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swans and sensibility

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Yuuri stares down at his scuffed shoes, counting the minutes until he can leave. Heading to Grand Prix is an embarrassment at this point. Three seasons of whispers about his absent fiancé. He can hear them drifting over from the group gathered by the—weak, and undoubtedly spiked by Christophe—punch bowl. The room smells like stale lavender and sweat, like it does every season.

A new wave of whispers erupts at the far end of the hall, sweeping all the way to the alcove where Yuuri's standing. Hiding.

"Did you hear that Mr. Nikiforov returned from the Continent this week?"

Yuuri had heard.

"Yes, and apparently he's here tonight!"

That, Yuuri had not heard.

A pale, finely boned wrist enters Yuuri's vision; It's attached to the most beautiful man Yuuri's ever seen. There’s no escape route in sight and Yuuri’’s at a loss without the safety net of social catechism.

"Mr. Victor Nikiforov."

The introduction was unnecessary; Yuuri could have guessed as much from the society page descriptions, only he’d suspected they were exaggerating. ”Mr. Yuuri Katsuki."

"Mr. Katsuki," Mr. Nikiforov says, rolling the syllables over his tongue. He almost gets the pronunciation right. "May I have this dance?"

This must be some sort of cruel joke—meeting your fiancé of over two decades as a stranger. "Why?"

"I've heard you're the only one here who knows how to waltz. And that you're an excellent dancer.  I'm very particular about my partners." Mr. Nikiforov is still holding his hand. Yuuri's not sure how they do things on The Continent but people are starting to whisper. He pulls his hand back.

"Mr. Giacometti knows how to waltz." Yuuri's only been the subject of Chris' joking invitations for months. At this point he's sure everyone knows that Chris can waltz. His dog, Vicchan, knows Chris can waltz. Yuuri does not want Mr. Nikiforov’s pity waltz.

Victor flutters his eyelashes. They're almost transparent. Yuuri notes a smattering of freckles over the bridge of his nose, the tip of which is flushed pink.

"I don't want to dance with Mr. Giacommetti. I want to dance with you."

___________

The first time Victor meets Mr. Yuuri Katsuki it's a dull December evening, on the occasion of his first turn on the town since he'd come back from the Continent. Most of his evening has been spent fending off various admirers and well wishers; some are those who'd like to talk about fencing technique.

Then Victor sees him.

He's on the other side of the room, huddled in a corner, clutching a glass of punch in his hand. Victor almost swoons at the sight of him.

"Yuri, he's so beautiful."

It's the slight sway to his hips, the flash of ankle at the hem of his trousers as he fidgets at the perimeter of the room, a curl of dark hair dipping over his forehead where it's escaped the rest of his slicked back hair.

"You have a fiancé," Yuri snaps.

"A fiancé I've never met and who seems to have no interest in meeting me."

Yuri snorts. Victor frowns.

"Try telling that to Yakov. I'd love to see the ensuing explosion." Yuri doesn’t both trying to hide his disbelief.

"I'm going to ask him to dance." Victor doesn't pause for Yuri's answer; instead he pushes his way through the crowd to the opposite side of the room. Christophe will know him. Christophe knows everyone. There are multiple attempts to engage Victor’s attention but his refusal to pause for pleasantries is dismissed as "terrible manners from the Continent."

He pauses by the punch bowl. Christophe hands him a drink.

"Christophe, who is that?"

Chris follows Victor's gaze and smirks. "That would be Mr. Yuuri Katsuki. Good luck."

"I've never needed luck before," Victor pouts.

"You've never met Mr. Katsuki before either."

No. But Victor is desperate to remedy that tragedy.

“No time like the present.”

Mr. Katsuki stares at him, wide eyed. His eyes flick from one side to another, possibly in search of an escape route, possibly to see if Victor has mistaken him for someone else. Victor manages to convince Mr. Katsuki to promise him the next waltz.

It’s an ingenious decision. Mr. Katsuki is an excellent dancer. Victor's glad he made sure there was a fainting couch nearby before they started their waltz.

An inappropriate number of dances later—and less scandalized whispering than he’d expected—Victor is sure he’s in love.

Now, he has an engagement to break.

___________

Victor heads to Angelo's School of Arms on the first free day he's had since arriving in London. It's not quite what he's used to, but the mask, the epee, are all comforting, familiar. After changing he walks in, mask under his arm, lost in thought. Yuri pokes him with the blunt end of his épée as they walk onto the field of play.

