Victor Nikiforov was dying.
It might’ve been sad if it wasn’t so ironic. The world had fallen apart over the years, cities crumbling, deserted, left to rot as mother nature took over with the lack of maintenance. Monsters filled the world now, leading people to hide, to look for their own safety, and scavenge the land for anything they could possibly use to keep themselves alive. And yet with all those dangers surrounding him, Victor was dying from something else.
It all began with a vaccine. It was supposed to be a medical breakthrough. A cure for Hanahaki, a way to fight an illness brought on by grief without having to lose your emotions in the process. To cure Hanahaki would mean no more pointless death. It would mean being able to mourn the loss of the ones you love without fear of contracting something that could kill you. It was a wonderful idea. When the ones we love died, it would no longer cause a domino chain of more meaningless loss.
There of course, was a natural way to recover from Hanahaki. Should you get over your grief, find a way to move on, the flowers would wither, the roots in your lungs would die. You would be free. The only problem was that Hanahaki only appeared in cases of intense emotion, those so lost to their grief, they couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. And those who developed the disease often couldn’t find their way out of the darkness in time. In fact, some accepted their impending death as a mercy. Creating a vaccine to prevent it in the first place seemed to be the only logical step in preventing this horrible cycle.
The cure had worked. Those who had the disease, seemed to get better without losing their feelings. They kept grieving, nothing about them changed. They simply ceased coughing up the flowers in their lungs. They were free from the beautiful plague that was a life-threatening grief. When it became clear that this cure was working, the development continued, and eventually a vaccine was implemented to the world at large. A simple needle in the arm, and all fears of Hanahaki disease ever plaguing you disappeared. People rushed to the opportunity.
Victor was not one of them. He wasn’t sure why he didn’t get the shot. It would grant him peace of mind to know he’d never have to deal with that pain, but Victor never felt the pull to be fixed. He didn’t believe he’d ever grieve so intensely that Hanahaki would consume him. And if by some terrible twist of fate, he did end up contracting the disease, he knew that they could still cure it. That much had been proven. So, what was the rush?
It took a month for the results of the vaccine to come through. The creators had insisted they’d tested it before implementing it to the world, but the results had still been disastrous. While a third of those vaccinated remained healthy, the rest had fallen ill over time. The illness was unlike anything the medical professionals had seen before. The vaccine was quickly shelved, but the damage had been done. People had already rushed to be cured of something they didn’t have, to prevent themselves dying from a disease they may never contract. It was fear, a fear that everyone in the world shared. Fear of the unknown, fear of death.
But the miracle fix had led to illness throughout the world with no known cure. And even those who had taken the vaccine and seemed fine were slowly developing the same symptoms. It seemed most of the world was going to succumb to this new sickness, one that they had no understanding of, one they were running out of time to fix. It would be nice to say things got better, people found a way to fix it, and everyone survived. Technically, they did survive. It was just that they became… something else.
It was as though the vaccine had taken the seeds of Hanahaki, the potential for it to sprout and mutated it. The flowers within them grew out of control, fusing with their bodies until they became some strange amalgamation of flowers, branches, leaves, and flesh. They weren’t themselves anymore. The intensity of their emotions seemed to amplify with their changes, bringing forth all the worst feelings from within; sadness, fear, rage.
They were dangerous. And soon enough, they were outnumbering those who weren’t sick and picking them off. The world didn’t belong to people anymore. It belonged to the Hanahaki. Those who hadn’t taken the vaccine went into hiding, arming themselves, defending themselves. But the determination to survive left people just as dangerous as those who had roots growing within them. Every venture beyond the safe havens they’d created for themselves could be their last, whether the Hanahaki got to them, or other people determined to survive.
Victor hadn’t been hunted down by anyone, and he hadn’t been cornered by the Hanahaki. But still, he was dying. That much, he couldn’t deny. The seeds inside him, the potential for intense grief, they had begun to sprout. Everything had been fine. He had survived the first waves of fear, taken his family and helped them to hide. They had all managed to make it through. Even sweet little Makkachin had been with him, stayed safe with him. She learned quickly, knowing to stay quiet when she needed to, and alerting Victor when danger was near. Victor quickly fell into a feeling of safety, knowing that his family was alright.
Victor took it on himself to care for them, volunteering to search for food and other supplies to keep them going. He wasn’t willing to watch his family starve, but he wasn’t willing to send them out into danger for supplies, either. Not when he knew there were others desperate for the means of survival, others who weren’t kind, who would do anything for whatever they could get. It would be safest for them to stay in hiding while Victor got supplies.
That’s what he’d thought. He hadn’t expected to come back to their shelter one day and find the remains of his family. The loss had been so sudden, so unexpected, the breath left his lungs as he was struck by the scene, and the seeds began to grow. People had yet to claim Victor’s life, and the vaccine had never entered his bloodstream. And yet, Victor was still destined to die. One way or another, Hanahaki was going to destroy him.
