, he just smiles, like they’re sharing a private joke.
Despite himself, Yuuri flushes, turning away, trying and failing to tune back into Minako’s voice.
It might be a good thing, that Victor had come along, because his presence leaves Minako no time alone with Yuuri, no time to talk to him the way she probably wanted to, when she’d left those voicemails. Yuuri doesn’t particularly want to talk about it, and it’s complete instinct when he releases a sigh of relief as soon as they walk away from Minako’s building, Victor promising to visit Minako’s bar and Yuuri just ready to leave.
"Is something wrong, Yuuri?"
When Yuuri looks at Victor this time, he’s blinded by the sun shining from behind Victor’s head, and he averts his eyes, childishly vexed for no reason whatsoever. "No," he says, which seems to be the current winner in terms of words he’s said the most times to Victor since yesterday.
Victor, as is the pattern now, isn’t discouraged. He also has no intentions of being predictable, because they walk in silence for all of two steps before he asks; "Did you ever have a crush on Minako?"
Yuuri almost trips. "What?"
"I mean, you didn’t seem comfortable while we were there—"
"Okay, but why would you assume that first?" Yuuri’s aware that his face is probably red, but it’s suddenly so much easier to look at Victor, disbelieving. "No, she’s—she’s older than my mom, she’s—" Practically family, is the right thing to say, but he can’t bring himself to. "—my godmother. My teacher. It’s Minako-sensei."
"Then," Victor continues, recovering smoothly, so unapologetic it rivals even Phichit’s occasional lack of utter shame. "Are there any other past lovers that are making you uncomfortable about being here?"
"No comment," Yuuri automatically says.
Victor raises an eyebrow down at him, but Yuuri can’t read his expression. "Is that a yes?"
"No, it’s a no comment."
"Okay, well, I—"
"Stop—" Yuuri says, and Victor does, one foot in front of him as he quite literally stops mid-walk. "—doing that."
Victor looks at him, uncomprehending. "Stop doing what?"
Yuuri’s throat feels tight, for some reason—not the same way it feels when he’s about to cry, but tight as in it’s difficult to talk, like his brain and vocal cords and heart have fallen out of sync with each other, all thanks to Victor Nikiforov being around. It’s one thing to be following his Goodreads page, unwinding after a day of practice by checking the blog, the Ask the Author tab, searching for hints about a new book because Victor never goes more than a month without working on something.
He is an idea, a creator, a man playing God over worlds that Yuuri has gotten addicted to, has turned to for escapism and inspiration and motivation, and Victor being here, asking something so silly and surprising as whether or not he liked one of his mother’s oldest friends—it’s too much.
"Nothing," he mumbles.
A voice in his head that sounds suspiciously like a younger Mari says he’s being a brat about it, but it’s too real all at once when Yuuri wants nothing to be real, and he wishes Victor would stop making it worse.
Victor’s already distracted, thankfully, raising a hand above his head to shield his eyes from the sun while he squints at something far off. "Yuuri, what’s that?"
It takes a lot of blinking for Yuuri to even make out what Victor’s now unabashedly pointing at.
"Oh," Yuuri says, dull. "That’s Hasetsu Castle."
The way Victor suddenly glows at that gives Yuuko’s sparkling a run for its money. "Castle?"
"It’s not—" Words aren’t working for Yuuri today, more so than usual. "It’s not actually a castle—it’s just a local museum now, with a library—"
Victor doesn’t say another word, but the way he widens his eyes at Yuuri is plea enough, a child being asked to be taken on the carousel.
And Yuuri, because the path of least resistance is always best outside of competition, sighs and leads the way.
"One more!" Victor calls, smiling wide, lifting Makkachin on his hind legs and flashing two fingers up in the air.
Yuuri sighs, and takes the picture.
Victor is easily, easily, easily excited, and very prone to taking pictures in ways that would be uncomfortable if Yuuri hadn’t spent so long in close proximity to Phichit. The tourist-y selfies would be fine, except they’re all taken by Yuuri on his own phone, patient and resigned, but alarming for his phone storage.
Seeing as he has a separate album for photos taken candidly at Victor’s events, though, Yuuri respects the karmic justice of it all.
Never mind that there are definitely overexcited butterflies in his stomach.
