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“I have eyes on the mark.”

 

“Copy. Standby.”

 

Viktor carefully sips from his champagne flute to hide his grimace when he catches the target slipping his hand further down the back of the his definitely underage dates’ dress.

 

It would be so easy to cut off that hand, he thinks passively.

 

Not all jobs are fun and games.

 

His eyes sweep over the attendees, smile perfectly polite and coldly charming as he nods to the women draped in beautiful gowns and weighed down with thousands in stones and metal as they hang off of stiff old men with deep pockets and even deeper sins. He deftly steps to the right a few paces to avoid some of the more persistent women who have been trying to dance with him all night, aware that he doesn’t really have time nor desire to entertain them this time.

 

The move is so quick he almost doesn’t catch the person running into him head on, sloshing his drink all over the material of the pristine suit he bought to blend in with his particular crowd.

 

Yuri isn’t going to be happy.

 

The prick of annoyance is quickly smothered by interest when the man starts apologizing profusely, brown doe eyes wide behind thick-framed glasses and sharp cheekbones highlighted with the slightest flush of color from embarrassment.

 

Oh, what do we have here?

 

If Yuri saw him now, he’d think Viktor’s smile as predatory.

 

“I-I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to- I’m a little- I don’t-” the younger man stammers, hands shaking the slightest bit as he tries to dab the excess moisture with a napkin with genuine remorse that Viktor finds so rare these days. He’s practically going to cry he’s so distraught, likely a little drunk as well from the slight slur in his words, and all Viktor can think is prey.

 

He smiles, and curiously, it doesn’t feel fake. “Ah, don’t worry about it, it was just an accident. Are you alright?”

 

The man blinks up at him, midnight black hair falling into his face, and Viktor mourns the fact he’s working right now because how he would love to indulge in the foreign delicacy that has almost literally fallen into his lap. He quickly eyes the man, takes in the slightly rumpled suit that still somehow fits deliciously on his slight figure, just a hair shorter than Viktor with a tapered waist and sharp jaw that makes Viktors mouth water.He really hopes this one isn’t undersge. “Um, yes, yes I’m completely fine. I’m so sorry, I’m so clumsy and I never watch where I’m going and-”

 

The accent is definitely somewhere east but Viktor can’t guess just from the mans almond eyes and fair complexion. He leans in the slightest bit, smile curling into something shaper when the mans breath hitches. “It’s quite alright. My name is Viktor, and you are?”

 

The man squeaks when Viktor lays a hand on his to stop him from rubbing the napkin into a stub against the cuff of his jacket and he wants to laugh at how the man nearly swallows his tongue from that move alone. His hands are a little cold, fingers long and slender beneath his own, but Viktor is sure those pale wrists would color beautifully with his blue silk tie wrapped around them.

 

“Y-Yuuri. Pleasure to meet you, Viktor.” Yuuri smiles then, shy and small and breathtaking, flush spreading down to his suit collar in a way that makes Viktor want to follow to see how far down it goes.

 

“The pleasure is all mine, Yuuri,” Viktor murmurs, curls the name around his tongue, bringing Yuuri’s hand to his mouth where he can brush his lips against Yuuri’s knuckles carefully.

 

Yuuri swallows, chokes, and Viktor can practically taste Yuuri’s pulse jump beneath his lips. God, he wants to expose Yuuri’s wrist to his mouth so he can bite down on that heartbeat, feel the blood rushing between his teeth while still wrapped in that soft skin he knows would blossom gloriously with red marks if Yuuri would just let him-

 

“Mark is leaving in thirty seconds.”

 

Viktor has to swallow down the rush of irritation that flares hotly in his chest.

 

Right, he’s on a job. No time for play.

 

Viktor’s eyes flicker to the mark, somewhat mollified when he finds that the sleazy old man seems engrossed in his current conversation. A few more seconds then.

 

Yuuri trips when he moves to wave down the wait staff for more napkins probably, and Viktor catches him in his arms again, firmly in his hold, quite enjoying Yuuri’s hands slipping into his jacket to maintain his balance. He really is clumsy. How cute. He ignores Yuuri’s second round of apologies as they right themselves again. Viktor’s just glad that he doesn’t have another flute of champagne decorating his suit.

 

He clears his throat and gently lets go of Yuuri’s hand, tipping his head politely with a hint of real regret. “It seems my time is up here. I regret not getting to know you better, Yuuri. Perhaps in the next life.”

 

He melts into the crowd effortlessly, barely hears Yuuri’s confused, “Viktor?” before he’s slipped away completely and down the corridor. Yuuri doesn’t follow, which is a relief and a disappointment, but with Otabek giving orders in his ear and Georgi set to meet him at the pick up point before the security feed goes live again, the feeling is swiftly set aside.

 

He has two minutes before the mark reaches his vehicle and Viktor’s job is to make sure he never does.

 


 

“It has been a pleasure doing business with you, Don,” Viktor says respectfully with a dip of his head and tilt of his glass of whiskey, lets the English accent roll naturally off his tongue while swallowing his distaste. He slips the Don’s head of security's’ access badge into his pocket while brushing by, doesn’t look back as his hand meets Chris’ under the guise of a polite handshake between near-strangers and nods to the beautiful young woman hanging adoringly on the blonde’s arm.

 

He gets confirmation five minutes later that Yuri’s accessed the Don’s personal office and is in the process of extracting the hardrive from the mans main computer when a voice he never thought he’d hear again pipes up behind him.

 

“Viktor?”

 

Viktor doesn’t exist here. Here, he is supposed to be Alexander Hopkins, M16 double agent delivering information from a mole in the system to one of the most influential mob bosses in the European Union for a hefty sum of money and a guaranteed retirement plan on a beautiful summer island. Here, he’s supposed to be one step closer to shutting down the Don’s business on the west coast of Europe.

 

Viktor shouldn’t exist here, but it’s Viktor who turns to see Yuuri’s innocent, heart shaped face in genuine surprise. “Yuuri. What are you…?”

 

Yuuri smiles, an edge of nervousness in his expression that Viktor is starting to think is just part of his personality despite only meeting him once, three weeks ago. So expressive despite the company he keeps. There’s no suspicion though, only genuine delight at seeing a familiar face that Viktor can understand.

 

Yuuri ducks his head, a lovely rosy tint to his face, and fiddles with the drink in his hand. “Ah, I didn’t expect to see you here. Or remember me, honestly.”

 

An unbidden smile comes to Viktor’s lips. Shyness edging on insecurity is always Viktor’s favorite to exploit even when Yuri gives him dirty looks for it. “I’m full of surprises.” A passerby presses him closer to Yuuri, so close that he has to look down just a little to keep Yuuri’s gaze, and he’s pleased with the way Yuuri’s eyes flicker to his lips for a quick moment. “I have to admit, I didn’t expect to see you here either.”

 

He hadn’t let himself wonder who Yuuri was the last time they met, hadn’t looked into the guest list to find Yuuri’s name because he’d thought Yuuri would be another regret in a sea of many he’d never get to rectify. Now he mentally berates his lack of foresight because the younger man must have questionable ties to get into this particular event, but the mystery does nothing but light a fire low in his belly.

 

Yuuri clears his throat, pushes a hand through his hair to mess the tousled strands even more. Viktor wants to do the same, pull and tug and see what other noises Yuuri would make under his rough ministrations. “My, um, my uncle has a lot of friends. He thinks I need to socialize more so…”

 

Viktor raises an eyebrow, gesturing to the crowd of men and women older than either of them by two decades and too busy wading through politics and corruption to give an honest damn about the people they’re surrounded by.

 

He sounds wry even to his own ears when he comments, “Quite a crowd.”

 

Instead of taking offense like Viktor half-worries, Yuuri laughs. It’s a beautiful sound. “You’re not wrong. Uncle has...interesting ideas, but he doesn’t always execute them quite so well.”

 

There’s an odd inflection there that Viktor can only interpret as discomfort.

 

“Well, I believe in this instance his wisdom should be applauded,” Victor says, mindful of the Don’s men eyeing him from across the ballroom. He plucks a colorful drink from a nearby tray and places it in Yuuri’s hands, motioning for them to clink glasses in cheer. “To socializing.”

 

Yuuri blinks at him in quiet surprise before laughing again and gently touches the rim of his glass with Viktors. “To socializing.”

 

A song comes on then, lively and clearly for dancing if the pairs out on the dancefloor are any indication.

 

“May I have this dance?”

 

Viktor knows his smile is shark-like when he takes Yuuri’s hand without waiting for a response and leads him out into the center. It’s the chance he didn’t have before and he’s going to take it.

 

“Viktor!” Yuuri squeaks.

 

Viktor deftly hands a passing waiter their two near-full glasses before pulling Yuuri close, close enough for him to wrap an arm around that slim waist and slot their fingers together. They fit so perfectly it leaves Viktor a little breathless from excitement and maybe a bit of curiosity, contrasting so wonderfully that Viktor could see himself never letting go, and isn’t that a dangerous thought? Like this, he can feel the heat of Yuuri’s body, can catch the slightest scent of cologne on the collar of Yuuri’s shirt, can almost hear the rapid beat of Yuuri’s heart -- or is that his? All of it, Yuuri’s heavy gaze and his bright blush and his shy smile, it’s all so intoxicating as they sway together, addictive in a way that makes Viktor remind himself that he’s in the middle of a job and not somewhere far away with just the two of them and the music.

 

“You’re quite the dancer,” Viktor says with a little surprise as they shift into the next song.

 

“Thank you,” Yuuri pinks deliciously in his arms. “I’ve taken a few lessons...usually I step on my partner’s foot at least on-”

 

Viktor doesn’t wince when exactly that happens.

 

Instead, he smiles, pulls Yuuri even closer until he feels Yuuri’s breath against his shoulder, until Viktor can breathe in the scent of vanilla and spice that makes his mouth water and heart race even faster. “There. Won’t be able to step on my feet like this, will you?”

 

Yuuri’s voice is shakey when he whispers, “No, I guess not.”

 

Viktor doesn’t know how many songs pass with them like that, so close he can feel the rise and fall of Yuuri’s chest, but he knows it’s not enough when he hears the tell-tale crackle of his comm in his ear.

 

“Viktor, stop playing with your food. You have one minute to get to the courtyard or you’re getting your own ride back.”

 

It takes a disconcerting amount of self-control for Viktor to not audibly growl in frustration.

 

“I see that look. Don’t get huffy with me Mr. I’m-about-to-blow-our-cover. Get your ass out of there now, someone overheard your boy-toy call you Viktor and now the Don’s suspicious.”

 

He really wants to flip off the security camera to his right where he knows Mila is watching.

 

Instead, he sighs, pretending he has to answer a call and apologetically motioning for Yuuri to wait a moment while he answers the phone. Parting is hard, especially when Yuuri nods, looking so understanding wearing that bright little grin and slightly ill-fitting suit, nervously holding a new glass of some random cocktail, and Viktor feels a pit of guilt yawn in his gut when he returns and has to lie about an emergency and that he needs to attend to.

 

Yuuri is sympathetic, smiles a little self deprecatingly as he waves Viktor off with well wishes, and as Viktor heads out the back door where the helicopter is waiting for him, he promises himself if he ever has a chance to see him even once more, he will never put that look on Yuuri’s face again.