Victor didn’t stay in his shelter. The reminder of the loss wasn’t helping. If there was any hope for him to recover from the grief, to survive, he knew he couldn’t stay there. Instead, he packed his things, and went on his way with Makkachin in tow. They never stayed anywhere for long. No places seemed to hold the same sense of safety that his previous home had. Everywhere he found that could be used as sanctuary needed work. There were too many ways for people to find them, or for the Hanahaki to get in. It simply wasn’t worth the risk of losing Makkachin, too. That was all he had to live for now; keeping Makkachin alive.
Victor was running out of supplies fast. He’d walked the streets with his faithful poodle by his side, but everywhere seemed to be cleaned out. Supplies were running dry, and Victor wasn’t sure how long they were going to last at the rate they were going. Victor searched every shop he came across. Maybe he could find food. Maybe he could find blankets. If he could, he’d be able to make Makkachin more comfortable. It was as he was trailing through yet another shop, coming up short that Victor’s life took yet another turn.
It had become common to avoid people. They were dangerous. The need to survive made people bloodthirsty. Victor did his best to stay to himself, to keep away from people and avoid confrontation, but he wasn’t prepared for it this time. The stranger stared at him, eyes wide like a deer caught in headlights. Victor had never seen him before, never seen anyone in that area before. He thought it was a safe place, but suddenly there was a threat, someone who could hurt him, hurt Makkachin. The stranger’s dark hair fell in soft brown eyes framed by blue glasses. In his hand was a tin, one he seemed to have picked from a shelf nearby, identical to all the others. Victor had thought the shop was picked clean, but clearly not.
Victor stepped ahead of Makkachin, holding his hands out in surrender, “We didn’t know anyone else was here. We’ll leave.”
The stranger said nothing, simply watching them. At the very least, he didn’t seem to be ready to pull out a weapon, though his eyes were trained on Makkachin, and it sent a chill down Victor’s spine. What was he thinking? Why was he staring at Makkachin? There were people who would do just about anything to survive, and that thought didn’t sit right for Victor. His thoughts turned dark, the thoughts of what could happen to his beloved poodle if he wasn’t careful. He’d be alone. Completely alone in a world filled with darkness. Makkachin was all he had left, and if he lost her, would there actually be a reason to keep fighting at all?
It was as that thought spun through his head that the pain filled Victor’s lungs, the vines growing within tightening around his organs, making it harder to breathe. Victor doubled over, falling to his knees and clutching his chest as his body forced him to cough, trying to remove the obstruction from his throat. Victor could feel himself choking. It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last, but the timing was awful. He could do nothing as he gagged, rose petals the shade of red wine falling from his lips. Tears stung at his eyes as his body was wracked with the pain of his grief, the petals filling his mouth and falling to the ground beneath him.
Victor’s silver hair flowed like a waterfall, obscuring the strangers view of his plight, but the damage was done. He was vulnerable. There was no possibility of defending himself in his current state. Makkachin’s gentle paws padded forward until she was standing in front of him, shielding Victor from the stranger, but she stayed quiet. So much time spent hiding in silence had taught her not to make a sound, even in the most desperate of moments, but fear sparked through Victor.
The sound of footsteps echoed through the building, moving closer and closer, causing the pit in Victor’s stomach to grow deeper with each step. Victor felt fingers brush his hair behind his ear, looking up to see the stranger watching him closely, voice gentle like the wind, “You’re grieving…”
Tears slipped down Victor’s cheeks, the pain still there like thorns in his lungs, a new wave of flowers threatening to spill forward. If it wasn’t for Makkachin, he would’ve given in right then and there, would’ve welcomed the sweet embrace of death. Maybe he’d be able to see his family again if he did. Maybe he’d find himself in a better world than the one he’d been stranded in. But Makkachin was there. She was alive and well, and she relied on Victor. He couldn’t let anything happen to her.
“Please… just let us go,” Victor couldn’t contain it anymore, the petals tickling at his throat, bringing forth another wave of coughs. More flowers spilled from Victor’s lips, a small mountain of petals collecting on the floor beneath him. It was as the new wave shot pain through his body that Victor felt a delicate hand brush along his back, supporting him in what little way they could. Victor was beyond help, and he knew it.
Victor plucked more petals from his mouth, groaning softly, breath coming in short pants. This time they were smaller; pink begonias. The man at his side frowned, tilting his head to the side as he watched Victor, “I’m not gonna hurt you,” Though it was difficult to believe in a world so full of pain, Victor watched as Makkachin sniffed at the stranger; curious, not cautious. She didn’t seem to see any danger in him. Victor felt those gentle fingers moving into his hair again, dragging waves of silver from Victor’s face and after so much time alone, he couldn’t deny how wonderful it felt, “I’m Yuuri. What’s your name?”
