Yuuri Katsuki stands behind the counter frowning at his third failed flower. The prior owner of this shop had made it look easy and her instructions were so straightforward. He should have known better than to think he could handle this without significantly more practice. "Mari, this isn't going to work."
His sister rolls her eyes and returns to her study of the shop's books. "You know, it actually doesn't matter. We're not really here to sell coffee." Yuuri knew that, still, if they were going to be using a business to launder money, it should at least be plausibly legitimate. Mari know what he means to say, because she adds. "It's fine. Sometimes you try too hard."
Yuuri doesn't respond. Instead, he sets the cup next to its sad brothers on the countertop and pulls another shot. "I've got time, anyway. If you want to get everything from that Bragal Ring contract all the way through to the resort account without drawing attention, we'll be here at least a couple of months, maybe more if Phichit doesn't take a formal contract after all.
"It's time to leave for your next appointment." Mari's stoic young guard says from the doorway, his face revealing no apprehension at interrupting <i>the</i> Mari Katsuki despite having been hired only two days past.
"Right." Mari closes her files and absently touches the guns tucked at her hip and against her ribcage before setting off with a half-hearted wave. "Good luck little bro."
His next two attempts fail, but the third is passable, almost. Yuuri smiles down at the coffee in triumph before he hears the blare of the news screen in the small shop which has picked up a flagged story and automatically increased in volume. "Next up:" The announcer begins. "The infamous Victor Nikiforov is revealed after eleven years of cat and mouse with authorities." Yuuri slams the cup down, marring his success and searing the skin between his thumb and forefinger with scalding hot liquid. He curses under his breath and abandons the counter to focus on the screen. Yuuri's heart pounds. What could they possibly mean? Had Victor been caught? The announcer drones on about the past and the last known image of Victor Nikiforov rolls on repeat between shots of commentators teasing the new footage, yet to be revealed.
Onscreen, a young Victor runs through the interminable subterranean hallways of the Arydian system's vault asteroid, trailed by an antigrav lift loaded down with imperial jewels unparalleled in the known galaxy. He's near one of the port openings when five guards, three of which were android, or had integrated cybertech so extensive there was hardly a difference. Somehow, Victor, little more than a child, lays them all out in a blazing dance of neat violence, though not before a projectile grazes the bare flesh of his upper arm. There were other jobs attributed to Victor, but this had been the moment when his name became known. The film shows all parties that this youth is as remarkable as he is beautiful. Actually, Yuuri recalls the media frenzy when a blood analysis it revealed that this silver haired nymph was a boy, at least as far as chromosomes could tell. Yuuri had wondered at the time why everyone was so surprised. Not that he'd "always known" just by looking or anything, but he didn't recall any immediate assumptions about the gender of this amazing talent. It hadn't even occurred to him that it might matter.
Yuuri had found himself entirely captivated by that footage. He hadn't been too keen on the family business before then, but afterwards he trained day and night to be as amazing as Victor. There might not have been any other visuals, but Victor pulled big high profile jobs and he wasn't secretive about them, he left the kind of signatures on his crimes that made robbery into performance art. Maybe that's why Yuuri loves him so much. As a child, he spent entirely too many hours training in zero gravity ballet, as well as other forms of dance. Victor might be the galaxy's best thief, but he was also committed to beauty in a way that few in such a ruthlessly practical occupation could afford to be.
Finally, after a recap of Victor's meteoric career and an interminable final ad break, Yuuri sees Victor's face. Sort of. The camera is in an odd spot, and either very dirty or very cheap. The image is blurred and Victor's full face is never shown all at once. There is a white slash of a grin framed by a sharp jaw line, the wink of an eye so electric blue it must be engineered, and a fall of silver hair much shorter than before. Every frame sends a jolt of lightening through Yuuri's heart and leaves his fingertips tingling with the need to touch. Victor is a man now, but no less beautiful than he had been eleven years earlier.
Yuuri is still replaying the clip when he's pounced upon from behind. He is ready to lay into his attacker at full strength when a giggle reveals that it's just Phichit coming to torment him. "So you did see it." Phichit says, entirely cheerful. "I should have known you'd see Victor news before my texts telling you about Victor news."
Yuuri glances down at the screen implanted in his forearm and shrugs. Phichit knows he rarely turns on his notifications. He'd likely keep them off even with traditional old school tech, but this unit that connects directly to his nervous system is entirely too much for him. Not that Phichit would understand. Phichit is an information broker, and he's got nerve implants connecting him directly to multiple planetary and interstellar communication channels at all times. Yuuri doesn't even want to consider the world Phichit must experience. Not that Yuuri isn't capable of more than he does, but it takes a certain kind of mind to integrate that much input, and Phichit is one of the best. He's nominally independent, though Yuuri's family pays him well enough that he doesn't have to take outside work.
Phichit takes one of the warmer cups of coffee from the counter and sips as they watch the clip in silence a few more times. "I wonder if he was even after anything."
"Documents, they said." Yuuri muttered.
"Right. But nothing with an active collector who would hire <i>him</i>. There's not much market for old earth original outside of the really big museums, and they won't buy from even borderline legitimate sources anymore. Not that kind of thing. The old earth nation-states still technically own all that old stuff and they love to make transfers a bureaucratic nightmare."
"Does he want them?" Yuuri wondered.
"Maybe. There were a bunch of letters of marque in what he took. Sounds like something he might be into." Phichit shrugged. "I think he planned the job around that camera, though."
"But it's so bad."
"Yep." Phichit was grinning now. "Exactly bad enough to show his face without giving away any usable data that couldn’t be extrapolated from aging up the old image. He's putting on a show." Phichit considered, then added, "as usual, I guess."
"Hell of a place to pull a job just for kicks." Yuuri shook his head, impressed yet again.
"Earth's the only place that has tech that old still running." Phichit said. "He had to do it there. Still." Phichit let out a slow, impressed whistle. Earth isn't a useful planet anymore, it's resources fully exhausted ages ago, but it has the tightest security of any known location. Too many fanatical groups claim the mother planet to allow anyone free access to it without risking a stupidly ideological galactic war. That world had been so well locked down at the planetary level for so long that it almost makes sense no one bothered to update local level equipment. "What is this?" Phichit asks, "It's good."
"Cosmic latte." Yuuri shrugs. "At least, that's what the recipe says. Pretty sure it's just a raspberry mocha. . . Maybe stick to one." He takes a second mug out of Phichit's hands before his friend gets too caffeinated. The last time he let Phichit drink practice coffee unchecked Yuuri ended up sewing miniscule buttons onto tiny tuxedos for hamsters. His fingertips still ache from the needle pricks.
Victor swings the shuttle into its docking port and unstraps immediately, ignoring the blaring alarm advising him that docking has not been completed. He rolls with the jolt that shakes the craft when it autoseals to the Yalena. The hurry has bought him time to adjust the fall of his hair in the mirror while ship and shuttle set the airlocks into position. He's not panicking. He's still 43 seconds ahead of pursuit. The mechanics grind. He’s going to have to schedule some downtime for repairs soon. His lead has shriveled to 38 seconds when the port springs open. He thumbs his com button and broadcasts to the bridge.
"You have 20 seconds to jump." He tells Yuri, ignoring the stream of tinny invective that pours from the speaker dangling beside his ear.
"Don't worry. You can do it!" Victor says brightly. He can just imagine Yuri's scowl, but the jump would get done. They probably wouldn't even rematerialize inside something deadly.
Victor keeps count of the seconds as he sprints for the bridge. "Now, Yuri." He says, still through the comm system though he is mere steps from the door.
"not finished calc-" Yuri yells to him as he bursts in.
"No time. Just jump."
Something that wasn't quite the universe blurred by and Victor fought nausea as the Yalena slammed back into normal space.
"Shit." Yuri breathes.
Victor looks at his display. "Oh, shit." He echoes. Without time to plot an accurate course, Yuri had jumped them to the position least likely to result in a damaging collision, keeping only a general bearing and manually dropping out of hyperspace based on the risk scores flying through his interface. Unfortunately, those scores only took into account physical risks to the ship and crew. The "safe" jump brought them to the middle of an enforcer base. Which would be great if Victor weren't on the run from the very same galactic authorities at this very moment.
He considers for a moment, then smiles grimly. Victor reaches into his pocket and removes a small handful carved bone dice. "Okay, Yuri." He says. "New plan. No one can track us if even we don't know where we're going. Set these destination coordinates." He tosses the dice on his console and gives Yuri their input as coordinates.
"Okay, but with a specific destination it's going to take a few minutes to run-"
"Don't bother. Jump."
Yuri has only begun cursing him out when Victor looks up to see that they've arrived quite neatly at the end of a docking queue for what appears to be a near-tunnel supply station. Victor says a silent thank you to the universe and to the mother he'd named his ship for. These dice were the only thing she'd left him, and they hadn't failed him yet.
"Good." He says. "We should top off our fuel supply and lay low for a little while until it's safe to travel again. Once we're docked, let's go explore." He eyes the smudged cuff of his work clothes and goes toward his quarters to change into something a bit more presentable.
Yuri pauses for breath, and on his way out the door, Victor hears Mila saying "Don't worry, kid. You'll get used to it. We all thought we were going to die our first time out with Victor."
