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Four Weddings & A Divorce Lawyer

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“Competitive obligations.”

“No way, chéri, they’re always together. She’s got enough money from her parents to chase him anywhere. Plus, I’m rather sure she can claim all that as a business expense. I’m saying children.”

“Kids are a cop-out bet.”

“How are they a cop-out bet? They’re Christians waiting till the wedding day to test-drive their purchase. You’re not getting better odds than that.”

“It’s always kids. At the root of it all. That’s where it starts. Every other problem stems from it. I’m not taking it.”

“Fine, she catches him making out with the mirror one time too many. Is that what you want?”

“You’re on. Fifty?”

“Since when are you so cheap, chéri? Didn’t you just get the Hendersons to settle? I know the rates you charge.”

“A grand then.”

“That’s quite the jump.”

“Chicken?” Victor leaned back in his seat, legs comfortably crossed as he sipped on what was sure to be vastly overpriced champagne. The caterer would be earning an enviable profit margin that evening.

“You’re on.” Chris extended his hand, shaking Victor’s with a punctuated laugh. “But I’m not referring them to you if they do.”

“You say that every time,” Victor answered, setting down his glass and tugging on the lapel of his suit to straighten it. “So, tell me, which of the groomsmen haven’t you slept with?”

“I’ve been with fewer than you think. And they’re not groomsmen yet. Will you stop being so cynical?”

“You invited me here knowing very well what you were getting.”

“It’s not a wedding,” Chris said pointedly, rolling his eyes. “Honestly, Vic, can’t you set the snark aside for one minute? You might actually enjoy yourself. Network a bit. Have you met the Crispinos? They’re a delight. Their family owns—”

“I know them. Their mother was my client.”

“Is there anyone in this city you haven’t tainted?”

“She came to me, Chris,” Victor said, standing up. He rolled his shoulders, sweeping back silver bangs as he glanced around the hotel ballroom.

The dinner tables were fragrant with fresh flowers, chandeliers shining brightly above. Music played over speakers, a playlist sampling Canada’s greatest hits and tracks from all of JJ’s previous seasons. Luckily, the vast majority of the selection had not been commissioned for the sole purpose of stroking the figure skater’s ego. On the far end, a long table had been set with the dessert selection which was still being fulfilled. A custom cake was on display for the occasion. Victor had admired it on his way in, as it was hard to miss. Icing formed an ice rink, fondant making the walls on which were the names of JJ’s sponsors. The ice had been made of crystalized sugar, dyed the lightest blue that somehow had held through the caramelization process, creating the most pristine brûlée topping. A pair figurine skated at the center, accented in gold. Impressive, Victor had admitted. That required a great amount of technical skill.

A space had been cleared to serve as a dance floor, but was instead being utilized as a socializing area for people in expensive suits and cocktail dresses. A professional photographer circled his way around the room, snapping photos of guests and the setting. There was a purple motif present that Victor was not sure he approved of. He was certain, however, that he recognized Toronto’s mayor chatting with the better half of the Crispino twins. He would have to be sure to stop by and say hello.

“Where you headed?” Chris questioned, gazing up in suspicion at his companion. “If you leave me here on my own, Nikiforov, I swear that you’re going to actually have to pay for a dog sitter next time.”

“I’m going to grab a drink.”

“You have a drink,” Chris gestured open-handed at the half-empty glass on the table of polished-off dinner plates. The place cards with gold-scripted names had been pushed to the center, along with the designated course menus. Victor had lamented the lack of poutine and maple syrup. Sarcastically.

“A proper drink. It’s an open bar, right?”

With a roll of his eyes, Chris shrugged and waved Victor on. Victor had no doubt that he would manage just fine on his own. Chris’ tendencies for getting very well acquainted with good-looking men at parties was common knowledge among their not-so-inner circle. Although, reportedly, that particular party trick had been put on a semi-permanent hold as Chris dated some choreographer he had met through JJ. Poor soul. That choreographer was also said to be in the middle of an international job, which is why Victor had received the distinct honor of being Chris’ plus-one to the engagement party.

JJ had returned home triumphantly after the most recent skating season, his World’s gold meaning he had presented Isabella with gold of her own. Victor was of the opinion that becoming engaged while remaining in the possession of a “teen” in the age category was a bit too young, but what did he know when it came to young love? Simply the statistics for divorce in every age category, but he had been reminded that facts such as that tended to ruin the happy atmosphere. JJ and Isabella had been sweethearts since middle school. The story told before the first toast was that, instead of pulling on pigtails like might be customary at that age, JJ had presented Isabella with a bouquet of dandelions their first day in class together and stated that he intended to marry her. Even Victor’s cynical heart had to admit that was adorable.

At the far end of the ballroom, Victor waved down the bartender and gave his order, leaning back as he waited. His profession meant that he did not get invited to many engagement parties, or wedding parties. People tended to regard his presence as a bad omen. Not that he blamed them. He could usually provide a rather accurate estimate of how long a relationship would last within the first ten minutes of meeting the couple. Turn that time into an hour and he might consider pencilling in an appointment slot into his calendar, two years down the line.

The hired DJ switched on his microphone, making a brief comment about how the star couple was invited to take their first dance of the evening. JJ stood up from the head table, dressed in a tailored suit of dark tyrian. He held out his hand in offer to Isabella, who wore a dress in a matching color. Cute. Victor was certain that they were the type to wear couple’s t-shirts on the weekends. That worked at their age.

JJ bowed to Isabella in a showy manner before sweeping her into his arms for the dance. The music, if Victor was not mistaken, was the same as JJ’s free skate routine. Good thing Isabella was the manager of JJ’s official fanclub, or Victor might think it a degree over the top. The amount of love it had to require to live and work together...

His drink delivered to him, Victor slid a bill over for the tip and raised his glass in an acknowledging toast to the young man who had rushed up to the bar, cheeks flushed as he hastily asked the bartender if there was a cheaper bottle of rum he could borrow. His expression went crestfallen when he was told no.

“A whole bottle? Still a bit early in the night for that,” Victor remarked. His network of contacts was quite extensive, which meant that he did recognize the majority of the faces at the party even if he could not put names to them without a reminder. However, he was certain he would have remembered such a face. Soft pink cheeks, messy black hair, brown eyes wide behind blue-framed glasses. His full lips looked to be in need of a good moisture treatment, chapped and dry. A shame.

“Oh, not for me!” he laughed, blush bitten darker. “For the kitchen.”

“If you only need a splash, try the front desk. They might keep rum for the minibars,” Victor offered.

“Yeah, already sent someone to check, thank you,” he smiled, the corners of his eyes narrowing softly as he did.

Between the cut of his jaw and the slope of his nose, Victor could guess that he was Japanese, despite the complete lack of an accent tinting his words. He held out his hand to shake. “Victor. I’m on Leroy’s side of the party.”

“Oh!” The smile spread and Victor found it all the sweeter. His hand was taken, smooth and delicate skin sliding against his own. “Yuuri. I’m on Isabella’s.”

“She’s got you working?”

“I volunteered,” Yuuri responded, gesturing down to the white apron he had tied around his waist. “Though, she is still paying me.”

“I would hope so,” Victor responded with a chuckle, his gaze shifting away from Yuuri out to the dance floor where JJ and Isabella had transitioned from one dance into another. Thus far, no other couples had yet joined in, giving the pair their time together. “Do you think they’re jumping the gun out there?”

“Huh?” Yuuri asked, turning to follow Victor’s gaze. “What—how?”

“Having their first dance now?”

“I think it’s sweet.”

“But one before the wedding? Isn’t that tempting fate too much?” Victor believed in luck, coincidence, and downfall of his own making. However, he had grown up being told that early celebrations played too much into the world’s mischievousness. A birthday observed before it came was taunting death, and a wedding celebrated before the papers were signed and the vows were taken might mean those in his profession would never get their chance. The planning months were primetime for breakups.

“Actually, it’s their second first dance,” Yuuri said.

“You’re joking. Did they break up once already?”

“No, no!” Yuuri quickly shook his head. “They had a private party before JJ left for his competition. The official story was that he was going to wait to get international gold to propose, but he didn’t actually want it riding on that. So he proposed before he went, kind of in secret? This one is public-facing, that one was just for them and family.”

Victor might need to go back to Chris and adjust the terms of their bet. “I did not realize Leroy had so much heart behind that ego.”

Yuuri was visibly biting the inside of his cheeks to keep from laughing at the comment. “You should have seen what the theme for this party was originally, before Isabella got her hands on it.”

“Crowns and gold?”

“You’re not far off.”

Victor would not be surprised. JJ’s self-love was famous even outside figure skating circles. JJ was a personality. He was one of Canada’s most recent sweethearts, known for his medals as much as his charity work. Victor suspected that may have been more of his fiancée’s influence, but JJ put the effort in nonetheless. Victor could not find fault in that. Plus, his affection for Isabella was also well known, as he always made sure to credit her and deliver words of love in victory or in defeat. Whether it was for show or not, Victor could not be sure.

Though that evening, the star couple had been inseparable, at each other’s side swapping constant smiles. They gave off the impression of genuine affection. However, the way they danced, enjoying each other’s company while also showing off for their guests, was what tipped Victor in the predicted direction that the two strong personalities would end up clashing not long after their nuptials. “You’d think that as a skater, Leroy would be able to dance better on solid ground.”

The hint of a smile on Yuuri’s lips twitched again and Victor found himself quite liking it as a reaction. Yuuri was trying to remain professional, on the side of those lining his pockets, but it was obvious that he agreed even if the admission would not be vocalized. “Does that mean you think you can dance better than a World Champion?”

“I’d like to find out.”

Yuuri made a wide gesture toward the dance floor. “Plenty of room for you to declare your challenge.”

Victor set down his empty glass on the bar and held out his hand to Yuuri. Palm up, he waited for acceptance of his invitation. “I need a partner.”

Yuuri paused, pulling that full lower lip between his teeth as he considered. He took the phone from his apron, checking something before quickly pocketing it again. “Show me what you’ve got.”

He absolutely would. Victor wrapped his fingers around Yuuri’s, leading them to the dance floor. The tempo of the music had changed, into that of a driving beat that would be easy to swing to. Victor was not usually one to invite a stranger to dance, but he was one who could not resist a challenge. He was going to sweep Yuuri off his feet, in a very literal sense of the phrase.

“How did you meet Isabella?” Victor asked as they moved to the floor, hand in hand. The other he sat on Yuuri’s hip, while Yuuri’s went on his shoulder. Up close, Yuuri smelled sweet, like buttercream and caramelized sugar. His skin was soft yet his hands were firm, and the depth of the brown behind his glasses was captivating. Victor did not consider himself to be shallow, but he did appreciate good looks when he saw them.

“She was a friend of a friend,” Yuuri replied, swaying with Victor. He let Victor lead, following his steps. The way he moved, the fluidity and lack of hesitation, was more than enough to communicate that it wasn’t his first time going through the motions. Yuuri did not glance at his feet once. He did not make eye contact the whole time, but he did look at Victor when he spoke. “And we got along well after we were introduced. So we kept in touch, and she invested in my business.”

“That’ll certainly influence a friendship,” Victor chuckled, spinning Yuuri out and in on the peak of a note. “Leroy’s also a friend of a friend.”

“We have so much in common,” Yuuri teased. “Now, Victor, when were you planning to show me how good you are? I don’t have all night.”

Not only was Yuuri cute, but that kind of antagonizing cheek was exactly Victor’s type. He tugged Yuuri in sharply, chest to chest, with heat threatening to spark. “It’d be my pleasure.”

If there was something Victor enjoyed, it was surprising people. The image his career gave him was of a straight suit and pressed tie, with timely schedules and little room for amusement. While he admitted that was true for his coworkers, Victor did try to savor the small joys in life. One of those was the expression that tended to cross faces when it was discovered that he knew his way with a rhythm. That expression did not cross Yuuri’s face as Victor pushed him back with lunging steps set to the music. Instead, Yuuri’s mouth quirked again and he followed with ease, dropping away from Victor’s hold, turning the pursuit into a chase.

Yuuri had to be classically trained, in one form or another, because he moved as if the music were flowing from his body. He glided with the melody, his touch flirting across Victor’s skin. When Victor dipped him, he fell, spine arched and tips of his dark hair sweeping the floor. Then, on the crest of the song, he snapped up into Victor’s arms, pressed close, bridge of his nose dusted pink. Victor could not tell if he was feeling Yuuri’s heart pounding against him or if it was his own setting such a deep beat.

Midway through the song, Victor caught sight of JJ and Isabella’s eyes trained on them, their faces amused. Yuuri’s attention went there too, and the stakes were upped as the engaged couple were not going to be outdone. Being a skater did make JJ into a dancer, and with a wedding having been long expected, it would not be strange for the two of them to have already been taking classes together if Isabella did not usually partake in that portion of her fiancé’s life. They were practiced, professional, shifting to steps well-memorized. Victor and Yuuri had the advantage of spontaneity, the kind of fun that improvisation brought.

Beside them, JJ and Isabella fell into a pair version of JJ’s exhibition from the previous year, a tango. Victor remembered it from Chris’ mocking commentary about how a solo tango was a crime. Victor cinched Yuuri against him, getting a smirk in response and a leg hooking around his hip in a classic pose. Yuuri was not giving in either. Victor let that fuel him, guiding Yuuri through sharp motions with pronounced steps, the two of them whirling around each other.

When Isabella twirled into JJ’s arms, Victor made good on his promise to himself and swept Yuuri off his feet. He spun Yuuri in a lift, hearing the chime of laughter. The music ended with Yuuri falling into Victor’s embrace, held at a low angle, his arms wrapped around Victor’s neck to help hold his weight. Yuuri’s lips were parted, his exhales sped up, wafting warm and sweet across the short distance between them. His eyes sparkled, and if Yuuri lit up that much after a single dance with a stranger, Victor wondered how beautiful he might look after they got to know each other a little better.

The guests near the dance floor broke into an abbreviated round of applause and Victor straightened, pulling Yuuri with him. JJ strutted over to them, nodding familiarly at Yuuri and throwing his hand out to shake Victor’s. “Nikiforov, good to see you joining in with the JJ Style spirit!”

“Yuuri, I didn’t know you could dance like that!” Isabella smiled, her hand resting on JJ’s shoulder as she leaned against him. His arm slid around her waist once he released Victor’s hand. “You always refused to show me!”

“Guess all it takes is the right partner,” Yuuri stated, taking half a step to the side. “Thank you, Victor, that was a lot of fun.”

Victor did not get the chance to say anything more to Yuuri, because Isabella pulled him away in the same moment that Yuuri made an excuse about needing to head back to the kitchen. Victor watched them go, Isabella talking quickly at Yuuri who suddenly seemed a lot smaller, shrinking in on himself as he laughed in response to her pressure. They disappeared into the next room within seconds.

“Wasn’t aware that you knew Katsuki,” JJ remarked, hands on his waist as he turned back to Victor, having also followed the line of sight as their dance partners left together.

“We just met,” Victor said. Perhaps the night was not such a waste. The benefit of attending these functions, even if he was less than fond of them, was the networking. “Congratulations, by the way, on the victory and the engagement.”

“I would say the engagement is the real victory, aye!” JJ’s deep laugh boomed. Victor excused himself as politely as he could.

His return to his assigned table was met with the smuggest smirk draped across Chris’ mouth. Far too pleased. It could not be more obvious that Chris thought he knew something that Victor did not. He was sitting with one long leg crossed over the other, posture slack against the back of his chair, a glass of champagne hanging precariously off his fingers. “I see you’ve met Yuuri.”

The question Victor wanted to ask was why he had not met Yuuri before, if he was so connected to everyone else in attendance. Perhaps not everyone, but everyone Victor had interacted with thus far. He might need to pick up the habit of attending more engagement parties. It might be bad form to hand out business cards, but he could make further acquaintances so when the time did come to look for names, the result of his would surely spark a reminder in an online search of the Manhattan area. “He’s sweet.”

“I should hope so,” Chris answered, all bubbling amusement as he tipped the champagne glass to his lips, wetting them in a crystal sheen. “He did make the cake.”

Victor hummed, his gaze drifting when Isabella came back out, waving at JJ to catch his attention. He rushed over to her as the announcement was made that the couple would be cutting said expertly crafted cake. “Wait, what?”

Chris laughed, sitting up with proper posture. “You know that little bakery that was all the rage last year, after those bachelorette cupcakes Sara posted photos of? That’s his.”

That explained the smell of buttercream. And how utterly saccharine Yuuri seemed. “He looks young.”

“He’s younger than us,” Chris remarked, pulling out his phone. With one hand, he typed in a couple of words and showed the resulting website to Victor. Katsuki Cakes & Confections. The page was clean and professional despite being in soft pastels, featuring a slideshow of photos showcasing cakes, all of intricate designs. “His family runs a business in Japan that does well for itself. He got a loan from them and then got lucky. He is ridiculously talented, though. His cakes are to die for.”

“But you’re not running up to grab a piece for yourself?”

“Chéri, why do you think I accepted the invitation? He’s got bookings six months in advance. I’m not missing the chance to indulge in one of his creations.”

Isabella and JJ finished cutting the first couple of pieces, breaking the sugar into iceberg-like slates. They fed each other pieces off their forks, again something Victor had assumed was reserved for a newlywed tradition. It was Yuuri who took over for them after that, cutting the rest of the pieces and plating them so that JJ and Isabella could proceed to hand out pieces to their top guests. Victor watched Yuuri work for a minute, before returning his attention to Chris. “Is he single?”

“You waste no time.”

“Chris.”

“As far as I’ve heard, yes, and before you ask, I think that dance number should be more than enough to assure you that he’s pitching for the better team.”

The confirmation was always nice. Victor had made an idiot of himself hitting on straight men that he had been convinced weren’t before. Major metropolitans had a habit of glitching the radar. Victor could not remember the last time his calendar had marked a proper night out with good private company. He had been the youngest lawyer to make partner at his firm, but that meant his hours did not see much beyond the scope of work. The only consistent personal time Victor had was his morning runs and evening walks with his dog. Without her, he might have been reading case files over breakfast and coffee rather than the newspaper. He had relented to Chris’ hounding to attend the party only after being reminded that the last time he had seen Chris in person for more than five minutes was three months prior.

“I’m not sure if he’s your type, though,” Chris continued, setting down his glass. He leaned forward, his eyes out on Yuuri. Victor’s new acquaintance was serving up plates of cake to guests who approached, that smile Victor had tried to prompt now permanent. He traded short comments, bowing his head in gratitude whenever a compliment appeared to be paid.

“How’s that?” Victor glanced back at Chris, skeptical. Chris was not normally the type to warn him off pursuits. He was more the type to throw caution to the wind and give Victor advice on which cologne and wine selection to go with in order to seal the deal on a date night. It may just be that it really had been too long and that being in a relationship had warped Chris more than Victor would have expected.

“Hmmm, hard to explain. Your values are too different.”

“How deep,” Victor remarked. “And how do you know him?”

“I know everyone there is to know, chéri.”

“Well, pardon if I don’t take relationship advice from you on someone I just met.” Victor’s curiosity had peaked and he would not let Chris’ crypticism drive him off. Victor preferred to trust his own investigations.

“Fine, not like I’m a professional or anything,” Chris snarked, rolling his eyes.

Victor wanted to warn him that his mascara might flake if he did it with any more force. He glanced once more to the back wall to find that the line for servings of cake had concluded and Yuuri was gone from behind it. Busy, busy, though an event with over a hundred guests did usually run staff ragged. Victor could wait. He would find a better opportunity to approach and turn up the charm. It was difficult to do that effectively when the person he was focusing his attention on was preoccupied with other tasks.

Victor looked back to their table just in time to see a cut of the cake being set down in front of him. Chris had a plate before him too, fork already in hand. The chair on the other side of Victor was pulled out and he turned to see Yuuri taking a seat. “You looked like you wanted a taste.”

If Victor had to wager a guess, he would bet that line was delivered as a flirt. He could not object to that. Picking up a fork, he sliced off a portion and lifted it to his lips, indeed wondering how it would taste after such a raving comment from Chris. He expected a flood of sugar, but it was almost the opposite. The sponge was light, like a cloud moistened by rain on his tongue. The sweetness was subtle, the buttercream rich, and the texture cut by the crunch of the broken ice crystals. Victor did not believe he had once in his life had the urge to eat cake. Other desserts, sure, he was only human, but not cake. Yuuri was very clearly out to change that.

“Yuuri, this is phenomenal,” Chris said from across the table, stealing the moment. “I hope you consider me dear enough a friend to make time for my wedding, whenever that may be.”

Evidently, compliments were the secret to drawing out that smile from Yuuri. “There are a lot of good cake shops in the city.”

“Mmmm, but I don’t want them, do I? I want a slice of Katsuki genius served to me on a silver platter.” Chris winked, making Yuuri blush.

“Baking and dancing—any other impressive talents I might have to learn about?” Victor asked and Yuuri’s focus shifted to him instantly.

“Uhh, no. I think those are the only two impressive things about me, to be honest. It’s a combination that’s really valuable at parties and nowhere else, so you’re lucky,” Yuuri replied, his quiet laugh directed at himself.

Good-looking, talented, a business owner, and with a sense of humor. Victor was seeing less and less validity in Chris’ assertion that Yuuri was not his type. “I think I could prove you wrong on that,” Victor said.

“Are you saying you don’t like the cake after all?”

Victor laughed, shaking his head. He ate another forkful for good measure. “I think yours is the best I’ve ever had. Have you tried it?”

“If I ate every cake I made, I’d never fit through the door,” Yuuri replied, shaking his head. The visual generated in Victor’s mind and he thought it to be amusingly cute. “But I do sample my batches. I can’t serve you without knowing what I’m putting out there. I live in the constant fear of one late-night high school bake, where I mixed up the sugar with the salt because I was too tired to notice, coming back for a repeat occurrence.”

“We have a holiday for that kind of thing, on the first of April,” Victor said, loading his fork with another portion of cake. He held it up, leaning toward Yuuri. “Join me for this little bit of indulgence?”

A second or two ticked by before Yuuri moved in, mouth sweeping away the cake on offer. Cream smeared his lips and he licked them clean. “Mmm, even better than I remember it being.”

“This is a hotel, gentlemen, but the rooms start on the floor above us if you cared to get one,” Chris drawled, waving over one of the waiters and grabbing three glasses of champagne off the tray he carried. He kept one for himself, passing the other two to them. “I am all cheers for that, trust me.”

The light pink that had decorated Yuuri’s cheeks deepened to a cherry and he pulled back, putting distance between Victor and himself. If it would not have been obvious, Victor would have kicked Chris under the table.

“Actually, I need to get back to work,” Yuuri excused himself, standing up. Victor considered leaving a scathing review under the Google page for Chris’ office, one-star rated for betrayal. “Don’t choke on your cake, Chris.”

Chris laid a hand over his heart as Yuuri left their company. Victor was torn between laughing at Yuuri’s parting quip and lamenting the loss of his presence. He split the difference by aiming a heel strike against Chris’ shin.

Chris winced, directing a pained expression at him. “I take it back, you’re obviously perfect for each other in your combined desire to hurt me.”

Victor did not humor a response, polishing off the rest of his cake and stealing another bite off Chris’ plate.

The party wound down not long after, the consumption of dessert a natural closing to the evening. Guests began to leave, slowly progressing through the ballroom. Victor waited, not about to battle his way through the clustered groups paused chatting by the doors. When JJ and Isabella passed by, he made sure to thank them for the party, giving a second round of congratulations. After that he was caught by the Crispinos and exchanged pleasantries, more with Sara than her brother.

By the time Victor concluded that conversation and one more, the ballroom was nearly empty. Those who remained were primarily family or very close friends of the couple. Victor scanned the room and spotted Chris’ bleach-blond crop by the main doors. He was engaged in conversation with the photographer, a shorter man with a lithe figure and dark skin.

“Hey,” Victor grabbed Chris’ attention, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I was hoping to catch Yuuri before we left. Give me a minute to see if he’s still back there.”

“Yuuri?” the photographer asked, his eyebrows raised into his bangs. “He left just a minute ago to catch his ride. He needed to take his equipment back to the shop.”

“If you hurry, you might catch him,” Chris smirked, taking a step back to clear the route for Victor.

Victor squeezed his shoulder in thanks and took off, dashing down the hall and through the hotel lobby. He paused outside the golden doors in the chill of the night air, searching the valet area before catching a glimpse of black hair and the temple of blue-framed glasses. “Yuuri!” Victor called, running for the car just as Yuuri got in, the door shutting behind him.

His heart pulsed when the driver did not leave immediately. The back window rolled down and Yuuri smiled out at Victor. “If you’re going to ask for the recipe, it’s a family secret.”

“How about your phone number then? If you don’t mind?”

Yuuri reached down, pulling a folded napkin out of his pocket. He held it out for Victor, the digits already written on it. “I was hoping you would ask.”

Victor accepted it, casting Yuuri his best smile. The one he used to help cases settle, charm fully engaged. “So I can call you sometime soon?”

“Anytime,” Yuuri replied, the wisp of his breath billowing in the chilled air. With that he turned, giving his request to go to the driver. The window went back up, Yuuri giving Victor a cropped wave as the car drove away.

Victor let it get to the corner of the street before finding his phone, punching in the number on the napkin. It rang twice before being answered by Yuuri’s soft and pleasant voice. “Yes?”

“How about now?”

Victor heard laughter, the sound of it bringing back the scent of buttercream and the trill of musical notes filling the ballroom mid-dance.

“How about tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow it is. Goodnight, Yuuri, it was a pleasure to meet you.”

“You too. Goodnight, Victor.”

The line went dead, but Victor kept smiling. It had not been a waste of an evening at all.

Chapter Text

Sunday was the one day of the week that Victor tried to reserve for himself. It was meant to be the day he took no business calls and ignored his cases, but it never actually turned out that way. By his second cup of coffee—freshly ground unlike the rest of the week—he had fired off five emails while Makkachin whined by his heels. She was eager to head out and get her long weekend walk in.

Most mornings, Victor ran her across the street to the park for no more than ten minutes, but Sundays were their dedicated hour-minimum strolls. While consistency was not necessarily a bad thing, his life turned on a rinse-repeat schedule. Client, research, case, judge, close, next. Every now and then, Victor was able to make time to see a show on Broadway, so he supposed life could not be all bad. He had managed Hamilton tickets during its first run, courtesy of a happy divorcée.

“What’s with you? You keep twitching.”

Victor and Makkachin had returned home after their jog around the reservoir to find a guest raiding their fridge. The blond had a tendency of showing up unannounced.

Grabbing a plate from the cupboards, Victor flipped a waffle onto it off the iron. Yuri had complained about Victor’s “rabbit trash” breakfast selection being unfit for a weekend and then insisted that pancakes were a lazy man’s cop-out. Charming, really, Victor was so thrilled to have the pleasure of his company.

“Who you trying to call?” Yuri continued, jamming a fork into his waffle before looking up in expectation. He had obviously pegged Victor’s continued glances at the darkened screen of his cell phone.

Victor passed him the syrup and nudged a bowl of blueberries closer for good measure. When Yuri grabbed a handful, he risked a smile of triumph.

“I met someone at Leroy’s party last night and was hoping to ask him out to dinner.” Victor had lost track of time during the last couple of hours at the party which he had really not looked forward to attending, and that had really said something. However brief their interactions, Victor had enjoyed himself with Yuuri. Genuine fun like that was not something Victor had experienced in a while. Naturally, it made him want to know a bit more about the man who made heavenly cakes and could dance an improvised tango in an apron. He might have glanced through the portfolio gallery on Yuuri’s website on the way home, each creation more impressive than the last.

“Last night? Means it hasn’t even been twelve hours,” Yuri remarked. “It’s really been a while since you’ve gotten laid, if you can’t hold out longer than that.”

“You weren’t even born in the ’90s, how are you holding onto such an outdated concept?” Victor asked, pouring another ladle full of batter onto the waffle iron. Yuri always asked for a second serving.

“I know it’s not outdated to look desperate.”

“His name is also Yuuri, you know,” Victor said, smirking in accomplishment when Yuri scowled in reaction to that piece of information. “I’ll have to bring him here so you can enjoy hearing me coo his name in the happy morning after. Yuuri, Yuuri, Yuuuuuriiiiii.” He ended with an audible heart punctuated on the end of the name.

“Gross. Disgusting. Stop.”

“You want another waffle or not?”

“If you don’t sparkle all over it.”

Victor let that slide, for now. “Did you finish going over those financial statements I gave you?”

“Yeah, they were boring.”

Financial statements tended to be, at least the honest ones. Any sort of excitement usually meant one member of the divorcing party was lying about declared assets. The boring ones made for fewer headaches, but also fewer billable hours. “Good. Court date is Wednesday. Are you coming?”

“Sure.”

“Do you have classes?”

“None I can’t cut.”

Rolling his eyes, Victor snatched away Yuri’s plate so he could throw the second waffle onto it. Victor had been the youngest person in his firm’s century-old history to make partner, having passed the bar exam and graduated law school by the time he reached the age of twenty-two. There had been a few articles written about him at the time, particularly about the fact that his first major client had been a Tony-winning starlet whom he helped close a divorce so quickly and quietly that the press did not find out about it till after it had finalized. Six-figure clients tended not to reach his desk anymore, but the higher net the couple, the staler the taste in Victor’s mouth.

Yuri was on his way to breaking Victor’s records. However, the teen’s brilliancy was also his biggest weakness. To be a good lawyer, personability was a must-have trait and one Yuri struggled with. He had been kicked out of two different firms already, for his habit of biting at ankles like a rabid cat whenever he felt challenged. Victor had pulled a lot of strings and covered up a good deal of Yuri’s record to land him his last chance at an internship. If he lasted the year, he just might have his practicing license before he hit twenty. Whether or not he would be able to hold clients was a different question.

“So what’s he do anyway, your lesser Yuuri?”

“He makes wedding cakes.”

Yuri snorted into his coffee, choking on a mouthful. “And you want to date him?”

“I want to take him to dinner and see where it goes from there,” Victor corrected, carefully separating the readied waffle from the grill. He had forgotten another rubdown of butter, meaning it had stuck. “I had a good time with him and would not mind doing so again if he were likewise interested.”

“Does he know what you do?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“Good, don’t tell him.”

Victor stopped fighting breakfast and looked at Yuri. “Don’t tell him?”

“If he makes wedding cakes, he sees couples when they’re all lovey-dovey and romantic as fuck. So don’t depress him with divorce talk on the first date. It bums people out,” Yuri replied, tone dull like he was stating the most obvious of assertions.

“And you’re the expert on this now?”

“No one wants negativity on a first date. You mention divorce to some dude who has probably already planned his own wedding down to the final detail and he’ll bolt.”

“Maybe you should go intern for Chris instead,” Victor said, opening the cabinet overhead to grab a small container.

“Give me my fucking waffle, old man.”

Victor did exactly that, though he did dump a not insignificant portion of rainbow-colored sugar sprinkles onto it. “Oops, sorry. Didn’t mean to sparkle all over your fucking waffle.”

Zatknis.”

“Yeah, yeah, love you too, Yuratchka.”

 


 

Yuuri had come into his shop the morning after the party convinced he had experienced a very vivid dream. The only evidence to the contrary was the unfamiliar number listed in the recent calls of his personal phone, time stamped late the night before.

Yuuri had set about his morning duties in a daze. The shop was always cleaned after closing, but Yuuri always did another wipedown when he arrived. The kitchen and counters were sanitized, cabinets and ingredients checked for stock, schedule verified. Yuuri kept a meticulous calendar of his booked cakes, both online and penciled into a physical planner. Mila, his assistant, had had the wonderful idea to set up a whiteboard calendar to which they added multi-colored sticky notes whenever an amendment came to a request due that month. A simple idea, but it had been a lifesaver on more than one occasion.

With the cupcake batter mixed and set to rest, Yuuri had then checked on his sugar flowers. His shop was a hybrid. While he specialized in cakes made by appointment only, they did keep the front open to the public. Yuuri did not go out to the front often, unless he was meeting a client. Most of his days were spent in the studio corner at the back of the kitchen, where he would work on designs and craft decorations. The sugar flowers he had prepared the week before were drying nicely. He had the cupcakes in the oven by the time Mila came in, headphones on and her phone in hand. She’d greeted him with a smile and changed quickly. Her hands washed and hair up, she started on the cupcake frostings.

Not long after that, Phichit had come in, grinning at a million watts, and asked Yuuri who had been literally chasing after him. The two of them were close, but Yuuri did not think they were anywhere near telepathic levels. Which meant that tall, fair, and very handsome had not been a fevered dream caused by overwork. Yuuri was as thrilled as he was terrified at the thought.

Normally, it required a few hard drinks before Yuuri started flirting with strangers. He had not even sampled the champagne the previous evening. And yet, he had danced and dropped lines on someone he had just met. Not only that, but someone who appeared to be well out of his league.

“I don’t even know what I said, but it was all so bad! I can’t believe any of those lines actually worked on him. I kept expecting him to blink at me and walk off without saying anything.”

“Maybe it was the apron-style tango that got to him,” Phichit said, leaning over the front counter. He normally came in the mornings about half an hour before opening to snap photos of the cupcakes on display. Yuuri had one row that rotated flavors weekly, as well as a monthly special, to entice regular customers. March was the season for kumquats and grapefruit. The contrast of citrus sweet and sour as well as Yuuri’s beautifully piped cream had caused a mini rave on social media that had hour-long lines daily for the first two weeks of the month. Yuuri had not yet revealed his choice for April, but the cherry blossom sugar flowers Phichit had glimpsed drying in the back had given him a hint. One of the perks of Phichit’s job was he got to taste the cupcakes before every other member of the public, and that was not a privilege to be overlooked.

Phichit had already finished his duties for Yuuri for the day. He had uploaded photos to Yuuri’s shop website and posted the daily Instagram update, expertly captioned and tagged. No filter. Yuuri was approaching the 150K follower count, despite being sinfully unaware of the fact. There was a reason Phichit was paid to handle all of the shop’s social media.

“Please don’t say you have photos from yesterday.”

“I have photos from yesterday.”

Yuuri groaned, slumping forward. He had forgotten that Phichit was in attendance, carrying the camera with the good lense and the sharp zoom. Yuuri had admittedly become caught up in his conversation with Victor. It was not often that Yuuri found himself flowing so easily through an exchange, forgetting to buckle under the considerable weight of his words. He had simply let them slip, but how that had turned into dancing, Yuuri did not understand. He had been sure that his heart was ready to pound out of his chest on several occasions, except the very next moment he had looked into blue eyes and decided he wanted to become a cliché and drown in them.

The smoothness of Victor’s voice had been beyond soothing. Yuuri did not even realize he had a thing for accents; that was supposed to be an American thing. He had obviously been in the country for far too long.

“Wanna see?”

“God, no.” Let Yuuri continue to dream that they had looked like fire out there together and not face the reality of his buttercream-smeared apron rubbing all over Victor’s high-street suit. “You saw him though, didn’t you? He was so… so hgnnn.”

“Wouldn’t say he’s a ten with that pretentious hair color.”

“I liked it,” Yuuri muttered in weak defense. It looked well done enough to be natural. Even his eyebrows had been silver. No roots showing either. That was a regular and expensive hair appointment schedule if Yuuri had ever seen one. “It was all… perfect.” Yuuri did not mean just the hair. He meant all of it. Victor had been charming from the start, drawing Yuuri into him with natural ease. The dancing, the flirting, the cake, the parting—it had all unfolded as if no flaws existed in the world. Yuuri was making it out to be like it had been a whole whirlwind evening when in all honesty it could not have been more than twenty minutes total. “There’s gotta be something wrong with him. He was too much.”

“Maybe he’s a serial killer.”

Yuuri straightened his posture and stared directly at Phichit. “Why?” he asked. “Why would you say that?”

“’Cause it pays to be careful.” Phichit gave his brightest smile. It would have blinded a Hollywood dentist. “So, did you get his digits? Gonna call him?”

Yuuri did not start his day as early as actual bakeries, since his shop did not open till eleven. Most people, no matter the temptation, did not eat cupcakes for breakfast. However, he had already been awake and at work for a few hours, with each minute spent having that same question haunting the back of his mind.

The last date Yuuri had gone on was approximately two years, four months, and some days ago. His last relationship had, well, Yuuri preferred not to comment on the matter. Running his own shop gave him little time for that kind of socialization outside of wedding season. During wedding season, Yuuri sometimes stayed in the shop long enough to lose track of the day of the week. Wedding season was approaching. “He said he would call me.”

“Are you sure?”

“No.” Despite that, Yuuri wasn’t about to call and receive a confused response of who? when he mentioned his name. No way. He would rather wait forever and wallow when the call never came.

“You’re right. Make him chase you again. Play it coy.”

“I’m not coy.”

“You could be coy.”

Yuuri did not believe he could pull off coy. He was certain the only reason he had managed to hold onto any semblance of confidence with Victor was that he had been unprepared. He had been distracted and focused on getting the rum for the kitchen, not paying attention to who it was making small talk with him until a minute into the conversation. At that point, he had gotten an eyeful and his brain had gone into a numb autopilot. Because wow. Wow. He could not possibly flirt with a man who looked like he belonged spread out along the side of a Gucci shop. His photos, Yuuri meant his photos. If it was literally spread out, Yuuri would have preferred Victor spread out over the granite counter in his kitchen while wearing an apron and nothing else...

His mind had taken that route mighty quick.

“Your ears are red,” Phichit said, smirking with amusement.

Yuuri clasped his hands over his ears. “I am going to wait and see and have a panic attack whether he calls me or not.”

“Sounds about right,” Phichit chuckled.

“Hey, Yuuri! I have those patterns set up for you.” Mila peeked in from the back. “We also have a couple of emails from Ms. Smith, she’s that forest cake. She wants to know if it’s too late to change the filling. She found out she’s got a bridesmaid with an allergy.”

“Yeah, okay, give me a minute.” Yuuri left the shop front exactly as Guang Hong came in, with a chipper greeting for everyone. Guang Hong was a university student who worked the counter part-time. He lived a few blocks down the street and often used to stop in for a sugar boost between classes and study sessions. So when Mila had pointed out that some help was needed, he turned out to be a perfect fit.

Yuuri checked the ivy patterns Mila had printed—he would use them to help model his work that day—and checked the emails, calling his client quickly to confirm that it was still okay to change the request. If it had been his Wednesday appointment, he would have been prepared for a negotiation and alternative suggestions of making a smaller cake for the bridesmaid rather than redoing a whole two-hundred serving, five-layer order. The one in question was mostly a one-day job and thus Yuuri was fine scribbling in the new details on the sticky notes by the phone.

All of that turned out to be a mistake on his part, because Yuuri returned to see Guang Hong huddled up with the other two, engaged in full gossip mode. He was screwed.

“Phichit said he had an accent?”

“Sounded Russian,” Phichit chirped before Yuuri even had the chance to reply to Mila’s question.

“Oh, no, Yuuri, nothing good ever comes of a Russian man,” Mila said, clicking her tongue in disapproval. “That’s why I started dating American women.”

Yuuri had tried dating an American woman once, during his freshman year of university. It had confirmed his suspicions that he loved a great chest, but preferred it on a man. “I don't know for sure if he’s Russian. European, yeah, but we didn’t really talk long enough for me to ask.”

“If he calls today put him on speaker so we can judge. Who knows? This could be the one. What a treasure it would be to hear your first phone conversation together.”

“Second.”

“What?”

Why, why had he said that? He could have let it go, but now he needed an escape route so as not to dig himself deeper. “He, ummm, called me last night?”

Phichit gave Yuuri a vapid blink, as if the words were not processing. “Excuse me?”

“After I gave him my phone number, I told him to call me anytime. He called me the second my ride drove off.”

Guang Hong let out a squeaky noise while Phichit awwwed and Mila scrunched her nose.

“That’s creepy. Was he checking that you didn’t give him a fake?” she asked.

“No!” Yuuri protested, shaking his head. When his phone had vibrated and he had seen the unfamiliar number on it, his pounding heart had gone from a sprint to a gallop. It had not helped that Victor delivered his line with such precision it had Yuuri fighting the urge to talk for the entire length of his ride. Yuuri only hadn’t because he had no idea what he could say and he did not want to bore Victor that quickly. He wanted his chance at a potential first date. He would be a mess, but he would be a prepared mess. A mess with a plan. “He was—it was really sweet. Exactly right.”

“You need to let him have this one, Mila. This is the first time I’ve seen him so excited about something other than a new flavor mixture.

“Sure thing. Yuuri’s gonna have a hot date. You know what that means, right?”

“Shopping!” Mila and Phichit exclaimed at the same time, clasping hands.

Yuuri groaned. Please, no. He would absolutely need to buy new clothes if a date was indeed in the works. “What if… what if he’s not actually, you know, interested? In that way? Like that?”

No sooner had he finished the question than did all three of his workers turn heel and leave him, not dignifying his question with a response. Yuuri supposed he deserved it. He resigned himself, going to unlock the front door for opening hours.

Graciously, it was going to be a busy day.

In the very back of the shop, Yuuri had a studio set up. It was away from the heat and hustle of the kitchen, where he could sit and work. They had a wedding in a few weeks where both brides were fashion designers and had requested a cake that would look to be made of fabric. Yuuri had sketched a cake that would look like a dress form, with bows of sculpted fondant and gumpaste flowers with softly rounded petals imitating flora lace. He had spent several days on the flowers, which were proving impossibly tricky to carve into a believable presentation, but he had finally perfected a method. By the afternoon, Yuuri had the entire workspace covered in fabric-like flowers and vines.

His eyes were tired and his hands were starting to cramp, shoulders beginning to turn sore from his posture slumping in the final hour. Yuuri removed his glasses, rolling his neck, and ran through his finger and wrist exercises. His phone rang halfway through. Yuuri nearly knocked his glasses off the table in his fumble to try to grab both them and the phone at the same time.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Yuuri? This is Victor, we met yesterday at the party.”

Yes, that was definitely the voice. Gentle, not too deep, the accent mixing the roll of consonants and the stretch of vowels. Now that Yuuri was considering it, it did sound Russian. “Yes, I… I remember.”

“Is this a good time?”

“Oh, yeah, it’s fine. I was taking a break.” Yuuri stood up, so he could check to make sure he had no eavesdroppers.

“Working on the weekend?”

“What’s a weekend?”

Yuuri must have heard Victor laughing the night before, but the whole evening sat like a daze in his mind. The sound of it now was pleasant and soft, and the way it came without effort made Yuuri believe that what he said had been genuinely amusing. He had been nervous thinking about talking to Victor, but actually talking to him… he couldn’t imagine anything easier.

“I know the feeling all too well. I was hoping… I wanted to ask if you would like to go out with me sometime—”

“Yes!” The exclamation was out of his mouth before Yuuri had the chance to bite his own tongue to restrain it. “Ahh, I mean, yeah, I wouldn’t mind. Sorry, I think I might have… did I interrupt you?”

“No. Technically yes, but no. It’s a relief, actually, I was hyping myself up to call you all day today.”

That was an obvious line, but Yuuri was more than willing to let himself get hooked on it. “I may have been waiting for you to call all day. Good to know you’re a man of your word.”

“I am. Are you free anytime this week? I don’t know if I can promise more dancing, but I believe I can think up a fun evening for just us two.”

“My weekend is booked. I don’t know if a weekday works for you?” Victor likely had a normal job, albeit one that was important if his tailored suit had been an indication. Yuuri briefly wondered if this was how someone ended up dating a Russian spy, hopelessly charmed and willfully ignorant.

“I am anticipating a short day Wednesday, if that’s not too soon for you?”

“That should—” Yuuri glanced over at the wall calendar, “—be good. If we stay in the city, I’ll be available from seven.”

“Seven is perfect. Can I text you at this number?”

“Yeah, please.”

“Good. Gives me time to come up with a unique and enjoyable date idea to impress you with.”

Victor said it. He said date. That was an intentional choice of words, one Yuuri was very pleased with. “I hear Google is great for that.”

Another laugh, low and seductive. Yuuri was already gone.

“I’ll have to investigate that, thank you. I’ll message you in a bit.”

“Looking forward to it.”

Yuuri hung up the call, his pulse fluttering in his throat. He needed to tell Phichit and Mila that they had to move up their shopping day.

 


 

The last date Yuuri had gone on had been a dinner out and nothing more. The conversation had been rough, stilted, with neither him nor his date seeming to be able to find a topic that they could carry for more than a minute. It had ended without an order of dessert, but with a handshake and a breath of relief when Yuuri was left alone outside the nearest train station. For that date, Yuuri had run late, arriving ten minutes after the agreed-upon time. He had texted a warning ahead of time, making the excuse that he had been held up at the shop.

This time, he had shown up ahead of time, hands stuffed into his pockets to protect them from the chill of a cold spring night. The Christmas lights and grand tree which had dominated the square a few months prior had been taken down, but the energy of a joyous evening on the town still hung in the air.

Mila and Phichit had dragged him out after closing the day prior, taking him on an extended “treat yourself” spree. Yuuri had barely managed to constrain them to reasonable terms. He had come out of it with three brand-new outfits including a pair of leather shoes and a cashmere scarf he was sure he would never wear. He simply did not understand the appeal of it, despite Phichit’s dramatic gasp when he voiced the sentiment aloud.

Yuuri was wearing the one outfit he had agreed to with the least amount of pressure, a white turtleneck with dark glittering blue streaking up from the hem. Phichit had made Yuuri promise to take off his jacket at dinner in order to show off how the fabric hugged his upper arms and emphasized the muscles he had built up over years of baking. His work did not really have an image of fitness, but Yuuri still liked to do a lot of mixing by hand so he could feel the changing textures as he went. Add in the necessary ability to lift fifty-pound bags of flour over his shoulders and he managed to at least keep his upper body in shape.

The pants chosen for him had also been selected with the express purpose of showing off his thighs and the shape of his ass, Mila having found the most clingy fabric that still remained comfortable. She and Phichit had slicked back his hair and insisted he trade his glasses for contacts for the night. Yuuri had agreed with them, because in all honesty, he did want to look his best for Victor.

“Yuuri!” And there he was, looking twice as good as Yuuri had permitted himself to remember. The smile he cast at Yuuri as he approached was a direct strike against Yuuri’s morality. “You’re early.”

“So are you,” Yuuri said, smiling back. For all of his nerves regarding the date, he was going to take that as a sign of a good start.

“I wanted to make a good impression,” Victor replied. “Shall we?”

“Where are we headed?” Yuuri asked. The texts Victor had sent to follow up his call, after his supposed research, had designated Rockefeller Center as their meeting spot. Phichit had joked about Victor taking Yuuri to Times Square from there and then—with the most serious expression—said Yuuri was to dump his ass for unoriginality if that turned out to be true.

“Right here.”

That had Yuuri’s attention. “Here?”

“Not right here, but… you’ll see. I think it’s that way.” Victor nodded toward the main square, turning. He waited for Yuuri before starting to walk.

Yuuri followed after him, curious. Victor took them to the stairs at the promenade, starting down them as Yuuri quickly got a sense of what Victor intended. “Ice skating?”

“Would you believe it shows up on every single list of first date ideas in the city?” Victor said with an amused chuckle. “Seeing that we met by courtesy of Leroy, I thought it was appropriate.”

Yuuri could see the logic. However, every piece of advice he had received about playing it cool was going to be swept out the window if they went through with it, because he was going to spend the entire time on his ass rather than on his skates. No, he needed to think positive. It would be a great excuse for grabbing onto Victor’s hand and keeping hold of it without the need for the long awkward moments of deliberation of when that particular step should be taken. It was genius, really. “All right, looks fun. I’ve never actually been here before, I always just kind of pass by it.”

“I think that’s true for most New Yorkers.”

They found where they were supposed to go with minimal effort, waiting in a short line to purchase their tickets and rent skates before shuffling off to wait for the next session. The outdoor rink did look gorgeous lit up. There were couples out on the ice, a group of teens enjoying attempts at making each other fall over, as well as a few families with their kids. Pop music played, warming up the cold evening. “Did you grow up here?”

“No, I was born and raised in St. Petersburg,” Victor said, glancing up from examining the laces on his skates. “My mother’s a diplomat. We moved to America just in time for me to apply to university. I liked it, so I thought I would stay if I could. How about you? Chris says your family is Japanese?”

That was correct. As they waited, Yuuri told Victor about coming to New York on vacation a year into his undergraduate degree and how a one-day class at a famous patisserie turned into a rather ill-advised and hasty decision to join an eight-month apprenticeship, and then how that turned into Yuuri getting his own shop after a mishap of sorts.

“Wait, wait, I know that name,” Victor interrupted midway through Yuuri’s story. “That’s the guy—the really famous one that has a TV show, right? You quit?!”

“I was always told I could be stubborn,” Yuuri said softly, sinking down into his turtleneck. “I mean, I’m Japanese and we follow rules, but I couldn’t see why we had to keep doing it that way when my technique was obviously better.”

Victor laughed, and Yuuri was glad that his story of royally messing up could be amusing. “You quit and opened your own store, just like that?”

“No, oh god, no!” Yuuri shook his head, strands of his hair breaking free from the hold of the gel to dip over his forehead. He tried pushing them back, but they would not stay. “For about four months, I was so depressed and ashamed that I refused to leave my apartment. I think my roommate was on the verge of calling my family and demanding they come to get me.”

“So what happened?”

“I think I got tired of it. I had been trying a lot of things while I stayed home, so I decided to apply to a cake show one slightly drunken night and… I won. I had so many requests after it that I didn’t really have a choice but to open a shop?”

“Wow,” Victor sighed, the tips of his nose and ears bitten pink by the cold. “You’re even more impressive than I thought.”

“Wait till you see me fall the second we get on the ice.”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” Victor said, glancing toward the rink. The previous session was finishing up, with only a few minutes to go until the time stamped on their tickets. Victor rubbed his hands together and held them up to his mouth, blowing into them.

“Are your hands cold?”

“Are you offering to warm them up for me?”

Blushing only a little at the wink Victor directed at him, Yuuri took out the small hand warmer pack he had in his pocket. New York was colder than Hasetsu and his first winter there, Yuuri had felt blessed to find out he could easily purchase them online. They did wonders for his sore feet and back after long days at the shop as well. “Here.”

“Were you using that? I’m not going to steal it from you, Yuuri.”

“You can either take it or stick your hand into my pocket, your choice.”

Yuuri did not expect for Victor to go for the latter choice, but that was exactly what he did. Stepping in close, Victor slipped his hand into the pocket of Yuuri’s jacket, transferring the warmer back into Yuuri’s palm. There was a smirk of mischief on his lips, a sparkle in his eyes, and Yuuri’s blush deepened like his pulse quickened. Yuuri maneuvered his hand inside the now slightly cramped pocket, dropping the warmer to the bottom so that he could instead lace his fingers through Victor’s. He was not sure if their date could even be formally considered started, since they were not out on the ice yet, but Yuuri was already jinxing it by being stupidly smitten just from that action alone. It was a shame when they had to let go to put on the skates, their session time started.

People both behind and in front of them hastened to get on the ice, while Yuuri spent an extra minute ensuring that his laces were tied tight. The last thing he wanted was for them to unravel and result in his premature death. That would not be a great conclusion to the date.

Beside him, Yuuri noticed Victor wobbling as he stood. Not a good sign. “Victor… Please tell me you’ve skated before.” Yuuri was relying on being guided by the hand, clinging and putting his weight on an impressively experienced Russian skater.

Victor was leaning against the rink wall, hand clenched around the edge. “No?”

“Never?” Yuuri asked, pushing himself up. He half expected to fall face-first, however, he managed to balance on the blades. Okay, not so bad. He took half a step forward and remained standing.

“Have you?”

“Ummm, all the comments about my plans to end up on my ass were not me being modest,” Yuuri laughed.

“And here I was counting on you to hold me the whole time.”

Laughing more, Yuuri edged forward and grabbed Victor’s hand, holding on as he leaned out over the entrance to the ice. “Okay, we can do this. That kid out there looks like he’s two and he’s fine.” At least, if Yuuri made a complete idiot of himself, Victor would probably not be far behind.

Carefully, Yuuri took his first step onto the ice. His foot instantly started sliding forward and Yuuri jerked it back, only for it to slide again. Probably not a great start, especially not for his already withering confidence. Sucking in a deep breath and holding it, Yuuri gripped onto the rink wall and stepped out with both feet, forcing himself to hold steady. He remained upright. Hand over hand, he pulled himself along the wall, feet remaining firmly planted, knees locked.

Yuuri glanced back to a yelp and Victor falling immediately upon getting both feet on the ice. He winced, sitting with his legs curled out in front of him.

“I seem to have made a dire miscalculation in my grand scheme for this date.”

Biting back his giggles, Yuuri inched toward Victor and extended a hand. Victor grabbed hold. Using the leverage of the wall, Yuuri pulled him up. Success was short-lived, because Victor’s attempt to get against the wall had him slipping and falling forward, knocking Yuuri over with him.

“Fancy meeting you down here,” Yuuri joked as Victor groaned, rubbing at his hip.

“I give up.”

“No, you can’t! We can’t. Come on, we can get up.” With some struggle, they managed to get back onto their feet, shuffling to the edge. Victor was actually pouting, playing it up with the saddest and bluest puppy eyes Yuuri had ever seen. Unfairly cute. “I think we can probably Google this too. Skating for dummies.”

Victor dug out his phone, dusting ice crystals off his hands. He typed in exactly that, pulling up a WikiHow article. The first instruction was, Have a lesson with a trainer. They glared at it in unison. Victor kept scrolling. The article proved to be wholly unhelpful. They should have expected that.

It took several more hesitant starts with another fall each before they were able to make fractionally consistent strides. Step by step, moment by moment, slip by slip, and laugh by laugh, they moved further along the rink, completing a single loop. Their high five of triumph had both of them rocking precariously, nearly knocked off balance by it. Yuuri had to grab onto Victor to keep him from bailing out through the rink door, protesting the joke.

They did another lap, Yuuri separating from the wall, his penguin steps slowly building into a glide. Victor slid up alongside him, smile gorgeous, flecks of ice melting in his silver hair. Yuuri kept having the odd urge to sweep back his bangs.

Neither of them was consistent. Yuuri took another tumble when a kid sped by too closely, Victor tripping over him due to being unable to stop. They stayed crumpled on the ice for a moment, giggling at their continued failure. Victor flicked ice at Yuuri in playful blame before they helped each other up, getting out of the way of the other people who were actually staying upright.

They swapped the hand-holding for balance-keeping, encouraging each other forward. After half an hour and a few laps without any contact with the ice, Victor spun around and tried skating backwards only to find himself completely halted. Yuuri’s own trial to prove that it could not possibly be that much harder going backwards had him at a standstill as well, until he pushed himself with the help of the wall. He glided back, legs spread and feet at what was surely an unadvisable angle. He kept going until he bumped into Victor.

“Cheater.”

The brief moment in which a hand settled on his waist had Yuuri buzzing and wishing they were both much better. He would not mind a repeat of their dance, with the added sensuality of skating it at night under the open sky. “I object to your call, judge.”

“Overruled.”

“Under what jurisdiction?”

“Mine.”

Yuuri’s cheeks were starting to feel sore, muscles strained by the constant smile on his face. He turned cautiously, very aware of their proximity. He could see the vapor of Victor’s exhaled breaths, feel the warmth of his body. “What are you, a lawyer?”

“Yes, actually. Been licensed in the state of New York for a few years now.”

“Oh…” Lawyer. That confirmed Yuuri’s guess that Victor had a proper, formal sort of job. He could imagine how good Victor looked standing at command in a courtroom, in his pressed and tailored suit. Yuuri might be too biased to stand jury. “Please don’t sue me for accidentally tripping you,” he begged.

“I’m not that kind of lawyer,” Victor reassured with a chuckle, his hand finding Yuuri’s. They were both slightly more comfortable on the ice now, able to move along the wall at a leisurely pace. “I’m a divorce lawyer.”

The front of Yuuri’s skate snagged on a gash in the ice and sent him tumbling forward. His knees hit the cold hard floor, hip bruising against the rink wall. Pain throbbed through him dully, Yuuri wincing as he went to pick himself up. Victor held out his hand in offer, but Yuuri assured him he was fine. His knees were not happy with him, though, and with an apologetic glance, Yuuri asked Victor if he would not mind getting back on solid ground.

As soon as they were rinkside, Yuuri found a spot on an empty bench, sitting down with a mixture of exhaustion and relief. His ankles, calves and thighs were going to complain the next day.

“I was warned against telling you but I didn’t think it would be such an obvious reaction,” Victor said, his tone soft as he took a seat next to Yuuri, leaning down to unlace his skates.

“Oh, no, I think I was going to go down on that spot regardless,” Yuuri dismissed. “It’s just… a surprise. That’s not something I would have guessed. It’s funny, actually, the combination.” He gestured between them.

“True. And I don’t know about you, but I am having a great time.” Victor pulled off the skates, giving his foot a quick massage. The skates had felt like they had gotten tighter and tighter the longer they skated, not used to how it was best to distribute their weight. “The bruises will be worth it.”

“I think so too,” Yuuri admitted, shucking off his skates. A disaster mitigated into having fun together. It was probably better that they were both hopeless at it, making for a mutual bonding experience. It was the kind of first date story that Yuuri adored hearing from his clients.

“Then how about some coffee to warm up?”

There was a stand not far from where they had rented their skates. Yuuri would not mind warming up with Victor, spending a bit more time getting to know him. That job title brought up a lot of curiosity and several questions.

Back in their regular shoes, Victor led them away from the rink to the rental return and then the coffee stand. Yuuri was keenly focused on the fact that one of Victor’s hands rested gently on the small of his back as Victor guided him along. He did not move away from the touch, leaning into it ever so slightly. Yuuri had been on a few dates where the initiation of contact had been an awkward thing. It never felt like the right moment, or when it did he either chickened out of it or waited for it to come but instead the moment passed him by. With Victor that could not be further from the truth.

Victor ordered them coffee and they moved to the side, picking a spot where they could stand and still watch the skaters that had remained on the ice. The kid that had caused Yuuri to fall was doing single jumps, gathering a small crowd of impressed spectators.

“I’m never going to make fun of JJ ever again,” Yuuri said, hitching up the side of his shirt. A bruise was already forming under the waistline of his pants, from where he had landed on his hip during the very first fall.

“I might have to agree with you there.” Victor cast Yuuri a look of sympathy, though he was undoubtedly bruised in a similar pattern himself. “I think I am going to have to renegotiate with Chris the conditions of our bet.”

“What bet?” Yuuri breathed in through his teeth, cooling a sip of coffee. It left a slight burn on his tongue, but it warmed him from the inside out.

“On what will be the cause of Leroy and Yang’s breakup. I thought maybe the skating would do it, but she seems like the type who would enjoy nurturing an injured partner,” Victor replied, waving a hand as he chuckled.

Yuuri stopped midway to lifting the coffee cup back to his mouth, brows furrowing. “You bet on them breaking up?”

Victor, at least, seemed to read the change in Yuuri’s tone because his attention was back fully on him. The handsome smile on his lips slipped. “Is that bad?”

“They’re getting married in a few months. Yes, that’s bad,” Yuuri answered. Even as a joke, that seemed harsh. “You don’t think they’re good together?”

“They both have egos the size of their bank accounts, it’s inevitable. I estimate a good few years, but the probability it’ll go sour once Leroy retires is astronomical.”

“How could you possibly know that?”

“It’s easy enough to see.” Victor turned in toward Yuuri, a full frown fouling his expression. “You don’t really believe that marriage is the grand thing it’s cracked up to be, do you? I’m sure you’ve seen couples fighting over cake and flowers before they’ve even started.”

“Fights are normal, they’re healthy as long as you work through them in the right way,” Yuuri replied, setting down his coffee. His arms crossed over his chest. “All couples are going to fight at some point.”

“Yes, but how many of them do work through it correctly? You’re telling me you’ve never had a client cancel on you because the wedding was put off?”

“That’s not the point—”

“Then what is? There are all these people who think a wedding and a marriage are something you need to be happy, like it’s some level you need to unlock, when it really doesn’t change anything. It’s an unnecessary pressure that just leads to conflict.”

“Weddings do make people happy. That’s the whole goal of them, to share your happiness with other people who care about you and want to show their support for the next stage of your life.”

“Of course you’d think that, your business depends on it.”

Yuuri began to respond, but paused, pursing his lips shut. “So you never want to get married?”

“I simply do not believe that it is something everyone needs to expect out of their life or relationship.”

“I’m not saying that it is.”

“Yuuri, really look at Leroy and Yang. They’re not even twenty yet and they think they need to be married. Why? What is that going to change other than their taxes? They’re going to rush into it and end up hating each other like every other high school sweetheart couple out there.”

“My parents were high school sweethearts,” Yuuri said, posture tense and shoulders stiff. Suddenly, Victor had lost a great portion of his appeal. That silver hair was starting to look pretentious after all. Maybe all that bleach was seeping through his scalp into his brain and damaging it. “They’ve been married for over thirty years and I can guarantee you that they’re still very happy.”

“Let me guess, they’re from some small town where everything is pristine and life is slow. It’s much more difficult around here,” Victor replied, his tone turning sharp as well. He noticed the distance Yuuri had put between them, the defensive stance. He sighed, raising a hand to brush back his wispy bangs. “I’m sorry, that’s not a topic for—”

“Oh, no. That’s a great topic. Thank you very much for sharing your opinion with me,” Yuuri cut in, keeping his words curt. He picked up his cup of coffee and threw it into a nearby garbage can. “I appreciate you inviting me out, Victor, but let’s not do it again. I’ll be sure to send remittance to your office for the skating and the coffee. Have a good night.”

Yuuri did not give Victor the chance to object. He dodged past him, huffing in frustration as he stalked off. His hands were trembling and he thrust them into his pockets to hide it, fingers in the left meeting fabric. He ripped the beanie he had been keeping there out of the pocket. Phichit had told him not to wear it in front of Victor for any reason, but Yuuri no longer saw that as an issue. His ears were cold and he was heading home. He jammed it down over his gel-slicked hair, rushing up the stairs and to the street to hail down a cab.

From the corner of his eye, Yuuri glimpsed Victor ascending to the top of the stairs just as a cab pulled up next to him. Yuuri slammed the door shut behind him and quickly gave his address. As the cab drove off, Yuuri pulled out his phone and deleted Victor’s number from it, as well as all the text messages which had been attached to it.

What a waste of an evening.