Victor remained uncertain, though he leaned into the touch on his scalp, the gentle movement of those fingers through his hair. Makkachin settled at Yuuri’s side, resting a paw on his leg. Victor watched as Yuuri’s frown melted into a smile, his free hand reaching out, allowing Makkachin a moment to sniff his skin before he was rubbing gently behind her ears. People weren’t nice to dogs anymore. Not when they had better use for them. Victor’s uncertainty remained, but the fear began to wane. He allowed himself the luxury of a few more coughs, getting the last of the petals out of his throat, “Victor. I’m Victor.”
“Do you have anyone waiting for you, Victor?” It was a question that served to inject the fear back into Victor’s system, but Yuuri seemed to realise his mistake immediately, pulling his hand away from Victor’s hair and shaking his head quickly, “No, no! I just meant… you’re grieving. You shouldn’t be walking around out in the open in your condition. Is anyone taking care of you?”
Victor looked away, that grief coming back in waves, the vines tightening in his chest. People said grief hurt, but Victor never expected it to be so tangible. His whole body was literally filled with knots. Yuuri’s questions only served as a reminder. Not only was his family gone, he was all alone. He didn’t have anyone left in the world to turn to. No one but Makkachin. And Makkachin relied on him more than Victor relied on her. But she was the only thing he had left, his only reason to keep fighting. The tears pooled in Victor’s eyes as he thought of his family, looking back into Yuuri’s soft gaze with a sad smile, “It’s just me and Makkachin.”
Maybe he shouldn’t have been honest. But Victor didn’t believe Yuuri would hurt Makkachin, and if he died then and there, it would be fine so long as she was safe. But he didn’t. Yuuri pulled Makkachin into his lap, his arms wrapped around her in a gentle hug as he watched Victor. He couldn’t possibly begin to figure out what was going through Yuuri’s head at that moment, certainly not expecting the response he received, “Come with me. I have enough supplies to take care of you both. It’s not safe around here.”
Victor frowned. It didn’t make any sense. People weren’t kind anymore. They protected themselves, and the groups they’d formed. They didn’t take people in anymore. Those days were behind them. Victor especially had never had any hopes of finding someone willing to shelter him. He was a marked man. His days were numbered, and everyone who saw him the way Yuuri just had would know that. He wasn’t just a pointless waste of supplies. He was a liability. Victor watched Makkachin, seeing the way she settled happily in Yuuri’s arms, “Why… why are you being so nice to me?”
“Because,” Yuuri smiled, his focus more on Makkachin than Victor, “I know what it’s like to lose someone you care about.”
Yuuri’s shelter was surprisingly close to the street they’d met on. The area was relatively silent, a ghost town. Victor was beginning to wonder if Yuuri was serious about it being dangerous. It was one of the quieter areas he’d seen in a long time. Yuuri was right, though. Of course he was. There was no where truly safe anymore, and if they’d run into each other, chances were high that someone else would stroll through eventually. It was better to lay low and remain unseen.
As it turned out, Yuuri was all about security. He had many systems built up around his shelter to stop anyone coming in, to warn him of potential dangers. Yuuri would know if anyone had found his base and would be gone long before they knew anyone had ever been there. The shelter itself was surprisingly comfortable. A building that from the outside looked completely run down, but there was a bed, a fireplace, the rooms were clean. If it wasn’t for the lack of electricity and the impending doom of the outside world, it would’ve felt… normal.
Victor dropped his backpack to the ground as he made his way inside, looking around the room in awe. He’d never had a space that felt so much like a home since this all began. Victor hadn’t even been sure comfortable spaces like that existed anymore. He walked slowly through the room, unsure of what to do with himself. Victor still had no idea why he was being invited into this safe space, but he felt like he had to do something to repay Yuuri. It was just that he couldn’t figure out what it was he could do.
Looking back, he saw Yuuri watching him curiously, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth, “It’s not much, but it’s home. You um, you can have the bed if you like. I’ll take the couch.”
“What? No, you’ve already done so much for me,” Victor looked around as if hoping an answer would reveal itself to him, but nothing came, “How can I repay you?”
“There’s… only one thing I want,” Yuuri admitted, averting his gaze as a blush rose to his cheeks.
“What is it?”
“Let me spend time with your dog…? I won’t take her from you! I just… want to help take care of her…”
Of all the conditions to a place of safety, that was the last thing Victor had expected, but it was an easy enough thing to deliver. Makkachin was a loving dog, and she already seemed to have warmed up to Yuuri. Victor doubted he’d be able to say no even if he wanted to. It wasn’t his choice, it was hers, and Yuuri was already giving them space, somewhere warm, food. This was the least he could do.
Victor smiled as he looked down at Makkachin, watching as she sniffed at the floor, her tail wagging rapidly as she explored the new space she’d been exposed to, “She really likes it when you rub along the bridge of her nose. And she doesn’t like sleeping alone.”
Yuuri stared at Victor, uncertainty in those dark eyes, but a moment later, he was smiling, bright and wonderful. He stepped closer to Makkachin, kneeling beside her and carefully running a finger along the bridge of her nose like Victor said. Sure enough, she was shifting closer, eyes closing as her tongue lolled to the side of her mouth, “What a good girl, keeping her dad safe all this time.”