Victor pulls up a few scans of his surroundings, but he's not worried. Between the random jump and the head start, no enforcer vehicle could have tracked them. Not many crafts could jump without the tunnel network, and the enforcers probably didn't have any pilots who could run a manual jump. They'd have had no choice but to wait for a full course analysis before following, even if they chose the right direction. Free FTL pilots aren't exactly easy to find, and there aren't more than two dozen good enough for long distance work. Victor sometimes wonders at his luck in finding Yuri. A few years with Yakov, and technically, he could maybe match Victor himself. Which is good. Victor is an alright pilot, better than alright, really. Still captaining a ship and running an operation are his strongest points. He doesn’t fly his own runs unless circumstances absolutely demand it. He usually hires Chris Giacommeti to fly for him. This is Yuri’s first mission without training wheels, and he’s doing fine. He’s not as experienced as Chris, but he makes up for it in raw skill.
Victor hasn’t been off ship without an objective or Yakov breathing down his neck in so long he almost can’t remember. He’s not expecting much. Stations are practical places without a great deal to recommend them, Still, he’s halfway to the shuttle when he remembers himself and checks with Georgi to see if the mechanic needs anything while they’re here.
His first response is “A New Heart” and Victor makes a note to buy vodka, which is probably the best he’ll be able to do in that regard. Maybe an escort, but that kind of thing is likely to do more harm than good. Either Georgi will mope about how she’ll never compare to Anya or he’ll fall for a working girl. That’s certainly a headache he doesn’t need. Definitely vodka, he decides. Georgi has pulled himself together enough to present an alarmingly extensive list. Georgi sighs drammatically at Victor’s raised eyebrow and mutters “two hard jumps in a row and we weren’t exactly in prime shape before that. You treat your lady rough, Victor.”
“You’re the one who’s adept with ladies of any kind.” Victor quips. “I’ll see what I can do. Some of the specialty items might be hard to come by. You’re in command while i’m gone, so make sure Yuri and MIla don’t actually beat each other.
“Mila’s gone already.”
“She couldn’t wait to head down together?” Victor wonders.
“She’s gone in system. The Crispino twins operate out of a base tucked into the asteroid belt.”
Victor nods. Mila will spend their entire docked time with Sara if she can get away with it. He didn’t mind. Hanging out with information brokers generally yielded interesting freebies. But he did want some company. He changed course and left Georgi not for the shuttle.
Instead, he goes to the small medical unit and starts the cycle to bring his dog out of cryo. The better part of an hour Victor holds Makka’s slack leash in his hand and steers the shuttle into a small bay on the solar side of the station.
Makka snuffles along looking happy, if not quite energetic yet. He’s had his own cryo hangovers before. Some gentle exercise followed by plenty of water would have her back to normal. Makka whines and tugs him towards the carts lining the stations pedestrian thoroughfare. The food smelled fantastic. “Sorry girl,” He says, “No food for a couple hours.”
Victor yawns and shakes his head. He needs to wake up. There’s a coffee shop ahead, but he can’t bring himself to leave Makka outside after just waking her up. There’s nothing saying he can bring a dog in, but then, pets are so rare on stations, there probably wouldn’t be a need. He’ll likely need to move on, but it won’t hurt anything to ask. Victor calls out as he opens the door, “is it alright if I bring in my-”
The end of his question is cut off by a flash of silver and a cacophony of happy barks. A small robotic dog circles Makka with yips of greeting. “Vicchan, no!” a young man calls from behind the counter. “I’m so sorry!” He runs out and lifts his dog, only to stand up mere inches from Victor. He realizes his position and takes a hasty step backwards, gorgeous brown eye wide with surprise.
“It’s alright!” Victor holds a hand out to placate the man, he tries to school his expression into something calming, but he suspects he’s grinning like an idiot. “Makka hasn’t made a friend in too long. I don’t mind.”
“Oh. . . okay.” The young man is looking at him strangely, as if he might know him. “She’s a poodle, right? A real one, I mean.”
“Yes!” Victor says, “The best.” He casts a regretful glance at his dog’s cybernetic eye. “Her own eye got injured.” That had been the last time he let Makka tag along while he worked. Makka bears him no ill will, but he can’t look at her without a pang of guilt.
“I travel too much to have a bio dog. Vicchan’s AI is supposed to make him behave like a poodle.”
“He’s very cute.” Victor says, patting the small dog on its artificial head. “But then, so’s his owner.”
A gorgeous flush creeps along the barista’s softly rounded cheeks, and he turns away abruptly. “Can I get you something?” He asks, all the former enthusiasm gone from his tone.
“Whatever you like.” Victor says, focusing on the menu anyhow. He’ll get too intent on the other’s eyes if he doesn’t. They are so big and clear, warm brown flecked with amber. “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.”
“Oh. It’s Yuuri.” The man, Yuuri, fidgets.
Victor reaches gently for his hand and clasps it between both of his. “Call me Vitya.”
“Okay.” Yuuri snatches his hand back like it’s been burned and retreats behind his counter. “Do you like raspberry? You could try a cosmic latte. It’s today’s special.”
“Yes. I want that.” Victor steps around the two canines, who despite their differences seem to have become fast friends and are lounging together on the cafe floor. Yuuri never takes his eyes off his work as he brews and mixes, steams and pours. In fact, he worries at his lip as he concentrates and Victor wishes he could relive for eternity watching the slight crinkling at the corners of Yuuri’s eyes as he finishes his work and slides a disposable cup across the table. The foam on the top of the drink is tinted slightly pink and swirled into a portrait of Makkachin. He doesn’t know what to say. Who is this gorgeous man who does things like this, as if they were totally normal.
Yuuri muse have taken Victor’s silence for disappointment, because he hastily says, “Sorry, her eye is a little messed up. I’m new here.” His cheeks are flushed to match the raspberry of the drink and he doesn’t meet Victor’s eyes.
“I love it!” Victor smiles so wide his cheeks ache.
“Have you been on this station long?” He asks, leaning across the counter toward Yuuri when he’s finished most of his drink.
“Not really.” Yuuri says.
“Oh. Well, you’ve been here longer than I have.” Victor adds, “What should I see while I’m here?”
“Um, there’s a ninja house that people kind of like to see.”
“Really!?” Victor couldn’t believe it. “Ninjas!”
“It’s just a tourist trap. One of those places where you dress up and get your picture taken with kitchy scenery.”
“Yuuri. We have to go!”
“We?” Yuuri blinked adorably.
“Are you going to leave me on my own? What if I get lost?” Victor tips his chin down and to the side just so, let his bottom lip tilt out the tiniest bit.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine. Anyway, I have to work. My sister’s probably going to be out for a while and she’s the only one who can cover for me.” Yuuri clears away Victor’s cup and Victor is completely dismayed that the man carefully but casually dodges Victor’s attempt to “accidentally” brush hands.
“I could wait.” Victor floats.
“No, no. You don’t have to that. Go enjoy your visit.” Yuuri says, and his tone is edged with a finality that tells Victor any other outcome is probably hopeless.
“Have good day.” Victor says, and tosses his hair with a wink he knows to be irresistible.
“Oh. Um. You too.” Yuuri answers, wide eyed, just before he rushes to turn towards the back of the small coffee shop.
“Come on, girl.” Victor and Makka walk the long corridors of the station until they come to a small, park like atrium. He pulls a ball from his bag and flings it as far as he can in the limited space, then watches Makka chase. She must be feeling better, because she runs full out, seemingly happy to stretch her legs.
Probably because she met that other dog, Victor thinks. They got on so well, or maybe she was just picking up on Victor’s own energy. He couldn’t recall the last time he felt so light, like he had a tiny anti-engine in heart just bubbling away. Even the last job, as impossible as it had been, didn’t bring him close to this feeling. Yuuri had been friendly, if not exactly jumping at the opportunity to spend more time together.
Visiting the cafe becomes a habit, and every time, he asks Yuuri out to absolutely no avail. Some parts Georgi needs are taking a long time for their supplier to locate, which has given him some room without the need for excuses. His luck can’t hold forever, though. Soon there is no reason to stay in the system. Mila and Georgi know he’s stalling but don’t care, probably glad of the break far away from Yakov’s supervision. Yuri, though, Yuri is too young to have much to do on his own, and his ambition demands action.
The next time Victor visits the cafe, Yuri demands to go along and he isn’t easily dodged when he’s in a mood. “I knew it!” He says, as soon as they walk into the shop. Before Victor has half a second to intervene, the teenage has stomped up to the counter. “What do you want with Victor? You’re just some loser working in a cafe, why does he keep coming here?”
Yuuri’s eyes go wide for a second and he glances between the two of them. Then his lips twitch, resisting a smile, and he says evenly, “We have pretty good coffee. I think he comes to buy it, probably.”
“Fine then give me some.” Yuri snarls, “Not that sugary crap that he likes. Something normal.”
“Just plain coffee? I’ve got a french press that’s kind of acidic, in a nice way.”
“No, that’s boring. Something better.” Yuri demands, as if anything he’s saying makes sense.
“Okay.” Yuuri turns and fills a cup from what looks like a beer tap. “Cold brew pushed with nitrogen.” He looks at Victor. “Your usual?”