 


 

 Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, thrice is a pattern.

 

That’s Viktor’s first thought when he spots an increasingly familiar head of raven black hair in the mingling crowd, three months later.

 

(Actually, his first thought is just a mangled whine because Yuuri’s slacks hug his thighs so well it should be considered indecent , but he doesn’t classify that an actual thought so much as an uncontrollable -- and completely reasonable -- reaction.)

 

Now he can confirm that Yuuri, or his uncle, have far-reaching connections to get into this event. He still refrains from looking Yuuri up, doesn’t give into his team's teasing jibes and curious prods because Yuuri is his , and now is his chance to find out more without crossing a line he promised not to toe when it comes to the younger man. Besides, that’s his job, to find out information from the targets themselves and put those clues together to piece the mosaic of someone's life into a beautiful frame he can break and manipulate to his needs.

 

Thankfully he’s on secondary recon this time and sure he has a few hours before they pull out so he’s relatively free to approach, and oh the genuine surprise and delight on Yuuri’s face is something to behold. He tries to not let show how pleased he is but it’s hard not to visibly preen when another young man attempting to capture Yuuri’s attention is completely forgotten.

 

“I was hoping to see you here.”

 

And by here he means at a countryside wedding in Tuscany between the daughter of a powerful political figure and her long-term, undercover, and incredibly queer groom she met three months ago at a private party. Chris is really quite the charmer and right now Viktor is incredibly grateful he isn’t in his position.

 

“Viktor!” Yuuri pinks like Viktor hopes, mouth curling into a shy little smile. “Really? Well, I’m glad you’re here as well. Are you here with someone?”

 

“Oh no, I’m just well-acquainted with the groom. And you?” He offers his arm.

 

Yuuri takes it with a shy little smile. “No, I just came with my uncle.”

 

“Would you care to take a walk through the vineyard? I heard it’s quite a sight.” One he’s experienced a dozen times on different jobs, but now there's a unique view he’d like to see.

 

---

 

Viktor admits to losing time while he’s with Yuuri.

 

They find out they both have a poodle at home they adore, they share a hobby of ice skating when they have the time, and they each have a group of infuriating but amazing friends that they love despite the headaches they bring. Yuuri has surprising insight into the world's current political climate with refreshing views backed by empirical evidence as well as sound moral reasoning, and while Viktor usual dislikes talking about work -- his work, not that Yuuri knows or asks -- he finds his companions passion endearing and inspiring as well as intellectually appealing.

 

If only…

 

He doesn’t finish that thought.

 

Yuuri’s voice gains strength the longer they talk, the nervous ticks disappearing as he grows more comfortable in Viktor’s presence, and Viktor finds his own shoulders losing some of their tension as well, especially when something Yuuri tries to say in Russian comes out mangled and adorably wrong.

 

“So, what do you do for a living?” Yuuri asks.

 

It’s a perfectly polite question with genuine curiosity but Viktor smiles with a little mischief. “I suppose you could say I’m a company director. I dabble in a bit of acting and show production, and I have a knack for planning, but our main goal is...repossession.”

 

Yuuri’s eyebrows raise in surprise. “Oh? Of what? Do you work alone?”

 

“Whatever my clients ask. I have a team of specialists that assist me, actually. We have our IT girl who is the best in the business, another actor like myself with more than enough charm to get anyone talking...then there’s our young, hotheaded intern who scowls too much for such a pretty face. A few freelancers who are fairly loyal to our group as long as our goals align. It’s an eclectic group but efficient nonetheless.” He turns a disarming smile on his companion, wondering how annoyed Yuri will be with him for revealing so much, and asks, “And yourself?”

 

“It sounds like you care about your team a lot,” Yuuri says unexpectedly.

 

If Viktor had been holding a glass, he probably would’ve dropped it, but he supposes he shouldn’t be so surprised at the observation. He did sound fond when he was describing them, didn’t he?

 

Yuuri doesn’t take more than a few sips of his drink before the gentle warm flush of his cheeks darken, a slight slur in his words as he mentions that he’s finishing school while working part time, and Viktor’s jaw aches to just taste the ripe fruit presented before him.

 

He has to behave though. He can’t scare Yuuri away with his forwardness and he already knows one bite of the forbidden fruit before him will be his undoing. Viktor knows himself too well, knows the swooping in his stomach when Yuuri laughs and the rapid beat of his heart when their hands touch are signs he’s getting too close. It’s as unsettling as it is exhilarating that he can find someone so tempting in every sense of the word, and yet he can’t reach out and take what he so desperately wants, won’t let himself find out things about Yuuri without Yuuri explicitly telling him. He’s a grifter at heart, his job is to persuade and coerce to get what he wants without force, and his ultimate prize has always been what’s given freely.

 

“Drinks?”

 

Yuri’s acidic tone makes Viktor blink, accepting the glass of wine and hidden note without Yuuri noticing, and as Yuri attempts to distract Yuuri for a moment, he reads, comms out, pull back point A.

 

Yuri the waiter disappears without another word (probably off to rendezvous with their undercover DJ Mila), leaving Yuuri thoroughly bemused, and any other time the sight would’ve made Viktor’s heart flip pleasantly in amusement, but instead he’s stuck on the fact that he hadn’t even noticed anything going wrong. Their cover's been blown and he hadn’t even known. The note crumples in his white-knuckled grip, hidden in his pants pocket, mind spinning wildly as he tries to track the fastest and most efficient path to the caterer’s truck where his team his currently waiting to pick him and Chris up before security catches on or someone notices the empty safe and missing files.

 

How could I have not...?

 

“Viktor, is everything alright?”

 

Yuuri’s polite inquiry brings Viktor back to here and now, and something in him sinks with realization.

 

You truly are too tempting for your own good. And I’m truly just a fool.

 

It’s a bitter thought.

 

The smile feels wooden on his face, disappointment curling in his gut. “I’m afraid my ride is here.” From the corner of his eye, he sees two men with plain black suits enter the pavilion and a thrill of alarm snakes up his spine. “Walk me to my car.”

 

He grabs Yuuri’s hand, mindful of the younger mans flustered expression, and pulls him along with a tight grip.

 

“Viktor?” Yuuri yelps, nearly tripping over his feet, trying to keep up with Viktor’s brisk pace.

 

They can’t slow down though. They’ve slipped away from the pavilion, but while there are fewer obstacles, there are also fewer people to put between them and the men tailing them. They weave between the stakes covered in grapevines and Yuuri doesn’t try to speak again until they’re safely from view and a few minutes walk from where Viktor needs to be. Footsteps nearby send Viktor’s instincts kicking into gear and he crowds Yuuri against a particularly dense cluster of grapes, holding Yuuri’s wide gaze with his own steady one.

 

Viktor’s eyes stray to Yuuri’s mouth, wet and open with panting breaths, and despite their precarious situation and horrible timing, he can’t help but bring a hand up to cup Yuuri’s jaw and press a thumb to that enticing lower lip dyed vivid red from expensive wine. He can imagine how soft those lips would be, yielding and warm, how they would taste with merlot and cabernet still lingering on his tongue-

 

Three sharp honks in the distance break him out of his reverie and his heart mourns for more than just a lost opportunity to bed a pretty face.

 

Yuuri is so much more than that now , he admits quietly to himself.

 

“I will see you again,” Viktor vows, brings Yuuri’s hand to his lips, and disappears into the plantation.

 


 

When Viktor said he’d see Yuuri again, he didn’t realize Yuuri would see him first.

 

He’s in the middle of raiding an insurance CEO’s office just two weeks after the disastrous wedding when the door swings open without warning. He has no time to hide or even disguise what he’s doing and he’s already high-strung enough from a close call an hour ago so he brings his arm up and points the gun right at the intruder, then stops abruptly because he knows those wide brown eyes and mess of tangled black hair.

 

“Yuuri?” he whispers, his own face probably pale from shock.

 

Something flickers across Yuuri’s gaze before it’s tucked away and he turns, closing the door behind him and raising his voice as he loudly exclaims, “Ah! Director! I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize this was your office! I was just looking for the bathroom.”

 

Viktor doesn’t really hear the response because he’s up and in the air vents in seconds, sending a message in code to Otabek warning him of the situation.

 

He maneuvers in the direction of the security office, grabbing the gear he left there and is in the process of strapping the harness on when he manages to overhear, “Thank you so much! I’ll just be in the cafe on the ground floor then. Have a nice day, my uncle will be happy to know you’ve saved me from making a fool of myself.”

 

He looks out the open window and down, over several hundred feet separating him from the concrete below. He smirks.

 

Ground floor it is then.

 

---

 

Yuuri’s wearing more casual clothing when he enters the cafe, a little breathless, and honestly Viktor feels the same just looking at him.

 

There’s a complex emotion on Yuuri’s face when their eyes meet, a mix of relief and happiness as well as hesitation and suspicion. Maybe a little betrayal if Viktor looks closely and that’s enough to send a spear of regret through his chest. There’s no fear though, and that confirmation alone is able to untangle the uneasy knot that had formed in Viktor’s stomach that had nothing to do with a seventy-floor drop.

 

Yuuri settles in the seat in front of him and Viktor’s already checked -- they are no video cameras or audio recorders near the outside seating of the cafe so they are in the clear to speak freely. Even the comm in his ear is switched off and he knows he’s going to get an earful for that later, but right now he has a crazy idea forming in his mind that could either backfire spectacularly or potentially change everything.

 

Viktor pushes a hot drink across the table and Yuuri clutches it like a lifeline.

 

They’re both quiet for a long moment before Yuuri quietly admits, “I don’t really know what to say.”

 

Viktor tries for soothing. “Anything.”

 

Yuuri nods once before he takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “You were in one of my uncle’s partners’ offices...stealing information. You had a gun and you had a way out. You’ve been to parties that are usually invitation only, rooms full of rich and powerful people...you’re part of a group of…” He seems lost for words then finishes uncertainly, “...mercenaries?”

 

Viktor inhales a little of his coffee at that and coughs, shaking his head and waving off Yuuri’s wide-eyed concern. He doesn’t know if he’s offended or amused but the air isn’t as thick with tension as it was before. “No, no, not mercenaries. We don’t kill anyone and we don’t hurt anyone,” he says before he thinks of Yuri last week who broke a mans arm in three places for getting a little handsy, then tacks on, “if we can help it. We help people.”

 

Yuuri frowns, dubious. “By raiding offices and holding guns to people's heads?”

 

Viktor winces a little at that, almost contrite if not for the data he’d managed to copy before getting caught. “My apologies. We’ve been having trouble with our technology lately. I should’ve heard you coming.”

 

“Problems...you mean, like at the vineyard? Is that why you left so quickly?” Yuuri asks, glasses flashing in the glaring sunlight.

 

Viktor tamps down on the sudden rush of attraction that heats his skin -- he’s always been a sucker for sharp minds. Now is not the time. “That’s one example, yes.”

 

How much information can he give without getting in trouble with his team? He’s probably already in hot water with them at this point but he doesn’t think he can leave Yuuri like this, still unsure of him and his intentions -- if not for personal feelings then because he can’t afford a loose tie with knowledge of him and his friends. He needs Yuuri’s trust, his complete trust, not just in Viktor but what he does. “We help people.”