There was a pang of sadness in Victor’s heart as he watched them. If Makkachin had stayed home with his family, would they have survived? Was bringing her with him selfish? Or would she have been killed along with the rest of them? It all just kept coming back to that same painful thought; it should’ve been him.
Victor felt that tickle in his throat again, biting his lip, trying to stop himself from coughing. As long as he was there, Victor knew he was a danger to Yuuri. He was loud. When the coughing started, he couldn’t stop it, and if he wasn’t careful, he could alert dangers to their presence. Victor would do everything he could to stop himself. No one else could die because of him.
But as his thoughts went to death, they went to his family, to the loss, to the pain, and every time they did, Victor could feel the Hanahaki’s hold on his body. He cleared his throat, trying to stop the threat of another coughing fit, but it was right there, brimming at the surface. He didn’t know how long he could hold it off for.
Yuuri seemed to notice his plight, getting to his feet and hesitantly stepping closer, “Who was it…?”
“What?” Victor frowned.
“You’re grieving. Who died?” Yuuri tilted his head to the side, voice soft, filled with care.
Victor didn’t deserve such kindness. He looked away, letting out a shaky breath as he tried to control his emotions, “Telling you that isn’t part of the conditions, right?”
Yuuri’s gentle footsteps moved through the room, closer and closer until he was standing in front of Victor, rubbing a hand against his own arm as he spoke, “You don’t have to tell me. But if you don’t want to die, you should try to heal. Best way to do that is to talk about it.”
“Would it really matter?” It was a thought that everyone with this disease was plagued by. Would it matter if they disappeared? The grief was so strong, it outweighed the desire to survive.
Yuuri reached out, his hand brushing Victor’s for barely a moment before he pulled away, “Makkachin needs you. So yes, it would matter.” That was really the only reason Victor hadn’t given up altogether. He watched Yuuri curiously, seeing the hint of a sad smile, “Besides, don’t you think there’s been enough pain?”
Though Yuuri seemed to let the conversation drop, his words were embedded in Victor’s mind. The world they lived in was full of pain. Everywhere they went, they were reminded of the past, of the mistakes that were made and the lives that were lost. The world was in ruins, and people everywhere were suffering. Yuuri was right. The world had suffered enough pain, but it was difficult for Victor to believe his death would cause much unhappiness. There was only Makkachin left to mourn his loss, and now that Yuuri had appeared, there was someone else who could take care of her. But it wasn’t the kind of thinking Victor liked to humour. When he let the darker thoughts in, that was when the Hanahaki struck.
Victor watched as Yuuri looked through the kitchen cupboards, dragging out random ingredients and placing them on the counter, “What are you doing…?”
The answer was obvious, but still felt like a mystery. Everyone had to be careful, to ration their supplies for as long as they possibly could. But there was Yuuri with fresh ingredients, and a lot of it. Yuuri really was filled with surprises. Looking up from the bread loaf he’d placed on the counter, Yuuri offered him a small smile, “When was the last time you had a cooked meal that didn’t come from a can?”
Victor bit his lip, looking away, “Uh, I don’t know. I can’t remember.”
“Exactly. Get some rest. You can have the couch or the bed, it’s up to you.”
There were a lot of things about Yuuri that Victor didn’t expect. He’d been taught by his family the basics of survival. He knew how to bake bread from the ingredients he found in abandoned stores, the ingredients that most didn’t bother to snatch since they didn’t have that skill. He was a good hunter, and searched out meat when he had to, but could work just as easily with tinned foods. Yuuri usually stuck to the tinned variety of food simply because it was easier, he didn’t have to waste time making something. But Yuuri had insisted that they needed a properly cooked meal every once in a while, that just because the world had gone to hell, didn’t mean they should lose the things that made them human.
Victor quickly found himself falling into place with Yuuri, feeling content to just be near him, to share their space. He did everything he could to be useful, often feeling like nothing more than a burden. The coughing fits remained just as frequent. Victor would have to clean up the petals most days. He’d wake up alone, Makkachin sleeping at Yuuri’s side instead, but somehow, he didn’t mind. It was nice to walk into the other room and see them curled up together. Somehow, Yuuri had become the most important person in his life. A stranger at the end of the world had given him a reason to keep living.
But not enough reason to stop grieving.
Yuuri never gave up trying. It was every day. Victor would sit by the fireplace, the warmth licking at his skin and soaking deep into his bones. Yuuri would be at his side, Makkachin sitting in his lap, sleeping soundly and Yuuri would ask the same things, “What happened to them? Who did you lose?”
Victor would always clam up, the thought of his family cutting too deep. It felt like the vines were wrapped around his heart when Yuuri asked, they tightened, constricting, making it harder to breathe.