When both Makkachin and Victor bound on over—Victor not even asking to inspect the photo—Yuuri says; "Why don’t you use your own phone?"
"It’s off," Victor chirps.
"Then—" Yuuri blinks. "Turn it on?"
Victor pouts at him—before reaching up above Yuuri’s head, too sudden for Yuuri to so much as step back. "But that defeats the purpose of turning it off to begin with, Yuuri."
Yuuri flushes at the unexpected contact, even as Victor retracts his hand and procures a small fallen leaf from atop Yuuri’s hair by way of explanation.
"I’ll ask for the photos before I leave, don’t you worry." Victor smiles at him, huge and winning. "Don’t delete them until then."
Yuuri, cheeks still warm, frowns. "How long are you here for?"
Victor hums, studying the leaf with too much concentration. "I have to be back by the 25th."
"So—" Yuuri says, regretting his question at once. "Christmas, then."
"I suppose." Victor's next hum is so blasé that Yuuri almost doubts if December 25th really is Christmas. "I'll leave early December, then."
He sounds like he doesn't even have plans to leave yet, and absolutely content in that, which is unfair—unfair when Yuuri feels like he’s floating in uncertainty, just being thrown this way and that by life back in Yu-topia and Minako-sensei summoning him and Victor talking to him like they’ve known each other for a while.
Victor treats everyone that way, though, language barrier be damned as he smiles and greets hello at faces unfamiliar to even Yuuri. He’s courteous in a way so natural that it’s hard to watch without feeling drawn in, and so unerringly attentive to Yuuri’s three-syllable answers during the walk here that it’s hard to keep it up without giving in to the bigger part of him that really does want to impress Victor.
It’s a lot of things at odds with each other, but that seems to be the way Victor operates, something you just have to accept as you go along. It’s hard for Yuuri to accept this, that Victor is, essentially, a stranger, even though Yuuri has felt so close to him through his writing, even though Yuuri has felt, sometimes, that he’s understood something new about Victor every time he reads a new book of his.
But fiction is called fiction because it contains at most only a disguised sliver of the truth it’s constructed around, and Victor, just by standing in front of Yuuri, is proof of that fact—that Victor is so much bigger and so much more than the personal closeness Yuuri hadn’t realized he’d imagined into existing, and it’s uncomfortable, because Yuuri doesn’t know how to step past the Victor he’s always thought he knew through the intimacy of Victor’s writing and accept that he doesn’t quite understand him.
He leads them inside before he can work his heart, mind and soul into short-circuiting.
Or—Victor leads them, inside, really, catching the crook of Yuuri’s left arm and tugging at him excitably.
It’s all Yuuko from there, as wide-eyed as she’d been when she’d first gushed to Yuuri about Victor, and that’s familiar, that’s knowable. She doesn’t bother being subtle as she eyes Victor, places both hands on the counter and stares at him the whole time, gleeful and chatty and so brightly Yuu-chan that it’s painful to look at her next to an equally bright Victor. Yuuri understands, though, he really, really does, and Victor doesn’t seem to mind at all, all smiles as he takes out a pre-prepared autographing pen.
Hasetsu Library is conveniently empty except for them, and Yuuri loses himself between shelves while Victor signs a small notepad’s worth of autographs for a starry-eyed Yuuko.
If the upright at Minako’s studio and the car he’d been picked up on were pieces of a past that doesn’t feel like they fit him anymore, the library is that feeling embodied, a labyrinthian space that’s almost claustrophobic in the memories it brings back—he’d sat on this bay window the last time he’d read one of Victor’s books here, had used that xerox machine to photo copy the music sheets for his audition piece, had needed a stool to reach this particular high shelf, when he’d first visited Yuuko here.
It hadn’t yet sunk in, being in Yu-topia, but the surreality of a place having a life of its own even after five years of being detached from it sinks in fast now, not unwelcome so much as unexpected. It’s a luxury, to go back to a place and be taken back within the swing of things without a hitch, even after years of not properly contacting anyone.
"How obscure," Victor says, from right behind Yuuri—
—who jumps two feet in the air, dropping the book he hadn’t noticed he’d taken out from one of the shelves.
Victor smiles at him, and Yuuri prays he’s not being laughed at as Victor bends to pick up the book, curious.