"I'll beat you if you stay this distracted."

Victor smiles. "I doubt it. But you might get a few extra touchés."

"If we weren't related I'd use the other end of this sword."

There's a crowd around the other end of the field of play. A lone figure, already masked, practices footwork, seemingly oblivious of the crowd around him. The way his feet move…

"Does that footwork look familiar to you?"

“Footwork is footwork.”

Victor begins stretching, still watching. “Lilia would be appalled. All those dance lessons. No. It looks like mine."

"Just when I think you can't be any more conceited—"

"No, just, look."

The figure feints, circles around the imaginary opponent, then thrusts his sword outward. Even against Victor, he'd certainly land a hit.

"Maybe," Yuri grumbles. Victor grins. That's the best he's going to get. He’ll take it.

"I'm going to challenge him."

"Victor, you can't just—"

But Victor can, will, and does.

"Up for a match?"

The masked fencer starts in surprise, then nods, readying his position.

The next ten minutes are the most brutal bout Victor's ever fought. It's as though he's facing himself, but with a few nuances.

"You're very good."

Victor's opponent shrugs before lunging forward. “You’re not bad, yourself.” His voice is indistinct, muffled by the thick mask.

The tip of his épée just misses Victor's throat. In the wake of the near miss, Victor manages to replicate the movement and get in the final touch to end the match.

Victor pulls off his own mask and reaches out his hand. "That was the best match I've had in years."

"Thank you." His opponent doesn't remove his mask. "Next time, I'll win."

Victor, surrounded by admirers, watches helplessly, as his opponent slips away into the powder rooms on the other side of the hall.

___________

Victor calls on Mr. Katsuki the next morning. He raises an eyebrow at his lodgings—in one of the suites above a gentleman's club in the middle of town. As soon as Mr. Katuski enters, Victor forgets all of his curiosity. He's just grateful he's already sitting down or he'd probably swoon—even though he’s sitting, he almost does.

They walk along the Serpentine River in Kensington Gardens, hands just brushing. Victor had no idea Mr. Katsuki would be so bold but he can't say he's scandalized by his behavior—he finds it refreshing. Given his unwanted engagement, he’ll take as much pleasure as he can in flouting the rules.

"It's a shame we didn't cross paths at Eton," Victor muses. He's utterly entranced by the way the sunlight reveals Mr. Katsuki's eyes as a startling shade of burgundy. Victor hadn't noticed it in the dim Assembly Hall lighting.

Mr. Katsuki looks towards the river. A swan skims the surface of the water, her cygnets trailing after her. "Yes. Shame."

Victor frowns, but contrary to Yuri's opinions, he has enough social etiquette to recognize that he ought to change subjects.

"Do you like birds?”

"No, they're terrible," Mr. Katsuki shudders. "Last spring one of the swans attacked me for stepping too close to the river. Phichit—Mr.Chulanont—abandoned me in my time of need. I haven't been the same since." He glances back to the swan and then to Victor. "In fact, I'm afraid that might even be the same one."

Victor slides closer to Mr. Katsuki's side. He swears he can feel the warmth of his skin through his thin muslin jacket. "I promise to fend off any rogue swans. You're under my protection now."

They pass another couple. Victor sees them eyeing the lack of space between him and his companion, but they don’t say anything.

Mr. Katsuki meets his eyes, face flushed. "Yes. I suppose I am. We should let the swans know.”

The wander closer to the river.

“Did you hear that?” Victor does his best society matron impression. He’s rewarded with Mr. Katsuki’s adorable bubble of laughter.  “You can’t bother Mr. Katsuki anymore.” With a brother like Yuri, it’s a novelty to taunt a target that can’t talk back.

“I don’t know if they heard you.”

Victor isn’t fooled by Mr. Katsuki’s innocent look, but he’s happy to play along. “You’re not wanted here. Leave my companion alone in the future or I’ll file a formal complaint with Parliament.”

“I’d like to see that.”

“Did you hear that, swan? Expect a letter, promptly.” The swan turns her head. She raises her wings out of the water and speeds over to the bank. In a flurry of motion, she rises out of the water, flapping her wings a them. Victor—gallantly, foolishly—attempts to shield Mr. Katsuki, and learns that swans do, in fact, bite. Mr.Katsuki tries to rescue Victor from the hissing swan and gets a matching bite for his trouble. They run away from the river, hand in hand, ignoring the curious stares.

Bite included, it’s the best afternoon Victor can remember.