Chapter Text

Friday nights were a toss-up. On the few he did not stay late at the office, Victor found himself at a loss for what to do. Many of his coworkers—the paralegals, the secretaries, the other lawyers in the firm—usually migrated down the street to a bar which had been nicknamed “The Gavel” for the amount of courthouse frequenters that gathered there. Victor was not nearly as fond of it, as it tended to be too bright and too noisy, and he was genuinely friendly with too few of the patrons. Considering what little free time Victor had to himself, he would prefer to enjoy it. He had seen Yuri taking off the second before the clock hit six, jumping onto the back of a motorcycle belonging to a DJ friend of his. At least one of them had plans for a good time.

The last thing he wanted was to feel like he remained stuck at work after work. Objectively, his week had been successful. He had two clients sign settlements without much fuss and the judge’s ruling on his most recent trial had been favorable toward him. A concession had also been reached. Victor was relieved to have that case concluded, as both sides had grown more and more bitter the longer it dragged out.

Normally, in such a situation, Victor would take the opportunity to head home. He could take Makkachin out and head up the east side of the park. There was a café a few blocks up with an outdoor terrace that welcomed dogs. He could enjoy a cup of coffee while Makkachin slowly wagged her tail under the table. Except that his chest was still aching with the embarrassment of his previous coffee catastrophe.

The messages he had sent to Yuuri following their disaster of a date had all been ignored—which he understood. The moment Yuuri had stormed off, Victor had rewound his words in his head and felt like smacking himself across the face for them. Lawyers had a habit of going for readable pressure points even when it was not advisable. Obviously, Victor had been doing far too much arguing in court as of late and it had seeped through.

His couple of calls to Yuuri had also gone unreturned. In any other scenario, Victor would have let it go. He would have taken it to mean that Chris had been right, they were not a good match. Except that they had been. Yuuri’s response to the offer had been eager, his smile had been sweet, his laugh had been lovely, his hand had been warm, and the teasing he had jabbed at Victor’s ribs had left Victor thrilled in a way that clicked. Victor would much have preferred to end their evening seeing how much better the coffee tasted when it came off Yuuri’s lips rather than the plastic cup lid.

More than anything, the fact that Yuuri’s network of contacts seemed to cross over into several of Victor’s meant that the probability of them running into each other again was too high for comfort. It would be smart to avoid any awkward or hostile confrontations in mixed company, and Victor did not want to leave Yuuri to believe he was a complete and utter ass. Even if that was what he had made himself out to be.

Victor left his office building with his phone in hand, the multitude of unread messages he had sent Yuuri plaguing his phone. He dodged them, scrolling further down the list of recent contacts and typed off a short line.

<< The Carnegie, now. I need an ear.

He received a graciously quick response.

>> Billed or as a friend?

<< As a friend.

>> Fine, but you’re buying my drinks

Victor’s choice of establishment was quieter, walls loaded with bookshelves of stained cherry wood and the kind of lighting that would not be out of place in a 1920s speakeasy. Armchairs of worn leather and aged velvet made for a relaxed lounge, and the sweet smell of cigars lingered from the afternoon. The regular bartender there was a good-looking Korean who did not speak much and that suited Victor just fine for evenings like this. He took a seat at the bar, shrugging off his coat and jacket onto the stool next to his.

Victor held up two fingers when the bartender glanced his way, receiving a curt nod. It was enough to have his usual order poured and slid over: the house old-fashioned, made with a splash of lavender bitters. The second glass was for his hopefully soon-to-be-joining company. The first sip of the liquor bit across his tongue as Victor drank, an appropriate reminder of his predicament. He was halfway to the bottom of the glass when a hand skimmed across his back, fingers dancing along his shoulder.

“What woes have you lighting up my phone so soon after I was blessed by your presence?”

Victor was grateful for the lack of delay. Had they planned a meet-up in advance, Chris might have been more inclined to be fashionable and torment Victor by making him wait on his own.

From the inside pocket of his suit jacket, Victor pulled a check and laid it on the counter before Chris.

“What’s this?”

“I took Yuuri out last week.”

“My Yuuri?”

“Wedding cake Yuuri.”

“Okay, so why did he send you a—”

“I messed up.”

Chris made a show of rolling his eyes, as if he had never heard a statement more obvious. “Clearly.”

“He cut the date short and said he would send remittance to my office for his share.” Actually receiving the check had been the exact slap across the face that Victor deserved. Yuuri had calculated it out exactly, with taxes included, and signed the amount for not a penny more and not a penny less. It was a strong statement and, if it had not been made in anger directed at Victor, he would have been smitten.

Merde, Victor, what did you do to the poor boy?”

In a way, Victor did not see what he had done so wrong. He had been honest in sharing his opinion with Yuuri. Admittedly, marriage was not a topic for a first date but it was not as if he had planned for that particular branch of conversation. Yuuri’s laughter at Victor’s teasing jokes aimed at Leroy had given him the impression that he would not be so offended by a bet made in fun. Then again, that had not been what drove Yuuri to leave. The jab about his family was the point where Victor had gone too far. He was used to going for the jugular and it was a hard habit to shrug off when he made a living by arguing professionally at far higher stakes. “I told him about our bet.”

“Oh, darling.”

“I may have mentioned how I consider marriage to be an utter waste.”

“Don’t say any more.”

“Then I insulted his business.”

“Please shut up.”

“And his family.”

“Were you going for asshole bingo? ’Cause I think you need one more.” Chris wet his mouth with the drink Victor had bought him, popping his lips off the glass.

“I’m sure there’s one more I’m forgetting.”

With a chuckle that was meant to mock Victor’s self-pity, Chris leaned back and turned, laying a hand on Victor’s forearm. “So, what? Did you ask me here to act as a carrier pigeon and convey your condolences? Because, frankly, I like Yuuri more than I like you.”

“I don’t particularly like myself at this moment.”

“That’s a start.” Patting Victor’s arm, Chris drew back, his long lashes fluttering as his eyes swept the bar. When no one of interest appeared to strike him, he turned his focus back to Victor. “All right, fess up. What do you want? You managed to weasel your way back and want me to reassure him that you’re really a wonderful gentleman and all that jazz?”

“No. He hasn’t replied to me at all."

“Since?”

“Last Wednesday.” Victor knew it was a bit pathetic—slightly out of character for himself as well. But despite their limited interactions, he had really liked Yuuri. At this point, he would be content to give an apology and leave it at that. Victor was not heartless and he was not cruel, yet he did have a tendency to shove his own foot in his mouth on occasion. Every other time he would have shrugged it off and called it a loss, yet every other time he had not held an interest in the insulted party. Victor also did not like leaving ends loose. He wanted his apology heard and if Yuuri told him to fuck off, he would. It would give him a concrete conclusion.

“It’s been over a week and you’re still moping?” Chris asked, surprise turning up the tone of his voice. He traced the rim of his glass with a ring finger. “Oh, I always knew Yuuri could be a heartbreaker. How’d he look on the date?”

In Victor’s honest opinion? Gorgeous. That tight-fitting turtleneck had given him a hint that Yuuri was in good shape for someone whose profession was in cakes. Upon arriving at their meeting point, Victor had blinked a few times before he reassured his brain that it was indeed Yuuri. Without his glasses and with his hair gelled back, Yuuri’s facial features seemed sharper, more striking. He had gone from cute to stunning. Victor’s thoughts had raced to the get you a man who can do both meme. “When he left, he jammed on a beanie,” Victor said, unsure if his response answered Chris’ question. It felt like it should have. “It had these little cat ears…”

“Sounds like Yuuri.”

“Chris, he didn’t even wait for an Uber or go for the station. He was so pissed off at me that he took a cab.”

That earned him a look of sympathy. A brief one. “Accept it and move on. People have their issues and their limits. Sorry the date went wrong, sorry that you made yourself out to be a basic dick, sorry that you’re hung up on it. As a friend, I’m going to tell you to let it go. Seems like Yuuri doesn’t want any contact, so suck it up and shrug it off. It wasn’t going to work out anyway. Better that you got it over quickly.”

From an outside perspective, Victor could agree with Chris. The easiest course of action was to let it fade to the back of his mind and write it off as a passing experience. Live and let live. And, to quote Chris, all that jazz. “How about as a professional?”

“I’d ask you why you’re so fixated on this one incident as opposed to others.”

Because Victor had regretted the words, not as soon as he had spoken them, but as soon as he saw Yuuri’s reaction to them. Because the rest of the date, up to that moment, had been great. Skating with Yuuri had been fun. When Victor tried to think back to the last time he had laughed so much, he could not come up with a year, much less a day. It felt a shame to let that slip away so easily. “I liked him. He surprised me.” Victor did not have a much better explanation than that.

Sighing heavily, Chris gazed at Victor for an excessive period of time, his full lips set in an unnaturally thin line. “So, then I’d ask you again, what do you want out of this? And don’t give me bullshit about how it’s just a chance to say you’re sorry, you’d be lying to us both.”

“An attempt at an apology date would be appreciated. I thought we got on well and it could be good for both of us to learn about each other’s perspectives, if we’re able.” In Victor’s opinion, one of the greatest things about younger generations like his own was the tendency to marry later and marry less. The culture was changing, and in his views, it was for the better. Less divorce, less mess. He was not worried about losing out on business; there would always be enough. Meeting someone young like Yuuri who was still enamored with the concept could make for good insight into the other side. If Victor was right—and he usually was—Yuuri had enjoyed his company too. One more shot was not a lot to ask.

“Let us imagine you get this date, Victor. Say it goes well,” Chris said, waving a hand as if he were painting the scene in the air before them. “Then what? Do you keep dating? For what purpose? How long would you estimate that a potential relationship, if it came to that, would last for the two of you?”

When it came to his work, Victor always planned ahead. He had organized calendars and schedules, predictions of when he would get busy, and the next steps for diverging paths of a verdict already scripted into his case notes. When it came to himself, that was a different matter. He was not sure where he was heading, what his next level was. That uncertainty meant he avoided the topic altogether, personally and socially. “I would give it max nine months.” If Yuuri really was the type who dreamed of his own wedding, a relationship would not be able to last much longer than that before starting to disintegrate with implied expectation.

“And then what?”

“Why do I need to consider that now? Why do I need to ask for a date with any kind of expectation beyond now?” Victor countered, his posture turning stiff, defenses rising. “If everyone went in with that kind of thinking, no one would ever date.”

“Fine, you have a point. Why even ask me if you’re going to ignore me?”

“Reverse psychology. You telling me not to do it is exactly the push I need to go for it.”

“Glad I could be your mother for you, chéri. Now buy me another drink for my headache.”

Victor waved at the bartender so Chris could order them another round. They clinked their glasses together, Victor giving his thanks while Chris muttered an insult in French and told him not to worry about it. Two mouthfuls in, Chris pulled a vibrating phone from his jacket, swiping the lockscreen open.

From the corner of his eye, Victor glimpsed a text message that had a link following in blue. Two more messages popped up, images out of focus in Victor’s peripheral view. Chris quickly angled the screen away from Victor and slipped the phone back into his pocket.

“Matthieu’s back in town?” Victor was not entirely sure how long Chris had been going steady. A few months, maybe more, closer to half a year. He should have paid more attention to when it had been that Chris’ slew of encounters morphed into a single name being repeated throughout his salacious stories.

“No, it’s a client. Dealing with a lot of pre-wedding jitters.”

“Not Leroy, is it?”

“No names, Victor, you know I can’t.”

“You do understand that this makes the terms of our bet quite unfair, actually, if you’re counselling him.”

“Breaking up my client in order to win a bet would be highly unethical.”

“And sleeping with Matthieu after he came in for a consultation wasn’t?”

Chris smirked and threw him a wink, giving no objection. Victor was well aware that Chris’ current boyfriend had never been a paying client and that Chris had, professionally, referred him to another therapist more suited to his needs. Matthieu had, if Victor remembered correctly, been trying to get over a bad breakup. Chris had supposedly helped him get over it a few times in a single afternoon shortly after meeting.

If only Victor’s own grievance could be resolved so easily.

Upon reaching the bottom of his glass, Chris dabbed his mouth with a napkin and leaned over, throwing his arms around Victor’s shoulders. He held out a business card, the neatly trimmed paper stock tucked between his fore and middle fingers. “You know where you can find me, chéri. I promise to apply the family and friends discount.”

Victor knocked his hand away, but turned into Chris, brushing a kiss on his cheek. “Thank you.”

“No problem, you know I love your company. Try to behave, all right? Don’t go filling out the rest of that bingo board.”

After Chris left him, Victor drained the rest of his drink and took out his own phone. Maybe some good will would get him through. He found Yuuri’s number and pressed the dial icon. It rang twice before being cut, directed straight to voicemail. Yuuri had declined to answer. Victor ended the call.

Victor paid his tab and left the tip in cash, spinning off the stool. His coat went on, suit jacket draped over his elbow as he headed out. He kept telling himself to let it go on the walk toward his apartment building, but the memory of just how quickly Yuuri’s handsome, smiling face had morphed to a disgusted scowl kept pounding at the back of his skull. Victor knew himself, and he knew that if he did not try to mend it, that memory would creep back into his mind in his most peaceful and most inopportune moments.

A few blocks north and a couple west, and Victor was in the door of the front lobby and on the elevator. No music, just the hum of the pulleys and the ding of the arrival bell. He heard Makkachin whining behind the door before he even had his keys out. Victor let her pounce on him the moment he was inside, dropping to his knees so he could ruffle her ears and face with both hands. He tipped his head away from her kisses as he greeted her with cooes of, Hello, my Makka Wakka, did you miss me? and the rest of the usual nonsense. He had left his briefcase at the office, determined to give himself a proper weekend. The suit jacket was hung on a hook and Makkachin’s leash was snatched off the one beside it. She forced her head through the loop of the collar, tail wagging madly.

A moment later he was back in the elevator, Makkachin panting happily at his side. They went out the door and across the street, headed in the direction opposite of the one Victor had come from. In the evenings, if it was late, they kept their strolls to the perimeter of the park. Makkachin visited her favorite bush. Victor cleaned up after her. They stayed out until her pace started to falter and her head turned round toward home. They ran the last block back, Victor smiling to himself when she dodged between his legs and got one of his ankles tangled in the leash. He wondered, briefly, if Yuuri liked dogs.

The leash and his coat were hung by the door, Makkachin rushing toward the kitchen to lap water from her bowl. Victor prepared her dinner, rinsing out and refilling the water bowl as she ate. His own dinner consisted of whatever was left over in the fridge. He washed a single plate, single glass, single set of utensils once he was done, and went to change. The suit pants and jacket were set aside, off to the dry cleaner’s in the morning. Everything else went in the laundry load, on a standard cycle. Victor spent a little more than half an hour on the treadmill by the expansive windows in the living room while the television played the news in the background. He barely paid attention. Stocks were up, stocks were down, the world was a mess—but, hey, the Central Park Zoo was getting a new red panda.

Victor showered, towelled his hair dry, went through his nightly skincare routine. Never too young to start. Good looks were a godsend to a lawyer, as judges and juries statistically favored them. Victor wanted to keep every advantage.

The bedsheets were cold when he slipped between them, Makkachin hopping up onto the foot of the bed shortly after him. “What do you want to do tomorrow?” he asked her. She gave no reply, her eyes closed, chin on her paws. “Yeah, I don’t know either.”

The lights went off and the room was quiet, his floor high and the windows thick enough that the noises of the streets below did not carry. Victor closed his eyes. He saw no dreams that night, as usual.

Morning came with the excessive ringing of the doorbell and loud pounding to accompany it. Victor groaned as he slipped from the bed and walked to the closet to find something to slip into. It was not even Sunday. “Where’s your key?!” he snapped upon opening it, wearing a pair of loose grey sweatpants that someone must have left behind because Victor was certain he would never have purchased them.

“Forgot it. If Gramps calls, I was with you the whole night.” Yuri was at the door. He was still in the same clothes from the day before, though his tie was missing and the fabric of his button-up was significantly rumpled. Yuri had the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and his vest was misbuttoned. His hair was the mess of someone who had been out all night.

“When did New York clubs start allowing in teenagers?”

“They don’t.”

Victor stepped aside, letting him in. The sun was up anyway, it was time to rise and shine. Yuri went straight for the coffee maker, opening exactly the right cabinets to grab the filters, the whole beans, and the grinder. “If they catch you with a fake license, you’ll be disbarred before you even get to practice.”

“So I don’t get caught.”

When Yuri had first expressed an interest in being a lawyer, Victor’s first suggestion was for criminal defense. He still thought Yuri would fit better there, but he also understood his desire to go into family law. The mess of adoption and nasty custody battles after the fact was good motivational experience for Yuri to help other kids facing similar ordeals get through them. It was admirable—a much better reason than Victor had for going into it.

“Sure,” Victor replied with a sigh. He could not act as if he had never done anything questionable as an up-and-coming teen. A bit wiser now, he shuddered with horror upon recalling certain adventurous incidents. Yuri was the type to keep that kind of spark alive longer than Victor had. A dignified professional life did not fit well with clubbing past closing time, but maybe, maybe Yuri would find a good balance. Victor had swapped clubs with overpriced drinks for lounges with overpriced drinks, and he thought that suited him just fine. “Hope you had fun. Want some breakfast? I think I still have some waffle mix left over.”

Yuri paused with his finger over the coffee grinder button. “What?”

“Is it breaking some rule of yours to have the same breakfast twice in one month?” Victor asked, opening cupboards to find the box of waffle mix. Not there. No, not there either. He knew he had left it somewhere around there.

“Are you dying?” Yuri asked, his green eyes narrowed with sharp accusation.

“Am I dying?” Victor repeated, trying to figure out what he had done to earn such a reaction. Perhaps Chris’ flare for the dramatic was catching.

Leaning back with suspicion still marking his expression, Yuri ground the coffee beans and dumped them into the filter, starting the hot water drip. “What’d you do last night, anyway? Another date with wedding boy?”

Victor did not think that offering breakfast was so out of character as to set Yuri off. Then again, usually it was Yuri either barking demands for something in particular or simply raiding his fridge. Anyone else might think his internship was unpaid or that he was saddled with student debt when Victor knew that Yuri received a monthly stipend for his studies on top of his full scholarship. “No, I met Christophe for a few drinks. Wedding boy has not returned my calls.”

Yuri scoffed. “That why you’ve been acting so weird?”

“Have I?” Victor had not noticed. “For your information, it was not because of my job, despite your advice. He seemed to have no issue with that.”

“So you fucked up some other way. And people think you’re a genius.” Yuri placed two coffee mugs on the counter, but only filled one, blowing on the surface. He would always take the first few sips of it black, then sneak into the fridge for the milk the second he thought Victor was not paying attention.

“Yeah.” Being surrounded by people very willing to remind him that he had acted like an idiot must have been some divine gift. Makkachin had not judged him for it yet, so he had that to hold onto for the moment. “I know I did.”

“Really? That bad?” Yuri barked with laughter and it really did not suit him. A hiss would have been more natural.

“I was an ass. I have attempted to apologize for being an ass yet still feel like an ass. Happy?”

“You’re always an ass.”

Victor gave Yuri his sweetest smile. “Takes one to know one, my darling Yuratchka.”

Yuri glared, giving off the feeling that he had never been more repulsed. Victor half expected him to go full-on cat and cough up a hairball in disgust. “Give me your fucking car keys.”

“Hmmm?”

“Car keys. Give them to me.”

Victor, like any good New Yorker, did not drive often. Parking was a hassle and driving amongst the cabs, tourists, and hire services was enough to make his hairline recede. He did not need the added stress. But now and then he liked to go outside the city. There was the added need for the occasional site visit with an assets appraiser. The amount of his clients who had second houses in the Hamptons made Victor think there was no other real estate left on the market.

Victor fetched the keys which were tucked in the back of his work desk drawer. The last time he had taken the car out escaped him. Perhaps last December, to visit his mother for the holidays. He tossed the keys across the living room to Yuri, who caught them out of the air with one hand. “Don’t crash it.” Yuri had yet to run anyone off the road, but Victor awaited the day someone had a particularly aggravating bumper sticker.

“You’re coming with me,” Yuri replied, pocketing the keys. “I’ll feed Makkashka, you get dressed and do your… hair thing.”

Just because Yuri rolled out of bed and did not do more than run a comb through his blond head did not mean Victor had a hair thing. At least he was not being accused of sparkling this time. Victor walked over and plucked the coffee mug from Yuri’s hands before he could drink from it. He carried it with him back to the bedroom to get dressed, returning after half an hour with a washed face and the perfect coif to his bangs. Yuri was sitting on one of the kitchen stools, Makkachin crunching through her kibble while Yuri crunched through some granola.

“Where are we going?”

“Out,” Yuri replied through a mouthful.

“On a Saturday morning?” Sure. As long as he could take Makkachin, might as well. Ten minutes later, they had a poodle in the back of his Mercedes while Yuri revved the engine at a stoplight. When it turned green, however, he pulled forward at a normal pace.

Yuri headed for Midtown, not saying much. His phone was hooked up to the car’s Bluetooth system, playing a selection of remixes no doubt credited to his all-nighter influence. Victor did not hate it, which he was endlessly grateful for. If he did, the age difference would be hitting him hard with the mocking reminder that he was getting “old.”

The car stopped along a street of chic-looking shops, all small but with bright colors and appealing displays. None appeared to be open yet, but the one across the road did have activity outside it.

“Yura, no.”

“If you’re so bugged about it, go talk to him. But if he tells you to fuck off to your face, do it and get over yourself.”

There was a white van outside the cake shop, with loopy soft blue writing stating the name along the side. The doors were open, the engine idling. And there he was. Yuuri, with two assistants, carried a four-tiered cake and loaded it carefully into the van. If Victor confronted him now, it would be hard for Yuuri to avoid him. However, doing that while he was in front of his coworkers and in the middle of an obviously important task felt a tad manipulative. Victor hesitated.

Yuuri had screened all his calls, had not read any of his texts, and was by all impressions not interested in pursuing any sort of relationship. Yet, Victor did want to apologize, if not for himself, then for Yuuri. Yuuri had been nothing but sweet and deserved the sign of respect. If that was not good enough an excuse, then Victor did not want his behavior to leave a bad impression on Chris or any of their other mutual contacts.

Yuuri hopped out of the back of the van, closing the double doors gently behind him. His assistants were already behind the wheel and in the passenger seat. With a wave from Yuuri, the van’s blinker went on and they took to the road. It was now or never.

Victor pushed open the car door and ran around to the street, grateful that the early hour meant there were not many vehicles on the road. “Yuuri!”

The look he got back felt like being hit by a truck. Yuuri’s eyes were ice behind his glasses and his cheeks puffed out. Victor was reminded of a prickly porcupine. Said porcupine spun around, heading straight for his shop. Victor sprinted across the street, dodging a scowling bicyclist.

He made it in time to plant a hand against the door of Yuuri’s shop, preventing him from yanking it open. “Good morning?” Victor doubted even his best charms would work in this situation but that would not stop him from trying. It had worked the first time. He might get lucky.

“We’re closed,” Yuuri stated flatly, tapping the sign behind the window. “Sir.”

That certainly set the tone for how the exchange between them was likely to go. Victor had won over opposition many times before, and he could do it again. He had something more personal at stake here: his pride. “Okay, listen. Give me one minute to apologize to you and afterwards, I swear I’ll go.”

Yuuri sucked in his cheeks, firing a glare at Victor’s hand. Victor immediately dropped it from the door, giving Yuuri his escape route back, should he choose to take it. “Why should I?”

“Because I was a major dick to you and I want to tell you that I’m sorry. I know saying that it all came out wrong or that I didn’t mean it is pointless. I still said it and it was still unacceptable. You were right to be angry and you were right to leave. Honestly, you were also right not to respond to me after. But I did want to apologize to you, sincerely. I—I have no excuse. It was too much and went too far. I’m so used to arguing in my job, and aiming for points that my instincts tell me are sensitive is a force of habit. I just—I don’t want you to think I am that kind of person.” Victor really should have rehearsed his apology to try to form one more precise and more effective. “I had a good time with you, Yuuri. I was flustered after making myself look like an idiot skating. I was trying to impress you and thought you might find the bet amusing. You had laughed at all my comments before that. So your reaction threw me and put me on the defensive. You were right, though, it was inappropriate and the things I said to you after more so. I’m sorry, truly. That’s it.”

Yuuri had his arms crossed over his chest and his brows were deeply furrowed, but he was listening. Victor’s heart was a kick drum, wearing down the inside of his ribcage with each beat.

“That sounds like a lot of excuses to me,” Yuuri said after a moment of consideration, having taken a long pause as if expecting Victor to jump in and interrupt.

“I know, I know. But it’s natural for me to want to explain myself, don’t you think?” Victor cast him a smile. Yuuri did not falter.

“I don’t think there is any explanation for insulting someone’s business like that. Did you want to leave a bad Yelp review too, to finish it off?” Yuuri asked. Although he did not pull it open, his hand went to the door handle.

“No. I wanted you to hear my apology and that’s it.”

“Are you expecting me to forgive you?”

“Not at all. I thought I would explain myself, admit my fault, and maybe have you understand where it came from. I don’t think that all marriages are doomed to fail, and I don’t think that Leroy and Wang are a bad fit. I wouldn’t have attended their engagement party if I did. My comments were misplaced.”

“Sure. If they have any problems, they can simply move to a small town and that’ll take care of it, right?”

Victor knew that would be the one that got him. Everything else he might have been able to sweet-talk his way around, but that line was the one that had sunk him. It bit at his conscience, serving as a top reminder on a list of dumb things to never say. “That was me making a dick of myself and nothing more. No, I don’t think that either. My parents were both originally from very small towns and I wish their relationship had worked out better than it did. I’m sorry, Yuuri, genuinely. That is all I came to say.”

Yuuri visibly softened at that, however slightly. His posture was less stiff and his arms dropped to his sides. His jaw remained tense, teeth clenched until he let out a sigh. “I need to get back to work. If you’re not a customer, you need to leave.”

“I’m a customer.”

Yuuri’s eyebrows lifted, disappearing into his messy bangs. “Really?”

He could be. Yuuri’s cake had been beyond delicious and Victor would not mind supporting his business. “Yes. I would like to place a custom order.”

For a few breathless, never-ending seconds Victor thought Yuuri was about to tell him to fuck off after all. The words seemed poised on his tongue, sharp in his brown eyes. Then, Yuuri opened the door and held it, gesturing Victor inside.

The shop front was small, with a single table in the corner. The walls were white, the ceiling high, the counter pristine, and the air smelled of freshly baked cake. The layered scent of rich butter and Madagascar vanilla made Victor salivate. Behind a glass case was an assortment of beautifully piped cupcakes. Neat, handwritten cards placed in front of each row marked the flavors. Triple Salted Dulce de Leche, Champagne, Black Forest, Spring Kumquat and Grapefruit. Victor wanted to try one of each.

Yuuri slipped behind the counter and produced an order pad, tapping a pen over the top of it. “What did you want to order then, Victor?”

Something. Anything. Asking Yuuri for input right now would not work in his favor. Victor could not imagine receiving a four-tier cake like the one he had seen go out, and he had no ideas as original as the brûléed ice rink at Leroy’s party. He could ask for a cake shaped like an ass which he would present to himself and invite Yuuri to smash his face into it, if that made up for things a bit more. “Can you do custom cupcakes?”

“Yes,” Yuuri answered, “how many?”

How many would be acceptable? How many could Victor eat? “Twelve.” A dozen seemed fair.

“Custom orders start at twenty-four.”

“Okay then, thirty.” Victor thought he saw the hint of a smile crack at the corners of Yuuri’s pretty lips. “I have an intern I’m mentoring, it’s his birthday soon.” Victor was mostly sure that Yuri’s birthday was in March. He had overheard birthday talk recently at work. Plus, few people said no to free treats. If Yuuri was as popular as Chris made him out to be, a box of his cupcakes would make the office fawn.

“In that case, I assume you’ll need a rush order?” Yuuri asked, checking options on his notepad.

“Yes. By Friday?” That gave Yuuri a week. Victor was fine with paying whatever extra fee would be tacked on for that.

“Sure, by Friday,” Yuuri confirmed, scribbling the date in the top right corner. “What would you like for them?”

“Hmmm?”

“You said custom order. What flavor, colors, any special decorations or messages?” Yuuri asked, blinking at Victor from behind the blue frames of his glasses. Victor tried very hard not to find Yuuri ridiculously cute. It did not work.

“He, uhhh, likes cats? Big cats, like leopards. So something like that? Leopard print cupcakes?”

Yuuri hummed a confirmation, professional, as he did not instantly mock Victor for the suggestion. “Flavors?”

Oh. Right. Leopard print, there had to be something which would make sense with that. “Banana and chocolate.”

“I can do that. Though if you want banana, I would recommend it paired with my nutella frosting.”

Victor was convinced he was drooling and that he needed to double his time on the treadmill from the thought of it alone. “That sounds fantastic.”

“Anything else?”

“No, that is good, thank you.” That had gone smoothly, which was encouraging. Victor would have been understanding if Yuuri had beaten him away from the shop with a rolling pin. The dedication to his work was commendable.

“All right. Thirty custom cupcakes, deliverable Friday.” Yuuri rang up the total on the register.

Victor nearly choked on the price. “That’s a lot.”

“Rush order. Plus I added the difficult customer fee,” Yuuri made the statement with a straight face and Victor admired that. “If you’d like to complain to someone, I’m the owner.”

Victor did not want to complain. His hands went to his back pockets only to realize he did not have his wallet on him. Casting a smile, he excused himself and ran from the shop back to the car, snatching it from the seat. Makkachin did not even have time to bark at him before he was sprinting back. Victor swore that Yuuri looked amused as he paid and wrote his contact information down for the order.

Yuuri handed him the receipt. “Anything else I can do for you, Mr. Nikiforov?”

His name sounded pleasant in Yuuri’s voice, even if the pronunciation was off. If Yuuri was asking, Victor would be honest with him. He would accept the response any way it came to him. “I would really like it if you gave me the chance to show you that I am better than the impression I gave you last time.”

The grimace was back on Yuuri’s lips, yet it was not as deep as it had been upon Victor’s first appearance. “Why should I?” he asked once again.

“Honestly? You shouldn’t. I don’t deserve it,” Victor replied. If he were in Yuuri’s position, he would not have given himself half the time he had received. “I do want you to know that I did mean everything I said to you just now. The party and our date, up till the end, I enjoyed it a lot. And if I’m not mistaken, you did too. So if you tell me to leave right now, I would understand. I’ll have someone else come pick up the cupcakes when they’re ready. But I would really, really like the chance to make it up to you.”

Yuuri did not answer immediately. He gazed over his shoulder toward a door that likely led to the kitchen in the back, pulling his lower lip between his teeth. When he turned back, he glanced at the order pad in his hand and then at Victor. “Fine. One chance.”

Victor beamed. “Great! How about tomorrow?”

That caused a proper reaction. Yuuri’s eyes went wide and his cheeks collected a dusting of pink with his surprise. “Tomorrow?”

“If you’re free. That way, if it goes badly or if you decide I am not worth your time, it’ll be done that much quicker. No agonizing in the time between.”

Yuuri’s lips twitched and he bit the bottom one once more, that time to hold a small smile from breaking through. “I hadn’t blocked your number yet, so you can text me the details. Now, kindly, please leave my shop so I can get back to my job.”

Victor nodded, holding his receipt up as he backed out. The door shut behind him without a sound. He refrained from doing a fist pump in celebration, actually looking both ways before making his way across the street to where his car awaited him. The sun was warm on his skin, morning having arrived in full. A few of the other shops along the street were starting to open.

“Got what you wanted?” Yuri asked, restarting the engine. Makkachin wagged her tail in the back seat, smacking it against the leather.

“How did you even know where his shop was?” Victor questioned, smile wide as he buckled himself in.

“They make good cupcakes.” Yuri shrugged, pulling out onto the street. “I’m going to that diner down on Fifth. You owe me a proper breakfast.”

Victor did not voice any protests. Success.

The following morning, when Victor picked Yuuri up outside a brownstone in Brooklyn, he did so with a plan. A better plan than the skate date and definitely a better one than his nearly botched apology. Part one of the plan was to be a perfect gentleman, to greet Yuuri with his most gorgeous smile and hold the car door open for him.

Yuuri did not give him the opportunity, dodging around Victor and getting into the car on his own. There was a slight pout on Yuuri’s lips, as if he could not decide whether or not he wanted to be there. That was fine. Victor would win him over by the end of the day.

Part two of the plan was to make conversation on the drive light and natural, to steer away from any topics that might bring reminders of their previous date. Victor asked Yuuri about his life in the city, about his roommate, about his commute. He received short answers to all, Yuuri cool and not making it easy.

Part three was meant to be what clinched it, though. By some miracle, Victor had found the perfect outing for them. He needed something that would show his support for Yuuri’s line of work, something charming, something that Yuuri would genuinely enjoy. They had the right chemistry—all Victor needed to do was draw it out.

Yuuri leaned forward as they crossed the Verrazzano Bridge, glancing out the window and over the water. “Staten Island?”

“Try again.” Victor was more creative than that, as he hoped Yuuri would learn.

“Jersey?”

“I promise you that you’ll enjoy it.” Victor tried not to remind himself that he had held the same conviction with his previous plan. He had thought this one out.

Their destination was close to the bay, the morning breeze cool on his face after Victor found them parking. They were already past the first day of spring and Victor could come up with no idea better than taking Yuuri to a flower show. In the photos he had seen on Yuuri’s shop website, Yuuri incorporated a lot of flower elements into his cakes, many of them looking too realistic to be made of sugar. A single apology bouquet could not rival an entire garden center.

The entranceway was covered in an extended pergola, the wooden lattice work overhead anchoring cascading wisteria. Blues mixed with pinks and blended into soft purples, framing the doors leading inside like the first steps into a fairytale. Victor resisted placing his hand on the small of Yuuri’s back, knowing it was better to wait until Yuuri’s icy exterior melted some more.

Instead, Victor glanced at Yuuri, who stood a step away from him. The morning light filtering between the flowers cast colors across his skin. It was striking, the contrast of the different versions of Yuuri that Victor had glimpsed. He had not styled his hair back for this attempt at a date, but the glasses he had worn at the shop were missing. The natural fall of dark hair and his big brown eyes made him look youthful, cute to a fault. The knit jumper he wore over a collared shirt gave him a soft image, a divergence from his sharp appearance at the rink. It was the same sweetness Yuuri had regarded Victor with at the party and the spice with which he had fired a biting line at Chris.

Yuuri’s eyes swept over the canopy of blossoms, wide as they took in the setting. His long lashes fluttered as he looked back toward Victor and the smile Victor swore he had seen a second before disappeared. Those honey-brown eyes, to Victor’s horror, began tearing up. Without warning, Yuuri sneezed, muffling it into his elbow. He glanced up before another sneeze seized him, followed by three more in rapid succession. He sniffled, taking a step back, away from the flowers over them.

“Are you—”

“I am—aahtchh—” Yuuri’s response was interrupted by another sneeze. He sniffled into his sleeve, “—really allergic to… real flowers.”

Plan ruined. Victor needed to think quickly. His mind went to the bay behind them, but he did not think dunking Yuuri into it to rinse off the offending pollen would earn him any bonus points. Yuuri had been fine at Leroy’s party, though, with all the flowers everywhere—but then again, he would have expected that going in and could have taken medication. Victor had not warned him, wanting it to be a surprise. “There’s a drug store not far from here. Give me a minute!”

Yuuri waved him off, putting more distance between himself and the garden center, his face half-covered by his sleeves.

Victor booked it, cursing himself as he pulled on a vague memory of the area from some previous visit. His fingers flashed across the screen of his phone at a nearby stoplight, GPS pinpointing the closest pharmacy. He was there within minutes, panting as he sprinted inside to grab three different brands of allergy medication off the shelf, not knowing which worked best for Yuuri.

Dumb, so dumb. He should have just played it safe and taken Yuuri to the Conservatory Garden at the park. But no, he had to get ahead of himself and drive them out of state. He deserved every bad thing that came to him. Victor thanked the cashier and hurried back, except Yuuri was nowhere to be found. He was not outside the center, nor was he by the car.

Bewildered, Victor sent him a text and chanced a look inside the garden center, through the wisteria archway that had set Yuuri off. He scanned the numerous tables full of flowers and walls of ivy, taking half a step forward when he caught sight of his date. Yuuri was at the end of a row of rose bushes, his nose buried in a dark red full bloom. Victor’s hurried pace dropped, confusion peaking as he approached, the paper bag of allergy medication in hand.

Yuuri noticed and leaned back, his smile smugly pleasant. “Took you long enough.” His eyes weren’t watering, nose unirritated, sneezes quieted. Yuuri seemed, by all appearances, perfectly all right.

Victor frowned. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Yuuri replied, fingers gently skimming another rose.

“But…” Victor slowly put the pieces together. “You’re not allergic.”

Yuuri smiled again. His eyes lit up as he took in a set of tea roses with red streaks blending into yellow petals. Victor, apparently, had already pricked himself on a thorn. “Oh. No, I lied about that.”

The panic that had coursed through Victor a minute prior dropped like lead to the pit of his stomach. “That was a dick move.”

“You were a dick last time, so I suppose that makes us even.”

Once again, Victor found himself at a loss for words. He should have been insulted, should have been offended at his thoughtfulness being taken advantage of like that. Yuuri’s stunt was devious and cruel. Victor laughed, rolling up the paper bag to stuff it into the pocket of his coat. It was positively awful, how easily Yuuri made Victor like him more with each exchange.

“There are supposed to be some saffron blossoms in the back,” Victor directed. He had done his research, finding out if there would be any rare flowers which could be of interest to Yuuri. The display of orchids also seemed to be a good bet.

Yuuri perked up, his focus going over the top of the rose bushes. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in person. Did you know it takes approximately one hundred sixty flowers to get a single gram of saffron spice?”

Victor did some mental arithmetic. “I didn’t think saffron would be a common ingredient in baking.”

“As a professional, I should still know all my spices. Never know when I might get some Brit who wants a curry cake.”

Victor blinked. “Has that happened?”

“Not yet.”

They made their way through the garden center side by side, Victor pleased whenever Yuuri paused to snap photos. Yuuri did show Victor a few pictures of cakes he had made using similar designs as inspiration. The photos he took now he claimed would help him better recreate the flowers.

“How long does it take to learn how to make one?” Victor asked, looking at a photo of roses he refused to believe had been crafted from sugar and gum extract.

“I don’t want to think about that.” Yuuri shook his head, giving Victor enough of an answer. When they reached the orchids, he ducked, studying the flowers from below before tipping up on his toes to do the same from above.

Victor, on the other hand, was paying a lot more attention to Yuuri than to the flowers. He had been right not to give up. Yuuri was a bit of an enigma and Victor enjoyed a puzzle. He listened to Yuuri talk about the flowers, half muttering notes to himself, and something dawned on Victor. “You really love your job, don’t you?”

“Of course.” A tone of surprise played in Yuuri’s voice, like the answer was obvious. “I get to make beautiful delicious things that become part of the happiest day in the lives of my clients. Why wouldn’t I love that? Don’t you like yours?”

If someone’s wedding day truly was their happiest, Victor did not think that would bode well for the rest of their marriage. The happiest days should come after the ceremony, not before, not during.

His inside pocket vibrated with three short bursts. Victor fished out his phone, opening the incoming texts from Yuri as he considered his response. Yuuri was starting to loosen up and Victor did not want to reverse that by misjudging his words again.

>> thought you should know
>> don’t worry about it but makkachin is acting a little weird. keeps whining and won’t move when i try to take her out
>> she’s probably missing your dumb ass but i’m gonna run her to the vet to be sure

The artificial heat inside the garden center meant to keep the flowers vibrant was gone, Victor’s blood chilling in his veins. He muttered a quick excuse to Yuuri, pressing the call button. It rang once.

“I’m getting a ride there now, relax.”

“Is she okay?”

“Yeah, she’s fine. Don’t freak out. It’s probably nothing, but I know how you get with her. I’ll call you when I get there.”

“Are you going to Dr. Nekola?”

“That’s the name on your fridge, so yeah.”

“I’ll be right there.”

“Fucking seriously?!”

“Yes.”

Victor hung up, browsing to find the safest route back into the city. Traffic still appeared to be light, he could make it within the hour. His head snapped up, seeing concern writ across Yuuri’s face. He did not think his karma would be this bad.

“Did something happen?”

“I’m so sorry, Yuuri, I need to go. My dog—a friend is watching her and said she might be sick. She was fine this morning. I need to head back to make sure she’s okay.”

“Let’s go then.” Yuuri did not hesitate, grabbing Victor’s arm and wheeling him toward the exit.

Victor’s shoulders slumped in relief at the understanding. They wove between the rows of flowers, skipping the side room meant to have grand arrangements on display. Victor shut the car door with more force than necessary, throwing his coat into the back as Yuuri sat down. He tried to punch the address into the car’s GPS system at the first stoplight they reached, gritting his teeth when a warning flashed up stating he could not do so while driving. Victor threw the gear into park, finally getting the digital map to guide him up the interstate. On their way down he had been careful with his speed and mannerisms, not wanting to give Yuuri more reasons to judge him. That motivation was abandoned.

“Is she older?” Yuuri asked, his voice softer than before.

Victor nodded, his throat growing tight. She would be fine, he trusted Yuri to take good care of her or he would not have left her with him. It had been a while since Victor had spent a Sunday away from her. She was probably moping and acting out as a result, hoping for the attention. He had promised her an extra long walk in the evening in exchange for spending his morning with Yuuri. “She’s getting close to twelve. I got her when my parents split. She’s still really energetic, but she’s getting there, you know? So I worry.”

“What kind of dog?”

“Standard poodle. I guess you’ll get to meet her now. She’s a big girl.”

Yuuri sank into his seat, unbothered by Victor changing lanes without signalling in order to overtake a slower car. “I had a miniature poodle before I moved here. They’re the smartest, cutest demons.”

Victor laughed his agreement. “Oh, I know. When I was studying for the bar, I neglected her slightly. Shorter walks, less treats—I was busy. I think she got mad at me because the day before my exam she chewed up all of my notes.”

The sound of Yuuri’s chuckles beside him was soothing. “You still passed.”

“No. I’ve been practicing illegally the whole time. Shhh, tell no one.”

Yuuri laughed fully, like a pleasant chime, helping Victor’s nerves settle. Victor led their conversation, asking Yuuri questions about his dog to keep his mind from wandering to dark concerns. Yuuri told him about getting his poodle in middle school and about how he would sneak scraps off the dining table to the pooch until he pudged up so much that Yuuri’s parents brought him along on a vet visit to hear a direct scolding.

By the time Victor parked behind the vet clinic, his spirits were lighter. Yuuri followed behind Victor as he walked into the clinic lobby to see Yuri already paying at the front counter, Makkachin sitting pretty by his feet.

“Makka!”

At his call, she jumped, skidding on the tile floor in her sprint for her owner. Victor dropped, catching her in his arms. She lapped at his face, tail beating madly. Just as Yuuri had not suffered an allergic reaction, she seemed perfectly healthy, woofing at him in her excitement.

Victor rose up, keeping a hand on her head as he went for the counter. Yuri stepped to the side, avoiding eye contact. “What happened?”

“Mr. Plisetsky here decided it was a good idea to share half of his—and I quote—very cheesy breakfast burrito with Makkachin.” Dr. Nekola had been Makkachin’s vet since they had come to Manhattan and had always been great with her. He handed Yuri back his credit card and receipt, casting the blond a pointed glare. “It was indigestion. She had a good fart during the exam and is feeling a hundred percent better! Right, my dear girl?”

Makkachin kept wagging her tail, tongue lolling out of her mouth. She looked to be having a fantastic time.

Victor heard the quietest, most darling giggles at his back and felt like introducing his face to his palm in embarrassment. So much for his grand plan to win Yuuri over. “Great. Thank you, Emil.”

“No worries. Extra fiber in her diet tonight and tomorrow, and you won’t notice any difference. Do try not to let Mr. Plisetsky feed her, he doesn’t have a great track record.”

Yuri shrank back, sheepish in his guilt. “Sorry.”

“You couldn’t tell me that over the phone?”

“I told you it wasn’t a big deal. You’re the one who decided to come here. Not my fault. I hope you apologized to your date,” Yuri snapped defensively, jerking his head at Yuuri, who was squatting and offering Makkachin his fingertips.

“I’m fine,” Yuuri replied, smiling when Makkachin butted into his palm for a petting. “It was too cold for flowers anyway. Dogs are way better.”

Yuuri was coming for his heart. Victor looped Makkachin’s leash around his wrist, trying to decide what to do next. He did not want to leave Makkachin on her own after a scare, despite it being so mild. But cutting his date short with Yuuri would not leave a good impression and he was already struggling there.

Standing up, Yuuri seemed to read the dilemma plaguing Victor. “I think we’re not far from the park. I know a few places nearby that are okay with dogs along there.”

Yuuri was offering to extend their date. Victor latched onto the suggestion. “Have you been to the café by Sheep Meadow?”

A shake of the head.

“It’s great, Makkachin loves it. Right now they have heated pads under the tables for pooches. Yura?”

“Nah, I’m out,” Yuri made a cross with his hands, slinking toward the clinic door. “I’ll catch you at the office tomorrow. Bye, Makkashka.”

Victor waved to him and thanked Emil once more, letting Yuuri take Makkachin’s leash to lead her to the car. She was more than happy to hop in the back, darting forward to lick Yuuri’s face when he leaned toward the console to buckle in. When they got to the café, Yuuri permitted Victor hold the door open for him.

The rest of the date could not have gone better.

 


 

>> I heard a rumor
>> That you actually snagged another date with my Yuuri

<< I want your sources.

>> Client privilege, no names
>> Chéri, do you really like him or are you having an early midlife crisis that I need to find you a reference for?

<< That’s judgmental even for you. Why do you say that?

>> You couldn't find a more Destination Marriage person unless you threw a net outside a Vera Wang. You certain you should be getting involved with someone like that? Because if you're not serious about this, I advise you to drop it. I adore my Yuuri and I don’t want you messing with that sweet thing. I don’t want him broken when it comes time to have my wedding

<< I like him, is that enough for you?

>> Fine. I’ve always been curious about what a seduced Yuuri looks like and god knows how long it’s been since you seduced anyone

<<  … … … …

>> Oh dear, did I break you instead? I can see you typing and deleting

The truth of it was, Victor had almost dropped his phone when a thought had struck him.

<< You don’t think he’s saving himself for marriage, do you?!

Chapter Text

“Are you still on the fence?” Phichit’s camera shutter clicked repeatedly. They were revealing Yuuri’s flavor of the month that morning. It had not yet been formally announced, only hinted at on the shop’s Instagram account the previous day, but there had already been a line gathering outside the shop when Phichit had arrived. Yuuri had the white paper shutters pulled down over the windows, in case any curious customers tried to sneak an early peek. Secrecy built excitement, which was good for marketing.

Phichit’s laptop was set on the table in the corner, ready to edit and post the photos as soon as he finished taking them. Yuuri always insisted on photos of the real products taken on the day of, wanting his customers to know exactly what it was they were coming in for. Phichit did claim it was better that way and that part of his billing to Yuuri included being able to enjoy the sweet smell of icing sugar on cooling sponge.

For Yuuri, April meant cherry blossoms. His signature creation for the month consisted of vanilla cake infused with a cherry blossom syrup he had made himself, the cream the softest pink he could mix without it being mistaken for white. Atop rested a trio of blossoms, two of them his hand-crafted sugar flowers and the third a genuine pickled blossom. The taste invoked the memory of the sakura mochi he used to eat with his sister back in Japan. Maybe it would not be the same for his customers, but he hoped they might create their own memories associated with the taste.

They had the cupcakes set on a wooden board that was scattered with more real blossoms—really, that was to say, Phichit had very deliberately positioned them around the cupcakes to create the best aesthetic for his photos. He did always make Yuuri’s work look incredible. Looking at photos, Yuuri sometimes did not recognize his own workmanship. Phichit was a genius. “I think I’m going to say no.”

“What, why? I thought you were gonna go for it. Don’t you think it would be pretty amazing?”

“I don’t know if it’s such a good idea right now. I don’t want to get overwhelmed.” Isabella had, reportedly, sent photos from her party to a contact of hers who worked in the magazine industry. As a result, Yuuri had multiple emails sitting in his inbox asking if he would agree to be featured in an upcoming issue. As the main article, which would entail print and online distribution to a readership number Yuuri was not comfortable repeating. That kind of pressure was an aspect Yuuri was not sure he could handle. Isabella’s upcoming wedding was already making him anxious with its accelerated timeline. He already had the stress of making the perfect cake for a friend on what was supposed to be her perfect day. Add a journalist following his every move and Yuuri might turn into a bigger mess than a smashed cake. All he wanted was to do his job well and make sure nothing went wrong. There would be other chances for press, for marketing himself. Yuuri would agree to that kind of thing, eventually. “The schedule is too tight.”

“Next time, right?”

“Yeah, next time.”

“How about Paris? You were thinking about it this year, right?”

Yuuri stayed quiet.

Phichit sighed and adjusted his camera, snapping a few more photos before straightening. He glanced at the small digital screen, humming in approval as he flipped through. “Okay, let me get these up.”

Nodding, Yuuri readjusted the plate of cupcakes, placing them atop the glass case to be used as a display. He had everything he needed prepared for the day. There were no scheduled deliveries, no appointments, everything on his to-do sticky notes marked off. The first of the month was usually set aside for the new flavor reveal. Yuuri already had extra batches of batter and cream mixing. They tended to get a steady crowd most of the first day.

There was a set of cupcakes on the cooling racks in the kitchen now and a set ready to go into the oven as soon as they opened. Staggering the production time made sure every customer got the freshest possible cupcake.

“So how’d your date go?” Phichit remarked as he transferred photos onto his laptop. He was quick and practiced. The photos would be edited as minimally as possible before being posted. The customers outside were likely waiting for the notification to blip onto their phones.

“Good,” Yuuri answered absently. He had been thinking about the same thing. After the flower show and their café lunch, Victor had asked Yuuri out on another date. Yuuri, having been distracted by the adorable poodle and her fluffy floppy ears, had agreed instantly, without thinking about what that meant. He did think about it afterwards, flooding Phichit’s texts with a combination of doubts and comments about how—despite everything—Victor was rather sweet.

It was obvious he had thought out the flower date and picked something he suspected Yuuri would enjoy. His apology rang genuine and his reaction to Yuuri’s prank revenge demonstrated care. Furthermore, his total abandonment of whatever plan he had concocted to further make things up to Yuuri at the mere suggestion that his dog might be ill did soften Yuuri a lot. All of it did indicate that Victor had been telling the truth when he insisted he had simply made a mistake their first night out. Besides, anyone who was that good of a dog dad could not be a complete jerk. So, despite his lingering reservations, Yuuri had gone out with Victor again.

It had been a proper dinner date where they were able to sit and get to know each other better. Yuuri had thought, at first, that he could use the chance to find out more about why Victor was so opposed to the concept of marriage. He was curious whether it was brought about by his job or if it was the other way around. However, when they actually got together, the question slipped from his mind.

Victor had taken Yuuri down to Brighton Beach. Despite his years in New York, Yuuri had never made it down that way. As they walked, Yuuri had stared at the shop signs and the advertisement posters in the windows, all of them in Cyrillic and looking like they were from at least twenty years back. When he mentioned it to Victor, he laughed, making a comment about how Russian graphic designers were still catching up.

The architecture of the buildings was different and Yuuri overheard more than one conversation, the sounds of which resembled the tone of Victor’s accent. Victor had told him a joke, about two Russian men casually running into each other at a store and asking one another if they’d bothered to learn English yet, after a decade or so of living in Brighton Beach. The punchline was a comment of “Why? It’s not like we live in America!” Yuuri had blinked, not laughing. He could understand the premise but supposed it was funnier to a Russian familiar with the area. Victor did look crestfallen that his joke had gone flat, which in turn made Yuuri laugh.

They had dinner at a restaurant there, some Russian music program playing on a television on a wall behind them. Victor’s eyes flickered to it on occasion, between the brief pauses in their conversation. Victor ordered them an assortment of dishes to try and they spent the meal swapping stories about coming to America, adjusting, what the biggest culture shock was. Victor said it was the lack of mini skirts in winter. Yuuri said it was that the trains never ran on time. They both commented on the amount of small talk from strangers.

The service had been slow but the food was delicious, and Yuuri caught himself admiring Victor on far too many occasions. He was back to thinking the hair color might not be pretentious after all. Victor’s lashes were silver too, like threads of precious metal over his topaz blue eyes. His face was perfect, from the cut of his jaw to the point of his nose, to the height of his cheekbones. His lips were full and pink and glossed, of all things.

Yuuri had landed himself multiple dates with a gorgeous man and all he could think about was how much he hated that. It was too easy to get distracted by Victor’s handsome face and the way he moved his hands when he talked. When Victor had asked where it was Yuuri learned to dance, the smile he wore was beautiful as he listened to Yuuri’s response. Yuuri had to burn off all those test cake bites somehow, doing his best to keep a schedule at a practice studio twice a week.

Talking with Victor was easy and that was what stayed with Yuuri the most. There were no awkward pauses, they simply flowed from one topic to the next. From life in the city and dance classes, they moved on to Victor’s favorite food—which he had ordered—to Yuuri’s. Victor said he had never tried katsudon, so Yuuri promised to take him out for some next time and there, that was it. Yuuri forgot to fret, to worry, to consider that on no other date would he so recklessly extend an invitation like that. He would have been too concerned about something going wrong in the meantime, yet there he had meant it. Victor had remarked that he would love it and Yuuri’s stomach had flopped over in a pleasant way.

Yuuri had been hoping for their date to go badly. If there had been no chemistry, if Victor had said another ass-like comment, it would have been all too simple a choice to call it off. Instead, after dinner, they had walked along the boardwalk by the beach, listening to the seagulls flying overhead. Victor told Yuuri that he used to live in the apartment building at the end and that he used to run with his poodle there every morning. More than once, Yuuri’s fingers twitched when they accidentally brushed elbows from their proximity, hoping a bit for Victor to take his hand but also hoping he wouldn’t. He was a conflicted mess and he knew it.

On the way back toward the station, Victor had them pause at a Russian grocery store, buying a dessert the likes of which Yuuri had never seen before. The word “kartoshka” was cute coming from Victor, much cuter than the deadpan translation of “potato” which had Yuuri laughing at the simplicity. Victor had fed him a bite off his fingers and Yuuri tried not to blush when Victor licked cream off his own thumb. It was rich and velvety, loaded with walnuts and a sweetness Yuuri could not immediately place. He never would have thought he would be so impressed with a dessert that did actually look like a potato.

“What’s that then, date number three?”

Yuuri had not been keeping track. The first two felt like they should not count, due to the disastrous ending of the first and the conditions of the second. When Yuuri had returned home after the dinner date, he had a text on his phone from Victor, thanking him for the fun night. It had not been as impressionable as a dance-off at an engagement party or as dramatic as an ice rink argument, but it had been fun. It had been simple, pleasant, a normal kind of date Yuuri would not at all mind repeating. Phichit had not been home yet, so Yuuri had spent his evening texting Victor back and forth. He had received a photo of Makkachin after asking how Victor’s dog was doing, and then asked about how those custom cupcakes were received. Again, Yuuri found himself laughing as Victor sent him a slew of distressed emojis and followed them up by admitting he had mistakenly gifted them over three weeks too late, not having realized the tardiness. They were, according to him, still immensely enjoyed.

“Did you kiss him yet?”

“What? No, why would I?” The thought had not yet crossed Yuuri’s mind. Yes, he might have paid extra attention to Victor’s lips when he talked over dinner, but it was only because Yuuri had noticed that Victor had a nicely shaped mouth. In the instances when he smiled fully, lips parted and pearly teeth bared, his mouth would almost form the shape of a heart. He was just being observant. Victor had not made any motions toward that step either. There had not been any footsie or hand-holding during the date, meaning either that Victor was being considerate or he had already lost interest. Or maybe Victor was not actually into Yuuri in that way and this was a long con at getting a friend discount for Yuuri’s cakes.

“Date three is kiss date,” Phichit replied, too nonchalant in the statement for Yuuri’s liking. “Or did you mean it was a good date but not a kiss-worthy date?”

Yuuri did not know what the technical divide between those definitions was. There had not been a kiss-appropriate moment. He was still warming back up to Victor. Maybe during their stroll along the beach after sunset, or when Victor had fed Yuuri a Soviet-era dessert. Maybe just before Yuuri had gotten off the train, waving goodbye to Victor. Then again, a metro car was not somewhere Yuuri wanted to have a first kiss with anyone. “Ummm… I don’t know.”

“Are you going to keep seeing him?”

About an hour after Yuuri had arrived at the shop that morning, he had received a message from Victor. It had greeted him good morning and asked when Yuuri was free to go out for that katsudon. Yuuri had not replied yet, but he wanted to. Victor had taken him out for Russian, it was only right to take him for Japanese. “I’m kinda… not sure.”

“You know, seems like he likes you a lot if he’s still chasing after you like this. Plus he’s got a lot going for him, right?”

That Victor did. Good job, good looks, good humor. On paper, Victor was great. In person… he was also great. When they were together, Yuuri enjoyed himself and forgot to worry. In moments like this, however, the nagging concerns overtook the back of his mind like they did with everything else Yuuri thought could go wrong in one way or another. Yuuri needed to learn how to let that go. “Yeah.”

“Do you like him?”

If Yuuri took the time, he could convince himself either way. If he was honest with himself though, there was one straight answer. “I do.” Victor made him feel comfortable with himself.

“So then you have to ask yourself if you want to keep dating him, knowing that it may never lead anywhere further than that.”

Call him old-fashioned, but Yuuri did like the idea of marriage. Not to Victor necessarily, but working weddings naturally resulted in his mind drifting to what his own might look like one day. Whenever he called his family back home, though they were never the type to push, his mother did ask now and then if there was anyone new in his life. If he found the right person, the one he felt he could spend the rest of his life with, Yuuri would not mind wearing a ring on his finger. “Does it have to go anywhere? Can’t I date him for a while and see where it goes?”

Phichit smiled, leaning back in his chair. “Is that what you want?”

“Yes.” Yuuri knew he worried too much about too many things. Going into it with a laissez-faire kind of attitude would probably be his best possible approach. Enjoy it as it came and not concern himself with what it meant for the future. If he liked Victor and Victor liked him, that should be enough. The promise of more would only be asking for trouble.

“Good. Then look at the photos and tell me if they’re ready to go.”

They were. Yuuri approved the photos and the Instagram post that Phichit drafted, the both of them pausing after it uploaded. One second, two, three, four—there was an excited yelp outside and someone yelled, “Sakura, fuck yeah!”

Phichit and Yuuri laughed. Phichit closed his laptop, dusting off his hands. “Congratulations on another successful launch, Mr. Katsuki.”

“Don’t jinx it.”

The rest of the morning went smoothly. Phichit stayed, as he always did, so he could snap promotional photos of the first few customers enjoying their cupcakes. Yuuri had another batch prepped and ready in time for opening, Guang Hong having arrived to pack the orders while Mila worked the register. From opening till noon, there was hardly a moment to breathe. They sold through the batches as quickly as they could make them, even with Yuuri having made generous estimates for demand. A few people came in making remarks that they had seen photos on Twitter or Instagram and had rushed over on a lunch break. They sold a box of twenty-four to a middle-aged woman who said she was on her way to a meeting with the cherry blossom festival committee in Brooklyn.

By mid-afternoon, Yuuri had come to the realization that he was going to have to make another couple hundred sets of sugar blossoms if he intended to keep the cupcakes on sale through the end of the month. They had done nearly double the numbers he had expected after only a few hours instead of the full day. Phichit had texted to let him know the photos were spreading through foodie circles like wildfire, linking him to an article that had already popped up reporting on the cupcakes with proper credits listed for Yuuri’s shop. Yuuri had glimpsed an email with the subject sakura blossom-style cake quote sitting in the shop account. The March spring kumquat flavor had not caused any kind of frenzy, but maybe sakura was in style that season.

An hour before closing time, Yuuri placed a sign in the window that read, Cherry Blossom Cupcakes – Sold Out. He had made enough of the flavoring syrup to last him three days, but they had drained it almost completely. He would be staying late after hours to make enough to get them through the rest of the week. The crowd had lulled at least, letting Yuuri escape to the back to start on it after putting in a much larger order for the flowers to his floral supplier. Yuuri did take a peek at the comments on the shop Instagram account, smiling to himself at the few mentioning that the taste of the cupcakes was as phenomenal as their appearance. At least Phichit had not jinxed sales after all.

Yuuri exited the app, going to set his cell phone away before washing his hands. He took an extra moment to open his texts, finding Victor’s name toward the top of the recent exchanges. The last message was Victor’s inquiry about their next date. Yuuri typed out a response, hitting send on, How about this Sunday?

“Hey, Yuuri?” Mila’s head popped into the back room. “Someone is here asking for you.”

Yuuri glanced quickly at his calendar of sticky notes, not seeing any appointments. A scan of his computer showed none either. Phone pocketed, Yuuri went to the front and smiled when he saw Chris standing in front of the display of cupcakes. “Sorry, we just sold out. No exceptions for friends, I’m afraid.”

“Am I only a friend? My heart, Yuuri, you wound it so much.”

Laughing, Yuuri tipped up on his toes to get closer to eye level. For Chris he would have been willing to make another batch right then, but that would leave him entirely empty on syrup for tomorrow. “I can recommend a different one?”

“Actually, I came for something else,” Chris said, removing a folded piece of stationery from his pocket. He handed it over to Yuuri. In black ink and neat handwriting was a bulleted list, detailing potential flavors, color specifications, and a serving count of a hundred people. “I was hoping to get a quote on a wedding cake.”

 


 

“No, not like that, you have it turned the wrong way.” They had been at the restaurant for ten minutes and Yuuri’s cheeks were already starting to hurt from the strain of a smile pulled too long and too wide. Victor had picked him up once more, and they had headed for Yuuri’s recommended Japanese restaurant before a plan to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The weeping cherry blossom trees had come into bloom a couple of days prior.

Victor had chopsticks in his hand, but the tips and ends were not aligned. As Yuuri laughed, he flipped the chopsticks around, except it meant that the one on top was now the one with the tip pointing in the wrong direction. Yuuri had never before realized that his type was dumb blond and that was now something he was going to have to live with. “You’re messing with me.”

“Come on, Yuuri, stop making fun of me and show me how to do this.”