Victor nods, and is about to mention a dog park he knows Vicchan will like, if Yuuri would just go with him, when Yuri pulls him over to a table and, quietly, if not exactly subtly, point toward the counter. “Him? This is why we’ve been hanging around this boring station for weeks? So you can moon over that fat loser?”
Victor looks toward Yuuri, assessing. He hadn’t ever thought of him as fat. He looks normal. Strong. With some soft roundess to his cheeks and stomach that will make him wonderful to cuddle up to and kiss and -
“Yeah. I’m calling Yakov. We’re leaving.” He grouses, interrupting Victor’s train of thought.
Victor is saved when a slim young man, just a little taller than Yuri walks in, babbling cheerfully in a language Victor doesn’t know. A tired looking woman who smells like cigarette smoke and solemn guard enter a moment later. Yuuri says something to the young man in the same language but haltingly, with his hands up in the universal gesture for “slow down”.
The man laughs, dark eyes sparkling, and he switches back to common. “Yuuri, there’s going to be a huge party. Dancing! Food! Champagne! Besides, it’s the maiden voyage. You have to go.”
“You know I’m not really the party type.” Yuuri dodges, but this only seems to delight the other who lets himself behind the counter and bumps his shoulder against Yuuri’s in easy comeradery.
“Yuuri, it’s not even a big party. Invite only. Besides, there’s definitely going to be alcohol, so it’s fine.”
Victor finds himself watching the two interact, guts twisting in barely suppressed jealousy. Is this why Yuuri hasn’t agreed to go out with him? He’s going to go introduce himself and find out just what might be going on here when the woman gives Yuuri a bored look and says, “This is what we’ve been working towards. At least part of it. You sure you don’t want to come to the celebration?”
“Won’t it be better if I just keep working?” Yuuri asks.
“Absolutely not!” The other man says. “Two thirds of the guest list will probably cry if you’re not there, Yuuri.”
“Phichit,” Yuuri says, clearly still arguing, but already looking defeated, “That’s not true. No one will even notice I’m there.”
“So you’re going?”
Yuuri doesn’t say anything, but that seems good enough if Phichit’s triumphant gleam and brilliant grin are anything to go by. And suddenly, Victor realizes he knows this man. Phichit Chulanont, one of the best connected information brokers in the sector, maybe even the entire galaxy. They’ve never met, but Victor’s bought a few tips from him here and there. Minor transactions, and he never showed his face. Still, he has to focus on his breathing to calm the adrenaline spike that goes through him.
Victor is so distracted, he almost misses the most valuable communication that has ever come from Phichit, who is still talking to Yuuri when he says, “You just need a date, then. Let’s see . . .”
Yuuri knows he didn’t stand much chance of dodging an event when Phichit was dead set on him going, but he definitely can not let his friend set him up. The last time he gave in on that front had been a complete and total disaster. The guy had had a tramp stamp of his own initials, for heaven’s sake. Phichit hadn’t even apologized, just nearly pissed himself laughing, then thanked Yuuri for the info. But before he can think of a way to shut his friend up, there’s a gentle bark. Yuuri looks up to see Makka and Vitya standing by the counter.
“Excuse me, Yuuri,” Vitya says, his strange accent alluring as always. “Is Vicchan here today? I think Makka misses him.”
When Yuuri shakes his head and offers an apologetic negative, Vitya’s pout should probably be illegal. “He’s in a deep back up cycle for the next couple of days.” Yuuri says, and if Vitya weren’t already attractive enough, his unquestioning nod is enough to make Yuuri want to crawl across the counter and hug him. Full AI back-up is not something normally done for pets. The live synced key experience file can be loaded into any similar model, so most people don’t bother. Yuuri doesn’t understand. He’s terrified something awful will happen to Vicchan because of his lifestyle, and a replacement might be a fine dog, but it wouldn’t be *his* dog. He’d never really talked much to Vitya beyond some pleasantries, even though the other seemed almost desperate for company. Yuuri had been tempted, but really, someone as beautiful and worldly as Vitya would be bored by Yuuri’s plain, quiet life, which was certainly all he could show of himself, even if it wasn’t exactly all there was to him. He’d decided he ought to just save himself the disappointment. But Victor seemed to get this one benign oddity with such complete ease. Yuuri found himself yearning for something he wasn’t quite willing to define.
“Well,” Victor said, tilting his head in a way that revealed the long, flawless column of his neck. “You’re more than enough for us. Isn’t that right, Makkachin?” The dog barks again and wags her tail. Yuuri feels hot everywhere. He’s still recovering himself while Vitya and Phichit introduce themselves. Yuuri internally cringes at his horrible etiquette and worries that if these two become friends, their combined enthusiasm level might be the end of him.
When Yuuri returns his attention to the conversation, Vitya is saying, “Yuuri seems to know so much about the what I should see and do here, but he’s never free to come with me.” His pout should be illegal.
“Is that so?” Phichit’s tone says they will be having a conversation about this later. “It just so happens that Yuuri has been looking for a date. You see, his sister is in charge of this pleasure cruise through the rings of the nearby gas giant, and its their first trip out.” He hands Vitya a tablet with a copy of his invitation.
Yuuri can’t when he sees Vitya’s eyes sparkling that way. “Umm. . . It’s a bit much, probably, but if you want to go, I could take you as my plus one. I’m not usually that great at parties, but-”
“Lies!” Phichit leans conspiratorially in towards Vitya, and says, “He’s the absolute best.”
“I would love to!” Vitya answers immediately, and Yuuri knows he shouldn’t be surprised, that of course Vitya wants to go with him. As Yuuri’s date. He is attaching too much to meaning to it, though. Of course Vitya wants to go, the fact that it’s with Yuuri is probably pretty irrelevant to him.
The scrape of a chair on the floor pulls him out of his thoughts. The blonde who had come in with Vitya, the one who called him “Victor” is standing, engaged in some kind of weird stare down with Mari’s guard. Finally, the kid says “What’s your problem, asshole?” And turns away, stomping toward them. “This place sucks. Let’s go.”
Vitya looks at Yuuri, “Come with us for a while?” He asks.
Yuuri had thought he might, but now it’s out of the question. “Uh . . . I can’t.”
“What the hell, Yuuri?” Phichit asks when they’ve finally left. “Why aren’t you hanging out with the hottie who you’ve obviously got wrapped around your finger?”
Right, not likely, Yuuri thinks. “Because I need to panic about how I just asked him out.”
Phichit squeezes Yuuri’s shoulders and doesn’t respond to that. “How long has he been coming in here trying to get a date with you?” Phichit asks, dark eyes glittering with mischief.
“Phichit, he’s just looking for a tour guide. He’s not trying to date me. But it’s been a couple weeks.” He burries his face in his hands. “What am I going to do? He’s so far out of my league it’s not even-”
“Have you noticed he looks a little like Nikiforov?”
Yuuri had, at first. “A little, but it’s definitely not him. His smile is so different, not all slick and polished like Victor.”
“Yeah, and anyway, what are the chances?” Phichit asks, but Yuuri isn’t sure he’s entirely given up the idea. “I did hear that kid call him ‘Victor’ though.”
“It’s a common enough name.” Yuuri shrugs. “Anyway, it’s definitely not him.” Yuuri can’t even consider it. “Victor Nikiforov definitely wouldn’t go to a party with me. He definitely wouldn’t waste his time hanging out in a coffee shop alone, either. Victor Nikiforov has got to have a ton of amazing friends.
Phichit smiles. “Yeah. Probably.”
Victor knocks on Yuuri’s door, and grins sheepishly at him when it opens. He’d been so busy choosing the perfect outfit for tonight, he’d completely forgotten to arrange for one of his crewmates to take care of Makka. The invitation Yuuri had sent didn’t say anything about dogs not being allowed, so it would probably be fine.
“Vitya!” Yuuri greeted him, looking absolutely delicious in clinging black and blue with a pale turquois hip scarf drawing the eye down to those utterly perfect thighs. It suited him, though it was perhaps a couple seasons out of fashion. “You brought Makkachin?”
Victor had to stop ogling to register Yuuri’s question. “I didn’t have anyone to look after her. Is it alright?”
“Of course it is. Isn’t it, baby?” Yuuri is already kneeling on the floor with his arms around the poodle’s neck. “I know the owners. Definite fondness for dogs.”
Victor tucks that piece of information away to mull on later. Everything about Yuuri, from his job in the coffeeshop to his modest station quarters and slightly dated formalwear pointed to a modest, average person. How does Yuuri know the sort of galactic elite who owns a luxury cruise liner? Is Victor going to have competition for Yuuri’s attention? “Whose ship is it?” He asks, casual tone perfected by more than a decade of practice. “I don’t think the invitation said.” Odd, now that he thinks about it. Usually the sponsors of these events are dying to wring publicity out of every penny spent on parties like this.
The corners of Yuuri’s mouth tighten and he doesn’t answer for a moment. Worried about this pensive turn, Victor is tempted to wave the question off. He really wants to know, though. Finally, Yuuri says, “Hasetsu Corp.” The name is familiar. Victor can’t quite place it; he feels like he should , though. Before he can ask anything else, Yuuri is shuffling out the door and locking it.
