Xerox built its products to last; the thirty-year-old copier that sat in the middle of the office was living proof. It was an ornery bastard that spat out packets with crooked staples and disordered pages, and it should have been replaced decades ago (“Oh, there’s no room in the budget for that, how about next year?”).
But Victor met Yuuri at that stupid copier, so he can’t exactly be mad at it.
When he was a child, he always assumed that the world would suddenly become interesting once he found his magic. The pictures in his storybooks would move, a glass of water would become a truth serum, broomsticks would fly. Maybe someday he’d be a wizard, able to conquer the world with a flick of the wrist and a whispered incantation.
But the world moved on, mundane as ever.
“Your time will come someday, my solnishko,” his babushka whispered to him, a kind smile on her wrinkled face. “Everyone has a little magic in them.”
“What can you do, babushka?” Victor asked, with childlike innocence.
“Why do you love my kasha so much?” She said in return. She leaned close, her sweater soft against his face, and spoke as if sharing a secret. “It’s because I can always add just the right amount of sugar and cream.” He nodded, downy hair catching the light as he moved. His eyes gleamed in wonder.
“But,” she added furtively, “Your grandfather never ruined a pot of kasha in his life. No matter the wheat, water or stove―he always made it better than anyone else.”
“Really?” He said, incredulous. She smiled.
“Some say,” she said, “that if two people’s powers complete each other, they’re soulmates.”
“Does that mean that you and dedushka are soulmates?”
“Perhaps.” Her face was mysterious, unreadable. “God works in subtle ways, young man.
Disappointment wasn’t a strong-enough word to describe Victor’s reaction when he first figured out his powers. There probably wasn’t a single word for it at all―unless “that feeling when you get blue-shelled right before the finish line in Mario Kart” could be compressed into one word, anyway.
As it turned out, Victor had a little bit of luck with printers. Which pretty much solidified his destiny to be an cubicle-dweller forever, in retrospect. He hardly noticed it; in his defense, it’s easy not to notice that printers never jam when he’s around. But he’s tested his hypothesis numerous times, and, unfortunately, it’s proved correct so far.
Ironically, it was the finicky Xerox at work that first test-ran that theory. The damned thing jammed every time someone sent a print-command to Word―even with single-page documents. He was one of the office’s newest initiates back then; naturally, he was invariably given the honorable task of un-jamming the Xerox whenever it went haywire (which happened frequently).
And he was good at it. So good at it, he graduated to being the office printer-whisperer, changing toner cartridges and hooking up computers on the daily.
“Make me 100 copies of this-or-that,” the managers would bark, dropping a packet into his inbox and zooming off. And Victor would make copies, watching the Xerox copy and staple boredly. But not once would it jam. It’d run out of paper (his biggest pet peeve), sure, but jamming never ever happened. His babushka, it seemed, was right―magic did work in subtle ways. Irritatingly subtle ways.
Why couldn’t he have had a useful power, like always hitting green lights on his work commute or copying Pinterest crafts effortlessly?
Maybe he was lucky, to live in a world where magic had so little relevance. It certainly didn’t boost his quarterly performance, so who was he to care?
The office buzzed, both literally and figuratively: the fluorescent lights desperately needed rewiring, and the interns had handed out heart-stopping quantities of double-shot espresso lattes that morning. Despite Historia International’s polished, modern exterior, every employee practically radiated anxiety. Victor’s generally an early bird to the office, but the tension is palpable from the moment he steps into the building.
Employees march briskly along the desk aisles, the humming of the Xerox in the background. Victor spreads his files across his desk, shuffling through them for his insurance pitch notes. Another big-ass client shopping around for big-ass insurance packages at rock-bottom rates. He had skimmed the notes Celestino gave him, but these clients aren’t very different from any others he’s dealt with.
A strong hand claps him on the shoulder, and he jumps. “Morning, Nikiforov!” Celestino booms, flashing him a smile. Every crease in his business suit is pressed to perfection; even his ponytail looks polished, oddly enough. “Ready to help make a big sale today?”
Victor returns the smile weakly. “Yes, Celestino. I’m confident that we’ll win over Feltsman-Baranovskaya today and bring success to the company.”
“That’s the spirit.” Celestino winks. “Don’t screw this up.” His intimidating outline cuts through the office chaos as he heads to the lobby. Victor watches Celestino’s broad back retreat, until the sharp cough of the Xerox jamming snaps him out of it.
He winces. Though it’s been years since he started this job, he doesn’t think the nerves of pitching a new client will ever go away. Unless he makes a drastic career change, of course. But he would have to be insane to do that―who could ever be bored in the world of insurance adjustment?
A little guiltily, he straightens his files for the tenth time and attempts to do the same with his mind.
Christophe circles round his desk, chipper as always. Victor wonders what everyone is putting in their coffee to look so cheerful. Lightly, he taps Victor on the shoulder. Victor automatically looks over. Not that he can help it; whenever Chris touches someone’s shoulder, they always look over that same one. (He tries not to think of what would happen if Chris touched both at once.)
“Nervous, Victor?” He teases, leaning on the edge of his desk.
“Just a bit. But you already knew that.”
“Then you won’t mind helping me set up for the meeting, to take your mind off of it?” His smile is honey-sweet; the one he uses when he wants something. (Not that he needs to use it very often; Victor rarely ever says no to Christophe.)
Despite his anxiety, Victor feels himself playing along. “Let me guess: you want me to make copies?”
“If you would kindly do that. You really are the Xerox whisperer.”
“Isn’t that something the interns should be doing?”