Victor wasn’t sure how long he’d been staying with Yuuri. Weeks? Months? Time wasn’t something that mattered anymore. Days blended together. They weren’t living anymore, just existing. But Victor couldn’t deny that existing with Yuuri had been the most pleasant thing to ever happen to him. He wasn’t sure how late it was. The sun had long since sunk into the horizon, replaced by the moon and the sparkling stars. Victor was sat by the fireplace once more, the place he always seemed to find the most comfort. It was as he stared into the flames that he felt Yuuri slip down to sit behind him, hesitant fingers reaching for his hair, “Do… do you mind…?”
Victor’s heart fluttered, a sensation he’d become quite familiar with over the time he’d known Yuuri. Leaning back against Yuuri’s chest, he let out a content sigh, “Go ahead.”
“I thought your hair was pretty the moment I saw you,” Yuuri admitted, allowing himself to reach out, taking a few strands of the long hair in his hands and carefully braiding them together, “It’s like… moonlight. Especially when the sun hits it just right.”
Victor chuckled softly, his eyes closing as he enjoyed Yuuri’s gentle touch, “It’ll take more than flattery to win me over, Yuuri.”
He could practically feel the blush as Yuuri’s fingers paused in the strands, “I-I… I wasn’t… I mean…”
“Relax. I’m just messing with you,” Victor smiled, reaching out and brushing a hand against Yuuri’s leg, hoping to reassure him. They only had each other. Victor had lost his family so long ago now, and he had no idea where Yuuri’s was. It was just them and little Makkachin. Victor liked to think maybe they could let down their walls together. But he still hadn’t opened up to Yuuri. Not completely. Not about what mattered.
Victor was still dying. Every day brought him closer to his last.
Yuuri let go of the strands he’d been holding, seeming to have finished the first braid. He let his fingers tangle in Victor’s hair, gently combing through, his voice soft, “You know I’m always here for you, right? I just… I hate seeing those petals every morning, knowing I haven’t been able to help you at all.”
Victor sighed softly, and Yuuri seemed to take that as answer enough. Those fingers were separating more strands of hair, and Yuuri was making another braid on the other side of Victor’s head. Yuuri had spent all this time taking care of him, but Victor had never said anything, had always kept silent about his past. Maybe it was time to open up.
“It was my family,” When Victor’s words broke the silence, Yuuri shifted his body closer. Victor felt the fingers move from his hair. Instead, an arm was wrapped loosely around his waist, Yuuri’s chin rested against his shoulder as he listened. Victor wasn’t sure why his heart began to race, staring at the fire to distract himself, “We were together for a while after everything went bad. I used to go looking for supplies with Makkachin and one day when I got back…” Victor could still see it clearly in his mind, an image that had haunted him since that day. He missed them more than anything, constantly thinking about how things could’ve been different if he had stayed, or left Makkachin with them. It was just supposed to be like any other day.
Victor could feel the flowers blooming in his throat again, gagging on the gentle petals as they pushed their way out. Yuuri’s free hand was rubbing gentle circles on his back as Victor coughed up more flowers, tears stinging at his eyes. He wasn’t sure whether they were from the exertion, or from the memories. Maybe both. He’d grown used to the feeling of those petals, grown used to coughing them up day after day, the vines tightening around his organs, the thorns digging into his insides.
The gentle kiss against his shoulder caught him off guard. Yuuri had always been carefully affectionate, never so daring, “You need to stop blaming yourself. It’s not your fault they died. It’s just how cruel this world is now.”
“If I’d just stayed…” Victor’s voice was hoarse from his coughing fit, breathless, “I-If I’d been there…”
“Victor, listen to me,” Before he could say anything, Yuuri was shifting until he was kneeling beside Victor, cupping his face in his hands as he stared into his eyes and Victor had never seen him looking so determined before, “This isn’t your fault. Stop blaming yourself. Grieve. Let yourself move on, or this will kill you.”
“So what if it does? They’re all gone anyway,” Victor averted his gaze, the thought spilling from his lips before he could stop it, a thought that had been living within him since the day he’d found his family taken from him. He’d never said it before. He’d thought it so many times, but to say it made it feel so much more real.
“You think they’re the only ones who want you to live?” Yuuri frowned, “You think you’re the only one to grieve? I’ve lost people, too, and I’m not losing you. So man up and let it out!”
Victor froze, the words hitting him like a slap in the face. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been with Yuuri, wasn’t sure how he’d managed to get so close to him so quickly. But it hadn’t for a moment sunk in that Yuuri cared about him so much. Yuuri had been there for him in his darkest times, and Victor had done everything to keep his skeletons to himself. Victor never wanted Yuuri to become attached to him, thinking about just how temporary his life was. But Victor couldn’t deny his own feelings, how attached he’d become, that he wanted more than anything to see Yuuri smiling. It was like a dagger straight to the heart to see the sadness in Yuuri’s eyes, to know that it was Victor who caused it.
Victor needed to live. For Makkachin. For Yuuri.
“How… how do I get over it?” Victor had never asked before, had never stopped to consider exactly how someone gets over loss, how they move on from losing the people who had meant everything to them.