 

“You said that already,” Yuuri says, slumping a little in his seat.

 

Viktor smiles a little. “I know. But like I said, we avoid hurting people, and never innocents. We’re a group of hackers, thieves, hustlers, things of that nature, and we track down stolen property and get justice for our clients, law-abiding citizens who’ve been taken advantage of by the rich and powerful. I may have been a little vague and used nicer words, but I didn’t lie to you at the vineyard, Yuuri.”

 

He hasn’t looked into Yuuri’s past, just knows who his guardian is after checking his connections and figuring just how someone as sweet and awkward as Yuuri got these invitations to high profile events, and he knows that Yuuri’s guardian is far from a good man. By the way Yuuri shifts in his seat and pointedly looks away, he must know that his uncle is far from innocent as well.

 

“Why do you do this?”

 

Viktor blinks. “Pardon?”

 

“This,” Yuuri repeats, waving a hand as if to encompass the enormity of his question with one gesture, “all of...this.”

 

“That’s a long story you don’t want to hear,” Viktor dismisses firmly.

 

Now isn’t the time or place. Maybe it never will.  

 

Yuuri’s lips press together, unsure and a little disappointed, but Viktor can’t remedy that now. “I want to believe you, Viktor.”

 

“Yes, I admit it does sound like something out of a Hollywood production,” Viktor says with a nod, tries to put as much sincerity into his tone without sounding fake because this is important, “but it’s all very real and very true. We may work outside of the law but we are...we help good people.” He suspects tacking on that he has a team of good people working with him despite their (his) sketchy past may be a stretch for Yuuri at this point who seems so innocently black and white about the world.

 

Yuuri shakes his head, still looking conflicted. “It’s not that...you say you and your group don’t hurt anyone, but what about the men you’ve stolen information from? I’m not an idiot Viktor -- I follow the news and I’ve overheard my uncle talking to his associates. Why-” he swallows hard, looking a little green now, “why do they end up dead weeks later?”

 

Viktor falls silent, staring at Yuuri, at the thin line his lips have formed and the hunch in his shoulders, can’t stop staring because what?

 

“I’m not as dense as people make me out to be,” Yuuri says in a conflicted huff, looking torn between wary and indignant. “I thought something was strange about you the first time I met you and I tried to look you up. I didn’t find anything, and I honestly didn’t expect to, but the last few times we met, the men you’ve supposedly brought justice to…”

 

Yuuri shakes his head, tightens his hands around his drink, and he looks so conflicted Viktor aches to reach out and wipe away those worries.

 

“I know...I know my uncle isn’t a good person, and I know he has connections to bad people, but they don’t...it’s murder, Viktor, no matter how you try to say you’re helping.”

 

Viktor isn’t consciously aware that he moves until Yuuri jerks back, startled, when Viktor’s hand closes tightly over his own. He can almost see his marble-like expression reflected in Yuuri’s glasses, so incredibly different from all the faces he’s ever worn in front of the younger man. There’s no charming smile, no amused laughter, nothing because this isn’t funny, and that silly idea he’s been contemplating for weeks has suddenly turned into a necessity.

 

Instead, he says with all the severity he can muster, “Tell me everything.”

 


 

“Katsuki Yuuri, son of Katsuki Hiroko and Toshiya and brother to Katsuki Mari. After his family's car accident six years ago where he was the lone survivor, he was taken in by his uncle, Toshiyuki Toyonaga.”

 

An image comes up of a mostly nondescript man who holds a vague resemblance to Yuuri, but Viktor’s seen eyes like that before. Like a snake.

 

“Toyonaga, however, is a piece of shit, pardon my French,” Mila continues with a curl of her lip, unknowingly reflecting Viktor's thoughts. “Kid’s basically been paraded around as a charity case to up his uncle's reputation while he did his dirty business with a few others, so much so that Yuuri’s had to self-study to even finish high school, let alone get through college.” It said with enough venom to make Georgi inch nervously away from her, but she’s never been a fan of people taking advantage of their family and it’s a sore spot that goes unmentioned.

 

“You don’t even speak French, you old hag,” Yuri snaps, ducking a paperweight thrown at his head and eyeing the man on the screen distastefully. “Why do we even care about him? He’s not on the list of victims Viktor’s little friend had given us and none of our clients have mentioned him or his company in the past.”

 

“Almost every other case we’ve worked the last two years is somehow related to his operation and we just didn’t pick up on it,” Chris replies, the perpetual twinkle of mischief in his eyes now absent. It’s that solemnity that makes Yuri settle. “This is including the men and women who’ve been murdered in the last two years -- some were our targets and all were part of Toyonaga’s circle.”

 

“Do we know their main objective?” Georgi asks, looking unconcerned, but Viktor can see the way he nervously fiddles with his favorite watch in his hands. “Toyonaga’s and the murderers’?”

 

Mila sighs and continues, flicking through another several images that Viktor barely processes. “No to both, but it’s not hard to think of a motive for someone who wants revenge and thinks murder is the way to get it. And it seems we’ve slowed Toyonaga’s unknown goal down a bit even if unintentionally but there are other external factors that’ve helped -- information leaked to the media resulting in public scandals, sexual harassment and abuse cases coming to light, things of that nature. It’s no surprise due to the sheer number of them there are. He’s got quite a few government officials in his pocket and he’s a large investor in several banks and charities that are quietly funneling money to offshore accounts, but it’s on a massive scale we haven’t seen before.”

 

“The boy wasn’t kidding when he said his uncle had a lot of friends,” Georgi mutters as Mila continues scrolling through the dozens of profiles that fly across the floor-to-ceiling monitors of their main office.

 

“And Yuuri?” Viktor asks, thankful that his voice comes out steady and professional.

 

“Looks like Yuuri was telling the truth. He knew his uncle’s deals weren’t always legal but he had no idea what exactly had been going on. Doesn’t touch the monthly allowance his uncle gives him, works as a barista part-time and at a skating rink with his childhood friend, keeps his head down and does well in night school trying to finish his degree in sports medicine,” Chris says, even throws in a wink for reassurance. “Toyonaga always brings him to events to keep up his image in a disgustingly successful PR move, but never brings him into his business. Makes him more approachable.”

 

“Can we trust him?” Otabek asks, quiet and serious. They all know who he’s referring to.

 

Mila tucks a strand of vivid red hair behind her ear, twirls her favorite knife between her fingers. “Well, he wouldn’t suffer any downsides besides some bad press if his uncles’ dealings got out to the public. He’s independent, has a good reputation in school and work, and have you seen the suits he’s been wearing to these events? He doesn’t view money the way his uncle does. It doesn’t seem like he even knows his uncle that well anyway so there’s no love lost between them, especially if Yuuri is as much of a do-gooder as Viktor says.” The last part is said with a teasing lilt that helps ease the heavy air in the office.

 

Yuri’s scowl, however, hasn’t lightened since Viktor had announced his discussion with Yuuri just days ago. “And the weakling wants to help? What can he do but trip on everyone? Don’t think I didn’t notice you slipping up whenever he’s at a job.”

 

“I extended the offer to join us.”

 

That shuts everyone up effectively, even if Yuri is only silent from shocked outrage.

 

“Yuuri wants to help stop the people his uncle is supporting. He was horrified when he found out just how dark his family's’ past is. He understands he can’t be in the heart of the operations but he can give us information we wouldn’t otherwise have access to and provide distractions that won’t arouse suspicion.”

 

He’s not the biggest fan of the idea. He actually hates it with a startling amount of ferocity. Any plan putting Yuuri in danger or paint a target on his back leaves a bitter taste in Viktor’s mouth.

 

But Yuuri had nearly begged to help when all was said and done, and Viktor was just as desperate for it.

 

Yuri scoffs but doesn’t protest again.

 

“And the murders?” Mila prompts, tapping idly on some schematics in front of him.

 

Otabek’s mouth is a grim slash on his face as he quickly pulls up police reports and investigations onto the screen. “We’ve estimated about a dozen people in Toyonaga’s inner circle alone who are probably being targeted.”

 

Chris taps on an image, a familiar fac because it’s the father of the woman he’d nearly married. He’s enough of a sociopath to not bat an eye at the video footage of his once-bride sobbing on camera. “There’ve been ten deaths and counting related to the men in Toyonaga’s group, several of them from jobs we’ve completed in the last year and even more spread out three years before that, though I suspect those are the first due to the amount of evidence found at each crime scene despite no forward prosecution. Slow going but they’ve all been ruled as accidents or natural causes after the first year. No signs of evidence tampering so either the police are sloppy-”

 

“Or the jobs are professional,” Yuri finishes with a frown.

 

Mila narrows her eyes. “Why would someone be taking out the people we’ve been taking down? They have no money, no reputation, nothing left to their name after we were through with them, so why take-”

 

“Their lives,” Viktor finishes, not smiling. “Whatever group is doing this, they want more than humiliation or fall from grace. They want blood.”

 

Chris is uncharacteristically serious when he says, “Viktor, I understand you want to help, but this is…”

 

“Far beyond our capabilities,” Mila finishes. “This kind of job...it’s the kind that takes lifetimes to complete. And going after a murderer of this caliber will only put a target on our backs. Like you said, we specialize in repossession. The worst criminal I’ve ever faced was my own family.”

 

“And that’s if we survive the political and financial might of a small country coming after us. We will get found out eventually, and we will die.” Yuri’s voice is sharp, a reprimand and a warning all in one.

 

But all Viktor can see is Yuuri’s pleading face, heartbroken and resolved in equal measure after hearing what his uncle’s associates had been up to, the fire in those eyes that made adrenaline rush through Viktor’s veins in a way no job ever has. And he knows, deep down, that his team feels the same, can see flickers of familiar fire in each of them even if they’re smothered by apprehension right now.

 

“We have to try.”

 

He turns on his heels, ignores Yuri’s scathing shouts and Mila’s tired sign, Otabek’s deepening frown and Chris’ shaking head. Georgi says nothing for once, surprisingly quiet for most of this and only stares pensively at Viktor’s retreating back. Viktor’s sure if the Crispino siblings and Seung Gil were here instead of overseas on another op that they would have some choice words to say, but they’re not and will just have to deal when they return.

 

Despite his teams misgivings and the potentially earth-shattering revelations they’ve uncovered, all of this just cements the relief fluttering in his chest. He never really expected someone like Yuuri, timid and sweet and honest, to be wrapped up in his uncle's dirty business really, but seeing evidence makes him feel better.

 

Yuuri’s face is too open, his personality too trusting.

 

Just look at how close he’s let Viktor already, and Viktor is about as low as they can get.

  


 

“You want me to what?” Yuuri squeaks.

 

His face is bright red, all adorably flustered, and he just looks all the more appetizing with a properly fitted suit hugging his figure so well. His hands twist in his napkin in an increasingly familiar gesture of anxiety and he’s glancing around as if someone’s going to jump out and scare him at any moment.

 

Honestly, Viktor is often confused by whether or not he wants to cuddle or ravish him.