Chris snorts. “You’re like the most valuable guy here, since you’re the only one who can actually get that stupid printer to work. If only admin would stop sitting on their asses and replace the thing.”
“I certainly hope it lives forever,” Victor jokes. “I’d probably be out of a job if it stopped being a pain for everyone else. Then what would I do?”
“Starve, probably.” Chris’ eyes light up. “Hey, speaking of interns, we’re getting a few new ones today. The poor lambs will probably have nervous breakdowns if you’re not there to keep the Xerox from acting up.”
“Fair enough. How many copies?” As he stands up, Chris tosses a packet to him. Of course it’s twenty pages long and three-hole-punched.
“Ten,” he chirps. “Send them to the conference room when they’re done, yeah? You’re a dear.” As quickly as he had come, Chris darts off to set up the tables, leaving Victor with a bulky packet in hand and butterflies in his chest.
The office is buzzing with the sounds of ringing phones and the squeal of the mail cart with a rusted wheel. Sidestepping said mail cart as it squeaked between cubicles, he weaves through the chaos to the cantankerous copier at the opposite end of the room. Mila waves at him as he walks past her cubicle, her mother on the phone behind her. Mila’s lucky; as a high school senior job-shadowing for the summer, she doesn’t have any of the responsibilities that the employees do. Give it time, he thinks.
The Xerox is already up to no good, it seems, by the time he finds it. Not even fifteen minutes into the work day and it’s already being a royal pain in the ass. An intern kneels by the nearly-empty paper tray, as if it’s the answer to the incessant beeping and flashing red light on the copier interface.
“Paper jam?” Victor says, leaning over to read the screen over the intern’s shoulder. The guy looks up in alarm, face red and dark messy hair all over his face. Poor guy. “I think I can fix it,” Victor adds. It’s pitiful how relieved he looks at hearing that.
“Really?” The intern breathes, hope in his round eyes. “Thank you.”
Victor gives him a kind smile. “No problem. Mind if I open up this panel?” He points to the big plastic plate covering most of the Xerox’s guts, next to the intern’s head.
“Oh, sure.” Standing up and brushing off his pants, he moves around the corner of the copier. Crouching down, Victor runs his fingers along the panel’s edges and pulls it off with a few tugs, revealing dusty conduits and machinery underneath. Sure enough, a few papers are wedged between the rolling barrels.
“I’m sorry about this,” Intern Guy says. “Did I break it?”
Victor laughs. “Not at all. This thing’s been here since the eighties. Paper jams happen a lot. It’s not your fault.” Carefully, Victor rolls the crumpled papers out, trying not to tear them. Having cleared the jam, he reaches for the panel and slides it back onto the machine’s face, resetting the printing job with the press of a button. The Xerox whirs to life as if nothing had even happened and begins churning out copies again.
“Do you need these?” Victor asks, showing him the papers he’d retrieved. Intern Guy shakes his head, and Victor reaches around him to toss the paper into the recycle bin. The Xerox clanks as freshly-printed packets shoot out the top.
“You’re probably waiting to make your own copies, aren’t you?” Intern Guy says guiltily, pushing his glasses up. “I’m sorry for the delay.”
“It’s no trouble,” Victor replies. “Are you new here?”
He nods. “First day. Though I’m hoping to do well enough as an intern to be hired by spring.”
“I’ll be rooting for you.” Victor wipes away the toner on his fingers before holding out his hand. “I’m Victor. I’m head of the risk management team.”
“Yuuri. I’m interning in data analysis.” Intern Guy―Yuuri―shakes his hand, the other brushing his bangs away from his eyes. His blush deepens, exaggerated by his round cheeks.
Victor steals a glance at the papers coming from the copier, remembering that the paper tray is almost empty. No signs of distress from Old Xerox, which usually makes loud whirring noises when paper is low. Maybe there was more than he thought?
“I think your copies are almost done,” he says. Yuuri tilts forward slightly to look closer at the tray.
“Huh, I guess so. Thanks again for your help.” Yuuri’s big brown eyes are warm. He wishes he could just melt into them.
“The first day’s always the hardest,” Victor assures him. “As long as it makes your day a little bit easier, I’m glad to lend a hand.”
Yuuri blushes even harder, which Victor didn’t even think was possible. He bows his head, a shy smile on his lips. Scooping up the warm copies, Victor hands them over.
“I’ll see you around?” Victor asks, a little hopeful too.
“Sure.” With a small wave, Yuuri turns back and disappears into the fray of the office. (But not before Victor catches a peek at his back, which is just as cute as his front.)
No one else is around to see his goofy grin, but hides it anyway by looking down at the printer. He flips up the scanning hood and unfastens the staple on his original, setting it facedown on the glass. A few buttons later, everything is set to print.
He pushes the big green button, but immediately the printer beeps, complaining about an empty paper tray. Clicking his tongue in frustration, he makes a quick run to the supply closet to fetch a new ream.
“Took you longer than usual,” Chris remarks, taking the stack of copies.
“The Xerox was bullying an intern.” Suppressing a laugh, Chris begins rounding the table and dropping the packets at each seat.
“Poor thing. New intern, huh?”
“A very cute new intern, yes.”
Chris huffs. “Lucky.”
“Says you! You already found your ‘soulmate’.” He makes finger-quotes to accentuate his point.
“What, I’m not allowed to be jealous?”Chris flicks his tongue out childishly. “What’d they look like, anyway?”
“Cute, black hair, glasses. I think he’s at least a grad student since he’s in data analysis, but he’s got a baby face so it’s hard to tell.”