___________

Victor sees Mr. Katsuki— Yuuri — almost every day. It’s bordering on inappropriate but he's surely made his intentions clear by now. He battles spars with the mysterious fencer three times a week.

They go to a production of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons . Yuuri holds his hand in the dark. Every Tuesday and Thursday they walk their dogs together, and take a stroll in Kensington Gardens. Yuuri tells Victor their afternoons together are always the highlight of his day. Victor promises they can always have afternoons like this.

Once, they run into Yuuri’s friend Phichit during while strolling along the Serpentine River—a respectable distance from the bank this time.

“Is this him, Yuuri?”

“Ah, yes.” Yuuri looks between Victor and Phichit. Victor can’t read the expression on his face.

“Finally,” Phichit says, shooting Yuuri another pointed glance.

Victor isn’t sure what Phichit means, but he never gets a chance to ask. They’ve been invited to an impromptu picnic. Phichit's friends are eyeing where Victor and Yuuri's hands meet, fingers interlaced. Thinking on his feet, Victor whispers, “We’ll have to pretend we’re engaged,” to Yuuri as they approach the party.

There’s that look again. They’re swept up in conversation, and Victor forgets until later when he turns that same look over and over in his brain, searching it for meaning.

His uncle, Yakov, is not amused.

"Vitya. You're engaged,” Yakov says over breakfast, three weeks into Victor's attempt to court his way out of an arranged marriage.

"So you've told me. And yet neither party seems to be interested in the arrangement."

"That's not the point!" Victor swear's Yakov's volume has managed to rattle the dish ware.

"It seems very much the point from my perspective."

"That is precisely the problem. Your father agreed to this before he passed. You will honor his wishes.“

Victor doesn’t recognize Yakov’s words as the warning they are until it’s too late.

___________

Victor rides through a storm to Yuuri's lodgings. The fight with Yakov rings in his ears. His impending marriage to his mysterious fiancé, the Lord of Hasetsu, is pressing in from all sides. This morning, the society pages had run an official announcement. Victor had to get to Yuuri before he got the wrong idea—"It's the right idea, Vitya! You are engaged !"—before it was too late and he lost Yuuri forever. He'd sent a letter, but he hadn't heard back.

The clap of Chaucer’s hooves rings through the mostly empty cobblestone streets. No one else is fool enough to risk catching a cold in this weather. Victor arrives both too soon, and not soon enough. His hair is plastered to his forehead and neck. It's not his best look.

He ties his horse to a post outside with a poor excuse for a knot.

Minako, the proprietor of the club where Yuuri’s staying, opens the door with an unreadable look. "Oh. It's you. I guess you'd best come inside. Yuuri would never forgive me if I let you die of pneumonia."

Victor can't parse her reaction, but it’s probably a positive sign Yuuri doesn’t want him bed bound. She leads him to a guest room for a change of clothes and then to front sitting room where he's wrapped in a blanket and handed a steaming cup of tea.

"Yuuri will be out in a moment." Minako refuses to look him in the eye. He stares at her back, brows drawn together.

There's a trail of steam rising from his tea. It burns his eyes a little. An errant raindrop from his eyelashes splashes into the cup. Victor can't bear thinking about what might happen when he sees Yuuri.

"Victor." It's not a question. It's the flat, disinterested tone Yuuri had used the first time they'd met. When Victor had asked if Yuuri would like to waltz.

"Yuuri, I'm so glad I caught you. We need to talk—"

“Do we? I know why you're here, and I understand. So you're free to do as you wish. We'll go our separate ways after this—I refuse to hold you to promises you do not wish to keep."

"No! That's—" Victor drags a hand over his face. "I need you."

"I see." Victor didn't think it possible, but Yuuri's face grows even more distressed. “I suppose as long as you're discreet…" Yuuri mutters, before turning away from him. Victor feels as though they're talking past one another "I have an appointment I need to get to."

Victor can tell he’s lying. Yuuri makes his excuses before disappearing upstairs. Victor finishes his tea, hoping Yuuri will come back down.

He doesn’t.

___________

Victor shows up to Angelo’s School of Arms the day after his argument with Yuuri—Mr. Katsuki? Does he have the right to call him by his first name anymore?—intent on challenging the mysterious fencer. Anything to take his mind off of yesterday. Yuri tags along, refusing to miss another day of practice.

The mystery fencer is waiting on the field of play, practicing his footwork. It’s a mirror image of the first time Victor laid eyes on him. Victor wishes he could rewind time to that moment. He sighs, then strides across the room, mask under one arm, épée clutched in the other hand.