 

He smiles reassuringly instead. “Now, now, it’s nothing difficult. Just go dance with the CEO’s wife and plant this transmitter on her! We need to hear her conversations with her husband and his CFO in order to determine if she’s the real mastermind or not.” And distract her long enough for Mila to seduce her husband and steal his wallet.

 

Yuuri blanches, glances at the older woman whose dress leaves very little to the imagination, and hisses with a bright blush, “Where?”

 

Viktor knows his grin is positively evil when he pushes the younger man toward her. He’s already seen her eye Yuuri like a particularly tantalizing h'orderve she’d like to partake in and it’s amusing enough to staunch the need to break her hand for even thinking of touching what’s his. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll figure something out. Improvise!”

 

Yuuri stops suddenly and his hands, soft despite the burns and cuts he sometimes gets from working as a barista, settle on his before they move any closer.

 

Viktor looks at him in a little surprise only to see Yuuri’s expression lacking any of the embarrassment from moments earlier, strangely solemn, and it’s enough to nearly make Viktor straighten in response.

 

“Why do you do this, Viktor?” he asks, dark eyes intense.

 

Viktor blinks, quiet for a moment, before he understands Yuuri isn’t asking about right now. This question again.

 

He allows one moment of weakness when they’re briefly hidden from view by carding a hand gently through the fringes of Yuuri’s bangs, doesn’t imagine something softening in Yuuri’s eyes at the gesture. He lets the moment linger before he cracks a sardonic smile. “Maybe I’ll tell you one day, but you have a job to do first. Now go make me proud.” He says the last part with a little push towards their target.

 

Yuuri’s severe expression breaks and he’s back to whining about not knowing what he’s doing.

 

But of course, Viktor is right. Yuuri’s bumbling charm and foreign features draws the woman in easily, and soon they’re dancing.

 

“Still can’t believe we let that idiot in on this op-”

 

“Oooh, don’t forget to put your hand on her waist! Good Yuuri! Now a little lower-”

 

“-she’s married! Get your hand away from there!”

 

“Hush, he’s going to lose focus if we keep talking on the comms-”

 

“Poor little birdie, she’s not letting him go anytime soon.”

 

“-oh look! Good idea Yuuri!”

 

“Yes, brushing her hair away from her face and slipping the transmitter next to a hair piece was a good move-”

 

“Shut up!”

 

“Oh look, she’s trying to feel him up-”

 

Viktor smothers a laugh at the ongoing commentary of his team despite Georgi’s strangely absent comments and busies himself near the bar, ordering a bourbon he won’t drink while he watches Yuuri play his part perfectly, and thinks that maybe this could be...something permanent. It’s Yuuri’s second run with them on on a very low risk mission, but like with anything else related to Yuuri, Viktor can’t seem to stop himself from diving head first and all in. Yuuri’s even received a strange nickname from Chris -- little bird -- because of Yuri’s throwaway remark about Yuuri seeming flighty when they’d first met.

 

It had taken some time of course -- three weeks to be exact -- for everyone to get on board with this new plan.

 

It’s crazy, this long term goal so grand, the ultimate payout that thieves and hackers like them only dream of. He knew his team would eventually capitulate because beneath it all, they are competitive and driven by their own twisted sense of justice, would rise to the challenge because they’re stubborn despite knowing better.

 

The fact that he’d framed their new mission with the premise of continuing their usual operations but with a little more specific targets helped ease ruffled feathers and kept Georgi from nervously biting his fingernails off. Seung Gil had been close to cutting off his precious bits when he returned but he too had settled in time while the Crispino siblings had shrugged, only caring for each other and their payout as usual.

 

The set up is easy since they have so many bases and safehouses set up on almost every continent, bank accounts in every neutral country on and off the map, and all it takes for Yuuri to meet with them is to tell his uncle he’s going to explore the city their venue is in. His uncle doesn’t care, of course, since he only needs his nephew to make an appearance, and Viktor’s team has enjoyed introducing their little, innocent Yuuri to the finer -- and grittier -- things in life.

 

They explain their particular roles and how many of them have picked up skills from the others - Otabek never used to be able to act to save his life, Yuri’s now adept at hacking lower level security systems thanks to Mila, and Viktor himself has learned a great many skills from the people he’s surrounded himself with despite starting out with only his mind. They’ve even shared some of their stories with Yuuri, bare bones of skeletal pasts, but it’s a show of trust in both Yuuri and Viktor that warms him, and Yuuri is obviously humbled by it all, sad and angry and impressed in equal measure to learn how strong they really are and how far they’ve come.

 

As he listens to his team bicker and watches Yuuri blush his way through this job, contentment settles in his chest and he doesn’t think it’s leaving anytime soon.

 


 

As much as Viktor loves spending time with Yuuri, he’s already promised himself and his team that he would keep Yuuri’s presence in their missions at a minimum, only to invite him in situations that they absolutely need his connections for information or informing him if they’ll be crashing whatever function his uncle’s dragged him to. Yuuri can’t really become a target with his uncle's looming shadow, Viktor reasons, but he can get hurt depending on who they’re going after, and thankfully Yuuri understands and seems content only helping where he’s needed.

 

So it’s understandable that he’s feeling conflicted at the moment.

 

Having Yuuri in his arms, dancing to classical music under glittering lights of crystal chandeliers, is all he’s thought about since meeting him, but his enjoyment is soured by the fact that they’re on a high risk mission at the moment, one much more dangerous than Yuuri’s ever participated in before.

 

His only consolation is that he wasn’t the one to drag Yuuri to this party -- his uncle, of course, wanted to make another appearance, and just their fantastic luck, they’d infiltrated the party of a very familiar man.

 

The Don -- known as The Don, no first or last name because he doesn’t need them, not with his fame -- is still as imposing as ever, more lines etched into his craggy, dour face than Viktor remembers, but he doesn’t dare get much closer despite the itchy wig and irritating contact lenses.

 

It’s already too close, makes the hairs on the back of his neck rise, but they don’t really have any other choice. The Don and his group were at the wedding that ended in disaster and despite the cheery atmosphere, they probably remember the face of the two-timing M16 agent imprinted in their memories from before even that, and there’s an unmistakable edge of tension lining the shoulders of each security figure stationed in dark corners and around every corner. Mila, Chris, and even Georgi had been exposed for too long at that venue as the disk jockey, groom, and chef respectively. Even Yuri had been seen by too many when he gave Viktor that note, and Viktor doesn’t want to risk them being identified despite the several months between then and now.

 

Viktor normally shouldn’t even be anywhere near the party either, should’ve let Seung Gil take this role as a fresh face and just as experienced, but he has another vital role to play and just the idea of leaving Yuuri to face this crowd alone was enough to settle a rock in his stomach.

 

After all, this extravagant gathering on the top floor of the Don’s five story mansion is just a cover for an arms deal happening just several floors below in the underground parking structure of the Don’s house, and according to their intel, there’s a high chance of several government agents attempting to crash the party. There are whispers that this is the last big deal the Don is participating in before he disappears deep into the underground for who knows how long and the feds are desperate enough to try and catch the man red-handed and perhaps snag a few of his associates.

 

It’s stupid and dangerous and reckless and it doesn’t help that they’ll only get in the way because Viktor’s team is trying to do the exact same thing.

 

It’ll end in a war, Viktor knows, one that will be swept under the rug long before the media ever get ahold of the story. A veritable bloodbath with so many not-quite-innocents caught in the crossfire, but Viktor will be damned before he allows Yuuri to be caught in the middle of it because of his capricious uncle’s last-minute whims.

 

“Uh, Vik-um, Vincent?” Yuuri mumbles, face red. “Your hand is a little low…”

 

Viktor ignores the little snicker in his ear. Damn Mila for letting Sara monitor the comms.

 

Training, she says.  

 

He ignores the snarky voice in his head and instead smirks, draws Yuuri in a little closer and lets the familiar vanilla scent calm his frayed nerves. “Oh? Are you sure?”

 

The high-pitched squeak is music to his ears.

 

The little bit of normalcy evaporates as soon as he hears, “INTERPOL is on the move. They have a man acting as a bodyguard on the ground floor but Don’s head of security is suspicious.”

 

“Understood,” comes Yuri’s terse reply. “Intercepting French DAS on the second floor.”

 

“Copy. Just put Spain’s CNI to sleep in corridor three. Moving towards the payload,” Michele informs quietly, perhaps surrounded.

 

An idea comes to Viktor, tentative and slowly forming. “Grab their phones and earpieces.” It’s a little off the script but none of his teammates question him as it isn’t the first time he’s made a small snap decision. There are hums of affirmative before they continue with their tasks.

 

None of them comment when they overhear Sara’s whispered prayer.

 

Yuuri’s hand tightens around his, face suddenly a little too pale and eyes a little too bright. “Viktor,” he whispers, closing his other hand over the microphone attached to the underside of his tie, “they’ll be okay, won’t they?”

 

They both know Viktor can’t promise anything.

 

Instead, his eyes meet Otabek’s from across the ballroom, sharing a brief nod as the undercover waiter heads to the back kitchen. Minutes later, the lights dim as sparklers erupt and the music abruptly changes to something cheery and familiar, and a giant cake is wheeled out. It’s huge and surprisingly elegant despite the theme, seven tiers of decorated golf course in a humorous reference to the Don’s  favored hobby. Everyone is handed new, festive drinks, most of the room singing along for the Don’s birthday, and he hears Otabek report, “Sedatives will start slowing reaction time in five minutes, will be in full effect in twenty. Move out.”

 

That sounds about right. The sedative will only really affect the select few people who’d been introduced to another compound earlier from their drinks, so Viktor knows the time given is varied at best.

 

Viktor’s hand hasn’t left Yuuri’s this whole time, aware that once he leaves there’s a very real chance he may not come back. It’s the first mission where he’s needed all hands on deck and even with all his most capable friends and teammates at his back, he knows they’re underprepared for this.

 

They’re hidden in a corner of the room, no eyes watching, and Viktor can’t stop looking at Yuuri’s warm brown eyes. “You know what to do.”

 

Yuuri frowns and gives a jerky nod. “Right. Tell my uncle I’m not feeling well, go to the roof, wait for Chris. If you all don’t come back in thirty minutes, we-” he swallows, shaking, “we leave.”

 

Viktor’s smile is real this time, touched at the genuine distress in Yuuri’s expression, and does it make him a bad person to feel so relieved that Yuuri apparently feels so strongly for him? “Well, my dear, this is goodbye.”

 

He’s startled into complete silence when instead of pulling away, Yuuri’s hands slide up the lapels of his jacket and tangle in his hair at the nape of his neck, grip firm but not too tight, just enough to keep Viktor still. He leans up and presses their foreheads together, eyes so bright and unyielding, faces so close he can feel their breaths mingling between, and his mind goes blank from the proximity, the intensity.

 

Fingers tighten, just enough to bite into the skin. “Come back.”

 

Yuuri holds his gaze for a long moment, makes him listen to his plea, before he abruptly let's go, spins on his heels, and marches to where his uncle probably is, back straight with conviction. Viktor blinks and allows himself one more moment of stunned, breathless exhilaration before he shakes himself and moves to a predetermined exit.