Yuuri smiled, tears in his eyes as he pulled Victor into a hug, “You don’t. You find a way to cherish their memories instead of focusing on their death. You think about the good times.”
Victor hesitantly looped his arm around Yuuri’s waist, resting his head against his shoulder. Yuuri had always been a comfort, someone he could depend on. Victor was so tired of being a burden to him. Sighing softly, he shifted closer, their bodies fitting together like they were made for it, “But… how? It’s all I ever see when I think of them…”
“Let yourself cry. Let yourself mourn, but don’t let it consume you,” Yuuri’s fingers were moving through his hair once more, gentle and comforting as they tangled in strands of silver, “Please just let me take care of you. You’re so strong, you can survive this.”
“How do you know?”
Yuuri buried his face against Victor’s neck, his breath warm against his skin as he spoke, “Because I did it. So you can, too.”
Ever since Yuuri had said it, Victor wondered who it was. Who had Yuuri lost? Was it his parents? He talked about them a lot, but that just made Victor sure they were alive and well. He couldn’t imagine being so open about the people he’d lost. Then again, Yuuri was determined to get him through mourning. Talking about it helped. Maybe Yuuri talked about them to get out the feelings, to stop the Hanahaki from gaining any control over him. In the end, he could only ask Yuuri, but Victor was so afraid he’d say the wrong thing, afraid he’d push Yuuri away.
Yuuri was like sunshine. He was bright, and warm, and his smile could stop even the most ferocious Hanahaki victim in their tracks. He was sweet, and kind, and Victor wanted desperately to hold him close and never let go. To know that this was real, that Yuuri wasn’t some wonderful fever dream brought on by his grief.
No, Victor couldn’t possibly risk losing him.
But the curiosity didn’t go away, especially when Yuuri seemed to know so much about grief, about getting over it. Yuuri was always there, holding him when he cried, listening to him as he talked about that horrible night, rubbing his back as he coughed up flower petals. Yuuri was always there. Always protecting him, even from himself. And Victor hated the thought that maybe Yuuri had to deal with all of this on his own at one point, that Yuuri didn’t have anyone to turn to.
Victor felt closer to Yuuri every day, felt… connected. There was a need to move closer, to hold Yuuri in his arms and tell him that he was beautiful, that he was something precious, and that he would never have to be alone again. It was strange to think just how much happiness he’d found the day he met Yuuri. Victor should’ve been dead. He shouldn’t have lasted as long as he had, but he was still there, still breathing, and he had Yuuri to thank for it. The flowers were still inside him, still choking him when the grief became unbearable, but it was getting easier. There was light at the end of the tunnel. And he only had one person to thank for that.
It was one particular morning that had the fear bubbling up within Victor. He normally got up early, far earlier than Yuuri. He’d learned over the time they’d spent together that Yuuri was a terrible morning person. But when he awoke that morning, Victor didn’t find Yuuri in his usual spot; asleep on the couch. The couch Victor had told him so many times he didn’t have to sleep in. But Yuuri had continued to insist Victor take the bed, that there wasn’t enough room to share. Only this time, he wasn’t there. He wasn’t asleep on the couch, wasn’t in the kitchen preparing a meal. Victor searched the secure base Yuuri had created for them, and came up empty. Makkachin was still there, following Victor like a shadow as he searched, but there was no sign of Yuuri.
It was the first time in so long that Victor had felt alone, and been truly afraid of that feeling. Where was he? Was he safe? What if something happened to him? The traps Yuuri had in place to alarm them for any intruders hadn’t been set off. No one had found the base. If they had, Victor doubted they’d only take Yuuri and no one else. Victor tied his hair back, going through the supplies and pulling out everything he’d need to defend himself. The only answer that made any sense was that Yuuri had gone out on his own, and that thought didn’t sit right with Victor. Yuuri could take care of himself. He knew he could, but Victor couldn’t ignore the voice in the back of his mind telling him that Yuuri could be surrounded by enemies, could be ambushed.
Victor opened the door, ready to begin his search only to be met with Yuuri staring back at him, surprise in those soft eyes, “Oh. You’re awake.”
Victor let his bag fall from his shoulders, pulling him into his arms, “Yuuri…”
“What’s wrong? Did something happen to Makkachin? I got her some treats, but I can go back and find her some medicine if she needs it!”
“Don’t you dare,” Victor’s grip tightened, pulling Yuuri inside and carefully kicking the door closed behind them, “I woke up and you were gone, I thought… I-I don’t know. I was about to go look for you.”
“Oh,” Yuuri carefully untangled himself from Victor’s arms, looking up at him with a sad smile. The pad of his thumb brushed over Victor’s cheek and it was only then that he realised he was crying, the fear spilling out before he could stop it, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t think.”
“I don’t want to lose you,” Victor’s voice cracked as he brushed a hand along Yuuri’s arm, just needing that reassurance that he was there, that he was safe, “Not you.”
“You won’t,” Yuuri moved closer, their heads gently rested together as he looped an arm around Victor’s neck, “I promise you won’t.”