In the shuttle out to the cruise ship, Victor shifts, evaluating himself in the semi-reflective window panel. He’s happy with his choice, he decides, his suit is charcoal grey with red accents and a nano silk cape that he’d bought directly off a runway less that two months ago. He’s confident he couldn’t have chosen anything better for tonight. It’s small consolation though. The Yuuri he has come to know, the Yuuri of bone wit and warm eyes and smiles as glorious as they are hesitant is gone. He actually begins to worry that he’s misread the situation catastrophically.
Every moment that passes with Yuuri beside him, hands gripped tight around his armrest it seems more and more likely that Victor is nothing more than a customer who Yuuri is no longer being paid to engage. His face is a neutral mask, breaking into something brighter only when he addresses Makka. It actually gets worse when they board the ship. The woman who he recognizes as Yuuri’s sister says something quietly in the man’s ear, and Yuuri excuses himself without explanation, leaving Victor to fend for himself.
Victor isn’t usually one to mope, but he’s so disappointed, he can’t help himself. He spots a secluded alcove and decides to spend the evening there, with a stop by the bar first. He’s ordering his first of what he’s guessing may be many drinks of the evening when he feels the slide of a hand running appreciatively over his backside. “Fancy meeting you here.” A low voice purrs in his ear.
Victor smiles in relief. “Chris. I didn’t know you were in these parts.”
“I wasn’t. Just dropping in for the event. I’ve done a fair amount of work for the owners and this is quite the turning point for their business.” Those owners again. Strange enough for Yuuri to move in high Corp circles, but for Chris to be involved as well . . . Probably it’s a coincidence, but Victor is unsettled anyhow. He doesn’t have time to mull it over, though. Chris is talking to him. “What are you doing here, gorgeous? This is the last place I’d expect you after that stunt you pulled a couple of weeks ago.”
Victor shrugs. “I’m a ‘plus one’, but I think I’ve been abandoned.”
“You?” Chris asks, disbelief written across his features. “Come, let’s sit.” He guides them to a small table on the far edge of the bar area. “Care to talk about it.”
Victor drops his head into his arms on the table and doesn’t move, despite Makka nosing at his armpit. “Not much to say.” He mutters. “I’ve met the most wonderful man in the galaxy, he’s beautiful and smart and he loves dogs at least as much as I do.” Victor scrubs his face with the palms of both hands. “And he couldn’t be less interested in me.”
“Well, now I know you’re being over dramatic.” Chris says with a knowing expression that doesn’t actually make any sense. “Yuuri’s adored you since you started making headlines.”
“You know Yuuri?” Victor asks, surprised. Chris’s only response is a blank look. Yuuri is a fan. Victor wonders just how suicidal it would be to reveal his identity at an event like this. If the enforcers didn’t manage to track him down, Yakov and his crew would be the death of him. Victor could outwit the law, but probably not Yakov. And he might be able to outrun Yuri, but then again, he might not. “He doesn’t know who I am.” Victor mutters, “I’m keeping a low profile.” He didn’t bother saying that he’d been more himself in his disguise these past weeks than he had for years ostensibly as himself. If Yuuri didn’t like this Victor, what would be the point of revealing his more famous persona.
“Speak of the devil and he shall appear.” Chris murmurs. Yuuri slumps across the room like he wishes he could be invisible. At the bar, he says something to the bar tender, then he’s slinging back shots at a pace that makes Victor’s head spin just thinking about it. “He doesn’t look too happy.”
“He didn’t even want to be here. I cornered him into taking me as a plus one.” Victor regrets that now. He really had supposed Yuuri was just shy. It hadn’t even occurred to him that he wouldn’t feel the same. Spending time with him felt so right.
“Yuuri!” Chris waves the man over. “It’s been far too long, but you should know better to abandon such a lovely man a party.”
Yuuri’s expression darkens further, if that’s even possible. “At least we can get underway now.” He says, swallowing down more liquor. Victor glances at the large trip monitor, startled to see that they haven’t left docking orbit yet. “I thought I was going to have take over the bridge and fly the damned thing myself.”
“What happened?” Chris asks, his tone suddenly all business.
Victor feels Yuuri’s eyes on him for a moment, and then Yuuri says, “I’ll tell you later.”
Victor is about to protest when Yuuri’s sister, Mari takes the stage at the far end of the room to announce their official first departure. “They used to crack a bottle of champagne over a ship, but I suppose we’ll just have to drink it instead. Cheers, everyone.” She finishes her speech with a funny smirk, and then waitstaff are gliding amongst the tables with flutes of bubbly wine for everyone. A quick word from Yuuri in a language Victor doesn’t know has their server rushing back again to leave a full bottle on their table.
“You’re kind of a VIP around here.” Victor observes tightly.
Yuuri shrugs and any response he might have is precluded when Mari and Phichit appear and pull him by both arms toward the stage where he frantically waves off the microphone. Then he and Phichit are collapsing into each other giggling and Yuuri pulls the whole mic stand over to slur, “Otabek, the might be a classy operation, but we should still be dancing. Enough smooth jazz.” The lights change, and an area on the side of the stage is lit, revealing Mari’s stoic guard. He is decidedly out of uniform and looking slick and fashionable in an intentionally understated kind of way. And then, Victor realizes the open area he’d walked across is meant to be a dance floor. A few couples at its edges have been swaying at its edges, but the music changes to something with a fierce, driving beat, Yuuri is moving, and Victor can think of nothing else until rush of lightheadedness finally reminds him to breathe.
Victor hands Makka’s leash to Chris and he is skirting the edge of the dance floor, drawn to Yuuri, but unwilling to interrupt, when strong hands grab his jacket and he’s yanked forward into the thick of things. Yuuri is talking, but once again, its in that language Victor can’t make out, and he’s terribly confused, because as cold and uninterested as he’s seemed tonight, now Yuuri is rubbing all over him like a possessive tom cat. Movement catches his attention. It’s Mari shaking her head and he realizes that she must be who Yuuri was speaking to.
“I told her she can put up whoever she wants. If I win this dance off, I’m keeping you.” Yuuri’s words are all tumbling into one another and his mouth brushes Victor’s ear.
“Okay.” Victor only realizes he’s spoken when he hears the word. Maybe this is what an out of body experience is like. He doesn’t have time to ponder it, tough. Yuuri leads him in a complex series of dance moves. Victor is agile enough to keep up, barely, and they spin through one song after another until Yuuri’s hands on him seem like the only thing holding him together.
Victor loses track of time entirely as one song blends into another and another and another, with Yuuri’s hands on him the only thing tethering him to the cruiser’s deck, artificial gravity be damned. He’s heaving and sweaty when they finally stop, but Yuuri is grinning, hardly winded. He’s looking more coherent than he had been earlier, and the crowd has dwindled significantly. “Do you want to stop?” Yuuri asks, and Victor can only nod, still breathless. Maaka bounds up to him, but Chris is nowhere to be seen.
Victor glances up at the screen and realizes most of the patrons must have spread throughout the various cabins to rest by now. The ship keeps station time, and by that metric, it is very late. Yuuri winces and rubs his temples. “I could use some water, I think.”
Once hydration for all of them, dog included, has been seen to, they walk through the ship’s atrium, passing only a few other guests. After some time, Victor feels himself swaying with exhaustion and sits casually against on the wide ledge before the ship’s view panel. Yuuri tucks himself up beside him, and then Makka jumps up, settling a short distance away.
Suddenly, Victor remembers what Yuuri said before they began dancing. “Did you win?” He asks.
“Huh?” Yuuri looks at him blankly.
“It’s fine.” Victor says, “I think you did.”
“Do I get a prize?” Yuuri asks.
“Of course, Yuuri.”
“What do I win?”
Victor bats his eyes and inclines his head just a little, smiling. Yuuri must understand that it’s an offer. His eyes widen and he gasps a surprised little “oh” before he closes the distance between them to brush a kiss against Victor’s mouth. Victor has been imagining this moment for weeks, and it is wonderful, though mostly he tastes alcohol and realizes that Yuuri did not burn off his inebriation, even with all the dancing. Victor sighs and asks where Yuuri’s room is.
Without question, Yuuri leads him all the way to the far side of the guest area, near the partition for crew quarters. Yuuri holds open the door to his cabin, though this is more of a state room, but Victor doesn’t go in. Instead, folds Yuuri into his arms. He wants to kiss him, but then Makka scoots herself between them, unwilling to be left out of the cuddle. Instead, their hands meet buried in her fur. “Sweet dreams, Yuuri.” Victor says.