 

He smiles, repeats the words under his breath, and shakes his head with a laugh.

 

---

 

It’s a shitshow, to absolutely no one’s surprise.

 

His team had managed to either coerce, blackmail, or physically incapacitate most of the federal agents crawling around to keep them from interfering with the arms deal, disable any getaway vehicles the arms dealers brought their cargo on, and lock down three of the four tunnel entrances to the underground parking structure.

 

It had all gone according to plan...until it didn’t.

 

Seung Gil, playing the part of the Don’s personal assistant in the eyes of his seedier associates for the last few months without the Don’s knowledge (through some artful orchestration on his teams part and a lot of top-notch acting), was supposed to act in the Don’s stead while the Don was taken to a hospital by his equally drowsy and sick security guards. He was supposed to obtain vital information on the Don’s web of contacts, turn the arms dealers on each other by introducing a rival gang leader unexpectedly, and he was supposed to get the hell out while Chris and Yuri snatched any hard copies of their records while Mila stole their information right off their phones and computers with her hacking as they argued.

 

The Don was not supposed to figure out he’d been essentially poisoned on a very small scale and make himself throw up, nor was his previously unconscious, actual personal assistant supposed to receive help from a bleeding-heart CIA agent and come running to his boss about a severe looking man taking his credentials before knocking him out.

 

Viktor swears when he sees the Don slip away from his own party, down the hall to a hidden elevator that his team hadn’t hacked into, and barks quick orders into his comm before following on swift, silent footsteps.

 

He needs to stop the Don from interrupting that meeting.

 

His only saving grace is the natural inference of the underground that won’t allow the Don or his most trusted security detail -- seven men in all -- to call ahead in warning. Two men enter the elevator with him while five spread out, and Viktor nearly swears but he’s been in plenty of similarly tight spots. Instead, he takes a deep breath and plans. He knows how he can turn this around, he just needs to think, to anticipate, what would he do if he were to escape-

 

That’s it.

 

“Mila, right wing, hidden elevator. Disable it, now,” Viktor orders, curt and no-nonsense. “Otabek, two security guards using the east stairwell. Stop them. I have eyes on one heading to the security room and two breaking off to prepare getaways. Sara, Georgi, you two know what to do. We’re going to give them hell.”

 

A round of affirmatives sound in his ear as he swiftly pulls a garrote around the first security guards neck with a vicious smile.

 

---

 

“All clear.”

 

“All clear here too.”

 

“Heading to the rooftop in two, leaving in five.”

 

“Anyone hurt anything this time?”

 

“I broke seven bones.”

 

“What?!”

 

“I didn’t mean their bones, Yuri.”

 

“Viktor, we’re clear. ETA?”

 

Viktor smiles grimly and wonders if he’ll get shot again for wiping away the blood trickling into his eye.

 

“Take it out,” the Don spits, looking pallid even under the soft lights in the garden. He’s furious, enraged, practically shaking with it, but the gun in his hand holds steady and that in itself is far more threatening than any weapon he could wield. For all that the man is a scoundrel in Viktor’s books, he had not survived to take over and lead one of the most pervasive and powerful mafia famiglias in Europe by being careless or trigger-happy. He should’ve poisoned the man when he had the chance.

 

The voices fade, edging on panicked, as he takes out the earpiece and rips off the wired microphone. He figures, to hell with it, and slips off his wig and takes out his contacts as well.

 

The spark of familiarity dawns into full-blown comprehension.

 

And to Viktor’s private surprise, instead of shooting on sight, the Don laughs.

 

“I should’ve known,” the man hacks, accent heavy and harsh, “I should’ve known. I was assured there were no moles, but by God he was wrong and now I’m taking the fall for it.” The man’s eyes flicker in the low light, the calm composure of the night fracturing right before Viktor’s eyes. They both know the Don isn’t coming out of this unscathed, will be ruthlessly hunted to the ends of the earth by every agency ever formed, and with no money and connections backing him, it will only be a matter of time before he faces death row for his sins.

 

It seems Viktor and his team have taken more than the mans wealth and status. They may have taken his sanity as well.

 

The amusement, as crazed as it is, fades from his expression quickly with something much darker taking it’s place. The gun hasn’t even dipped during the entire exchange and Viktor knows, knows , that he can’t talk his way out of this and definitely can’t fight. He can already feel the blood drip down his face, seeping between his fingers despite pressing tightly against his shoulder. His breath rattles with every inhale from broken ribs and maybe a punctured lung.

 

They must paint an interesting picture what with the backdrop of an extravagant castle lit with countless colors and music, the party ongoing despite it’s missing host.

 

Something flashes to his right, the sound of gunfire, and everything goes black.

 

---

 

When Viktor wakes, it’s to a familiar medical room in one of their safe houses. Everything hurts and it’s too bright in the room but.

 

Well, he’s alive. That’s an honest surprise.

 

“Oh look, the idiot’s awake,” someone drawls from the doorway, and it takes more brainpower than he’d like to admit to place the voice.

 

“So glad to see you so concerned for my health, Yurio,” Viktor replies sleepily.

 

As expected, the young blonde bristles at the nickname but doesn’t snap something back.

 

Viktor must've been really hurt for the younger Russian to hold his tongue. Yuri steps into the room and Viktor’s blurry vision focuses on the bandage wrapped around his head, a mirror of Viktor’s injury no doubt. “Well, I should be seeing as I’m the one that saved you. A little gratitude would be appreciated,” he says in a huff, but he doesn’t do more than settle moodily in the chair beside Viktor’s bed.

 

Viktor blinks. “Really? I thought I saw…”

 

“The stupid pig?” Yuri finishes with a snap, eyes suddenly alight with a righteous fire, “Yeah, he was there. Nearly gave Chris a concussion getting to the garden against orders when your comms blacked out. He stayed by your side while the old hag hijacked an ambulance and wouldn’t leave this room for two days before we forced him home. Can’t exactly keep a cover if your uncle’s looking for you, right?”

 

Viktor’s head spins with all the sudden information, everything still fuzzy around the edges. “Is everyone alright?” he asks instead. “What happened?

 

Yuri wordlessly gripes at him for a moment, as if lost for words at his complete idiocy, before informing grudgingly, “Your stupid plan worked by some act of God or whatever people believe in. Impersonating the agents we knocked out and pretending the Don and his crew were holding them hostage lit a fire under the agencies asses, and the chemical compound Michele put in the independent air ventilation system in the parking garage worked like it was supposed to; we’re lucky Otabek could make the liquid sedative into an aerosol. The most those federal assholes had to do was carry the unconscious bodies into their cars and handcuff them. We practically handed them their promotions on a silver platter.” Yuri scowls and crosses his arms. “Otabek got a sprained wrist and Chris won’t stop crying about his split lip. I got a minor concussion, but overall nothing serious. You got the worst of it with your stupid idea.”

 

“You said stupid twice. What’s the matter, your usual vicious eloquence failing you?” Viktor teases lightly, holding back a wince. “Besides…” Viktor’s eyes feel heavy now, relief sudden and overpowering. “I knew about his escape route...had to stop him...Yuuri...”

 

Yuri’s expression is uncharacteristically soft and somber, but it must be the drugs.

 

“Yeah. We got him.”

 

---

 

“He’s dead?”

 

“Very,” Chris confirms with a nod. He’s smiling genially, not exactly happy at the news since the Don won’t be rightfully serving time in prison but not sad that the man terrorizing his home country is cold and buried. “After Yuri tackled him and prevented a fatal shot, Yuuri grabbed the gun and killed him before he could choke our little Russian kitten to death.”

 

Viktor doesn’t remember seeing bruises around Yuri’s neck, but it’s probably a good thing. His vision is going a little red just from hearing about the events second-hand. “I thought I told you to evacuate after thirty minutes.”

 

Chris looks at him then, an aggravating mix of so naive and how cute, you think you can boss us around.

 

“How is he?” Viktor asks after a long moment of silence. He hasn’t heard from Yuuri since the party even after three days of being completely coherent -- that he can remember anyway since apparently he’d resurfaced a few times that first day, but it’s been almost a full week now -- and he’s worried and a little scared. He never wanted this for Yuuri. He’d made promises, dammit, ones he knew he couldn’t keep. He’d promised that they didn’t kill, that they helped people, that he’d keep Yuuri safe, but he’d lied on all three accounts.

 

“He went off the radar for a while after getting home. Took a few days off from the cafe and requested time off from school.”

 

Chris raises hands in mock surrender at Viktor’s sharp look. One of his unspoken requests had been for his team to not snoop on their youngest pseudo-member beyond his uncle’s connections.

 

“Wasn’t me. Little Yurio was worried and couldn’t help himself.”

 

Viktor resists and exasperated sigh but his old friend sees it anyway and pats his knee comfortingly.

 

After another half hour of catching Viktor up on the fallout of their little operation, a headache and a half Viktor doesn’t necessarily need at the moment, Chris stands with a long, languid stretch. “Well, I’ll be off. Your duffle will be ready for you in a few hours so make sure you take your meds and eat before heading to the airport. Mila’s already booking your flight to Japan so don’t take too long in the shower like you usually do.”

 

He winks at the blatant surprise on Viktor’s face and blows him a kiss.

 

“Go bring back our wayward little bird.”

 


 

Yuuri looks...fine.

 

At least, as far as Viktor can tell, but he’s across the street at a different cafe wearing dark shades and an inconspicuous outfit, and he’s only been observing for an hour so who’s to really say whether or not Yuuri is really fine? It’s not like he’d expected to find Yuuri crying in a corner of his room at home, guilt-stricken and horrified by the events that had taken place in those gardens, needing comfort and solace in the man he’d saved.

 

He ignores the voice in his head that says that’s exactly what he’d been hoping.

 

He takes another sip of his coffee, cold at this point, and watches with no little confusion or fascination as Yuuri continues his shift at the opposing cafe, looking like something out of one of Viktor’s fantasies in that dark green apron and white button-up, giving sweet smiles to customers and laughing with the cashier who he seems particularly close to, living life as if he doesn’t have a second sort-of job on the side that no one knows about. Maybe he’s a little disappointed too because he’d hoped to at least help Yuuri cope with killing a man, but perhaps this is Yuuri’s way of coping -- returning to normalcy and ignoring the rest.

 

He checks his phone and skips over the many angry texts and voicemails left before landing on one sent from Otabek:

 

Another found dead.

 

He frowns, but before he can even compose a reply, someone is sitting across from him.

 

His eyes flick up to see a young man, maybe Yuuri’s age, with darker skin and a smile full of boyish charm, but Viktor’s instincts are telling him not to underestimate the friendly grin being directed at him. He’s seen this face once or twice before but never paid him much mind -- just another young, carefree face in a crowd of the political elite who will maybe one day take up that role himself as the next generation.

 

“So,” the young man starts, perfectly comfortable in the metal chair that he hadn’t asked to sit in, “you must be the older guy Yuuri’s been hanging out with.”

 

“And you must be Yuuri’s school friend and coworker, Phichit Chulanont. It’s an honor to meet someone Yuuri has such high regard for,” Viktor replies smoothly without hesitation, his own version of a charming smile affixed to his face. “Although, I have to wonder what the ward of Cialdini Enterprises is doing working as a cashier in the middle of a foreign country.”