Biting his lower lip, Yuuri moved out of his seat and slid into Victor’s side of the booth. He took hold of Victor’s hand, changing the position of his fingers and correcting the chopsticks. “You keep the bottom one still, hold it kind of like a pencil. And use your thumb and index finger to move the one on top.” Yuuri grabbed his own set of chopsticks from across the table, demonstrating the action for Victor. He had never had to explain how to use a pair to anyone before. Phichit was born into it just like Yuuri, Isabella’s family was Korean, and Mila was a die-hard sushi eater.

“Like this, you mean?” Victor reached forward for the plate of edamame that had been brought to them as an appetizer, already shelled. Yuuri was ready for the plate to be knocked over and for the soybeans to go flying everywhere. He was prepared to dive in to save it. Without showing a hint of struggle, Victor plucked up four individual beans, stacking them perfectly between chopsticks. He popped them into his mouth, not dropping a single one.

Yuuri’s eyes narrowed. “You were messing with me.” He had found it hard to believe that someone like Victor had never used them before, yet Victor had insisted that he needed help.

“Maybe. But it got you over here and holding my hand again, didn’t it?”

Yuuri’s smile slipped, but it was only because the blush on his cheeks chased it away. He was tempted to stay on the same side of the table as Victor, letting their hips and ankles brush throughout the lunch. Although, that might make eating uncomfortable. Regrettably, he slipped back to sit opposite Victor. “Now see if you can achieve it without any trickery.”

When Victor smiled, the corners of his eyes creased. When he got older, it might cause crow’s feet to form there. Yuuri thought they would still look attractive on Victor, dignified and showing his appreciation for humor.

Their orders of katsudon arrived shortly after. Yuuri had considered ordering a different plate for himself, but watching Victor eat his favorite food would likely cause a sense of regret and envy.

“That looks amazing.” His bowl uncovered, Victor leaned forward. “Smells really good. I think I understand your hype.”

Katsudon was what Yuuri ate when he was feeling homesick. He had not quite perfected the technique of making it at home and that was probably a good thing. During bouts of anxiety, he would probably resort to eating it for a week straight if he were able to make it properly.

Yuuri resisted diving in himself, instead watching Victor. Now that he had stopped pretending to be incompetent with them, Victor had no trouble with his chopsticks. He went in from the side, lifting a slice of the egg-coated pork cutlet. Yuuri’s mouth watered; he could practically taste the soft dashi-soaked onions. He did not need to wait for Victor to chew through the first bite, because his eyes lit up instantly.

“Wow,” Victor said, covering his mouth. “I’m sorry, Yuuri, I think I found something that beats your cakes. I’m switching allegiances.”

“I wouldn’t blame you.” Yuuri was glad Victor enjoyed it. He had been mildly concerned about what a rejection might do to his heart. It was very possible he would have needed to call their date off immediately, unsure if he could continue to see a man who did not like katsudon. “I did make a katsudon cake once.”

Victor’s eyebrows arched, the gaze he cast Yuuri curious.

“Not with pork and onions,” Yuuri explained, taking a bite for himself. The flavor flooded through him, filling him with a warmth like the comfort of home. “It was a regular cake. The shape of it was like a bowl of katsudon.”

“How’d you make it look like the pork?” Victor inquired, a portion of rice in his chopsticks. He kept all the grains there like an expert, even when pausing to ask his question. Yuuri really should have known better.

“Pancakes coated in honey and crushed corn flakes.”

“And the rice?”

“I made grains from fondant. Over a thousand of them.” Yuuri remembered that late night less than fondly. “Almost cried when Phichit ate some thinking it was actually rice in a bowl.”

Victor chuckled, looking down at his own bowl as if he were trying to picture what it might look like as a sweet treat rather than a savory lunch. “Must have been very convincing then.”

“I’ll find a photo to show you later.” Yuuri had been rather proud of that one when all was said and done. It had been for an anniversary event at his parents’ inn. His mother still raved about it on occasion.

“Please.”

Yuuri could not help smiling, ducking his head lest he get caught. The only reason he did not show Victor immediately was the fear he might become distracted showing off a few others, and he would not forgive himself for the crime of letting a perfect katsudon go cold. During their dinner at the Russian restaurant, the borscht and piroshki Victor had ordered had chilled while they chatted and they had received a scolding from the waitress as a result. A Japanese restaurant, if authentic, was more likely to apologize and replace the dish for free despite it being entirely Yuuri’s fault that he had let his food go cold.

“You know, I was extremely popular at the office the week after I brought in your cupcakes,” Victor remarked as his bowl emptied. “And now I have people asking if it’s possible for me to get a box of your cherry blossom ones.”

“Good luck with that.” They had sold out every single day. Phichit was spending every evening showing Yuuri the floods of social media posts with photos of his cupcakes. A morning news crew had come by Friday morning, doing a short human interest piece and giving a live tasting report. It had absolutely not helped calm the attention when the reporter dropped his cupcake before he managed to bite into it, as that clip ended up making rounds. Saturday, they were out by noon and Yuuri had nearly cancelled his date with Victor so he could stay at the shop all of that day. Phichit and Guang Hong had not allowed that to happen, barricading Yuuri from his own shop. “I think people are lining up around six a.m. now.”

Yuuri was having difficulty processing the popularity. The past year, his shop had been doing really well. The loans he had taken out for it were paid off and he never worried about whether he would have enough in his accounts to cover wages or bills. He had small crowds at the start of every month, but now he had a neighbor complaining about how his lines were blocking customers from getting into her shop. Mila had even brought up the idea of hiring temporary help to handle the demand. Yuuri did have Guang Hong coming in for longer shifts than usual, teaching him how to make sugar cherry blossoms since Yuuri could not keep up on his own.

“I did see the news report.”

Yuuri laughed. Phichit had posted the clip to his personal Twitter account, and it had reportedly clocked over twenty-thousand retweets within twenty-four hours. Yuuri had to admit, he had stifled laughter over it as well. The reporter had gotten the lucky assignment of eating a cupcake for breakfast and, in his excitement, had smashed it atop his shoes instead. Yuuri had provided a replacement free of charge, of course, but it had been very difficult maintaining a professional expression when the man had let out a low whine of despair.

“It’s just my luck. I turned down a magazine feature because I thought the attention would be too much and then this happens.” Yuuri did not think he could handle being the next Cronut. Cupcakes were not even his main focus. He had a couple of brides-to-be that had called, worried that the sudden influx of demand might affect his promised delivery. Yuuri had needed to repeatedly reassure them that their wedding cakes remained his priority, when in reality it was true that his schedule had been rearranged to account for both. Obtaining extra help was probably a smart idea after all. He would have to tell Mila to get the job posting up.

“You turned down a magazine feature?” Victor’s tone softened, catching Yuuri off guard.

“It’s spring. I’m completely booked with weddings… I thought it would be too much pressure.” Yuuri was doubly glad he had declined now. He was keeping up with everything at the moment, work keeping him busy enough that he did not have time to worry. He kept himself on a strict schedule of priorities and that he could manage. After the gardens, he did plan on sneaking back to the shop. Mila might prevent him from staying there, but he would at least be able to grab enough gumpaste to make a couple hundred flowers at home. “It was for Isabella’s wedding and I wanted to concentrate on having that go well without stealing attention from her.”

Victor sat back, regarding Yuuri with a look that he could not quite read. Victor’s head tilted to the side a few degrees, expression going blank. He was holding back a comment.

“What?” Yuuri asked.

“Was she not okay with it?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that.” Weddings were supposed to focus on the couple, not on the friend that had made their cakes. “She referred me to them.”

“She referred you to a magazine that asked to do a feature on your cake at her wedding?”

“Yeah.”

Victor chuckled, placing his elbows on the table as he leaned forward. “Do you think maybe she could have done it because she wanted her wedding to appear in a magazine?”

No, Yuuri had not thought about that. He had assumed it was because she had invested in his business and wanted to encourage him to grow. It would have been good marketing. He had not considered it from the angle of a bride getting her wedding professionally chronicled. Isabella did handle JJ’s PR—that sort of thing was exactly within her interests. “Ahhh, fuck.”

Victor laughed, loud and rolling. “Sorry, I didn’t expect that. You swearing is shockingly cute.”

“Give me… give me one moment, okay?”

Victor waved him out. Thanking him, Yuuri grabbed his phone and ran outside to make a couple of calls. It might not be too late to fix it, if that were the case. He had Isabella’s number dialing as he went out the doors.

Fifteen minutes later, Yuuri wandered back to the table, slightly more flustered than before.

Victor was signing the receipt for their lunch, snapping the booklet shut when Yuuri collapsed into his seat. “Verdict, judge?”

“Guilty as charged.”

“And here I thought you were the wedding expert.”

“Cake expert, big difference.”

“I’ll take my advice remittance in a dozen sakura cupcakes.”

“Get in line with everyone else.”

They left the restaurant bumping elbows and Yuuri did not put buffer distance between them. He also let Victor hold the car door open for him. Whether he was able to reverse the decision of the magazine feature was left to be seen, but Isabella confirmed she had been hoping Yuuri would accept partially due to wanting to see her wedding appear in glossy, full-color, publicly distributed print. Yuuri had left a voice message for the magazine contact and would prepare himself for a callback during business hours the following day.

The drive to the botanical garden was a short one. At the end of the month, the gardens would hold an annual cherry blossom festival. Yuuri had attended two years prior with Phichit. It had been crowded, noisy, full of cosplayers taking photos, and many of the blossoms had already fallen. Timing blossom viewing was always tricky. Different types of cherry trees bloomed at different times and the petals did not keep for long. The weather in the city made it difficult too, with April swinging between warmer days and the threat of snow. Going early meant a better chance at a calmer experience overall.

Victor parked and Yuuri led them to the park entrance, paying for their entry. Most of the main trees along Cherry Walk were not in bloom yet, branches full of buds with the tips of colored petals starting to show. A few flowers did speckle the trees here and there. Yuuri spotted a Japanese family under one tree that had gotten a head start, having their hanami. “Last fall in Japan, there was a strong typhoon that stripped a lot of cherry trees of their leaves,” Yuuri said as they walked, gaze up on the branches overhead. “Usually the leaves drop before the flowers bloom in spring. And there were a few warm days after the storm so it was reported that some of the trees got confused, thinking it was an early spring. So they bloomed. In October. My sister sent me photos.”

“Does that mean tourists got cherry blossoms and the fall colors in one trip?”

“Yeah. There was a clip of someone saying it was like winning the lotto.”

“Do you miss it sometimes? Japan?” Victor asked as they approached the Japanese gardens. The earlier blooming trees displayed petals of white, flowers fuller and different from the typical image of a sakura.

“I don’t think about it too much,” Yuuri answered. Most days he was too busy to think about it. During the peak season, he could go a month or two before he remembered to call home. Mari told him not to bother with it, that they always knew how he was doing from Phichit’s social media posts. If those were to cease, then there would be cause for concern, they claimed. “How about you?”

“I probably would if I lived somewhere else, but if I ever want anything, it’s pretty accessible here.”

“Mmmm.” Yuuri knew exactly what he meant. Even cultural aspects, like hanami, were not out of reach. If he wanted to, Yuuri could have invited a group of friends to lounge under the blooming trees on laid-out tarps. The drinking laws in the U.S. would have made a slight difference, but then again, people living in America tended not to get wasted in public in the middle of the day. The only thing he really missed was the onsen.

Yuuri had them pause under a Yoshino cherry tree, one in full bloom. Yuuri had modeled his sugar blossoms off the flowers clinging to the branches, the petals varying from white to soft pinks. Their faces smiled down, stems quivering in the light breeze. The subtle aroma encompassed them, reminiscent of Yuuri’s kitchen in the mornings when he mixed the cherry blossom syrup into the cupcake batter. “Actually, hanami is usually done with food. Like a picnic?”

“We should have gotten our katsudon to go.”

Smiling, Yuuri glanced back toward the rest of the park. “I think… Will you wait here a few minutes?”

“Is this whole date going to consist of you trying to escape my company? I thought I was being quite charming this time around.”

Charming was an understatement. Yuuri had to remind himself to admire the flowers rather than Victor. The pink knit sweater Victor was wearing made him look like a blossom himself. Yuuri had always liked a man in pink and Victor pulled it off like a model. Yuuri was almost wishing for the breeze to turn stronger and blow a few petals off the trees, so he could have an excuse to pluck them from Victor’s silver hair. “You are. I’m beyond smitten. Now wait.”

There was a café not far off, inside the gardens. Yuuri rushed there, taking his wallet from his back pocket. When they had come in, Yuuri had seen a sign on the ticket gate saying they were serving soft cream for the cherry blossom viewing season. He was not sure which flavor Victor would prefer, ordering one cone of matcha and one of strawberry. He returned to find Victor not far from where he had left him, sitting on a bench in wait. The colors of the blossoms above him cast a hue across his light skin and hair.

“Which?” Yuuri asked, holding out both cones for Victor to choose his preference.

Instead of smiling, saying thank you, or simply making his choice, Victor blinked. “Were those the only options?”

Yuuri’s hands dropped slightly, brows furrowed in confusion. “There was vanilla too…”

“I meant the cones,” Victor said, standing up.

The ice creams Yuuri held were in regular wafer cones. He had not considered asking for anything else, used to those on the rare occasion he had the treat of soft cream. It was not as common in the States as it had been back in Japan. “No?”

“Now you wait here. Back toward the entrance?”

“Yeah…”

Question marks popping up inside his head, Yuuri let Victor go, slowly taking a seat. It was only a minute later that Victor returned, carrying empty waffle cones. Yuuri laughed. “Really?”

“You can’t enjoy ice cream properly in a substandard cone, Yuuri. You’re cheating yourself.”

Biting his cheeks, Yuuri watched as Victor attempted to transfer the soft cream from the wafer cone to the waffle. There was a momentary flash of distress across his face as Victor tried to figure out the best way of doing so without destroying the shape. He was rather ridiculously over-the-top in his determination, very carefully using the edge of the waffle cone to cut through the bottom of the soft cream.

Yuuri really was smitten because he found it adorable. “Need some help?” he asked, holding up a small plastic spoon he had grabbed from the café when making the purchase, just in case.

“How—oh.”

Working together, they successfully switched cones without completely ruining the swirling shape. Yuuri licked cream off his fingers. “What are you going to do with the other ones?”

“We’ll find some ducks to feed those heathens to,” Victor replied, taking the matcha for himself. “As a cake expert, you really should know better.”

“That’s two counts against me then. I think you’re finally ahead on the scale.”

“Good thing you didn’t argue, I would have held you in contempt.”

The strawberry was pleasant on Yuuri’s lips, the dessert chilling him. Though maybe, like Victor had used his “lack” of knowledge to get closer to Yuuri at the restaurant, Yuuri could use the excuse of being cold to shift closer to Victor. He was a couple of licks in when Victor swooped in, stealing a bite of Yuuri’s ice cream for himself. Yuuri played up a gasp. “Hey!”

“You seem the type to share,” Victor defended, smacking his glossy lips.

“Give me yours then.”

“I don’t think so.”

Yuuri was laughing again, reaching out to try to snatch the cone from Victor’s hand. He grabbed hold after the second attempt and bit off the edge of the waffle cone in retaliation.

“That’s criminal, Yuuri, you can steal a man’s ice cream, but his cone? Too far. You owe me yours.”

“You already had some, eat your own.”

“Yours tastes better.”

“I gave you the choice, you chose the green tea.”

“I’m changing my mind.”

“No.”

A sakura petal fell from the tree behind them, drifting to land on the part of Victor’s hair. Unaware, Victor was pressing in toward him, making Yuuri lean back as he laughed, holding his ice cream out of reach. Victor pouted, full lower lip stuck out prominently. Cute. Cute, cute, cute. How was Yuuri meant to resist that? Victor’s blue eyes shone like those of a pleading puppy. “Come on, Yuuri, please. Just a little taste.”

The answer to the question was that Yuuri couldn’t resist. Heart tripping in his chest, Yuuri licked up a generous portion of his strawberry ice cream and wrapped an arm around Victor’s shoulders, gently pulling him in by the neck. Victor’s lips were cold but plush against his, warming with the kiss. The bitter sweetness of matcha mixed with the tartness of strawberry as Yuuri’s pulse spiked.

For one panic-inducing moment, Victor did not respond, his eyes wide in surprise. In the next, though, he had a hand cradling the back of Yuuri’s head, fingers twisting into dark hair as he kissed back in full.

Just like the soft cream in their hands, Yuuri melted and pushed forward, chasing the taste of Victor’s tongue under the colors of the cherry blossom tree.

Chapter Text

“Yuuri, you’re holding that like you’ve never put a wrapper on a sausage before. If you need any guidance, I’m sure Victor would be happy to give you a hand... You need to pinch the tip and roll it on. Get a grip on it and stroke down, nice and smooth.” Chris was leaning into Yuuri’s space, winking at him as if he was not already being obvious enough.

Victor was regretting letting Yuuri stand next to Chris, who had taken advantage of their proximity to the fullest. He had made the assumption that Chris would pay more attention to his own partner rather than Victor’s, but he had been mistaken. The double date had been Chris’ idea in the first place. Victor had not dismissed it when it was proposed, thinking Yuuri would do that for him. Yuuri’s responses to Victor’s messages had slowed over the past week, attributing it to his loaded schedule. Yet when Victor had brought up Chris’ invitation to join him and Matthieu at a food festival in SoHo, Yuuri had accepted with surprising vigor. Perhaps he had been eager to swap the sweet for the savory for a single day.

Over the course of the month, Victor had secured the privilege of several more dates with Yuuri. They had met for dinner around the city twice a week, Victor fetching Yuuri from his shop after it closed. On the third such date, Yuuri had surprised Victor by pulling him inside by the hands so they could share one of his viral cherry blossom cupcakes. It was as light as angel food cake, filled with a cream scented of blossoms. The pickled flower on top cut through the sweetness so perfectly that Victor accused Yuuri of performing dark magic. Yuuri deserved every bit of the hype he had received for it, and more.

On a Sunday, they had met for lunch and walked Makkachin around the park together. Afterwards, Yuuri had accompanied Victor to his apartment. Victor’s heart had seized still then, but only because Yuuri had shown him how to clip Makkachin’s nails. Her groomer was out of town and Victor had confessed to being far too nervous to try doing it himself. They had to bribe her with multiple treats and chase her around the apartment more than once, laughing as Victor dragged her by the front paws and Yuuri pushed at her butt. Their dual efforts got her back into the living room long enough to finish.

That same evening, Victor discovered that Yuuri was an awful cook who set fire to spaghetti when he left it too close to the stovetop while boiling the water. Victor had panicked slightly, while Yuuri simply jerked the packet aside and extinguished the flames by covering them with a kitchen towel before the smoke detector could go off. They ordered take-out after that.

A week before May, Yuuri had asked if he could spend an evening at Victor’s, muttering something on the phone about a bigger home kitchen. Victor spent the time working on his laptop while Yuuri experimented with a recipe, filling the entire apartment with the warmth and richness of freshly baked cupcakes. Cocoa and the heartiness of crushed nuts also clung to the air, but Victor had been banned from his own kitchen till Yuuri was finished. He supposed he should be grateful to potentially be the very first person to taste Yuuri’s brand-new creation. He had asked why Yuuri was not doing it at his shop instead and received an answer in the form of a glare. He had posed no more questions after that.

After nearly two hours of being subjected to a watering mouth, Victor had been presented with a single cupcake on a small plate. If the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, Yuuri was staking a solid claim which Victor did not feel the need to protest. The cupcakes Yuuri had made had a very clear inspiration. The sponge had been molded into the forms by hand, vanilla cake crumbs pressed together and made dark with butter and cocoa. The swirl of icing atop was equally dark, dusted with powdered nuts and carrying the honey-spice tones of cognac. Yuuri had taken the kartoshka Victor had introduced to him on their date to Brighton Beach and adapted them to a cupcake form. Biting into it, Victor was flooded with the memory of a far-off home and how he had held his mother’s hand as she paid for his treat in kopeks during a freezing St. Petersburg winter. Victor had lifted Yuuri into a joyous spin, kissing laughter off Yuuri’s lips, despite the cream still smeared across his own.

“I usually don’t handle raw meat,” Yuuri replied to Chris without so much as a skipped beat. “It could be unsafe.”

“Depends on what you’re doing with it.”

Victor was tempted to chuck one of the sausages at Chris’ head, in the hopes that a smack across his face might rein him in. At their last meet up, Victor had mentioned two things to Chris which he now regretted. One was how he found Yuuri’s hopelessness in the kitchen with anything other than sweets to be rather endearing. He would have thought the skills would transfer over. Victor was not as bad, but neither was he impressive when it came to preparing food.

The sausage making class at the festival had been Chris’ idea, a test of whether a cooking course taken together could be in their future. An untraditional date, but Victor thought it would be enjoyable to sneak bites of sliced bell pepper from Yuuri’s fingertips as they prepped their mixture. He had not gotten the chance, Yuuri focusing on the instructions more than on Victor. Fresh vegetables, enough fat to bind the ground beef and pork, assorted herbs, salt, a splash of red wine. They would be able to cook and sample after they got their sausages cased, which was where they were struggling. Chris and Matthieu had sheathed theirs like experts. Victor suspected it had something to do with their experience in stuffing other categories of meat.

“I think Yuuri has caught on,” Matthieu stated, tying links into the sausage Chris had fed through the stuffer. He laid them on a wooden board, curled into a perfect ring.

Yuuri tilted his head toward one side. “I have no idea what you mean.”

“I am merely curious if you prefer your franks long or thick,” Chris drawled on. “Personally, I like the girth, so that it really fills your mouth when you go for it.”

Victor was burning under the collar, briefly wondering how well a Swiss frank would grind by hand. Chris had spent the entirety of the class making innuendos and dropping comments about sausage parties. Victor thought he would have peaked after mentions of raw dogging, but that would have made his life too simple.

“I prefer to cut mine into small pieces,” Yuuri said, as nonchalant as before. “Shall I demonstrate for you, Christophe?”

Matthieu snorted beside his boyfriend. Chris adopted an expression of scandal, crossing his legs in visible concern.

The other thing Victor dearly regretted telling Chris was that he and Yuuri had yet to do any sausage swapping of their own, thus likely fueling this little inquisition. A month into dating and the furthest they had gotten was a few maddening makeouts. At the botanical garden, they had only separated because an attendant had cleared her throat as she passed by. The blush on Yuuri’s cheeks had been more stunning than the sakura in full bloom, more so after they realized a group of kids had been staring at them. Victor had insisted it was due to scandal at the melting ice cream in their hands rather than the incredibly attractive couple playing tonsil hockey.

Another instance had been when Victor had escorted Yuuri back to his brownstone after a dinner date in East Village. Yuuri had lingered on the doorstep and then lingered on his lips. Their makeout after Victor had tasted Yuuri’s kartoshka cupcakes almost resulted in him carrying Yuuri to the bedroom, but was thwarted by the front door bursting in. He really should have known better than to send Yuri the photo of the cupcakes.

His question of whether Yuuri was the type to wait for serious commitment had not been answered, but neither had it been asked. Victor did not wish to push it, figuring Yuuri would raise the topic himself if given more time. A month was not long to wait and Victor had found himself enjoying dates with Yuuri more and more each time. Not that Victor hadn’t pictured what his sweet, blush-prone Yuuri might look like with something other than cake cream coating his lips.

“Should I hold him still for you?” Victor asked, his mouth brushing Yuuri’s ear.

Yuuri jumped at the whisper, his grip on their sausage casing slipping and tugging it off, leaving them short. He hastened to correct it as the instructor aimed a pointed look from a few tables over. They were lagging behind the rest of the participants.

“No, let’s just… Let’s just catch up,” Yuuri said, attention flicking back to the task at hand. With renewed focus, they managed to get their sausage properly stuffed and tied off, ready to be pan-fried.

Yuuri stayed close to Victor as they cooked, offering a smile. Once their creation was fit for consumption, he took the initiative. Victor did laugh when Yuuri purposefully made eye contact with Chris as he jabbed a fork into the center of the sausage. He gave Victor the first bite off the fork, but ducked away when Victor tried to reciprocate, taking the fork for himself. Cooking classes with Yuuri probably were a good idea, especially since Yuuri looked cute in an apron, no matter the type.

“Yuuri, be an absolute angel and pass me the pepper. I think we under-seasoned ours,” Chris said, holding out a hand. “Matthieu likes his delicacies with more bite, don’t you, darling?”

Matthieu rolled his eyes, but did not object. He thanked Yuuri when the pepper was passed along. Victor had only met Chris’ boyfriend on a few occasions and always briefly. They did seem well matched. Chris had greeted Victor that day with a kiss on the cheek and Yuuri with a slap on the ass, tugging him in to whisper something against his ear. Despite having been in full view, Matthieu had been unbothered by both. Victor supposed dating Chris meant accepting all or most of his eccentricities, which included his tendency to flirt with any attractive thing that had a pulse.

“Do you like yours spicy too?” Victor asked Yuuri, who was chewing on the last bite with a faraway look on his face.

“Huh?” Yuuri glanced up, blinking behind his glasses. He had been wearing them more and more often on their dates and Victor hoped it was in part because he had told Yuuri he found them extremely attractive on him. “I’m fine. Did you want some more?”

Victor shook his head.

Spending time with Yuuri had grown to be, in the span of one short month, an expectation. If they did not have a date after work, Victor had Yuuri’s texts to look forward to. He had taken up the habit of sending Yuuri photos of Makkachin, chronicling her daily misdeeds such as sleeping atop his newly dry-cleaned suits. He liked imagining the brightness of Yuuri’s smiles when he received them, since Yuuri always replied to lots of cooing comments and compliments. The last couple, however, had gone unanswered.

The class concluded uneventfully, each of them receiving a business card and a brochure. Yuuri leaned into Chris’ parting kisses. “I’ll see you two Friday?”

“Of course, chéri. We can’t wait.”

Yuuri smiled at Matthieu, waving to them as they left, heading toward a wine bar on the corner.

“Friday?” Victor had asked Yuuri if it would be possible to sneak a lunch together on Friday, his weekend busy with a client. Yuuri had turned him down after a couple hours left on read, saying he had a cake tasting that afternoon.

“Yeah, we’re meeting up.”

“Don’t tell me they’re the ones tasting the wedding cake, I’ll be heartbroken,” Victor teased, leading Yuuri through the rest of the festival. In addition to stalls selling food and the sausage instructionals, there were international craft beers and folkart to be admired.

Yuuri directed them toward the beer garden and, instead of answering, questioned which brew Victor would prefer. Victor chose a dark ale, while Yuuri went for one flavored with wildberries. He downed half of his cup in one.

Victor frowned. “Yuuri… Is something up? Did Chris’ jokes bother you? Don’t mind him, it was not meant to mean anything.” He did not want Yuuri getting the wrong idea.

“What? Oh, no,” Yuuri dismissed the worry with a wave of his hand. “That’s fine, that’s him. Sorry, am I… ummm, do I seem that bad?”

“You seem distracted.”

“I know, sorry. I am.”

“Do you want to tell me?”

The response, again, was delayed.

Yuuri looked at his half-drunk beer and then up at Victor, brown meeting blue before darting away. “No, it’s my own thing. Do you mind if we...” he trailed off.

“You want to head back?”

Yuuri nodded.

“Sure, no problem.” Victor finished his beer and Yuuri’s when Yuuri pushed his away. They had come out by train and Victor offered to ride the line back to Brooklyn with Yuuri. He was turned down. There were thoughts grinding inside Yuuri’s head, that much was obvious. He was quiet until they neared Victor’s transfer station.

“You can call me tonight, if you’d like,” Victor reminded, the train screeching toward a halt.

“I know, I will. Thank you. It was fun.”

It was always fun with Yuuri. He had been quieter with Victor but Victor assumed it was because he had been nervous about the double date. When they had met up, Yuuri had seemed fine, greeting Victor with cheery brightness, taking hold of Victor’s hand of his own accord. It was only after they had been joined by the others that Yuuri’s light diminished. Victor resisted stealing a kiss and stepped out of the train, blowing one to Yuuri from the platform instead. Yuuri gave half a wave back as the train pulled away.

Evening came and went with no messages or calls from Yuuri. Victor sent one, wishing him sweet dreams before turning in for the night. A reply did not come back till morning and when Victor texted back after his shower, one did not return to him at all. What had he done wrong this time?

 


 

A week went by. Then two.

<< I got a pair of tickets for Kinky Boots from a client. They’re for Saturday night, if you’re free?
<< If not, there’s a flea market for dogs (not with actual fleas) on Sunday and Makkachin wanted to know if you would hold her leash for her there?

<< I still have that ticket for tonight, if you wanted to join me.

<< Never mind, you were right not to go. There was an understudy playing Lola, and it was rather bland. Chris asserted he would make a better drag queen.

>> Sorry, busy. Wedding season.

Wedding season. When Yuuri did respond to Victor’s texts, that was the excuse each time. The weather was warming and Victor had seen increasing numbers of couples in wedding attire posing for photos in Central Park. It did not change the fact that Yuuri was reading all of Victor’s texts, often soon after they were sent, but not responding for hours or even a day later.

Victor had tried to come by Yuuri’s shop in the middle of the week, had brought him lunch in case Yuuri was as haggered by work as he claimed. It turned out to be very true. Mila, the assistant, let Victor into the back with a warning not to distract Yuuri for long. Victor had been greeted by counter space taken up with three separate wedding cakes, Yuuri setting Swarovski crystals into the faces of handcrafted jasmine blossoms on one of them. Victor could guess those would need to be removed prior to eating. He had expected to be dismissed immediately, for Yuuri to be annoyed by his visit. Yet Yuuri had smiled at him like the light of the sun and kissed his cheek in gratitude, permitting himself a short break to eat with Victor. At the end of the lunch, though, Yuuri had grown quiet again so Victor left him to his work. It made it all the more confusing.

More than once, Victor had typed up a message to Yuuri saying that if he wanted to break up he should do it sooner rather than later. Victor did not need to be strung along in a manner he could not make sense of. Their lunch, before Yuuri had suddenly gone quiet, had been great. Yuuri had slapped playfully at Victor’s hands when he threatened to steal a sugar flower off one of the wedding cakes, pulling Victor away from it with arms wrapped around his waist. It was only after Victor had spun him around to hold the embrace and dipped down to kiss his lips that Yuuri went glum. His gorgeous smile, which made apples of his cheeks and put sparkles behind brown eyes, had wilted moments after Victor drew away. Victor had never realized he was such a bad kisser.

There was the fear, though, that actually sending that message might lead to Yuuri doing exactly what Victor suspected he might want to. The reason Victor had deleted the question each time was because he did not want that to happen. Since confronting Yuuri was out of the question, Victor saw one more option for himself. Not that it was his favorite.

As luck might have it, his multiple calls to Chris’ office and cell went unanswered. Chris ran his business by appointment only, but he did maintain rather regular hours. Victor headed there a couple of hours past noon, taking a half day from his own job. Despite never actually having visited Chris’ office before, Victor found it just fine. What he did not find when he arrived at the third-floor landing was Chris. Rather, he was in for a far more unpleasant surprise.

“Leroy?”

Courtesy of Yuuri, Victor was aware that JJ and Isabella’s wedding was only a few short days away. Their cake was one of the ones filling Yuuri’s schedule. Victor would have expected for the groom to be quite busy in the few final days before the ceremony with preparations, tuxedo fitting adjustments, the obtaining of a marriage license, and so on. The fact that JJ was slumped on the floor outside the office of a relationship counselor, his face buried into his knees, was not a good sign.

JJ glanced up. To put it mildly, he looked like a wreck.

In his years spent practicing law, Victor had dealt with more than one crying client. It was expected at the end of a life stage, when describing a cheating spouse or recounting instances that had led a once happy relationship into crumbling into hatred. Women Victor was experienced with comforting and calming. A glass of water, a tissue, a moment given to compose themselves. Women tended to know how to compose themselves when it came to crying in front of others in a professional setting with minimal feedback. Now and then he needed to offer a hand to hold, but it was rare. Men, though, when men cried it was an entirely different story. And JJ’s eyes were red and swollen in a manner suggesting prolonged tears or a severe infection.

“Nikiforov?”

“Are you… all right?” Victor doubted it. However, there was only so much to be said in such a situation. Questioning JJ as to the reason of Isabella’s doubtless breakup would likely be in bad form and exacerbate the issue. A reassurance that Victor might also soon find himself single would only work after he confirmed the reason for JJ’s shattered demeanor.

“She’s… she’s g-going to leave m-me!” JJ did not bother trying to push himself up onto his feet.

“Isabella?” If that question was answered with any other name, that would suggest an entirely different problem. In that situation, Victor would find himself with even less sympathy. His bet with Chris would come out at a stalemate and what a letdown that would be.

“She should. I don’t deserve her.”

That was a statement Victor could agree with; Isabella gave the impression of being a class above JJ’s dramatics, as was being proved right at that very moment.

“She’s right, s-she shouldn’t marry me. She’s a queen who deserves a king, not a failure like me.”

Victor had not kept up with JJ’s career in figure skating beyond knowing of his success at the World Championships. He was under the impression the season had finished after that. Victor glanced at the phone in his hand. The prayer he had mentally recited for a call or text from Chris had gone unanswered. Victor was going to bill him for inconvenience and emotional distress.

“You’re waiting for Christophe. I’ll come back later.” As soon as Victor took a step to leave, JJ wailed, sobs racking his shoulders. Victor experienced a striking sense of déjà vu, recalling a similar scenario when a university acquaintance had received divorce filings. Georgi had been inconsolable for weeks. “Or not.”

“I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold onto her forever but I thought… I thought…” JJ sniffled into his sleeve, rubbing at his irritated eyes. “I should have known she wouldn’t want to stay with someone like me…”

Victor could not see how anyone, even when JJ was not weeping, would want to stay with someone like him. Massive ego, loud and boisterous, the classic jock appearance. Perhaps that was Isabella’s type. Yet, that would mean either Isabella’s type had changed in the span of two months or something had happened to JJ. “What did you do?”

“I messed up… I don’t know what happened. I let everyone down.”

Victor typed JJ’s name into an online search on his phone. He got his explanation quickly, the news results displaying several articles with grim titles. ‘King’ Leroy Crashes from the Throne, one read. A quick skim gave him the summary of events. JJ had suffered an injury at the World Team Trophy, causing the team score to plummet and taking them from being a favorite to last place. The article mentioned something about an embarrassing attempt at an exhibition program, followed by a list of ice shows and promotional events JJ had pulled out from as a result. Which meant, if it were true, that Victor’s analysis of the relationship had been right after all. Isabella would and did leave the moment JJ fell from grace.

“What did she say to you?” Victor imagined, for someone who valued his image as much as JJ, a few harsh words would be almost as devastating as losing a fiancée.

“Nothing!” JJ snapped back, throwing his hands up in a gesture of loss. “She took all my medals off the wall! All of them. Trophies too, took everything with her and went off!”

Victor glanced down the hall, toward the elevator and stairwell. There were a few other offices on the floor but none of them showed signs of movement. The clock on his phone told Victor it was still fifteen minutes from the hour. With a heavy sigh, he dropped, sitting down on the floor beside JJ. He could attempt an escape but there was a chance that little fact might make it back to Yuuri. There was also a chance JJ might launch himself onto Victor’s leg out of desperation. The alternative choice, if he could not get away, would be to get JJ to stop crying. “When did she leave?”

“This morning.”

Victor bit back a scoffing laugh. That would not help. “This morning?”

“After we had breakfast, she just… didn’t say anything. Mentioned going out. After I got out of the shower, she was gone and so was everything else.”

“Did she take her clothes or leave a note?”

JJ shook his head, dropping his forehead onto his knees once more. “No, just my things.”

Victor arched an eyebrow. “They weren’t all chucked out onto the lawn, were they? Or do you think she’s pawning them?” That seemed petty, especially since Isabella came from money and would hardly need it. In terms of spiting JJ, perhaps, but that seemed harsh in response to an injury and some skipped ice shows. Victor realized the wrong words had left his mouth the second JJ’s head popped back up.

“Do you think she is?! Oh, god, I didn’t think about that! She’ll pawn them or sell them to some JJ Girls and buy herself a ticket back to Montreal!”

Definitely overdramatic.

“No, no! That's not what I—Christ, no, don't cry!” Too late. The tears were back, soaking JJ’s sweatshirt sleeves. Hesitantly, Victor reached out to pat him on the shoulder. Once, twice, that should be enough.

“I should just call the w-wedding planner and c-cancel everything already!”

Victor had been operating under the assumption the wedding had already been cancelled. “Look, come on. Listen. Have you been fighting lately? Were there other problems? Did you try talking to her? Asking her what was wrong?”

The business of recovering a relationship was not Victor’s area of expertise, it was Chris’. And when Chris and his clients failed to see a solution, he would sometimes refer them to Victor. At which point they became Victor’s clients and the relationship ceased to exist. If JJ wanted advice about divvying up assets, Victor could help there. Except that would come after the wedding ceremony, not before. Victor had absolutely no legal standing here.

JJ shook his head. “I… I thought everything was f-fine. I mean, not me, but… us. I thought we were okay.”

Admittedly, Victor did not know much about JJ and Isabella’s relationship. He might not be fond of the former, but there were also many people who were not fond of Victor either. Mostly the divorcées of his clients but the point remained. It sounded like JJ was assuming his relationship was over based on a single incident and without actually having a conversation with his partner about it. Then again, Victor had been making the same assumption with Yuuri. Though it was not for lack of effort. “Do you love her?”

That was the right question.

JJ’s sobbing stopped, substituted by a glare. “Have you met her? She’s a thousand times too good for me. I was just grasping onto the hope that she would never realize it!”

Fair, a point well made. “So even if she did pawn off all your medals, would you still want to marry her?”

JJ stared at Victor. “That’s a fucking stupid question, Nikiforov.”

“Good, so answering it should be easy.”

“Of course!”

“Then what is your dumb Canadian ass doing here instead of trying to find her so you can figure out what you did wrong?!” Victor snapped, rolling his eyes. “If you love her, you’ll run to the nearest pawn shop and sweep her off her feet like one of those ice dancers!” Clearly, JJ was the one who needed a pair of gift tickets to a Broadway musical. Maybe he would learn something about how grand sweeping gestures worked.

“I—”

They both jumped when a phone went off, playing the music to JJ’s short program. JJ fumbled, taking it out of his pocket and freezing when the photo of the incoming caller showed Isabella.

“Answer it!”

“I can’t, what if she’s already at the airport?!”

Victor snatched the phone from JJ’s hand and swiped over it to accept the call. “Isabella?”

She did not answer immediately. Victor could picture her glancing at her own screen to make sure she had dialed the right number. “Hi… Is JJ there?”

“Yeah, he’s with me. It’s Victor. Nikiforov.”

“Oh, god, is he okay? I can’t find him anywhere and he hasn’t been answering his phone for the last hour!”

The pitched concern in her voice did not give the impression of a woman scorned by disappointment. “He’s fine. He’s… Weird question, but what were you doing this morning?”

“He’s been down lately. I know he’s been hard on himself after what happened. I wanted to cheer him up somehow, I’ve been trying anything I can think of. This morning, I took all his medals to a shop to get them polished and—is that what this is about?”

If Victor had an ounce less of restraint, the palm of his free hand would now be finding the back of JJ’s head, with more force than necessary. “He thought you were breaking up with him.”

“He thought I was… Victor, give JJ the phone!”

Victor knew well enough to listen to a woman when her tone of voice turned that sharp. He gave JJ the phone and pushed on his back, making him get up on his feet. Victor gestured for JJ to go down the hall, in order to have more privacy in his conversation. Finally, a brief moment of peace and quiet.

The elevator door dinged. Chris strolled out, sunglasses on, a scarf wrapped around his neck, and a Starbucks cup in hand. Even from across the hall, Victor could see one of his eyebrows rise up.

From the corner near the stairs, JJ shouted, “Of course I’ll marry you, my Queen!” Phone still jammed against the side of his face, JJ rushed past Chris, shoulder banging into the elevator doors as they went to close. He smashed a hand against the inside floor buttons and waved. “Thank you, Victor!” A long second later, the doors shut and he was gone.

Chris remained halted in mid-step. Pushing his sunglasses up, he blinked at Victor, who was still sitting against the wall beside his office. “Why are you—what did you do?”

Victor was equally confused by the turn of events. “I think I just saved a marriage?”

“...I'm going to need a drink before I'm ready to hear how you managed that.”

 


 

Yuuri’s mind skipped across itself, jumping from one train of thought to the next as if he were playing the most dangerous game of mental leapfrog. The cake had been delivered and positioned in its place of prominence in the hotel banquet hall. Sparkling white fondant glimmered like a beacon, a cascade of snowflakes swirling around the layers. On its own, it already looked beautiful, but it would be striking when the lights dimmed. Inside each of the snowflakes were fitted fairy lights, which would cast a rich purple hue across the snowy surface.

Instructions had already been given to the catering staff on how to best handle the cake and Yuuri would tell the same to Isabella when she arrived. The ceremony itself Yuuri had missed due to the work at hand, but Isabella had insisted he act the part of a guest during the dinner. Yuuri would have been a lot less haggard if it were not for the magazine writer tailing him; she kept asking him questions he was certain he had already answered the day before, when she had come by his shop in order to document his “process.”

There was a question about whether he was nervous on his clients’ wedding days—absolutely he was—and about what he did to cope. Deep breaths, a recital of his final checklist, and muttered self-assurance that he had done this a hundred times with no problems. A thought nagged at the back of his mind that this could be the exact opportunity for said problems to arrive. Fairy lights on a cake, what if the happy couple accidentally cut through the cord and electrocuted themselves? By that point in the interview, Yuuri had snatched an early glass of champagne and downed it in one gulp.

The cake would be fine, it was fine, Isabella had dropped by the shop the evening before to approve it and she had gasped, both hands covering her mouth in shocked delight at the result. Her engagement ring had dazzled under the lights, very soon to be joined by a wedding band.

Guests began to arrive, milling into the banquet hall to find their seats. Every single one, however, delayed their quest in favor of approaching the expansive floor-to-ceiling windows on the far side. Yuuri had done the same, admiring the incredible view of Niagara Falls they provided. As evening fell, the falls would be illuminated and become even more stunning. Yuuri had heard a rumor whispered about a fireworks display being arranged for the first dance. JJ and Isabella had really chosen the perfect location. Their memories and photos would be glorious.

With seats beginning to fill, the magazine writer graciously left Yuuri. He had another session scheduled with her at his shop two days later, in case she needed any more photos or details to fill in the article after a draft had been written. As much as Yuuri’s thoughts drifted toward the realm of regret for agreeing to do the feature, he could not deny rather looking forward to how it would turn out. Plus, he was happy to do it for Isabella. She had been thrilled.

Yuuri wove between the tables, headed for the back so he could remove his apron and find his own seat. It was toward the middle somewhere, adjacent to Phichit and not far from the table where Chris would be sitting—Yuuri skidded, the tip of his shoe snagging on the carpet. The small folded card bearing Chris’ name sat prettily on a table near the front. Yuuri had glimpsed it earlier and also seen that Matthieu’s name was beside it. Yuuri had not seen the name card on the other side of Chris’. It read, in fine gold lettering, Victor Nikiforov.

The wedding had been brought up in their conversations a couple of times, but always briefly. Victor knew JJ and Isabella in passing, and the only reason he had been at the engagement party was to accompany Chris. Except this time, Matthieu was there and as far as Yuuri was aware, Victor had not been invited.

A pit opened in Yuuri’s stomach, threatening to swallow him whole. He had been avoiding Victor a little. A bit more than a little. In part because he genuinely was beyond busy. In other part because… well, he really did not know how to describe it. Yuuri’s problem was that, in the span of a month, he had grown to really like Victor. And that wasn’t good.

Yuuri located one of the banquet servers and grabbed another glass of champagne from him before taking his seat.

Prior to Victor, Yuuri had been in a few relationships. One in high school that did not last more than a week. A couple in university that had not lasted long either, then a couple more attempts after he had opened his shop. In none of them had he found himself comfortable. Relationships were stressful, they required time and attention that Yuuri did not have. With the most recent ones, Yuuri had been restricted by the fact that he had a business to run, and his attempts to balance that with dating had ended up feeling like more work. Victor, for a reason Yuuri could not quite yet place, was not work.

Yuuri was certain that his heart had genuinely forgotten how to beat when Victor had kissed him under the cherry blossom trees. His lungs had ceased to process air, his nerves seizing, his thoughts skipping on the loop that all he needed in life was to keep seeking out the taste of strawberry cream on Victor’s tongue. After their date, Yuuri had come home thinking about Victor, run errands thinking about Victor, and gone to sleep thinking about Victor. It had been the first time in years Yuuri had gone a full day without the thought of work intruding into his mind.

When Yuuri was at the shop, he tended to work without breaks. The first week of April, that stayed relatively true. The second week, he would glance at his personal texts on more frequent occasions, a smile stretching wide across his face as he saw new alerts with Victor’s name attached. The photos of Makkachin and stories about her troublemaking were his favorite. He was convinced Victor made up the majority of them but looked forward to them all the same. By the third week, Mila had actually needed to prod him once or twice to get back to work, his break spent texting Victor having run fifteen minutes too long.

There had been teasing from Phichit, on how Yuuri might have actually found the one. Except how could Victor be the one when he did not believe the one existed. Victor’s comments on marriage, even if he had apologized for them, were still his opinion. Yuuri was not looking for marriage but if Victor was not interested in a long-term relationship, it meant they had a time limit. A time limit meant there would be a breakup that would hurt more the longer they went on. After a month of dating, Victor entered Yuuri’s thoughts daily.

When Yuuri went grocery shopping, he thought about the miniscule fire he had accidentally set in Victor’s apartment. When he saw a dog, he thought of Victor’s anxious pout and whining as Yuuri had demonstrated how to clip Makkachin’s nails. When he formed his sugar blossoms, he thought about Victor licking the sakura-syrup infused cream off his fingers in the back of the shop. It was a constant assault, to the point where Yuuri had changed his plan for the May cupcakes, from peaches and cream to an attempt at recreating the delightful dessert from the Russian market. Whenever Yuuri thought about Victor’s reaction to his kartoshka cupcakes, from that heart-shaped smile to the way Victor had spun him through the air before kissing him, it had Yuuri bubbling.

On their dates, it was easy for Yuuri to get swept up in Victor’s charms, in the flirting that did not wane, in the stupid obviousness of how well they worked together. Away from him, though, the worries crept in. The question Phichit had posed offhand, of whether Yuuri wanted to get involved in a relationship that had no future, plagued him. Since Yuuri’s job dealt with couples who only talked about their relationship going forward in the most positive of terms, it was a difficult question to avoid.

Yuuri drained his third glass of champagne and waved a waiter down for a refill. The bride and groom had arrived, and he would need to toast them with everyone else. His eyes traveled from JJ and Isabella looking beautiful in their wedding wear with the falls lit up behind them, to the table further down. The silver hair would have been hard to miss. He was really there. Victor “Weddings Are a Waste” Nikiforov was clapping politely along with everyone else as JJ and Isabella took their seats.

As Yuuri’s doubts had grown, he had tried to resist them. Just because Victor did not want to get married did not mean they couldn’t have a good relationship, regardless of whether it lasted only a few months more or longer. Yuuri knew better than to let his anxiety dictate his decisions. Actually implementing it, though, was far more difficult. He had thought about simply calling it off, telling Victor he did not think it was going to work out between them. Except it was working and Yuuri wanted it to. Each time he opened his texts to send the breakup note, he saw all of Victor’s messages, the photos, the sweetness that tugged at Yuuri like the craving of a true sugar addict.

He had told Phichit he wanted to let the relationship run its course naturally. Victor was meant to be the cynic, Yuuri did not need to go stealing that trait for himself. So when Victor had invited him out for the double date with Chris and Matthieu, Yuuri had jumped at the chance. Victor had been negative about JJ and Isabella’s relationship, but all his jabs had been aimed at JJ’s brash personality. Less than objectively speaking, Yuuri could understand. JJ was, at times, a bit much. Judging Victor by his attitude toward his friends, though, that would be far more telling.

As it turned out, it was, but not in the manner Yuuri had expected. Chris had pulled Yuuri close at the start, whispering a warning of “Victor doesn’t know about us yet…” Chris had not told his own best friend about the fact that he had gotten engaged. Yuuri was arranging cake tastings for them, and Chris and Matthieu had removed their engagement rings rather than risk letting Victor notice.

It had dug into Yuuri’s heart like an ice pick when Victor had surprised him by bringing him lunch to the shop. The last person Yuuri had actually dated had been discouraged by the hours Yuuri had put into his business, as wedding season had left Yuuri with minimal free time and the little he had, he had preferred to spend on his own. Victor, having received the same excuses, had made time for Yuuri. Had become his stress relief for a short half-hour, made him laugh and look at his ridiculously complicated cake design with fresh eyes through the detailed compliments he dropped. Victor was wonderful and that was awful.

Yuuri tipped his champagne flute to his lips. No liquid hit them; it was already empty.

From across the room, sharp blue eyes met Yuuri’s. He eeped and ducked, heat flooding his cheeks. Pragmatically, Yuuri should use the unexpected opportunity of Victor being there to say his piece and end the relationship. Or, if Yuuri was more realistic with how his nerves would hold up, just stammer out clumsy excuses and then cry to himself about it later.

“Yuuri?” Phichit leaned over, tapping his shoulder. “You okay?”

It was possible that Yuuri had not confessed his inner turmoil to Phichit. “Yeah. I, ummm… I need to… give me a moment to, uhhhhh, yeah.” As gracefully as he could manage, Yuuri slipped from his seat and bolted just as the best man rose up to make his speech.

Breaking up with someone at a wedding was probably bad form. Yuuri did not want to act poorly at a dear friend’s wedding. He had only caught a glimpse but Victor looked so damn good in a suit. Yuuri wanted to see him from the front, see if Victor had gone with the request on the invitation and worn a shirt or tie of dark purple. Probably not. A wedding humbug like him had probably gone for a shade of habanero orange.

Yuuri still had his apron on. Buzzing with a sip of champagne too many, he snuck into the prep area connected to the banquet room, offering to help plate the food. He would lay low, avoid Victor, and catch him on the way out. He would talk to him then, after the festivities had concluded. He would take hold of Victor’s arms and hold him steady as Yuuri told him exactly how nice his biceps felt in his hands. Wait, no, that was wrong. He would hold him steady, like how Victor had held onto him outside the brownstone after one of their dates, kissing warmth into Yuuri under the orange street lights. Had it been chilly that evening? Yuuri could not recall, the memory of it putting him on a cloud set to the count of nine.

Shaking himself, Yuuri bit hard on the inside of his cheeks in order to jolt back to reality. He did not need to picture how good Victor looked in a formal suit. Or how good his body likely felt in a formal suit. Yuuri had laid his hands on that chest on several occasions now. It was firm, carved. Yuuri could imagine the glide of milk-smooth skin under his fingers. The champagne had been a bad idea, he was realizing that now. At least the plates he was helping send out looked decent. He hoped Isabella’s grandmother would not end up receiving an appetizer plate that had a six-pack drawn in garnish sauce, a result of his wandering mind. First electrocution, then a heart attack—Yuuri was a menace to this wedding.

“Yuuri?”

No six pack, but Yuuri had dotted a heart shape onto the plate in front of him. He glanced up at the call of his name and eeped once more. Isabella, holding her white wedding skirts off the floor, had stepped into the prep room. Usually, a bride in the back rooms during the party spelled trouble.

“Hey! Something wrong?”

“I thought I told you that you’re strictly a guest once the dinner starts. Why are you back here?”

“Technically, dinner hasn’t started yet?” It was a weak attempt but it was all Yuuri had. “I’ll, uhhh, be out there… eventually.”

“Is there a reason you’re hiding? You know, Victor asked about you earlier.”

Yuuri set down the plastic bottle of garnish sauce with a thud. “Why is he here?! I thought he wasn’t invited. Isn’t a divorce lawyer kind of a… bad omen to have at a wedding?”

Isabella’s perfectly applied makeup sparkled as her eyes widened in surprise and then sharpened in disapproval. “That’s harsh. He’s the one who talked JJ down from his cold feet, of course we were going to invite him.”

That was brand-new information which Yuuri did not believe he processed correctly. “What?”

“Aren’t you dating him? Did something happen?”

Here Yuuri was, thinking he would keep to himself in order to avoid any potential drama arising at Isabella’s wedding. Instead, he had pulled her away from her new husband and made her chase him out of misplaced concern. “No?” He did not think this was the time nor the place to unload his personal woes. “What do you mean, though, JJ had cold feet?” When JJ and Isabella had come in to give him details for their cake requests and do their tastings, JJ had been even more enthusiastic than Isabella.

Isabella moved closer, her bejeweled heels clicking across the floor. She dropped her voice, so that only Yuuri would be able to hear her. “JJ had a bit of an… anxiety flare up a couple of days ago. It was an overreaction to something dumb but Victor talked some sense into him. Got him to calm down and talk to me instead of going off to do something stupid in his panic. Apparently, JJ was ready to call the wedding planner and put this off. Victor stopped him. Does that sound like a bad omen to you?”

Any moment now, a random American celebrity was going to pop up from a corner and tell Yuuri he was being pranked. Yuuri had thought Victor was betting against the relationship—why would he do that? Unless he was still hoping to collect on that asshole bet after the fact. Though, Yuuri had gotten the wrong impression of Victor on their first date. Maybe he had the wrong impression here too. “Really?”

“You know JJ can get a bit dramatic at times. If it wasn’t for Victor, there might not have been a wedding right now.”

“Victor hates weddings.”

Isabella rolled her eyes. “Everyone who isn’t the bride and groom hates weddings. And no, you don’t count. Just because he’s a divorce lawyer doesn’t mean he hates weddings. He seemed happy when I asked him to come, even though it was so last minute. I don’t know what’s going on with the two of you, but will you talk to him please? For me?”

Yuuri sighed. “I can’t say no to such a beautiful bride.”

Smiling, Isabella patted his shoulder. “Good. Now be a decent man and escort me back to my husband.”

Yuuri washed his hands quickly and excused himself to the head caterer, taking Isabella by the arm. He led her back to her table, giving JJ his congratulations. They traded a few words and Yuuri left the happy couple to their canoodling, smiling to himself when he saw JJ reaching for Isabella’s hand under the table.

Taking a deep breath, Yuuri made a purposeful line for Victor’s table, his hands trembling at his sides. Since the dinner had started, Yuuri did not want to pull Victor away from it at that moment, but he could let him know that Yuuri did want to talk. Victor’s eyes latched onto him as he approached, following him. Tongue tied and mouth dry, Yuuri failed to produce any words, fearing he would fumble over them badly enough to cause a scene. He did the next best thing, skimming his hand across Victor’s shoulders. Just a small sign, a soft expression to show Victor he would be waiting after the food service finished. Yuuri intended to head back to his own table, but Victor caught his hand before Yuuri was out of reach. Without saying anything, Victor pressed a kiss to Yuuri’s knuckles before letting him go. Well, now Yuuri felt a million times more like a jerk.

Yuuri ate his dinner quietly, the perfectly cooked whitefish he had selected on his invitation tasting stale by influence of a guilty conscience. Phichit had nudged him with an elbow between bites of his own meal, asking him what was up. Yuuri shrugged him off, eyes drifting to Victor. From across the room, Victor blended in with the rest of the celebrating guests. He was chatting amicably with Chris and Matthieu, giving no outward indication of his prejudice against marriage. They seemed to be enjoying his company as well, Yuuri watching Chris laugh openly as Matthieu snickered into his napkin at some amusing comment or another.

There were more toasts, from the parents of the bride and groom, and another from Isabella’s maid of honor. All were sweet, amusing stories detailing the mishaps and windfalls of their courtship. The lights dimmed in time for the cake cutting, and Yuuri turned his attention to it intently in case he needed to run up to help them. The fairy lights on the cake came on, bathing JJ and Isabella in a glittering lilac glow. The banquet resounded with impressed gasps, making Yuuri smile. He noticed Victor gazing toward him.

Phichit was gone from his seat, snapping photos of JJ and Isabella as they fed each other the first bites of cake. It left the place beside Yuuri open, though not for long. Yuuri, against his better judgment, downed another glass of champagne the moment he saw Victor making his way over.

Yuuri had been hoping that Victor had not noticed how withdrawn Yuuri had been the past couple of weeks. No such luck, as Victor leaned in to ask, “May I sit with you?” in a hesitant manner that suggested he had very much noticed.

Their situation, or Yuuri’s perception of their situation, could be handled a few different ways. The champagne bubbling through Yuuri determined that the most direct route was the most efficient and had him blurting out the first thing that came to mind. “I thought you didn’t believe in marriage.”

Victor looked taken aback by the statement. “It’s not a unicorn, Yuuri. I don’t think it is a necessary construct, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in it.”

“You said you didn’t think they were going to work out. So why help them?”

The chuckle that rolled from deep in Victor’s chest was an unfair reminder of how much Yuuri liked hearing it. “Honestly, I am not sure how that all happened either. I can admit when I’m wrong, though, and it’s possible I was wrong about those two.”

“What did you say to him?”

Victor shrugged his shoulders, fiddling with a folded napkin on the table. “I went to see Chris at his office. He wasn’t there but JJ was, having a crisis. He was pretty broken up. I thought Isabella had dumped him. But that wasn’t the case, so I did what I could. I didn’t realize you thought I was the kind of person to openly sabotage a relationship that, by all impressions, seems to be working.”

“I don’t think that…”

“Is that why you’ve been ghosting me?”

Busted. Yuuri should have known. “No, that was… a different thing.”

“Will you tell me?”

Yuuri half expected Victor to reach forward, to take his hands or lay one on his knee. Victor did none of those things, waiting for Yuuri to open up. Yuuri hated that Victor, apart from his opinions on marriage, was exactly what Yuuri wanted. “When you came to my shop to try to convince me to go out with you again, I only agreed because I thought you’d be awful again. That way I could put you out of my mind and treat you like a bad story to tell friends. But you weren’t. I like you, okay? A lot.”

Victor smiled, the stiffness in his shoulders relaxing. “I like you too, Yuuri.”

“No, shut up and listen. Let me get this out.”

Another chuckle tugged at Yuuri’s heart, bringing with it a surge of fondness. Victor nodded, silently waving at Yuuri to continue.

“I like you and that’s the problem. I can’t… I don’t want to keep dating you if this isn’t going to go anywhere. I don’t mean like this,” Yuuri gestured around them, “but if, for you, this is just something to mess around with for another month or so, I think I’d prefer to stop now. Otherwise, it’s going to end badly and I don’t want that.”

Victor raised a hand to his mouth, tapping a finger against his lips. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Yeah.”

“You’ve dated before, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you go into every relationship thinking it’s doomed to fail?”

Yuuri startled, jerking back. “No!”

“Then why do you think this one is? If you’re going into it like that, thinking we’re doomed from the start, you’re not giving us a fair chance, are you?” Victor said, shifting toward him. He laid a hand on the table between them, palm up in offer. “You’re incredible, Yuuri, and I would really like if I could keep getting to know you regardless of the outcome however long from now. I might not go into relationships dreaming about a big wedding and a marriage certificate, but that doesn't mean I won't love you."

Oh, that was a low blow. Yuuri’s heart launched a protest, ready to tear itself out of his ribcage so it could throw itself straight into Victor’s hands. Instead he slipped his own hand over, threading his fingers through Victor’s. “You should… you should take me somewhere private,” he muttered, a blush warming his cheeks.

“Why’s that?”

“Because I am about to kiss you in a way that might be considered very inappropriate for a wedding.”

The full heart-shaped smile that spread across Victor’s lips made him look even more gorgeous than usual. Maybe it was partially due to the alcohol bubbling through Yuuri. Or because Victor was damn fine in a formal suit. The royal purple of his button-up shirt looked good on him. Pink had also looked good on him. Yuuri was sure everything and anything could look good on him. He hoped that when he draped himself over Victor in a moment or two, they would look just as good together.

Victor pulled on Yuuri’s hand and they slipped out from the seats, sneaking from the banquet hall. As soon as they were out the double doors, Yuuri tugged Victor in to kiss him. He could feel Victor’s lips curved up in a continued smile as they moved against his own, making the tingling pressure in Yuuri’s chest spread.

From inside the banquet hall, music started. It would be time for the first dance. Yuuri jumped when he heard the booming explosion of a firework bursting. So it was not a rumor after all.

“Come with me,” Victor whispered.

Yuuri followed, clinging to Victor’s hand. Victor led them down the hall, skipping the elevator in favor of the stairwell. They went up a single flight, Victor taking a keycard from his pocket. Yuuri had yet to see the hotel rooms, Phichit having handled their check-in and bags while Yuuri made sure the cake was transported safely.

Victor opened the door to his room. Yuuri thought he would be tugged inside and caught in a forceful kiss. Victor surprised him again by taking him to the window on the far side. It was not as expansive as the ones in the banquet hall, but the view was still incredible. The falls were illuminated by colored lights, the sky sparkling with fireworks.

A blood-red lopsided heart burst in the sky right above the falls, followed by streaming gold glitter. They stood side by side, hands held loosely as they admired the sight. If staying with Victor meant more moments like this, Yuuri could let his worries fade. His fingers tightened around Victor’s and pulled him close.

Kissing Victor was like taking a breath after holding it for too long. It was a sweet sensation which flooded through him, starting slow and building until it smashed through Yuuri like the force of a tsunami when Victor’s tongue swept into his mouth. There was a burning in his lungs, a prickling in his nerves, a gasp in his throat.

Victor’s arm went around his waist and Yuuri fell into him, wanting the proximity, the solid line of Victor’s body pressed against him. Kissing Victor was like stoking a fire, fueling it from a single hot spark into flames that danced heat through Yuuri. It would not be long before Yuuri was overcome by an inferno of his own making, reduced to ash and embers.

Drawing back ever so slightly, Yuuri dropped his forehead onto Victor’s shoulder, burying his face in the crook of his neck. “I’m sorry,” he muttered, his arms low around Victor, fingers curling into the back of his shirt. “I should have… talked to you.”

“We’re still new at this,” Victor replied, his lips in Yuuri’s hair. “Still getting to know each other. I think you’re the one who said conflicts are healthy as long as you work through them correctly.”

Yuuri let out a short laugh, lifting his head so he could touch a kiss to Victor’s skin. “I said that about fights.”