Victor doesn’t sleep, though. He settles Makka in his own cabin. She’s an old dog even if she doesn’t show it much. He shouldn’t really be dragging her around this way. The bartender is new, clearly staff changed shifts sometime in the last hour our so, and there are only a few people, alone or in groups of two or three, dotted throughout the main space. Victor watches the room, not focused on anything in particular. Now that he’s not being actively distracted by Yuuri’s, well, everything, Victor recalls all of the strange little pieces of this excursion, the ones that don’t add up. Yuuri and his sister own a small coffee shop on a bland, mid-size station. Yuuri’s sister is launching this particular luxury cruise. He hadn’t thought much of that, figured she was some kind of manager or event planner. She certainly didn’t come across as Corps. Not really. There was the guard, but plenty of people hired staff for appearances if nothing else. On a station, transient labor tends to be cheap. Yet, Yuuri and Mari are certainly more than managers. They have some ownership of this event, though it’s fuzzy. He feels like half the public comments last night were made in code and the other half he’d been too infatuated to bother with. Chris is here. Yuuri’s best friend is one of the galaxy’s top information brokers. It’s a puzzle Victor can’t resist picking at, but no matter how he tries, nothing quite adds up. He’s almost convinced himself that Yuuri and his sister are Corps kids playing at small business ownership. Slumming? Some family right of passage? It almost makes sense, except for Chris.
He’s saved from driving himself mad when he sees Phichit Chulanont saunter into the room looking pleased. He walks up to Victor with a question quirking one perfectly sculpted brow.
“Yuuri got fantastically drunk.” Victor says, and senses both understanding and approval in Phichit’s answering laugh.
They chat about nothing of consequence until Victor makes a decision. “Could we do a little business?” He asks. Phichit nods again, slightly guarded now. “I really like Yuuri.” He says. “And I can’t get into something without knowing some things for my own reasons.”
Phichit looks at him, and for all his usual chatter, its clear he’s mastered silence. Victor knows it’s a trick of the information gathering trade, and he still has an urge to babble. No. Focus. His question is careful. “I need to know who runs Hasetsu Corp.” He slides over a truly obscene amount of cash, which Phichit does not move to take.
“That’s a matter of public record.”
“According to public record, it’s owned by a woman who does not exist.” Victor smiles and doubles the money he’d laid down, and when Phichit remains silent, doubles it again. “If you don’t know, I’m sure I can find someone who does.” Victor waits for Phichit to realize that whatever loyalty he has to Yuuri, Victor will unravel this soon enough anyhow.
“You’re serious about him.” Phichit says. It’s not a question.
“I’m not sure a corps heir could be serious about me.” Victor doesn’t elaborate, and he wonders what conclusions Phichit is drawing.
Phichit sweeps Victor’s money off the table neat as a magician and begins to fiddle with a stray menu. “I can’t wait for breakfast.” He says, then prattles on about hollandaise sauce with near pornographic fluency. Victor nods along, all the while riveted by the way Phichit’s fingers linger just a little too long on some letters on the sheet of paper. K. A. T. S. U. K. I. Shit. Only years of intense practice prevent him from giving away any reaction to finding out that the man he’s been courting is clearly a high ranking member of the most prominent crime syndicate of the last two centuries. Victor has his own notoriety of course, but the scope is vastly different. Phichit shrugs and stands up. “Good luck, Victor.” He sounds sincere.
The next morning, Yuuri does not come to breakfast. He does not answer when Victor knocks on his cabin door, and Victor is left to admire the improbably beautiful moons of the giant alone. He searches for Chris next, finally realizing that Chris must have thought he knew Yuuri’s identity this whole time. He’d said Yuuri is a fan – why hasn’t Yuuri said anything if he’s known Victor’s identity all the time.
Mari doesn’t appear to lead the following day’s tour. A charming brawny man with gorgeous hair takes on the task, only saying that unfortunately the woman is not available due to a family emergency. He still hasn’t seen Yuuri or Mari by the time he and Makka leave the ship.
In the days that follow, it becomes clear that the siblings have not returned to the station. His crew doesn’t share his concern, and he gets the sense that they all silently agree when Yuri, in his typical petulant fashion, says, “Good. We can leave now.”
“Not yet.” Victor says.
“I know you aren’t really waiting on parts.” Mila chimes in.
“I don’t know where he went.”
He doesn’t know which of them snitch on him, but he’s barely made it back to his quarters when he’s confronted by Yakov’s irate call commanding him to come home immediately. “I’m sorry, Yakov,” Victor says. He means it, too. The man is like a father to him. “This time I can’t do as you say.”
Victor disconnects the communication telling himself it’s for Yakov’s own good. He shouldn’t be getting so worked up at his age. Mila takes pity on him, but it doesn’t do much good. The Crispino twins confirm that Yuuri and Mari are in fact Katsuki heirs, but have no idea where such people might go when they do not wish to be found.
Finally, though it galls him to do so, he returns to Chulanont. “You told them I knew.”
Phichit shrugs, though he seems subdued. “Standing contract. I actually didn’t expect them to take off like that.”
“But you know where they went.” Victor says. It’s not a question.
“That’s not the sort of information you can afford.”
“Why don’t I decide that.” Victor names a sum high enough to buy a small, habitable star system.
Phichit actually laughs as if such an amount is not even worth noticing.
Though after a moment, Victor realizes something else. “I didn’t bid that information out of you on the cruise.” He taps his lip thoughtfully. “You wanted me to know.”
“I want my best friend to be happy.” Is all Phichit says, and Victor tucks that nugget of hope away in his heart to examine later.
“Then can’t you-“
“He won’t be happy if his sister has you killed.” Phichit dismissed Victor’s question before it’s even out and Victor’s offense must show on his face, because he makes a placating gesture.
“I’m not dead yet.” Victor says. “I thought my last appearance proved that well enough. I smiled so pretty, too.”
“Oh.” Victor doesn’t know what to make of the surprise in Phichit’s expression, but it’s gone so fast, he thinks he might have imagined it. After some internal calculation, Phichit sighs. “Don’t make me regret this.” And passes Victor a set of coordinates.
Yuuri can’t quite recall exactly what happened on the first half of the cruise, and Chris won’t give him any details. His date with Vitya went well, apparently. He remembered bits and pieces, but there’s no coherent picture. He remembers dancing, and the sparkle of Vitya’s startling blue eyes as he laughed as something ridiculous Yuuri had said. He has a vague recollection of a kiss, though he probably dreamed that later because he also recalls Vitya politely but pointedly avoiding joining him in his cabin for the night.
Whatever he’d done, it had gotten Vitya suspicious enough to go digging for information on him. He hasn’t bothered to answer any calls from Phichit. He’s too annoyed that his friend had actually told Vitya anything about him. Why do that and then turn around and let Mari know? She’d dragged Yuuri out of bed half dead from hangover had Chris fly them out on a re-engineered shuttle.
He licks his lips, though his mouth is parched too, and drops his head into his hands. Maybe it’s easier not to see him again. Vitya made it clear he’s not interested in Yuuri as more than a friend. Still, Yuuri thinks he’d like the to keep spending time together, even just casual chatting in the café. He startles as Chris drops a hand to his shoulder. “Something troubling you, Yuuri?”
“I really like him.” Yuuri says, defeated.
“Clearly. Are you going to contact him?”
Yuuri shakes his head. “He doesn’t feel the same.”
He expects sympathy, but instead, he gets only Chris’s disbelieving laughter.
“He doesn’t.” Yuuri insists.
“After the way you were dancing, I don’t know how even you can say that, Yuuri.”
“Yeah, well, I invited him back to my room and he definitely wasn’t interested, so . . .”
“I know Victor, Yuuri.” Chris says, “He’s more than interested.”
Yuuri shrugs. “Agree to disagree, I guess.”
Chris looks like he wants to say something else, but there’s only a short window to safely jump inside the Hasetsu system. Chris has to fly them in now or wait another thirty-nine hours for a clear shot.
Yuuri avoids talking to anyone after they land, choosing instead to pick up his small on-planet speed craft and drift alone over the mountains and jungles of his home planet. The humid air does something to settle him as he arrives at the large nexus of geothermal activity where his parents built their home. The house itself looks the same, but his mother’s dream is well underway, and a massive resort compound has been constructed nearby.
Instead of going home immediately, he lands the speeder on a pad by the main resort entrance. It’s an eerie place. Everything is shining and new, perfectly maintained, and completely empty. Some of his irritation with Mari eases. This is the dream they’ve been working towards, and its so close.
His father inherited the Katsuki syndicate when it was just one of many and transformed it into the largest, most complex operation the galaxy had ever seen. It had been enough until he married. Whoever’s dream it had been to start with, probably Hiroko’s, they both want so badly to operate this resort. Since Mari’s birth, the Katsuki elders have been moving to transition the Katsuki criminal empire into a legitimate Corp.
A connection between the Katsuki’s and Hasetsu Inc. before certain legal hurdles are cleared could destroy it all. Yuuri doesn’t blame Mari for running. It’s the right choice. He should know better than to get involved with people. He’s usually good at shielding his personal information, but Vitya’s questions were so normal, like they were just two people getting to know each other. There were few people in the galaxy who would understand. He liked to think Victor Nikiforov would, not that Yuuri could interest someone like him. He’s surprised to find that the thought of Victor doesn’t comfort him. Of course he still admires the man, but after the realness of Vitya in his space day after day, that old crush seems like such a distant thing.
Yuuri leaves the resort waiting for its patrons and goes home to greet his family. He delights in his mother’s cooking and takes as much of their good natured inquiry into his time away as he can before he retreats to the hot spring beside the residence’s small guest quarters.
“This system is a bitch to get into.” Yuri grouses, going over yet another iteration of the chart. Victor was honestly surprised Yuri even had a chart of Katsuki territory, but he wouldn’t question his luck. “I almost can’t believe that fat loser managed it.”