Victor wanted to believe it. He really did. Yuuri would never lie to him. If there was one person left in the world that he could rely on, it was Yuuri. He trusted Yuuri with his life, but that wasn’t the problem. It was the rest of the world that he didn’t trust. Victor wanted to protect him, to keep him safe from everyone else and ensure that he wouldn’t lose the only person he had left in a world full of nightmares.
Yuuri reached out for the tie in Victor's hair and carefully pulled it free, watching as the waves of silver cascaded passed his shoulders. He offered Victor a small, reassuring smile, a rosy blush gracing his gentle cheeks, “I just wanted to get some supplies so I could cook you something nice. It’s been a while since I cooked you anything.”
“I don’t need anything nice. I just need you safe. You can’t go out on your own. At least take Makkachin next time,” There was desperation in Victor’s voice, a need for Yuuri to see how important he was, how much it hurt to even think about losing him.
“If I did that, then you really would’ve woken up all alone.”
“Then, let me come with you next time,” Victor could feel Yuuri’s fingers running through his hair again, something that had quickly grown to be a comfort for the both of them. They made no effort to move away from each other, standing in each other’s arms. It was like Yuuri felt the same need to be close as Victor did, the same fear of being alone. Or maybe Yuuri was just humouring him.
“It’s not a surprise if you come with me,” Yuuri pointed out, a small playful smile gracing those pretty lips, and Victor could feel his self control crumble at the sight of it, at the sound of Yuuri’s voice, the feel of his fingers in Victor’s hair. He didn’t stand a chance.
It took less than a second to close the gap between them, to catch Yuuri’s lips against his own. It took even less time for the butterflies to flutter in Victor’s stomach, fear and happiness blending together to form something unique. Fear of rejection. Elation for the possibilities. The kiss lasted no time at all, Yuuri pulling away to look up at Victor, a mix of shock and awe in those pretty brown eyes. Victor knew he was blushing, that he wasn’t sure what to say or do. The emotions had become so overwhelming, he just needed to let it out, let something out, and seeing him hurting had always caused Yuuri pain. Victor didn’t want to do that to him, not when he could finally just indulge that part of himself that had been screaming for Yuuri to be at his side.
But Victor wasn’t sure if he’d gone too far, if he’d done too much and pushed Yuuri away with the simple action, and as the silence grew longer between them, Victor felt more and more uncertain. He looked away, stammering over his words as he tried to find the right thing to say, something to fix it, “I-I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. I don’t know what I was thinking, I just—”
Victor’s rambling was cut short as Yuuri’s finger pressed to his lip. His uncertainty only lasted a moment before Yuuri was moving closer, lips pressed together once more, and this time Victor let himself indulge. Fingers danced along Yuuri’s spine as Victor pulled him further into the room, lips parting in an invitation Victor was all too happy to accept. Yuuri was warm, welcoming. Like the first day of spring after the harsh cold of winter. Victor wanted desperately to rid himself of his never ending winter, to find happiness and shed himself of the grief. Ever since the storm in his heart had started, Victor had never felt a warmth like this, never felt like maybe there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
Yuuri’s kisses were addictive. Even as he pulled away for air, Victor found himself following, drawing him back for more, wanting desperately to taste those soft lips against his own, to memorize every inch of Yuuri’s body and know he was there; real, safe, and his. Yuuri laughed against his lips, the sound like music to his ears, but all too quickly he was pulling away again, resting their heads together, “Come on, let’s go back to bed for a while. It’s still early.”
As it turned out, there was more room on that bed than Yuuri had let on. They could easily share the space, it just involved being pressed against each other, something neither of them were against. Victor closed his eyes as he laid back against the mattress, Yuuri curled up at his side. It took no time at all for Yuuri’s fingers to be running through Victor’s hair again, something they’d both grown used to over the months they’d spent together. It was as natural as breathing.
Victor’s arm wrapped loosely around Yuuri’s waist, holding him close as he spoke, “If you wanted to kiss me all this time, why didn’t you say anything?”
Yuuri hummed softly, tangling strands of silver around his fingers, “You were grieving. I didn’t want to take advantage of you. You still are, but I can tell you’re getting better. The Hanahaki won’t last much longer.”
Victor frowned, “How can you be so sure?”
Yuuri turned over, resting his head against Victor’s chest and drawing circles along his side with his finger, “I got Hanahaki back before the world ended up like this. My mom and dad took care of me through it all. Even my sister was there. They helped me grieve, got me to see that there were plenty of reasons to keep living. I was just a teenager,” He shrugged, “I know you’re gonna get through this because I’ve been through it and I’ve seen it before. You’re passed the worst of it.”
The same question had been running through Victor’s mind for so long, driving him crazy, and he couldn’t keep it to himself anymore. Not now, not when Yuuri was telling him the truth, “Who did you lose?”
Yuuri sighed, hiding his face against Victor’s chest, “It’s stupid. You’ll laugh.”
“How could I laugh about grief?”