“Hmm, not my type, but he sounds nice. Can you adjust the projector? It’s not aligned properly.”
Chris tucks the packets into their fancy blue folders as Victor climbs on top of the table to reach the projector. It blinks lazily as he hits the power switch, taking its sweet time to load up.
“But to your point, I’m fairly certain that he is my soulmate.” Chris tilts his chin up proudly, as if it’s a matter of fact.
“I never said he wasn’t. It’s not often you find a guy who matches a...quirk...so specific.”
“Right? I didn’t find out on purpose, though! I was just sneaking up on him one day, and I sort of forgot…”
“That you shouldn’t clap someone on both shoulders at the same time?”
Sensing his guilt, Victor perks up. “But hey, for the best, right? It all worked out fine.”
“Haha, and I’m sure both of us are glad it did.”
Celestino pokes his head into the conference room. “Ready to go?”
They both answer “yes” in unison, though Victor has to crane his neck to look Celestino in the eye as he’s stretching up to move the projector around.
“Great!” Celestino beams. “I’ll send them up straightaway, then.” He disappears from the doorway.
“Crap,” Victor mutters, scrambling to get off the table and straighten his shirt.
Chris pats him on the shoulder, and Victor turns around instinctively. “We’ll be fine,” Chris says, winking. “You’ll wow them with your package expertise, yes?”
“And I’m sure you’ll charm the pants off them.”
“With pleasure.” He grins wolfishly. The rest of the team leaders filter in, folders in hand. Squinting to read his own messy handwriting, Victor skims over his presentation notes one last time.
They all straighten up as three shadows pass over the conference room windows. Leading a severe-looking woman and a stocky older man, Celestino introduces them with grandeur.
His smile is less than genuine, but he’s far more interested in pulling this deal off.
They drink champagne at lunch, but Celestino lets it slide just this once. Even he can’t pretend to be stoic when they’ve just signed on a behemoth corporation.
Sitting at a round table covered in pristine linen, they clink their flutes in celebration.
Victor comes to work the next day to find a pile of paperwork in his inbox―all contracts and agreements to copy and file. On top of his normal responsibilities of drafting insurance packages for the new client, of course. He hates Tuesdays; they’re like a second Monday.
He sighs, despite himself. It’s work that he’s expected to do, but it doesn’t change the fact that his desk is covered in an extra six inches of paper. At least it’s times like these that his Xerox-whispering proves itself useful.
And he’s reminded of how rarely he ever has to fuss with the thing.
Because when he brings his stacks of documents to the copier, Yuuri’s already there.
Somehow he’s gotten the panel off, but this time the jam is more complex. The papers are so crushed that the rollers won’t even roll. It’s a bigger problem―Victor’s hardly bothered by it, though. Dutifully, he sets his papers off to the side and kneels down next to Yuuri to get a closer look at the damage.
“I managed to jam it again,” Yuuri says, embarrassed.
“I’d be more surprised if you hadn’t,” Victor replies, his voice light. “Like I said, paper jams happen a lot.” He leans closer to the machinery; their shoulders brush. Victor gives an experimental tug on the papers wedged in―yep, it’s caught pretty deep.
“This isn’t too difficult to fix,” Victor says. “This old thing is pretty resilient.” He gets to his feet and begins pressing buttons. “See, the trick is to override the current job―makes the copier forget that it’s jammed. Then you set it to print double-sided on A4 paper lengthwise, so it’ll spin the rollers in the opposite direction. Can you pull the papers out when it does that?”
“The rollers. They’ll start spitting the paper out, but you’ll have to help unstick them.”
“Okay.” Peering into the dark insides, Yuuri tilts his head back and forth as if to figure out where the paper’s jammed. The sway of his hair distracts Victor for a second. Shaking the moment away, he hits the green button and waits.
The Xerox buzzes for a split second before roaring to life. It sucks the papers back into its guts, but not enough to trigger the “jammed” message again. Oblivious, the machine starts spitting the pages back and Yuuri tugs them free one by one. “I think that’s all of them,” Yuuri breathes.
Navigating the controls, Victor cancels the current job and resumes Yuuri’s copies. Like magic, the Xerox produces neatly stapled packets as normal.
“Looks like you’ve saved me again.” Yuuri smiles sheepishly, cupping the side of his face. “Thank you.”
“Glad to help.” He pauses. “Next time, wait until I’m there before you start printing. Or come find me before you start copying stuff.”
Yuuri’s eyes widen. “Why?”
“Because the Xerox likes me,” he replies in a hushed voice. “I guarantee, you’ll never need to deal with a paper jam again.”
“That’s a steep claim.” An amused smile forms on Yuuri’s face. “Can you prove it?”
Victor shrugs. “Next time, you’ll see.” The Xerox quiets shakily. Tiny clicks and clangs still sound from its insides. Snapping up Yuuri’s copies, he hands them off with a flourish.
“Thanks. For today, and yesterday too.” Blushing, Yuuri hesitates. “It did make my day a little better.”
He’s probably pink in the face too, but his heart is fluttering too hard to call attention to the flush in his neck. “Me too.”
“See you later?”
“Yeah. See you around, Yuuri.”
He turns to hide his face in the console, cheeks warm.
The Xerox chirps loudly, displaying its obnoxious flashing “LOAD PAPER TRAY 1” message. Victor huffs in irritation.