"Caroline Alice Roberts," he reads off the cover of what appears to be a poem anthology, worn and untranslated and completely out of place in between Tanazakis and Akutagawas. "You like poetry, Yuuri?"
The narrow area in between shelves is far too little space between him and Victor, but there’s nowhere to scuttle off to with Victor blocking the way, so Yuuri settles for gaping—at the book, at Victor, at the old wooden flooring of the library. "No?"
"No?" Victor echoes, and Yuuri doesn’t understand the amusement in his voice. "Do you not like reading?"
"I do," Yuuri says, defensive, snatching his gaze away from the floor to meet Victor’s. "Just—not poetry, usually."
"What, then," Victor says, "Usually?"
Yuuri opens his mouth, closes it—his jaw is becoming very familiar with this gesture around Victor—only to say; "Sheet music."
Victor’s own mouth falls open in an unpronounced ah. "All the time?"
"All the time," Yuuri pushes out.
Victor nods, like that makes sense. "Expected of a music prodigy."
"I’m not—" He’s not a prodigy, is the thing. "Stop."
"You said that earlier," Victor says, mildly, flipping through the book. "Stop doing what?"
"Stop acting like we’re—" It takes a while to find the right word, especially around someone who picks them for a living. "—confidantes."
Victor blinks a lot, and Yuuri waits for guilt, or some semblance of it, hand-in-hand with the urge to take his words back, but then Victor tilts his head like Yuuko had last night, and says; "But we are?"
Yuuri, language ever an enemy, just stares.
"Yesterday, you said no one comes here unless they’re running away from something," Victor says, tone so light they might as well be talking about what the seasons are like in Kyushu. "Doesn’t that mean you’re running away from something too, Yuuri?"
It’s too callous a line to be paired with such a sunny smile, and Yuuri’s first instinct is to be floored, gaping at Victor.
Victor who smiles, effusive. "That puts us on the same boat, then, doesn’t it?"
Yuuri opens his mouth, but no sound comes out.
"Fair enough?" Victor says, closing the book.
Yuuri manages a nod, once, before he even processes the question. Victor smells good, a distinct cologne from the few times Yuuri has been close enough to notice, and it’s suddenly too noticeable, dizzying above the thoughts all refusing acknowledgment in Yuuri’s head. "Sure," he says, not quite aware of the cognitive process that led to the one syllable.
Victor’s beam is automatic. "You know," he says. "You’re very cute when you blush like that, Yuuri."
It’s too loud, and Yuuri knows Yuuko heard that, too, and it doesn’t help his cause, his ears growing warmer as he finally finds it in him to shoulder past Victor, who just follows, oblivious and perfectly happy as he checks out the book that Yuuri had dropped without explaining why.
Victor’s the sort of person that defies explanation, Yuuri has always known, but being confronted with that from this up close is a whole other story altogether.
Victor shouldn’t be here, in Hasetsu—he should be in places unheard of, should be writing in coffee shops Yuuri will never visit and making phone calls to people that not even the everyday writer should be acquainted with. He shouldn’t be here, shouldn’t be reachable, shouldn’t be attainable.
He should be out of reach, not following after Yuuri all the way back to Yu-topia, whining about being hungry and Yuuri walking too fast and Makkachin already having abandoned him for a new favorite human. He should be someone that’s safe to admire, because it’s guaranteed it will always be from a distance.
Instead, he smiles at Yuuri’s mother when they arrive, echoes ‘I’m home!’ in Japanese right after Yuuri, pokes his head in the kitchen like he has every right to do so out of curiosity and familiarity and everything else Yuuri hasn’t allowed himself to feel since he got here. Instead, he sits beside Yuuri at dinner and gushes about katsudon in a way that makes Yuuri feels secretly warm and pleased and validated to name it as his favorite food, and to know that no one beats his family’s katsudon.
Instead, Victor turns Yuuri’s world upside down not from afar but from within it, already waiting there after Yuuri’s impromptu decision, slotting himself against a space Yuuri didn’t think he’d have to revisit without really thinking it through first.
Instead, Victor has Yuuri snuggling under the covers in his childhood bedroom, finally cleaned out of storage boxes, replaying That puts us on the same boat, then, doesn’t it? in his head. He has Yuuri putting hands to his face and examining the butterflies in his stomach that’s been there since yesterday and realizing:
Oh. I’m happy that Victor’s here.