 

Just because he avoids invading Yuuri’s privacy, it doesn’t mean he won’t look up everyone connected to him.

 

Chulanont laughs, a full sound that draws smiles from customers nearby just from the sheer wholesomeness of it. “Ciao-Ciao doesn’t mind what I do in my free time as long as I finish school and don’t get into too much trouble. Besides, you’re one to talk with your connections, Mr. Russian-Prince-who-ran-away-from-home.” Viktor’s bites back a sharp retort and Chulanont’s expression doesn’t change a bit despite the creeping dislike in his words. “Anyway, I’m not here to talk about me. What did you do to Yuuri to make him come home crying?”

 

He doesn’t expect that and his composure fractures for a moment, completely visible to his companion, and some of the tension ebbs.

 

“You didn’t know.”

 

Viktor purses his lips, clears his throat. “Is he okay?”

 

Chulanont raises an eyebrow. “You came all the way here to ask me if my best friend is okay?”

 

Viktor meets his gaze evenly. “Yes.”

 

“Hm. Well, you can’t be all bad if you flew around half the world for him.” Another beaming grin filled with goodwill and innocence, and Viktor doesn’t buy it for a second. “Ask him yourself, I need to get back to work.”

 

He’s gone in a flash and Viktor takes a deep breath, tilting his head so that he could can see the person standing at his shoulder.

 

“Would you like a seat?”

 

---

 

“How are you feeling?” Yuuri asks after a long, long silence.

 

He looks small with his eyes trained on the napkin in front of him, nothing like the fiery, determined young man Viktor’s come to know.

 

“Better,” Viktor says honestly. “Few months of rehab to get the shoulder joint back to full strength, but better.”

 

His ribs still creak painfully when he leans over but it’s bearable now, and his gunshot wound is healing nicely in his opinion. Their resident doctor Lilia had nearly nailed him to his bed to keep him from aggravating his wounds in his quest to come to Japan, especially after a such a delicate surgery in which she’d grimly told him he’ll permanently lose some range of motion in that shoulder from the shorn ligaments and whatever else she’d yelled at him about, but he’s healing, especially now that he’s seen with his own eyes that Yuuri is okay, even if only physically.

 

“Your tattoo…” Yuuri starts tentatively, and it’s like ice freezing in Viktor’s veins. “What does it mean?”

 

He clears his throat and ignores the completely irrational urge to scratch at the inked skin of his shoulder blade, now somewhat scarred from the bullet wound. “It’s an old relic, really. Not so interesting. Are you okay?” he asks this time.

 

Yuuri’s plush lips purse and a complex look flickers across his face before it smooths out to something like grieving. “I don’t know.”

 

And it hits Viktor like a train how familiar this scene is, how just six months ago he’d sat down with Yuuri after pulling a gun on him and all but asked for his help taking down his own blood.

 

“Have you ever killed anyone?” Yuuri asks, pulling Viktor from his nostalgia.

 

He’s a bit thrown but he supposes he should’ve seen that coming. His smile feels plastered onto his skin. “There are many ways to kill a man Yuuri, and it doesn’t always involve burying him.”

 

They both know it’s not a no.

 

“I’m happy,” Yuuri says after another pause, a sudden change of topic that confuses Viktor for a moment until he understands. “I’m happy you’re okay, I’m happy you're alive. I was so scared for you.” There’s a but there somewhere, then he says quietly like a confession, “I just don’t know if I can do what you can do.”

 

Viktor doesn’t let it show but it hurts in a way he doesn’t expect, like his ribs are breaking all over again, but instead of puncturing his lungs they’re splintering and lodging into every part of him; his throat, his mouth, his stomach, his spine.

 

Yuuri blinks rapidly, eyes shining. “I need to- I have to get back to work.”

 

Viktor’s body moves without his permission.

 

As Yuuri stands to leave, Viktor lunges and grabs his wrist, body aching with the sudden movement, but it’s nothing compared to the horrific pain welling up inside. “Yuuri, I’m sorry.” He’s not surprised when Yuuri doesn’t shrug off his grip so much as slip right through his fingers like a phantom.

 

“Goodbye, Viktor.”

 

He doesn’t know if the smile he gets in return hurts more or less than his wounds.

 

---

 

“Che. How cliche. No wonder he left you there.”

 

Yuri’s acidity isn’t new but it’s still a nasty shock after the emotional turmoil Viktor’s been through for the last few days.

 

Chris tsks disapprovingly at the younger Russian’s back as he leaves, arms crossed and scowling at the world, and gently pats Viktor’s shoulder in what he probably assumes is comforting when it actually feels kind of patronizing. “thought it was romantic. Don’t let the kitten get to you. He’s missing Yuuri just as much and doesn’t know how to express it.”

 

That Viktor can understand with miserable empathy.

 

Genuine concern colors Chris’ expression when Viktor does nothing more than nod listlessly. “Are you going to be alright, Viktor? It’s been two days. Besides, you know as well as I do that long-distance relationships never last.”

 

Two days since Viktor’s had his heart irreparably destroyed. Nearly two weeks since that disastrous mission that cost him the only good future he could imagine. It’s a good thing he never let himself indulge in pleasant, unrealistic fantasies for long or he’s sure the heartbreak would actually kill him.

 

“I’ll be fine, Chris.” And he will be.

 

He’ll wallow and brood and let the hurt feelings fester, and then then he’ll get back on his feet. He’s done it before and he’ll do it again. He has to. He’s been neglecting his priorities for far too long.  

 

“We have other things to worry about so let’s focus on that.”

 

“You mean the unexpected death of the Duchess whose fraudulent international insurance claims were instrumental in the Don’s schemes?”

 

“Why are you saying it like the title of mystery book? Yes, her. Have we confirmed who the killer is?”

 

Chris pouts at him. “You’re no fun.”

 

Viktor honestly wonders if he’s actually looking at one of the best grifters of the century or an overly erotic man-child.

 

“We haven’t ruled out many people that she’s essentially killed by pulling or stalling insurance payouts to patients with terminal illnesses,” Chris hums, dismayed, “but we’re fairly sure it’s our mysterious grim reaper. The modus operandi has changed to match the rush job so it took a little longer to determine if it’s the same person. Whoever it is, they’re moving up their time table, but they’re also getting sloppy. We’ve found some pretty interesting information and we’re fairly sure it’s a woman, but it’s still a long way away from identification.”

 

“Oh?” That’s interesting. They’ve at least narrowed it down somewhat. “Based on what?”

 

“Long strands of hair we found on the Duchess’ body that didn’t match hers or any of the women she was in contact with before she disappeared, nor was she seen with any men with long hair in the hours leading up to her death. And a friend of ours connected us to a forensics lab; they analyzed the nuclear and mitochondrial DNA and found the absence of Y chromosome genetic material.”

 

“So we’re basing our conclusions on a negative result?” While a decent start, it’s far from promising.

 

“It’s the best we have at this point.”

 

Viktor sighs. “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

 

The Italian eyes him carefully. “We’re still going through with it?” What about Yuuri? goes unsaid. He looks at him like he knows something Viktor doesn’t and it makes his skin prickle.

 

Viktor smirks, mirthless. “We’ve already come this far. Why stop now?”

 

Chris is still dubious but nods readily enough, that humbling loyalty that for some reason is given to Viktor resurfacing. It chases away some of the coldness in his chest. “Well, if that’s what you’ve decided then we’ll follow you. Let’s go, Otabek and Mila are in the main office with our next client.”

 


 

It was inevitable.

 

“Sara’s in position, ready when you are.”

 

“I need two minutes, the firewall is harder to crack than I thought.”

 

“You have thirty seconds, hag.”

 

Two months is plenty of time to get over a significant other, more than enough time to forget a lover, but Viktor doesn’t know if those arbitrary guidelines apply when Yuuri’s never been either no matter how close they were edging to that point.

 

They’d kept in contact of course -- Viktor’s team, that is.

 

Another few weeks of radio silence was all it took for Yuuri to contact them using a burner phone on an encrypted line, apologizing for his distance. No one could stay mad at him, not when he has every right to request space from the lifestyle that had taken so much from him. He’d give them information on events his uncle was attending and any suspicions he’d had about his uncle's dealings, but he’d been conspicuously absent at the last two large functions so Viktor hadn’t seen him, even though a security feed.

 

So seeing him now, dressed in his usual, slightly rumpled suit he refuses to replace and looking about as comfortable in the posh atmosphere as he did when Vitkor first laid eyes on him, it knocks the wind from his lungs, makes him wish just a little that he’d never bumped into this clumsy disaster.

 

Viktor’s never been one to delude himself into thinking he’s capable of handling more than he can, but like with anything concerning Yuuri, this was an exception and he finds himself unprepared.

 

He physically jolts when Yuuri’s gaze meets his, nearly melts when Yuuri gives him a timid smile.

 

It hurts too much to return it.

 

So he turns his gaze away, smiles pleasantly at the under appreciated secretary working directly under the woman they’re about to rob blind, and pretends he doesn’t feel Yuuri’s gaze on him the entire time.

 

---

 

“You’re not cold?”

 

Viktor breathes in the chilly air, the freshness of coming winter. It tastes like home. “Not really.”

 

His companion joins him at the balcony, the most private area of the mansion and out of view of the party, and tentatively rests his hands on the night-cooled stone. The silence between them isn’t like before where it was comfortable and filled with unspoken promises, but he can’t bring himself to break it in fear of Yuuri leaving. He wonders if Yuuri is thinking of another mansion from not so long ago, of blood spilled vivid red on garden flowers.

 

“Uncle’s gone home for the night,” Yuuri says quietly, and Viktor thinks maybe he’s not the only one scared. “Too many drinks too quickly, though that’s not uncommon.”

 

“I see. Chris can give you a ride back to your hotel.”

 

“That’s not…” Yuuri starts, but he lets it die in miserable silence.

 

How did talking become so difficult between them?

 

Another short period of just listening to the whistling wind and faint music in the background before Yuuri tries again, a little stronger this time.

 

“What did she do?”

 

Viktor glances at the younger man from the corner of his eyes but can’t discern a particular expression. “Fabricated millions of accounts under her employees names. Increased the number of supposed customers at her bank and allowed her to hide away money in the fake accounts and allowed her employees to take the fall for it when it was uncovered.”

 

Yuuri nods. “How is she involved with my uncle?”

 

“She’s not, as far as we can tell, though someone’s tried to make it see that way. Most corporate heads knew about her business since they’ve pulled off the same thing once or twice in their careers, but she was sloppy so they likely didn’t bother to bring her into their plans.” He takes in another deep breath and let’s it out slowly before facing Yuuri. “I know Chris already filled you in on everything, so why don’t you ask me what you really want?”

 

Instead of surprise or embarrassment at being caught, Yuuri stares at him in horror.

 

His brows draw together. “Yuuri, what’s wro-”

 

“Viktor!”

 

Yuuri’s smaller frame drives into him with the force of a bulldozer while something like a whoosh reaches his ears. Viktor’s off guard and can’t do much more than keep his head from hitting the concrete, nearly bites through his own tongue when they land in a shadowy alcove because his shoulder is still recovering and his ribs are screaming , but his blood goes cold at the familiar sound all the same, heart beating too fast in his chest as he pulls Yuuri closer instinctively.