“I think the same principle applies.”

This was exactly why Victor was so difficult to deal with. As soon as they were together, in their own space, Yuuri could not help getting tangled up in him. He took Yuuri’s worries and folded them up, tucking them away into a pocket where they would sit out of sight and out of mind. It was only after, when Yuuri was alone, that he would absentmindedly reach in and find them again. For now, Yuuri wanted to let them stay hidden, tied up in the pretty bow of Victor’s charms and reassurance.

Yuuri’s mouth drifted over the length of Victor’s neck, touching a kiss here and there. He wondered what it might look like if it were dotted with marks like those of a constellation, a symbol that Yuuri was able to keep him for just a while longer. He did not need to wonder; he could make it happen if he wanted. Unsure of himself, Yuuri nipped at a patch of smooth skin and delicately held it there between his teeth as he sucked a mark over it.

Victor’s head fell back, granting Yuuri access. So Yuuri littered a few more, open mouth leaving a glistening trail over Victor’s neck. The boom of a multitude of fireworks made the windows tremble and Yuuri with them. Then Victor’s hands slipped and Yuuri started as his ass was grabbed.

“May I?”

Such a polite request for an impolite action. Yuuri responded by reciprocating, buzzing gleefully at the richness of Victor’s laughter. If asked, he would have to admit he had fantasized about grabbing that tush for quite some time. He squeezed it.

Victor’s laughter was impossibly alluring when it rumbled over Yuuri’s lips, muted by kisses. Yuuri had to tip up onto his toes to catch Victor’s mouth fully, shifting his arms to drape them over Victor’s shoulders, fingers delving into silver hair. It was a wonder, how Victor managed to style it yet keep it silken to the touch.

The faintest hint of wedding champagne swept across Yuuri’s tongue and he chased it. Winding his fingers into Victor’s hair, Yuuri tugged on it, angling Victor the way he wanted, deepening the kiss until he was lost within it. The hum of a moan which vibrated into his mouth had Yuuri drunker than the alcohol.

Hands gripping into Yuuri’s ass, Victor hitched Yuuri up. A mewl mixed with a gasp, Yuuri hooking his legs around Victor’s waist as he was carried across the hotel room. Victor dropped onto the edge of the bed, Yuuri straddling his lap. Yuuri kept his touch in Victor’s hair, while Victor’s drifted, from the small of Yuuri’s back to his waist, tracing his hips, dipping along his thighs.

That inferno was swelling, heating Yuuri’s skin everywhere that Victor’s hands mapped. When Victor nipped at his lower lip, sucking it into his mouth, Yuuri fell in once more. He pushed Victor down onto the bed so that they could lie together, then pulled him back in by the lapel. Their legs tangled and they kicked off each other’s shoes, hitching their bodies closer. Victor undid the ties of Yuuri’s apron while Yuuri tugged the hem of Victor’s shirt free in order to slip his hands beneath it. Victor’s skin was like cream on Yuuri’s fingers. Yuuri wanted to lick them clean.

Victor’s breath was warm on Yuuri’s mouth, quivering with the sweetness of heated kisses. The pillar of Victor’s body was a solid weight against Yuuri, distance nonexistent because all that remained between them was the rapid fluttering of matching heartbeats. Yuuri could feel Victor’s hard want pressed against his own. His spine arched as Victor’s traveling touch traced the curve of his hip, dipping to rub between his legs.

Yuuri grasped Victor’s wrist, halting him even as his hips jerked involuntarily into his palm.

Victor set his hand low on Yuuri’s waist instead. “No?”

“I…” The thought had crossed Yuuri’s mind, more than once. In that moment, in the weeks before. “I’ve never… ummm, I’m… you would be the first…”

Victor smiled in response, tipping his forehead to Yuuri’s. The multi-colored lights flooded in through the windows, splashing Victor with hues of blues and reds and greens, and he looked beautiful in all of them. That same hand settled to caress the side of Yuuri’s face, thumb stroking over his cheek. “Then you can tell me if you’re ready, when you’re ready. Doesn’t need to be now.”

Yuuri nodded, turning his face in to kiss the heel of Victor’s palm. “O-okay. We can just… I like kissing you.”

“Me too,” Victor replied. “A lot.”

Yuuri laughed. “Yeah, a lot.”

“Actually,” Victor shifted back, however slightly, giving them enough space to have a full view of each other’s faces. He found both of Yuuri’s hands, taking them in his. “I realized I should ask you... I was already thinking of you that way, but I don’t know if you’d prefer to be asked officially. Would you do me the honor of being my boyfriend?”

Objectively speaking, it was tacky and unnecessary, but the butterflies in Yuuri’s stomach still fluttered. “Asking me at a wedding is kinda… bad form.”

“Is that a no?”

“No.”

The look Victor cast him was comically blank.

Yuuri laughed. “No! No like no, that’s not a no. So yes. I will.”

“Mmmm, good. Do you want to return to the party, boyfriend?”

Biting his lower lip as he considered, Yuuri shook his head. “We can stay here a little longer,” he muttered, wiggling closer until his lips met Victor’s. “I believe I have a couple weeks’ worth of kisses and ass grabs to make up for.”

“You do. With interest,” Victor whispered back, taking Yuuri’s bottom lip into his own mouth. Yuuri threw his arms around Victor again, kissing him until the thread of their conversation was lost.

They did not make it back to the party and when their phones began to vibrate, they both silenced them. Exploring each other’s mouths and the lines of their bodies was far more appealing than any slice of cake.

The view outside the hotel room window turned to the bright shine of morning before they made their way back down. The sleeves on the shirt Yuuri wore needed to be rolled up, too long to fit him properly. He shuffled into the breakfast dining area with Victor’s hand on the small of his back, coy smiles on both their faces. They found Chris, Matthieu and Phichit all seated together, and sheepishly joined their table.

Chris’ hazel eyes swept over Yuuri’s sleep-mussed hair and the cluster of dark love bites on Victor’s neck. He set an elbow on the table and rested his chin in the palm of his hand, fluttering his eyelashes. “Spill,” he demanded, his tone absolutely thrilled.

Chapter Text

Failing to stifle his loud laughter, Yuuri spun away, trying to hold the small plastic tray he had in his hand out of Victor’s reach. Victor followed after him, arm around Yuuri’s waist, catching his lips in a brief kiss the second he was back in front of Yuuri. The sweetness of it was undercut by Victor immediately swiping a portion of cream from Yuuri’s tray with the tip of a strawberry, completing his theft by biting into the berry. Yuuri whined in protest. “What is with you always trying to steal my food?”

“Yours always tastes better,” Victor replied, smacking his strawberry-stained lips.

“That makes no sense, they’re exactly the same.” Between all the spring weddings, Yuuri had managed to secure himself one full day off before the end of the month for the purpose of spending it with Victor. The kartoshka cupcakes had not caused as wild of a reaction online as his cherry blossom ones, but the recognition he had gained had carried over. He had also noticed an influx of customers speaking in Russian inside and outside the shop, Mila rattling off with them in a manner Yuuri would never be able to replicate even if he could speak the language.

The dates Yuuri had had with Victor since JJ and Isabella’s wedding had all been quick, small things. Lunch together in the café a few doors down from Yuuri’s shop. A movie night at Victor’s apartment after they had both finished with work for the day. An evening stroll through Central Park with Makkachin. A take-out dinner at Yuuri’s place, Phichit arriving midway through to tease Victor and steal one of Yuuri’s spring rolls. A couple of days earlier, Victor had dropped by the shop in the morning after Yuuri complained in a text about being hungry. He had woken up late and had to skip breakfast in order to make it to the shop in time to start his prep, so Victor had brought Yuuri the surprise of a hot cup of coffee, a warm croissant sandwich, and a good morning kiss. After he left, Yuuri had spent the entire day feeling like he was floating on air.

The very least Yuuri could do was take one day off. The increased cupcake sales and social media attention had also meant Yuuri had more cake orders coming in. He had hired a new full-time shop assistant, and Guang Hong had been happy to pick up more hours as well. Phichit had mentioned something about an extra ten thousand or so Instagram followers, but Yuuri chose not to concern himself with that. He had a day to spend with Victor, who had driven them two hours upstate in order to go pick the first strawberries of the season.

“See, look,” Yuuri said, picking another bright red berry off a nearby bush. Victor leaned in and bit that one off Yuuri’s fingers as well, leaving him only the green stem and a tiny bit of white berry flesh.

“Mmmm, no. It has essence of Yuuri, which makes it incredible.”

Laughing again, Yuuri nudged Victor away from him with his hips and turned so he could eat a couple of berries before Victor stole them all. They had spent the majority of their picking time limit in the greenhouse teasing and flirting with each other rather than consuming the strawberries they had paid for, yet somehow Yuuri did not consider it a loss. It was Victor’s hand on the small of his back as they walked together and the joy with which Victor sang along with songs on the radio on their drive back into the city that truly made the day great for Yuuri.

 


 

June brought Yuuri’s shop back into the limelight, so to speak. Though he would not admit it to anyone, he had once again been inspired by Victor, creating Strawberry Margarita cupcakes for the first month of summer. He should have known that boozy cupcakes would cause a whirlwind of attention. Both the batter and frosting were spiked with tequila, the cream sprinkled with lime-flavored salt and decorated with a candied rind. In the first week, some famous YouTuber did a video trying to see how many they needed to eat before they got tipsy. By the end of a box of a dozen, they were crying compliments about how good the cupcakes were. The demand for them rocketed from there.

Yuuri kept trying to make time for Victor between his bookings. Their lunch dates turned into a weekly event, alternating between trips to the café and Victor eating with him at the back of the shop during Yuuri’s busier days. Mila and Guang Hong had started to greet him like an old friend whenever he dropped by.

On the second Friday, Yuuri finished the workday with a wedding and a bachelorette party cake delivery before getting changed so he could meet Victor for a proper movie date. Yuuri liked horror movies. Victor liked romantic comedies. They compromised and picked the latest superhero flick, sharing a bucket of popcorn. Yuuri was pretty certain he had missed at least one or two other films in that universe as some of the plot points went over his head. He would have still left a positive review because toward the end, Yuuri had his head on Victor’s shoulder, their fingers linked between the seats. Five out of five stars, ideal for cuddling. If he was with Victor, he would be willing to see it again.

Victor took a day off on the third Tuesday, after finding out they tended to be Yuuri’s least hectic days. Summer meant baseball season, so they went to watch a game at the stadium. They made it three innings before trading desperate looks, biting back giggles as they bailed in favor of heading all the way down to Battery Park for lunch at the farmers market there.

On the last weekend, Yuuri had accompanied Victor to the opening night of a new musical on Broadway. Phichit had whistled when Yuuri told him and helped him dress up to the nines. When Victor arrived to pick Yuuri up, though, he had clicked his tongue at the choice of tie and forced Yuuri to change into something “less fashionably offensive.”

Yuuri had never been on a red carpet before, though he was grateful the reporters and paparazzi there did seem to recognize that he and Victor were not persons of interest. Their reserved seats were not on the first row, but in the third and a little left of the center. They still had a perfect view of the performance. The staging, the lights, the costumes, the music and story were all flawless.

After the standing ovation, Victor took Yuuri by the hand and led him backstage. Yuuri had never met a Tony-winning actress before, much less one that shrugged off all compliments given to her in favor of kissing Victor’s cheeks and thanking him profusely for coming. She insisted they join her for the after-party, and an hour later Yuuri was toasting champagne with more celebrities than he cared to name, a couple of whom mentioned his cakes with admiration. Victor kept an arm around Yuuri’s waist, wearing a prideful smile.

They made it back to Victor’s apartment well past midnight, Yuuri’s cheeks flushed with bubbly alcohol. Victor was not far off either, laughing against Yuuri’s lips as he fumbled with his apartment keys, the two of them falling inside together. They both dropped to greet Makkachin, Victor telling Yuuri to get comfortable inside while he took his poodle out for a quick evening run.

Yuuri took a hot shower, washing the gel from his hair, the heat making the pleasant buzzing in his head deepen. When he came out wrapped in a large and fluffy towel, Victor was at the sink. He was out of the tuxedo, wearing only loose grey sweatpants. Yuuri hung back, biting his lower lip to keep back amusement. Victor had four different skincare products out in front of him and was diligently going through each one. Drifting over, Yuuri picked one up, glancing over the label of the upscale brand. “Do you really need all of them?”

Chuckling, Victor plucked the container from Yuuri’s hand. “That one is a cleanser, then an exfoliator, an essence, and…” he unscrewed the lid of what turned out to be a cream, “...a moisturizer.” He dabbed a dime amount on his cheeks and forehead, rubbing it into his skin in gentle upward strokes. “I want to keep myself looking good.”

“You always look good,” Yuuri muttered, taking the moisturizer back from Victor to place it on the sink. He tipped up on the balls of his feet, his hands settling on Victor’s bare chest. The kiss melted from sweet to heated quickly. Yuuri’s fingers tangled in Victor’s hair, while Victor’s hands dropped, grasping at Yuuri’s ass through the plush towel.

Yuuri pushed against Victor, reaching for more of his taste, more of those firm body lines pressing into his own. He rocked forward on one foot and his balance went with a spot of dizziness, stumbling. He did not fall, his weight held by Victor, but the kiss did break. Yuuri dropped his head against the center of Victor’s clavicle. “Maybe I’m more tired than I thought.”

“Are you working tomorrow?”

“Yeah, I got the... cupcakes.” He was still perfecting the July recipe, combining apricot and red currant with a pudding center. Mila had mentioned he was getting to be too ambitious. In reality, each successful cupcake recipe was a good way of testing new cake flavors to put into his catalogue.

“You could do it here,” Victor replied, fingers dancing over Yuuri’s hip bones.

“Ingredients,” Yuuri countered, stifling a yawn into Victor’s skin. “I should… I should go home, it’s really late.”

“It’ll be even later if you do.” Victor hooked fingers under Yuuri’s chin, tilting his face up. “Stay here. You can sleep a bit longer, I’ll make you coffee in the morning and drop you off at your shop. I promise to be a perfect gentleman.”

Yuuri was less worried about Victor being a gentleman and more worried about not being one himself. Those sweatpants sat low on Victor’s hips, teasing Yuuri with the view of his toned abdomen and the deep v-cut of his pelvis. The champagne still bubbling in Yuuri’s bloodstream suggested to him the brilliant idea of tracing each of those dips and curves with his tongue in order to become better acquainted. “I like being the little spoon.”

Victor’s gorgeous smile was more than enough to make Yuuri’s heart flip-flop all over itself.

“Who doesn’t?”

The shrill blast of his phone alarm clock came far too quickly. Yuuri buried his face into a pillow, hearing a groan behind him. Victor’s chest pressed against his back as he reached over Yuuri, groping around for the phone to silence it. The alarm was turned off, but Victor remained against him, making Yuuri hum in response to the kisses that were dotted over his neck. His nerves tingled and he turned over, exchanging the kisses to his neck for one to his lips.

The bed, the sheets, and Victor were warm. Over the years, Yuuri had gotten used to the routine of early mornings until it was easy. Never before had he been so tempted to break the habit and simply stay, hitching Victor to him, transferring a good morning greeting from his tongue onto Victor’s. Strong hands dug into his hips and Victor’s thigh slipped between his own, making Yuuri moan when it brushed against—

Yuuri shot up, breaking away, his cheeks burning hot. The only reassurance he had was Victor’s rich laughter following him as he fled to the bathroom in order to splash his face and other parts of himself with cold water.

The smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the air when Yuuri came into the kitchen, Victor dressed and smiling as he waited.

“Sorry,” Yuuri muttered sheepishly.

“I told you, when you’re ready.” Victor held out a filled mug, his soft expression making Yuuri feel even more guilty.

It was not that Yuuri did not want to. He very much did, more and more with each date. Victor was everything and more, except part of Yuuri still feared that he wasn’t. One half of his worry was that if they did finally sleep together, Victor would lose interest, whether it was because Yuuri would become a challenge overcome or because Yuuri had very little confidence in his ability to perform on a level which would be satisfying. The other half was that if he slept with Victor and everything stayed as wonderful as it was, Yuuri would be risking an even greater heartbreak later down the line. The only alternative was to put it off in order not to face either. His relationship with Victor was going so well; Yuuri did not want that to change.

 


 

Phichit sidestepped, blocking Yuuri from getting into their kitchen. “You might, uhhhh, not want to go in there right now.”

Yuuri leaned left to try to catch a glimpse inside but Phichit mirrored him to continue his obstruction. “How bad is it?” Victor had come over to their brownstone with the stated purpose of making cupcakes. He had said he wanted to recreate Yuuri’s July recipe. Yuuri had managed to redirect him from that task onto a simpler vanilla cupcake recipe, after Victor admitted it had been ten years since he had last baked anything.

After three different eggs had smashed onto the floor, Yuuri had ducked out to go purchase a couple dozen more, just in case. He had not been gone long, hardly fifteen minutes, pausing outside to pick up the mail in their letterbox.

“You know what they say about dumb blondes?” Phichit asked with a laugh, rubbing at the back of his neck.

Yuuri pushed past him. He expected their little kitchen to look like a bakery exploded but it was not that bad. There was flour everywhere, littering the floor in splotches, dusting Victor’s hair. Smiling, Yuuri approached to see that Victor had managed a batter which he had poured into the cupcake liners Yuuri had set out for him. There were small streaks across the tray from where Victor had not exactly poured it in correctly. He had a feeling that watching Victor trying to make the frosting was going to be fun.

“Hello again, my darling,” Victor greeted, smiling proudly. “They’re ready to go in the oven!”

Yuuri waved him forward and put the eggs in the fridge, noticing the carton on the kitchen counter was empty. Victor should have had one left over, if he had not broken another one after Yuuri left. He now had a theory of why Victor said he never made eggs for breakfast. It was good to know that even his perfect Victor had flaws.

Victor slid the tray into the oven, while Yuuri double-checked that he had the temperature and time settings correct. Victor spun around, throwing up his arms with a declaration of “Tada!” His apron was messy with eggs, sugar, and specks of oil. The flour in his silver hair made it look ash-grey. His smile, however, was as wide as could be.

When Yuuri kissed those delighted lips, he tasted the metallic tang of baking soda. “You still have frosting to make, mister.”

Victor saluted him, making Yuuri laugh. In moments like this, Yuuri wondered how it was Victor had ever managed to become a successful divorce lawyer. It was hard to believe when, from Yuuri’s perspective, all he could see was a full-grown puppy bouncing around his kitchen, excited to use a stand mixer for the first time.

Cream cheese and less-than-carefully measured powdered sugar got dumped into the bowl after Yuuri showed Victor the settings and how to lock the mixer. He did forget to mention to start on the lowest speed and was punished for it with the poof of the powdered sugar exploding into a cloud the moment Victor switched it on. As the cloud disbursed, all Yuuri could see were shocked blue eyes blinking at him through it. The mixer whirred to a halt.

“I can hire a cleaner…”

Yuuri could not help but burst into laughter, falling against Victor’s side. He was unable to restrain the giggles, loving the coating of powdered sugar caught in Victor’s eyelashes and how his fair skin was now white. Victor had been leaning over the mixer and gotten a facefull.

It was ridiculous. Yuuri’s cheeks and ribs hurt, his chest swelling as his heart sang with utter joy and amusement. Victor was so smart; how could he be so dumb? On dates like this, Yuuri heard a mantra on repeat inside his head. It played like a scratched record, skipping over and over, a beat of I adore you, I adore you, I adore you which would not cease. Yuuri’s crush on Victor had only gotten worse, twice-fold, thrice-fold, each day they spent together, each time his affection was returned. And it was returned continuously.

Victor took Yuuri’s laughter and pouted at it, that excited puppy in him turning wounded. “Yuuuuuurrrrriiiiiii,” he complained, stretching the vowels until they were cute, until they made Yuuri never want to hear them pronounced any other way.

Yuuri kissed him, once, twice, three times, four. All quick and in succession, smiling into each. The taste of baking soda had been replaced by the overpowering sweetness of the sugar. They cleaned the counter, Victor still pouting, and remeasured the powdered sugar. When Victor turned on the mixer the second time, he did so slowly, beginning on the lowest speed before transitioning up. Yuuri could not remember the last time he had so much fun with cupcakes.

Victor struggled a little with folding the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture, but he managed to incorporate it smoothly with a bit of guidance and encouragement. They covered it and put it in the fridge to sit while the cupcakes finished baking.

The cupcakes rose and browned nicely, Yuuri pulling them out of the oven in the fear that having Victor do it might lead to band-aids and aloe. They tidied up the kitchen—and Victor—as they waited for the sponges to cool enough to pipe the cream on.

“I got powdered sugar all over your mail,” Victor apologized, dusting off the envelopes and flyers Yuuri had set on the counter when he had come in.

“I think it’s mostly bills and junk,” Yuuri replied. That was hardly a concern. If only the electric company would take payment in cupcakes. “You can throw those away.”

Victor flipped through, tossing the advertisements and setting aside one official-looking envelope. He paused on a dark blue brochure. “How about this?”

Yuuri peeked at the front and his shoulders slumped. “That’s, ummmm, complicated.”

“Is this something you were considering doing?” Victor asked, opening up the brochure. It was for a licensed pâtissier course of a period of nine months in Paris, at one of the most celebrated pastry schools in the world. Yuuri had been considering it off and on for a few years. He had even met with an advising representative for the institution, yet had been unable to bring himself to commit.

“A little?” Yuuri said, taking the brochure out of Victor’s hands. “It may be old-fashioned but learning about pastry in France is a dream for most bakers, I think. I’m good at cakes, I thought it would be a good challenge and a good chance to learn some new things. Maybe expand my business… Gain some new techniques.”

“Why don’t you do it then?”

That was the question, the answer to which Yuuri kept making up excuses. “It’s expensive, and I’d have to take a year off. I don’t know what I would do about my shop or how I could manage it from there.”

“Couldn’t Mila run it?” Victor asked, leaning back against the now-clean kitchen counter, his head tilted to one side.

“I considered that.” Mila ran the shop on Yuuri’s rare day off or when he was sick. She knew how everything worked, how to handle the finances, how to handle orders and make them. Yuuri was the genius behind all the intricate details in their decorations, but her skills were not far behind his. If Yuuri decided to leave for an extended period of time, he did think he could help her refine those skills prior to departing. Yuuri did believe that his business would be in good hands under her management. He would need to hire a couple more assistants in his absence, but it would be feasible if the demand for their services remained steady.

Yuuri did wonder if there was use for it or if it was just a trivial desire. He did not need a full course and certificate; he was doing well enough for himself already. His last “apprenticeship” had not gone well and if this went in the same manner, he would be leaving a very dark mark on his name. “It’s a lot to think about, I’m not sure yet...”

Victor nodded. “Is it something you’ve been thinking about for a while now?”

“Only for about three years!” Phichit shouted from the adjacent living room.

“Phichit!”

“What?! Be honest!”

“That long, huh?” Victor smiled. “I realize, in your situation, it might be a difficult decision, but is it something you really want to do?”

Yuuri bit the inside of his cheeks. If he was honest, then his indecision seemed even worse. There was a reason the course stayed on his mind and a reason he still received the brochures. “I don’t know.”

“I think,” Victor turned, touching the tip of his index finger to the top of one of the cupcakes, “that magazine feature for Isabella’s wedding turned out quite good, don’t you?”

At first, Yuuri did not follow the sudden change in topic. The feature had gone well. Yuuri had been emailed a proof of the print version, which would be out at the start of August. Mila was organizing a party at the shop the day of the release. Isabella had called Yuuri, overjoyed about how the proof looked as she had received it too. The success of both feature and wedding had been, in part, thanks to Victor. It clicked. “Yeah, I do.”

Victor poked another cupcake. “I think they’ve cooled enough?”

Yuuri checked the bottoms for residual heat and nodded, gesturing for Victor to fetch the prepared cream from the fridge. Before he made any decisions about flying off to Paris for a year, he needed to teach Victor how to pipe frosting.

 


 

July passed in a flurry. After their cupcake-making date, Yuuri did not see Victor for two weeks, booked for weddings for ten days straight. Guang Hong and Leo, their most recent hire, made all the deliveries while Yuuri and Mila stayed at the shop to finalize decorations. Their lunch dates had been suspended as Yuuri did not have time for even those, buried in his workload. Their other dates had been rain-checked by Yuuri as well, too exhausted at the end of the day to do anything other than collapse into his bed.

It may have been possible that Yuuri let his personal texts and calls go unanswered again, though it was not on purpose. When he finally called Victor back, they had their first argument. It was mild and it was over quickly. Victor thought he was being ghosted again. Yuuri wanted Victor to understand that he was simply overwhelmed. He had called to make sure Victor was coming to the shop party the following week and to say sorry for the lack of communication. In the end, they apologized to each other and Yuuri fell asleep relieved, the phone still in his hand.

The next day, Yuuri made sure to check his texts whenever he had a moment to spare and saw that Victor had sent him photos. One of them was of a perfectly formed yellow cupcake, the sponge golden, the cream on top expertly twirled. Yuuri’s questions were answered in the next several photos, showing the other Yuri in Victor’s apartment hard at work in making them. Mixing the batter, whipping the cream, taking them out of the oven. Victor had mentioned something about his intern being a big, albeit secret, fan of Yuuri’s creations. The sequence of photos ended on a blurred selfie, which looked like Victor taking a bite of one of the cupcakes while Yuri attempted to rip it from his hand. Perhaps they had not yet been approved for consumption.

Yuuri did desperately want to see Victor, but work came first. Victor FaceTimed him in the evening, smiling at Yuuri through the screen of his phone while he walked Makkachin in the park. Yuuri cooed at her and Victor squatted, showing Makkachin the phone so Yuuri could talk to her. Her ears perked and her tail wagged at the sound of his voice, but she did not seem to process exactly where it was coming from.

The video calls became a nightly thing. During a few of them, Victor reminded Yuuri that he was always welcome to come and spend the night at Victor’s instead. Yuuri had already had that thought. It was a lot closer to his shop, meaning less of a commute, and had the wonderful added bonus of a handsome man and his adorable dog. Yuuri resisted only because he feared if he went once, he would want to go every night. In August, he promised. In August his schedule would be a bit lighter, in August Yuuri would make it up to Victor.

In August, Yuuri made apricot-blackberry cupcakes with fresh in-season fruit from local growers. In August, the magazine feature on Yuuri’s shop and Isabella’s wedding was released.

His shop was closed for the party, only able to fit so many people. Mila and Guang Hong had made a custom cake themselves, recreating Yuuri’s shop in a deliciously layered and fondant-decorated form. In attendance were his shop staff, JJ and Isabella, and a couple of friends. It was exactly the kind of party Yuuri liked, low-key and relaxed. Victor had texted to say he would be running a little late, driving over from the courthouse.

In August, New York City saw a fair share of thundershowers. Yuuri saw Victor’s car pull up and park across the street, the meters on the shop side already full. Yuuri saw him get out, a gorgeous bouquet of flowers in hand, his pressed and tailored suit instantly soaked by the rain.

Yuuri snatched up an umbrella by the door, running out to meet him. Victor splashed through the building puddles as he jogged across the street straight to Yuuri, ducking under the umbrella. “Congratulations,” Victor greeted, his smile vibrant like the sun that would soon emerge from behind the thunder clouds.

Cupping Victor’s cheek in his hand, Yuuri leaned up to kiss him. The bouquet of red roses and pink lilies was trapped between them as the rain pounded over the top of the umbrella and began to sweep into the fabric of their shoes.

In August, Yuuri kept his promise.

He still had bookings, but wedding season was coming to a close. Between the odd bachelorette and birthday cakes, he made time for Victor. Their lunch dates were back on, Yuuri even making a couple of extra special cupcakes for Victor to make up for all the ones he had missed. The days were hot and humid, but the evenings cooled nicely.

They went to one of the film fest movie nights in Central Park, leaning against each other as they sat on the grass and watched Hair. Victor was scandalized to learn Yuuri had never seen it before, and even more scandalized when he found out Yuuri had not seen any musicals. That was rectified through several evenings at Victor’s apartment, lounging on the sofa watching classics while Makkachin dozed by their feet. Victor liked the love stories. Yuuri like the comedies and dramas. The irony of those preferences was not lost on Yuuri.

Toward the end of the month, Yuuri was able to take a long lunch on the weekend. He met Victor and Makkachin at the park for a picnic, though dessert was interrupted by another summer squall. Victor grabbed the leftovers and Makkachin’s leash, while Yuuri bundled up the blanket. They ran, giggling, for cover. Yuuri returned to his shop drenched but ridiculously happy.

In August, Yuuri was almost certain he had fallen in love.

 


 

On a good day, Yuuri could walk to Victor’s apartment faster from his shop than it would take him to ride the train back to his brownstone in Brooklyn. The New York subway had a way of being reliable like that.

The calendar hanging at the back of Yuuri’s shop was finally legible again. Summer had seen so much ink and added notes scrawled onto it, the pages had nearly turned black. He resumed his biweekly dance classes and his regularly scheduled dates with Victor.

As it turned out, Victor had begun working a case he described as “difficult,” meaning a lot of these dates were spent at either Victor’s or Yuuri’s home. After a few evenings spent dining on delivery, Victor brought up the suggestion of those couples cooking classes Chris had joked about months before. Yuuri responded that he thought it was a good idea, once both of their scheduled commitments were clear.

They did find time here and there for a flea market visit with Makkachin on a Sunday morning, an art museum on a Tuesday evening. Victor came to one of Yuuri’s dance classes and watched him practicing from the back wall, before a dinner out together. Yuuri had Guang Hong deliver cupcakes—hazelnut cream for September—to Victor’s office after he settled a long-standing case. All in all, things were going quite well.

“What is that? What is that, what—Mila, girl, you give me that hand right now!”

Phichit’s demanding voice flowed from the front of the shop to the back, pausing briefly before turning to excited squealing which was followed by the sound of jumping.

Wiping his hands on a nearby towel, Yuuri peeked out to see Phichit clasping both of Mila’s hands and spinning around her in glee. Morning light was streaming in through the large windows. The resulting sparkle, when it hit the diamond on Mila’s left hand, was blinding.

Yuuri was quite glad he was not holding any bowls of cream or batter because, if he had been, the floor would have required another morning cleaning. “Is that real?”

“Yes!” Mila cried, dashing over to him. She held out her hand, showing off the dazzling ring. “She asked me last night! Can you believe it? I’m engaged!”

Smiling, Yuuri opened his arms and Mila nearly knocked him off his feet with the force of her hug, squeezing him tight around the middle. “That’s amazing!”

“I know,” she said, pulling back and fanning herself with her hands. “I feel like I need to go get a manicure so that way I can show it off properly.”

Phichit popped up over her shoulder, standing on the tips of his toes. “That’s a big rock.”

“Well, I’m an expensive girl,” Mila teased, bumping her butt back against Phichit to knock him away from her.

“Isn’t it a bit…” Yuuri trailed off, biting his tongue the moment he realized the question threatening to spill from it. All the time he had been spending with Victor was rubbing off on him. If his memory served him correctly, Mila had started dating her girlfriend in March. She was the daughter of Yuuri’s dance instructor. The two of them had met at Yuuri’s shop, when she had come in to pick up cupcakes Yuuri had made for a recital put on by Celestino’s youngest dance troop.

“Quick?” Mila finished for him in acknowledgement. “Yeah, maybe a little. But we’re not going to get married right away. And we’re lesbians, Yuuri, don’t harp to us about stereotypes. You went for blond hair and blue eyes, didn’t you?”

Yuuri blushed, laughing as he was caught out. She had a point. “I’m really happy for you.”

“Thank you, me too! Okay, I’m gonna get to work.” Mila did a twirl as she made her way into the back, throwing her arms up into the air. “I’m engaged!!”

Smiling to himself, Yuuri watched her go. Yet another friend to make a wedding cake for. He already had ideas whirling in his head, designs for a cake he could make for Mila and her wife-to-be. Mila’s circle of friends ran far and wide. Yuuri had only met her girlfriend briefly on a couple of occasions, but she seemed to be the wild and outgoing type that naturally drew people into her orbit. Yuuri could envision the vibrant colors and bold flavors he might use for the pair.

“Hey.” A weight dropped onto Yuuri’s shoulders, Phichit draping himself across them. “How about you?”

Yuuri craned his head around to glance at Phichit. “What about me?”

“You know, you and Victor.”

“We’re going out tonight,” Yuuri replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “That wine night thing.” They had plans to meet Chris and Matthieu there. Yuuri had not seen them since Isabella’s wedding, too busy with those of others. He had spoken to Chris on the phone a couple of times, getting updates on their plans. They had a date set, a venue booked. Last time they had talked, Yuuri had laughed at how Chris sounded overwhelmed by it, telling Yuuri he had never imagined that a wedding would require such effort.

“Have they told him yet?”

No, they had not. Yuuri understood why not. If his best friend was not fond of marriage and saw it as the start to the end of a relationship, Yuuri would hesitate as well. The longer they went without telling Victor, the harder it became to break the news. One of the reasons for the double date that night was to find a good time to tell Victor, while they were all relaxed and having a good time together. While he could see right in front of him how good a couple they made, as if Victor did not know already. Realistically, it was doubtful that Victor would respond negatively, but the worry was still there. For Chris and for Yuuri. It would be fine, Yuuri had already told himself, it would go just fine. No reason to work himself up about it before it actually happened.

“I’m not paying you to stand around and chat,” Yuuri told Phichit, stepping around the shop counter and making his way to the back. “We’re opening soon, you get to work as well.”

There was a sigh behind him, but Yuuri ignored it. He had jack-o-lantern cupcakes to experiment with, the end of the month around the corner.

All in all, the day went smoothly.

Mila floated, light as a feather, humming love songs to herself till closing time. When Guang Hong arrived for his afternoon shift, he kept shooting her quizzical looks. It was not until Yuuri flipped the sign and lock on the door and Mila came out with washed hands, ring back on her finger, that the boy squeaked and clasped his own hands over his mouth. They left together, Guang Hong walking his bicycle while Mila strutted toward the nearby train station, chattering like excited chipmunks.

For Yuuri, it was a wonderful reminder of why he had decided to go into the wedding cake business in the very beginning. In high school, while helping his sister clean out the family storage room, he had found his parents’ wedding album. The photos had already been over two decades old, colors faded. At first it had been shocking to see his parents looking so young, in their early twenties, his father wearing a montsuki hakama and his mother in a shiromuku and then in an iro-uchikake. They were smiling in all their photos, whether with wide joy that completely filled their faces or hidden grins as they sat together after the ceremony.

The western wedding cake trend had not quite made it that far south back then, but Yuuri remembered looking at a single photo of the wagashi sweets in the album with envy. Hasetsu was an aging city and, when Yuuri had been growing up there, weddings and kids were always big news. In high school, he saw how the kimono went out of fashion, young brides and grooms preferring sparkling white gowns and tuxedos. The caterers started mixing traditional food with those of French and Italian influences. Instead of ceremonies at Shinto shrines, couples started to book the local resort, which had remodeled a banquet room to take on the look of a chapel. The one thing that never changed, however, was how happy weddings made people.

Family, marriage, those aspects of life were rather expected in Japanese culture. His best friend in high school had gotten married right after she graduated and Yuuri had never seen anyone look more in love on the day of the ceremony. Wedding season here and now had become more of a stress than a joy to him, he admitted, but it was worth it every single time to see how his customers lit up upon seeing their cake delivered. Yuuri loved his work, loved reading the emails he got a few days after the ceremonies, loved seeing couples come in to make their requests and do their tastings. Weddings were wonderful, they were memories of the strongest forms of love that would last a lifetime, and Yuuri did dream of one day having his own. But he was in no rush.

Yuuri washed up, changed clothes, and closed up the shop just in time for Victor’s car to pull up outside it. He slid into the passenger seat, leaning over the center console to kiss the corner of Victor’s mouth. “Hi.”

“Did something good happen or do I look that handsome today?” Victor teased.

Yuuri realized he had a smile plastered over his face. “Both.” Victor’s good looks remained a striking feature, which Yuuri liked to admire when he had the chance. On their musical movie-watching nights, Yuuri would glance up from his spot leaning on Victor’s shoulder to admire the sharp cut of his jaw, the smooth length of his neck. Now and then it tempted him enough to wiggle closer and suck a mark under the lobe of Victor’s ear. Quite a few of those movie nights had turned into makeout sessions on the sofa, though Yuuri always halted them before they went too far.

“Want to tell me about it?” Victor asked, turning his car onto the road as Yuuri buckled in.

“Mila got engaged,” Yuuri replied, watching Victor’s expression. It stayed steady, though his eyebrows did lift into his bangs with surprise.

“I didn’t realize she was dating anyone.”

“She’s had a girlfriend for about… six months.”

That put a small frown on those full pink lips. Yuuri had expected it. “That’s quick.”

“Yeah, I thought that too,” Yuuri said. “She was super happy, though. Said the wedding wouldn’t be for a while, maybe sometime next year.”

“Have you met the girlfriend?”

“Two or three times.” Never for long. She had come in once, at the dance studio, to talk to her father. Yuuri had overheard them arguing about something but did his best not to listen, focusing on running through his footwork. He had argued with his own parents on enough occasions growing up, as anyone did. “She’s fine.”

“Just fine?”

“I don’t know her that well. Mila likes her and that’s what counts.”

Victor nodded, humming to himself. “Are you going to make their cake?”

“If they ask me to.” Yuuri hoped they would. If Mila went with another shop, he might count it as an insult to his skills and her faith. “If they don’t, I might as well quit.”

Laughing, Victor kept his focus on the road, driving them toward Manhattan Bridge. It did always impress Yuuri how well Victor was able to find his way around the city, though Victor did have a tendency to forget his turn signal. “I’m sure it’ll be a beautiful wedding, especially if they have your cake there.”

Yuuri had expected more pushback, to see Victor rolling his eyes or scowling at the idea of a couple getting engaged so quickly. Victor’s reaction was more of a surprise than the engagement itself. “I don’t know when it’ll be but… would you… would you be my date for it?”

“If you’re invited with a plus one?” Victor asked, his eyes flickering to Yuuri. “Of course.”

The rest of the way, Yuuri bit the inside of his cheeks to keep back the smile threatening to break through. When they arrived, it was already getting dark outside, but street lamps and the lights from the stalls lit up the streets which had been closed to traffic. Yuuri’s fingers laced through Victor’s as they walked, his stomach growling. Along with the local winemakers showcasing their varieties, there were samples of artisanal foods to compliment both red and white wines, from charcuterie to cheeses and crudités.

They found Chris and Matthieu rather easily. The pair were seated in an area with gas-burning patio heaters, each with a glass of wine already in hand.

“My two other favorite men!” Chris smiled at them as they approached, lifting his wine glass. “You’ll need to forgive us, we’ve already had a few.”

“Stay out of Chris’ reach if you don’t want your butt to get pinched. I am having trouble getting him to keep his hands to himself,” Matthieu warned before jerking involuntarily in his seat in a way that suggested that exact thing had just occurred.

“We’ll keep that in mind,” Victor said, leaning over so Chris could smack a kiss to his cheek instead. “We’ll join you in a minute.”

It was to be a light evening of good food, good drinks, and good conversation catching up with friends. They bought a platter of assorted hors d’oeuvres for the table the other two had claimed, Yuuri going with a glass of pinot noir while Victor started with half a glass of rosé. At the end of the street, there was space set up with easels and paint. Yuuri had a sense that if they let a wined Chris anywhere near it, they might be banned permanently from the entire neighborhood while Chris argued about the nude male form being “artistic.”

After they joined the other couple, Chris sighed in exasperation upon learning that Victor had driven, declaring that he and Yuuri would simply have to match glasses in his stead. Despite denying Chris at first, in the end that was exactly what Yuuri did.

The conversation flowed as easily as the wine. The figure skating season was starting up again, which meant Matthieu was busy choreographing and working through programs with his skaters. He had one who was especially stubborn, he said, though he did not name names. Despite that, they all knew exactly who he meant. Talk of work brought up Chris’ practice, and he mentioned a story about someone who had come in for a consultation for his relationship problems with his “waifu”—an anime character body pillow. Chris had referred him on, but not before learning a bit too much about their sex life.

With each glass, Yuuri scooted closer to Victor, barely fighting the influence of the wine in the decision of whether or not to climb into his lap in order to get closer still.

Yuuri had the equivalent of a whole bottle of wine in him at the point that Chris posed a question about how it was Yuuri kept his special, secret bachelorette party cakes erect. Yuuri was too late to leap across the table to cover Chris’ mouth with both hands, the blush on his face a shade darker than the merlot Matthieu had been drinking. Victor received a lesson in Yuuri’s off-the-menu services, Chris producing photos of beautifully structured dick cakes. A couple had white cream oozing from the tips, colored coconut shreds decorating the balls at the bottom. If not for the wine, he might have been horrified, but as it was he could laugh and smile with pride when Victor complimented his artistry.

Glasses drained and food plates picked clean, they settled. Chris mentioned intentions to travel abroad with Matthieu for the ISU Grand Prix Finals in December, and brought up the fact that they had another big plan in store together come the new year.

Cheeks flushed and feeling warm despite the chill of the evening, Yuuri swayed a little when he went to stand up. Victor reached out to steady him, but Yuuri grabbed his hand instead, kissing his fingertips. “I’ll be right back.” There was a restaurant shortly down the way with restrooms. Yuuri caught Chris’ eye before leaving and Chris smiled back, placing his hands atop the ones Matthieu had resting on top of their table.

Yuuri took his time making his way to the restaurant and then washing his hands before heading back. He had been worried about how Victor would receive the news, but his response to the news about Mila’s engagement had been fine. More than fine, it had been good. And from that evening, it was more than easy to see how well Chris and Matthieu worked together. Victor would be happy, surely, knowing his best friend would be marrying someone who matched with him perfectly.

They had not broached the topic of Victor’s views on marriage since that first date. Yuuri did know that Victor’s parents were divorced and, on his visits to Victor’s apartment, he had seen Victor working on his cases more than once. He always regarded the notes in his files with a furrow in his brows and a frown fouling his lips. They had not really talked about Victor’s work either, partially due to Victor needing to keep the details private and partially because of the undoubtedly shared sense that the conversation might spark an air of discomfort.

Yuuri could understand though, now, how Victor’s work could warp his perception of marriage. He saw couples at their lowest, couples who were striving to tear each other apart after years of devotion. So, perhaps, to be surrounded by engagements and weddings was exactly what Victor needed. To see marriage how Yuuri saw it daily, as the peak of love rather than the rock bottom.

Coming back to the table, Yuuri saw the others all on their feet, Chris giving a one-armed hug to Victor. They were talking quietly, but their expressions held not a hint of negativity. Yuuri stumbled on the last half step, bumping into Victor’s side. “Are we leaving?”

“Chris and Matthieu are heading home,” Victor said, snaking an arm around Yuuri’s waist to hold him steady. “And you look ready to fall asleep.” He lifted a hand, cupping Yuuri’s cheek and stroking his thumb over it. Yuuri nuzzled into his palm, kissing it and the inside of his wrist.

Sleep sounded good. However, Yuuri was not quite ready to separate from Victor. Maybe he could convince him to sleepover, so Yuuri could snuggle against him in bed and have the best of both worlds. “Take me home then, gorgeous.”

“Oh, an extra-flirty Yuuri. You’ll have your hands full tonight, Victor.” Chris winked.

They said their goodbyes, waving as Chris and Matthieu left. Victor cleaned off their table, depositing the plastic wine glasses in the recycling. Yuuri stayed plastered against his side on their walk back to the car, smiling to himself, his whole body buzzing pleasantly. Mila had already agreed to cover the morning for Yuuri in case his evening of partaking in wine meant trouble getting up early. The thought of Victor in his bed returned, a morning spent lounging beneath the sheets with him more than appealing.

Yuuri laughed as Victor helped him buckle in, stealing a kiss in the process. Yuuri had drunk enough for them both, while Victor had strictly limited himself to only two half glasses. They should have taken the train in. Yuuri wanted to see Victor with a drunken blush across his cheeks and chest. He would bet it dropped far, like spilled paint.

The drive to Yuuri’s brownstone was a short one, yet Yuuri let his eyes droop shut. He could hear Victor speaking though the words themselves escaped him. It was a comforting backdrop, a feeling of something like home. Over the months, Victor had become that. His calls, his texts, their time together had come to be an expectation. One that Yuuri loved. One that, more and more, Yuuri hoped would last longer and longer.

“Yuuri… If you want me to carry you up the stairs, I can do that.”

Yuuri stirred, lashes lifting. His head lolled to one side, seeing Victor leaning toward him. The car was parked outside the brownstone, the orange of the streetlights washing in through the windows. Victor’s hair glowed with the warmth of it, as did his silver eyelashes and the amusement curling his lips. He always looked so damn beautiful.

“Slide your seat back,” Yuuri muttered, words fumbling in his mouth.

“What?”

“Your seat,” Yuuri repeated, rubbing at his eyes with the heel of his palm. “Slide it back.”

Expression curious, Victor did as requested and slid his seat back. It did not go far since his legs were long, but did give them an extra inch of space. Victor’s laugh was rich within the confines of the car as Yuuri clambered over the center console and into Victor’s lap. He planted his knees on either side of Victor’s hips, not quite comfortable in the seat. His fingers found their way into Victor’s hair and his tongue its way into Victor’s mouth, kissing him firm and deep. He caught the surprised moan as it rolled from Victor’s throat, drinking it down like a fine wine.

There had been many mornings that Yuuri had woken up to find a text from Victor on his phone, one which had been sent after he had fallen asleep. They greeted him good morning, sometimes with emojis, sometimes with selfies or photos of Makkachin, sometimes with a simple heart. Yuuri tended to wake up before Victor, yet Victor took care to make sure Yuuri rose in the mornings with that touch of sweetness to start his day. Most of those mornings, it made Yuuri bubble as he drank his coffee and set off for the shop. A few of the mornings, though, his thoughts of Victor had resulted in Yuuri taking a long shower, his hand down between his legs as he chased fantasies.

Chasing fantasies was not necessary when he had that very fantasy against him, his wine-soaked tongue in Victor’s mouth, hips rocking down into Victor’s lap. More than once, Yuuri had gotten so close to pushing his anxieties aside, wanting to experience Victor in full. He had gone on a couple of their dates with a condom in his wallet, his heart rate spiking anytime he was reminded of it. More than once, during those sofa makeouts, Victor’s hands had drifted to the fastening of Yuuri’s pants. He had always waited, though, not going forward, letting Yuuri choose whether to stop him or encourage him on. Yuuri had stopped him every time, despite the condom in the wallet sitting on the nearby coffee table, despite the want straining against his belt. If it wasn’t good, if it wasn’t what either of them expected, what then? Yuuri was too scared to find out.

Victor’s hands grasped firmly at his ass and Yuuri gasped, pushing back into them. Tonight, if they drifted tonight, he would encourage them. He wanted to know, he needed to know. Victor deserved it, he deserved it. Yuuri sucked on his tongue and let his hands fall, nails snagging on the buttons of Victor’s shirt and going lower, fingers dipping below the waist belt.

“Ahhh, Yuuri, fuck, wait…”

The words brushed over Yuuri’s lips, Victor breaking the kiss. His mouth glistened in the orange light, tempting Yuuri for another taste, another bruise against it until those lips were bitten red and swollen. Yuuri did not want to wait, did not want to give himself another chance to rethink it and change his mind yet again. He wanted Victor above him, beneath him, next to him in the most carnal sense. “I want you,” he whined, bundling his fingers into Victor’s shirt and tugging him in.

“Ohhh.” The groan shook from Victor and he kissed Yuuri hard, hands kneading his ass until Yuuri mewled. He could feel the hard outline of Victor’s cock in his slacks, fingers twitching with desire to explore exactly how long and thick it was. Like the rest of Victor, it was sure to be perfect. “Yuuri, Yuuri, seriously… wait, listen.”

Yuuri could listen. He could let Victor talk. Rather than claiming his mouth, Yuuri found the crook of his neck and kissed there, collecting the taste of Victor’s skin.

“Yuuri, darling, I want to so damn much but… not in the car, not when your roommate’s home, and not when you’re this drunk.”

That made him stop and draw back. The heat curling in the pit of his stomach went cold, a ball suddenly building at the back of his throat. Victor’s blue eyes were dark, his irises blown. Yuuri wondered how intently they might train upon him in the throes of passion. “You… you don’t want to?”

“That is not what I said,” Victor replied, reaching up to cup Yuuri’s face. “You have no idea how much I want to. But if it’s your first time, I want to do it right, for you. This wouldn’t be right.”

He could understand, he could. Victor was not wrong. Victor was being sweet, caring, he was watching out for Yuuri. He should consider himself lucky, to have a boyfriend like that. “Did, ummm… did Chris tell you? When I left?”

Victor’s expression twisted into confusion, and it was not just from the change in topic. “Tell me what?”

“About the… engagement.”

“Mila’s?”

Yuuri dropped the hold he had on Victor’s shirt. They hadn’t. For whatever reason, they had held back. Still. Again. “Yeah, that. Sorry. You’re right, I’m drunk.” He let out a shallow laugh, shaking his head. “Thank you. I’ll… I’ll, ughh, I’ll go.” For a moment, he considered climbing back over, though logic did make it through the fuzz in his head. He pushed the driver’s side door open and untangled himself from Victor, stepping out. The rush of the cool night air knocked into him.

“I can walk you to the door—”

“No, I’m fine,” Yuuri interrupted. “I’ll call you tomorrow, okay?”

Victor reached for one of Yuuri’s hands, kissing his knuckles. “Please.”

Sweet. So sweet. Yuuri was beyond lucky. Victor was good, so good in almost every single way. So close to perfect.

Yuuri made his way to the brownstone, unlocking the door and closing it quietly behind him. There was a light on in the kitchen and could hear Phichit moving around in there. Yuuri went past it to his bedroom, closing that door softly as well. Shaking, Yuuri fell onto his bed and hitched a pillow to his chest, crying into it.

 


 

Come October, Yuuri settled back into his regular routine. Messages from Victor continued to light up his early mornings even before the sun rose. He took more orders for birthday and other special occasion cakes, the wedding season quieted. His schedule for the following spring and summer was already full, the viral success of his cupcakes meaning that brides-to-be were smart to lock him in early. Yuuri had turned down several requests for what would have been double-bookings, while another had surprised him when the gentleman who had come in insisted he would put off his desired wedding date in order to ensure he could have one of Yuuri’s cakes. The coming new year looked daunting.

Fall arrived and so did the colors. Victor had mentioned wanting to drive down to New England to see the reds and yellows and every gradient in between as they were meant to be seen. They had made a plan for it, only for Victor to cancel the day before due to a sudden development in the case he had been struggling with. During their last few dates, Victor had stepped away on more than one occasion to take calls related to it and he never looked happy when he came back to Yuuri’s side.

Victor made up for the cancelled trip by taking Yuuri to a haunted corn maze just outside the city. It worked, Yuuri laughing at Victor’s screams whenever they turned a corner. Doubtlessly, Victor was intimidating in a courtroom but if only his opposition could see him in those moments, when he clung to Yuuri’s arm with a trembling grip. Yuuri made up for his suffering by carving a design of Makkachin into a pumpkin, employing all of his decorating skills to ensure the end result was the most adorable poodle jack-o’-lantern. Victor said it was even cuter than Yuuri’s cupcake of the month.

A week later, they attended a gallery together, where the exhibit in rotation featured some of Phichit’s photos. The theme was the culture of the city, with Phichit’s focus on the growing Thai influence in Hell’s Kitchen. They celebrated afterward by taking Phichit to one of his favorite restaurants along Ninth Street. The aging woman serving them had waved at Victor and chattered at Phichit. He had snickered at the look Victor cast him in question, informing him that she thought the dishes they ordered would be too spicy for the white boy. Victor had feigned offense up until the first bite of the phat thai had his eyes watering and his cheeks burning red. Yuuri, accustomed to Phichit’s fondness for red chilis, happily relieved Victor of the rest of his portion. Despite their laughter at Victor’s expense, the entire evening was a great one.

Victor missed a few of their lunch dates due to work, though none were without warning. They exchanged them for dinners, either quick ones out or at Victor’s apartment. Yuuri spent a night there, having dozed off on the sofa while Victor got stuck between a call and his laptop screen. He woke up in the morning to find he had been carried to Victor’s bed and tucked in, his socks stripped off and his glasses laid folded on the nightstand. Makkachin was sleeping by his feet. The other side of the bed appeared to be undisturbed.

Yuuri shuffled out from the bedroom to hear two voices in the kitchen. Yuri was with Victor in the living room, though he was scowling, leaning back defensively in the armchair beside the sofa.

“It’s not right, I don’t like it,” Yuri muttered, glaring daggers at the papers spread out over the coffee table—legal files, the contents of which Yuuri did not think he would want to understand. He had learned a few of the details of the case causing Victor a headache over the course of their recent dates, as it seemed to weigh more heavily on him each time. A custody battle seemed to be at the heart of the conflict, though Victor had not explained much beyond that.

“That happens, you have to deal with it. You won’t always like it and you won’t always agree, but you can’t let that affect the work you’re doing. It’s not about what you think or what they think, it’s about what the law says.”

“But she’s—”

“I told you that you can withdraw yourself from the case if you object that much.”

Yuri did not answer. Instead he clenched his jaw and glanced off to the side, catching sight of Yuuri. He sat up straighter. “Oi, morning. Coffee’s brewing.”

Yuuri nodded and made his way to the kitchen, Victor joining him there a moment later. Yuuri poured himself a cup of coffee. “Did you stay up all night?”

“I promise to nap later,” Victor said, collecting a kiss. “Yuri’s gonna make us breakfast, isn’t that right?” The volume of his voice rose on the question.

“Yeah! Your waffle’s gonna come with extra sprinkles, old man!”

The gloom that had been dampening the lines in Victor’s face lifted and he smirked, tugging Yuuri in. Yuuri blinked but stayed pressed close. “What?”

“Play along.” Victor winked and squeezed Yuuri’s butt. Yuuri squeaked in response, muffling giggles into Victor’s chest when Victor began calling his name in a cooing “Yuuri, Yuuri, Yuuuuuriiiiii.”

There was a loud thud from something being thrown at the wall. Shortly after, both their waffles were drowned in rainbow sprinkles.

 


 

In a bout of creativity and in the spirit of the upcoming holiday, Yuuri made a second cupcake of the month. Phichit had decorated the outside of their brownstone with fake cobwebs and “spoopy” lights, the inside with black cat silhouettes and tons of mini pumpkins everywhere. He had not planned for a second cupcake, but the ghost decorations on the shop next door to his struck him with an idea.

The sponge itself was a rich chocolate fudge, iced with a thick layer of creamy ganache. Through the center of the cupcake, Yuuri inserted a cake pop. The stem was a thin salted pretzel, the cake of the same fudge. Over the top of that, Yuuri draped circles of white fondant, folding them to give the impression of a sheet ghost which actually floated above the cupcake. He dotted eyes and heart-shaped smiles onto the ghosts, and Phichit snapped his promo shots for the shop’s Instagram. The next morning, Yuuri had a line outside his shop two-hours long. They sold out before noon, even though Yuuri had called in both of his new assistants to help make more.

Those ghost cupcakes, along with their matching jack-o-lanterns, landed Yuuri on far too many pop culture news sites and blogs. He received a call and an email from two different television stations wanting to film digest pieces for their morning shows. The last one, the one he had done for the sakura cupcakes, had gone well, but somehow a drone of anxiety plagued him this time around. Too much attention was something he wanted to avoid. He did not want to inconvenience the shops next to his or cause concern to his regular customers. More time spent concerned with the cupcakes meant less time for his cakes.

Yet at the same time, Yuuri liked seeing people enjoy his work, liked reading the positive reviews and the comments left on Instagram. Someone did call the ghost cupcakes too fudgy. Phichit insisted he failed to see how that was even remotely possible, making Yuuri laugh. When he voiced his concerns to Victor, Victor asked him if he would welcome the extra attention if he thought he could handle it in terms of running his business. Yuuri said he would. Then Victor asked him if he thought he could handle the extra attention. Yuuri said he probably could. In that way, Yuuri produced the answer to his own question. He loved it, though, how naturally Victor led him there. The following day, Victor’s law firm received a delivery of two dozen ghost and jack-o-lantern cupcakes, the very same that all of social media said were currently almost impossible to obtain. Yuuri received back a photo of Yuri, in his intern suit and leopard print socks, sneaking off with one of each.

At the end of the month, Isabella invited them to a Halloween party. Matching costumes were a requirement. Yuuri had never had a boyfriend to match outfits with before and found the idea of finding something that worked for them both rather distressing. He didn’t think Victor would be the kind to want to wear a sexy hotdog bun and sausage pair costume, no matter how amazing that sounded. Fortunately, Victor made the decision for them.

Phichit had been ecstatic at the chance to paint thick liner on Yuuri’s eyes, sweeping his lashes with a lengthening mascara. Yuuri stepped into the tight black pants and knee-high boots Victor had picked out for him, a sash tied around his waist. The shirt was loose and flowy, with the v-cut at his chest laced by a leather cord. Phichit plopped a feathered tricorn on his head as the finishing touch.

Yuuri the pirate arrived at Victor’s apartment feeling oddly exposed despite the fact that he was very adequately covered. If he had a few drinks, he might start a swashbuckling with JJ but until then he was going to need time to adjust. He had been prepared for teasing, for jokes, maybe for even a couple of whistles. He had not been prepared for the sight that was Victor.

Victor was on the sofa, though Yuuri was not sure if to say he was sitting would be accurate. Instead of his long legs being sprawled out in front of him, Victor had a tail. A glittery blossom-pink tail with gold scales and betta fins in a shimmering see-through fabric. His silver hair was long, woven into a thick braid with tiny pearls, crystals, and shells littering it. Decorative chains draped his shoulders and gold temporary tattoos made his skin glow. “Wow.” Victor was always gorgeous in Yuuri’s eyes, but like this he was breathtakingly beautiful.

When Victor smiled, his lips glinted in the light, the balm on them flecked with gold. “My handsome pirate captain has arrived!” He held out his arms.

Yuuri dipped down, accepting the kiss, his eyes down on the tail. It melded almost flawlessly into Victor’s skin. He also noticed that Victor’s skin was rolled with body glitter. Yuuri was not sure how he could possibly be expected to make it through the night. “Your hair…”

“Extensions,” Victor replied. “The clip-in kind, but expensive.”

The color was seamless with Victor’s actual silver. Yuuri was tempted to tangle his fingers into it and tug. “You look amazing.”

“You too.” Victor settled his hands on Yuuri’s chest, loosening the lacing in the fabric to show off more of Yuuri’s chest. His fingertips skimmed over his collarbone.

“How are you going to walk?”

“I can’t. Not really,” Victor laughed, flapping his tail. “I can hop. But that’s why I have a strong pirate to carry me.” He extended his arms once more. Yuuri realized he was serious. And he realized that he was absolutely willing.

Victor squealed in delight when Yuuri swept him up, princess-carrying him out of the apartment. He had to backpedal to grab the scale-patterned shawl on the back of the sofa to keep Victor’s cute pink nipples from getting too perky on their brief trek outside.

 


 

“You got this entire thing for us?” Yuuri’s breath condensed in the air, leaving his mouth in wisps. Snow crunched underfoot as he stepped out of the car, arching his back as he stretched. He opened the back door and Makkachin bounded out, plowing straight into a snowbank. The three-hour drive had not felt long to Yuuri, but he’d had Victor singing showtunes most of the way. Makkachin had likely been less amused.

Victor walked around the car to give Yuuri a one-armed hug, kissing his temple. “For you.”

The first good snow had come down in time for Yuuri’s birthday. Victor had booked a cabin in the Catskills for them, near the slopes. Two nights just for the two of them… and the poodle. Yuuri had alternated between nerves and excitement. Their first trip together. They had both needed the escape, though. Yuuri’s accidental cupcake successes had not slowed—he blamed himself, the chestnut hedgehogs for November had turned out ridiculously cute—and Victor’s big case continued to be a plague. A snowy getaway would be a relief.

The cabin was huge, with redwood walls and expansive windows that looked out on snow-laden woods. Makkachin’s nails clicked as she scampered inside, shaking melting snowflakes off her fur. There was low lighting, plush rugs, a wood-burning fireplace and a kitchen the size of which gave Yuuri envy. He might end up baking his own cake if the market by the ski resort had the right ingredients. The bedroom was suitably romantic and Yuuri could already imagine the wonderful warmth of cuddling under the goose-down blanket after a day in the cold.

They changed into proper clothes for the weather, ran Makkachin outside and then left her to doze in the cabin with the television on. The slopes themselves were not far. Yuuri liked how Victor looked wearing a down jacket, like a Michelin man with the face of a model. He told him as much, loving the smile that resulted.

Turned out Victor was better on the snow than he had been on ice. They chased one another, Victor on skis, Yuuri on a board. Powder sprayed from under them both and Yuuri’s cheeks soon hurt from the delight stretching them. The snow was cold, the air was crisp, Yuuri’s hands were trapped inside thick gloves and yet Victor still held the one between them each time they rode the lifts.

The original plan had been for only a couple of hours there, but they lost track of the time. Toward the bottom of the intermediate-level run were built small ramps of snow. After avoiding it a few times, Yuuri finally went for it, catching air and landing clean. He skidded to a halt at the bottom of the hill. Victor was clapping as he caught up. “You should have been an athlete!”

“And deny your office all those cupcakes?” Yuuri teased.

“True, that would be a tragic loss.”

The setting sun cast colors across the sky, the pinks and oranges reflected in the snow. They headed back, and Yuuri purchased a few extra things at the small market they stopped at. Among them was a box of treats for Makkachin, since she’d had to wait beyond what they had promised her.

Victor made them a steak dinner, following the recipe on his phone extremely carefully while Yuuri and Makkachin built a fire in the fireplace. The outcome of his efforts was good, Victor brimming with pride as he served up dinner. The borrowed apron he wore suited him, declaring Kiss the Cook. Yuuri made sure to obey the command.

With the extra items that he had bought, Yuuri mixed flour, baking powder, sugar, oil and milk into a batter all in two coffee mugs. He added a bit of lemon juice for flavoring and stuck them into the microwave, making mug cakes within the span of two minutes in total. He had to mime picking Victor’s jaw up off the floor, telling him it was a trick he had learned in high school when craving sweets without time to bake.