Yuuri seemed hesitant at first, and Victor was about to reassure him, to tell him he didn’t have to say anything, but Yuuri spoke before he got the chance, “…I used to have a poodle just like Makkachin. Only, he was a lot smaller than her. His name was Vicchan. He meant so much to me. Like my best friend in the world…” Yuuri gently gripped Victor’s shirt as he spoke, “He… he died when I was young, and it hit me so hard, I just… didn’t know what the point of anything was anymore.”
“That’s why you wanted to take care of Makkachin…”
“It’s dumb. I know it is. I got Hanahaki over a dog.”
“It’s not dumb,” Victor reached for Yuuri’s hand, carefully threading their fingers together, “Makkachin’s the only reason I didn’t give up. If she had died, too… I would’ve let this beat me long before I met you.”
“I’m glad you didn’t,” Yuuri looked up at him, a gentle kiss left to Victor’s chin, and oh, this was what it felt like to be truly happy. He hadn’t felt it in so long.
“Yeah… me, too.”
The streets were empty, devoid of life. The buildings had been overrun by nature, and Victor had been struggling to find any supplies. He frowned to himself as he went through yet another shop only to come up empty handed. A year. It had been a year since that fateful day Yuuri had found him and taken Victor in. A year since his world had changed.
The vines within his body had withered and died, the flowers no longer plaguing Victor’s lungs. He still thought about his family every day, but he’d grieved, he’d mourned. Yuuri had held him through the tears, had seem him through to daylight. Victor wasn’t a dead man walking anymore. He was a man with new purpose, a reason to keep fighting.
It was just unfortunate that he hadn’t been able to find anything special for the occasion, something he could give to Yuuri as thanks for everything he’d done. Nothing could truly do him justice, anyway. It was hard to put a price on life, and that’s exactly what he’d been given. Stepping out of the building and walking along the middle of the road, Victor pressed his fingers to his lip, letting out a loud whistle.
It took a few moments, but sure enough, he heard a whistle in response to his own, unable to contain his excitement. He grinned, a heart shape clearly on display as he began to sprint down the street. Buildings surrounded him, shop after shop that had been left abandoned and picked dry of supplies, but there was only one thing on Victor’s mind. He rushed towards the sound, the excitement only growing stronger as he caught sight of Yuuri in the distance, staring down at something glistening in his hands, “Yuuri!”
Yuuri looked up, his own smile bright as he opened his arms, ready for Victor to jump into him, just like he always did. Makkachin was sat at Yuuri’s side, ever the faithful companion. His two loves, his family. Victor almost bowled Yuuri to the ground in his excitement, wrapping his arms tightly around him, “I couldn’t find anything. This area’s been scavenged already.”
Yuuri nodded, pulling away, “Yeah, I know. There’s just… something here I wanted to get for you.”
Victor frowned, “What is it? You’ve cooked me plenty of surprise meals, I don’t need anymore.”
“No! Not that,” Yuuri was blushing as he stared down at his hands, two gold rings shimmering in the sunshine, “I just thought… we have to find our own happiness these days. And for me, that’s you.”
Victor’s heart was pounding as he stared at the rings, knowing what they meant, knowing what Yuuri was trying to say without words. Because there really weren’t words for it, for what they were. Love wasn’t strong enough. Yuuri had saved his life, had brought him back from the brink of death. Victor reached for one of the rings, biting his lip as he stopped himself. His voice was barely a whisper as he finally spoke, “Will you put it on for me?”
“Are you saying yes?” Yuuri’s smile was shy, his blush reaching his ears, and oh, he was so beautiful. He always had been.
“I don’t know, you haven’t asked me anything,” Victor teased.
“Will you marry me, Vitya?” Yuuri carefully balanced one of the rings on Makkachin’s nose, pulling Victor closer to her, “Your fur baby wants a second dad, and I’m kind of attached to her.”
Victor laughed, carefully plucking the ring from her nose and rubbing behind her ears, “Well, I guess I can’t let her down, huh? But I don’t think there’s anyone around to make it official.”
“We can have our own ceremony,” Yuuri shrugged, taking the ring from Victor’s hand and carefully sliding it onto his finger. A simple weight, but it felt like it had always been there, like it was made for him, “Makka can be the Officiator.”
“I like the sound of that,” Victor hummed happily, taking the second ring and carefully placing it on Yuuri’s finger. He watched as Yuuri held it up to the light, enjoying the way it gently sparkled, “I love you.”
Yuuri grinned, bright and beautiful, a smile that had saved Victor from the darkness. Victor felt warm, safe as Yuuri’s arms wrapped around him, watching as the man who had become his entire world moved closer, indulging in a kiss for barely a moment before he was speaking softly into Victor’s lips, “I love you, too.”
Yuuri had quickly become Victor’s reason to fight, reason to carry on. But more than that, Yuuri had brought him more joy, more love than he’d ever known. The world had fallen apart, but it didn’t matter.
Victor’s world was safe in his arms.