 

“Yuuri? Yuuri!”

 

Hands scramble to drag Yuuri away from the open air but it’s suddenly hard to breathe because Yuuri’s not moving.

 

“Viktor!”

 

“What’s going on Viktor?”

 

He opens his mouth but then nearly swears when a sharp pain hits him in the shoulder.

 

He looks down and sees the metallic glint of some kind of dart and he wants to scream but already his body is shutting down, arm going numb and eyes growing heavy from whatever sedatives been pumped into his system. He bites his lip hard enough to taste blood and manages to get out, “Someone’s drugged us...northeast balcony…”

 

Yuuri’s sleeping face is the last thing he sees before it all goes dark.

 

---

 

Shuffling feet. Metal doors. Groaning machines.

 

Viktor picks up on all of these sounds easily even as his eyes refuse to open for a moment and he keeps his head down and shoulders relaxed. His mind clears relatively soon too, meaning the compound injected into him is as quick to leave his system as it was to enter and shut it down in the first place. The fact that his heart is racing probably helps clear it from his system too because all he can think of is Yuuri, Yuuri, whereś Yuuri, who took us, who took him-

 

“Viktor?”

 

His name is said in a loud whisper, scratchy, as jarring in the relative quiet as a gunshot, but the familiarity of hit has Viktor’s head shooting up, eyes widening in surprise and absolute relief when ice blue meets warm brown even as his head splits open from a sudden headache. “Yuuri! Are you alright?”

 

They’re predictably tied to metal chairs sitting across from each other, about a yard between them. There’s no one around besides them in the large, cluttered space filled with boxes stacked meters high and grey metal walls over three stories tall. Yuuri doesn’t look as scared as Viktor kind of expects, but his eyes are a little glassy and he probably doesn’t know what's happening. Maybe a concussion? Did he get injured on their way here?

 

“‘m fine,” Yuuri murmurs in that stage whisper again, head lolling a little bit as if he can’t quite keep his head up.

 

The relief that had been a balm to his system suddenly turns to ice. “Yuuri, what’s wrong? Keep your eyes on me.”

 

“Who?” Yuuri asks, but Viktor knows it’s not about his last comment.

 

“Don’t worry about that, Yuuri.” His usually sharp memory is blurred by panic and the leftover effects of the sedative, but he’s fairly sure he knows who’s behind this from the crest engraved in the dart, an arrogant calling card. His lips press into a thin line. “It’s probably- we’re going to be okay, he won’t kill us. He won’t- he doesn’t want you, it’s me.”

 

Yuuri looks shaken at how undone Viktor has become, his usual eloquence failing him. “Who are you talking about, Viktor?”

 

Viktor’s jaw clenches, feels like a child with the way he keeps stumbling over his words. “He- I know you heard what your friend Chulanont said at the cafe. When he called me the missing Prince of Russia? He wasn’t wrong. I’m not a prince or royalty or anything preposterous like that, it’s just a ridiculous nickname, but it’s- you don’t need blood to be powerful, and he is. I was-”

 

“Finally awake?” The deep, booming voice echoes off the metal walls and thuds heavily in Viktor’s chest. “It’s been awhile, hasn’t it Vitya?”

 

Viktor would normally roll his eyes and start snarking at the nearest hired hand about poor accommodations and maybe taking him out to dinner before getting to the rough stuff, but this isn’t planned like all those other times. He isn’t playing a role, he doesn’t have his team backing him up from less than one hundred feet away, and he’s completely unprepared to hear that nickname again.

 

The visage of an older man comes into view and it’s like the weight of the world is sitting on his chest.

 

His tongue is heavy and clumsy in his mouth. “Yakov.”

 

Yuuri’s cloudy gaze bores into his face but Viktor pays it no mind, attention solely on the man who’d been such an enormous part of his life and hasn’t seen in five years. He’d honestly thought the man dead, especially after they way they ended things, but he supposes his resilience is something they had in common that drew Yakov to him in the first place.

 

Yakov lips twist into a familiar, cruel smirk, still blind in one eye with a thick scar bisecting it courtesy of Yuri - a parting gift. He’s as angry and imposing as Viktor remembers even from his earliest memories despite more grey coloring his hair and more lines etching fissures into his face. “Ah Vitya, I was worried you’d forgotten me, but I needn’t have worried. After all, how could you forget the man who raised you? Tell me, how is little Yuri doing? Perhaps I should stop by for a visit.”

 

Viktor spits on his shoes.

 

Predictably, Yakov’s face twists in disgust and amusement.

 

Viktor can’t quite bite back a hiss as a heavy backhand snaps his head to the side, can barely even hear Yuuri’s weak protest from the ringing in his ears. Rust fills his mouth, heady and thick, and blood trickles down his cheek from Yakov’s ring, another mark for the man to lord over him, but he doesn’t shout in pain. He’d learned to grit his teeth when he was young because crying never helped.

 

“You never learned how to speak to your betters,” Yakov grunts. “No matter. I just stopped in to see my old protege, but you’re not the one I want to talk to now.” His old eyes cut to Yuuri, a strange, intense emotion lurking behind the veneer of tempered anger.

 

To Viktor’s horror, Yakov turns to a now coherent Yuuri and grabs his face, fingers biting into the skin of his cheeks and roughly turning Yuuri’s head to face upwards.

 

“You, however, have some more explaining to do, boy ,” he says viciously, followed by a quiet threat in Russian that sends spears of panic through Viktor’s chest. His fingers scrabble against the nylon rope around his wrists but it’s useless, his fingers have gone numb from the cold and the lack of circulation.

 

Yuuri, sweet, brave, stupid Yuuri, yanks his face away and bites Yakov’s hand hard enough to draw blood.

 

Yakov bellows, more from anger than pain, and before Viktor can beg him to stop, Yakov balls up his good hand and grinds his knuckles into Yuuri’s cheek in a swift, vicious blow. He’s out like a light, cheek already reddening from the abuse, and Yakov growls, “I’ll see you again soon when you’re more useful.”

 

It takes every ounce of Viktor’s self control to breathe and clear the red haze from his vision.

 

His voice isn’t exactly even but the threat in it is clear and dangerous. “Why did you bring him here? Let him go, he has nothing to do with this.”

 

Yakov rounds on him, something ugly marring his face. “Nothing? Nothing?! You are a blind, stubborn fool, Vitya. This time, I will make sure you learn your lesson well and never forget.”

 

Viktor shouts when Yakov calls for two men to come and collect him. The ropes are undone but as much as Viktor would like to say he can fight, he’s a mastermind at heart and he knows he can’t hope to win against two trained men when he’s still weak from his wounds and whatever compound reawakens in his system. Standing suddenly makes his vision swim and as he’s dragged away, all he can do is stare at Yuuri’s bruised face and wait .

 

This time, he’s deposited in a separate room, much smaller and completely empty, probably an abandoned managers room within the warehouse, and neither guard stick around after tying him down again. He doesn’t know how much time passes with him lulling in and out of consciousness but eventually the creeping nausea and numbness fades.

 

He rolls his shoulders as best he can with his arms tied behind him and is relieved to feel the slight press of something metallic hidden in his sleeve.

 

Yakov might’ve taught him everything he knew over the years, but Viktor’s learned some new tricks from his crew.

 

The door swings open before he can attempt an escape and the familiar face standing in the doorway makes him want to draw in as much air into his lungs as he can so he can laugh instead of scream, so he does. It’s not a nice sound and the person flinches away. “Why-” he gasps, curled over his stomach and trying to catch his breath, edging on hysterical after the last few hours he’s had, “Why am I not surprised to see you?”

 

Georgi frowns. “I told Pahkan the dose was too much.”

 

Viktor reigns in more crazed laughter, rolling his head back and baring his teeth. “I should’ve known. You were always the most loyal to the family, even as a lowly shestyorka.

 

Georgi closes the door behind him, sighing as he sits across from Viktor. “Avtorityet-

 

“Don’t-” Viktor bites out. “Don’t call me that.”

 

“It’s what you are.”

 

“Not anymore. I thought you knew that when you left with me.” He wracks his mind for any signs of this, wondering how he’d been so blind and trusting for so long, and his memory snags on something that makes his voice dip into a low, displeased rumble. “You were the one who warned the Don and helped his assistant.”

 

Georgi’s chin drops, nearly touching his chest as he nods. He’s not as spineless as he used to be after first joining the brotherhood otherwise Viktor never would’ve tolerated him joining his team, but it’s clear some of those old habits truly do die hard. “I had to.”

 

“Yakov promised his old friend one last hurrah, huh? I should’ve known.”

 

“It’s not- that’s not why you’re here.” Georgi shifts nervously, obviously unused to being on the receiving end of Viktor’s ire. “It’s actually Yuuri. Well, both of you, to be specific.”

 

A rock settles in his gut. “What are you talking about? Because of his heritage?”

 

The other Russian sighs and runs a hand through his hair, fidgeting with his watch again in a familiar, uncomfortable gesture. “Sort of? I don’t- I’m not supposed to say, Pahkan said he wanted to talk to you.”

 

Viktor licks the blood still dripping down his face. “I’m sure that’s all he wants to do.”

 

“After the way you left, can you blame him?” Georgi says in a frustrated rush, standing and pacing the small confines of the room restlessly. “He was devastated after Lilia left, you remember? You were supposed to take over but you didn’t just leave, you took Yuri and Mila too. They were his favorites, aside from you, and he’s getting on in years. He can’t keep this up without a successor, what you were supposed to be.”

 

Viktor growls, “I will never become the monster that he is. And I don’t care about any of that anymore, Georgi. Now tell me what he wants with Yuuri.”

 

Georgi shakes his head, a somehow pitying look coming over his face that makes Viktor’s hackles rise. “You always were oblivious to the people around you Viktor. You’re brilliant but...after seeing it firsthand for the last year, maybe Pahkan was right about you not having the heart for this business.”

 

“Georgi-”

 

“Viktor, this is only going to end in blood, do you understand that?”

 

“It won’t-”

 

“He’s going to break your heart. He already has once, isn’t that enough?” Georgi demands, fists clenched at his sides. Again, Viktor gets the feeling he doesn’t know the whole story.

 

Instead of saying so out loud, he watches Georgi slow his pace to a stop, heart heavy and mind racing. “Georgi, please,” he says quietly, suddenly exhausted, tired of rehashing old history when all he wants is to find Yuuri and leave, “where is he?”

 

Georgi watches him for a long moment, still with those sad eyes, and Viktor can see the minute he cracks and gives in. He’s never been good at denying the people he loves what they want, and as much as his loyalty is still fundamentally tied to Yakov, Georgi can’t deny he loves Viktor and everyone else with a fierce, unyielding devotion, even Yuuri. “He’s on the other side of the warehouse, down the corridor and third door to your left. Yakov doesn’t have many guards but they’ll make their rounds in twenty minutes.” He uses Viktor’s hidden knife to cut his bonds and he doesn’t give an apology, but the way he turns his face, bracing himself, is maybe enough of one. “Make it look convincing.”