For a cabin in the mountains, the internet connection they got was decent. Victor found a fuzzy blanket in one of the closets and they bundled up on the sofa, Yuuri resting with his back to Victor’s chest as they watched yet another musical on Victor’s list of requirements. At the end of it, Yuuri shuffled sleepily to the bedroom while Victor took Makkachin out for a very quick walk outside. She jumped onto the foot of the bed upon coming back, Yuuri already in his sleepwear and hidden under the blanket.

The freezing temperature of Victor’s hands and bare feet made Yuuri jerk when Victor slipped under the covers next to him. He tried to roll away but Victor grabbed on, arms looping Yuuri’s waist and pulling him close. His hands dipped under Yuuri’s shirt, warming them on Yuuri’s stomach. Laughing and squirming, Yuuri bumped their feet together, rubbing Victor’s with his own to rid them of the chill. They fell asleep like that, hips slotted together.

Come morning, Yuuri did not want to get up. He turned, Victor’s arm still draped over his waist. There had been times when Yuuri considered whether it might be easier to break up with Victor. He was already in so far, so deep, and fell harder for him every day. On the face of it, everything between them seemed without fault. There had been a couple of small arguments, about time, about communication, about whether coffee or milk went into the cup first. They had solved those easily.

It was the things they did not discuss, the things which could yield real conflict, that worried Yuuri. Victor supported Yuuri’s business and encouraged him in it, yet Yuuri could see the frown lines around Victor’s mouth and eyes whenever Yuuri spoke a bit too excitedly about a client’s wedding. Yuuri could see how some of the cases Victor handled weighed on him, feel the stress that built the longer they went on. Yet Victor did not talk about them, did not share with Yuuri whatever frustrations he was dealing with on his own. And if they did talk about them, if they started to be more candid with one another in those important aspects of their lives, how would it go? Would it build resentment between them, their views too conflicting to find a middle ground?

December was coming and would signal nine months since their first date. Yuuri still had not worked up the courage to take that final step in their relationship, his one attempt having been rejected. Not that he had not been glad for it the morning after, but that was a problem in itself. Yuuri had thrown himself at Victor after making him wait for so long and yet Victor had resisted in order not to take advantage. Yuuri could not think of a better person to give himself to because he knew that Victor would make Yuuri’s first experience perfect. Except what if it wasn’t? What if they just didn’t work in that regard? What if they didn’t click, what if there was no spark, no stars behind his eyelids? Yuuri still felt uncertain, like he still needed something. To know that they were not teetering on the edge of a cliff. He did not know if he would survive the plummet.

Lashes fluttered and lifted, sleep washing from blue eyes to take on recognition. Victor smiled from the very moment he saw Yuuri. “Good morning, birthday boy. Any wishes?”

Yes. For Victor’s time, his devotion, his love for a little while longer. If he could be selfish, for a lot longer. “Just you.”

Yuuri could have cried from the sweetness of the kiss Victor planted on his lips, the warmth with which he drew Yuuri in.

They spent the first half of the day back on the slopes. Even if Yuuri had wanted to be glum, Victor made it impossible, besting Yuuri with his jumps on the ramp. That impromptu competition ended with them collapsing against one another at the bottom of the hill, panting and exhausted, Victor’s head lolling against Yuuri’s shoulder. There would surely be regrets from sore muscles the next morning.

Rented skis and snowboard returned, they spent the second half of the day with Makkachin. It took her a good ten minutes of wobbling around to figure out the doggy booties Victor put on her paws to keep them from freezing. A path leading from the back of the cabin took them to a small lake, the banks of which were barely beginning to freeze. The frost bit at Yuuri’s skin, the chill seeping into his toes despite the double socks and waterproof boots. Makkachin jumped from snowbank to snowbank, and Victor scooped up snowballs, throwing them for her in an impossible game of fetch. Yuuri laughed each time she dove after one only to pop up confused when it disappeared in the snow or in her mouth.

Even in his Michelin Man-like jacket, Victor looked like an ice prince. Yuuri got pulled in by his hands to lie down and make snow angels, which were ruined a second later by Makkachin jumping over them, trying to lap at both Victor and Yuuri’s faces.

They rolled snow into large balls and stared at each other in confusion for a few moments. It turned out that a Russian snowman had three parts to his body while a Japanese one had only two. Yuuri conceded to go with the American standard. Victor found branches for the arms while Yuuri twisted twigs to use for the face. He gave it a heart-shaped mouth, the same as he had for his ghost cupcakes. The finished snowman was slightly lopsided, with a very big booty and a small body. Makkachin sniffed circles around it, licking at the bottom. They had to pull her away before she went in for a bite.

It had been true at the beginning and it was even truer now. When Yuuri was with Victor, his concerns washed away, the uncertainties in his head diminished. Yuuri had worried about their first date and worried more about the second—except, once they were together, nothing could have felt more natural. He had worried about how Victor would react to Yuuri’s wedding season schedule, but it turned out that Yuuri was the one who made it more of a problem than it actually was. He was still worried now, about their future, about what would happen once Yuuri got over the hurdle of his nerves in regards to sex.

He had heard from Chris that, at the start of their relationship, Victor had expressed a worry that Yuuri was the type to wait for marriage. It was amusing and kind of cute. It had made Yuuri blush, but had also sat at the back of his mind. At first, it had formed as a worry that if he slept with Victor, that would be the end of the relationship. Yet Victor had never pushed, had been willing to wait weeks and months, and Yuuri realized it wasn’t that. The longer the wait, though, the greater the pressure. Yuuri had built it up in his thoughts too, how it might go, how it might start. No matter what, he would likely be a nervous wreck when they did it, but he was also sure Victor would take care of him. Yuuri should, he should take that step because it was the only way to know the result. He would never get a cake if he didn’t put the batter in the oven… if that made sense. He wasn’t sure that made sense.

Yuuri was torn from his thoughts by a snowball bursting on the back of his head. It had not been packed tight, the impact light but it had him standing stunned. The shock doubled when a second snowball collided with his shoulder, ripping him from his trance. Yuuri jerked around and ducked, dodging a third. “What was that?!”

“Snowball for your thoughts?” Victor asked, compacting more powder between his hands. Makkachin wagged her tail beside him.

Victor had bested him on the slopes but he was not going to best Yuuri here. Yuuri dove for cover behind a tree, plunging a hand into the snow. He pulled powder from down deep as it was easier to pack quickly, launching two back at Victor. The first missed, sailing over his head. Makkachin chased that one, barking with excitement. The second hit him square in the chest. Victor might have grown up in snow country but Yuuri had grown up with a big sister who had been the star pitcher on her softball team. He had learned a couple of tricks and now his muscle memory was kicking in. The next two snowballs he threw were direct hits, exploding against Victor’s hip and arm. The third broke apart across the scarf Victor had tied around his neck. Yuuri did not get a fourth.

Victor zipped behind the tree Yuuri had been using for cover, arm snaking around his waist. Yuuri went down with a yelp, knocked into a snowbank. Floating crystals of ice fell down on top of them in a fine coating, sparkling in Victor’s hair with the fading light. Yuuri seized fistfuls of Victor’s jacket and hooked a leg around his, heel pressed into the back of Victor’s knee. He used the leverage to heave them over, straddling Victor and pinning him down in place. “Apologize.”

“For what?” Victor laughed. His hair blended into the white beneath him, pale cheeks flushed pink from the cold. Yuuri had watched Victor applying generous amounts of sunblock that morning, to protect his fairness from the sun that would bounce off the slopes. Melting snowflakes clung to his silver lashes.

Yuuri did not have a good answer. For everything. For stealing Yuuri’s heart against his will. For being so sweet, so fun, so wonderful. For making Yuuri feel like he was sitting under the warmth of a kotatsu when he had his knees planted firmly in the snow. For meeting him halfway.

Victor sat up, arching to grant Yuuri a taste of his icy lips. Yuuri released the snow he had been gathering between his fingers and instead wove them into Victor’s hair, ignoring the cold weaving into the lower half of his legs. His pulse was elevated and he welcomed the heat, sinking into the depth with which Victor’s mouth caressed his.

A few minutes, an hour, an eternity in the freezing winter with Victor burned in Yuuri’s heart like the peak of a humid summer. He could melt through the thickest slab of ice on a frozen lake and come out safe if he were wrapped in Victor’s arms.

Yuuri parted his lips to the dip of Victor’s tongue, tugging him closer, only to be interrupted by Makkachin plowing in between them in a clumsy attempt to join the kiss. Laughing, Yuuri angled his face away. Victor grabbed Makkachin, arms looped around her neck, and rolled with her in the snow. He whined complaints to her for the disruption, but her tail did not stop wagging.

Pulling Victor to his feet, Yuuri dusted them off and they started the trek back to the cabin. Makkachin darted around their legs and padded on ahead. They walked with gloved fingers laced together, shivers setting in as the sun set. Once the cabin was within view, they made a dash for it, making Makkachin yip when they beat her to the door.

Inside they stripped off the top layers of their clothes and hung them up to dry. Yuuri restarted the fire in the fireplace, layering logs on top of kindling and lighting the tinder. The flames chased the numbness from his limbs, nerves waking up. Victor came up behind him, enveloping Yuuri in his arms and the fuzzy blanket. “I built a fort.”

“Hmmm?” Yuuri glanced back, turning with Victor. Victor had moved the coffee table off to the side, clearing the space in front of the fireplace and shaping a fort of pillows and cushions around the perimeter. “Let’s go then.”

Makkachin had found the strength to climb onto the sofa and then collapsed, instantly snoozing.

The rug was plush beneath them as they sat, the blanket draping them. Yuuri leaned back against Victor’s chest, watching the fire crackle and spark. Victor had his arms around Yuuri’s waist, hands in Yuuri’s lap. Yuuri set his own hands over Victor’s, weaving their fingers together. The room was calm, quiet save for the sound of the flames. In the darkness outside the windows, snow began to fall.

Victor’s lips were soft as they touched the nape of Yuuri’s neck, above the collar of his knit sweater. Yuuri sank further against him, tilting his head to the side to let him explore. “Every couple of years, my firm does these team-building trips,” Victor muttered as he moved his mouth over Yuuri’s neck, making him shiver with each word. “Last time it was to Europe. This year they’re scaling back a bit and going to Hawaii. I’ve never gone and they’re in the summer but... if you can find the time to get away, I’d really like it if you would go with me."

“Next summer?” Yuuri asked, tipping his head back onto Victor’s shoulder to gaze up at him.

Victor nodded, smiling softly. “I know that’s wedding season so I understand if you can’t. But I’ve been informed I should start participating and I thought, if you were there with me, I’d actually enjoy it.”

“How long is it?”

“Five days.”

Five days. A proper vacation. With Victor in the tropics. Who probably looked even better in swim trunks than a fluffy down jacket. Depending on what week it ended up being, Yuuri might be able to manage it. It could be a good chance to see how his business functioned without him during a busy period. What it really meant, though, was Victor asking Yuuri to make plans together more than half a year from now. Then again, Yuuri had asked Victor to be his plus-one at a wedding that did not have a date set.

Yuuri shifted, turning to face Victor. The dancing flames cast their light on Victor’s skin. Yuuri had let apprehension about an inevitable breakup invade his mind, while Victor was thinking about spending the following summer together. Yuuri wanted to spend another summer with him.

Sliding his arms over Victor’s shoulders, Yuuri kissed him again. He could not answer for sure—he would need to check when they returned to the city, would need more information before he gave his decision and made arrangements. But he let the kiss answer for him in that moment.

The chill of the snow had left them both, replaced by the heat spreading through the cabin. Victor’s arms wound around Yuuri, accepting the kiss, the press of their bodies trying to find each other. Yuuri wanted to stay there, in the proximity, in the warmth, in the intimacy. So he did, following the first kiss with a second, with a third, making them deeper. He nipped at Victor’s full lower lip and sought out his tongue, Yuuri’s spine curving forward when Victor’s hands slipped under his sweater to map out his back.

The snow outside continued falling; the fire inside continued to burn. The windows frosted over and the logs turned to embers. The blanket remained draped over them both.

Finding the zip of Victor’s pants, Yuuri dragged it down slowly, tooth by tooth. There was a tremor in his fingers, a pounding in his chest. Victor waited, breathless, for Yuuri to take his hands and lead them. Yuuri guided Victor’s fingertips until they dipped beneath the waistline of his pants, raising his hips to help Victor strip them off. His briefs went with them. The black thong Victor wore followed a moment after.

Yuuri took a calming breath and took Victor in hand. His fingers barely came together around the base, both he and Victor already hard in anticipation. The first stroke was like touching velvet. Victor let out a shuddering exhale, his gaze down, watching Yuuri. Yuuri watched too and listened, guided by Victor’s reactions. He knew himself and he could learn about Victor, from the hitch in his breath when Yuuri rolled his grip over the darkened head of his cock, from the way Victor bit his bottom lip on the downstroke.

Victor dropped his head onto Yuuri’s shoulder, nuzzling into the crook of his neck. “Yuuri, can I…?”

Unable to speak, Yuuri nodded and gasped when Victor’s fingers wound around him. Those August thunderstorms were back, striking lightning through him, the muscles in his thighs spasming. Victor’s movements were surer than Yuuri’s, smoother, experienced. Stuttering in his own strokes, Yuuri tried to match Victor’s pace, tried to copy how he twisted his wrist around Yuuri and sent flares of rapture igniting within Yuuri.

It was too much and not enough all at once, Yuuri faltering, pausing as a moan escaped his mouth. Victor’s name fell from his lips, hushed and pleading, not knowing how to voice a desire for help. Victor, though, Victor always seemed to be able to read Yuuri. He reached forward, shifting Yuuri closer, their legs spread on either side of each other. Victor leaned in, his lips to Yuuri’s bangs, and wrapped a hand around them both.

Yuuri’s lashes fluttered, eyes closing as he mewled. His entire body hummed, his mind on Victor, on this, on them. His muscles tensed and he drew his legs in by a fraction, his back arching. It felt like waves pulsing through him, pooling in his abdomen and thighs, then flowing out to sweep him out to a sea of bliss. He was too close too quickly, shuddering under Victor’s touch. He heard his name riding on a hushed moan and opened his eyes to see Victor, his kiss-red lips parted, his cheeks and his thighs flushed.

Pearls spurted across Victor’s hand and Yuuri’s inhales hitched. Another stroke, a gentle squeeze low on Yuuri’s cock, and he followed. His orgasm joined the white painting their skin, the apprehensive tension that had been seizing Yuuri released. He fell forward, dropping onto Victor’s shoulder, his body singing. Good. So simple yet so good, so wonderful, so much more than Yuuri had thought it would be.

Lifting his gaze, Yuuri caught Victor’s eyes, caught the incredulous affection shimmering within them—so like the affection expanding in Yuuri. It could not be more obvious, even in the silence between them, how far gone they were.

Pressing his lips firmly to Victor's once more, Yuuri could not stop smiling, not when Victor hitched him in, chest to chest, and drowned him in the feeling of love.

Chapter Text

The city sparkled. Shop windows twinkled with Christmas lights and glittering snowflakes. Sales signs filled every store and the reminder of gift selections was inescapable. Victor did enjoy the Christmas season. Despite the cold that settled on the streets, the city seemed warmer. Coffee was flavored with chestnuts and someone at Victor’s firm hung mistletoe above the main entrance. It was taken down hours later and an email went out reminding staff of harassment policies, but Victor got a chuckle out of it. That night, he hung mistletoe above his apartment door, for when Yuuri came to visit.

Victor had woken up that morning to his phone buzzing, an Instagram notification lighting up the screen. He had not been big on social media before, using it to keep up with news and follow updates on his preferred avenues of entertainment. He had gotten more involved in it of late. The photo posted was from Yuuri’s shop account, a reminder that he would be closed for a few days over the holidays.

Yuuri’s December cupcakes had been another viral sensation. The very first batch, Victor had watched him make. Yuuri had taken sugar cones and filled them with a thick, spiked eggnog cream. Victor had never been a fan of eggnog, scrunching his nose when Yuuri told him the plan. He had never eaten his words so quickly; the taste of Yuuri’s cream version was a rich, spiced pudding and Victor could have devoured a vat by himself. The cones were placed atop the sponge of the cupcakes and decorated with piping cream until they took the shape of the most perfect evergreen Christmas trees. Yuuri dusted them with powdered sugar for the illusion of snow and topped each with a sugar star.

The internet had gone wild for them. There was even an article in the New York Times that detailed holiday sweets and his was the first recommendation on the list. Victor had stopped by on a lunch break to find a television crew inside, Yuuri speaking softly in Japanese to them. His shop had made international news, although Yuuri insisted it was only because Japan loved anything and everything they could feature which gave them a good image overseas. It was a lot, but Yuuri seemed to be handling it well. Victor thought he was getting used to it. The last time he had been at Yuuri’s place, he had seen that French brochure out on the kitchen counter, like it was under consideration once again.

Yuuri’s schedule remained full through the month but it was not crazy. They went ice skating in Central Park and held up a lot better. Dinner one Friday evening turned into a stroll down Fifth Avenue, their gloved hands linked as they took in the legendary shop displays. Another afternoon, on a long walk with Makkachin, they stumbled upon one of the displays of the giant red ornaments. Yuuri had stopped another couple on the street, shyly asking them to take a photo. It turned out well. Victor set it as the wallpaper on his phone.

Victor got tickets for The Nutcracker, inviting Chris and Matthieu to go with them. The invitation was turned down, Chris giving the excuse of an already filled calendar. The tickets ended up going to Mila and her fiancée, Gisella. Victor could see the appeal. The woman was curved in all the right places, tall even without her stilettos, and gorgeous. She laughed loudly enough to fill a room and batted her lashes at Mila in a way that Victor would definitely find charming if Yuuri did it to him. Not necessarily his type of woman, but no woman was. If Yuuri was fine with her and Mila loved her enough to want to get hitched, then he had nothing to say. The evening went by pleasantly enough. The seats were great, the ballet was lovely, and Victor adored the smile on Yuuri’s face when they left. On their way out, Yuuri had picked up a bill for an another upcoming show, causing Victor’s heart to flutter knowing he had been successful in transferring his love of theatre to Yuuri.

On Christmas Eve, Victor was meant to have a date with Yuuri. Yuuri had insisted he wanted a quiet night, a pleasant dinner and maybe a walk down to see the giant tree at Rockefeller Center. Victor had brought up the idea of a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park. Yuuri wished him luck getting a reservation. Turned out he was right; Victor could not get one even after offering a bribe of a double fair. Apparently, it was a popular time and method for proposals. Victor didn’t think they were that far along yet.

He had thought about Yuuri’s gift, though, long and hard. Yuuri was a practical person but he enjoyed a bit of romance. The answer was quite obvious when he finally arrived at it. Victor simply hoped Yuuri would enjoy it as much as Victor was looking forward to it.

When Victor awoke in the morning, he texted Yuuri good morning and set about his day. On their Fifth Avenue walk, Victor had made a remark about his fondness for Christmas lights, expressing regret that his high-rise apartment prevented him from decorating the outside with strings of twinkling lights. Yuuri had mentioned being sad that his brownstone didn’t have a good spot for a Christmas tree unless he and Phichit wanted to completely rearrange their living room setup. Since Victor rather hoped Yuuri would end up spending the night at his apartment, he recruited help in getting his surprise for Yuuri ready. Yuri arrived on time, calling Victor an idiot for waiting until the last minute. Victor got him to stop grumbling by tossing him the car keys.

Buying a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve turned out to be a cheap yet stressful process. The lot they drove to was eager to sell the rest of their stock but Yuri outright rejected ten of the very first trees Victor pointed out. Too short, too unbalanced, too skinny. Too uneven. Too “eghhhh,” whatever that meant. Victor felt like he had dropped into a warped version of “Goldilocks,” except he was the bear waiting for the small blond’s approval. He had to remember to tell that to Chris so his friend could guffaw at Victor referring to himself as a bear.

After an hour of deliberation, Yuri jabbed a finger at a tree and huffed out his approval. Ten minutes later, Victor had it paid for and watched apprehensively as it was tied to the top of his car. He drove them back into the city, Yuri kicking back in the passenger seat without complaint.

The doorman of his building did raise an eyebrow at them as Victor and Yuri dragged in the tree, shedding pine needles everywhere. After they got it inside his apartment, Victor ran down to give the man a tip and an apology. Standing it upright and making sure it did not lean over in the stand proved to be a more difficult task than expected. By the time they finished, Victor’s ribs were hurting from giggling at Yuri’s string of “right, right, more right, yeah—no, less right, left, left, left, not that much left, forward, there, right there, freeze, I said freeze, old man!” He crawled out from under the tree and stood back, admitting they had gotten it exactly centered.

Victor ordered a lunch delivery for them, sending another text to Yuuri to check up on him, and then they started decorating. They looped the tree in lights and were halfway through the baubles when the food arrived. All the decorations were in shades of blue, pink, and purple. Glittering light blue snowflakes and dark blue ornament balls. Glass pink hearts hung high to make sure Makkachin did not accidentally knock them off with her tail. Purple bows and stars for accents. With the glow of the lights behind them, Victor thought it came together beautifully. He hoped Yuuri would think so too.

Under the tree, Victor placed wrapped presents, most of them for Makkachin. He had bought some smaller gifts for Yuuri: a couple of ties and a cashmere sweater he had seen in a store that he thought Yuuri would look gorgeous in. There was a small box for Yuri too, which he spotted immediately and snatched up. Inside would be a gold tie clip with a tiger’s head, to match the cufflinks Victor had gotten him for graduating earlier in the year. A few weeks prior, Yuri had received the results of his bar exam. He had passed, and the swearing-in ceremony was scheduled for January. He would be licensed and practicing law before his twenty-first birthday. Victor did not tell him, but he knew that Yuuri was planning a present for Yuri as well.

Yuuri, however, had not replied to any of Victor’s messages. They had not even shown up as read. Since Yuuri’s shop was closed, he was supposed to have the day off, but Victor knew Yuuri tended to drop by even on days he was not working. He pressed the dial button as Yuri put the finishing touches on the Christmas tree. The call went straight to voicemail. Victor hung up without leaving one, sending another text asking Yuuri to call him back. An hour later Yuri left, but Victor still had no response.

It was probably nothing. Yuuri would be fine. Perhaps he had gone out shopping and forgotten his phone. Or maybe he was buried under a mountain of cream whipped out of control. Just to be safe, Victor texted Phichit, asking him if he was together with Yuuri. That response came immediately.

>> nah, he left early this morning
>> said he had something he wanted to make at the shop

<< He hasn’t been answering my texts or taking my calls.

>> probably got distracted with whatever he was working on
>> he was excited about it

Victor left it at that, reassured. He cleaned the apartment, changed clothes to get ready for their date, and did his hair thing. The messages stayed unread. Another call went to voicemail. Victor pocketed the phone, grabbing his keys and wallet. He patted Makkachin on the head as he headed out the door, telling her to be a good girl.

The curtains of Yuuri’s shop were drawn and the lights were off in the front. Although the sign on the door read closed, it did open when Victor pulled on the handle. He stepped inside, calling Yuuri’s name as he slipped behind the counter. From the backroom, he could see light though he heard no sound. Usually when Yuuri baked outside of business hours and on his own, he played music or streamed his favorite television series on his phone for background noise. The silence felt unnatural.

“Yuuri?” Victor pushed through the doors to the kitchen and saw him. He had been wrong. It was not quiet and Yuuri was not fine.

Yuuri was seated at the decoration table in the center of the kitchen. He was slumped over, his arms folded and his face buried in them. His shoulders trembled and Victor could hear the muffled sobs. On the table beside him was a cake on a turntable, the sponge a vivid swirl of orange, white and black. There was a bowl of cream beside him, coloring only partially mixed in.

Victor approached him carefully, his steps light. He reached out, placing his hand on Yuuri’s back. Yuuri did not stop shaking, his breath hitching in an attempt to control it. Victor grabbed a stool from nearby, dragging it over to take a seat beside Yuuri. He said nothing, placing an arm on the table beside Yuuri’s, and waited.

Over the past several months, Victor had become very comfortable at the shop. His lunchtime dates with Yuuri were a regular occasion and he liked sitting in the back with Yuuri. The air was always sweet and warm, while Yuuri was even sweeter and warmer. Yuuri had told him a couple of stories about nightmare brides, who changed their orders last minute and threw fits when they were told it was not possible or that the cost would double as a result.

Victor had picked Yuuri up for a date once, only to find him upset because of a bride who had called to complain about her cake. The complaint was that the filling had been a lemon cream when she had wanted raspberry. Except the order she had given, and the cake she had tasted and approved, had been with lemon. Yuuri had made no mistake and yet the idea that a bride had been less than happy with the outcome for whatever reason had been enough to dampen his spirits. Victor had Yuuri laughing by the end of that evening, when he ordered a slice of lemon meringue for dessert and then pretended to be outraged when he did not receive a slice of raspberry cheesecake. Victor knew that Yuuri took pride in his work, that he enjoyed the praise and the smiles he received in return. He also knew that like any artist, Yuuri had a heart of glass. It had the potential to fracture easily.

Though Yuuri did not lift his head, he moved his arm. He pulled it out from under him and nudged it against Victor’s, touching their pinkies together. With a smile, Victor laid his hand over Yuuri’s and laced their fingers. “What happened?”

“It’s stupid…”

“I can’t be a judge of that unless you tell me.”

Yuuri shifted, using his elbows to push himself up. His glasses were off, on the table next to him, his eyes red and puffy from crying. His bangs were messed up, pushed to the sides with strands bent. He sniffed, pushing the heel of his palm against his cheek to wipe away lingering tears. “I overbaked it.”

“The cake?”

Yuuri nodded, pulling his hand away from Victor’s. “I… I set timers. I wasn’t paying attention, though, and I didn’t notice when they went off. It wasn’t even that long after that I pulled it out but it was already burnt on top. How did I burn a cake? A single stupid cake. What’s wrong with me?”

“It doesn’t look burnt.” If the cake was the one on the table, it looked fine. The colors were vivid, layered to form tiger stripes. They were not perfectly even but Victor doubted even someone of Yuuri’s skills could have pulled off such a magic trick.

“I trimmed off the burnt parts.” Yuuri gestured toward the trash can, sitting up straighter.

“It looks nice.”

“Touch it.”

“What?”

“Touch it,” Yuuri said, putting his glasses back on. “Push your finger into it.”

Victor did as Yuuri asked, touching the sponge. It was still slightly warm. Victor had learned from Yuuri that a perfectly baked cake should have a bit of give and that it should spring back when pushed down. The cake scratched at his skin. “It’s dry.”

“Yeah, it’s dry,” Yuuri muttered. “Like a rock.”

Laughing, Victor leaned back. “This is the one for Yura?”

“Yeah…” Yuuri reached across the table, spinning the turntable. “I was gonna… I wanted to do two layers, with the tail looping around the bottom and the face on top. But I need to scrap this and start over.”

“I thought you could moisten a dry cake with syrup.” Victor received the rare Yuuri glare in response. Not an option then. “You’re not upset about this one mistake. Why don’t you tell me what’s really on your mind?”

Yuuri had not shared with Victor his battles with anxiety. Despite that, Victor had guessed. It was why Yuuri had been so reserved at the start of their relationship, why he had let his concerns about their potential nearly overwhelm him rather than talk to Victor. It was why he constantly worried about his business having too much exposure, convincing himself it was something he would not be able to handle regardless of evidence to the contrary. It was why he strived so hard to be perfect, why he took so much pride in his successes, and why he dealt with failures with such difficulty. It was why he kept holding off on making big decisions and, in all likelihood, it was why it had taken him so long to initiate intimacy.

It was also why Victor admired Yuuri so much. Because even with all the self-doubts and anxiety that Yuuri struggled with, he kept pushing himself. He had started his own business and made a success of it. He overcame the challenges that came at him and, with a bit of help, fought through the ones he had first thought would be too much for him to handle on his own. He worked to take care of those who relied on him while also bettering himself. All Victor wanted to do was be there for Yuuri, to support him in any way he could.

When Yuuri finally spoke, he did so softly and with carefully chosen words. There was a quiver in his voice and a shimmer in the corners of his eyes. He stared at his open palms out in front of him. “In a week, it’s going to be next year. When I came here this morning, I looked at my calendar and I started thinking… I’ve already booked every cake slot past the summer. I guess that—that one program aired the other day and I’ve had emails and messages coming in from Japan asking about pop-up shops abroad or requests from couples wanting to have a wedding in New York so they can have one of my cakes. Isn’t that ridiculous? I don’t even do anything that special! And now I can’t even bake a cake as a surprise for a friend and get it right, something this damn simple when there’s no pressure! If I’m making such dumb mistakes here, how many weddings am I going to screw up? There are all these expectations. People are coming in and treating my cupcakes like they’re something they can’t live without. They’re just cupcakes...”

“They’re not just cupcakes,” Victor said, taking his phone out of his pocket. “I mean, I am sure they are to some people. But not to everyone.” He opened Instagram and found one of the photos of Yuuri’s Christmas Tree cupcakes. He tapped the link for the comments, scrolling down to find a few of the best ones. There were always creative compliments on the posts.

I fucking swear, every single one of Katsuki’s cupcakes is like a bundle of joy in my mouth.” Victor read with a smile, flicking over to another one. “My friend made me stand in line for three hours for these when I hate eggnog. Turned out it was the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life and I came back the next day to stand in line for another two hours.

“People are crazy,” Yuuri muttered. “I think Phichit writes half of those for promotional purposes.”

“Wow, amazing.

“I think that’s yours,” Yuuri said, the crestfallen shape of his lips cracking.

XMas season is stressful but the highlight of it has been trying one of these. I finally felt like I could get into the spirit!”

“You’re acting like there aren’t negative ones too.”

Overrated, I could do better with a Betty Crocker mix.”

Yuuri scoffed, rolling his eyes. “I dare them to try. Probably don’t even know the trick with adding extra eggs and using butter instead of oil...”

And there was the other thing Victor loved about Yuuri. He was harsh on himself, but he very rarely let others bring him down. Yuuri did know that he was good, that he was talented, and while he had moments of self-doubt, they came between bouts of confidence. “You say they’re just cupcakes when they’re actually one of those things that remind people how wonderful life can be. Like all your cakes. You make these treats that are such a pleasure that people are willing to stand outside for them while it’s snowing. For hours. I agree with you that it’s crazy but for those people, it is worth it. It’s not just a cupcake, it’s an experience.”

“You’ve been reading too many BuzzFeed articles about them.”

Victor chuckled and laid his hands on top of Yuuri’s once more. “When you made those kartoshka cupcakes, you know what I thought of? I remembered when I used to get actual kartoshka with my mom in Russia. Nostalgia hit me so hard. I don’t know why, especially since I bought some for you on that date, but there was something about them. The care that you took with them, maybe. The love you made them with. It was like a memory in this cute paper wrapping.”

Yuuri was smiling. He dropped his head, forehead touching the top of Victor’s palm. “That doesn’t solve my current problem.”

“Well, as regrettable as it is, sometimes it is better to start again from the beginning. And if you’re frustrated, you could always smash this bastard of a tiger cake.”

As much as Victor enjoyed musicals, he was convinced he had never heard notes as lovely as those of Yuuri’s laugh. Especially when the chime of his laughter chased away the final traces of tears.

“If I start over, it’ll cut into our date time,” Yuuri said, glancing at the cake. The partially colored cream in the bowl beside it seemed to have deflated a bit.

“Not necessarily.”

Yuuri’s eyes flickered back to Victor, eyebrows arching in question.

“Grab what you need and come back to my place. You can make it there. That way you won’t need to transport it later, and we can still have our full date. I find a new setting tends to refresh my mentality. And I can help you, if you’d like.” Probably not, Victor would only mess it up worse. If he did, though, Yuuri might have more fun with it.

Yuuri did not answer immediately, looking around the shop kitchen. Then, he reached out, grabbed the turntable, and dumped the entire cake into the trash. The turntable was set back on the counter with a declarative thud, Yuuri dusting off his hands. “I’ll let you add the coloring.”

Victor could do that much without screwing it up.

Together, they cleaned the kitchen and grabbed what Yuuri would need to remake the cake at Victor’s apartment. Yuuri locked the door behind them, kissing Victor before sliding into his car. The lining under his chocolate-colored eyes was still a bit red, but Victor found it more cute than heartbreaking now that there was a smile on his lips.

Victor kept his fingers threaded through Yuuri’s after he parked the car and they headed into his building. Makkachin pounced on Yuuri as soon as they were inside, giving him a far more affectionate greeting than she did to Victor. Yuuri ran her into the living room so he could flop over onto the floor with her to give her the belly rubs she deserved. He froze before the actual flopping over, though, captured by the sight of the Christmas tree in the far corner.

“You got a tree…”

“You said you wanted one, right? I thought about bringing it over to your place but I didn’t want to feel like an idiot if you really did not have space for it.” From his kitchen cabinets, Victor pulled mixing bowls and ingredients, placing them on the counter along with the bag of things they had brought from the shop. Yuuri joined him, kissing his cheek before putting away half of what Victor had taken out in exchange for “the right ones.” Victor had never claimed to be an expert in Yuuri’s craft.

While Yuuri measured ingredients and sifted flour, Victor called the restaurant. Using his best negotiation skills, he managed to push their reservation back, not wanting Yuuri to feel rushed. He would have cancelled it altogether if he didn’t know that Yuuri would be horrified by the idea. An evening spent at home watching Yuuri bake with Christmas music playing in the background and delivery Chinese would have been fine by him.

True to his word, Yuuri let Victor add the coloring to the batter once he had finished preparing it. Victor mixed orange into one bowl and black into another while one more was left uncolored. Yuuri poured a portion of the orange batter into a cake tin, then alternated with the others in order to form the tiger stripes Victor had seen in the discarded cake. He let that sit as the oven preheated, quickly preparing a second batter with slightly varied ingredients. That one was poured into a second tin without coloring, and both went into the oven. They set three different timers, one on the oven and the other two on their phones.

Before long, the kitchen filled with the warm sweetness of cake. Victor’s stomach might have rumbled, making Yuuri laugh. Victor stayed close as Yuuri prepared variously colored buttercreams, separating them into piping bags. He told Yuuri about his Christmas tree hunt with Yuri in the morning, amusing him by recounting how Yuri had managed to almost halve the price of the already discounted tree merely by glaring at the salesperson. Yuuri expressed a concern for the man’s commission rate, until Victor told him that they had added that half back in tips. The eyeroll Yuuri gave him came with a smile.

The moment the timers went off from three different sides, they both sprang up and rushed to the oven. Yuuri slapped Victor’s hands away when he reached for the oven door. He tested the bake with a toothpick and pulled them out himself, flipping the cakes out onto cooling racks.

When Victor had tried making cupcakes the first time, he learned that cooling was rather important. Yuuri had tried to stop him from putting the frosting on immediately and Victor quickly came to understand why: the cream had melted almost as soon as it touched the hot cake. They killed the time by letting Makkachin open one of her Christmas presents. Victor sat on the floor with her, helping her rip open the wrapping paper until she was able to pull out the plush toy within. The carols they had playing were quickly drowned out by her excessively biting at the squeakers inside, tail wagging madly behind her.

“Why don’t you pick one too?” Victor said. Yuuri had undoubtedly noticed the presents under the tree that had his name on them. Victor had seen his eyes widen at them.

“I left the one I have for you at home,” Yuuri replied.

“Then tell me, what’s that second cake for?”

The blush on Yuuri’s cheeks layered on darker. Victor had suspected Yuuri was making it for him, since it was completely different from Yuri’s tiger cake. Now he had his confirmation. “It’s going to be a Japanese Christmas cake,” Yuuri answered, bumping his knee against Victor’s, “and it was supposed to be a surprise.”

“I promise to still act surprised.”

Victor leaned back on the sofa as Yuuri selected his gift from the few set out for him. He could not recall how he had spent the previous Christmas. Chris had been overseas with Matthieu, and Yuri had gone to some club event hosted by that DJ friend of his. He had the vague recollection of an office party, but it would have likely been in the week prior and Victor did not remember if he had skipped that year’s or the one before that. However it had gone then, it must have been quiet.

There was nothing quiet now, not with the music, not with Makkachin squeaking her new toy, not with Yuuri’s chuckles when Victor protested his selection of a small but long box with a bow around it. That was the one with the ties. Best save that one for later, in case Yuuri took it as an insult rather than Victor’s genuine desire to see him in more stylish accessories. Instead, Yuuri picked a card envelope that sat by itself. His name was written on it, the “i” dotted with a heart. Victor’s pulse spiked.

Yuuri sat down on the sofa beside him, his shoulder resting against Victor’s arm. “This one okay?”

“Yeah, as long as you know that’s your main gift.”

Victor had sealed the envelope with a poodle sticker, which Yuuri peeled off carefully so as not to rip it. Inside was a gift certificate, for the couple’s cooking course Yuuri had said he wanted to take once they had the time. It was for a two-month course, once a week. Victor figured it could replace their regular Friday night dates, though he had made sure to find an instructor that was fine with reschedules in case Yuuri had cake preparations that ran long before weekend weddings.

“It’s supposed to be really flexible and I asked for classes without dessert lessons since I figured you don’t need that. There’s no set date either, I can call and arrange what works best with your schedule,” Victor explained as Yuuri read the details in fine print at the bottom. “One of the paralegals at my firm recommended it and I thought it sounded good.”

Yuuri turned in toward Victor and wrapped his arms around his neck, tugging him in for several happy kisses. A smile had spread fully across Yuuri’s face, filling the apples of his cheeks and making his eyes sparkle. “I love—it,” Yuuri stumbled over his words breathlessly, the certificate crumpling slightly in his hand as his fingers wove into Victor’s hair. “I love it, thank you so much.”

“Good.” Victor smiled back, pecking Yuuri’s lips. “Now do I get cake?”

Victor got the tiniest slivers as Yuuri cut the cakes into two layers, letting him taste the sponge. Both were heavenly, dissolving on his tongue with the richness of butter and the fragrance of vanilla. Yuuri worked on Yuri’s cake first, layering on buttercream and evening it out with an icing spatula. He blended in white and painted on black frosting stripes, diligently forming a majestically realistic face of a tiger out of cream. The tail that looped around the base was made from marshmallows lined and similarly painted in cream. The result was stunning. It would be a shame to hand it over; Victor wanted to try it for himself. When he tried what he thought was an inconspicuous swipe at the cream, though, he got scolded.

Yuuri transferred the cake from the turntable into one of his shop carry boxes, sealing it with a bow and sticking on a note that read “Yuri” in bold capital letters. Victor resigned himself to wait, at least for a few more minutes.

In the bag Yuuri had brought with him, he had placed strawberries. Back at the shop, Victor had thought strawberries would not be a good pairing for orange vanilla cream and it turned out he had been right. Partially. Victor rinsed and dried them at Yuuri’s request, cutting a few into thin slices. Yuuri arranged them on top of the cream between the two layers of Christmas cake, topping them with more cream.

Observing Yuuri at work was like watching magic. He moved with precision, strokes practiced. Victor could have taken an hour and he would not have managed to get the cream perfectly even. Yuuri had it done in a couple of minutes, piping miniature white pine trees out of cream around the edges. Whole strawberries were meant to be placed on top, with more cream dolloped between each of them. Victor, not wishing to break tradition, stole and ate a few of the strawberries.

Glancing over his shoulder, Yuuri cast him a look of sheer disapproval. Batting his lashes in feigned innocence, Victor slid one arm around Yuuri’s waist from behind and kissed the nape of his neck. With the other hand, he stole another strawberry off the top of the cake and plopped it into his mouth.

“Victor.”

He had never heard Yuuri so stern before. Victor swiped a fingerful of cream from the side of the pristinely frosted cake, dabbed a drop onto the tip of Yuuri’s nose, and licked off the rest. “Yuuri.”

Victor had seen Yuuri mad, truly mad, only once: after Victor had shoved his own foot down his throat making comments about bets and the inevitable failure of most marriages. Yuuri had been cute mad. Victor still thought about Yuuri’s huffed-out cheeks as he stormed off, jamming that cat-ear beanie onto his slicked-back hair. That memory made Victor feel like his screw-up had been worth it. It had worked out after all, him and Yuuri.

“Try that one more time,” Yuuri said, his lips pulled into a line. His voice dripped with the venom of a cautionary threat.

Taking his chances, Victor grabbed the last strawberry and sank his teeth into it the split-second before Yuuri could snatch it from his fingers. The juice of the berry dripped down the corner of his mouth and Victor made a show of licking it up, chuckling. Gears were visibly turning in Yuuri’s head.

Victor flinched, gasping in surprise when Yuuri dipped his fingers into the bowl of whipped cream and flicked it at Victor’s face. A tiny white droplet clung to Victor’s eyelashes, obstructing part of his view until he wiped it off. He would be wise not to escalate. They were dangerously close to their rescheduled dinner reservation. A prix-fixe menu of smoked duck breast and gingerbread cheesecake with cranberry compote would be waiting for them. Victor smeared one of the smaller cream pine trees across Yuuri’s cheek and then kissed it.

Yuuri’s eyes narrowed. Victor was in trouble.

”Yuuri... Yuuri, don't.” Victor’s tone was an attempt at firm, but there was a telling twinge to the ending syllables. Daring amusement. Victor was going to get a taste of Christmas cake in a few moments, but it was not going to be given to him on the end of a fork. “That is not the cake I said you should smash today.”

Yuuri’s hand hovered over the top of the cake, his fingers twitching. “Say you’re sorry.”

“Never.”

“Your funeral.”

Yuuri plunged his hand straight into the heart of the cake. Victor’s face became a serving plate for whipped cream and strawberry slices, vanilla sponge dropping to the floor at their feet. That was the type of slap Victor would be willing to accept on any occasion.

A yelp mixed with a laugh as Victor ducked around Yuuri, snatching a handful of cream from the mixing bowl and throwing it at Yuuri. It splattered across the upper part of his chest, splashing drops of cream along his jaw. They leapt for the remainder of the cake at the same time, both securing half. Victor ended up with a chunk in his hair. Yuuri had to clean a spatter of cream off his glasses. The fridge was hit in the process. A rogue throw knocked the bowl of remaining cream onto the floor.

Victor tried unsuccessfully to escape the last piece of cake in Yuuri’s hand, making a break for it out of the kitchen. Yuuri caught him easily, stuffing it down the back of Victor’s shirt and hugging him tightly so that it smeared all the way down his spine. Victor yelped, the cream cold, spinning in an attempt to grab Yuuri. He had a bit more left in his own hand, intending to give Yuuri a proper face-wash with it.

Yuuri dodged the swipe but his foot slipped in spilled cream. He went down with a shout, falling backwards. Victor barely caught him, cake-covered hand protecting the back of Yuuri’s head. They wound up in a tangle on the floor, completely covered in cream and bits of strawberry pulp, the destroyed cake coating the kitchen. Yuuri’s laughter was merrier than the carols streaming from the living room, his kiss sweeter than the remnants of what was no longer a Japanese Christmas cake. He had discarded his glasses midway through the fight, lashes blinking with cream. His hair, his skin, his clothes was smeared in white, and yet Victor had never before seen him looking so beautiful.

There was a feeling Victor could not quite place that stirred in the pit of his stomach whenever he had Yuuri in his kitchen. In his apartment in general. It was not enough to call it butterflies, it was like he was housing an entire lepidopterarium. Yuuri had done a number on Victor’s life. His days began and ended with Yuuri, with texts in the morning, with calls and dates at night. While out in the city, he would see a new restaurant and think about how he would like to take Yuuri there. He would take Makkachin to the groomer and send photos of her pretty and clean straight to Yuuri. An ad for a horror movie on television made him think that he would be able to tough it out if he were curled up on the sofa next to Yuuri, legs tucked under himself and a fleece blanket across their laps. Every Broadway love song he sang in the shower would have lyrics that suddenly were dedicated to Yuuri. He would have even gone to the office Christmas party that year, if Yuuri had not been busy that night.

Coffee was less bitter, the winter was less cold, the streets were less cruel when Victor was beside Yuuri. Even his work days were shorter, time hurried along by the messages and pictures of cakes sent to his phone. The only thing Victor wanted was more. More of Yuuri, more of his smiles, more of his teasing. Victor wanted to wake in the mornings not just to texts but to Yuuri. To the warmth of his body in Victor’s bed, to the simplistic joy of eating breakfast together. He wanted to brush his teeth before bed while standing next to Yuuri, wanted to smell the same shampoo in their hair. He wanted more ridiculous moments that would have him soaring above the clouds into the heaven that was life with Yuuri.

Victor brushed his fingers through Yuuri’s bangs, pushing them out of the way. Yuuri’s lips were parted, his breathing escalated. Victor could have kissed him, would have kissed him long enough to last a lifetime if the words had not tumbled out first. “Move in with me.”

The twinkling in Yuuri’s gorgeous dark eyes sparked into shock. His jaw dropped lower and his fingers gripped into Victor’s shirt. “W-what?”

For Victor, the thought had not come from nowhere. He had had it before, several times over the past couple of months. Whenever Yuuri came over, whenever he stayed, whenever he left. He had wondered what it would be like if Yuuri could just… be there. Victor pushed himself up onto his elbows, his gaze focused on Yuuri. “Move in with me. I want you to live here.”

Yuuri slid back an inch, putting enough room between them for him to sit up. He did not draw away. He did not let go of Victor’s shirt. “That’s…”

“Too much?” Victor could understand if it were. Depending on how he looked at it, nine months of dating could be a long time but it could also be too short. From Yuuri’s point of view, that could be a very sudden proposal. “It doesn’t have to be now. Or right away. But I keep thinking about it, how I want to spend more time with you, how I want to spend every second that I can with you. I want you here with me.”

“Victor…”

“If you prefer to split rent, you wouldn’t need to pay more than your place in Brooklyn. I know Phichit can afford that place on his own, but we can help him find a new roommate or a new apartment. We’re way closer to your shop from here, you could get home sooner and sleep in a bit more. I’d—”

“Victor.”

“—get up with you and make breakfast, I could even drive you if you’re running late or if the trains are out. And you keep saying how much you like my kitchen here, you wouldn’t need to go to your shop every time you want to try out a new recipe. Plus, you know Makkachin would love it if you stayed and—”

Yuuri cut Victor off by slapping his hands to either side of Victor’s face and kissing him. Victor forgot what it was he was rambling about. “I know you’re a very good lawyer,” Yuuri said once Victor had shut up, smiling at him, “but you don’t need to convince me.”

Victor heard the “but” first and his shoulders slumped. Then the rest of the sentence processed. “You’re saying yes?” Covered in cream and cake was not how Victor had been planning to ask Yuuri, nor was it how he expected to receive an answer.

“Yes.” Yuuri nodded. “I’d love to live with you.”

Victor knocked Yuuri over as he leapt to embrace him. Yuuri laughed against his lips, wrapping his arms around Victor. They made more of a mess of the floor rolling across it as Victor chased kiss after kiss until the excitement melted into movements more languid. Yuuri’s mouth parted to Victor’s tongue and their hands wandered, dipping under each other’s clothing.

They had been intimate only once more since the ski trip, after the night at the ballet. Victor had taken Yuuri home, and their goodnight kiss had grown long and heated. Blush burning hot on his cheeks, Yuuri had asked Victor to stay the night but Victor had been unable to do so, needing to get back because of Makkachin. Yuuri had then asked Victor to stay a little longer, their clothing soon discarded and their hands on each other’s cocks as they lay on Yuuri’s bed. Victor had come onto Yuuri’s stomach and been kissing Yuuri through his orgasm when they heard the front door slam, Phichit shouting to Yuuri that he was home. Victor had never been prouder to do a walk of shame past a roommate, Yuuri coyly biting his lower lip as he let Victor out. Phichit had whistled. Victor had not minded.

Yet, going all the way seemed not to be destined for that evening either. The moment Victor pulled away to strip Yuuri of his shirt, they realized that Makkachin was in the middle of licking the kitchen floor spotless. Victor grabbed her and carried her out, wiping cream off her paws before ordering her to “stay” in the living room. It took far longer to clean the kitchen of cake than it had taken them to cover it. Victor suspected he would be finding flecks of dried cream and crumbs of cake for weeks to come, at least one small piece having made it all the way to the ceiling.

He tossed wet paper towels into the trash while Yuuri loaded the dishwasher. They caught sight of each other after they finished, and burst into giggles. The kitchen was clean, but they were not. Yuuri had white streaks drying in his black hair and Victor’s slacks had a full strawberry stuck in the hem of one leg. Victor was grateful they had not used the orange cream, afraid it would have left their clothes stained.

“Come on.” Victor took Yuuri by the hand, leading him to the bathroom. “I don’t think either of us is going out like this.” Water in the shower switched on, Victor drew Yuuri close. He hooked his fingers into the waistline of Yuuri’s jeans, meeting his eyes to ask for permission to proceed.

Part of him expected Yuuri to say no, to put his hands around Victor’s wrists and draw them away with that small shake of his head. Victor was still willing to wait for Yuuri, content with having him decide what was too much and what he wanted to pursue more of. When it did happen between them, fully, Victor wanted to make it perfect for Yuuri. He wanted to spoil him with care and affection. He wanted Yuuri to be comfortable, to be willing, so that Victor could milk moans from him endlessly and show him the fairytale that such love could be.

By now, Victor should have learned that Yuuri defied all expectations. His fingers trembled as he undid the buttons of Victor’s shirt, one by one. He pushed the fabric off one shoulder then the next, helping Victor shed his clothing. Victor let Yuuri undress him, attention trained on Yuuri’s face and the hint of nervousness painting it.

Done with the shirt, Yuuri dropped his hands to undo the fastening of Victor’s slacks. He moved slowly, sliding his hands inside to guide the material down from his waist to his hips to his thighs. The pants dropped to pool around Victor’s ankles. Victor caught the shy smile teasing Yuuri’s lips as he gazed down Victor’s body and then removed the tight black underwear Victor had worn.

Yuuri’s cake-covered clothes joined Victor’s on the tile of the bathroom floor.

“We’re going to be so late for that dinner,” Yuuri muttered as Victor licked cream off his neck, his head tilted to give Victor access.

“Grab the shampoo then.” Victor’s reply came with a gentle bite under the curve of Yuuri’s jaw. Yuuri mewled in response, turning to grab the bottle off the shelf in the corner. Victor did not let him turn back, taking a firm hold of Yuuri’s hips. He touched his lips to the bottom of Yuuri’s hairline and traced the column of his spine. He kissed between Yuuri’s shoulders, down each vertebrae, to his lower back and further.

Water rolled down the curve of Yuuri’s beautifully arched back and into Victor’s mouth. He tugged Yuuri closer, grip tight on his hips, adoring the gasp nearly swept away by the sound of the shower. Next time, they would need to partake in a cake fight in the nude, so that Victor could have more of an excuse to lick cream from Yuuri’s thighs, to indulge in his taste to the fullest.

Victor would wait to confess it to Yuuri, but he had a dream of napping while using Yuuri’s plush buttocks as a pillow. If Yuuri was actually moving in, he was sure he would get the chance before long. What a wonderfully lazy Sunday afternoon that would turn out to be. In the meantime, he could make another dream come true, the one where he buried his face between Yuuri’s spread asscheeks and ate him out until Yuuri came, his knees weak and his legs trembling.

Yuuri moaned as Victor licked into him, his thighs twitching. Forget the dinner, Victor would dine on Yuuri. He sucked on Yuuri’s cute, fluttering hole, his hold keeping Yuuri upright when his legs threatened to buckle. Victor smirked and dropped his mouth, leaving a mark on Yuuri’s right inner thigh. He peppered kisses over Yuuri’s skin, nuzzling in until he heard a low, whining protest from above. “M-more…”

Like Victor could refuse. He hitched Yuuri toward himself again, planting a hand on the small of his back to guide Yuuri down. Yuuri dropped his elbows against the shower wall, his body bent at a ninety-degree angle, his legs spread for Victor. Hands kneading Yuuri’s ass, Victor parted his cheeks once more, his tongue plunging inside. The water continued to wash cream off Yuuri’s skin, the lingering flavor filling Victor’s mouth. Victor should not have been surprised that Yuuri tasted as sweet as he looked.

Between his own legs, Victor’s cock hung hard and heavy. He palmed himself, stroking lightly to relieve the pressure. His focus was on Yuuri, on drawing out more of his moans, wanting Yuuri to melt into his arms. He did not get his wish, the music of Yuuri’s pleading whispers cruelly cut by the shrill ringing of a cell phone. Victor growled, running the flat of his tongue over Yuuri’s entrance. The phone silenced, then rang again.

“I think… I t-think I should… get that.”

Victor bit one of Yuuri’s buttcheeks, making him squeal and jerk away. He was laughing, though, blush bright as Victor stood up and quickly helped him rinse the rest of the cream from his hair. It was for the better, probably. They were well beyond missing their dinner reservation.

Outside of the shower, Victor wrapped Yuuri in a fluffy towel and collected their clothes, dropping them into the washing machine while Yuuri returned the missed call. Victor did not have any pants that would fit Yuuri well, finding only a pair of black sweatpants that Yuuri would be able to secure around his small waist. They were matched with another one of Yuuri’s present boxes, inside which was the cream-colored cashmere sweater. Victor could see Yuuri biting the inside of his cheeks as he put on the unusual combination, rolling up the bottom of the sweats. Definitely not fancy restaurant attire, but Victor knew how to shake hands with a Ben Franklin tucked into his palm.

Yuuri texted someone on his phone as they finally rode the elevator down together, sending off several messages in rapid succession before pocketing it. Victor hailed them a cab. Yuuri did not slide past the middle seat, resting against Victor the entire ride.

They were well over an hour late for their rescheduled dinner. Yuuri muffled laughter into Victor’s shoulder after the host asked them to wait and threw them a dirty look as he walked off to “check on something.” They were denied their reservation and told that their table had been given away more than half an hour prior. No amount of clever negotiations from Victor or eyelash batting from Yuuri got them in. They should have gone the Chinese delivery route after all.

Instead, they took the subway back toward the park, Victor leaning against the train car doors and Yuuri leaning against Victor. They ditched the idea of a fancy dinner halfway through the ride, getting off at the station before Victor’s in order to go buy authentic New York pizza by the slice. Victor stopped them at a liquor store along the way.

Sitting on hard stools at a tall counter beside tourists and broke college students, Victor fed Yuuri extra pepperoni off his fingers as they drank a hundred-dollar bottle of Syrah from paper Pepsi cups. At the end of their meal, they had half a bottle left so they passed it to the students, toasting with the soda cups on their way out. Yuuri linked their fingers together as they strolled up Eighth Avenue. Victor did not think it was would be possible to have a better Christmas. He was wrong.

A couple of blocks from his apartment, Yuuri pulled Victor into a drug store. Victor tagged along, his thoughts wandering to the desire of kissing Yuuri in his darkened living room, with all the lights off except those illuminating the Christmas tree. He was pulled from that pleasant vision by Yuuri squeezing his hand, instantly noticing what aisle they were in.

Yuuri was blushing once more, his posture stiff. “I… I have some on me but I realized… I don’t think they would fit you.”

It was Victor’s turn to blush. Smiling, he picked a small colored box off the shelf and placed it into Yuuri’s hands. “These are fine.”

Without saying another word, Yuuri dragged Victor to the register. He avoided eye contact with the cashier as he paid, snatched the paper bag with excessive force, and dragged Victor out. Victor’s heart did not stop pounding the remainder of the walk, growing louder on the elevator, beating dangerously fast when they reached his apartment. He nearly dropped his keys, hands trembling as he unlocked the door.

The lights in the apartment were off, like they had left them. Makkachin dozed on the sofa. Victor reached for the light switch, but Yuuri stopped him, taking his hand. Victor had lost count of how many times Yuuri had surprised him that day. One more of those turned out to be in store, because Victor’s bedroom was definitely not how he had left it.

Yuuri was definitely magic—that was the only explanation Victor had for it. Over his bed was a tulle canopy and within it were strung white fairy lights. It was like an aurora cascading down the wall, leaving Victor in awe. It seemed that, just as Victor had listened to Yuuri’s desire for a tree, Yuuri had listened to Victor’s desire to have an apartment decorated in Christmas lights.

“When did you do this?”

“You had help with the tree. I had help with this.”

Victor suspected that if he checked in the kitchen, the tiger cake would be missing. “Sneaky.”

Yuuri set the purchased bag and its contents on the nightstand and, with a deep breath, removed his sweater. He folded it and set it aside, stepping out of the sweatpants Victor had lent him. Those were folded and set aside too, the rest following until Yuuri was nude before him. His hands hung at his sides, clenching and unclenching. Victor tore himself from his daze of admiration, rushing to do the same.

He could not remember the last time he had been this nervous with anyone. Victor kneeled in the center of the bed, under the glittering lights, Yuuri settling in his lap. Victor could not keep track of his pulse, could barely remember to breathe. He wrapped Yuuri in his arms, face buried in his chest. He kissed between Yuuri’s pectorals and above the one on the left, smiling when he felt Yuuri’s heart running just as quickly.

“Are you sure?” he asked, kissing the curve of Yuuri’s shoulder and the dip of his collarbone, the hollow of his throat and the length of his neck.

“Did you take the same shower I did?”

Point taken. Victor slid an arm up, cradling Yuuri’s back. He laid Yuuri down, kissing his jaw and his cheek, the bridge of his nose and his forehead. From the nightstand drawer, he removed a bottle of lubricant and from the drugstore bag, he took out the box of condoms. Victor stacked pillows behind Yuuri, so that Yuuri could watch as Victor quietly talked him through the steps. The warming of the lubricant between his fingers, the reassurance through a few more soft kisses, the parting of Yuuri’s thighs.

This was it. Yuuri was here, in Victor’s bed, in his arms, bathed in the light from above. His skin glowed, splashed with the pink of his spreading blush. Victor had thought about it before, about what it would be like when Yuuri finally invited him in. He had never imagined Yuuri would look so beautiful, with such a smile on his lips, with such welcome in his eyes. If Yuuri stayed with him, Victor would be in for a lifetime of surprises.

Yuuri wound his fingers around Victor’s wrist and guided his hand further in, until he was cupping the velvet underside of Yuuri’s cock. “You’re shaking,” Yuuri observed, his voice light. “I’m the one who is supposed to be scared.”

“I don’t want to mess this up,” Victor admitted, trying to steady himself. He was meant to lead, to demonstrate to Yuuri the wonder of sex. Yet, Yuuri was the one who was pressing Victor’s slicked fingers to his entrance. Victor traced it with his fingertips and felt it flutter. “Aren’t you… nervous?”

“No,” Yuuri shook his head. “I was. Before. But I know that, if it’s with you, it’ll be amazing.”

Victor wanted to sweep Yuuri into his arms and never let go. And suddenly it dawned on him that he wouldn’t have to. Yuuri had said he would live here, with Victor. Without a doubt, it would take time to arrange, to move Yuuri’s things and to adjust to the new routine of living together. But Victor would have Yuuri there with him, every day. He would wake up to Yuuri in his bed, go to sleep with Yuuri pressed against him. Groceries, laundry, even cleaning… All the dull routine parts of life would be a privilege to experience. Victor was absolutely, undeniably, ridiculously in love.

The first gasp from Yuuri when Victor slid a finger in was saccharine on his tongue. Yuuri’s own fingers tangled in Victor’s hair, grip tightening as he was breached more and more. Victor watched Yuuri’s face, took note of the furrow in his brow and how it receded with passing moments, replaced by his jaw going slack. He stretched Yuuri with care, scissoring him open with two then three fingers, and curled them in, seeking out the spot he would soon endeavor to find with his cock. Yuuri lifted off the mattress, back arching and his body pressing into Victor’s. A smile cracked across Yuuri’s lips and he laughed, dropping his temple against Victor’s bicep.

Victor paused. “What?”

“You don’t need to be so careful.”

“It’s your first time.”

“Yeah, but…” Yuuri nudged Victor’s ankle with his toes. “...Doesn’t mean I haven’t done it to myself. While I was thinking about you.”

One of these days, Yuuri would send Victor’s blood pressure through the roof and cause a heart attack. Victor could only hope that day would be half a century or so down the road. Yuuri held out his arms to Victor, open and inviting. Victor sank into them, one hand snaking under Yuuri’s upper thigh. “Tell me how you feel, okay?” he asked, waiting for Yuuri to nod. Yuuri did.

Condom rolled on and spilled lubricant making his thighs glisten, Victor slowly pushed his cock into Yuuri. For a moment, the world stood still, as if it were complete. There were lights twinkling above them, but Victor wanted Yuuri to see stars. Victor was seeing stars already, in Yuuri’s eyes, on his lips, scattered across his skin. He tried to kiss them off Yuuri’s mouth, tried to drink them off his tongue. Only the taste of red wine lingered.

“How do you feel?”

“Like it’s a lot… a lot to take in,” Yuuri whispered, lips brushing Victor’s with each syllable. “Not just you. Everything. All of it.”

Victor agreed with that statement. He was trapped within Yuuri’s tight heat, his body buzzing, nerves vibrating, his mind racing. He was afraid to move because if Yuuri’s mouth parted any more, if he moaned, if he clenched around Victor, it would all come crashing down. He wanted to relish it and show Yuuri how to indulge in the leisure of love-making while at the same time wanting to make Yuuri cry out and shake, overwhelmed by a maddening pace. They still had all the hours of the night ahead of them; they could partake of both.

Yuuri tightened his arms and his body around Victor. He pulled on Victor’s hair, rocking down. “Please, Victor.”

That please, Victor could be used to secure Yuuri the entire world if he asked for it. Victor was not sure how, but he would manage, he would try for Yuuri. His first thrust into Yuuri was slow, as was the second, and the third. He held Yuuri close, bathed in his warmth, tallying up kisses whenever Yuuri tilted his head to ask for one. Yuuri’s legs hooked around Victor’s hips, the heels of his feet digging into the small of his back, encouraging him.

Of all the things Victor had learned about Yuuri in the near year they had spent together, this was entirely new. This was a privilege Victor had finally been afforded, the honor of Yuuri’s trust and his love. Victor rolled his hips, eyes closed as he lost himself in the sensation. Yuuri was warm like the coming of spring, tight like being wrapped in a long awaited embrace, new like a memory that would never leave him. Yuuri was there, with him, against him, under him. All around him. His fingers pulled in Victor’s hair, his arms looped his neck, his beautiful legs welcomed him between them with every slow thrust.