He hates having to refill the paper tray, especially when the supply closet is near his cubicle on the other side of the building. Like most of the problems in the office, it’s admin’s fault for being too lazy to move the office supplies closer to the copier. (In this case, it’s the only feasible option. If the Xerox moved even an inch, there’s no telling how it’d react; it’s a 3,000-pound monstrosity that intimidates even the strongest maintenance guys.)
With the sheer mass of paper he’s been given to copy, he has to refill the tray no fewer than three times. The Xerox’s only saving grace is that it rarely needs a toner change―he can’t remember the last time it had to be done. It doesn’t jam either; not when he’s around. He wishes Yuuri was there to see him prove it. Perhaps another time.
By the time he’s jogging up and down the office aisles, dropping off finished copies, it’s already past ten. He’ll have to rush to coordinate the policy plans before lunchtime if he wants to stay on the actuaries’ good side. Luckily, the computers are much more cooperative than the copier.
At the end of the day, Celestino calls a branch-wide meet-and-greet for the newest additions to the company. Some are recent hires, but most of them are college interns in various degrees of insurance study. It’s unusual to introduce the newbies on a Tuesday, but between yesterday’s agenda and everyone’s packed schedules, it’s the only good time.
It makes Victor feel old, seeing all the bright-eyed faces and having trouble recalling what it was like to be that young and inexperienced. Across the table, Chris looks from Yuuri to Victor and raises his eyebrows suggestively. Victor nods; Chris’ lascivious smile becomes a perverted grin.
As the other interns introduce themselves, Victor tries to reassure Yuuri with a small smile from across the room. He returns it, but the nervous look on his face doesn’t quite go away.
Yuuri Katsuki, a former Japanese exchange student in college who now lives in the U.S.; majored in mathematical economics and studying for his actuarial certification exams. Already in possession of Victor Nikiforov’s heart, even if he doesn’t know it yet.
Paperwork aside, Wednesday is much easier. With no major clients to impress, all the sales reps pitch outside the office, leaving only customer service reps and clerical workers to field phone calls and draft up policies. Thanks to copious amounts of coffee, Victor finishes the first outline of their new client’s policy stipulations and sends it off to data analysis, so now his plate is practically cleared.
This semester’s batch of interns seems more competent than the last. One girl dispenses coffee for the whole office from the break room’s single-cup Keurig, claiming that she makes it best even though the grounds are pre-dispensed. (While Victor dislikes her bragging, he has to admit that she’s right.) Even the senior employees, bored and unoccupied, gather at the accountants’ cubicles in an impromptu Minesweeper tournament and take turns playing boards. (Georgi, of course, is automatically excluded because he always claims the high score.)
Having little else to do and an hour left in the day to kill, Victor digs out the massive maintenance toolbox and cleans out the Xerox’s sorter, which has steadily collected dust since ‘05. Using a Swiffer, he cleans out every slot, sweeping the detritus into a bin held at the ready. The dust comes off in layers, with the older stuff darkish gray and newer material pale and ashy. It’s fascinating.
As much as he likes to bitch about the Xerox, part of him truly is afraid of what would happen if it went away. Never having to deal with paper jamming the machinery isn’t as nice a power as he could wish for, yes, but what’s the alternative? What would he do then, with a pretty new copier that pleased everyone? Not make copies, that’s for sure.
He knits his brows. What a pathetic legacy, to be known as “the printer guy” and nothing else. At least the Xerox was the pinnacle of printing in its time. The copier could very well be on its last legs; if it dies, it will be the end of an era. They’ll have to hold a funeral or something.
If the Xerox does end up being replaced, getting it out of the office will be a real hassle. The building was practically built around this machine.
“Okay if I make a few copies?”
Victor jumps, sending dust flying everywhere. He whips around to see Yuuri standing behind him, hand over mouth to stifle his laughter.
“Oh―sure. Sorry, you startled me.” He sneezes, dust in his eyes. Yuuri’s shoulders are quivering and he looks like he’s about to explode in a fit of giggles.
“I noticed,” Yuuri says, voice strained. “Didn’t mean to interrupt your bonding time with the copier.”
Victor huffs. “It may be old and ornery, but it still needs to be taken care of. Like my grandfather.”
“Oh, it’s perfectly normal to be so attached to the Xerox, Victor.”
“Weren’t you going to make copies?” He asks, trying to change the subject. “It won’t jam this time, I promise.”
Yuuri lifts the scanning hood. “Right, that. Well, I’m making fifty copies of this, so you’d better deliver.”
“Fifty. An updated employee handbook, whatever that means. One for everyone in the office, and some extras for HR.”
He can already feel his arms aching from having to carry all those reams of paper. “Good luck.”
“I should be saying that to you, resident Xerox-whisperer,” Yuuri jokes. Scanning the pages one by one, he flips them over and fiddles with the image settings and preferences. With a decisive click, Yuuri pushes the green button and steps back as the Xerox roars to life.
Still knelt by the sorter, Victor turns around and sits on the floor, back leaned against the warm plastic face of the copier. He sniffs wetly. There’s still dust in the air.
“How’s the internship going?” Victor asks, breaking the silence. “Is it what you expected?”
Hesitating, Yuuri worries his lip. “Well, I’m not doing as much math as I thought. Unless being an actuary is all copy-making and coffee-running.”
Victor waves it off. “That’s intern work. If you really work for Historia, you won’t have to do errands. In fact, you’ll have your own interns to do it for you.”
“Oh.” Taking after Victor, Yuuri leans his elbows on the edge of the copier, watching the copies coming out of the top slot.
“You really weren’t kidding, when you said the copier never jams when you’re around,” Yuuri says. “Is that your―power?”