"Re-match?"

The other man hesitates, then nods. He raises his sword and readies his stance.

"En garde."

“Êtes-vous prêts?”

Victor nods. “Allez.”

It's more dance then duel. They weave around one another, a conversation of blades, no gap in the action. Finally, when Victor feints, his opponent parries, then disarms him with a flick of his blade. The sudden movement sends Victor stumbling backwards into the dirt of the field of play, the tip of his opponent's épée nestled at the base of his throat. The blade remains there as the mysterious fencer uses his free hand to finally unmask himself after weeks of bouts.

"Yuuri?"

Yuuri does not look happy about his victory. "Surprise,” Yuuri says, flat—almost angry.

And Victor is surprised. So much so, he’s unable to rally his senses in time to prevent Yuuri from walking away. Again.

Victor thought he couldn't be more in love, but he was mistaken.  

"Nice to see someone ground you. Literally." Yuri's lips are curled upwards, a smug approximation of a smile.

"He's so dramatic,” Victor sighs.

"You seriously—"

"He's perfect."

___________

Victor mopes into Chris' masquerade. He’d stopped by Yuuri’s lodgings yesterday only to find that he’d left town directly after their match.

The crowd is lively. His golden mask barely conceals his identity—his hair instantly gives it away. Yuri’s skulking around somewhere in a custom black mask decorated with a pair of cat ears and a set of whiskers. There's a hum of gossip to Victor's left. Apparently Michele Crispino has refused to show his face in public since his sister eloped with Victor's cousin Mila to Gretna Green. Victor had wept all over the letter.

"Did you hear, apparently the future Lord of Hasetsu will deign to show his face at the ball tonight." Victor drifts closer to the source of the conversation—a man in the most tragic puce cravat and waistcoat he's ever seen.

His companion—Katerina?—nods, splashing drops of champagne on the parquet floor. "He's apparently been in town for over a month. But you know how he is."

It figures; a few days after Victor unmasks the mysterious fencer, and the love of his life leaves town, his erstwhile fiancé decides to slide out of the shadows.

"Maria saw him. Near the gardens."

Victor restrains himself from running. Heads turn to look at him as he makes his way to the other side of the room.

A few groups of people mill about in the early summer twilight. Towards the far end of the veranda Victor spots Christophe in the middle of a small cluster of people.

Christophe spots him immediately. “Victor!” He waves Victor over. Victor’s eyes pause on a familiar figure. What—

“Did you hear, your fiancé is in town!”

“I—what?”

“Victor, meet Mr. Yuuri Katsuki, future Lord of Hasetsu.”

Victor would like to pretend he remained calm in the face of the biggest surprise of his life, but—as Christophe recalled at their wedding—Victor was startled into an outright screech.

“Yuuri?” Yuuri won’t meet his eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

That does it. Yuuri’s gaze snaps to Victor’s. Why doesn’t he look happy? This solves all of their problems. “ Tell you ? I thought you knew!”

Christophe breaks the silence that follows. “What an exciting turn of events. And we haven’t even reached the midnight mask reveal.”

___________

Yuuri hovers at the perimeter of the room, hand clutching at empty air. A pale, finely boned wrist enters his field of vision, fingers wrapped around a flute of champagne. The gold ring adorning the fourth finger catches the light.

“Did you miss me?”

Yuuri turns to his husband, “Did you give me a chance to?”

“Yuuri, I’m wounded. How will I recover?”

Yuuri hides a smile. Really. Victor is so dramatic. “Your recovery skills would be a lot better if you spent less energy on theatrics.”

I’m dramatic? Says the man who managed two different unmaskings.”

Yuuri smiles around a mouthful of champagne. “And you still haven’t forgiven me for showing you up, have you?”

“Our one year anniversary is coming up. I’ll get my revenge then.” Victor’s pouting, which means he wants Yuuri to kiss it better.

“It’d be more of a surprise if you hadn’t been warning me for the past six months.” Victor had had a custom advent calendar made for each month.

Victor wraps an arm around Yuuri’s waist, “I learned the value of communicating my plans during our engagement.”

And, well, Yuuri can’t argue with that.

 Yuuri turns his head so he can meet Victor's eyes. "Join me for a waltz after you finish your drink?" 

"I'd love to."

A year later, in Grand Prix’s Assembly Room, surrounded by his friends, the familiar scent of sweat and stale lavender, and a very present husband, Yuuri finally feels at home.