Victor relearned all the spots Yuuri liked having kissed, like his ears and the corner of his jaw. Sucking a mark there, Victor snapped his hips, sinking his cock deep into Yuuri. The gasping moan that resulted had Victor igniting. He seized Yuuri’s lips with his own, stuttering on the question of whether Yuuri wanted more, and of course, yes, please, Victor, Yuuri wanted more.

Yuuri’s nails dug into his back, leaving half-moon crescents in their wake. Victor buried himself in Yuuri, adoring the moans he milked from him. Lashes fluttered over dark eyes and Yuuri threw his head back onto the pillows when Victor grabbed his hips so he could drive in deeper, to learn exactly the way their bodies could join.

If Yuuri’s laughter was music, his mewls and broken sighs were a symphony. When Victor found that spot, Yuuri’s eyes flashed open, his lips parting into a silent gasp. He grabbed at Victor’s shoulders, the melted chocolate of his eyes latching onto the ice blue of Victor’s. “L-like that...”

Victor almost didn’t hear him, too in awe of the beauty beneath him. Yuuri’s dark hair was messed, contrasting against the pillows. The fairy lights sparkled in the dew drops of sweat building on his skin. Marks dotted his neck and collarbone, left behind as evidence of Victor’s mouth. Victor could spend a decade in admiration of Yuuri and it would not be nearly long enough.

Yuuri arched off the mattress, rocking his hips to seek more of Victor inside him. “Victor… please, again, like that.”

Victor heeded his request, thrusting hard. He watched the corners of Yuuri’s lips curl, saw Yuuri’s eyes slide shut, felt Yuuri clenching around his cock. Victor nuzzled into the crook of Yuuri’s neck, smiling against his skin. It was simple, easy, and yet so good.

When Yuuri pleaded again, Victor kissed the moans from his lips. Yuuri met the pistoning of Victor’s hips, crying out as Victor wrapped his fingers around his cock. Yuuri bucked into it, making Victor chuckle and Yuuri’s blush spread. They smiled against each other’s mouths, seeking out pleasure together.

Victor did not even feel himself getting close, focused on the gorgeous noises falling from Yuuri’s lips, on the hardness of Yuuri’s cock in his hand as he stroked it. He felt and saw Yuuri’s orgasm approaching, from his trembling body to the quiver of his lips to the sharp hitch in his inhales. Yuuri spilled into Victor’s hand, clenching around him. Victor’s own orgasm took him by surprise, not giving him time to pull out. He came into the condom, dropping his forehead onto Yuuri’s shoulder as the rush flooded him and ebbed away. Yuuri’s fingers massaged at his scalp in a hum of quiet joy.

Sitting up, Victor carefully pulled out, tying off the condom. Yuuri was tugging him back to bed before Victor even had the chance to get up in order to get them cleaned, so Victor stayed. Yuuri’s embrace was undoubtedly the best place to lie in postcoital bliss, smiling while Yuuri walked his fingers up the centerline of Victor’s chest.

“Worth the wait?” Victor asked, taking Yuuri’s hand and kissing his palm.

The shake of Yuuri’s head would have crushed him, if it were not for the mischievous glint behind Yuuri’s eyes. “No. It was incredible, I should have had you fuck me way sooner.”

Victor gasped, pinching Yuuri’s side and making him squeak. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you swear before.”

“I do,” Yuuri smiled, pulling at his lower lip with his teeth. “Sometimes. You’re going to learn all my bad habits if you want me to live here.”

“Yeah?” Victor propped himself up on his elbow, gazing down at Yuuri. “Like what?”

“I leave my socks on the floor.”

“You can’t do that, Makkachin will steal them and you’ll never see them again.”

Yuuri’s laugh rang out like the jingling of bells. “I guess that means I’ll either break the habit or I’ll start going barefoot.”

“Both are fine,” Victor said, leaning down at the same time that he lifted one of Yuuri’s legs. He touched a kiss to Yuuri’s ankle and to the sole of his foot. “You’re going to learn more about me too.”

“What, like you liking feet?” Yuuri teased, wiggling his toes at Victor.

Victor removed his hand and Yuuri’s leg dropped heavily onto the bed, bouncing on the mattress. “Sure. If you’re into that,” he deadpanned, prompting more giggles from Yuuri.

Once the chill settled, they shifted to lie beneath the covers, bodies slotted together. Yuuri liked being the little spoon, so Victor embraced Yuuri from behind. Yuuri craned his neck, turning his head to lap at Victor’s lips. Victor covered Yuuri’s mouth with his and hugged him tighter, his soul brimming with joy.

Not long after that, Victor was slipping his hardening cock between Yuuri’s thighs, the both of them eager for a second round. Yuuri laced the fingers of their left hands together and Victor figured out exactly why his heart was still pounding as loudly as it was. He had never been this happy before.

Chapter Text

“It was your first solo arbitration, those never go well.”

“Yours did!”

“Mine did because the couple was filing a no-fault divorce and both of them had kept their assets separate throughout the whole marriage. You’ve got a couple who were cheating on each other. This is exactly where things start to get messy.” Victor had seen Yuri storming into the firm with a scowl carved deeper than usual. Yuri had been a fully fledged lawyer for all of three weeks and his first case had been running smoothly until that point. “It’s fine, it’s better for the firm anyway and better for you. More billable hours.”

“I don’t want more hours, I want it resolved and I want to move on,” Yuri growled. He had sunk down in his seat, arms crossed over his chest, legs kicked up onto the corner of Victor’s desk. “So this means I’m gonna need to start on the discovery process, right?”

“Not necessarily,” Victor shook his head. He could understand Yuri’s frustration. Yuri had gone into his meeting thinking the separated couple would settle their differences amicably and without much argument, like they had claimed ahead of time. The mistake was thinking they had been telling the truth. When it came to people of wealth and influence, the discussion of finances was always where things started to fall apart. Victor had seen couples who would have preferred to run each into bankruptcy rather than settle and leave the other well off. Broken relationships sparked a special level of hatred. “They might calm down and decide they’d rather not fight it out.”

“And how likely is that?” Yuri scoffed.

“Was anything thrown?”

“No.”

“Then more likely than you think.” Victor had been surprised by clients before, though admittedly, not many. “Listen, it’s your first case. You know the process, you know the law. We can’t account for the human factor, but you’re the counsel. So counsel your client. Explain to her, again, the two ways this can go. And if you really don’t care about the hours, give her the estimate of what it’ll cost to fight it. Verbally.” While logic and numbers did not always work, they could help. “See which way she leans from there.”

Yuri bounced the foot he had set on the floor, his scowl consistent. He was silent for a minute, then two, before dropping his leg to the ground. Victor already knew what he was about to say. “What if it goes my way and I still hate it?”

“Yura…”

“It’s so frustrating! This wasn’t what I wanted to do. This wasn’t the point!”

“It’s your first case,” Victor repeated, his tone even.

“It’s not! What about all the ones I helped you with, huh? All the ones I’ve consulted on already. They’re all like this!”

“You can’t expect to be a savior on every case you get, that’s not how this works. It’s divorce, Yura. It’s ugly and, most times, there isn’t a good side to be on. The sooner you accept that, the less difficult it’s going to be for you.”

“That’s not what I mean and you know it!” Yuri snapped, banging his foot against the leg of Victor’s desk. “So you’re happy, then? Doing this?”

“Our job is to get couples through the process, by whichever method they choose. It’s to act in their support. You are not there to help them tear each other down, you’re there to help them get to the end. At which point, everyone is going to be free to move on. Yourself included.”

“What if I don’t want to?”

Victor sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. Yuri would not be the first. “Have you talked to Yakov?”

“Yeah…”

“And?”

“He said he’d approve the transfer if you signed off on it.”

Yuri had brought it up before, while helping Victor on his last big case—the one that had dragged on for months longer than necessary and made everyone involved miserable. Victor had told him not to rush the decision, to get his license and work on his own for a while. But he also did not want Yuri to be forced to stay in a job he could not stand. Victor saw the appeal of the alternative and understood how Yuri thought he could make more of a difference there. “See this case through to the end and if you still want to, I’ll back you up with my strongest recommendation.”

The scowl finally broke. Yuri dropped his arms to his sides, tugging on the bottom of his suit jacket to straighten it. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Why don’t you—”

“I don’t hate my job, Yura.”

“Yeah, but you’re not challenged by it anymore either, are you?”

Victor opened his mouth to protest, but had no rebuttal to give. He shut it and sat back in his chair, posture straight and shoulders rigid. “Do you know how many clients I have right now? And you want me to just… what, switch out?”

“No. Wrap those up like you’re telling me to finish mine,” Yuri replied, placing his hands on top of Victor’s desk and leaning down. His eyes flashed with the same determination that had gotten him to such a position at a young age. Though, it was obvious that his smarts did not equal maturity. Otherwise, he would have been able to see beyond the petty conflict and deal with his problem client like a real professional. “And then come join me. All your experience would—”

“I’m not transferring.” Victor’s tone was firm and he closed the file he had open on his desk, thrusting it out toward Yuri. “If you want to, I understand. I’ll give you any support that I can. But I’m fine here, I’m not moving.”

Yuri snatched the file from Victor’s hand. He turned tail, looking rather like an angry cat all puffed up as he pushed out the door. Just before it shut, Victor heard him muttering under his breath, “Yuuri might be happier if you did...”

Victor sighed, burying his face in his hands, elbows digging into the edge of his desk. Yeah. Yeah, Yuuri might. Except that, as far as Victor could tell, Yuuri was quite happy now. They had rung in the new year together, at a party thrown by Phichit at their brownstone. Victor was not sure when he had last been excited for a change in digits, but this year’s arrived with the promise of so many changes, all of them ones he was looking forward to.

Victor had spent his New Year’s bonus on Yuuri. They booked a moving company, got Yuuri’s things packed and ready to send across the bridge. Victor rearranged the contents of his kitchen cabinets, making space for all of Yuuri’s equipment and utensils even though he knew Yuuri would shuffle everything around to his preference anyway. After consulting with Mila, he bought and had a new oven range installed, the one that she claimed was Yuuri’s dream for at-home use. Learning that an oven could cost as much as a small car was a shock, but the delight on Yuuri’s face and the way he had jumped into Victor’s arms when he had seen it was more than enough to make it worth every penny.

As Victor had gotten his apartment ready for Yuuri moving in, it had changed little by little. New sheets for the bed, a new collection of towels for the bathroom. He had cleared space in the closets and chest of drawers for Yuuri’s clothes, and bought an extra laundry hamper.

That morning, Victor had woken up far too early and yet been all smiles as he brushed his teeth, listening to the shower water running and smelling the fruity shampoo in the air. He had gotten a morning goodbye kiss over a warm mug of coffee before Yuuri rushed out, their shared breakfast having indeed made him run a bit behind schedule on their first morning together. The jingle of keys being snatched off the hook by the door had made Victor’s heart sing, knowing that next to the ones which would unlock Yuuri’s shop was now strung the key which would unlock the door to their apartment.

Today was to be their first real, full day living together. Only, judging by the amount of emails sitting in his inbox and the amount of calls on his schedule, Victor was going to be home late. Such was life.

Around sundown, Victor texted Yuuri to let him know and to apologize ahead of time. He received a flurry of heart emojis in return, which let him breathe easy. He would pick up a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine on his way, to make up for it. The idea of living with Yuuri did make him nervous, but in a wonderful way. He was excited to learn, to adjust, to have a fight after Makkachin chewed up one of the socks Yuuri had left on the floor. Because at times, it felt like his chest swelled up with affection to an extent that could not be real and he needed those moments of reality to ground him. Living with Yuuri was sure to be an experience filled with surprises like none other.

And thinking of surprises…

>> Are you headed home yet?

Victor checked his watch and groaned. It was eight. The majority of those working at the firm had already left, meanwhile he was still working through emails and documents. He had taken a few days off the week prior for Yuuri’s move and was still playing catch-up. His clients tended to get antsy when the answers to their questions were delayed. Which he absolutely understood. Eight in the evening was not late for him, but it would be late for Yuuri who tried to maintain a ten o’clock sleep schedule. Although, Victor did have a habit of helping him break it.

<< Not yet, darling. Almost done.

>> You should hurry back

<< Why, does Makkachin miss me?

>> Because I don’t want to have been cooking in an apron and only an apron for nothing

As far as his reading comprehension went, Victor believed himself to be at a level above average. However, it took him a minute of reading the line repeatedly for the meaning to process in full. Victor shut off his work computer and shoved his paperwork into his bag, forgetting to turn off the lights in his office.

One of the greatest benefits of having an office so close to home was that, with his rush, he had his key in the lock after only fifteen minutes. The flowers he had stopped to get were slightly jostled, but he did not think Yuuri would care so much. Unlike usual, there was no whining or nail scratching from Makkachin behind the door, meaning that Yuuri had already taken her out and fed her dinner. It should have felt like a betrayal, but Victor did not mind.

His coat hung by the door, Victor smiled when Makkachin padded over from her spot on the couch to greet him, tail wagging lazily. Bouquet still in hand, Victor made his way to the kitchen. The apartment was warm, Yuuri having turned on the heat to combat the cold winter outside. Music flowed through the rooms, playing a musical soundtrack.

Victor paused when he came in view of the kitchen. Yuuri stood in front of a fully stocked fridge, humming along and rocking his hips to the music. He had not lied. Yuuri was indeed cooking in an apron and only an apron. A deep red, frilly apron that Victor knew for a fact had a heart on the front. It had been a joke gift from Chris, for the first session of the cooking class Victor and Yuuri had started the previous Friday. Laying the flowers down by the sink, Victor slid up behind Yuuri and grabbed a handful of delightfully exposed buttocks.

Yuuri squeaked and laughed, turning around to drape his arms over Victor’s shoulders whilst holding a small container of cream. “Welcome home,” he said, kissing Victor’s lips.

“Thank you,” Victor replied, smiling widely. There was a pot on the stove, appearing to contain drained egg noodles, and a pan in which dark beef sauce was simmering. “Are you making stroganoff?”

“Trying to,” Yuuri said, glancing toward his cooking. “How’s it smell?”

“Fantastic.” Just like Yuuri. One cooking class and already he had jumped several levels. Then again, he did have the unfair advantage of being a master baker. “And what have I done to deserve this?”

Yuuri’s cheeks went pink with a blush and he batted his lashes. “Promise not to tease me?”

Victor had no idea what motivation he could possibly have for teasing Yuuri over his perfect ass. Even if it was unprotected by a ridiculous apron. “Promise.”

“It’s always been a fantasy of mine to surprise a boyfriend while wearing just an apron.”

“Oh?”

Pinching his lower lip between his teeth, Yuuri nodded and slid his hand up the length of Victor’s tie. “You never fantasized about bending someone over your desk at work?”

A standard fantasy by all means but before Yuuri, Victor had not dated anyone who ignited that desire in particular. His office was not a place he considered sexy. Then again, he had never had Yuuri visit there to change his mind. “You’d be the first.”

“Well,” Yuuri tipped up on the balls of his bare feet, brushing his lips against Victor’s, “you can help me live out my fantasy.”

Maybe asking Yuuri to live with him would turn out to be a bad idea after all. Victor was going to be done in by the spark that was Yuuri’s newfound sexuality. After that first cooking class, Yuuri had spent the night at Victor’s. Since Yuuri still had to open his shop in the morning, Victor had expected to wake up early with him. What he had not expected was to be woken up, his body feeling like it was on fire because Yuuri had slipped down the bed and under the blankets, stirring Victor from sleep with an enthusiastic blowjob. There had been an early morning greeting: the sight of Yuuri between his legs, cheeks hollowed out and his eyes sparkling deviously. Victor had come embarrassingly quickly.

Hitching Yuuri up onto a cleared part of the kitchen counter, Victor took the cream from Yuuri’s hand and turned down the burner on the stove. If Yuuri wanted to live out a fantasy, Victor could certainly help. Lifting the frilled hem of Yuuri’s apron, Victor dove under it. He tried not to laugh when he heard the back of Yuuri’s head hit the cabinets above them in a knee-jerk reaction, grinning against the base of Yuuri’s soft cock. It did not stay soft for long.

Yuuri’s legs went over his shoulders and Victor gripped Yuuri’s hips in his hands, blessed by Yuuri’s thighs clenching around him. Yuuri grew harder and fuller with each swipe of Victor’s tongue and his soft sighs fell down onto Victor like notes of music. Victor could not help smiling when Yuuri’s fingers found and curled into his hair, encouraging him with a gentle push down and a gentle rock up. He had begun to suspect that Yuuri was trying to make up for the months they had waited to consummate the relationship. If that were true, he had no objections and would support Yuuri’s every ambition.

As Victor took Yuuri in to the back of his throat, Yuuri moaned. Releasing Yuuri’s hips, Victor slipped his hands beneath the apron and grasped Yuuri’s thighs. He kept a tight hold as he swallowed Yuuri down because as marvelous as dying suffocated by Yuuri’s thighs would be, he wanted to taste Yuuri’s release first.

Beads of precum were salty on Victor’s tongue and he hummed in approval when Yuuri bucked, provoked by Victor sucking hard on the head of his cock. Yuuri’s muscles twitched under Victor’s hands, his breaths going shorter. Victor pursued the line, not wanting to stop until Yuuri was completely shaken, his palms traveling up so his thumbs could find and tease at Yuuri’s hole.

A rough tug on his hair made him stop and then Yuuri’s fingers were gone from it, instead yanking open one of the kitchen drawers. Victor had to blink when his hand was grabbed and a travel-sized bottle of lubricant was shoved into it. With Yuuri’s competitive nature and drive, Victor should not have been surprised that his previously virginal boyfriend would turn out to be an incubus.

Within minutes, Victor had Yuuri mewling and thrashing above him in a manner that he dearly hoped fulfilled the fantasy. He did not relent, his ring and middle fingers pushing deep into Yuuri, milking his prostate as he sucked Yuuri’s cock down to the hilt. The tip of his nose was tickled by that beautiful nest of dark hair, Victor finding something new to love about Yuuri with every second they spent together.

His name sounded like a work of art as it tumbled off Yuuri’s lips when he came down Victor’s throat, his fingers tangled in Victor’s hair and his legs cinched around Victor’s neck. How wonderful life was. Victor licked and sucked Yuuri clean until he was whimpering from over sensitivity, and yet not pulling away.

Victor emerged from beneath Yuuri’s apron to seek a kiss. His whispered question of whether he could continue was met with an eager please and a condom pulled from the same drawer. Yuuri had absolutely planned this. A few moments later, Victor had one of Yuuri’s legs bent and pushed up against the edge of the counter, his mouth on the nape of Yuuri’s neck as he fumbled with his belt. He was not wearing one of his more expensive suits, though even if he had been, he would not have cared if it got messy as he withdrew his cock and slowly sheathed it within Yuuri’s body.

Bliss. Out of all the words he could use to describe it, that one fit best. Not just for the feel of Yuuri’s tight heat clenching around him, but for all of it. Knowing that every day going forward, he would be able to come back from work to have Yuuri there. Or be able to leave a bit earlier in order to meet Yuuri outside his shop, so that they could walk home together. Not back to his apartment, but to their home. His home, his life, his love together with Yuuri.

Victor looped an arm around Yuuri’s waist, holding him close as he thrust inside. He whispered sweet words into Yuuri’s hair, skimming them down his neck. He kept them flush, naked back to suit-clad chest, and dropped his face to hide it in the crook of Yuuri’s neck when he came. Yuuri leaned into him, his left hand finding the one Victor had sitting low on his abdomen in order to lace his fingers in and bring their joined hands up. Victor could feel Yuuri’s smile against his knuckles. Good. It meant Yuuri was happy too.

“Your fantasy probably did not include letting dinner get cold,” Victor muttered, dotting kiss after kiss along Yuuri’s bare shoulder blades. The ties of the apron obscured a couple of patches of skin, so Victor brushed them aside, wanting to cover every inch.

“Go grab me some pants from the bedroom and I’ll get it ready,” Yuuri said, twisting to peck at Victor’s lips.

“Mmm, hold still.” Carefully, Victor pulled out of Yuuri. He disposed of the condom and grabbed tissues to wipe remnants of lubricant from Yuuri’s thighs. Dropping down, Victor kissed Yuuri’s tailbone and nipped at one of his cheeks, making Yuuri laugh before he went for the bedroom.

Yuuri had reheated the stroganoff mixture and poured it over the noodles by the time Victor made it back. Pants and a sweater had been on the edge of the bed, probably from when Yuuri had stripped them prior to Victor’s arrival. The seduction had been undeniably planned and was absolutely successful. As if Victor would have been able to deny Yuuri, in any universe.

Dinner was consumed with light conversation and many compliments to the chef, Makkachin dozing under the table between their feet. Yuuri told Victor about the “naked” wedding cake design he was working on for a naturalist couple, showing him photos of the small test version he had made. The appearance was rustic, with the edges of the sponge layers exposed, cream lining only the tops. Fresh berries and sweet herbs made for the decorations. Yuuri never failed to impress.

When asked how Yuri was doing with his case, Victor shrugged his shoulders and replied that he was struggling to adjust to leading but was otherwise fine. The topic did not continue beyond that. Instead, Victor inquired about Yuuri’s plan for the February cupcakes and whether he was going to go with a pink heart theme for Valentine’s Day. January’s were made with caramel crème and decorated to look like the most adorable boars. Yuuri confessed that he had yet to make up his mind, waffling between ideas.

They washed the dishes together, bumping hips and elbows in the shared space. Victor had not stopped smiling since he had gotten home. Yuuri readied for bed while Victor powered up his laptop to finish reviewing the last few emails. He tried to speed through them, preferring to be able to slip beneath the sheets with Yuuri.

“Biktorgh…”

That odd pronunciation of his name caught his attention, making him glance over his shoulder. Yuuri was in pajama pants and a loose tshirt, a toothbrush in his mouth and his phone in his hand. His brows were furrowed.

“Yes?”

Yuuri made the one moment gesture with his other hand and disappeared back into the bathroom. Victor heard the muted sound of running water and gargling. Cute. When did he start finding gargling cute? When Yuuri did it, that’s when. Yuuri was the exception that broke his every rule. His exception was back in the living room a moment later, toothbrush gone but phone still in hand. “Mila texted me…”

“Is she okay?” Victor asked. The expression on Yuuri’s face was difficult to read. He did not look worried or upset, more confused.

“She’s fine but…” Yuuri lifted his gaze, his lips set in a thin line. “She wants to know if we would be able to make it to Springfield this weekend.”

“Illinois?” Victor asked in surprise. He now understood the confusion. “Why?”

“No, Massachusetts,” Yuuri replied. “For her wedding…”

“For her wedding?” Victor repeated. “As in, she’s intending to get married this weekend?” So much for the long engagement. The last he had heard from Yuuri, his assistant had yet to pick a venue or a wedding date. This was a significant change, and judging by Yuuri’s reaction, he was under the same impression.

“Yeah… Give me a minute, I’m going to call her.” Fingers sweeping across the screen, Yuuri wandered into the bedroom as he dialed the number.

Six months dating, and a four-month engagement with an out-of-the-blue wedding? It could work out; there were couples that stayed happily married on a lot less. When they had gone to the ballet with Mila and her girlfriend, they had given off the impression of being a great couple. They were sweet on each other and got along well. Every time Victor had glanced over at them, he had caught Mila smiling. His doubts about them had calmed then, because he knew that would be the same thing people saw when he was with Yuuri. If they were happy and judged it to be enough time for them, Victor had nothing to say. He would not go placing any bets on the outcome, though.

By the time Yuuri came back out, Victor was shutting down his laptop. Yuuri’s frown was less deeply set, his shoulders slack. Good signs. “Well?”

Yuuri gave him a small smile. “Want to go to a wedding in Massachusetts with me this weekend?”

Victor stood up, nearing him. “I can, but are you okay with that? What about your shop? Don’t you have a client this weekend?”

“I do, but I can have it complete Friday. Guang Hong and Leo can handle the delivery, I don’t need to be there. It’s the end of the month so the cupcake crowd is quiet. I could probably close without too much worry.”

Yuuri still looked slightly worried as he chewed on his lower lip.

“You don’t want to close for a whole weekend, do you?” Victor guessed. He was getting better at reading the anxiety behind Yuuri’s eyes. It darkened the brown, his gaze dropping till it was hidden by his sloping lashes.

“There was a…” Yuuri trailed off.

Victor hooked his fingers under Yuuri’s chin, gently lifting his face. “There was a what?”

“It’s dumb, I was just thinking about a comment I saw on Instagram.”

“About?”

“Someone said they were hoping to come to New York on the weekend for a last chance at January cupcakes. They’re probably not serious, it’s probably just a comment, but what if they’re serious and they come from wherever and we’re closed?”

“Maybe they’re from Jersey,” Victor said.

Yuuri glared but laughed. “You’re right, it’s not a big deal.”

“If that worry is going to prevent you from enjoying the wedding of a close friend, it is a big deal,” Victor replied. Yuuri pushing himself was good. Yuuri deviating from the norm was good. Yuuri fretting and stressed over a weekend he was meant to enjoy wasn’t.

“I can’t not go, though!”

“Of course not.”

“Or tell her that this weekend isn’t the best timing.”

With Yuuri’s schedule, there would never be good timing for a surprise wedding. “Then you need to consider the alternatives.”

The crease returned to Yuuri’s brows. “What are the alternatives?”

“The alternative is you go while keeping the shop open. You’ve got other staff. You told me yourself a couple of weeks ago that Guang Hong’s cupcakes had come out super cute. They know how the shop operates. You still have a few days, but this could be a trial run.” Yuuri trusted his shop with Mila, because she had been there with him to get it off the ground from the very beginning. His concerns lay in leaving his shop when Mila could not be there to manage in his place. Which, to Victor, simply meant that Yuuri needed to train someone else he could trust. He knew that would not be as easy as it sounded in his head.

Yuuri always went quiet when he was thinking deeply. Victor did not rush him, even though it was definitely past Yuuri’s self-imposed bedtime. No matter which decision Yuuri made, he would have a hell of a week ahead of him.

“I’ll talk to everyone tomorrow,” Yuuri said after a minute, glancing up to meet Victor’s eyes. “But that might be a good idea.”

Victor beamed. “Okay. Now turn around and march. I’m going to tuck you into bed.”

Chuckling, Yuuri nodded and spun. He wiggled his hips, walking away. “Only if you come join me.”

Victor could feel his winning case ratio plummeting as he stared after that adorable tush. Luckily, though, he had finished for that evening. He chased after Yuuri, undoing the knot in his tie and popping his shirt buttons. “So, why Springfield?”

 


 

Come the weekend, Victor learned that the location was chosen on Gisella’s suggestion. According to Yuuri, Mila had said something about her fiancée having a grandmother who used to live there and wanting to hold it there in her honor. Also according to Yuuri, the decision to ditch the wedding planning and have a runaway ceremony came from Gisella as well. The fuss, the money, the time required to put on a full affair had been straining on both the women, so Mila had agreed. Victor could see the appeal of something quick and simple.

On Saturday morning, Yuri came over to dogsit Makkachin. He rolled his eyes when both Yuuri and Victor made him promise not to feed her any burritos, breakfast or otherwise. They stopped by Yuuri’s shop on their drive out of the city, Yuuri double and triple checking to make sure everything was functioning properly. Victor got their drive playlist ready as he waited.

The trip took them a little over three hours, slowed by traffic and a sprinkling of snow. Victor was grateful that, despite their haste, the women had decided against an outdoor ceremony. The time felt a lot shorter, Yuuri having visibly relaxed once they were outside of the city limits. He even joined Victor in singing a couple of choruses from the songs playing, laughing whenever he caught Victor’s eyes.

Despite the light dusting of snow, it was a bit warmer than it had been in New York. Yuuri let out an impressed whistle when they drove past the casino where the reception was going to be held. It was brand new, though a portion of the grounds housed a restored armory built in the 19th century. Victor had seen pictures of the outside. The façade would make for good wedding photos.

Check-in went without issues and after they dropped their bags off in the room, Yuuri dragged Victor out to the armory. The inside of it was gorgeously rustic, with exposed brick and high ceilings from which hung grand chandeliers. A small pipe organ rested against one of the back walls. Victor hummed to himself, smiling when Yuuri squeezed hard at his hand. “What?”

“It’s perfect!” Yuuri exclaimed, the surprise evident in his tone.

Victor bit back a laugh. “You were expecting it to be bad?”

“I thought it would be… worse? For an overnight selection,” Yuuri defended, an embarrassed blush spreading over his cheeks. “It’s beautiful. With the flowers and decorations tomorrow, it’ll be stunning. I wouldn’t mind get—” He cut himself off sharply and ducked his head, turning to look around the building once again.

Victor had a guess at what Yuuri had been about to say. He let Yuuri’s hand go, walking to the organ and touching one of the keys. The sound from the pipes came out deep and rich. If he were to judge with objective eyes, it did have all the appearances of a perfect if not unique wedding venue. “Too bad about the cake.” Due to the change in plans, Yuuri had been unable to be the one to make a wedding cake. Instead, one was going to be provided by the casino’s catering services.

“It’s fine, I can relax. I’ll make them honeymoon cupcakes. With crescent moons made out of hard honey candy,” Yuuri said, drifting closer to Victor. His smile stretched wide, lighting up his entire expression.

“That sounds amazing. Can I have an order?” Victor asked, tugging Yuuri to him.

Yuuri paused for a split second before responding. “They’re for honeymoons only.”

“Hmmm.” Leaning in, Victor kissed Yuuri’s lips. He loved the way they stayed curved upwards in a maintained smile. “Let’s go find the girls to make sure they made it okay? And afterwards, I want to see if I can win enough at Blackjack to spoil you with very expensive wine at dinner.”

Yuuri kept their fingers laced as they made their way across the plaza back to the casino.

In spite of his work, Victor had been to a few weddings. Not many and with the exception of the Leroys’, they had taken place several years prior. A pair of friends from high school, a couple he had studied law with. Neither of the weddings had been particularly enjoyable and both relationships had ended messily. Victor had actually represented one of the high school friends in the divorce. However, here with Yuuri bubbling and excited, it was easy to get caught up in the swing of it.

Victor tagged along after Yuuri as he and Mila ran through their checklist ahead of the ceremony, confirming with catering, with facilities, with the officiant she had hired. He had nothing to offer other than encouragement, left to feel like a third wheel. Apparently they agreed, because when the fiancée’s father showed up, they dumped Victor on him. He had no objections, offering the suggestion of a visit to one of the bars on the casino floor. It was enthusiastically accepted.

Celestino was a likeable man, although if Victor had met him on the street he would have pegged him as a biker or rockstar rather than a ballet instructor due to the volume of his long hair. They had met a few times before, on the evenings Victor had stopped by the studio to pick Yuuri up from his classes, and had gotten along well.

They toasted drinks and made small talk. Victor asked Celestino how he felt about the wedding, a question to which Celestino sighed heavily, stating that he was glad his daughter had found someone to “tame her wildness.” Victor laughed at that. From what he knew of Mila, she was wild herself. Celestino asked about his relationship with Yuuri. Victor assured that he could not imagine being happier with anyone else.

Two rounds of drinks in, Victor’s phone had yet to light up with any messages from Yuuri. He invited Celestino to join him at one of the card tables, but Celestino denied him, giving the excuse that he was not a gambler. They traded phone numbers. Victor bid him a good evening and reminded him not order too many more drinks.

Yuuri found him not long after, laying his hands on Victor’s back and leaning over his shoulder to peek at the cards in Victor’s hands. Victor had a couple more chips than he had started out with, smiling when the next hand he was dealt turned up double face cards. “Seems like you’re my lucky charm.”

“You’d better hope so, I’m holding you to that bottle of wine whether you win or lose.”

Victor had clearly spoken too soon, because his next two bids went to the house. Yuuri laughed against his ear as Victor’s shoulders slumped. He placed a smaller bid for the third round. “Everything going well upstairs?”

“Yeah,” Yuuri nodded, staying behind Victor to watch him play. “I saw the cake.”

“And?”

“Ehhh.”

Victor bit the inside of his cheeks, a grin breaking through. “Don’t tell that to the brides.”

“Ohhh, you should see Mila’s outfit. It’s not a dress, it’s a… like a dress-suit hybrid. I can’t describe it but it’s beautiful.”

“How about Gisella’s?” The dealer went over; Victor earned back his bid and kept it in.

“She’s got a dress, it looks lovely. I didn’t see her, though. Mila said she was collecting her guests.”

Another good hand for Victor. The guy two seats over was struggling, though, tapping his knuckles nervously against the edge of the table. “And they remembered to bring their license?”

“Yes! I made sure,” Yuuri confirmed.

“Good.” Victor separated his stack of chips in two and pushed one of the halves into the betting ring. Yuuri squeezed his shoulder. “They’re five dollar chips,” Victor chuckled, reaching back to pat the back of his palm. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to lose Makkachin’s retirement fund.”

Yuuri still held his breath as the cards were dealt. A jack and… ace. Victor spun in the stool and kissed him, drinking in the chime of Yuuri’s laugh. He grabbed his chips and passed a tip to the dealer, placing his winnings into Yuuri’s hands. “Let’s go get you that bottle of wine, love.”

As it would happen, the wine selection at the casino steakhouse only listed wines in the standard affordable range. Victor acted crestfallen as they were forced to match their orders with the single Cabernet on the menu. The waiter claimed they were still expanding their wine list and that a greater variety would be available the following month. Dinner remained enjoyable regardless, Yuuri’s foot continuously nudging Victor’s ankles under the table.

The food was good, the wine paired well, and they were in high spirits at the end of the meal. They left the restaurant smiling, Victor’s arm around Yuuri’s waist as they wove between slot machines in order to get back to the lobby and the elevators to the hotel rooms. Yuuri texted Mila, confirming their morning schedule and wishing her good night. Out of the corner of his eye, Victor thought he saw Gisella, and he turned his head with the thought to greet her.

It was her, but she was not alone. Celestino was with her, his hands up in the air and expression undeniably angry. She had her arms crossed over her chest, her posture defensive. Victor could not hear them from their distance but he could recognize an argument anywhere. Yuuri was still texting, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips, unaware. Victor held his tongue. Family argued, it was none of their business. The elevator dinged, doors opening.

Yuuri stepped inside, selected their floor, and leaned against Victor’s side. He yawned, lashes fluttering. Cute. Victor rubbed circles along Yuuri’s hip with his thumb. Cute and happy. Victor did not need to risk upsetting that, not on the evening before a close friend’s wedding.

In their hotel room, they laid out their suits for the following day, and then Yuuri pulled Victor into the shower with him. As a method for washing away nagging concerns at the back of his mind, it was very effective. The rest of their evening passed blissfully and without dramatic event. Victor only hoped the rest of the weekend would follow suit.

 


 

Yuuri wondered if a cracked iPhone screen counted as a broken mirror, since it was made of glass. Breaking a phone screen was probably bad luck enough in itself, but he was willing to sacrifice his if it meant fixing the issue at hand. He had been awoken a few hours prior by his phone buzzing consistently and unlocked it to see thirty-some missed calls from Mila. His first, instant worry was that someone had died. That might have been easier to deal with.

“What do you mean you can’t find her?!”

Mila’s bride was missing. And had been missing all night.

Yuuri had rushed out of his hotel room without changing out of his sleepwear, finding Mila on the verge of tears in hers. Gisella had never returned to their room and no one could say where she was. Calls to her phone went straight to voicemail. Celestino was also not in his room, nor were any calls connecting to him.

They searched everywhere they could think of, spoke to the hotel’s front desk, and Mila had even contacted Gisella’s landlord back in New York. The car that they had rented for the trip was still in the casino parking garage. She had simply vanished.

Yuuri might have been more of a wreck if Mila had not actually been holding herself together quite well. Gisella’s maid of honor, Sara, was keeping her grounded. It was probably nothing, she assured; a few drinks too many before the nerves of a big night, and she had probably fallen asleep in the room of one of her friends with a dead phone battery. That made sense, Yuuri forced himself to agree. She would be showing up any minute, rushed and apologetic.

Another hour passed.

A knock on the door made them all jump. Sara ran over to open it, only for it to be Victor. For once, Yuuri barely noticed how good he looked dressed in a fitted suit. Yuuri had run from their room in the morning without waking him or leaving a note, and there were sure to be concerned messages if he looked at his phone.

“You’re still in your pajamas,” Victor observed as Yuuri pushed him out into the hallway, his hands flat on Victor’s chest. “What’s going on?”

Yuuri launched into it, his voice quivering throughout the entire explanation, fingers gripping into the lapel of Victor’s suit. Gisella was gone, Victor, she was gone. They had called everyone they could think of, no one knew where she was, no one remembered seeing her since late afternoon. They had talked to hotel staff and gotten nowhere. They had tried talking to the casino and gotten a run-around. What if she got cold feet, what if she ran off? Except nothing else was missing, all her things were still in the room. What were they going to do, the guests had arrived, the ballroom was ready for the reception, the officiant was calling wondering what was happening, how were they going to—

Victor took Yuuri’s shaking hands in his own and raised them up, kissing the backs of his palms. “Yuuri, breathe.”

Yuuri quieted, clenching his jaw as he nodded. His thoughts were running a million miles a minute, trying to figure out if there was someplace they had missed, if there was someone they had not talked to. He had considered calling the police, except logically he knew a report of a bride gone missing the day of a wedding would be discounted as a runaway. He made himself meet the concern in Victor’s blue eyes and breathe.

“What time is the ceremony?” Victor asked.

“It's in an hour!” Everything was set to go. The problem was they only had one half of the intended couple.

“Is Mila ready?”

“Sara started on her hair but…” Every text on their phones, every noise out in the hall was a vivid distraction.

“Get her dressed,” Victor said, his tone commanding. “Do her makeup, do whatever you need to. Get her ready and get her down to the altar. I'll find Gisella.”

“How are you going to find her?” They had already done everything they could think of. Yuuri could not imagine what kind of avenue was left to pursue.

“I’m a lawyer, Yuuri.” Victor gave him a soft, reassuring smile. “Divorce or not, it’s a title with some sway. Go get her ready and get yourself ready. Okay?”

“Okay.” The kiss Victor touched to his cheek before leaving calmed Yuuri’s heart rate. He did not know what Victor was going to do or how he intended to look for Gisella, but Yuuri did know that Victor was said to be very good at his job. How those skills transferred over in this situation, he could not be sure, yet Yuuri felt comfortable putting his faith in Victor. If anyone could pull off a miracle, it would be him. After all, Victor had managed to make Yuuri fall head over heels for a divorce lawyer.

Victor had one of the hotel staff run Yuuri’s suit to him, so he could get dressed without leaving Mila. Sara finished styling Mila’s hair and helped her perfect her makeup. Mila was beyond stunning in a fitted white bodysuit, swirling patterns of sparkling silver weaving up her chest and over her shoulders. If anything prevented her from getting married that day, Yuuri fully intended to file criminal charges against that anything.

The time ticked down. Thirty minutes till the scheduled ceremony. Twenty, fifteen, ten. There was the sliding sound of a keycard in the slot. The door opened, pushed in by Victor. A messy-haired, rumpled and exhausted Gisella trailed behind him.

Mila clasped her hands to her mouth and rushed over, throwing her arms around her fiancée. They tipped their foreheads together, speaking in hushed voices as Gisella gave her explanation for whatever had occurred. Victor stood back, letting the door shut behind them. He was not smiling.

Yuuri snatched his phone from where it had been thrown onto a hotel bed, calling the friend of Mila’s who was keeping the guests from getting too antsy down at the armory. It was not a large party, consisting of a few close friends and relatives who had been able to make the trip on short notice. For that, Yuuri was grateful. They were going to be late, the planned schedule completely thrown off, but they were going to manage. As soon as Yuuri had the chance, he was going to give Victor the kiss of a lifetime.

“Sara, can you help her get ready?” Yuuri asked, unnecessarily. Sara had already pulled Gisella’s dress from the closet and dumped the contents of a makeup bag onto a table. “Mila, let’s head down.” Mila nodded, releasing Gisella’s hands. The relief was radiating from her entire body. “Victor, can you stay with them and keep us updated?”

“Yes, but—”

“Good, okay.”

Yuuri did not get out the door, Victor grabbing his wrist. “Yuuri, I need to talk to you.”

“After,” Yuuri replied. Once they had Gisella ready and everyone down at the venue, there would be a minute to breathe properly and a chance to talk. Yuuri needed to apologize for likewise abandoning Victor in their room without explaining where he had gone. “Did you find Celestino?”

“He’s with the casino security still, sorting out—”

“He’s fine too?”

“Yeah, he’s fine. He’ll be here soon—”

Yuuri tipped up and pecked Victor’s cheek. “We need to go. Thank you, Victor.”

Despite their tardiness, the guests all appeared to be doing just fine. The armory had been strung with white ribbons and bouquets of lilies. The chandeliers appeared to be shining brighter than yesterday, twinkling overhead to illuminate the chairs and archway that had been set up inside. A hired organist was keeping the guests entertained with music that may have been viewed as too upbeat for the instrument, though it was in theme since nothing about the ceremony was conventional.

Mila went around, speaking quietly to family and friends, apologizing and thanking them for waiting. Yuuri kept his phone in hand. He ended up not needing it, as twenty-some minutes later Sara was at the doors, waving at him. Gisella was with her, a layer of lightened concealer hiding the tiredness under her eyes beautifully. They had foregone the planned up-do, simply brushing out her dark locks and spritzing them with hair glitter. Sara had also worked a miracle in making her look wedding-ready in such a short period of time. If Yuuri had not know better, he would imagine it was all according to plan.

Walking across the plaza were Victor and Celestino, engaged in heavy conversation. Yuuri did not wait for them, gesturing Sara and Gisella inside so they could begin the procession. The organist saw them and started to play the first few notes of the wedding march. The guests who were out of their seats scrambled to find them.

Gisella joined Mila at the altar, the women swapping smiles. Mila reached forward, taking the hands of her bride. The officiant behind them seemed relieved at the lack of animosity between the two. Yuuri was too. He was sure that whatever had happened would make for an amusing story told at the reception.

As the officiant began to recite the ceremonial script, Yuuri found his seat near the front. The chair beside him was empty, Victor and Celestino off to the side continuing their conversation in hushed voices. It was not until Mila and Gisella began to read their vows to one another that they finished and separated, Victor coming to take his seat next to Yuuri. The frown on his lips cut deep.

Yuuri expected Victor to say something, to continue whatever he had wanted to tell Yuuri earlier. Instead, he sat with stiff posture and a tightened jaw. Glancing over his shoulder, Yuuri saw that Celestino looked equally displeased, watching the ceremony with his arms crossed over his chest. Suddenly, Yuuri felt less self-assured.

Yuuri placed his hand on Victor’s thigh, getting his attention. “Is something wrong?”

“Yes,” Victor replied, his voice low but firm, “but you did not want to listen to me earlier when I tried to tell you. Why would you listen now?”

The words stung and Yuuri’s heart plummeted into the pit of his stomach. He had missed something, something potentially important. A few feet away from them, Mila and Gisella were finishing their exchange of vows. “Victor… what happened? Why was Gisella gone?”

Victor turned and leaned in close, so he could speak quietly against Yuuri’s ear. “According to Celestino, Gisella does not have a grandmother who used to live here. Both his parents and his ex-wife’s parents never left Italy. Gisella chose here because this casino is new and, as a result, is the only one in a five-hundred-mile radius which has yet to blacklist her. She’s a casino cheat. She was gone all night because she was caught past-posting the roulette tables and was being held by security. But to you, rushing a wedding is more important than preventing your friend from marrying someone who turns out to have a rather significant record.”

“W-what?” Yuuri snapped his head back around, staring at Gisella. Mila had never mentioned it, had never once said anything which indicated that her fiancée had a spotted past. When she talked of Gisella, it was always about her charms, her smarts, her confidence. About how Gisella was an angel that had blessed her life. Which meant Mila did not know. Probably did not know. “But Ciao Ciao…”

“Gisella promised him that she was done with that, and that a wedding at a casino was the perfect way to prove it to him. He spent the entire morning convincing casino security not to throw all of us out immediately.”

That was a lot of information to take in at once. Half of Yuuri was trying to convince the other half that it was not true, it could not possibly be true. He liked Gisella, and Mila very obviously loved her. But if it was true, it was something Mila needed to be aware of. Victor had tried to warn him, had tried to pull him off to the side, no doubt so that they could confirm whether this was something that Mila already knew and had accepted. Not everyone was perfect. People had flaws, big ones on occasion. It did not make them bad people, it did not make them… “Does Mila know?”

Victor shook his head. “According to Celestino, no. He doesn’t think Gisella told her.”

It was wrong, it was all wrong. This was supposed to be a happy occasion, a beautiful ceremony with Mila marrying the love of her life. Yes, it had been a bit rushed, and yes, a bit messy, but so what? Relationships were not perfect, weddings were not perfect. Mistakes happened, mistakes could be fixed. Not this. Mila was standing at the altar, the most beautiful Yuuri had ever seen her, sliding a wedding band on Gisella’s finger. Yuuri was not about to let her make a mistake like this, especially not because of him.

Yuuri stood up so quickly, his chair fell backwards, clattering to the floor. For one breathless moment, the entire room stared at him in surprised silence. And then, Yuuri shouted, “I object!”

Chapter Text

The send button on an email had never looked more intimidating. Yuuri had been going back and forth about whether to accept or reject the invitation staring back at him, scripted formally in two different languages. That day at his shop, he had spoken to Mila about it and received her whole-hearted encouragement. That in itself had been a relief.

After the unmitigated disaster which had been Mila’s wedding, Yuuri would not have been surprised if she quit working for him and never forgave him. Yuuri still could not think about the ceremony without wanting to sink into the carpet with embarrassment, because after his outburst, there had been chaos and confusion. The image of Victor burying his face in his palms beside Yuuri would likely haunt him for the rest of his life.

As Yuuri had later learned, Victor had already had a plan to stop the wedding, except his method was far more subtle and far less disruptive. He and Celestino had intended to pull Mila and Gisella aside after the ceremony, before they signed the marriage certificate. It would not have been ideal, but it would have avoided the spectacle Yuuri had made with his pointed objection. The reception had gone on even after all that had happened, without the brides, and had been the most awkward occasion Yuuri had ever witnessed. The wedding cake had been left uncut, no one thinking it appropriate. It was instead given to the casino staff, after Yuuri had scraped off the celebratory lettering atop it.

The day after the would-be wedding, Mila had ridden back to New York with Victor and Yuuri, as she and Gisella had—at least temporarily—broken up. Mila had told Yuuri that she still intended to take a week off as she had originally planned in order to go on her honeymoon trip with a friend instead. Yuuri had told her that was perfectly fine. She had then told him she wanted another week off to do some heavy thinking and a deep self-analysis. Yuuri had agreed that sounded like a good idea.

That morning, before they opened, Yuuri had sat down with Mila in the back of the shop to talk. He apologized to her, again, as if he had not already done so a hundred times in person and over the phone. Instead of quitting, she thanked him. For looking out for her, for not letting her become an article about a woman who divorced only hours after her wedding, and for helping her witness something she never thought she would get a chance to see: a real-life wedding objection.

And that was the thing about Mila which Yuuri would never be able to get over: her ability to bounce right back on her feet after any type of disaster, cake-related or not. They had spent the day working together as smoothly as they had before, with the only difference being that Mila’s engagement ring was gone. She had returned it, after making the decision that she could not stay with someone who could not be honest with her despite a rough situation.

Meanwhile, Yuuri had been mediating his own relationship. The couple of days after the ceremony had not gone smoothly; they had passed largely in silence, as both he and Victor struggled with what to say to one another. Yuuri had known that Victor was upset with how Yuuri had shrugged off his attempts to deliver the warning before the ceremony. Yuuri did not blame him for being angry, because Yuuri should have listened. He had wanted to talk to Victor about it, to explain himself and how he had been too caught up in trying to make the wedding happen. Except he had not wanted it to sound like he was giving excuses.

Yuuri had not known where to begin, what to say, or how to apologize. He was also afraid, because breaching the topic would likely bring them to the conversation that sat as taboo between them. He did not want this to be where they broke, what caused the balanced beam that was their relationship to tip and send them plummeting off the cliff of no return. However, he knew they had to. At some point, the topic of their disagreement on marriage had to happen.

Yuuri did not want a proposal, he did not expect one. But Victor asking him to move in was clearly something. All Yuuri wanted to know was where they were headed. They talked about future trips together without really talking about plans for the future. They needed to, because now when Yuuri thought about five years or ten years down the line, he was not sure where he would be but he knew that whenever that was, he wanted to be there with Victor. And he suspected that Victor did too.

What they had was the perfect opportunity. Mila’s crashed wedding was, objectively, not a good thing. However, they could use it to finally ease into that conversation and through it, understand each other and perhaps strengthen their relationship. All they needed to do was talk about it.

On the third tense evening back in New York, Yuuri had lain in their bed, the room dark and the time past midnight. He had been unable to sleep, thoughts spinning like a whirlwind in his head. Victor was out in the living room working, while Yuuri debated whether he should go out and confront him. Get it over with. He was scared that if he did it would start a fight and he did not want to go to work the next morning after having spent half the night crying.

When Victor had finally come into the room and slipped between the sheets, Yuuri’s heart had been racing. They had slept at opposite sides of the bed the past few nights and Yuuri could not stand it anymore. He hated how it felt, the air so grim that a funeral would have been lighter. He had been ready to speak when Victor’s arm slid around his waist, his chest pressing into Yuuri’s back. Yuuri stayed motionless as Victor’s lips touched one of his shoulders, listening as Victor murmured something in Russian. Yuuri did not understand it but the sweet heartache in Victor’s tone had him turning to throw his arms around Victor and kiss him until everything was right between them.

They should have talked then, but they didn’t. They got caught up in the desperate apologies of each other’s kisses, Yuuri threading his fingers through Victor’s hair while Victor’s hand cradled the small of his back. Yuuri whispered against Victor’s mouth, telling him that he was sorry for not listening and that all he wanted now was for Victor to not be angry any longer. Victor muttered back that he wasn’t, that he could understand and that the important part was that it had turned out fine. Before long they were tangled in the sheets, skin to skin, with Yuuri crying out in a more intimate manner.

Come the following morning, everything had seemed bright and beautiful again. Yuuri had laughed when Victor lifted him out of bed and carried him to the kitchen for coffee, Makkachin barking at them as she bounced behind them. Just like that, things between them had gone back to normal and neither of them had seen the need to risk spoiling that. They could keep moving forward, a little at a time.

Staring at the laptop screen, Yuuri took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He closed his eyes and counted down from ten in his head, calming his rapidly escalating nerves. It would be fine, it was not a big deal. It was something that he wanted, something he could handle, and it was something Victor would be happy for. He had already written his acceptance. All he needed to do now was send it.

Yuuri snapped open his eyes and—the doorbell rang. Relief flooded through him, though so did guilt for letting himself take the excuse. Yuuri made it three steps toward the door before he turned around and rushed back to the laptop, clicking the blue send button. He smiled. It actually felt a lot less intimidating now that he had sent it.

The bell rang again.

“Coming!”

With Mila back at work, Yuuri had taken a slightly earlier day than usual so he could get home and get ready for his evening date with Victor. They had been busy throughout the morning and afternoon, delivering and filling orders for Valentine’s Day cakes and cupcakes. Yuuri had run a one-week special, making chocolate-lava cupcakes topped with a thick pink whipped cream and a chocolate-covered strawberry. The lines were as long and shop as hectic as usual, but Yuuri had come to the realization that now if he released a new flavor which failed to generate a buzz, he would actually be disappointed.

Yuuri opened the door to a surprise but not the one he had been hoping for. He thought he might be greeted by a giant bouquet of scarlet roses, Victor’s arms too full to open the door on his own. He was greeted, instead, by Chris. Not an unpleasant surprise, by any account. “Hey! Oh, happy birthday! What are you doing here?”

“I came to talk to Victor but I guess I beat him here?” Chris said, offering Yuuri a weak smile.

Holding the door open to let Chris in, Yuuri took a step back. “He should be headed out of the office soon.” They had both been swamped with work for the past couple of weeks. Yuuri had cakes for a wedding upstate and another in Jersey, plus all the Valentine’s Day orders. Victor had been spending extra time helping Yuri finalize his case so that he could start on his transfer over to prenups. Apparently, Victor had taken pity on Yuri’s misery and let him make the decision ahead of time. Yuuri thought it made sense. Since Yuri had hated working in messy divorces, prenups would allow him the opportunity to help couples avoid that in the future. It would be a smart move, especially since Yuri’s cutthroat directness would work more as a benefit for his client in that situation rather than in divorce negotiations.

“Are you going out tonight?” Chris asked, following Yuuri into the living room. He took a seat on the sofa next to Makkachin, reaching over to rub behind her ears.

“Yeah, dinner date,” Yuuri said. Since they had not gotten their fancy Christmas dinner, they had thought it was a good idea to make it up with a fancy Valentine’s dinner. Not at the same restaurant, though. “I thought you and Matthieu would be doing something too?”

“He’s abroad for Four Continents,” Chris explained. “Actually, we’ve been arguing a lot lately.”

“Oh.” The last time Yuuri had talked to Chris, he had seemed a bit down but insisted it was nothing when Yuuri had asked. “About?”

“Little stuff with the wedding mostly, but it was about Victor this time and it didn’t go well.”

Yuuri had received his formal invite to their wedding the previous month. It had been sent to the brownstone, for one specific reason. “You still haven’t told him.”

“How am I supposed to tell him now? How do I begin to explain?” Chris asked, slumping against the sofa. “I didn’t intend for it to go on for this long and now it’s… it’s ridiculous. Matt made the point that by not telling him, I’m also making you lie to him and it kinda just blew up from there. He was supposed to be my best man, but now we’re a month off from the wedding and he doesn’t even know about it.”

“If you explain it to him, he’ll listen.” Yuuri knew it was not the ideal situation. If he were in Victor’s position, he would be pretty devastated to find out his best friend was keeping that kind of information from him. Especially since it was out of concern for his reaction. It had been hard for Yuuri too. He wanted to talk about the plans he had for Chris’ cake, his excitement for their ceremony. Instead he had to stop himself on multiple occasions, caught his tongue because he would have felt awful if he were to be the one who spoiled it.

“I know he’ll listen, it’s his response I am worried about.”

Yuuri could understand that too. If he found out Phichit had a year-long engagement that everyone knew about but him, he could not imagine how he would react. He would be upset, even angry. It would feel like a betrayal of trust and he would hate whatever part of himself had yielded that result. “Maybe it’d be better if Matthieu talked to him?” He and Victor were not nearly as close, which might dampen the news and make Victor more receptive.

“Matt’s not talking to me right now,” Chris muttered with emphasis, sighing heavily. “I’ve screwed this up pretty badly for someone who is supposed to specialize in communication. Is getting married supposed to be this complicated?”

“At least you’re not Mila?” Yuuri offered with a small smile.

Chris laughed. “Yeah, I heard about that. There’s a mess, too. I admit, I did think it was amusing that out of all the couples in our circle, you and Victor are the ones who are doing the best.”

“You’re getting married,” Yuuri said pointedly. He did think that he and Victor had made for a good couple, but their relationship was not perfect either. Even during the most blissful days, Yuuri felt like they were treading mine fields. All it was going to take was a single wrong step for everything to go wrong.

“Maybe…”

“It’s not bad, is it?” Yuuri sat down next to Chris. He found that hard to believe. Every time he had seen Chris and Matthieu together, they could not have looked happier. Yuuri had been thrilled when he had heard Chris had started going steady with someone. Matthieu did not make Chris tone down his salacious and flirty nature, while Chris supported Matthieu’s work despite it taking him away from the city so often.

“I don’t know. I didn’t think so but recently, whenever we talk, it turns into another argument. He’s busy so I’m left to do all the wedding stuff and that’s not really me? I don’t want to bother him with all these dumb questions but I don’t want to make the wrong decisions. Last time I called him and I didn’t realize it was right before he had a program starting. I saw tv footage of him in the background later and he looked so upset, and I couldn’t even apologize for two whole days because of the time difference and everything he had going on. I keep thinking, if we’re getting to be this unhappy before we get married, how much worse it is going to be after?”

Yuuri bit the inside of his cheeks. He had seen it happen before, once even witnessed a couple breaking up outside his shop midway through their cake tasting. They had been unable to agree on a flavor, though Yuuri had sensed that was the least of their problems. Wedding planning, especially for big ones, was a very effective method of testing the strength of a relationship. However, he did not think the relationship Chris had with Matthieu was that fragile. “Are you doubting the relationship or the wedding?”

Chris, who had been vacuously playing with Makkachin’s floppy ears, glanced up at Yuuri. “Honestly?”

Yuuri nodded.

“I don’t know. Neither? Both?”

“Do you still feel like you’re in love?”

Leaning back, Chris hummed. “...Of course.”

“Then that’s what you need to focus on,” Yuuri said. If the answer had been no, then the solution would have been simple. There would be no use carrying on in that case. “Weddings are stressful. They’re absolutely awful until you actually get to the day. It’s frustrating because it’s unexpected. We all have this vision in our heads of what a wedding is supposed to look like, feel like, and that gets stronger when you actually start thinking about it and planning it. Then finding out that it’s difficult, that there are so many details, so many things to coordinate and schedule and decide, that vision starts to crack. And that can spoil everything else. But you need to remember why you’re doing this. It’s not for the wedding, not really. It’s for the two of you, to have this day when you feel how absolutely in love you are. To make that memory, to stand there and know that this is the person you’re meant to be with. If you can still imagine having that feeling on your wedding day, then you’re going to be okay.”

A smile cracked on Chris’ lips. “You’re really good at selling the wedding thing.”

“By telling you they’re actually horrible?” Yuuri laughed, shaking his head. “They are, up until the moment when you’re at the altar. Then it’s all worth it and you won’t be able to believe you ever thought otherwise.”

“So how do I convince Matthieu then?”

“Do you need to?” Yuuri asked. “You proposed already and he said yes. The stress you’re feeling, the worries you’re having, he probably feels that too. You’re feeling guilty about bothering him, he’s probably feeling guilty about not being able to help because of his work. You just need to talk and be honest with each other. Tell him what you told me, so you can work through it. Isn’t that what you’d tell your clients?”

Chris let out a short scoff and sat up straighter. “You’re absolutely right.”

“Talk to him then,” Yuuri said, lightly nudging at Chris’ knee. “It won’t be easy but it’ll be better. And that way, if you’re watching the competition later, you might be able to see him smiling in the background this time.”

Leaning over the poodle between them, Chris tugged Yuuri into a hug and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, chéri,” he muttered as the apartment lock clicked open.

Yuuri pulled away smiling, glancing over to greet Victor as he came in from the front hall. He looked tired, though there was an expression of amusement on his face. “Am I interrupting something?” Victor called out, fingers hooking into the knot of his tie to loosen it.

“I heard you were keeping our dear Yuuri waiting and came to steal him away,” Chris answered in his usual drawl, good spirit slipping back into his voice. “If you wish to fight for his hand then put them up, buttercup.”

Chuckling, Victor set down his work bag by the side of the sofa. “I think Yuuri prefers Russian to Swiss.”

Chris looked over his shoulder at Yuuri, who shrugged his shoulders in admitted apology. Chris sighed heavily. “Can’t be helped. I must concede defeat.” Standing up, Chris approached Victor. “Do you have a few minutes?”

“Yeah. Yuuri?”

“Oh.” It would likely be best to allow Victor and Chris to have the conversation in private. Yuuri would find out how it went immediately after anyway, and he could use the time to prepare himself in case it did not go well. “I can take Makkachin out, or—”

“I’ll take her,” Victor said. “Will you walk with me?” he asked Chris.

Chris nodded and Victor pushed up the sleeves of his suit jacket. He whistled to Makkachin and grabbed her leash. Chris blew a kiss to Yuuri as they headed out the door, and Yuuri silently wished him luck. He had a feeling it would work out, maybe not well, but just fine.

 


 

Victor had spent half the day helping Yuri review the asset statements sent over by the opposing counsel. After some mediation gone right, his problem couple had decided they would prefer to draft up a settlement rather than try to take all their issues to trial. A smart move, though Yuri had not been the one to convince his client to agree despite his best efforts. It seemed that a transfer into nuptial agreements would suit Yuri better after all.

They had briefly discussed whether Yuri wanted to go into an area of child advocacy, but Victor imagined that dealing with parents fighting over custody and child support would only further infuriate Yuri. In drafting nuptial agreements, Yuri would be able to ensure the separation process was easier, should it happen for his clients down the line. Victor himself saw the appeal.

“So why were you trying to steal my Yuuri?” Victor asked when he, Chris, and Makkachin exited the building. He had gotten a text from Chris early in the afternoon, saying he wanted to come over to talk. Normally, when just the two of them met up, it was at the nearby cocktail lounge. Victor did not recall when they had last gone, but it had to be several months back. Of late, whenever they met up, they each were with their significant others. Victor had found it more enjoyable that way, since they all got along well.

“He was advising me,” Chris replied. “I’ve been having some relationship issues.”

“With Matthieu?” Victor clarified. They crossed the street, heading toward the park. “It’s not the paradise your Instagram selfies would like us to believe it is?”

“Half and half.”

“Which half is the issue?”

Prior to Matthieu, Chris had not been the type to pursue a relationship. He had pursued flings, preferring the temporary to the long-term. They had shared drinks at the lounge to many of Chris’ scandalous stories and, at the start of it, Matthieu seemed like he would follow the pattern. Victor had been surprised when Chris’ tales of conquests turned from descriptors to a single name repeated.

“Both of us. Or maybe just me” Chris said, shrugging his shoulders. “Do you remember that Spaniard I dated for a bit? The banker?”

Victor thought back, searching his memory. “Ah, yes. Mr. Perfect.” One of Chris’ longer-lasting exploits. He and Chris had defiled many of the gay clubs around the city during the couple of months they had been an item. Victor had met him once and remembered him as tall, tanned, and very handsome.

“Exactly. Mr. Perfect,” Chris sighed. “Great job, great ass, and great sex.”

“Is he back?” Victor questioned, arching an eyebrow. From what he remembered, Mr. Perfect had gone back to Europe shortly after he turned out to be less than a perfect match for Chris.

“No, but I was reminded of him the other day. I actually thought I could go steady with him.”

“Until the fight.”

“Until the fight.”

On the night Victor had met Mr. Perfect, Chris had been his usual flirty self and had flirted with Victor in front of his new boyfriend. It had not gone over well and the resulting argument had ended with Chris leaving the bar they had been in with the bartender. “Has Matthieu started acting jealous?”