“Yuri.” Victor’s tone is uncharacteristically stern. He doesn’t want to hear Yuuri talked about like that.
“What?” Yuri says, “It’s a compliment. He blew up a bunch of moons and turned the debris into a gate. Anyone jumping in without good charts or with more than a couple small ships ends up pulverized and they have almost nothing to monitor.” The kid does sound impressed.
Victor thought he had it bad before, when all he knew how much he liked the way Yuuri looked and thought and spoke and danced. Finding out that the man has an uncanny genius for operations that threatens to match Victor’s own is too much. He wants to throw himself at Yuuri’s feet and give him everything.
“Even when you’re thinking about him, you’re obviously gross.” Yuri mutters. “Go be revolting in your own cabin.”
They’ve barely materialized in system when they’re tethered between two huge, heavily armed sentinel ships. Victor greets the boarding party with debonair grace befitting his reputation, though its no small feat considering the number of guns aimed at him. “Hello there.” He says, “I’m here to see Yuuri.”
After some tense negotiation, he leaves his ship and crew at the mercy of the Katuski forces with Georgi in charge. For all his dramatics, he’s the least likely to cause a major incident just because they’re trapped with a bunch of guns pointed at the ship.
His arms and legs are bound and his eyes are covered for the trip to the surface of one of the system’s planets and he distracts himself from the indignity of it all by thinking of BDSM cracks he can use when Yuuri greets him. He senses a shift in gravity and he hums to himself. He feels a little heavier than at earth standard. That would mean he’s likely on the second or third closest planet to the system’s star. The shuttle’s airlock is released and the rush of humid air lush with vegetal decomposition tells him it’s almost certainly Hasetsu B they’ve landed on.
He hears the squad escorting him snap to attention and the approach of footsteps. “Yuuri, if you wanted to tie me up and drag me to your-“ He stops as the blindfold and bindings are removed and he realizes that instead of Yuuri, an middle aged woman is smiling up at him, looking absolutely delighted.
“Hello,” He says, extending his hand, “So pleased to meet you. My name is Victor Nikiforov.”
The woman grips his hand in both of his, everything about her warm and comforting, “Vicchan!” She’s still beaming, “Please, we don’t need to be so formal here. My name is Hiroko. Do you have luggage?”
Victor glanced to the bindings laying at his feet and says, “I’m afraid I wasn’t able to bring anything along.”
“Well, you can have things sent down in a bit. Would you like something to eat? You’ve had a long journey, I’m sure.” She turns to the man beside Victor, “I can’t believe you treated a guest like that!”
“But ma’am, Mari made it very clear that-“ Another soldier jostles him, and he shuts his mouth, bowing. “Yes, Mrs. Katsuki.”
She leads Victor into a small dining area and proceeds to ask him about his tastes before shuffling off to the kitchen. As she does, a man of similar age, apparently her husband says, “who’s this, Hiroko?”
“It’s Vicchan, of course.” She says, as if that explains everything.
As if indeed it does, the man chuckles and says, “I bet Yuuri will be happy.” He introduces himself briefly, then turns back the sports event he seems to be watching.
Victor doesn’t know what to make of these people. Yakov and his crew are the closest thing he’s got to family and even they don’t treat him with this kind of warm familiarity. It’s odd, but nice. The food is wonderful, and before he’s taken more than a couple bites, Yuuri’s little AI dog greets him and circles, with longing eyes. “You don’t even eat food.” Victor chuckles, placing a kiss on the dog’s head. Vicchan gives up his begging soon enough and looks expectantly behind Victor. “Makka’s in cryo back on the ship, I’m afraid. Maybe you can play with her later.”
Everything is very pleasant, but Yuuri is nowhere to be found. There are signs of him everywhere, photos, tributes to his accomplishments,yet he makes no appearance until much later when Victor has been settled into a guest room and shown to a glorious natural spring behind the Katsuki home. He’s thinking he wouldn’t mind staying here if only for the food and the baths when Yuuri rushes in, sees him, and then leaves again without explanation.
Yuuri leans against the wall just outside the bath area. What is Vitya doing here? How did he find this place? Steeling himself, Yuuri returns to the bathing area. “Hi.” He says, wishing he could think of something to add that wouldn’t immediately reveal his confusion. Then Vitya stands to greet him and he can’t properly think of anything at all, because oh god, does he have to have the body of a Greek god?
The resultant stupid goes straight from Yuuri’s brain to his mouth and he says “How did you get here? Navigate in, I mean, even if you got a chart, your pilot would have to be pretty good.”
“And you think I wouldn’t have one? That I couldn’t have managed it myself?” Vitya’s face is serious now, and Yuuri gets the sense he’s offended.
Yuuri is saved when Mari storms in “You.” She points at Victor, “Just can’t keep out of places you don’t belong.”
“Occupational hazard, I’m afraid.” Vitya answers, stepping from the bath and drying himself with no concern for modesty at all.
“You should go.” Mari says. “I don’t think I need to bother with threats, you know your position well enough.”
“Please.” Vitya says. He sounds so sincere. “I’m not a threat to you. I just want to be with Yuuri. Please.”
“Isn’t all there is. The context isn’t the same at all.”
“What context could possibly matter? You’re Victor Nikiforov. You aren’t going to ruin this family. Even if your interest in Yuuri is sincere, that isn’t really relevant.”
Oh shit. Sure, he and Phichit had joked about it a couple times, but he certainly hadn’t thought Vitya actually could possibly be Victor Nikiforov. It does make some sense, though, that he’s here, that he seemed almost offended that Yuuri implied it might be difficult for him. Oh god, he probably offended Victor Nikiforov. Great.
Yuuri decides that whatever the truth is about Vitya-Victor and why he’s here, Yuuri can’t handle any more of this day. “I’m going to go.” He says, and backs out the door cautiously before bolting to his old room and locking the door.
Victor wants to follow Yuuri, to explain, but Mari blocks his path to the door. She’s still not budging. Yuuri seemed glad to see him, if surprised. Mari doesn’t get to make a decision about his presence here. “If Yuuri tells me to go, I’ll go.” He says.
“Yuuri doesn’t always put himself first when he should.” Mari replies, unimpressed. “But I’ll give you a chance to prove you deserve to be here.”
“What do you want me to do?” Victor asks.
“Let’s start with a question. Who is Victor Nikiforov? If everything you think I know about you is, as you say ‘context’, who are you?”
“Who do you need me to be?” Victor asks. He can play any role, any persona. His success has always depended on that ability. “What does Yuuri want?”
“Maybe you should ask him. But my question is about you.”
Victor is still mulling over this, growing increasingly concerned because transforming to be whatever a client or a mark wants to see, what the public might be dazzled by, has become such a habit, the only thing he can say for certain is that he’s an exceptional chameleon. He has a feeling that answer is not going to win him any favor.
With little else to do, he wanders the compound, chatting with the staff and enjoying the baths and the best food he’s had in his life. Everything is nearly perfect. Yuuri, though, Yuuri has a habit of being on his way out of rooms when Victor is coming in, of bathing at odd times. The door to Yuuri’s quarters and to his office on the first floor, are both constantly shut.
Victor gives up on orchestrating a chance encounter and starts seeking Yuuri out, of knocking and knocking, talking at him through closed doors. Does Yuuri want to join him for breakfast? No. In the springs? Yuuri has too much work to do. To go fetch Makka back from Victor’s ship? That gets a pause before Yuuri declines, telling Victor to go on his own.
“I’m not sure they’ll let me bring her down without your okay.” Victor says, honestly. He misses his dog.
Yuuri sighs. “Should you? If she’s stable in cryo, maybe you should just keep her that way until you go home.” It’s the longest conversation they’ve had in almost a week.
As soon as the sky begins to gray the next morning, Victor easily disables Yuuri’s door lock. Yuuri looks at him from the bed, bleary and startled. Victor suspects some other time he might find the sight of Yuuri freshly waking adorable, but at the moment, he’s too annoyed by Yuuri’s childish silence.
“We’re taking a walk.” He says.
“Okay.” It’s something of a shock that Yuuri doesn’t flat out refuse him. Victor thinks it might just be that Yuuri’s brain hasn’t totally come online for the morning, but he’ll take what he can get.
They stroll through an area he hasn’t been in before, a massive abandoned commercial resort. It doesn’t feel abandoned, though, no little signs of life left behind. “What is this place?”
“The main Hasetsu Springs resort.” Yuuri says. “Ready to open as soon as we can get a senate seal.”
Victor ponders this news, and suddenly many things make more sense to him. Hasetsu Inc. The Katsuki’s are rebranding their entire operation, the largest in organized crime, as a sealed Corp. In hospitality, of all things. After meeting Yuuri’s parents, he can see their love for it, but they have to know there’s no way the galactic senate will pardon all past crimes when all they might hope to get out of it is more hotels and cruise liners.
“We’re closer than you think.” Yuuri says, reading the doubt on Victor’s face. “I’ve been in negotiations with the registering council all week, convincing them to schedule a hearing.”
“You don’t want to be associated with me.” Victor realizes Yuuri’s avoidance may not be so personal after all. “Ties to the galaxy’s most wanted doesn’t help your case.”