“My ‘magic’, you mean? Yeah, as far as I can tell.” He brushes his fringe away from his eye. “Nothing special, but it has its perks.”
Yuuri nods thoughtfully. “I don’t know what I’m good at. It must be pretty useless if I haven’t figured it out yet.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Victor lectures. “There’s no such thing as useless magic. And if you try, just a little skill can be pretty powerful. Were you introduced to Christophe today?”
“From the sales department? Why?”
Victor nods. “That’s the one. See, what he can do is―he’ll tap you on the shoulder, and you’ll always look over that one. You know what I mean? If he taps you on the left shoulder, you’ll look over your left shoulder, every time. Pretty useless, right?”
Yuuri smirks. “I’m guessing no?”
“Not unless he touches both shoulders at once. I really don’t want to think about what would happen if he did.” He winces, and sees Yuuri’s eyes widen in shock.
“But his husband is even weirder,” he continues. “Like, he accidentally did―that ―to him, once, but his head didn’t explode or anything. Because the crazy thing was―his husband can bend over backwards and point both eyes in different directions, like a chameleon. He can look over both shoulders at the same time―super weird. But that means they’re meant for each other, I guess.”
“That’s…” Yuuri’s face is a comical mixture of wonder and horror. “Amazing?”
“Back to the point, though―there’s no such thing as useless magic. Who knows, it might just save your life someday. Or shave a few minutes off your morning commute. But you can’t say there’s nothing good about it.”
He turns his chin up to look Yuuri in the eye. “Hey, don’t feel too bad. It’ll all be alright in the end.”
Yuuri’s face reddens. “Um.” He looks away. “Thank you.”
“Magic or not, Yuuri, I think you’re a good person.” His heart jumps into his throat at seeing Yuuri’s eyes widen, lips parted slightly almost in disbelief. I like you, he wants to say. You’re wonderful and I’d remind you every day if that wouldn’t scare you away. But he swallows them, the beginnings of his incriminating words easily smothered by the copier’s low groans. “And, ah,” he swallows, “you don’t need to have magic to see that.”
On cue, the Xerox rattles to a stop, having produced a neat stack of packets. Hiding his face, Yuuri reaches over to take them. Victor’s eyes widen when he sees how many papers there are.
“Wow, how many pages are in each packet?” He asks.
“Thirty―double-sided, too.” Yuuri says sheepishly.
That’s at least three reams, Victor notes. How is that possible?
“Well―it was nice...talking to you,” Yuuri stammers. “I―um. Thanks. I should be going.” Red in the face, Yuuri turns and scurries off before Victor can get another word in.
Letting out a sigh, he lets his head fall back and rest on the Xerox. Well, fuck. I actually scared him off. Paying less attention to the cleaning, he haphazardly dusts off the rest of the sorter and gets to his feet. His gut feels like it’s full of stones and a cold hand is squeezing his chest.
In the corner of his eye, the Xerox’s ancient screen flashes. “LOAD PAPER TRAY 1”, it commands imperiously. Just paper tray 1? Curiosity piqued, he tugs open the paper tray―empty. Then the one below it―full. He runs his fingers through his bangs. Three reams of paper printed without a single “empty” message, and the only reasonable explanation just went out the window.
He has an idea.
On his way back, he swings by the data analysis department―it’s sort of close to the supply closet, so it’s a good excuse. He can act like he’s only putting away his Swiffer and grabbing replacement paper.
He breezes on by, waving to Mila (who’s blowing a massive chewing gum bubble as her mother fumes behind her, too occupied with the phone to properly chastise her). She waves back wordlessly, twirling a ballpoint in her fingers.
Pretending to be absorbed in his duster and striding with confidence, he slows down near the data department, standing up on his tiptoes to peek over the cubicles. Finally he catches a glimpse of the back of Yuuri’s head―perfect―at his cubicle, empty except for the company-issued computer, desk, wire basket and a tiny framed picture next to his pencil cup. It’s too far away to make out what’s in the frame, though. Yuuri turns to his left suddenly and Victor quickly focuses on the feathering of the duster’s fibers, quickening his pace.
Practically running to the supply closet, he drops off the Swiffer and grabs new blocks of paper, taking a different detour through sales to return them to the copier.
Giddy as a schoolboy, he glances around to make sure nobody’s looking before rummaging through the recycle bin next to the Xerox. Thankfully it hasn’t been emptied since yesterday, and he remembers a document that he had to copy that morning. But it’s not the originals he’s after―it’s the post-its that are always stuck to them, telling him how many copies to make and where to send them.
He finds it at the bottom of the bin, stuck between policy changes and invoices: a simple post-it note attached to a two-page spreadsheet he had copied earlier in the day, from the head actuary of the department, in his curly cursive. “Please make 90 copies of this, single-sided. Thank you! -Nikolai ”, it says. He discards the packet it’s attached to, taking the note back to his desk and slipping it under his inbox.
Now all that’s left to do is wait.
Sure enough, on Thursday his inbox is teetering with papers once again, having been dropped off after he left the office. But there’s a good half hour before everyone else comes trickling in. Enough to set everything up.
Not for the first time, his mind strays from work. Sifting experimentally through the stack, he chooses the biggest packet he can find―nonspecific, unsigned contracts―that would suit his purposes. He unsticks the original post-it on the contracts (“30 copies, single-sided. Thanks -Josef ”) and replaces it with the one he set aside yesterday.