“No, nothing like that,” Chris waved in dismissal. “But I thought, I’d actually quite liked Mr. Perfect. And yet, the moment there was a single inconvenience, I ditched him. Didn’t even think twice about it. Matt and I have been together three years now. I love him, but am I really the type to settle down? We’ve been having so many arguments recently, and then I go to work and I look at all these other couples that are struggling. Some of them, the longer they stay together, the more they start to resent each other. You know exactly how it is. It starts small and snowballs. I’m afraid that is going to happen to us. Or worse, it’ll turn out that I really am not the type that can stay with one person through the thick and thin. What if Matthieu is Mr. Also Perfect and after another one of our arguments I’m left so bitter I treat him the same as the last one? Go off with a bartender while he’s coaching some world champion in Korea? That’s more in line with my character than toughing through it.”

“Are you considering settling down?” Victor asked. Chris did not exactly share Victor’s views that the expectation and pressure of marriage wrecked more relationships than it helped. For approximately fifty percent of the couples who went into it, it would turn out to be a needless complication. Chris did agree with Victor on that point, knowing that many of his clients could have avoided key issues if they had waited to marry or not felt the need to get hitched in the first place. If Chris was debating a serious commitment, it meant his relationship with Matthieu went even deeper than Victor had realized.

“I’ve…” Chris paused, choosing his words, “...considered it.”

“Yet you have this much doubt?” Victor said, letting Makkachin’s leash go long as she sniffed at bushes. “From the start?”

“Not from the start,” Chris answered. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I was very confident at the start. Less so now.”

“Could that be because you already know the answer?” Victor suggested. “If you’re not sure, though, then maybe you need to take some time to seriously think about it. Whether this is a relationship you want to dedicate yourself to, for however long. Or if it has run its course.”

“You think we’ve run our course?”

“That’s not something I can tell you.” Victor tugged on Makkachin’s leash, pulling away from her bush since she seemed stuck on smelling one branch in particular. “But I know that you’re talking to me and you’re talking to Yuuri, when you could be talking to your partner. In my experience, it’s because you’re looking for someone to tell you something you already know.”

Chris went quiet. He stayed quiet until they passed the carousel, the lights off and music absent at half an hour past closing time. “You think I should break up with him?”

“I am not suggesting that,” Victor asserted. He did not want to tell Chris how to handle his relationship, especially if Chris was not certain himself. Although, he had the feeling there was more that Chris was not telling him. “But are you? What would you tell your clients in this situation?”

“I would try to lead them into forming their own conclusion,” Chris replied, monotone. “Like you’re doing now. While knowing that if a breakup is so high up on their list of choices after all other considerations, it is likely to be the conclusion that they will reach.”

“Then you’ve answered your own question. If not a breakup, then a break. Give yourself time to think about what you want. If you force it, it’ll only get worse. That’s when the resentment starts.”

Chris let out a curt, defeated laugh and groaned. He lifted a hand, combing his fingers through his cropped hair and rubbing at the back of his neck. “Yeah, you’re right. Better now than after the wedding, hmm?”

Victor laughed. “That would be the day. Christophe Giacometti, husband. I think I remember you saying that hell might freeze over first?”

“That was you, chéri. I am not so jaded.”

“Well, if your Mr. Actually Perfect does ever come along, know I’ll support you.” Victor offered a smile.

“Even if I ask you to be my best man?”

“Even then,” Victor said. “Yuuri’s managed to convince me that not all weddings are awful, despite the problems marriage presents. Just be sure of what you’re getting yourself into.”

Huffing out an agreement, Chris did not continue the conversation. They made their way back toward Victor’s building, turning to part in front of it. Chris kissed Victor’s cheek and said his thanks for the conversation, following it up by lightly touching the back of Victor’s hand.

“A favor?” Chris asked. “Don’t tell Yuuri yet. Matthieu will be back in a couple of days, I’ll talk to him then and then I’ll tell Yuuri myself. I wouldn’t wish to spoil your date tonight.”

“Of course,” Victor nodded in understanding. Whatever Chris and Yuuri had talked about, if it had been along the same lines, their advice may have been contradicting. “Call me after, we’ll go grab drinks and drown your sorrows. I’ve heard Yuuri’s cakes are just as good for breakups as they are for weddings.”

Chris laughed dryly as he stepped up to the curb, hailing a cab. “I guess I’ll be finding out soon. Have a good evening, Victor. Give your Yuuri the kiss he deserves for me.”

Victor promised he would.

 


 

Conversation at dinner was stilted. Yuuri had thought Victor might come back to the apartment upset or thrilled or angry, but it was none of those. He had hung up Makkachin’s leash, given Yuuri a proper homecoming kiss, and asked if he was ready to leave for the restaurant. When Yuuri asked what he and Chris had talked about, Victor dodged around the question, quickly turning the topic to Mila and how she was doing. Luckily, due to the small nature of the wedding, it had not gotten out that Yuuri had put a dramatic stop to the ceremony. There was such a thing as bad press.

Victor kept their topics focused, wanting to know about Yuuri’s cakes, his plans for a March flavor, and whether he thought he might need additional help at the shop come the spring. Yuuri did not want to talk about those. Victor already knew the answers to all of them. The thought to tell Victor about the offer he had received from France hung at the back of his mind, but Yuuri did not feel like it was an important conversation to have at that moment. Victor was acting like a lawyer on the stand, stalling for time, and Yuuri needed to know why before the tannins in his wine turned bitter on his tongue.

There was no reason for Victor to avoid talking about Chris. There was no way Chris had not told him. With each month, each week, that they had gotten closer to his and Matthieu’s wedding, Yuuri had resisted saying something. He did not think it was fair to keep such news from Victor, even though he could understand Chris’ hesitation and how that hesitation had grown the longer he waited. It had become not just about telling Victor of the wedding plans, but also explaining why he had held back the information.

More than once, Yuuri had debated whether he should mention something. Before and after their double-dates, when there had been the opportunity. However, he also felt that it was not his place. He had thought he could push Victor and tell him that there was something important Chris was hesitating to tell him, that he should talk to Chris. Yet, if it had been the wrong moment or if it had resulted in the reveal going badly, Yuuri would have been to blame for wrecking a friendship.

Yuuri did not know how to broach the subject now. If it turned out that Chris had yet again avoided confessing to Victor, Yuuri was not certain he would be able to hold back. Not with the wedding just over a month away, unless Chris meant to surprise Victor on the day of, under the assumption that common manners would prevent him from disrupting the wedding itself.

Twisting the last few strands of his tagliatelle around his fork, Yuuri steeled himself. Just because everyone else was avoiding difficult conversations did not mean he had to follow the pattern. “Did Chris tell you about his plans?”

Victor’s grip on his own fork stiffened, his eyes shifting up to look directly across the table. “Yuuri, I don’t think we should—”

“I need to talk about this,” Yuuri interrupted, adjusting his posture, his spine going rigid. “Because I have the feeling that we had very different conversations with him and I need to know why. What did he tell you?”

“That he and Matthieu are having problems.”

On the same page so far. “And?” Yuuri prompted.

“And that he wasn’t sure if they were going to work out.”

Suddenly, Yuuri had a sense of why Victor had chosen not to mention their conversation. Only one reason made sense. That was if Victor had advised Chris the opposite of what Yuuri had. “Did he tell you why they’ve been having problems?”

Victor did not answer immediately, his brows furrowing. No. That meant no, Chris had not told him that the cause of the arguments and tension was the wedding planning. Yuuri’s jaw tightened as he waited for Victor to respond. “Just that he was thinking about their relationship going forward and how Chris did not think he was the type to settle down.”

Yuuri could have laughed out of frustration. He should not have let them go off and have their conversation in private; he should have made them sit on the apartment sofa together until Chris told Victor the whole truth. No more lies by omission. It had gotten to the point of ridiculousness. After their dinner was finished, Yuuri was going to call Chris and demand he come back to fess up. Otherwise, Yuuri was going to toss out the contract for the wedding cake and his fondness for Chris with it. “He has, you know. Thought about settling down… About getting married.”

“I’m sure he has,” Victor answered, setting down his fork and leaning over the table to speak in a more rushed tone. The restaurant was busy, filled with couples celebrating a holiday of love. An argument over a soon-to-be-delivered dessert plate would surely sour the atmosphere. “But it was very clear to me that he’s not comfortable with the idea. And if Matthieu thinks proposing will help solve whatever issues they’re having, there is clearly a lapse in judgment.”

“Why would them getting married be such a bad thing?” Yuuri demanded, dropping his hands into his lap to hide how they were trembling.

“Why would you push him into something like that when it is obviously something he doesn’t want?” Victor countered. “Is that what happened? Why you’re asking about this? Is Matthieu planning to ask Chris to get married?”

Yuuri was ready to snap back but he didn’t. He kept himself controlled, sitting up straight in his seat. He did not want to continue there, not in public, not like this. They both needed to gather themselves and he needed a moment to figure out how to proceed. “No,” Yuuri muttered and turned, waving down a waiter to ask for their check.

“Yuuri, we’re not finished,” Victor objected.

“Yes, we are,” Yuuri answered. “I want to go home.” At home, they would be able to talk without worrying about making a scene or disrupting the evening for others. The time in between could be used to calm their nerves and start again, from the beginning. Maybe with a more level approach.

When the waiter delivered the check, Yuuri simply handed him a credit card, not bothering to look. All he wanted was to be done and out, away from the crowd and the agitation.

From the table beside theirs, Yuuri heard a gasp. A middle-aged couple had been sitting there, dressed up nicely for their evening out. The man had gotten out from his seat and sunk down on one knee, holding up a small velvet box. Of course. A Valentine’s Day proposal. How romantic. The rest of the restaurant patrons burst into applause when the woman nodded yes. Across from Yuuri, Victor’s arms were folded over his chest, his expression vexed.

As soon as Yuuri’s card was returned to him in the black booklet, he signed the receipt and filled in a generous tip. He was then up on his feet, barely waiting for his date to follow.

“Sure you don’t want to leave them your business card?” Victor asked as they left the restaurant, his hands in his pockets and his tone cold.

“Do you?” Yuuri retorted, grabbing them the first cab he saw. Once they were inside, he gave the driver their address and took out his phone, firing off a few rapid texts to Chris.

The ride from the East Village restaurant back to their apartment was slowed by the holiday traffic. Half of it passed in silence, Yuuri’s gaze down on his phone and Victor’s out the cab windows. They had passed Midtown when Victor turned and tentatively set a hand on Yuuri’s knee. It would have been easy to shrug off or push away, and Yuuri was tempted for a moment. However, that would not solve anything. Exhaling his irritation, Yuuri placed his hand atop Victor’s, which flipped and laced their fingers together. The tension settled.

Victor paid the driver when the car stopped in front of their building and held the door open for Yuuri. The quiet was present but Yuuri leaned against Victor in the elevator, phone still in hand. He had made the right decision to leave the restaurant. He could count on one hand the number of arguments he and Victor had had over the course of their relationship, each solved with time and discussion. Even the one from their first date. Back then, Yuuri had thought he would have regretted giving Victor a second chance. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Victor had the key in the door when Yuuri’s phone buzzed with a response from Chris. The texts Yuuri had sent had been questions, asking Chris why he had not told Victor about the engagement, asking what he was supposed to say, how he was supposed to handle Chris’ seeming conviction that Chris and Matthieu might be better off separate. The answer he had gotten back was a short one, but it did provide a decent explanation to everything.

“Yuuri?” Victor was standing inside the entranceway, the lights switched on, Makkachin wagging her tail at his side.

Yuuri did not step inside, remaining out in the hall. He reread the text, his shoulders and heart sinking. “You told him to break up with Matthieu?”

“I did not.”

“But you encouraged him?” Yuuri dropped his phone to his side, moving into the apartment and shutting the door firmly behind him. “And that’s why you didn’t want to talk to me? Because you’d just ruined their relationship?!”

“I didn’t ruin anything,” Victor said, following him into the living room. “I told him he should take time to consider what he wants out of the relationship, which includes whether he wants the relationship or not. Whatever decision he makes will be his own.”

“People get scared, Victor.” Yuuri was already having a hard time keeping his voice steady. It was not Victor’s fault; he did not know the whole truth. He did not understand the real situation. “They get scared about making a commitment but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be together!”

“Why are you so determined to pressure him toward that?” Victor questioned, closing the distance between them. “I know you liked them together. I did too. They were good together, but people break up. It happens. This is his decision and you need to accept that Chris was not ready to settle down. Matthieu wasn’t the right person for him.”

“He was!” Yuuri bundled his hands into the hem of his shirt, gripping at the fabric. If Victor knew the truth, maybe he would have a different opinion. Maybe he would not be so quick to encourage Chris to throw away a great relationship at the first prick of cold in his feet. Chris had listened to Yuuri, he had been relieved. Whatever Victor had told him, it should not have counted when he did not understand what was contributing to those doubts.

“How could you possibly know that, Yuuri?!”

“Because Chris proposed to him!”

He had not meant for it to slip like that, but he did not know what else to do. He was tired of keeping the secret, of having to deal with the worry of what would happen when Victor finally found out. At the rate it had been going, Chris and Matthieu would be celebrating their tenth anniversary and Victor would still be under the impression that they were just very good roommates. It had come to feel like a bad joke.

Victor scowled, crossing his arms. “Really? When?”

Yuuri pulled at his lower lip with his teeth, hesitating. There would be no going back.

“When, Yuuri? If he proposed, when did he do it?”

“A year ago…” Yuuri muttered, gaze down on the floor. “Last March.”

The silence in the cab had been uncomfortable. The silence which settled between them now made Yuuri’s skin crawl, triggering his nerves and disrupting the calm of his heartbeat.

“Next you’re going to tell me they already had the wedding planned,” Victor said, his tone sharp and disbelieving.

Yuuri did not want to have to fight to convince him. From the gallery on his phone, he found a photo of the wedding invitation. He always took pictures of them, both the ones he received and the ones his customers showed him. He often found inspiration from the really intricate ones, and personally, he found it useful to have a record of his response in case his got lost in the mail. Yuuri held out his phone to Victor and wrapped his arms around himself in a hug when Victor took it.

“This is for next month…” Victor said after a long and painful minute. His blue eyes darted from the phone screen to Yuuri. “They were going to have a wedding next month?”

Yuuri nodded. “Yes. Chris wanted you to be his best man.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Victor asked, his tone having gone soft. “Why didn’t he tell me? How long have you known?”

“Chris asked me for a cake in April. He was going to tell you, but he...” Yuuri paused to take a breath, trying to sooth the quiver in his voice. “He was worried about how you would take it. Since you hate weddings. Guess that doesn’t matter anymore, though, since you’ve managed to put an end to this one too.”

Victor’s expression changed, turning from soft shock to anger. “You didn’t seem to mind so much last time.”

“Last time worked out, didn’t it?” Yuuri replied, reaching out to take back his phone. “Why are you always so quick to dismiss relationships? Chris didn’t even explain to you that the reason he and Matthieu are having troubles is because of the stress of the wedding planning. The stress of having to keep such a big secret from you, because your best friend was afraid to tell you that he was engaged! Did you even ask him? Why they were arguing or why he felt that way? Or did you just hear him mention that he was thinking of spending the rest of his life with someone and your instincts kicked in to sabotage a marriage?”

“All this time and you still think that about me?” Victor shook his head. “What about you, Yuuri? Someone tells you they’re not sure if they’re ready for a commitment and the only thing you could think of was to sell them on it? Are you that in love with the idea of a big wedding that you’d sacrifice someone’s happiness for it? Like Mila? Doesn’t matter what else is happening, as long as you get to enjoy the party.”

“Your entire living is based on people sacrificing their happiness!” Yuuri snapped back, feeling the pressure building into a ball at the back of his throat. “Do you really think I was going to let Mila get married after I found out she was being lied to? Didn’t I show you that wasn’t true? And do you think I would push Chris to get married if I thought he was having more than just a small case of cold feet? I don’t think you hate marriage, Victor, I think you hate divorce. You can’t look at a relationship without expecting it to fail!”

“That’s not true!”

“How is it not true? You saw how good Chris and Matthieu were together. We went on the same dates with them! But at the first hint of it being anything less than paradise, you’re ready to tell them to throw it away. What about us, Victor? Are you going to throw us away as soon as we have a problem we can’t simply avoid talking about?”

“Like what, Yuuri?” Victor said, taking a step forward. Yuuri took a step back. “What else do you want to talk about? More about marriage? Do you want to ask me if I’ve changed my mind? When you should expect a proposal?”

“I don’t want a proposal!” Yuuri blinked, fighting back the tears threatening to break from the corners of his eyes. “I know you think I’m this… this… this wedding gremlin, but I’m not! I’m happy like this, with you. But I feel like I can’t even talk to you about what I should expect from the future because that’s how you’ll take it. We’re just avoiding having these conversations because I think that if we start, that’ll be it. And it’s not just that. You never talk to me about your job, about what you do! I don’t even know if you like it. I tell you about mine but even when I am talking about wedding cakes and clients, I feel like you’re judging these couples without even knowing them. Is this how we’re going to keep living our lives together? Holding back from each other the whole time?”

Victor did not respond to Yuuri immediately. He waited a moment, one of his feet tapping a slow rhythm against the wooden flooring. He sighed heavily, glancing off to the side. “Maybe it’s because I don’t want to talk to you about it. I deal with enough relationship problems at work that when I come home or when I see you, I don’t feel like being reminded of it. Do you want to hear about them? Do you want to hear about how I have a wife who was cheating on her husband while he was cheating on her, and yet both are trying to gouge each other in front of a judge as if they’ve done nothing wrong? Or how I have a set of parents who see their kid so seldom that the kid calls their nanny ‘mom’ instead? How about the couples that would rather run each other broke suing each other for a beach house rather than selling it off and splitting the difference? Do you want to hear about this? Do you want to know what’s gonna happen to half of those damn couples who come in for your wedding cakes, how they’re going to go from happy-go-lucky in love to absolutely loathing each other in ten or five or maybe even one year? Is that what you want me to talk about?”

Yuuri shook his head. That was not what he had meant. That was not what he wanted. “No… I just don’t want you to feel like you need to keep things from me. I want us to be able to deal with all of it, together. Otherwise, what’s going to happen? The longer it goes on, the worse it is going to get. You’re going to get frustrated listening to me talk about weddings and I’m going to start hating those divorce files you leave on your desk? We’re going to have friends that are going to want to get married and what then? I’ll tell them they should, while you’re telling them they shouldn’t? How is that going to work? How are we going to work?”

“So what?” Victor asked, tilting his head. “What do you want to say, Yuuri?”

Yuuri was not sure. This was not the conversation he had intended to have. The more he talked, the more his own doubts grew. There was a lot to think about, a lot to consider. For both of them. In how they should go forward, in what they saw for their future together. He and Victor had different values, different perspectives—perhaps too different. Yuuri did not want to spend the rest of his life feeling like they needed to avoid conversations about their careers and beliefs in order to make things work. “Maybe we should take a break too,” Yuuri suggested quietly. “For a while. To think about what we want out of our relationship…”

Victor’s arms dropped to his sides, heavily. When Yuuri chanced a glance at his face, he saw conflict. Victor tended to be controlled. In serious moments, he weighed his words. “Including whether we want the relationship or not?”

Confirmation hitching in his throat, Yuuri could only nod. He tightened the hold he had around himself, his vision blurring. He did not want to. Despite the suggestion, that would have been his last choice. He would have preferred to keep arguing, to fight, to shout, if that meant they could reach a better conclusion. He wanted Victor to say no, to tell him the idea was a ridiculous one. They could work through this. It would not be easy and it would not be quick, but they would find their way through the mess together. And it would be for the better.

Yuuri did not expect to be able to change Victor’s mind about marriage, nor did he feel the need to go that far. All he wanted was for Victor to admit that it was not all bad all the time. That for some couples, he could see it working. Maybe not for them, maybe not even for Chris and Matthieu, but that it was not the end of the world. Even if it did turn out to be a mistake, that did not make it wrong in the moment. In return, Yuuri would make the effort to be more receptive to Victor’s point of view. Not in seeing the faults first when it came to people and couples, but in not overlooking them.

They just needed to get over the first hurdle together. Yuuri needed Victor to tell him to stay, that a break was not what they needed.

Except Victor didn’t. He didn’t say anything at all. He didn’t even look at Yuuri, his cold blue gaze focused on the wall behind him.

The tears finally spilled down Yuuri’s cheeks. Letting go of himself, Yuuri darted past Victor, unable to stand there in the same room as his heart felt like it was fracturing into pieces. He went out the door, needing to get away, even if just for a moment.

When Victor did not chase after him, Yuuri broke down in the hall. He had his answer.

Chapter Text

Despite the noise of the city on a Friday night, Victor’s stroll home from the office was wrapped in silence. He had previously gotten in the bad habit of walking with his phone in his hand, trading texts with Yuuri up until he got to their doorway. Now the phone sat heavy in his jacket pocket, refusing to vibrate no matter how hard Victor willed it.

One of the other divorce lawyers in the firm had invited him out for the evening, but Victor had declined, packing his files and work laptop into his briefcase to take home for the weekend. The busier he was, the sooner his current cases could be closed. Yuri was reportedly having dinner with those who worked nuptial agreements, cementing the terms of his transfer. Victor had declined that invitation too, thinking it better if the interactions and conversation centered on Yuri.

The whole week had been a bit of a blur, from the moment that Yuuri had gone out the front door and had not come back. Victor was still trying to process it. Trying to process all of it. He barely registered when he was in his apartment hallway, not remembering selecting the floor nor riding the elevator. He had been operating on autopilot the past several days. Wake up, go to work, go home. It was almost a nostalgic schedule.

Victor’s key clicked in the lock and he pushed the door in, stepping inside. The front hall was dark, the apartment cold. Victor flipped on the lights and smiled at seeing Makkachin padding over to him, her tail wagging. She had gotten in the habit of sleeping on the sofa and needed a minute to climb off it with her aging bones. She had gotten a bit slower over the course of the previous year but still pounced on him when she got in range, front paws landing with force on his chest.

Ruffling her ears and kissing the top of her head, Victor shuffled her inside so he could put down his work things and change. Yuuri had teased him relentlessly for walking her in a suit, making the point that both of them could have a much better time if Victor was relaxed and in casual clothing. He had been right.

In the bedroom, Victor shrugged off his suit, swapping it out for jogging pants and a fitness hoodie. Makkachin waited for him, tail thumping against the floor. Victor had not made the bed that morning, but Yuuri’s side remained undisturbed. Just his. Victor had been sleeping facing the edge, the sight of Yuuri’s unused pillow jarring.

Whistling to Makkachin, Victor grabbed her leash and collar off the hook in the front hall, getting the collar on her outside the elevator doors as they waited for it to arrive. He had left his phone back in the apartment, wanting to focus on his poodle. She padded ahead of him on their usual path, pausing to sniff her favorite bushes. On the evenings Victor had taken her out with Yuuri, their walks usually had been longer, taking an extra lamplit path through the park. Today, Makkachin’s energy faltered early, her pace slowing before the halfway point. Victor turned them around and headed back. Makkachin followed on his heel.

Victor made a quick dinner for himself with leftover chicken in the fridge after feeding Makkachin, the kitchen quiet save for the crunch of kibble between her teeth. His thoughts drifted to the work he had planned to do, though the motivation to do it sat at naught. He had promised Yuri he would maintain a lighter case load, using the spare time to help Yuri settle into the nuptial department. Victor had reviewed many agreements during the divorce process, knowing what to look for in case a client wanted to challenge it. Kids, infidelity, abuse. Understanding how divorces happened was an asset to any lawyer drafting up pre- and post-nuptial agreements. Victor’s favorite cause for a relationship failing had always been the vague “irreconcilable differences.”

Maybe that was the problem he and Yuuri had. Irreconcilable differences. Like the fact that Yuuri had been fine with hiding a very significant truth from Victor for nearly a year, one that involved someone who was supposed to be his best friend.

Victor had been at a loss. First of all, it had not made sense. Chris getting married—he could not understand where that idea had come from. He and Matthieu had not even been dating that long, just a bit over… A few years. If Victor and Yuuri had been together a year, Chris and Matthieu had at least another year on that. Once Victor stopped and really thought about it, he realized that it was even longer than that. He had been so used to Chris’ stories of flings and one-night stands, he had always simply assumed it would not be long before Chris moved on again and discounted the time. So much for being a friend himself.

Slowly, things had clicked into place. Even the evening Victor had met Yuuri, Chris had made mention of plans for his own wedding. Again, Victor had taken it as a joke, an impossibility, and shrugged it off. Each time Chris had made such a comment since then, Victor had never reacted to it in a manner other than simply something said to tease. During the previous summer too, on their double date to that wine festival. Chris had made a remark about how one of the wines would make a delightful pairing to a wedding cake for him and Matthieu. Victor had not taken it seriously, not even considered it. He did not remember what he had said in response, a joking comment of some sort. He only remembered that the conversation had tapered off after that, with Chris making the excuse of their departure shortly after. Perhaps, Victor had only had himself to blame for that secret.

Yuuri though, Yuuri was even more complicated. Victor had not meant to let him leave. He had not wanted Yuuri to leave. Every thought had been a mess in his head, his chest stiff and aching when he had seen Yuuri’s tears threatening to spill and all the while unsure of what he could possibly do to prevent them from falling.

Everything Yuuri had said had made sense and yet it didn’t. Yes, they had not talked. Yes, they had been avoiding their issues. Victor thought that as well. He had been worried, too, that if it was brought up, the wonderful relationship they had built together might begin to crumble. That turned out to be true.

Yet, yet, that did not mean they could not make it work. They could still talk, they could still use the opportunity to see if they could work through it. Yuuri had been the one that said that a couple fighting could be healthy, if handled correctly. What they needed to do was not jumble everything together, because then it seemed irreparable. Like a pair of laces knotted together. If they pulled and they tugged and they fought, it would only become harder to unravel. If they took a moment, if they calmed down and worked together, maybe they could untangle it easily.

By the time Victor had snapped from his daze and chased after Yuuri, he was gone. Victor had called him, had texted. The calls had gone straight to voicemail and the texts had been read but unanswered. He had received one from Phichit later that night, though, simply stating that Yuuri was with him and would be staying the night. The one night had turned into the week and Yuuri had still not come back. A break. That was what Yuuri wanted, a break.

Victor did not want a break. But if Yuuri wasn’t answering his texts or taking his calls, Victor doubted that showing up at his doorstep would help. He would give Yuuri his break, give him time. There was too much happening, all at once. Yuuri probably just needed to think their situation over and figure out the best way for them to sort through potential problems. Victor was willing to listen to him, to have a serious conversation about their future. He knew he wanted to stay with Yuuri, if they could make it work. He already thought of Yuuri in terms of forever.

Forever was not simple, though, as evidenced by the chill of his apartment. It was unnatural to be sitting there on his own. Fridays were meant to be their date nights. Earlier, he had called their cooking class instructor, saying they were unable to make it that night and that it was likely they may not be able to make any classes for a while. Instead, Yuuri would probably be staying late at his shop, experimenting with the cupcake flavor he was developing for March or crafting decorations for yet another wedding cake. It actually was a shame to think that, if Yuuri decided to stay with Victor, he might never get a cake of his own.

With a sigh, Victor pushed himself up, going to wash Makkachin’s bowl and his plate. At the moment, all he could really do was wait for a sign that Yuuri was ready.

The doorbell rang.

Victor nearly dropped the plate he was holding, whipping around too quickly. He had not been expecting anyone. Turning off the water in the sink, he wiped his hands and hurried to the door, the hope of seeing blue-framed glasses covering downturned eyes expanding in his chest. Instead he saw a baseball cap and a scowling expression on dark skin. “Phichit,” Victor said with surprise. “Hi.”

“Don’t hi me,” Phichit snapped, foot tapping on the doorstep. “Do you have the stuff ready?”

“Huh?” Victor was not sure what he meant.

“Yuuri’s stuff,” Phichit replied. “I texted you yesterday.”

Victor vaguely remembered getting a text from Phichit in the middle of the day, but it had been in a moment when he had finally been able to focus on work. He had swiped the notification away and forgotten about it. “Sorry, I… I didn’t read it.”

Rolling his eyes, Phichit pushed past him to get inside, heading for the kitchen. Victor did not stop him. He trailed after, hanging back as he watched Phichit pull some of Yuuri’s baking utensils from the drawers and place them into the backpack which had been slung over his shoulder.

“How is he?” Victor asked after a moment, as metal clinked against metal in Phichit’s bag. “He hasn’t called me back.”

“How do you think he is?” Phichit answered, glancing over his shoulder. “You broke up a friend’s engagement and then broke up with him. He’s not exactly peachy.”

Victor frowned, crossing his arms over his chest. “I didn’t break up with him. He was the one who suggested—”

“Well, you didn’t stop him, did you?”

No, he had not. He had not realized that Yuuri going out the door had meant he was not coming back. Not soon enough, anyway. Even if he said that out loud now, it would sound like an excuse.

Huffing, Phichit closed a drawer with force and dodged around Victor once more. This time, he headed for the bedroom. Victor did not have the energy to protest, knowing that Phichit would end up getting what he wanted even if he did. Seeing Yuuri’s clothing being pulled from the closet, however, made the reality sink in. It would not be a day or two longer. Yuuri intended for this to last for a while. And then what? What if during that break Yuuri decided he was fine on his own? That he might be better off with someone who did not seem to wreck every relationship they were associated with?

“Phichit, can you please just tell him—”

“No,” Phichit said, stepping out of the closet. He had Yuuri’s clothes neatly folded and placed inside the bag. Not all of them, but Yuuri’s work clothes and what he wore when relaxing at home. “A break means a break. Leave him alone. Don’t think he’s gonna come jumping back into your arms that easily.”

Victor really could not blame Phichit for the bitterness. He was just helping out his best friend, something that Victor had failed to do. Phichit might even be more upset than Yuuri and Victor could understand. He would have felt the same. Or he should have. “I know… I want to talk to him, that’s it.”

“He doesn’t want to talk to you right now, okay?” Phichit went around the bed, grabbing Yuuri’s phone charger and winding it around his fingers. Setting it atop Yuuri’s clothes, Phichit zipped up his backpack and hung it over his shoulders.

Victor was not sure of what to say, how he might be able to convince Phichit to convince Yuuri to give him a chance. This could be the best chance he had and yet there was nothing he could do.

Phichit gazed at him for a moment, then sighed, heading for the door. After slipping into his shoes, fingers wrapped around the doorknob, Phichit looked back at Victor. “Listen. I don’t want to tell you it’s going to be okay. But I don’t want to tell you that it’s the end of it either. Yuuri’s… you know how he is. He’s stubborn and he gets stuck in his head. But if you go chasing after him and trying to convince him of one thing or another right now, it’s not gonna help either of you. Let him work out what he wants to do, and figure it out for yourself too. Got it?”

As long as he was not being told there was no saving their relationship, Victor could accept that. “Thanks, Phichit. I appreciate it.”

For a brief moment, Phichit softened, his expression going lax. He dug into one of his front pockets and held out a key. Yuuri’s key, to their apartment.

Victor accepted it reluctantly, knowing refusing would be futile. For a key, it was heavy in his palm.

“Personally, I hope that you won’t need to hold onto it for long,” Phichit said, turning to leave. “Have a good night, Victor.”

“Night.” Victor shut the door behind Phichit, leaning against the hallway wall. Yuuri had good friends looking after him and that was what mattered. He wasn’t alone. He was with people who cared about him, at work and at the brownstone. Victor hoped they might guide Yuuri in the right direction.

As for himself, Phichit was right. Annoying, but right. Victor had other things he needed to work out first. Like Chris. He had not spoken to him either. That was a confrontation waiting to happen and Victor was not yet clear on how he felt in regard to Chris’ involvement in what had happened between him and Yuuri. Not to mention how he felt about being kept in the dark about the engagement. The part of him that was pissed was in conflict with the part of him that saw the reasoning. It would be easy to shift blame from himself, but he doubted that would yield positive results.

What a mess. Victor’s eyes wandered over his apartment, neat and clean, and imagined it as torn to smithereens as he felt. Getting started was always the hardest.

Victor found his phone in the kitchen, pushing the call button under Chris’ name. It rang twice and went to voicemail. Steeling his jaw, Victor punched out a text message and dialed again. This time, his call was answered.

“What?!”

“I know you’re not working at this hour, Christophe,” Victor answered in a blank tone, leaning against the kitchen counter. “Where are you?”

“Believe it or not, chéri, I am at the office.”

“What are you doing? We have some things we need to discuss.”

“I’m busy.”

“With?”

“Absolute misery.”

Despite himself, Victor cracked a smile. “You deserve it.”

“Lay it on me, chéri. Allow me to wallow.”

“Are you really at the office?” Victor asked, already making his way for the door. He could spend the evening at home alone, forcing himself through the divorce documents of various couples. Or he could go confront Chris about screwing up two good relationships.

“Yes. I have buried myself in my own stupidity.”

Sounded like they were on the same page. “Stay there in your own stupidity,” Victor said, silently mouthing Makkachin a promise that he would be back soon as he headed out of the apartment. “I’ll be there in twenty.”

Victor opted to drive, in case he needed to dispose of a blond Swiss body after the fact. He would have felt more sympathy for Chris if he were not obviously the cause of his own misery. Victor replayed their conversation from the beginning of the week in his head, and compared it to Yuuri’s words during their argument. He could not understand how, in that situation, Chris had held back the truth.

If Victor had known that Chris and Matthieu weren’t exactly “casual” or that the reason behind the problems Chris claimed they were having was the planning of a wedding, he would have given different advice. He needed to hear the complete version of events, unfiltered and uncropped.

Victor parked in a garage opposite Chris’ office building and headed in. Chris was not the type to stay in after hours. Unlike Victor, he did not bring work home with him and was a very firm believer in separating his personal and professional life. The only time he worked outside of regular hours was if someone was in a serious crisis.

Chris’ suite was unlocked, the waiting room empty. Victor crossed the room and knocked on the door to his office. From inside he heard a muffled groan and took it as an invitation to enter.

The office looked like it had experienced a miniature explosion. Chris lay at the center of the floor, client notes strewn out all around him. He had a manila folder covering his face, his arms out on either side of him.

“I didn’t realize this was a crime scene,” Victor said, nudging one of Chris’ legs with his foot.

“Put me out of my misery and make it one,” Chris mumbled. “There’s a pillow on the sofa. I promise not to struggle much.”

Victor picked up said pillow and dropped it onto Chris’ face, knocking away the less effective method of folder suffocation. He sat down on the sofa, crossing his legs. “First you’re gonna explain why you didn’t tell me you were getting married.”

Chris did not sit up, but he did drag the pillow off his face, hugging it to himself instead. “Yuuri told you, then? Don’t blame him, chéri, I asked him not to. I wanted to be the one to do it. It’s what you deserved.”

“A year, Chris? Really?”

“I know, I know. Believe me,” Chris groaned, covering his eyes in a display of shame. “Will you listen to my excuse?”

“Proceed.” It was what he had come for.

“When we were together, I felt like there was no one else out there who matched me like he did. And after being with him for a while, I couldn’t imagine wanting anyone else. I started thinking about it, about proposing, about what it would be like to have him as my husband. It felt right. But when we first got engaged, I was nervous that I might screw the relationship up somehow. You know how I was, I wasn’t used to commitment. I didn’t want to tell you right away in case it ended up not working out. I didn’t want all our jokes coming back to bite me.”

Victor could understand that. Had he been the one to get engaged, he was sure that Chris would have regarded it with skepticism at first. “I saw the invitation. Yuuri showed me after I didn’t believe him.”

“I have yours still, at home. I thought about sending it without telling you but it felt cheap. My plan was to find a good time to tell you, preferably after one of our double dates. But every time I tried to ease into it, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was worried about what you’d say and that if you doubted me, I’d start to doubt myself. Then the longer I held out, the more difficult it was. Because then it became not only about telling you, but also about confessing about how long I’d kept it from you.” Chris let out a heavy sigh. “I was going to tell you, last time. That’s why I came over. But after what you said, I started thinking you were right. That I wasn’t ready for it, to get married. And if I wasn’t ready, what was the point of telling you?”

“So you lied to me?” Victor raised an eyebrow, leaning forward.

Chris shook his head, rolling it to one side then the other. “No, I told you the truth. In parts. I left out that the issues we’re having were based around the wedding planning.”

“You didn’t think that was an important factor to mention?”

“Would it have made a difference?” Chris asked. “You would have said the same. If I were that concerned about getting married, I shouldn’t do it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Am I wrong?”

Victor could not be sure. If all it was was a mild case of cold feet, maybe not. From what Victor had learned from Yuuri, wedding planning was a hell of a process. He did believe it was not a decision to be undertaken lightly and that any doubts should be worked out before proceeding. Chris and Matthieu worked well together as a couple, and Victor liked them together. That did not mean he felt the need to pressure Chris into what was meant to be a lifetime decision. “For a therapist, you’re horrid at communication.”

“Why do you think I’m here?” Chris said, sitting up to gesture at the files scattered around the office. “I’ve been reading over notes I have and the advice I've given to other couples, and slowly realizing how much of an idiot I’ve been. How many couples have I helped get over their cold feet? How many have I helped realize it wasn’t about a problem in their relationship but their own apprehensions? About how they’re more worried about screwing up the relationship than actually maintaining it? And how to address that instead of avoiding it? I was avoiding discussing my concerns with him and with you, and as a result, I screwed up both—just like I thought I would.”

Victor laughed into a scoff, sinking back into the sofa. At least Chris realized it. He hated that he saw where Chris was coming from, though he would never personally be tempted to use him as a counselor. “I’ve yet to hear an apology.”

“I apologize,” Chris said instantly, placing a hand on his heart. “I do, Victor. You should have been the first to know, you shouldn’t have had to find out from someone other than me. I did… I wanted you to be my best man. I hadn’t even asked anyone else.”

“Too late for it now?” Victor asked. He did not yet know the result of their conversation, but from Chris’ current state, he guessed that said wedding may indeed no longer be on schedule.

“He came back a couple of days ago and I told him that maybe we should hold off,” Chris replied, sighing again. “I’ve spent every single second since then regretting saying that. But he’s off again in a few days to the Netherlands, and we don’t even have time to talk properly. So I’m just sitting here waiting again instead of doing something, anything, that’ll fix this and yet I don’t because… what if he says no?”

“Then nothing changes, right?” Victor said. He had asked the same question of himself, with regard to Yuuri. If after their break, Yuuri said he did not want to try again, then Victor would stay just like this. “The only way to lose is not to try. If you love him.”

Chris laughed shortly and dropped his face into his hands, rubbing at his temples. “Yuuri’s really gotten to you, hasn’t he?”

Victor placed one hand into the other and rubbed them, apprehensive. “He, ummm… I haven’t talked to him all week.”

Head snapping up, Chris frowned. “What do you mean? Is he—wait. Victor, chéri, no. Don’t tell me…”

“We fought, after you left. At dinner and then when we got home. And he left.” The words came off bitter from his tongue. Speaking it aloud made the reality of it sink in. He had yet to fully comprehend how, but he had let Yuuri walk right out of his life, perhaps permanently. The only reason he had held it together over the past few days was because he had been operating on the assumption that one evening or the next, he would come home to find Yuuri there waiting for him. Yet, it was also possible that might never happen. Suddenly, Victor’s chest felt hollow.

“Victor Nikiforov, you absolute imbecile,” Chris spat in French, pushing himself up onto his feet. He swiped up one of the folders next to him and smacked Victor with it. “You broke up with him?!”

“No!” Victor protested, standing up. He grabbed scattered files from the floor, tossing them onto Chris’ desk. If they were left in his path, he might end up taking his frustration out on Chris’ work documents and he was more professional than that. “We’re just on a break. He wanted time to think. Like you.”

“Like me?” Chris called, his laugh short and humorless. “Look at me, I’ve been wearing the same suit three days in a row because I can’t figure out what to do with myself and that should be a crime. I took your advice to think about my relationship because I was panicking, but the only thing I’ve realized is that I’m more panicked about not having him in my life. So now what, I need to deal with knowing that I may have thrown away the best thing that’s ever happened to me and also caused you to do the same? What are you even—how are you standing there? You should be outraged with me, what is wrong with you?”

“I am!” Victor snapped, gritting his teeth. He ran his fingers through his hair and rubbed hard at the back of his neck. He was more outraged with himself. The root of all the issues came down to his own views and assertions about marriage. It was why Chris had not come to him sooner, and it was why he and Yuuri had been unable to chance a conversation at their future. The communication breakdown was centered on him and that was where the blame lay. “But honestly, Chris, what kind of person has their best friend too scared to tell them they’ve gotten engaged? I want to be angry at you, for not telling me, for making Yuuri lie to me for that long, but then I wonder… am I really that bad?”

“Oh, darling, you’re not. I’m just a coward. By not telling you, I had an out. A crutch I could use in case I chickened out of the engagement. That’s the only truth I can come to if I look at myself from the outside. If you were that bad, there’s no way you’d get Yuuri Katsuki of all people to fall so hard for you.”

Regardless, Victor had caused his own heartache. Diverting blame would simply make it worse. “So what, then? You’re the relationship counselor here. All I do is offer advice on how to best split up assets.”

Chris tapped his fingers over the top of his desk, his cheeks sucked in. His gaze drifted to the disorganized pile of folders scattered there. “I…” he said slowly, considering his words, “I am going to tell the love of my life that I want to marry him. Next month, at a beautiful ceremony at The Glasshouses, with a Yuuri Katsuki custom cake. I hope that you will be there, as my best man.”

Smiling, Victor shrugged his shoulders. “Give me another week of being mad at you, and then I’ll say yes.”

Chris dug keys out of a desk drawer and crossed the room, grabbing Victor for a tight hug and a forceful kiss to his cheek. “Come on, chéri, let’s go. Perhaps as I go chasing down my soulmate, you should be doing the same?”

“My soulmate has passed on the request that I do no chasing,” Victor said, permitting Chris to hang onto him as they left the office suite together. Chris locked up after them. “Yuuri wants time and I have to respect that.” No matter how unhappy it made him, he would wait. He could probably wait for a lifetime, if needed.

 


 

The back of Yuuri’s shop was absolutely covered in dicks. He, Mila, Guang Hong and Leo had all come in well before opening hours, to fulfill an order for a very large bachelorette party. Yuuri’s off-menu services were only known by a few and for that he was grateful, because dicks were a pain in the ass. Guang Hong had snickered at that same comment when they had started hand-molding the phallic sponges.

A hundred and eight custard cream-filled cupcakes were frosted and sprinkled with coconut shavings before being topped with a perfectly sculpted, erect penis. They worked in an assembly line. Leo and Guang Huang formed the balls from chilled cake sponge which had already been mixed with frosting for the perfect consistency the night before. Mila lovingly crafted the shaft, and Yuuri completed the trifecta by wrapping the miniature dicks in fondant of various skin tones, trimming and tucking to achieve the most delectable-looking dick cakes imaginable. When they were finished with that, Yuuri dotted half of the tips with a pearlescent icing to complete the look.

The start of March had been graciously less hectic than the previous months, yet still busy. Yuuri had originally considered making the monthly flavor something ambitious, inspired by Japanese warabi mochi or the Russian bird’s milk confection Victor had brought home one evening. In the end, he decided they were too technical and he did not want his staff struggling to recreate them while he was gone. Instead, he went with green tea cupcakes topped with a buttercream and matcha-white chocolate ganache. That was a flavor to which the American market was far more accustomed.

“Oh, wooooow.” Phichit whistled, impressed as he peeked into the back kitchen. “A few weeks without a good dicking and this is what you’ve turned to? Don’t tell me those are life-sized replicas.”

“It’s for a bachelorette party,” Yuuri explained, folding pristine white carry boxes, the lids printed with his shop logo. Cupcakes went inside in sets of twelve, the pearly tips of the fondant dicks nearly brushing the top of the boxes when Yuuri carefully closed them.

“How about those?” Phichit asked, nodding at a spare tray off to the side.

“Those are for me,” Yuuri deadpanned. He had been keeping himself focused on baking and crafting, keeping his mind off the other dicks—or lack thereof—in his life. At first, it had been a struggle waking up earlier and getting home later due to the distance between the brownstone and his shop. He had shrugged that off, though, reminding himself that he had done it for a few years already without issue. Going around Manhattan was more difficult too, because everywhere now contained a memory of Victor. A restaurant date there, a festival here. Every single block surrounding Central Park had him worried, and hoping, that he might run into Makkachin and her owner on one of her daily strolls. Yuuri could not even eat lunch in his shop without thinking about how he should be sitting there with Victor, stealing kisses over deli sandwiches and iced tea.

The first week of their “break,” Yuuri had to dump and remake a couple of batters due to the added salt and liquid content of tears. The more he thought about it, the more wrecked he got. He had been so close, so many times, to answering Victor’s calls, to typing back long texts, to simply showing up at their apartment. Except then they would be right back at the beginning, with no progress made. So rather than do that, he ate one of each cupcake flavor in his shop, took an order for an ice cream cake—which he loathed and had previously refused to ever consider—then got unreasonably angry at the window display of a jewelry store.

The second week had been easier. Yuuri fell back into the routine he had before he had moved in with Victor, the routine he had before they started dating. Not everything was the same, though. During the afternoons, there was never more than a few minutes between customers. Calls and emails for quotes came regularly. Mila had framed another magazine spread featuring Yuuri’s shop and hung it next to the others in the front. Two were international: one in Japanese about recommended Insta-bae spots in New York, and another in French about the delicate craftsmanship of Yuuri’s decorations.

Midway through the second week, Yuuri had been surprised by a visit from Chris. He had not particularly felt like speaking to him, until he saw the engagement ring still on his hand. The engagement, and wedding, was still on. Matthieu, who was obviously far too good for Chris in Yuuri’s current opinion, had seen right through Chris’ pre-wedding jitters and simply waited. Apparently, Chris had come to his senses remarkably quickly. Yuuri was less forgiving, especially when Chris decided to bring up the topic of Victor. At that point, Yuuri had politely and professionally requested that Chris leave unless he wanted his cake baked with salt rather than sugar.

Yuuri had stared at his phone after that, at the texts from Victor. He had made the mistake of scrolling too far up, seeing all the exchanges between them from the months before. Photos of Makkachin and photos of cakes. Plans for their day trips and dates together. Love notes and written-out kisses. Reading back, they seemed far too sweet on each other. Swallowing the pressure at the back of his throat, Yuuri had typed out a short response. He apologized, for blaming Victor. Then he asked for more time. He needed it, to get everything settled, including the mess of thoughts in his head. A reply came shortly after, telling him it was fine. More dots appeared on the bottom of the screen, then vanished. Later, a single heart landed in his inbox. Yuuri did not respond, too busy with another customer.

On the morning of the third week, Yuuri had awoken to a text chiming on his phone. Groggy with sleep, he had smiled into his pillow and groped for his phone, expecting a sweet morning greeting from Victor out of old habit. Except it wasn’t from Victor, because of course it wasn’t. It was a text from Mila, who was running inventory at the shop and messaging Yuuri reports on what they needed to order. He had rolled over, looking at the opposite side of his otherwise empty bed. No morning-messed hair, no slivers of bright blue peeking from underneath silver lashes lying beside him. He hated it.

When he had arrived at the shop that day, Yuuri had flipped through his calendar, double-checking their schedule and comparing it to the inventory stock count Mila had noted. He added on a few more items, dyes in particular, and sent off the orders to their suppliers. The only thing that gave him pause was the five-day period he saw marked off in June. The summer trip Victor had asked him to go on. Yuuri whited it out and went into the calendar on his computer, deleting the vacation days there too. He would not be able to make it after all.

Yuuri had more or less made his decision. He knew what he needed, how he wanted to move on. The problem was Victor. After Phichit had gone to grab Yuuri’s things from their apartment, Victor had stopped trying to reach out and it had turned to radio silence between them, save for those couples of messages. Yuuri knew he needed to be the one to initiate, but each time he went to try, one thing or another got in his way. He did not want to talk to Victor while distracted, while stressed about work and worried about his clients.

In the spare time he had, Yuuri was training Guang Hong in the finer and more complex decoration sculpting. Mila had shop operations perfected, perhaps more so than Yuuri. Despite the time difference, he would still only be a call or text away in case they did need help while he was gone. Between order fulfillments, Chris’ rapidly approaching wedding, and the prep Yuuri was doing before going abroad, Victor had to wait. Absence did make the heart grow fonder.

“So... are you going to tell him? Or talk to him at all?”

Yuuri glanced up from his final box of cock-topped cupcakes. The delivery time was a couple of hours after they opened, to an event venue uptown. “I’ll see him at the wedding.”

“Yuuri,” Phichit whined, casting him a pained look. “Isn’t that a bit short notice?”

“Maybe.”

It was already short notice. Yuuri needed to focus on himself and not get distracted with the complications of a messy relationship. He missed Victor, so terribly that he could not sleep without his bones aching. However, Yuuri had been the one who had suggested a break, who wanted the time for self-reflection. Being apart from Victor had made it easier to think more clearly.

The previous day, Yuuri had guided a couple through a cake tasting. He had looked with them through a scrapbook they had made with their wedding planner, filled with inspiration for the look they wanted to capture, choices for color coordinations, and the wedding invitations they had selected. He had talked to them about their hobbies, the things they liked to do together, how they had met, who proposed and how. From there, Yuuri had made a couple of quick sketches based on the ideas they fed him and what he envisioned, and smiled when both of them pointed to the same one. They signed the contract immediately after.

Yuuri could not deny that he imagined what it would be like to marry Victor. He had thought about what their wedding would look like, what their vows might sound like, what their cake would taste like. Makkachin would definitely be the ring-bearer and Yuri could be their flower boy. He would scowl through it and demand to know why the job was relegated to him, but would do it in exchange for the promise of an extra thick slice of cake. Yuuri had thought about the proposal too. Victor was thoughtful and romantic, he would probably go for something like baking the ring into a barely edible cupcake. How sweet.

Yuuri doubted a wedding would ever be something he could stop wanting or dreaming about. His love for them was why he had started his business, why he adored helping couples bring their perfect day to life. Yet he knew that was not something he could expect from Victor, and he could not fathom trying to pressure Victor into it. He had worried that if they stayed a couple, a divide would form. Yuuri could accept that being together was enough, but the concern had remained. It was just a title though, right? A document, a write-in on tax forms. Yuuri was not the type to logic out financial and legal benefits. If he married, he wanted it to be for the age-old classic motive of love. Because love was what mattered most.

“You sure you’re not delaying it so you can have an escape route?” Phichit questioned, raising an eyebrow. He plucked up one of the spare cupcakes, rotating it to inspect the fondant dick from every angle.

“It’s not an escape route,” Yuuri said. It was a bit of an escape route. Rationale told him that Victor had not contacted him over the past two weeks because Phichit had told him not to. His anxiety told him that Victor had not contacted him over the past two weeks because, during that time, Victor had realized they were better off separate. Yuuri would be able to find someone to marry, Victor would be able to find someone to not. There was not much of a middle ground between their two perspectives. Either way it went, though, another week would not change anything. If Victor could wait out Yuuri’s stubbornness now, Yuuri trusted he would wait out Paris. If he couldn’t, then they were already done.

“Sure.” Phichit rolled his eyes, peeling back the paper wrapping around the base of the cupcake. “I’m telling you now, it would be really bad form to bang him at the wedding and then fly off to Paris immediately after.”

“I am not going to bang him at the wedding,” Yuuri glared and strutted up to Phichit, snatching the cupcake out of his hand.

“You sure about that, Mr. Dick Cakes?”

With a purposeful display of spite, Yuuri bit the dick off the cupcake in one obscene bite.

Phichit shuddered, unable to stop himself from cringing as he crossed his legs. “This can’t end well.”

 


 

“You’re a fucking idiot, hope you know that,” Yuri called out loudly, legs kicked up on the coffee table. “Seriously, what the hell are you planning to say to him?”

Typical Yuri. Victor had spent a significant portion of the past month helping him with his career transition to the point he had even agreed to supervise Yuri’s first few agreement drafts and signings, and this was the thanks he received. Continuous insults, which had not stopped from the moment Yuri had discovered that Victor and Yuuri were “on a break.” To be fair, Victor did not blame him. He felt the same way himself.

“I… don’t know.” Victor stared at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, mindlessly fidgeting with his bangs. No matter what he did with them, he could not seem to get them to lay right. He had spent far too much time thinking about what he would say to Yuuri when he saw him at the rehearsal for Chris and Matthieu’s wedding. He could come at Yuuri with anger for making him wait for so long. He could apologize for not stopping Yuuri from walking out in the first place. He could let Yuuri initiate and see how they progressed from there. However things went, they would be in for a difficult conversation. The only thing Victor really cared about was being able to have Yuuri back at the end of the night. All else was secondary. “Maybe I’ll start with a hello.”

From the living room, he could hear Yuri scoffing. “That’s the best you got?”

Victor could make a hundred plans, but he would not be surprised if none of them worked out. It all depended on Yuuri and the decisions he had made. “At the moment.”

“I hope he dumps you.”

Victor smiled weakly and gave up on trying to style his hair any further. He adjusted his tie and checked his cufflinks, walking out into the living room. “Thanks, Yura.”

“I don’t see why you can’t just marry him,” Yuri muttered, flopping Makkachin’s ears back and forth between his fingers. Her muzzle rested on his lap, tail wagging lazily behind her. Victor had asked Yuri to watch her for the evening, in case the rehearsal and dinner ran late. “If you’re so convinced he’s who you want to be with.”

It was probably good that Yuri had bailed out from a career in divorce settlements and trials. Despite the tough exterior he put on, Victor knew for a fact that he cried during the emotional confession scenes of romantic comedies. “He’ll think I only asked him to make him happy.”

Yuri threw him a perplexed look. “Isn’t that why anyone gets married? To be happy with their partner? It’s not like you’re trying to join two kingdoms, so why the hell not?”

“And what if he starts to feel like he pressured me into it?” Victor asked, pushing Yuri’s feet off the coffee table onto the floor. “If it turns out to be the beginning of the end? We get married only for that to cause the problems to start? Where’s the happy marriage then?”

“You already have problems, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Yuri said pointedly, kicking his feet back up in defiance. “If you get divorced, it’s because you would have broken up anyway. So draft up that prenup, get hitched, and live damn happily ever after.”

“It’s not that simple,” Victor answered, straightening the ends of his sleeves.

“Why not?”

“It isn’t.”

“Do you wanna break up with him?”

“No.”

“How long do you want to stay with him?”

“As long as it lasts.”

“And if that’s till death do you part?”

“Then I’ll have lived out the happiest life I can imagine.”

Yuri jerked up, his green eyes as sharp as the blades Yuuri used to cut patterns out of fondant. “What’s the goddamn difference then? If you don’t plan on ever breaking up with him, that means you don’t plan on ever getting a divorce. That’s what you’re really worried about, isn’t it?”

Victor blinked, his expression blank. Yuuri had said the same. That it wasn’t the idea of marriage that Victor hated, but divorce. Sighing, he shrugged his shoulders and picked up his phone, wallet already in his jacket pocket. “I appreciate you taking care of Makka tonight. I’ll see you later.” With that he headed for the door, ignoring the loud swear that followed him out.

The ceremony rehearsal went off without too many hitches. Victor kept Chris squared, slipping him an extra handkerchief to wipe the sweat off his shaking nervous palms. Both grooms could not stop smiling, despite a few dropped lines in their vows and a near-fumble with the rings. Victor could not conjure up a single example of when else he had seen Chris so happy to make mistakes, laughing when their officiant told them it was at that point in the ceremony when they would be able to “kiss the groom.” Chris swept Matthieu into his arms bridal-style and kissed him to a rehearsed but genuine applause.

The dinner was a merry event as well, a far smaller occasion than the actual reception would be. Chris and Matthieu’s families seemed to get on splendidly. Chris’ mother ditched the rest of her side of the table in order to chase away Matthieu’s father so she could sit and chat with his mother in closer proximity. The food was light, alcohol controlled, and the most salacious stories saved for the following evening. There was only one thing missing.

As a dessert of poire à la beaujolaise began to be served, Victor snuck from his seat over to the happy couple, catching Chris’ attention. “I thought Yuuri would be here?” he asked quietly, eyes sweeping across the booked restaurant—the apparent location of Chris and Matthieu’s first real date—in case he had somehow missed Yuuri. Except Yuuri was not there. Not at the ceremony, and not at the dinner. Victor had assumed Yuuri would be, but if he considered it now, it was quite possible he was at the shop, putting the finishing touches on the wedding cake.

Matthieu heard Victor and turned, shaking his head. “He said he ran late with the cake and couldn’t make it because he needed to pack. He’ll be at ceremony tomorrow, though.”

Victor nodded, his heart sinking. He had not wanted their first conversation since the fight to be at the wedding. If it went badly, that would hardly be the appropriate venue for a formal breakup. However, maybe it would be better if they talked tomorrow. With Yuuri’s love of weddings, it was guaranteed that he would be in high spirits. Victor doubted Yuuri would disrupt two in a row. “Packing for what?”

Matthieu glanced up at his husband-to-be and frowned before looking back at Victor. “You don’t know?”

“No.” Victor shook his head, confused. “Is he going somewhere?”

“His flight is right after the party,” Chris said, his words low and hesitant. “He’s going to Paris.”

Chapter Text

Victor did not bother with dessert when he returned to his seat, certain it would taste stale. Yuuri was leaving. For Paris. He had not heard anything Chris nor Matthieu had said after that, the buzzing in his ears drowning out the flat tones of their voices. Once more, he had been graced with a rather significant reveal; this time it was certain to be a little too late. Yuuri in Paris. He should be happy for Yuuri, yet, instead, the thought smashed through the pit of his stomach like a wrecking ball.

He had been waiting for the wedding, for his chance to talk to Yuuri and fix the divide between them. When he pictured them at the wedding together, he thought of Yuuri’s hands in his as they shared a dance, the atmosphere settled and at peace. He had given Yuuri the time and space he had asked for, but maybe he had given too much.

Digging out his phone, Victor pulled up Yuuri’s name and paused. The last message he had sent Yuuri was a heart. There had been no response back, not minutes nor days later. Just the message prior, of Yuuri asking for more time. Victor had taken Yuuri reaching out as a sign of hope. Perhaps it should have been the opposite. Perhaps the time Yuuri needed was nine months abroad.

Victor stood, separating himself from the merry conversations around him. He dialed Yuuri’s number, unable to catch a proper breath as he waited, listening to it ring. One, two, three, four, five—voicemail. Victor jammed the end call button and tried again, to no avail. This wasn’t right. He had to be missing something. He did not want to leave it to the last moment and miss his chance.

Turning, Victor caught Chris’ gaze from across the room, receiving an understanding smile. Both he and Matthieu waved Victor off, wordlessly telling him he was free to go. If any bitterness had remained in Victor against Chris, it was gone in that moment. He grabbed his jacket and rushed out, hailing a cab at the same time that he texted Yuuri.

The city lights looked dull outside of the cab window. The ride was graciously quick, unhindered by evening traffic, and the driver quiet. Victor asked him to wait when the car stopped outside Yuuri’s shop, the lights inside of it off. It was after hours, but there was a chance Yuuri was still working, putting the final beautiful touches on the wedding cake. When Victor tried the door, the glass rattled, lock jamming it shut. A careful peek past the drawn curtains gave him a glimpse of the kitchen window. It too was dark. Yuuri wasn’t there.

No, he would be packing, just like Matthieu had said. Victor went back to the cab, landing heavily in the back seat.

“Where to?”

Victor hesitated. He could go to the brownstone and see Yuuri there. Except what would he say? If he demanded an explanation, he could see it turning into a fight. It was Yuuri’s life, and it was Yuuri’s decision. Victor had been the one who had pushed him toward it, encouraged him to take the chance and apply to the program. Yuuri was chasing his dream, just like he should be. This was what Yuuri had wanted, for years. This was what Victor had wanted for him. If he went to Yuuri’s apartment now, he had no idea of where the conversation would take them and then tomorrow, at the wedding, they might be even worse off.

His phone chimed and Victor dropped his gaze to the screen. A single text, from Yuuri. Victor opened it.

>> I’m sorry, I can’t talk right now. I’ll see you tomorrow at the wedding.

Tomorrow at the wedding. Right before Yuuri took his passport and boarding pass, but not Victor, to the airport. Victor had thought about what they would do when Yuuri finally applied to his dream patisserie degree. He would not be able to abandon his own job to join Yuuri for almost a year in Paris, but he would certainly have taken a week or two, plus a few weekends here and there when Yuuri had free time. He had had no doubts they would make long distance work for them. He would brush up on his French to charm Yuuri over coffee that cost too many euros and warm, authentic croissants. Yuuri would look far too cute wearing a patissier uniform and far too gorgeous under the lights of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées at night.

“Sir?”

<< Okay. Good night, Yuuri

>> Good night, Victor. Kiss Makkachin for me.

Victor pocketed his phone, closing his eyes as he sank back into the cab seat, defeated. “Columbus Circle.”

It was less than ten minutes from Yuuri’s shop to Victor’s apartment by car. Victor paid the cabbie and hauled himself inside. Tomorrow felt like a lifetime away. Victor was supposed to grab Chris just after twelve, to make sure he was ready and to escort him to the wedding venue. Even before the actual ceremony, there would be photos and other preparations to check off. Victor’s job was to ensure that Chris had the rings and the marriage certificate, as well as to act as his support in case another case of cold feet got to him. Victor did not think that was going to be a problem.

Victor entered his apartment to find Yuri on the sofa, lying with Makkachin squished up alongside him. He had the tv on and his phone in hand. This was not how Victor had wanted to come home. He had thought Yuuri would be at the rehearsal. He had thought that he might end the night taking a cab home, but with Yuuri at his side. They would talk in hushed voices, fingers lacing when they rode the elevator up together. Yuuri would come home with him. It would be quiet, it would take time to readjust, yet they would get there. Perhaps Victor would have run a bath for them, to melt away the stress and the tension, so they could sink into the familiarity of how good they were together.

“Oi, home already?” Yuri called, kicking his legs off the sofa. Makkachin perked up and wiggled off, padding over to greet her owner.

“Yeah. Thanks for watching her. Did she already eat and walk?” Victor might take her out again even if they had walked already. The cool evening air could clear his head and help him figure out what to do, what to say.

“Done and done. She was good,” Yuri remarked, switching off the tv. He slipped his phone into his pocket, turning to face Victor. The grin he had been wearing quickly faded. “You okay?”