Yuuri shrugs. “That’s Mari’s issue. She wants you gone, and she’s not wrong.” Then he brushes his hair back from his face, and meets Victors eyes steadily. “But to be honest, I was mostly scared you’d see all of my shortcomings. You’re you and I’m just me.”
“There’s nothing ‘just’ about you, Yuuri.” Victor says, “I’ve seen all those trophies your parents keep. You’re a strong operational leader. I want to stay. Please let me stay. I can help you, be a mentor, a friend, a lover, whatever you want.”
Yuuri’s lip twists in irritation and Victor wonders what misstep he just made. “I don’t want your pity.” Yuuri says. “It’s enough to know you don’t hate being around me, that you can be here and real. Please just stay yourself.”
Victor wants to scream. “I don’t know what that means. I like you, Yuuri. I want to stay here.” But it’s not the whole truth and Victor knows it. If Yuuri decided to keep him here, if he had to give up the work he spent his entire life training for, what might become of him? He doesn’t know that he can give it up.
“You don’t, not really.” Yuuri says, “Not all the time.”
“I like my work. I like doing what I’m good at.” He agrees, “Let me use it to help you.” And that’s the core of it, not one answer not a solid state, just a direction. All of his talents to become what others expected, to stand out and to be noticed, always to impress, to please some amorphous imagined audience represented by whatever and whoever was fascinating him him in the moment. Now, though, he has decided. Yuuri is his home, the one who matters.
“Okay.” Yuuri’s answer is gratifying, though Victor’s resolve is firm before he gets it. “You should probably-”
But Victor knows the next step, and he’s never been one to compromise when he’s right. Or when he’s not, if you ask Yakov. “Call Mari.”
This meeting is formal. Victor waits outside Mari’s office for long enough that he suspects just just making him sweat. Finally, finally he’s called in, and she looks up from the tablet in front of he. She does not greet him or offer him a seat. “So glad you could make the time.” He says, all charm, and sits anyhow.
“How can I help you, Victor?” Mari sounds unimpressed.
“I’m not leaving. I’m serious about Yuuri, and I can help.”
“But who is Victor Nikiforov?” She smiles, “You never found a good answer.”
“I don’t know.” He says, “But I’m sure if I stay with Yuuri, I can find out.”
“Fine.” Mari smiles like he’s passed some test she didn’t expect him to. “I could use your skills. Yuuri’s preparing a meeting with a few key individuals before the vote. Yuuri is a brilliant strategist, but he’s no politician. Figure out how to win them over.”
Victor has been thinking about this already, what the Katsukis will need to actually get their seal. “I need access to my ship’s secure communication channels.”
“Yakov!” Victor smiled into the screen hoping he could project enough brightness to soften Yakov’s scowl, not that he’d ever managed it before. “I need-”
“Don’t you dare ask me for anything!” Yakov screamed. “You pulled that ridiculous stunt and now I hear you’re chasing some boy you’re courting halfway across the galaxy. I could almost forgive you if you hadn’t taken Yuri with you.”
“Yakov, you worry too much. Yuri is fine!”
“I know your definition of fine, Victor. You might be good, but you’re not equipped to look after anyone but yourself.” That’s not quite fair, Victor thinks, but saying so won’t gain him anything.
“Yakov, I need to talk to Lilia.” The name barely makes it past Victor’s lips when the connection closes without warning. It stings that Yakov, who had practically raised him, doesn’t trust him enough to even continue the discussion. Victor tries to convince himself that it’s just pain, because whatever was between Yakov and Lilia years ago, enough of it remains to keep the wound of their separation from healing. Yakov is stronger than that though, works with Lilia to train both of their people often enough, and Victor has found it harder and harder to lie to himself lately.
Lilia Baranovskaya commands galactic enforcement’s special operations units. Yakov still hasn’t forgiven her for taking the job, but he thinks he understands now. Lilia is what Victor always thought he might become. A weapon, and paragon of efficacy. She honed her skill to perfection and then taught others. She taught him, long ago. The Galactics had offered her the ideal set up to use her skills to the utmost, and even what she had with Yakov could not hold her back from embracing it. Victor shudders. She’s never liked him much. He has always believed that’s because they’re too similar. Maybe it’s because she has always seen they aren’t. Victor knows now that he is weak in the face of love. He’d give up everything if Yuuri asked him to.
It takes him two weeks to prepare what he needs, though most of that time is spent waiting. He’s brought Makka down in the meantime. She’s never been happier. She has space to roam and Vicchan to play with. The Katsukis adore her, even Mari. He can’t bring himself to feel jealous when she starts sleeping in Yuuri’s room as often as his own. Not jealous of Yuuri, anyhow. He’d rather be the one curled up against Yuuri all night.
When it’s time to go, he leaves Makka on Hasetsu B. She’ll be happy and safe here. He sends his ship and his crew back to Yakov and takes an modest cruiser into the galactic center to fulfill Mari’s second task.
Yuuri paces his office, Vicchan trotting at his heels. Makka watches them both from where she lays by the window, her tail flopping occasionally. The past two weeks have been like a dream. Whatever he’d expected Victor Nikiforov to be, the man is just Vitya, without the odd edge to his good nature now that he’s not protecting his true identity. The past weeks, they’d shared stories, both important and trivial, laughed and drank and eaten together.
Victor had been so strange today, though. Every word, every look is full of something that Yuuri can’t help thinking feels an awful lot like good-bye. He’s been trying to overcome the wall put there by his anxiety after that rejection during the cruise and failing miserably. He has the feeling he won’t get another chance.
It’s late, and Victor usually goes to bed early so Yuuri is surprised to see his light on when he approaches the door. He knocks quietly, a warning rather than a request. Yuuri slides the door open and then shuts it behind him. Victor is laying on the bed, holding a book, blankets tucked up halfway around his bare, flawless chest. He grins wide at Yuuri and then makes space for him, giving a questioning look only when he hears a quiet whine from Makka outside the door.
Yuuri feels his cheeks heat and he give a nervous smile. It’s now or never, so he leans forward and kisses Victor soundly. It’s not the storybook ending Yuuri thought it would be. It’s an ordinary kiss, and what follows is, in the physical sense, ordinary too. He can sense the edges of something amazing, though, and he knows that with a little time to learn each other’s rhythms they’ll find it. They don’t talk that night, though, and when he wakes, sated and warm, he has forgotten about the sense of foreboding that had led him here.
It’s not until Victor says “take care of Makka for me” that Yuuri realizes Victor truly plans to leave.
“You’re going?” Yuuri asks.
“I’ll come back.” Victor says. “I’ll get you what you need for your meeting with the council.”
He does it, too. The travel takes time, but Victor is in and out of the capital in half a day, information the only thing he takes with him on the way out. Yuuri scans the news constantly, despite the alerts he has set for himself, but there’s not a whisper of Victor Nikiforov.
Yuuri continues preparations for the pre-vote sessions, practicing all the reasons the Hasetsu Corp deserves a seal. That far from rewarding years of lawlessness, the senate will be proving the value of overcoming such things. He’s a terrible politician, and even taking into account all the advice he’s gotten from Victor and from Mari, he’s sure his chances are slim.
“Don’t you want to do this?” He asks Mari for the millionth time. “You’re the active head of the family now. Shouldn’t it be you.”
“We’ve been over this, Yuuri.” She says, shaking her head. “I’ve done too much too deserve punishment. No senator is going to grant a seal to me.”
“I’m just as much a Katsuki as you are.” Yuuri answers, trying not to be offended.
“But you work behind the scenes. You organize and build and plan. And you’re young enough that you’ve only been part of operations aimed at legitimizing us or protecting our lawful property. When I was younger, it was still too far off.”
He doesn’t bring it up again until Victor returns, bearing news he gleaned going over recorded meetings and notes kept by all of the main players in the coming vote for Hasetsu’s seal. The Galactic government does not, in principle have a problem with granting the Katsukis a seal under the guise of Hasetsu Corp, but they won’t approve a hospitality company.
They want the power and skill of the Katsuki empire at the beck and call of galactic enforcement. Worse, Lilia Baranovskaya’s people have sorted through the maze of asset statements and operations reports submitted for review and traced most of the Katsuki’s resources well enough to cut them off.
Yuuri pores over everything, again and again, questioning Victor about the details until he’s sure about one thing. There’s no walking away from this deal. The only bargaining power he has is that he can fight every inch of the way, or go willingly. It’s an easy decision to make. He leaves the bed, Victor’s bed, though it has become theirs quickly these past days. Victor is returning from the shower when Yuuri says, “Victor. We need to talk.”
Victor feels the words like a punch to the gut. The words, the tone. Victor has heard “it’s over” enough times in his life to know what is coming next. Yuuri lays out his plans to offer himself up in exchange for the seal his family so desperately wants. He’ll confess to being the architect behind every crime even vaguely associated with the name Katsuki for the past ten years if they’ll let Hasetsu Inc. be what his parents have always dreamed. There are enough resources he has stashed away for himself over the years, if they want operatives, he can give them that.
“No.” Victor says, “Yuuri, we’re just getting started. Don’t you want to see what we can do together?”