Weaving through the sea of gray walls, Victor locates Yuuri’s desk. It’s spotless and tidy, the stack in his inbox much shorter than his. He’s close enough now to see the picture on his desk: it’s of a poodle, much like Victor’s own. Cute. Reaching over, he drops the contracts into Yuuri’s inbox and returns to his desk, a secret smile on his face.
Right as the clock strikes nine, he plants himself at the Xerox. He opens up all the paper trays, replenished from yesterday, and removes every paper except for one sheet in Tray 1. When he’s done, he waits, busily inspecting the floppy disk drives and blowing out the dust with an air can. (He was only pretending to clean at first, but then he noticed just how dirty it was and couldn’t resist.)
But Yuuri appears, like a ray of sunshine, as Victor is absorbed in his own ruse. Yuuri smiles, dimples creasing his cheeks, but nothing more. Victor hesitates, but shrugs off his doubt and speaks anyway.
“Sorry about yesterday,” he says, his voice quiet.
Contracts in hand and scanning every page, Yuuri looks genuinely surprised. “For what?”
“You seemed a little on-edge yesterday, when we were talking. I talk too much, so...I’m sorry for that.”
“Wait, what?” Yuuri stops, his finger hovering over the buttons. “But―I didn’t―um.” He purses his lips, trying to find the words. His voice is small. “It just surprised me. When you told me not to worry about having a special power. I just―nobody’s ever...said such a nice thing to me. It caught me off guard.”
Victor’s mouth hangs agape. “Oh.”
“And I always felt bad about not knowing what magic I had, so...it really made me feel better.” His hands resume pressing buttons. Gathering up the sheets of the packets, he fiddles with the copy settings.
“Oh. Sorry. I thought―”
“It’s okay, Victor.” Yuuri smiles.
The Xerox coughs like a heavy smoker and begins clanking around. Victor stares at the top tray, waiting for it to sputter out and display the “empty tray” message. Turned away with the tips of his ears red, Yuuri doesn’t notice Victor looking.
A minute passes, the copier sputtering and whirring. Then another.
And then, a fully-formed packet pokes out the top. Then another. His jaw drops in disbelief. He stands, watching the top tray intently. Nudging Yuuri’s shoulder, he points to the tray.
“Yuuri,” he says. “Look.”
“Cancel the job,” Victor orders. Confused, Yuuri does.
“Come around here―” He opens the paper tray. As he suspected, it’s empty. “The paper tray is empty.”
“Amazing observational skills,” Yuuri replies dryly.
“No―watch this. He rips a fresh page of paper from the stack he’d removed, and places it in the empty tray. “The other tray―” he opens it, “―is empty. This one has just one piece of paper in it, right?” He slams the drawer shut.
Glancing at the screen, he asks, “can you restart the job now?” Fingers waving over the buttons, Yuuri hits the green one. The Xerox churns immediately. Waiting at the top tray, they watch as the Xerox begins spitting out packets after thick packets, seemingly endlessly.
Yuuri’s eyes are bigger than dinner plates. “How did you do that?”
“I didn’t do anything,” Victor says gently. “It’s you.”
“Every time you finished printing your copies and left, the tray was empty,” Victor explains. “And yesterday, you printed out so many packets that you should have had to refill the paper tray three times. But you didn’t.”
“I had a theory, and I had to test it out,” he continues. “I thought that somehow you were refilling the paper tray while I wasn’t looking―”
“Yeah. But I, um…” His faces flushes. “That packet of contracts you had? I gave that to you. If you could print that many pages yesterday, I wanted to see if you could do it again.”
“So what, you ran a little experiment on me? Without me knowing.” Yuuri’s expression is unreadable.
Victor shrinks. “Well...yes.”
Yuuri’s mouth softens, and he pauses. “I can’t say I would have figured that out by myself. I probably would have kept printing hundreds of copies like an idiot without even noticing. So even if it was a little unethical, I can’t be mad.”
“I guess that’s your magic.”
“Huh. So it is.” They stand there in silence, watching the Xerox miraculously produce stacks of contracts from a single sheet of paper.
“They match,” Yuuri says suddenly. Victor looks over, eyebrows raised. “Our magic. The Xerox never jams when you’re around, and it never runs out of paper when I’m around. But I never would have known I could do this…”
“If I wasn’t around to keep the Xerox printing,” Victor finishes. His face feels too warm. “I guess they do match.”
Yuuri’s hair sways; he nudges his glasses up. Hesitantly, he speaks. “Does this mean we’re…?”
“I liked you before,” Victor blurts. “Not because―of this.”
“I wouldn’t have tried pulling this trick on you if I just wanted to be coworkers.” The words tumble out of his mouth too fast for him to stop them. “Even if my magic didn’t match yours...it wouldn’t have stopped me. I know we don’t know each other that well, but― I feel like I know you.”
“Oh,” Yuuri breathes, his eyes widening adorably. “You don’t want to like me just because I’m your soulmate, right?”
Victor shakes his head. He plays with his hair, feeling the vibrations of the copier telegraph through his skin.
Yuuri’s voice is barely above a whisper; he leans in just a little closer. “Well, Victor Nikiforov, you might have a knack for learning things about me, but I also know things about you.” He can’t see Yuuri’s face, but he can hear him smiling. “I know that you were so kind to me, even though a normal team leader wouldn’t even give an intern like me the time of day.”
“You took the time to help me make copies, even when you didn’t have to,” he continues. “You told me such sweet things, and I know you’re not the type to dish out compliments like that to just anybody.”
“And,” Yuuri finishes, “you never considered one important thing.”