Victor blinked, glancing up from the tips of his shoes. He stepped out of them, pushing them off to the side. “Fine.”

“Are you sure?” Yuri questioned, the skepticism dripping from his tone.

“I said I’m fine,” Victor snapped, jerking open the front door in indication that Yuri was welcome to depart. He was not in the mood to tolerate a lecture from someone nearly a decade his junior. Plus, he did not want to explain himself to discover that Yuri also knew about Paris, as it seemed everyone but him had been privy to important information.

“Did you—”

“He wasn’t there,” Victor cut in. “Now please go.”

“Sure.” Yuri shrugged his shoulders, pushing past Victor. “Don’t fuck it up tomorrow.”

“I’ll try my best.”

The door shut with a definitive thud, and Victor was left alone.

He had never minded being alone. It had come with his lifestyle. He had enjoyed keeping busy, with studies, with work. He had liked the space and the quiet. He had people he could go to when he wanted for company, most of the time. Alone, but not lonely. And then Yuuri happened. Victor had not noticed the changes at first. They were gradual. The early morning texts, the lunches in Yuuri’s shop, the evenings on the sofa spent falling in love with all his favorite musicals once again as he introduced Yuuri to them. The past few weeks without Yuuri had been grating.

The late nights in the office stretched endlessly, the deafening ticking of the clock on the back wall breaking his concentration. Yet if he went home, the rooms of his apartment were too wide and hollow. Just like they were now.

Whistling to Makkachin, Victor took her back out, holding her leash loosely as they made their usual loop. His head did not clear, the cool air reminding him how much more he enjoyed the evening walks when he had Yuuri at his side, warming his hand. Victor paused by the carousel, closed for the night, letting Makkachin paw around the grass. “What should I do?” he asked her when she glanced up at him in expectation of continuing their walk.

Makkachin gave him no answer; she just wagged her tail slowly, her tongue lolling out to the side. Victor supposed it would have been too easy—and too frightening—if she had responded. He tugged lightly on her leash, restarting on the path. “How would you feel about going to France for a while?”

Again, Makkachin simply padded along, sitting down to wait for the light when they reached the street. Victor hoped for a moment he might glimpse Yuuri across the street, waiting for him in front of his building, vapor visible from each exhale which left his soft lips. Except no such luck. Yuuri was packing his bags, probably completing his online check-in for his flight. What did someone take for nine months abroad? Victor still had some of Yuuri’s clothes in his closet, his towels in the bathroom, his shoes in the hall. They sat neatly, facing forward, like they too were waiting for Yuuri to return. Victor did not think he would be able to handle almost a year of walking past them. His polished oxfords felt out of place beside Yuuri’s trainers, only because before Victor would find them mixed up in the mornings from when they had come stumbling in the evening prior, laughing their way through the door.

Victor hung his keys and Makkachin’s leash on the hooks by the door, Yuuri’s set missing from them. Makkachin went for the kitchen and Victor followed her, grabbing her water bowl to rinse and refill. His footsteps echoed.

Before readying to head out for the rehearsal, Victor had spent the afternoon tidying up the apartment. He had swept the floors, cleaned the kitchen, and changed the sheets. Partially to keep himself busy and out of his own head, and partially because he wanted Yuuri to come home to perfection.

Victor stared at the oven in front of him, the one he had bought for Yuuri. He had gone to clean it too, but found it sparkling. Of course it would be, because that was Yuuri. Yuuri put so much care into the things that he loved. Yuuri had his flaws, like his self-doubts, like how he did not always say what he was thinking, like how he would over-analyze and, despite it, would still make rash decisions.

Maybe Paris was one of those decisions. Victor should have been thrilled for Yuuri, but he wasn’t. This wasn’t how he had seen it happening. This was not how it was supposed to go. The fact that Yuuri had not felt the need to tell him about it had Victor scared, because Yuuri took care of the things he loved. It was why he put so much detail into his cakes, so much time into his business, so much dedication into the relationships he fostered with his friends and his staff. It was why he had interrupted Mila’s wedding in the way that he had once he had finally listened, because he cared too much to let his own anxiety stand in the way of a friend making such a major mistake.

Yet Yuuri had let a month go by with minimal contact and not informed Victor that he was finally going for his dream. Victor was trying to reason with himself that tomorrow might bring something he was overlooking, that somehow Yuuri might surprise him. Except Yuuri, who put care into the things he loved, had not put enough care into telling Victor about the decision he had obviously made on his own. Yuuri would be leaving Victor here alone, to wait with his shoes in the hall, with his pillow in their bed, with his damn oven in their kitchen, and without hope. Every single day, Victor would still be surrounded by Yuuri, reminded of how he had let Yuuri walk out the door and not even tried to chase after him.

Perhaps Phichit would take pity on him and come grab the rest of Yuuri’s things, leaving Victor truly without any more of Yuuri. He did not want that. He wanted to fix it, like he thought they would be able to, like he had been expecting. Yuuri was the one who said that people got scared about making a commitment, but that it did not mean they did not want to be together. Yuuri was the one who said that fights were normal, that they were healthy as long as they were worked through in the right way. Yuuri was not even giving them a chance to try.

Victor’s vision blurred and his shoulders shook as he slid down to the floor, collapsing in on himself. He wrapped his arms around his knees, burying his head in them. The sleeves of his suit jacket dampened with the droplets rolling off his cheeks. Weddings were supposed to be a happy occasion, and yet tomorrow he just might lose the love of his life at one.

 


 

At Mila’s and JJ’s weddings, Victor had not been more than a passive guest. With Chris’, he was able to have more of the full experience. The moment he arrived at Chris’ apartment, he was slammed with the realization of the kind of chaos that went hand in hand with one. Matthieu’s sister had sent along a checklist that was passed on to Victor, full of minute details like ensuring Chris did not forget his tuxedo or to shower, which—by the state of his hair—he appeared to have done. Victor pushed him toward the bathroom, refilling his coffee mug at the same time.

While Chris made himself squeaky clean for his big day, Victor ran through the rest of the list, grateful that much of it had already been checked off by Matthieu’s sister because he really had no idea what “double-check tip envelopes” meant. Technology really was spectacular, as Victor was able to see check marks appear on the shared list document as the other half of the party ensured that wedding favors, vow copies, cell phone chargers—Victor had not thought of that one—and lint rollers were all apparently determined to be packed for the venue.

Victor had three main responsibilities: the rings, the marriage license, and Chris. He checked off the first two, waiting for Chris to get out of the shower and get dressed before he marked him as ready. Victor snapped the garter of his shirt stays as Chris attached them, claiming to be testing their hold. Before heading out, they went over everything together again. Victor smiled at Chris’ serious determination to make sure he was not missing anything.

On their ride to the venue, Victor helped Chris review his vows because, apparently, like idiots, he and Matthieu had written their own. Listening to the sweetness and impropriety contained within them, Victor had a hard time believing Chris had doubted his commitment to the relationship for even a second.

Despite the rehearsal the previous day, Victor was not prepared for the hussle at the venue. He was simultaneously flooded with instructions and left behind. Chris was snatched up by the wedding planner, and Victor was hauled off for photos that were to be taken of the wedding party.

The decorations were being finalized on both of the booked floors; the lower for the ceremony and the upper for the reception. Instead of the virginal white, Chris and Matthieu had gone for a theme of mature sensuality. The chairs for the ceremony were decorated with black lace, and scarlet roses lined the aisles. The arch overflowed with chrysanthemums, roses, freesias, and peonies, the different shades of red tying the seasons together.

After the photos were finished, Victor caught Phichit’s gaze. He received a small smile and half a wave, his heart instantly jumping. That was a sign. Of what, he could not be certain, but he had been expecting a scowl. The rest of the afternoon, Victor’s heart murmured and pulsed. He had told himself that morning that he would concentrate on the ceremony, on his role as best man, and not permit himself to be distracted with anxious expectations of what would happen when he saw Yuuri.

Victor could still have his chance, at least to talk to Yuuri and try to convince him that they might be able to make things work between them. He was willing to wait if Yuuri was, whether it was for one month or nine. He did not want to lose Yuuri to one stupid argument and to one dumb mistake. Victor did not get to his position in his firm by giving up quickly or easily, and if he had to make his case to the jury that was Yuuri, he would. He had won twice already, after their disaster of a first date and after Yuuri’s initial hesitation in their relationship. Yuuri had already given Victor his apology, albeit a small one, yet it was more than Victor had given him in return.

When the guests began to arrive, Victor was unable to stand by the doors and wait even if he wanted to. He was at Chris’ side, ensuring that groom number one was set to go and flawless. He adjusted Chris’ tie, ran through the vows one more time, and made use of the lint rollers provided by Matthieu’s sister to keep his tux pristine.

“Nervous?” Victor asked. He had an extra handkerchief in his pocket, in case Chris needed it.

Chris did not answer immediately, giving a hum of consideration. Unlike the day before, his hands were not trembling and he smiled with confidence. “No.”

“Really?”

“I’ve never been more certain in my entire life.”

“Have you ever been certain of anything?”

“First time’s the charm,” Chris replied with a wink, making Victor laugh.

“Then let’s go get you a better name.”

The ceremony followed the same pattern as the rehearsal, and yet was incredibly different. Every lace- and flower-laden seat was filled, the music echoing against the ceiling like it was composed for it. Victor kept his place just behind Chris at the altar, rings in his breast pocket, the marriage license already handed off. While nerves had rattled both Chris and Matthieu the evening prior, they both seemed incredibly at ease as they listened to the lines recited by the officiant, smiling at each other with a fondness that would have been too saccharine for the wedding cake.

Chris did fumble the opening of his vows, not exactly covering the mistake with a hissed “ahhh, fuck” that caused a guest near the front to gasp and Matthieu to snicker, visibly biting the inside of his cheeks to try and keep his composure. They really were a match made in heaven.

Victor handed off the rings when it was time, standing back to watch the exchange. His gaze did flicker out, catching sight of Yuuri seated midway back. And curse him, Yuuri was beautiful. He had his hair slicked back but his glasses on, a delighted smile further brightening his face. Victor imagined that Yuuri would be a thousand times more stunning if he were the one at the altar, with a ring on his finger and love filling his heart.

“By the power of your love and commitment, and the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and husband. Now hurry up and kiss each other.”

The hall rang with laughter and applause, the loudest of those being from the guests who had been at the rehearsal; this time it was Matthieu who grabbed Chris, dipping him low and dominating the kiss. Victor clapped along, adding a whistle for effect. He had no qualms about signing the witness line on their certificate, trusting that they would make it just fine. If Matthieu was dumb enough to take Chris for a husband, he would absolutely keep him for life.

It should have been simple getting all the guests from the ceremony to the reception, since they only needed to go up one floor, but the simplest matters always seemed to end up the most chaotic. Everyone wanted to stop and congratulate the newlyweds while Phichit darted out, snapping photos. For a second, Victor thought he glimpsed Yuuri off to his left but when he turned, his line of sight was replaced by the wedding planner gesturing the guests out.

As everyone slowly filtered upstairs, Victor kept his head up, looking for Yuuri. He had already seen that they were not seated together at dinner, unsure if that had been by original arrangement or by special request. Victor waited, chatting with other guests. It would be better, he told himself, to wait for the lull. He did not want to catch Yuuri for a brief, rushed moment. He wanted them to have a proper amount of time.

Victor helped others find their seats when the call for dinner was made, the reception space decorated to the nines. The chairs and cutlery were golden, the tablecloths black, and the flowers cardinal. The chandeliers above were strung with red roses in full bloom, the atmosphere sensual as the background music played slow jazz.

The welcoming toasts were opened by Matthieu’s father and Chris’ mother, who both took similar approaches. They each kept their statements short and sweet, greeting their new sons-in-law and thanking everyone for coming. If anyone had expected anything salacious, they would have to wait a little more.

Two tables over from Victor’s, Yuuri’s seat stayed empty through the start of dinner. Victor had to calm his skipping pulse, reassuring himself that Yuuri would not leave without a single word and was likely helping with catering. Graciously, it turned out to be true, and Yuuri finally appeared once everyone else had been served. So near and yet so far. Victor curled his toes in his shoes, fighting the urge to abandon his seat. If he swapped name plates with the lovely young lady sitting at Yuuri’s side, surely no one would mind. The only thing that prevented him from doing just that was the sole task he had left on his best man responsibility checklist.

Victor had not written a formal speech. Prepared statements were something he made in his work as a lawyer, and today he wanted to act as a friend. As dinner wrapped up and champagne glasses were refilled to the top, Victor stood. He was used to having the attention of a filled room during trials and was never fazed by it, but the moment Yuuri turned to look toward him, Victor’s stomach felt unsettled. He took a deep drink from his flute, wetting his tongue and loosening his nerves.

“I met Chris during my first year of law school,” Victor began, his voice holding strong and his tone steady. “We hit it off quickly because we had similar perspectives when it came to relationships, and as such I hope no one here has utilized either of our services. I won’t call us old—despite what my hair might suggest to those in the back with less than perfect vision—but we were definitely younger. Because of the professions we were heading into, counseling for Chris and divorce law for me, we thought we had relationships figured out. That they were blissful, they were fun, and they tended to end in an utter mess for the vast majority of people. It is easy to judge when you’re looking in from the outside.

“Through our work, we’ve both seen more than our fair share of bad relationships and couples that objectively should not have been together. It definitely made us a bit cynical. Love was a fleeting fancy, and we got into the bad habit of making bets on the relationships of acquaintances. Although, I will say, Chris had a lot more faith than I did in people’s ability to change themselves for the better.

“For a long time, we both maintained the belief that marriage was the beginning of the end. Not for everyone, of course, but neither of us were the wedding type. We’d date, we would enjoy a relationship here and there. We even dated the same paralegal for a while, though not at the same time… Then, Chris told me about how he’d met this choreographer. And he kept telling me about this choreographer. The next time I saw him, and the time after that, and the time after that. And then, I got a name. I should have known at that moment, really, because we tended to talk about the people we saw in regards to their job titles. Doctor, analyst, cop, banker.” Cake designer. “Matthieu.” Yuuri.

“My second hint should have been when I met Matthieu. Chris introduced us and instead of shaking my hand, Matthieu leans over, hums, and goes, ‘You’re right, he’s definitely the friend with the best ass.’” A few people near the front, including Matthieu’s father, appeared slightly scandalized. Matthieu had ducked his head, but Chris was grinning with pride. The fact that Matthieu had never expected Chris to tone down his risqué nature was one of the main reasons Victor had liked him from the very start. “My third and final hint should have come some time last year, when Chris suddenly started making comments about wedding cakes and invitation card stock.” Had Victor actually been paying attention then, the seating arrangements might have been different.

His gaze shifted from the two grooms to the table that Victor wanted to be seated at. Yuuri was listening, his posture straight, a heartbreakingly soft smile on his lips. Victor took a steadying breath and continued, “The thing about being a cynic… is that you don’t expect love to find you. It surprises you when you’re least expecting it by dancing into your life, and sometimes you don’t even realize how deeply you’ve fallen until the moment that it goes missing.

“That feeling of suddenly having someone you can’t fathom being without, when the memory of a kiss on the street in the rain or their shoes in the doorway becomes this flood that overtakes you, it leaves no room for cynicism. It changes you, before you’ve realized it, before you’ve even allowed it to happen. And all the things you thought you’d never need, you start to crave. Like wedding cakes and invitation card stock.

“I’m a divorce lawyer and today, I had the privilege and the honor of signing the witness line on the marriage certificate of my best friend. And looking at these two idiots in love in front of me, I cannot imagine I will ever come to regret it.” Victor picked up his champagne glass to signal the readying of a toast. “Should that happen, though, Chris, I want you to know that I will absolutely be representing your wonderful husband rather than you in the process.” A few more laughs from the crowd and Victor’s heart tripped over itself when he saw how beautifully Yuuri was smiling.

“I have complete faith, however, that this union is a bond for the ages. So congratulations to Chris and Matthieu. I wish for you a lifetime of love, like I could only hope to one day have for myself.” Victor raised his glass to them. “Cheers.”

Victor retook his seat to polite clapping, Yuuri’s honey brown eyes following him down. The focus of the guests shifted to Matthieu’s sister, who stood to make her own speech as his maid of honor. As much as Victor wanted to go steal away Yuuri, he sat and listened, waiting for the perfect moment. He did not wish to lose any goodwill he had gained by causing a disruption. He had time. At least, he hoped that he had time.

As Matthieu’s sister concluded her speech, Victor curled his hands into fists in his lap, steeling himself. Only Yuuri was gone from his seat, his chair pushed in and napkin neatly folded. For one panic-inducing moment, Victor thought he had missed his chance before remembering: the cake. He had seen it earlier, on the way into the reception hall, set on a display table not far from the grooms.

It was gorgeous, like all of Yuuri’s creations were. The layers alternated between hand-painted gold lace on black fondant and blooming ruby-red sugar roses that Victor never would have believed weren’t real if he had not already known the level of Yuuri’s skills. The top layer had Chris and Matthieu’s names written in elegant script, encompassed by more roses. He could not fathom how much more spectacular Yuuri’s work would become after nine months in Paris.

Chris and Matthieu were up on their feet, trying to figure out the best way to hold the cake knife together. Phichit snapped photos of it all, through the fumbling and the cutting. One of the roses fractured off and Matthieu threw out a hand to save it before it could fall. Victor left his seat just as Matthieu smeared cake across Chris’ cheek, Chris returning the gesture and kissing a dollop of cream off Matthieu’s nose. Adorable. Victor could hear Yuri’s voice in his head, making a comment about how disgustingly in love they were.

As Yuuri took over the cake cutting for the newlyweds, Victor carried his champagne glass to the terrace. He needed a minute to calm the irregular rhythm of his heart, and to figure out what he wanted to say to Yuuri. His own thoughts conflicted themselves because what he truly wanted would be for Yuuri to stay, to put off his trip just for a day so that they would have one last day to spend together. It was unfair that they would not have the chance. Victor did not think he could even manage a proper goodbye on such short notice. He had too much to say, but did not know what time Yuuri’s flight was and thus did not know how close he was cutting his chance.

The sun had set a few hours prior, leaving the night cool. The view from the terrace looked out onto the Hudson, the New Jersey border lit up brightly across it. Perhaps Yuuri would send him photos from Paris. He would surely have a wonderful view from wherever it was he would be staying.

Victor downed the rest of his champagne, hearing the music inside being turned up. It would be time for the first dance and, with that, the party would be wrapping up. Yuuri should be finished distributing the cake. It was now or never.

Turning to head back, Victor was met with the most pleasant surprise. A slice of wedding cake on a plate carried by Yuuri. He came up to Victor, balancing the plate on the edge of the terrace railing, and held out a golden fork in offer. “I thought you would want a taste.”

From inside the reception, music flowed. If Victor looked over, he would be sure to see Chris and Matthieu dancing in the cleared space opposite the tables. However, he did not want to move his gaze away from Yuuri for a second, afraid that if he did, it would be a second wasted.

The choices for what words to use were endless, and yet none came. Victor’s mind was blank. He’d had so long to choose, to decide, and still nothing seemed right. A declaration of love would seem cheap, a demand for an explanation inappropriate. All of this was because Victor had let Yuuri go, so that was where he needed to start.

“I’m sorry—”

Short laughter rang from Yuuri, the sound mimicked by Victor as they both gave the same apology at the same time. Victor gave them a moment before trying again, and once more Yuuri spoke over him. They each cut off, smiling. Already, the buzzing in Victor’s nerves settled. He had been worried that when they finally saw each other they would be stuck in awkward silence, unable to reconnect. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having Yuuri beside him was natural, opening a chasm of longing in his chest. He did not want to let that go.

“Yuuri—”

“Wait, can I go first?”

“You don’t need to.”

“No, I do.” The fork clinked against the porcelain of the plate as Yuuri set it down. There was tension in his jaw, rigidity in his shoulders, and a spark behind the lenses of his glasses. “I was the one who kept things from you, I was the one who started the… the argument. You didn’t know what was going on, you were not the one to blame. I put everything on you, then I left and stayed away. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t the correct way to handle it. I didn’t give either of us a chance talk or explain or… anything. I wanted to turn around and come back to you immediately after, but I felt so embarrassed by what I’d said and how I acted, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. And when you didn’t come after me, I—”

“I know, I should have. I did, but you were already—”

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Victor,” Yuuri interrupted, taking half a step in, drawing them nearer.

“I let you go.”

“I asked you to. You did everything I said I wanted, I was the one keeping the distance.”

Victor nodded. He had not known the right thing to do then. If they went back and redid it, he would still not know the right response. They had both been upset, both been irate. If he had chased after Yuuri immediately, it was possible the result would have been even worse. “I want to apologize to you as well. You didn’t deserve my anger. This whole time, I’ve been thinking about it and… you were being a good friend to Chris. A better one than me, clearly. I wish you or him had told me sooner, but that’s not on you. It was so much at once, I couldn’t process it, and I took it out on you.”

Casting him a small smile, Yuuri hummed in understanding and shifted, leaning against the glass railing, his arms over the edge. It might have been the month apart, but he looked better than ever. The wedding color scheme fit him perfectly. Yuuri was not wearing a jacket, but his red shirt and black vest were fitted. Victor would have liked it if he had been able to help Yuuri into and out of them that evening.

Victor stepped forward, joining Yuuri against the railing and closing the distance between them until they were a millimeter away from touching. The lights of the buildings around them sparkled off the darkness of the river below. The plate of cake remained between their hands, otherwise Victor would have risked reaching out to curl his little finger around Yuuri’s.

Behind them, the music changed, one song transitioning into the next.

“I missed you,” Victor said, glancing over.

Yuuri remained facing forward as he picked up the fork, slicing into the cake. The sponge was red velvet, the layer of cream between it and the fondant thin. Yuuri lifted the piece, holding it out on the tip of the fork for Victor, his other hand cupped underneath.

Victor leaned in, accepting it. The bitterness of the cocoa in the cream blended into the richness of the sponge and contrasted the sweetness of the fondant. Yuuri truly was a master at his craft. “It’s fantastic.”

“Mmmm, I know.” Yuuri smiled, breaking off a piece for himself. They shared it until it was gone, a single rose sugar petal melting on Victor’s tongue. “...Will you dance with me?”

As if Victor would refuse, in any universe, under any circumstance. He set the empty plate on the ground, so as to prevent it from accidentally falling from the terrace, and held his hands out for Yuuri to take. The way Yuuri slid into his arms midway through some slow, wedding playlist love song had his heart splitting in two. They had started their relationship on cake and a dance; ending it the same way would be poetic.

They swayed together in the gentle breeze of the evening, movements uncomplicated. Victor laced their fingers together, wrapping an arm around Yuuri’s waist to hold him close as Yuuri’s left hand settled on his chest. He missed the proximity, the warmth, the sweetness of Yuuri’s breath on his skin.

“Why didn’t you tell me about Paris?” Victor asked quietly.

“I was going to,” Yuuri replied. “At our dinner on Valentine’s Day. I had sent the email accepting it right before Chris arrived, and I wanted to surprise you. You were the one who kept encouraging me to apply to that patisserie program, and you’re the reason I finally decided to take the first step. I knew you’d be happy for me and that you’d support me, and knowing I had that… I honestly don’t think I would have even thought about going for it without you. At least not for a few more years. But then, you know, the fight happened and it didn’t seem that important anymore.”

“Are you nervous?”

Yuuri shook his head. “No. A bit, but mostly I’m excited. I’ve always wanted to see Paris. Now I get my first chance to see what it’s like and find out if I even like it.”

Chuckling, Victor tipped forward, his nose brushing into Yuuri’s hair. The strands were firm, held in place by gel. The scent of Victor’s fruity, expensive shampoo lingered within it, meaning Yuuri had bought himself the same brand. “You’ll love it.”

The song playing inside faded, the next track more upbeat. Yuuri did not draw away so Victor didn’t either, continuing their slow dance. They fell silent for it, the notes mixing with the sounds drifting up from the city below. Halfway through, Yuuri released Victor’s hand to slide both his arms over Victor’s shoulders, falling in chest to chest. Victor wrapped both of his around Yuuri’s waist, his lips in Yuuri’s hair.

He had waited too long to chase after Yuuri and now all he could do was let him fly away. Nine months would go by quickly for Yuuri. Victor did not yet know whether the same would be true for him, or if they would drag on. Nothing was certain. He never would have predicted the year he would have at the start of the previous one, before the wonder that was Yuuri had danced into his life.

From inside the reception hall came applause, overlapping the ending notes of the song. Yuuri tipped his head up, meeting Victor’s eyes. The sway of their dance ceased with the music. “I missed you too, you know. So much. So, so damn much.”

Victor’s smile cracked. He cupped the side of Yuuri’s face, stroking over the line of his cheekbone with his thumb. He wanted to lean down, to catch Yuuri’s lips in a kiss that lasted until the final boarding call came and went. “Can I… is it alright if I call you? Or text you, while you’re in Paris?”

Yuuri nodded, his skin soft against Victor’s palm. “I’d love that.”

For a moment, all was calm. For a moment, Victor had his chance. But his pulse beat too loud and time passed too fast, and Yuuri was tipping up to press a kiss to the very corner of his mouth. “I’ll see you soon, Victor.” And then, just like that, Yuuri was gone, leaving him alone on the terrace with an empty plate and an empty heart.

Victor stood stunned, the spot on his cheek where Yuuri’s lips had brushed burning. Soon. How cruel was that? How selfish was that? Nine months was not soon, not even close to it. Not unless Yuuri planned on surprising him with a plane ticket and an address and tips on the best way to take a dog abroad.

This wasn’t right. It was not the way a romance, whirlwind or not, was supposed to end. No, he should not have let Yuuri walk away from him before and he was going to be damned if he let it happen now. They had started on cake and a dance and Victor chasing after Yuuri. He needed to complete the pattern.

Victor ran inside, the hall filled with guests dancing and making conversation, congratulating the newlyweds and their families. Others were saying their goodbyes and excusing themselves for the night, readying to leave. Victor dodged past couples and tables, finding the door to the service area. Except Yuuri was not there. He was not in the hall and not on the lower floor. Victor swore at the leisurely speed of the elevator, running out onto the street in time to see a car pulling away. He didn’t even know which way Yuuri was headed.

Grabbing the doorman, Victor requested that a cab be called before rushing back up, grabbing his phone from where he had left it at his table and finding Chris. He and Matthieu were posing for photos along with their families. Victor called out his sincerest apologies as he grabbed their photographer, his grip strained on Phichit’s shoulders.

“Hey—”

“Which airport is he going to?!” Victor demanded, his hands shaking.

“Wha…” It took Phichit a moment, blinking in surprise, before his mouth formed an “o” of understanding. “JFK. It’s an Air France flight.”

“Do you know the number?”

Phichit shook his head, letting his camera hang from the neck strap as he dug out his phone. “I can text it to you. It’s, ummm, I know it leaves around eleven.”

“Thank you,” Victor said and let go, rushing out. He would buy a ticket for himself if he had to catch Yuuri at the gate.

“Go get him!” Phichit shouted after him, allowing Victor to give himself half a smile.

Victor prayed for light traffic, promising the cab driver double the fare if he got Victor there quickly. The 23rd Street lights stayed graciously green and the Midtown Tunnel unobstructed by road work. Victor tried to call but the first attempt went to voicemail and his battery cut out during the second. He just needed one more minute, to ask one more question. He could not let Yuuri get away without knowing, without telling him.

Victor’s eyes followed the signs outside that counted down the miles to the airport and when they finally pulled up in front of international departures, Victor did not wait for the cab to stop rolling completely. He slammed down double the fare as promised and leapt out, racing into the airport.

It was late and yet there were far too many people, too many counters. If Yuuri had checked in online, Victor might have already been too late to catch him before he went through security. Victor found the Air France counter, but Yuuri was not in line. He wasn’t there. Spinning on his heels, Victor swallowed the pressure at the back of his throat and—

There. Heading toward the security line. A flash of a scarlet red shirt. Dark hair and a hint of blue glasses temple tips, a passport and boarding pass in hand. Someone wearing an airport uniform yelled at Victor not to run, but he did not listen.

“Yuuri!”

Victor nearly knocked both of them off their feet as he crashed into Yuuri, sweeping him into an embrace, arms thrown tightly around him so as not to give Yuuri any chance to break away. He spun them away from the line and caught Yuuri’s mouth in a kiss because words would not suffice. Victor was not going to stop Yuuri from flying to Paris—he would not be able to do it now, nor ever. Not when Paris was Yuuri’s dream. But he could not let Yuuri go without knowing what was left between them, without making sure Yuuri knew that Victor would be right there waiting for him to return. He needed to see the photos of Yuuri’s new creations on his phone, needed to hear the accent in Yuuri’s voice as he learned French. He needed to know that at the end of the year, he could expect Yuuri to come home, to their home together.

Yuuri’s entire frame was stiff with shock, although it was only for a moment. Then his fingers wound into Victor’s hair, his lips encouraging as they moved against Victor’s. So Victor did not let go. He kept Yuuri tugged to him, trying to make up for a month plus nine of lost kisses.

“Victor…”

“I love you.” Victor could not believe he had let so long go before telling Yuuri those words. It was not a confession, because Yuuri already had to know it. There was not a single doubt of the love between them, not before, not in that moment. There was no other explanation, no other excuse. Victor had fallen hard and he never wanted to get up. “If you don’t know it already, I love you. I love everything about you and I can’t stand the thought of another day where you’re not in my life. And I don’t mean that in a ‘don’t go’ kind of way, because I want to you go, but I need you to know that I am willing to wait a month or a year or ten if I have to, because you’re worth it and you’re always going to be worth it. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, whether it’s here or in Paris or anywhere else in the world, as long as you’ll let me.”

Yuuri hung off Victor, bent back as he gazed up in a doe-eyed daze. His lips were parted, his jaw slack, and the palest pink crept across the bridge of his nose. “I…” He seemed lost for the passing seconds, before smiling and tipping up, kissing Victor once more. “Wow, Victor. Between that and your speech earlier, that really sounds like a marriage proposal.”

He was teasing. Victor knew he was teasing, he could see it in the mischievous sparks dancing in the deep brown of Yuuri’s eyes. He did not want to imagine a life without them. Sliding his arms from around Yuuri’s waist, Victor pulled Yuuri’s hands down from his hair, lacing their fingers together as he held both of Yuuri’s hands between them. “It is. It could be. If you need it. If you want it to be.”

Yuuri’s smile slipped, his eyes growing wider. “Are you… Wait, wait, wait.” He pulled his hands out of Victor’s, visibly trembling. “Are you serious?”

Victor was. He was better with Yuuri. He liked himself and his life better with Yuuri. It did not matter how or under which label, as long as they were together. “Yes.”

“Victor…” Yuuri let out a short laugh and shook his head. “No. We’re… we haven’t even talked about this. We’ve barely talked at all for… You can’t just—no, absolutely not. I love you too, but I’m nowhere near ready for that. Yes, of course I want to be with you, but I don’t want an actual proposal. I mean… You understand, right?”

“You’re rejecting me?” Victor asked in disbelief, though his lips stretched into the first genuine smile in a while.

“No!” Yuuri objected, dropping his forehead onto Victor’s chest. “I mean, yes? I don’t want to get married, Victor, I don’t need that. If you’re actually going to propose at some point, maybe, but not like this. We obviously still have a lot of things we need to work out first. We need to have a real conversation before it’s even an option. And we can’t do that right now, because I am going to be in real trouble if I miss my flight. But I’d very much like it if you would be here to pick me up and give me that same kiss here next week, okay? We can go home together then and talk and figure everything out. Including what you just said.”

Nodding, Victor took Yuuri’s hands again, lifting them to kiss Yuuri’s knuckles. He froze before they touched his lips, experiencing a short-circuit as a detail processed. “Next week?”

“Yeah, I think I land Sunday night. I’ll double-check and let you know,” Yuuri said, glancing over his shoulder toward the gates. “You don’t have to, if you’re busy. I can call a ride, I just thought if you weren’t that you might want to.”

Sunday night. Next Sunday night. Victor could absolutely pick Yuuri up at the airport next Sunday night. “You’re coming back next week?”

“Yeah. The cake show is a few days and then I have a demonstration, and then I thought I could go visit the patisserie school to see if I like the look of it before I made any final decisions about applying.”

Victor blinked. “I thought you were going for the school.”

“What—no!” Yuuri took half a step back, biting back amusement. “Who told you that?”

“Matthieu said you were leaving for Paris.”

“Yes, for a cake show. For one week. You thought I was… you thought I was leaving for the course? For a year?! Without telling you?”

Victor had tuned out everything after “Paris.” Although in his defense, it was not an outlandish assumption. “I thought you decided you needed more time. Or that you didn’t want to be in a relationship anymore.”

“So you thought you’d propose before I left for a year?” Yuuri began laughing, joy shaking through his shoulders.

“That’s not funny.”

“It kind of is,” Yuuri replied. He reached up, taking hold of Victor’s face and kissing him. “No, Victor, I am not running away to France. And no, I will not marry you. Not anytime soon anyway, not until we figure out if that’s really what both of us want. I do love you, though, and I very much want to continue our relationship. But I need to go, because I am pretty sure it’s my boarding time. Can we continue this conversation next week? Or after I get to my hotel and can call you, at least?”

Once again, Yuuri had Victor speechless. He nodded, kissing Yuuri again, and again, then once more for good measure before letting him go. “Have a safe flight.”

After a smile and a kiss to Victor’s cheek, Yuuri picked up the roller case which had been knocked to the ground by Victor’s flying tackle. He passed through the security checkpoint and paused, turning back briefly to give Victor a wave. Victor waved back and, a minute later, Yuuri was gone from sight, leaving Victor alone but no longer lonely.

A week would barely last a blink.

Chapter Text

Yuuri had thought that the fourteen-hour flights from Tokyo to New York were hell, but the seven hours to Paris had been a thousand times worse, mainly because he had been caught in a middle seat. That was what he had told himself, at least, when in reality it was his nerves that had him jittering the whole flight. He had intended to spend his flight to France reviewing his itinerary and remaking his sketches for the cake he had planned to decorate at the cake show: a simpler, less ambitious design since he would be on his own. Instead he had spent the first few hours staring at the messages on his phone, the ones from Victor. The ones he had not responded to.

It would have taken him forever and a half, but Yuuri realized that if he scrolled up far enough, he would find the texts from just before the Leroy wedding. He had avoided Victor then too, under the guise of prioritizing himself. It had not been fair then, less so now. All of it processed bit by bit during the week Yuuri spent in Paris, each message he received from Victor a reminder. Yuuri had asked Victor for time and been given it, yet he had not used it as he should have. Victor had waited more than he had needed to and had still chased after Yuuri despite believing Yuuri intended to fly off until the end of the year.

When Yuuri landed in Paris, he texted Victor to let him know he was there and received a response back almost immediately despite it being early in the morning in New York. His heart swelled and his guilt doubled. Even if Victor had been fine with waiting, even if Victor said he forgave Yuuri for their fight, that did not mean Yuuri had to feel the same. Obviously, he had some making up to do.

Yuuri called Victor that night, after he had checked into his hotel and visited the center where the cake show would be held, making sure everything was set for the opening of the show the following day. When Victor asked him how it was to finally be in the city of his dreams, Yuuri laughed nervously. It had been dumb, so dumb, but somehow Yuuri had not expected a cake show taking place in France to be conducted in… French. Yuuri knew the basics, his greetings, his gratitudes, a few key questions and phrases, but it was slightly overwhelming to be surrounded in a language he was largely unfamiliar with. Victor teased him for it and reassured Yuuri that he would be fine, and that it was best to plunge in feet first. Yuuri fell asleep that night with his phone cradled to his chest, his heart skipping beats, determined to make Victor proud.

The rest of the week went by in a blink. On his last night, Yuuri took a chance and texted Victor that he was desperately looking forward to coming home. The spam of heart emojis which arrived in his inbox in response had his own soaring.

The first time Yuuri came back from Paris, Victor was waiting for him in the Arrivals lobby, holding a sign with his name on it. Cute. Classic. Cliché. It was more than Yuuri deserved but he adored it. He slid into Victor’s open arms and clung on, needing the comforting hug. The cake show had been a bit of a disaster.

Yuuri had let the language barrier spike his anxiety and while the cake itself turned out gorgeous, his presentation had crumbled. Afterward, as Yuuri talked to Victor on the phone, he was made to laugh by Victor’s impressions of pompous French judges and the reminder that it really did not impact anything, except Yuuri’s pride. The judges had been more than fair and not at all pompous, but Yuuri had appreciated it nonetheless. His demonstration a couple of days later had concluded brilliantly, and his visit to the pâtisserie school cemented his resolve to apply.

The drive from the airport to their apartment was filled with quiet conversation, which started with Victor asking Yuuri his opinions of Paris and concluded with Yuuri muttering out another apology for not being more upfront with Victor before his trip. Yuuri spent that night with Victor, as well as the night after that, staying in their apartment. It did take a few days before they sat down together with the express purpose of talking out what had happened, but in the end the conversation was not nearly as difficult as Yuuri would have thought.

Their biggest issue turned out to be that they were avoiding talking about what they thought would be their biggest issue. They went back to the things they had brought up on the night of their argument. It was clear they both wanted to make things work and that lifted the strain on the conversation. Yuuri asked Victor if he had truly been serious about his proposal in the airport and received a hesitant hum in response, which had him laughing. Good, that was good, Yuuri told him, because he was not at all ready to consider that level of commitment, especially if Victor wasn’t either. Victor asked Yuuri if it would be something he required in the future and Yuuri responded with a hesitant hum of his own.

What Yuuri was certain of was how much he had wanted to be back with Victor while they were apart, and at that time, it did not matter to him how they defined their relationship. If Victor came to want that for them at some point in the future, Yuuri would not turn him down. He saw marriage as a declaration of love, a symbolic dedication, but he could feel all of that even without it. If Victor decided he wanted them to spend a lifetime together without the legal bindings, Yuuri could see himself being satisfied with that. Envisioning them ten or twenty years down the road filled him with butterflies, and what he saw was them together with their fingers laced, regardless of whether they wore rings or not.

Yuuri brought up the topic of Victor’s work and watched him recoil a fraction. That wasn’t it, though, it wasn’t like Victor thought. Yuuri did not mind it. He had not minded it, not from the start and not after. What he minded was how Victor held back, how he avoided talking about it with Yuuri. Yuuri could not understand Victor’s work and what he went through if Victor did not share. That was their issue. Holding back based on assumptions. Yuuri had met a couple of Victor’s clients and he knew Victor wasn’t in the business of destroying relationships. He was in the business of getting people out of bad ones, which included all the struggles that came with it. Victor always supported Yuuri in his work, Yuuri just wanted to do the same. He couldn’t do that if Victor never let him into that part of his life.

They talked about Chris. Yuuri told Victor how much he had hated keeping the engagement from him, and about how Yuuri had kept from telling Victor himself was because he had felt it was not his place. They talked about Mila and about how Yuuri had shrugged off Victor’s warnings, and also about how Victor had not pushed harder to make Yuuri listen. Yuuri really should have listened. He apologized to Victor for making a scene, though it was quickly waved off as Victor confessed finding it rather cute. Again, the point was made that they were better with proper communication.

When the conversation settled, they remained at opposite ends of the dining table, Makkachin dozing between their feet. Expectations, check. Problems, check. Apprehensions, check. They had gone through the whole list and were smiling at one another, Yuuri itching to reach across in order to take Victor’s hands in his own. It would not be perfect going forward, but it would be better. Honesty was a good start and as long as they kept at it, they could work through whatever issues might arise.

“I do have one more question,” Yuuri said, at the end. It may have been a bad idea to ask when he could simply let it go, but Victor had brought it up with his best man speech. Yuuri wanted to know, since it had been the first seed of their communication problem. “You and Chris bet on JJ and Isabella breaking up. What did you bet would cause it?”

Victor blinked then smiled, chuckling. “If I recall, it was a ridiculous bet.”

“How ridiculous?”

“I bet Isabella would dump him for making out with a mirror.”

That was not the answer Yuuri expected. That could not be true. “Really?”

“Technically, I haven’t lost yet.”

"You're serious? That was the bet?"

"What did you expect?"

Yuuri laughed. If that was the actual bet, Yuuri owed Victor a thousand more apologies. “Did you ever bet on us?”

“No, but I had a guess for how long we’d last,” Victor replied, his arms stretching across the table, his hands finding Yuuri’s. “I thought it would be about nine months.”

“You asked me to move in with you after nine months.”

“I never said I was good at that particular game.”

It seemed to Yuuri that they had both been a bit idiotic. But they worked well together, despite it, and with more time, they could be even better. Plus, he could sweeten Victor up by having a box of specialty cupcakes delivered to his office at the start of the month.

The second time Yuuri came back from Paris, Victor was in the seat beside his. Six months after attending his first international cake show, Yuuri had gone as a guest to another, asked to present a workshop on sugar flowers and to join the panel of judges for that category in the competition. Victor had helped Yuuri brush up on his French before that trip and assisted him with interpretation during it. The two of them took an extra day after the expo was finished, to more properly tour the city of love. Another dream Yuuri had always had was to share a kiss on the upper platform of the Eiffel Tower at night, surrounded by the glittering lights. Victor made that dream a reality for him as well.

The third time Yuuri flew to Paris, it was for his pâtissier degree. It had taken a year longer to get than he had originally intended, but such was life. It was Victor who ensured that Yuuri sent in his application a couple of months after that second cake show, not permitting him to use any excuses of being “too busy” or that he would “get to it later.” A months after that, Yuuri had his formal acceptance and, come the spring, Yuuri had left New York in exchange for nine months in Paris.

Living there certainly was different from simply visiting. Yuuri had heard that the underground was not entirely pleasant, but he had the comparison of both Tokyo and New York, making Paris an easy middle ground. All the cafés and the bread shops were as fantastic after a fourth and fifth trip as they were on the first. Yuuri did have a lunch break in between his classes and he enjoyed sitting at an outdoor terrace, especially when Victor was awake early enough for them to have a video call. Victor woke up early often.

The few times he had to deal with the French bureaucracy were a pain, and the living costs were high even for him, but the city was beyond beautiful.

Yuuri found that the service improved as his French did, though he did get comments about his accent being an odd mix of American and Japanese. Victor told him it was charming. On a call, Matthieu just told him to keep trying.

The small market by his rented apartment was closed on Sundays, something that Yuuri kept forgetting. The first few weeks, he was fine with it, since it gave him an excuse to explore the small city corridors. After a while, though, it grew frustrating on the weekend mornings when Yuuri wanted to practice a new technique but realized he was out of flour or cream. He lamented that the view from his apartment did not contain the Eiffel Tower, though the rest of the city was just as lovely in the evenings. The lights from the buildings illuminated the sky in a way somehow softer than those of the New York skyline. The nights felt longer, though that may have been due to the lack of warmth beside him in bed.

Victor visited him twice, once in the summer and once in the fall. Yuuri had wanted to surprise Victor with a day trip to New York, but since there were no holidays in his schedule, it simply wasn’t manageable. Regardless, the brief weekend dates in Paris were far more fun. They went to the Louvre and explored a few of les passages couverts, and on the fall visit, Yuuri impressed Victor by completing the entirety of their restaurant orders in less-than-fluent yet understandable French—even if the waiter was less than amused by it.

When Victor asked Yuuri how he liked living there over a cup of bitter coffee and a plate of rich eclairs, Yuuri confessed that the personality of New York agreed with him better. The quality of pastries, though, Yuuri needed to be able to replicate once he returned to the U.S. They ended the evening in Yuuri’s twin bed, turned into each other as Victor sampled Yuuri’s handmade petits fours off his fingertips. Yuuri saw Victor off at the airport the following morning, trading a kiss and a promise to be home before Christmas with his pâtissier license in hand.

Yuuri kept a daily chat log going with Mila in his absence from his shop, and as far as he was aware, she was running the operation flawlessly without him. The first few months of his course, she had reported that orders for cakes had decreased slightly, potential clients backing out when they learned that the Katsuki behind Katsuki Cakes and Confections was unavailable. Yuuri had not worried about it since an overload of orders could turn out worse than too few. Yet by the half-year mark, Mila’s and Guang Hong’s combined decorating skills had reportedly earned a reputation and begun to build up a client base of their own. By the eighth month, Mila had secured a standing contract with an extremely reputable five-star hotel as part of wedding reception packages they offered, with Yuuri’s permission. The retention amount alone had been enough to nearly give Yuuri a heart attack when he had heard it.

They were going to discuss the idea more formally once Yuuri was back, but Yuuri wanted to invest in a second shop. He would leave the wedding cakes and cupcakes in Mila’s capable hands and explore the option of opening a pâtisserie in Chelsea. He wanted a new challenge and a new test of his creativity.

The third time Yuuri came back from Paris, Victor was there in the Arrivals lobby, holding a sign. It was less classic and cliché, because the moment their eyes met Victor threw the sign into the arms of some stranger beside him and then threw himself into Yuuri’s arms. Yuuri laughed loudly enough that he could hear his own voice echo, clinging to the fabric of Victor’s coat as he buried his face into Victor’s chest. Yuuri had missed a few things during his time in France. He had missed the one-dollar pizza slices late at night, his morning visits from Phichit, the walks with Makkachin in Central Park, and Victor. Victor most of all.

Yuuri’s flight had left Paris in the morning and landed in New York at noon, despite the eight hours on board. He had made Victor promise to keep him awake till a reasonable hour in order to reset his internal clock, although his plan to sleep on the flight had been thwarted by the million things on his mental to-do list, the biggest portion involving his shop and the second biggest involving Victor. Yuuri’s original plan had been to spend a few extra days in Paris after his program finished. He had changed it, coming back early, and dedicated those few days to spending time with Victor. He figured he could not feel guilty about not working when he had not intended to be working on those days in the first place.

The drive from the airport into Manhattan was far more pleasant in the passenger seat of Victor’s car than it was in the backseat of a cab. Victor asked Yuuri if he was planning to start scouting a second location soon. Yuuri shook his head. He still needed to discuss the details with Mila and draft up a business plan; it would take time before he was ready to go shop hunting.

“Did you decide if you wanted to transfer over?” While Yuuri had been in Paris, Victor had done some exploring of his own. He had continued to help Yuri with nuptial contracts ever since Yuri had transferred into the division, using his experience in divorces to advise on the kind of issues a couple might face should their marriage reach a conclusion. Over the past year in particular, Victor had dedicated more and more of his time to consulting on the contracts. During his summer visit, he had mentioned to Yuuri that he was considering switching over.

“Yes.”

“And?”

“No.”

Yuuri laughed, leaning back in his seat. As rough as Victor’s job sometimes seemed it could be, he never had the sense that Victor disliked it. Maybe on some days, the ones which were harder than others, but everyone had those. Yuuri had those, when a difficult cake or customer did not yield an ideal result. Victor had spoken to Yuuri more freely about his work, although it had taken time, opening up little by little. Before Yuuri had left, he had been referred a client by Victor: an older woman getting out of a marriage of twenty-five years. Yuuri had considered it lamentable until he heard her story of the relationship and, at the end of their conversation, he had happily designed her a divorce cake. “Good.”

“Good?” Victor asked, glancing away from the road for a moment and looking toward Yuuri.

“Mmmm. There are enough bad lawyer jokes, the world needs some good ones to combat the narrative.”

“But no bad baker jokes?” Victor said.

“That’s cause the world hasn’t tasted your baking.”

Yuuri yelped with laughter when Victor grabbed his thigh, squeezing it in retaliation. The daily texts and weekly phone calls, even when combined with the couple of weekend visits, had not been enough. Yuuri had missed Victor dearly. He had missed living together, the mornings together, the days off together, the nights spent cooking together. They had done a couple more couples classes after going back to complete the first, and when it came to making dinner, Victor was actually better at it than Yuuri.

“Yura said he’ll be happy to get rid of me.”

Yuuri doubted it, well aware that Yuri had been the one who had asked Victor to transfer when he had. “How’s he doing?”

“As of last month, officially at the top of his division.”

“Not a surprise.”

“Don’t tell him that.”

Yuuri bit back a smile. He would still need to send some cupcakes over in congratulations.

“He has invited us to a Christmas party, though,” Victor said. “That he’s hosting.”

“So adult.”

“You say that, but I did catch him trying to sneak Makkachin bites of burrito again last week.”

That sounded about right. Yuuri would look forward to the Christmas party hosted by Yuri. However it went, it would be a delight. He would expect a Douglas fir full of cat-themed decorations.

They did not go directly home to their apartment, Victor pulling up in front of Yuuri’s shop. They spent an hour there in total, Victor hanging back as Mila and Yuuri caught up on all the small details that got left out of texts and emails. They left to Yuuri stifling a yawn, which resulted in a stop by a coffee shop and then a Makkachin pick-up for a stroll through the park. It took approximately ten minutes for her to settle, her tail pounding wildly from side to side the second she saw Yuuri.

They had lunch in the park despite the cold, leaning their feet against each other’s ankles. Victor brought up his firm’s biennial trip. Yuuri had regrettably been unable to make the one Victor had originally invited him on, overbooked with weddings. He had begged forgiveness for that and made it up to Victor with a surprise weekend trip to the Bahamas for the holidays. Victor claimed that was a much better option than a week-long company excursion.

“Where is this one going to be to?”

“You’ll laugh.”

“Is it Paris?”

“It’s Paris.”

Yuuri did laugh. Overall, Paris had been wonderful. He had loved his courses, loved the atmosphere of the city. But he had not laughed like this the whole time he had been there, not like he did when he was with Victor. Being with Victor came with a sense of contented satisfaction, a sense that he already had all that he really needed. He could be happy without a change, sharing lunch in the park with a dog at their feet like this, forever. “Or you could ditch and go somewhere with me instead.”

“Where?”

“Japan.” Yuuri picked up the cup of coffee he had ordered with his sandwich, blowing on the surface. “Summer there is awful but I thought if we both had the time for it, you could meet my family...”

Victor sparkled in delight and spent the next ten minutes looking up flight information even though Yuuri insisted it was too early to be sure about dates. They walked back to the apartment with fingers laced, Makkachin trotting in front of them.

Setting foot back in their apartment flooded Yuuri with a feeling of home, of belonging. Victor still had Yuuri’s keys hanging on the hook, his spare shoes neatly arranged in the corner of the entrance hall. Yuuri’s equipment had stayed in the kitchen, his clothing in the closet, just like the first time he had come back from Paris. He owed Victor a lifetime of love and would deliver nothing less.

Yuuri unpacked his suitcases and showered, fighting off drowsiness from the long flight and the time difference. The hot water wasn’t helping, and neither was the fluffy robe Victor wrapped him in after he had toweled off. They were supposed to have an early Christmas date that evening, though Yuuri was less than confident he would not spend the entire time yawning and nodding off.

“Take a nap, I’ll wake you,” Victor said, his arms draped loosely around Yuuri’s waist as he walked him toward the bedroom.

“You better. Don’t let me sleep through.”

“We have dinner reservations that I am not going to let us miss,” Victor replied while tugging the blankets from their tuck on the bed, pushing Yuuri down as if he expected a protest.

“This time?” Yuuri smiled. They had missed their Christmas dinner reservations both of the previous years, for close to the same reasons. Another year and it would become a tradition.

“We’re not missing this one.”

“Mmm, we’ll see about that.”

Yuuri was out like a light the moment his head hit the pillow, falling asleep to the feel of Victor’s lips in his hair. He woke up to the same, Victor’s mouth skimming down the back of his neck, leaving behind a heated trail. He could not be sure how long he had been out, though it felt like only a minute. “Is it time to go?” he muttered, shifting back into Victor’s arms when they looped around him.

“In about an hour,” Victor muttered, kissing along the expanse of Yuuri’s bare shoulders.

“Sure we can’t just stay and order in?”

The whine from Victor and pointed bite to the nape of his neck had Yuuri chuckling, his hands sliding down to find Victor’s so he could entwine their fingers. “Can we get the good wine with dinner then?”

“I was thinking champagne.”

Yuuri would never turn down a good glass of champagne, not when he was able to share it with Victor. He let his eyes slip shut again, drifting on the verge of consciousness as Victor continued to kiss his neck. Each brush of his lips sent sparks coursing down Yuuri’s spine, and he tipped his head to the side to encourage Victor. He wiggled back so that the line of his body met Victor’s, their hips slotting together, and pushed Victor’s hands down further. The quiet swear hissed against his skin had him grinning.

Victor kept one arm wrapped tightly around Yuuri’s waist, holding him close, his other hand dipping between Yuuri’s thighs. Yuuri had missed this too. He twisted at the waist to catch Victor in a kiss. His fingers fumbled with the fastening of Victor’s pants at the odd angle, needing a minute to get them undone and down, drawing out Victor’s hardening cock. Yuuri tried to turn in but Victor held him in place and so Yuuri let him.

It was a comfort like none other to be held, the tip of Victor’s nose pushing through the hair at the back of his head, mouth doubtlessly leaving marks just behind his ear. Victor let him go only for a moment, his fingers coming back slick. Yuuri spread his legs, sighing with content. His head was still buzzing from the drowsiness of sleep and now his body buzzed with the press of Victor’s fingers inside him. It was the most pleasant daze, reminiscent of the few slow mornings they had spent together. Between both their demanding jobs, lazy mornings came sparingly. They could have one tomorrow, though. They could sleep in, then Victor could brew coffee as Yuuri made breakfast, adjusting into a life together once more. Yuuri was looking forward to the laundry days spent bickering about missing socks and the regularly scheduled movie musical nights. A full year spent living together before Yuuri left for his pâtissier course and Victor still had new ones to show him. Although, he did admit that some were better than others.

Yuuri arched as Victor entered him, one hand splayed across Yuuri’s abdomen, the other curled around the underside of his thigh, providing support to his raised left leg. Victor did not move at first, letting Yuuri adjust. They had seen each other every day, technically, through the video calls and exchanged photos, but it had been three months since Yuuri had Victor’s heat surrounding him, inside of him.

Rolling his hips, Yuuri pushed himself back onto Victor, breathing out a quiet plea. He wanted to get lost in the sensation, in the gift of being together. The bedroom was dark save for the light spilling in from the open door to the living room and the sparkling glow of the city coming through the windows. Yuuri’s lashes fluttered as Victor pulled out and thrust in gently, moans falling from his parted lips as they set a slow pace.

They had plans for the New Year already set. Victor had told Yuuri that his mother would be visiting the city at the start of the month and wanted to know if he would like to join the two of them for a brunch at the Russian Tea Room. Yuuri had of course said yes. Before then, they would have Yuri’s Christmas party, and they had promised to attend the one held by Victor’s firm, though whether they would actually make it was debatable. In the spring, if all went without hiccups, it was possible Yuuri could have the soft opening to his pâtisserie, and in late summer, a trip to Japan. In the interim, he believed there was meant to be a new show opening on Broadway and he would be certain to snatch a pair of tickets. Yuuri liked that schedule. Bit by bit, step by step, each with Victor nearby.

Yuuri craned back again to seek Victor’s mouth, begging for an embrace into the kiss. Victor drew away and Yuuri shifted onto his back, reaching out for him. He undid the buttons of Victor’s shirt, still on, and pushed it off his shoulders. It slipped off the edge of the bed and fell to the floor as Victor settled between Yuuri’s spread thighs, leaning down to kiss him fully. Yuuri tipped up to meet up, gasping against Victor’s tongue as his cock reentered his body in one fluid thrust.

Legs hooking around Victor’s waist and crossed heels digging into the small of Victor’s back, Yuuri threaded his fingers through the silver silk of Victor’s hair, restraining him to a desperate kiss. With each movement Yuuri’s body sang and his mind danced, grasping out for more. Just like this, he could be happy just like this. A home together, a life together, a love together.

Yuuri’s arms stayed wound around Victor’s shoulders, his lashes lifted and eyes taking in the beauty of Victor’s expression. The short exhales coming off his partner were music and Yuuri drank them in, chasing them with his lips and his tongue. When one sharp thrust hit at just the right angle, Yuuri gasped and mewled out a plea of again.

In the dark, Yuuri could see Victor’s smile. It struck hard and deep, piercing through Yuuri’s heart and making it ache. “What?” he whispered.

“Nothing.” Victor shook his head, dropping to close the distance, his forehead tipping against Yuuri’s. There was a coarseness to his voice, the words raw as he muttered them. “I love you.”

The same feeling burned through Yuuri’s chest as when he had listened to the speech Victor had made at Chris’ wedding, the same feeling he’d experienced when they had been rolling around the kitchen floor covered in strawberries and whipping cream. It was the same feeling as when Victor had told Yuuri about the first case he had lost for a client, conveying the guilt he had felt about not being able to better help resolve a bad legal situation. The same feeling he had whenever he watched Victor trying and failing to clip Makkachin’s nails on his own, and the same feeling on all those Parisian lunchtime video calls when it was clear that Victor had just woken up, his hair ruffled, his eyes at half-mast, but his smile sweet. It went beyond adoration.

With a smirk, Yuuri dug in his heels and threw his weight, flipping them over. Victor’s jaw went momentarily slack in surprise, his eyes widening as Yuuri straddled him. Yuuri took his hands, lifting them to his lips. He kissed Victor’s palms and the base of his fingers. “I love you too.”

Victor’s smile doubled, taking on that darling heart shape.

Yuuri pinned Victor’s arms to the pillow above his head, lacing their fingers together. He held Victor’s hands as he rode him, stealing kisses as he rocked his hips, moaning across Victor’s lips. When his pace faltered, Victor thrust up to meet him. While Yuuri did not need the fancy dinner date that evening, Victor had kept insisting. At least they would be leaving the apartment sated. Yuuri rather liked their dates after a roll in the sheets; it always had the both of them giddy as they rode the elevator or played footsie in the back of a cab.

Slipping his hands from Victor’s, Yuuri placed his on Victor’s chest and mewled when Victor gripped his hips. The first hard thrust had his balance tipping, the second had him falling, sliding his arms around Victor’s neck. Yuuri met each one, clenching and clinging, gasping into grazed kisses. They were wrapped up in each other, sharing the same breath, murmuring sweet nothings between the break in the rhythm of the pounding of their heartbeats.

Yuuri came first, spilling ribbons across both their abdomens. He groaned and clung to Victor, sinking fully onto his cock and grinding down, wanting to be painted from the inside. Victor granted him his wish moments later, and the lull settled. The calm was always pleasant, though the quiet was disrupted by the smack of kisses and the chime of affectionate laughter.

“Are we going to miss this reservation too?” Yuuri teased after a few minutes, twisting strands of silver hair between his fingers while Victor’s hands caressed the curve of his buttocks.

“No, not this one,” Victor protested, smacking one of Yuuri’s ass cheeks in an encouragement to get him up and off him. “Come on, we need to clean up and get dressed.”

Yuuri heeded the request, darting off to the bathroom to grab them a moistened towel and wiping both of them down. “Is it just the dinner?” He needed to know how to dress, since Victor had not given him the details.

“Actually, it’s ice skating first.”

“Ice skating?” Yuuri glanced over his shoulder from the closet.

“The idea was to wear you out so that when we get home, you’ll fall straight asleep,” Victor said, coming up behind him.

“Can I wear jeans, then?” Yuuri asked and instantly got a look in response. “They’ll be more comfortable.”

“I already have an outfit picked out for you, Yuuri, don’t break my heart.” Victor pouted, plucking hangers off the rack to hand to Yuuri. Slacks and a fitted red sweater, one that Yuuri was actually very fond of. “Please?”

Yuuri had a counter-offer for a compromise. “Those tight jeans that you like?”

“The designer pair from Phichit?”

“Yes.”

“Then yes.”

Yuuri grinned. He did not miss the lilt in Victor’s tone signaling that he found those particular pants extremely agreeable. “How about my beanie?”

“The one with the cat ears?”

“Yeah.”

“I insist that you do.”

Smiling, Yuuri pecked Victor’s cheek and put on the rest of the preselected outfit. He did not mind it, liking the fact that it guaranteed that Victor would later compliment how he looked. He wanted to look good for their first New York date in almost a year. They had skated at Rockefeller the previous December too, doing only a bit better than the first time they had gone. No fights that time, though; the worst that had happened was that the concession booth had been out of hot chocolate.

Yuuri gave Makkachin her dinner as Victor finished getting dressed, Yuuri teasing him for choosing to wear a suit to go skating. He did make Victor grab a knit hat, knowing that the tips of his ears tended to get cold and he did not want to end up with his beanie being stolen.

They were by the door right on schedule, coats and scarves on, Victor sliding his hands into a pair of gloves. Yuuri had his phone out, calling a car, except Victor stopped him.

The frown on Victor’s face was an unexpected one. Yuuri was surprised by the sudden flush across Victor’s cheeks as he searched his coat and came up empty. “Hold on a moment,” Victor mumbled, patting himself down again, first the inside of the coat and then the outer pockets. His frown deepened.

“What? Wallet?” Yuuri asked. Victor had set it down on the dining table after the walk in the park, but he was certain he had seen him pick it up as they were getting ready.

“No, I have that,” Victor replied.

“Phone?”

Victor did not reply. He did another search and when he did not find whatever he was missing, he told Yuuri to wait by the door as he ran for the bedroom, ignoring the question of what it was so that Yuuri might be able to help him search. It did make a bit more sense that Victor was so insistent on them going out, if he had some sort of surprise planned. Yuuri waited patiently, smiling with amusement to himself. If Victor did not want to spoil it, he would find out what it was soon enough.

From the bedroom, Yuuri could hear the scrape of dresser drawers being opened and shut, a hushed swear, then the sharp inhale of triumph. Yuuri bit the inside of his cheeks, resisting the urge to try to sneak a peek. “If they’re tickets for something, I can’t guarantee I won’t fall asleep!” he called out to Victor, who came out from the bedroom a moment later.

“Hush,” Victor said, the flush still on his cheeks but his expression a million times happier. “And march, we’re on a schedule.”

Yuuri marched, holding the door open for Victor. With a bit of good luck, they would hit all the green lights and avoid the evening congestion.

Victor patted the breast of his coat once they locked the door behind them, his fingers spreading over a small object in the hidden front pocket. He gave Yuuri a nod, taking his hand as they made their way down the hall. Yuuri called the elevator and, as they waited, turn in to Victor to steal a kiss, sneaking a hand up Victor’s chest in the process. It was slapped away, making Yuuri laugh and earning him a playful scowl.

Whatever the surprise, Yuuri already had the perfect night, hand in hand with his divorce lawyer.