Yuuri’s eyes look so sad as he says. “It can’t happen, Victor. But I’ll always be watching to see what you do next.” And Victor finds he’s already made his decision as well.
“You’ll have better chances offering them a bigger fish.” Victor counters. “I’ll do it.” If it means Yuuri can be free, can live in peace with his family, welcoming guests to that lovely planet of theirs, he’ll give up everything. “You have your whole family, so many people who love you. I’ve just got Makka, and I know she’s in good hands.” He looks to the high backed chair where the dogs, one flesh and one synthetic, are curled around each other. “If we can’t be together, I’ll take the fall.”
They come to no agreement. Yuuri wants to decide later, and Victor nods but then fires off a message through official channels to the entire senate and Lilia Baranovskaya from Yuuri’s account. Yuuri catches wind of the news almost immediately, of course. Victor wishes they could enjoy the last few days they’ll have together, but Yuuri can’t put things aside the way that Victor can.
Yuuri doesn’t speak to Victor once, even when they land their vessel in the capital. Victor knows he will have time in a cell somewhere to indulge the pain of that. In the meantime, he’s been watching, memorizing every expression and gesture, every turn of phrase. The gentleness that colors Yuuri’s voice when he says Victor’s name, even now.
“Victor. It’s time.” Yuuri says, voice subdued, but somehow still full of restrained fury.
Victor presents himself without hesitation. “I have the best dream that starts this way.” He quips as Yuuri fastens bindings on his forearms and ankles. Yuuri doesn’t say anything, though his hands, gentle until now, grip his flesh tighter in warning.
There’s no contingent of enforcers ready to whisk Victor off to prison. No, the person who opens the door is a smiling Phichit Chulanont in a business suit, extending a hand to Yuuri as a wary guard keeps a gun trained on Victor. “Phichit Chulanont.” He introduces him. “I’m interning with Ms. Baranovskaya. She’ll see you in her office.”
Victor thinks turning himself in might be worth it, just to see Yuuri operate. He’s got the same unassuming style, like someone completely ordinary, but he introduces himself flawlessly. They aren’t supposed to be seeing Lilia though. Not before the council meeting. They’re waiting in the lobby outside Lilia’s door when Phichit manages to catch Victor’s attention long enough to say quietly, “That favor you owe me? Follow Yuuri’s lead today and we’ll call it good.”
No. Victor’s stomach twists. What is Yuuri planning? Lilia is a more than formidable opponent. Precisely at the moment the wall clock displays the changing hour, Lilia’s door opens. “Come in, Katsuki.” Yuuri does and Victor is left to fret outside the door, desperately trying to catch Phichit’s eye without success.
The lack of information is worse than the physical restraints. Yuuri has kept him in the dark intentionally, to prevent him from acting. And to do it, he risked going up against Lilia without knowing nearly as much about her as he should.
It’s a full hour later when Yuuri leaves Lilia’s office, expression grim. There’s time enough for a quick break, and they are heading to the council chamber for the meeting that will decide their fate. Victor, for his part, is led into Lilia’s office where she offers him a seat, then links his bindings to it so that he cannot move. Without speaking she turns up the volume on his monitor, and it’s not long before he understands. The meeting room is bugged.
“Mr. Katsuki,” Senator Manorian begins, “I believe we can keep this brief. You promised to turn in Nikiforov, and yet he is not with you. If you are not prepared to fulfill your end of the bargain, we cannot offer you our support in the vote on your family’s Corps seal.”
Victor glances to Lilia, but she’s looking over some paperwork, apparently unconcerned with the proceedings.
“That bargain,” Yuuri says calmly, “Was not offered by me. Victor Nikiforov hacked my private communications system and sent it out himself. So I encourage you to ask yourselves: If Victor Nikiforov wants to be in your custody, is that really where you want him?”
“I’m listening.” The senator says.
“Nikiforov is currently being held in the custody of Lilia Baranovskaya.” Yuuri continues, “Who I met with earlier today.”
“She is confident, as I’m sure are you, in her ability to control Nikiforov. However, she’s less inclined to believe he wouldn’t find a way to manipulate your prison system from the inside. In fact, she and I have, for different reasons, followed Victor Nikiforov’s career closely for a long time. We discussed our views on him at length and found we are in agreement on the trajectory. The escalation in grandiosity without regard to a job’s risk and reward indicates something we’ve always suspected. Nikiforov is more interested in maintaining an image than he is in a life of crime, and that he is growing increasingly bored with the lack of challenge his work presents.
“Though you may be familiar with my family, you likely have not known me by name until Nikiforov forced my hand. That’s no accident. I prefer to work behind the scenes, but my body of work speaks for itself. You’ve had sufficient time to review that information. If you want to keep Nikiforov out of your hair, you need a trained operative on him at all times. Do you really want to turn one of your best assets into a babysitter? It would be more useful to keep him on a leash, don’t you think?” Yuuri’s words were a question, but his tone dipped at the end. Victor had taught him that trick to make whoever was listening unconsciously inclined to agree with you. Yuuri’s success with that technique hadn’t gone well in practice, but today it’s flawless.
After a few moments of silence, Yuuri went on. “I propose that I offer my services on a contract basis. There are many places where a galactic enforcement agent cannot go that an independent operative can. In addition, I will take Nikiforov off your hands and keep him out of any trouble that doesn’t benefit my assigned operations.” Victor is fighting with every ounce of his training to maintain a neutral expression. Lilia’s phone is already ringing.
“Are you watching this, Director?” Manorian asks without preamble. When Lilia doesn’t dignify the inane question with a response, he continues “Katsuki’s offer is interesting. Can he do it?”
“I’ve consulted with his primary instructor regarding his training and experience.” Lilia drawled, “He’s adequate.”
Victor hopes the senator knows that from Lilia “adequate” is high praise indeed. The meeting ends with a promise of consideration and nothing more. Victor is installed in a cell connected directly to Lilia’s office and made to wait days, with no word at all. He sees Lilia once, but she tells him nothing, seems far too pleased by his suffering.
Victor hasn’t allowed himself to contemplate escape plans while Yuuri’s offer is on the table. He’s thinking it might be time to start when he’s brought to the same office chair as before. This time, there’s no surveillance, just a media feed showing the full senate assembly. He doesn’t take his eyes off Yuuri, sitting in the back of the general audience area. No specifics are mentioned. This is a public vote, after all. Instead, Manorian presents a thick dossier and announces a vote on sealing Hasetsu Corp, a proposed luxury hospitality newcomer. Victor holds his breath while the votes are cast and counted. Yes. It’s a Yes!
There’s a polite round of applause and Yuuri’s parents shuffle up from somewhere off camera to sign the documents. When Victor turns his attention back to the audience, Yuuri is gone. Phichit makes an appearance not long after, to escort Victor to Yuuri’s ship. Lilia gives him a grim smile as her sole good-bye.
He’s led out to a ship much nicer than the one they’d come here in. It’s top of the line, built for stealth and speed. Yuuri unfastens Victor’s bonds as soon as he’s on board. “Letting me loose so easily, Yuuri?” Victor teases?
“Never.” Yuuri’s voice is dark with promise and he pointedly picks up the bindings and tosses them into his personal quarters, “Those are definitely going back on later. You can show me how you’d get out of them.”
“You have a lot of faith in me.” Victor says. “I don’t know if I can, these are a new design, one I’m guessing Lilia commissioned with me in mind.”
“Oh.” Yuuri sounds entirely too innocent as shrugs and says, “Then I suppose you’ll spend the night tied up in my bedroom.”
Victor shivers. “You’re not giving me a great deal of motivation to escape.”
Yuuri laughs. It’s the best sound Victor has heard in days. “Really?” He sounds a bit awe struck and surprised. “I’m sure I’ll think of something.” He winks, mirroring what Victor thinks of as his own signature expression.
“Since Hasetsu Corp is going need all its resources, I’ve enlisted some outside help.” Yuuri says, leading Victor tot heart of the ship. Victor sees what he means. Yuri is sitting on the bridge engaged in shockingly amiable conversation with Mari’s stoic guard, Otabek.
Victor’s heart is full. His face hurts from smiling so wide. It’s a problem he’s only ever had around Yuuri, one he’s more than willing to put up with. “Alright, Yurio.” Yuuri says, and surprisingly, Yuri doesn’t eviscerate him for the use of a nickname, either. “We’re on a tight schedule. Take us out.”
“A job already?” Victor asks, though he wouldn’t expect less from Lilia.
“You’ll never guess where.” Yuuri grins, leaning into Victor’s waiting embrace.
“Oh?” Victor asks.
“We’re going to a coffee conference.” Yuuri says. When Yuri has them in a steady state, Yuuri pulls Victor over to a work table with an espresso machine on it and begins the ritual Victor has seen so many times before. “I know you missed my cosmic lattes, Vitya.” With a flourish, Yuuri hands him a mug, a portrait of Makka and Vicchan side by side in the foam. “The doggos are home with Mom and Dad and Mari. They send their love.”
Victor takes a sip and actually moans in pleasure. “I really did. Not as much as I missed you.”
“I missed you, too.” Yuuri says quietly. He doesn’t let go of Victors hand for a long time as they hurtle past the dazzling stars and into the future together.