“What is that?” Victor breathes, turning to stare unashamedly at Yuuri’s lovely face.
“That maybe I liked you too.”
So Victor leans in, shy lips meeting their matches.
“Uh, so, I sort of―maybe―forgot to mention that you didn’t actually have to make this many copies.”
“...How many did I print, Victor?”
“And how many did I need?”
“Do you realize what’s going to happen if management notices sixty packets in the trash?”
“You mind if we take it slow?” Yuuri asks, quietly enough for the paper shredder to cover their conversation from farther away. “It’s nice...this,” he vaguely gestures at the space between them. “But―”
He reddens. “You could say that. But it’s only been four days.”
“None, if you count today as a turning point.”
“A lifetime is a lot of time. And I don’t want to move too fast.”
“You’re right,” Victor replies, a little too quickly. “Whatever you’re comfortable with.” With the tip of a pen, he pries the staples off of each extra packet and hands them to Yuuri to feed into the shredder. Hopefully nobody looks too closely at the bin and notices sixty packets’ worth of shreds.
“It’s all a little sudden―I find out about my endless-paper powers and about you on the same day.”
“The timing could have been a little better,” Victor admits. “But I don’t regret it. Do you?”
He shakes his head, smiling. “No. I was really nervous about starting this new job, but...now I don’t think it will be so bad.”
“What, because I’m here?”
“Nah, because the break room is amazing. Yes, because of you.” Removing the lid, Yuuri empties the full shredder into a garbage bag.
“You had me worried there.”
“As much as I love good tea, I would choose you over it. Be happy about that.”
“I’m so honored.” Victor presses down on the bag of paper and compresses the shreds to make more room.
“You could take over the world, if you wanted to,” Christophe says, during lunch. “You and Yuuri, hatching a plan for world domination.”
He raises his eyebrows. “It’s always about world domination with you, isn’t it. How could we take over the world with that old Xerox?”
“See, that’s what I’ve been thinking about.” Chris’ eyes light up deviously. “You and Yuuri could just print out blank sheets of paper indefinitely, even with just one page in the paper tray, right? So you print out millions of sheets, package your own reams and sell them to businesses at rock-bottom prices, thereby undercutting every paper supplier in the world and saving the planet from deforestation.”
“And then what, just waltz in and take over?”
“No―everyone will be so grateful for your saving the planet that they’ll willingly bow down to you and Yuuri as their overlords, and then you take over. Foolproof, right?”
He laughs into his coffee cup. “Okay, then. How much percent of the world do you want, when we take over?”
“Fifteen percent, with a five percent royalty on every ream of paper you sell.”
“We’ll see. If it happens I’ll send you a contract.”
“Or a wedding invite. That would be nice too.”
“Don’t be weird, Chris.”
The Xerox breathes its last on Friday; a death long overdue, but probably exacerbated by yesterday’s strenuous workload. It gives out quietly, slowing down in the middle of a job as if passing in its sleep. When the circuitry finally shorts out, the silence in the office is deafening. Everyone gathers around the newly-deceased Xerox when Victor breaks the news to Celestino, in a strange funeral arrangement. While Victor knows the Xerox best, even he cannot possibly bring a dead machine back to life, even if he was cruel enough to yank it back into the land of the living. The poor thing needed to rest, after a lifespan much longer than normal.
“You’re witnessing the end of an era,” Victor tells Yuuri as everyone gathers solemnly. “This thing is older than most of the people here.” He lays a hand on its yellowed plastic interface tenderly, ignoring his coworkers eyeing his display. The Xerox had never been anything but trouble ever since he had started at Historia International, but he cannot help thanking it silently for its service.
“I didn’t know the Xerox very well,” Yuuri begins, “but I could tell from the start that it very resilient and hard-working.”
“Amen,” Celestino says. “The Xerox will be remembered, but not missed.”
“Don’t speak ill of the dead, Celestino,” Chris warns.
“Well, anyone who has to get it out of the building definitely won’t be missing it,” Mila chirps, despite her mother’s shushing. “How heavy is this?”
“Three thousand fifty pounds,” Victor breathes. “One thousand, three-hundred eighty-three kilos. A dinosaur.”
“Well, say your goodbyes, Victor, but I’ll be calling the movers now. And getting on admin’s case about getting a new one. Hopefully they won’t say no this time.” Parting the crowd, Celestino heads back to his office. Taking his lead, most of the others disperse as well.
“I, for one, will miss the Xerox,” Victor says, gazing at its black screen forlornly. Then, so low that only Yuuri can hear, “it helped me meet you.”
Yuuri pats Victor’s shoulder in an attempt to comfort him. “It was time for it to go.”
“I’m still sad.”
“We’ll go out to the bar after work, Victor,” Chris says. “Then we can have a few toasts in celebration of the Xerox’s long life and you can go home and cry, okay? Care to join us, Yuuri?”
“Oh―sure. Why not?” He gives Victor’s arm a tug. “Come on, Victor. The Xerox wouldn’t want you to sit around and mope.”
“Give him some space,” Chris says gently. “He’ll feel better eventually. We’ll meet at the door after work.” He grips Victor’s arm and smiles sadly before he departs.
“I’m being dramatic.” Victor sighs. “The Xerox isn’t a friend or relative, but it was important. At least it stayed alive long enough to help you find your power. And bring us together.”
“And now you have me.” Glancing around the empty room, Yuuri takes Victor’s hand in both of his, stroking the back with his fingers. “That has to be worth something, right?”
“Right.” With one last look at the copier, now just a shell of bits and wires, they walk back hand-in-hand.
More than half the office crowds the bar at nine; it’s hard to tell whether they actually feel bad about the Xerox or if they just like drinking. (Victor’s willing to bet money on the latter.)
His first drink goes down like liquid sadness in a bottle, Yuuri giving him big sympathetic doe-eyes as he waxes poetic about his early days at Historia. How he used to be an intern there until he proved himself useful by running copies faster than anyone else, even though he didn’t know why―the Xerox worked like a charm. And how he figured out his penchant for printer-whispering by trying to jam as many printers as he could, visiting public libraries and sticking crumpled sheets into the paper trays just to test it.
“But you don’t understand, Yuuri,” he wails, “I was useful because of that dumb copier. I was the printer guy, and now what am I? The sad guy who cries over the printer.”
“You’re still the printer guy,” Yuuri gently reminds him. “And you’re not useless.”
His voice sharpens, edged with annoyance. “Pathetic if you keep talking like that.”
Yuuri rubs circles on his shoulder. “You’re allowed to be sad. But not that sad.”
“Do shots with us!” Chris calls from the neighboring table. “First round is on me.”
“Sure,” Yuuri says, shrugging. Victor gapes, landing him a wry grin. “Why not, Victor?”
Chris whistles as he passes out shot glasses of tequila and lime. (He can already feel the migraine brewing at his temples.)
At some point in the night, Yuuri’s soft hand-holds become clingy, drunk hold-ons and any semblance of discreetness they were trying to keep up goes straight out the window. The younger interns fill a Snapchat story (“RIP Xerox”) with blurry pictures of their coworkers, the majority of which is dominated by Chris and Yuuri’s embarrassing-but-actually-very-talented strip tease. (The bartender nearly kicks them all out, but thinks better of it when given a few well-placed apologies and tips.)
While Victor is slightly buzzed himself, Yuuri is either an extreme lightweight or has had a whole line of shots when Victor wasn’t looking. He wishes he had taken more pictures of him at the stripper pole, but instead he had watched, fish-eyed and slack-jawed as Yuuri threw his suit jacket and glasses at him and proceeded to dance the most well-rehearsed performance he’s ever seen. Even Chris, a seasoned pole-dancer, is impressed, Yuuri’s erotic appeal nearly equal to his.
“To the Xerox!” Yuuri cries, a colorful mixer in hand. In the slurred speech of the sloshed, they cheer. Knowing that the Xerox will probably be gone by Monday doesn’t hurt as much as it did a few hours ago.
Because when he holds Yuuri in the taxi, sloppy-drunk with two bright roses on his face and a tie on his head, his chest is too fluttery and warm.
The next week, Victor returns to find the hulking Xerox missing, replaced by a much smaller, newer machine. It’s got a new name: a Canon, with its own long and fancy model number. It even prints in color, Victor notes ruefully as he inspects its shiny new stickers.
The mysterious administrators really know how to bust their asses when actual money is on the line. Nobody gets to sit around on company time, and when you do the math, buying a new copier on the spot is much cheaper than that lost labor.
“You’ve got big shoes to fill,” he says aloud. But he doesn’t need to; sitting in the middle of a huge rectangular dark spot on the faded carpet, it probably knows that too. He runs a finger over its smooth interface. It’s pristine and he realizes just how old the Xerox was; at one point, it was this same cream color, but it had all aged to a nicotine-yellow shade over decades of use.
The Canon softly hums when he lifts the scanning hood, its straight lamp zooming back and forth under the glass experimentally. Chirping like a baby, it displays a colorful menu on the touchscreen.
Footsteps approach, and so Victor turns and catches Yuuri’s eye, trained on him one moment before it focuses on the new copier.
“It’s a Canon,” Victor says dumbly.
“It’s...pretty.” Yuuri presses a button and the copier beeps quietly, pulling up the settings page. “And,” opening up the paper trays, “has a lot more paper space.” (More than eight reams.)
Victor eyes the envelope taped to the Canon’s side.
“Have you got any paper?”
Yuuri furrows his brows in confusion. “Not right now, no. Why?”
Crouching down, Victor opens the plastic pack and removes the copier brochure. “Help me make a copy, Yuuri,” he simply says.
“Okay?” He waits, nonplussed, as Victor pries off the staples, and gives him the separated pages. It takes a few minutes to get the right settings, but Yuuri gets the pages scanned in full color and double-spread.
Victor bends, opens the paper tray, and shoves the divider aside to make room. Without hesitation, he takes a page from the original brochure and tears it into scraps, crumpling it for good measure. Yuuri looks horrified, but doesn’t stop him. Finally, Victor stuffs the pieces into the paper tray and slams it shut.
On one knee, he asks, “Would you do the honors?” A slow smile creeping, Yuuri hits the Canon’s green “start” button decisively.
The machine hums, thinking, before booting up. It’s nearly silent compared to the ceremony that the Xerox demanded with every job. He can hear crinkling inside as the rollers pull up bits of crushed paper.
But from the top tray appears a pristine new copy, nearly indistinguishable from the original, free of rips, tears and creases. It has all its pages, despite Victor having only given the tray one sheet. And glossy and fresh as its original, he marvels. And never, ever, had Victor thought that paper, fragile and weak, would be the string that tied them together. And when Victor leans over, Yuuri follows suit; the gentle meet of their mouths as instinctive, and right, as two gears clicking together, spinning in unison. They fit together like two pieces of the same machine, operating independently but missing pieces they found in each other.
Internal components flowing in harmony.