 

Viktor nods as he cocks back his good arm. “Always do.”

 

---

 

He manages to slip by the guards with a few close calls and when the twenty minute mark passes he’s a little surprised the alarm isn’t raised, but he suspects Georgi must’ve requested for a little extra time to talk to him. A stab of sorrow hits him at the thought but he shakes it away and slips into a section of the warehouse that mirrors the one he was kept in.

 

Doubt plagues him as he reaches the room Yuuri’s supposed to be in.

 

Break his heart? Who? Yakov? That old man had done more than break his heart years ago. He’d shattered every beautiful illusion of the world Viktor had ever held without remorse or care and Viktor’s not sorry to have left, so what could he possibly do to break it again?

 

Then he remembers who exactly he’s dealing with.

 

His breath seizes with panic. With a flick of his wrist, he disables the security camera above him and picks the lock to Yuuri’s hold.

 

What he sees makes his blood roar in his ears and vision go dark.

 

“Oh Yuuri...no, no, no, no-”

 

It’s only been an hour at most since he’s last seen Yuuri but it seems Yakov’s done his work and done it well. Viktor crouches in front of Yuuri, unconscious and head hanging listlessly despite the noise Viktor made getting to him, and he can’t deny the choked whisper of Yuuri’s name that passes his lips because it’s too close to a sob. Yuuri’s lip is split, blood oozing from the fresh wound, trailing wetly down his chin and pooling on his lap. There’s a cut on his forehead too now, near his temple, and the injury most likely the cause of his unconsciousness.

 

Shaking hands reach out to tentatively cup Yuuri’s bruised cheek, mottled red and purple from abuse, fingers tracing the red marks of where Yakov’s ring must’ve caught tender skin as he attempted to physically beat whatever information he wanted from the younger man.

 

His eyes trail to Yuuri’s arms, tied wrist up on the armrests of the chair, and bile rises in his throat from the smell of rotted burning and the site of raw burns bubbling on pale skin in blacks and reds on top of silver-white scars from years before. It smells like ash too, beneath the cooked meat, and bitter smoke that used to remind Viktor of a warm hearth and heavy hand patting his head but will forever bring back this sickness churning in his stomach-

 

He blinks.

 

“Viktor?”

 

Yuuri’s fine and rubbing his raw wrists, bonds pooled beneath his chair, and Viktor doesn’t even try to conceal his abating fear when he breathes in a sigh of agonizing relief, fingers trembling as he reached out to touch Yuuri’s shoulder to make sure he’s real. There are no burns, no cuts, no new injuries that he can see, but the sight of Yuuri subtly flinching away from him makes his blood boil.

 

“How did you-?”

 

Yuuri opens his hand to reveal Mila’s favorite knife. “She said it would bring me good luck.”

 

Viktor mentally notes to buy Mila everything she wants for the next two weeks. “Are you okay?” he asks, voice dropped low. “What hurts?”

 

Yuuri nods slowly. “Just my head...and ribs. And I think my left ankle is twisted.”

 

So Yakov hadn’t employed any of his usual tactics. Old man is getting soft in his advancing years, but Viktor definitely isn’t complaining about that. Besides, the mottled, blackening bruise high on Yuuri’s cheek is more than enough. “Alright, we have about a half an hour before help comes but we need to be on the roof if we want to catch our ride.”

 

And bless Yuuri and his trust in Viktor because all he does in response is lean into Viktor’s strong hold and hum in agreement.

 

---

 

A familiar face greets them as they finally reach the rooftop, strangely devoid of Yakov’s men, and Viktor gives a sigh of relief.

 

Emil Nekola’s beaming grin is as bright as the sun. “Viktor! Good to see you again my friend! And this must be Yuuri! I wish we could meet in better circumstances but any chance to visit friends is a welcome one!”

 

Yuuri shrinks back at the boisterous greeting, but it could also be the heavy wing beats of the helicopter hurting his ears. He manages a polite smile, curling into Viktor’s side.

 

“I thought you were busy in the Middle East,” Viktor shouts, holding Yuuri’s waist as he helped him into the helicopter. He blinks in surprise when Yuuri straps himself in without help before he does the same, aiming a raised eyebrow at the apparent copilot.

 

“I was,” Emil shouts back, swinging into the cockpit with practiced ease and jerking a thumb to the pilot beside him, “but then this guy over here picked me up so I figured, why not? Besides, I owed Mikcey a favor.”

 

“It is I, JJ Leroy, here to save you,” comes a second voice, and the pilot twists around to give them a smirk full of sparkling white teeth visible even beneath the heavy gear and helmet and an ostentatious thumbs up. And of course it has to be the loud, arrogant special forces member but Viktor can’t find it in himself to be annoyed when he and Yuuri had just been rescued. “What do you think of my girl? A modified Hughes 500P MH-6C! I call her Isabella!”

 

“I keep telling him he can’t keep borrowing his special forces equipment-”

 

“No worries, no worries!”

 

Emil sighs but it’s a fond sound. He turns back to face him and Yuuri with a wry grin, “The things he does to impress your apprentice. Anyway, your team should be pulling out of the warehouse by now, we’re rendezvousing twenty miles south of here to your safehouse and then you’ll be put on a train back to your base.”

 

That explains why Viktor’s path had been clear. Worry settles into his gut once again but he wills it away; his team is the best, they’ll be fine. “Thank you. Both of you.”

 

Emil winks. “Just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

  

---

 

The train rocks side to side, rumbling beneath their feet, train car quiet except for the occasional passerby and Yuuri’s soft, sleepy breaths as he lays his head on Viktor’s shoulder. Despite the beautiful scenery, despite the fact that they’re finally safe and away from his old mentor, Viktor can’t help but feel Chris’ piercing gaze.

 

“Yurio’s angry with you. He thought Yakov was dead since he hasn’t surfaced in such a long time, but you knew, didn’t you?”

 

“He’ll get over it.”

 

“Harsh, Viktor. You know he won’t let this go.”

 

“He’ll give up on whatever revenge fantasy he has soon enough.”

 

“That man nearly destroyed both of you and took his grandfather from him. You really think he’s going to move on from this? Especially after Georgi-”

 

“If he wants to stay on this team then he will.”

 

“...there’s something you should know, Viktor. Why you were both taken.”

 

“...”

 

“I think you know too.”

 

“Not now.”

 

“This won’t be the last time. It’s only the start.”

 

“Chris-”

 

“You can’t put this off forever-”

 

“Not now, Chris. Please.”

 

If there’s one infallible truth that Viktor’s learned since meeting Chris nearly ten years ago in the bowels of a smokey bar, cigarette burns and precise lashes decorating his body that did little to break those unwavering hazel eyes or his indomitable spirit, refusing to back down from Viktor’s cold gaze and even colder touch, it’s that Chris is stronger than Viktor in all the ways that count and that he’s always, always right.

 


 

Of course, all good things come to an end.

 

Viktor thinks that maybe this good thing ended long before it even began.

 

Yuuri smiles as Lilia wraps his ribs, hugs Sara and Michelle, gives Mila her knife back, shakes hands with Seung Gil and Chris. He shares a long look with Viktor and it’s exactly how Viktor imagined it would be -- bittersweet. Yuuri goes home and doesn’t come back, and Viktor doesn’t go after him. No one mentions Georgi and no one says a word about Yuri’s empty room or Otabek’s letter. Yakov goes even deeper underground and the world has settled to a standstill. Viktor and what remains of his fractured group continue to do what they do best for the next few months and it’s harder now but they manage -- until they don’t.

 

This time, their target is Toyonaga himself, and Viktor doesn’t know how to feel about that.

 

So he doesn’t. He shuts it all out and digs into what Mila finds -- he ignores the part that buckles under the weight of information that Otabek usually sorts through with ease, the echoing quiet of the office without Yurio’s waspish attitude and Georgi’s dramas playing loudly in the background -- and does what he’ always done best. He plans and he pretends he feels nothing at all.

 

But the world seemed to love tearing at him when he’s already so close to falling apart. The event is easy enough to infiltrate, the guards are easy enough to take out, the lock to Toyonaga’s private quarters are easy to break through, so of course, of course, of course he sees the only person who can break him now.

 

It’s Yuuri, but not the one he knows.

 

This Yuuri has slicked back raven hair and burning eyes like molten amber no longer hidden behind bulky frames, a coy smile that should be at odds with the sweetness of his face but instead highlights the sharpness in his cheekbones and the cutting line of his jaw. The suit is black as midnight, fits tight along the breadth of his shoulders and is all crisp lines down to his tapered waist and long legs. The first few buttons of his black collared shirt are undone and reveals the long, pale column of his throat, the dips of his collarbones that Viktor wants to set his teeth into.

 

His mouth goes dry even as his heart plummets.

 

“Yuuri.”

 

“What’s the matter, Viktor? Didn’t expect to see me?” Yuuri asks, and even the way he speaks is different, slightly lower in pitch and edged with not-quite-cruelty that sends shivers up Viktors spine.

 

It takes a moment for him to pull himself together, and it’s not easy. It’s like just one look from the man in front of him, this seductive, dark creature, will be his undoing, and his world has already tilted on it’s axis. He can’t explain why this seems so familiar, why it’s like he’s finally put all the pieces of Yuuri’s blackened puzzle together, but he doesn’t ask why or how or anything else so obvious because he knows, he’s known.

 

There are so many questions racing through his mind, each one tumbling over the other, so fast and so sudden that all that comes out of his mouth is, “Fancy seeing you here.”

 

Those lips curve again into a knowing smirk. “I’m full of surprises.”

 

“Targeting your own family now, Yuuri? How like you.” It’s mean and meant to hurt since he learned from the best and Viktor regrets the words as soon as they leave his lips.

 

Yuuri’s smile shutters and it’s like Viktor can see the walls slamming down. “What do you want, Viktor? Answers? An explanation?”

 

The thought is sudden and vicious. You.

 

Viktor shakes his head, feels sad all of a sudden, remembers a fledgling not-dream but goal that he’ll never reach because someone else will get there first even if it kills them. “I don’t want anything but your safety.”

 

The scoff is so strangely reminiscent of Yuri in one of his moods it nearly brings a smile to his face. Almost. “Uncle won’t be stopping by anytime soon. Try again.”

 

It’s surreal. Viktor had imagined going to Yuuri again, hundreds of times in hundreds of scenarios, but never like this, never saw in his mind's eye this elegant creature prowling the office like he owns it. His mind is spinning and he doesn’t actually know what to do for once. He doesn’t know what to do. “Why did you leave?”

 

“I have enough people coming after me. I wasn’t about to add the godfather of Russia to the list.”

 

Lie. If Yuuri had been that concerned about Yakov, he wouldn’t have approached Viktor at all, and it’s already too late. Yakov and Yuuri’s uncle are connected somehow. Leaving wouldn’t have changed a thing. He doesn’t say any of this though because he has a feeling Yuuri is trying to protect them even if it meant breaking their hearts.

 

Instead, he lets a little of that heartbreak show when he asks, “Was any of it real?”

 

That stops Yuuri, softens the harsh lines of his mouth. “Yes. Of course it was. How do you think it lasted so long?”

 

Viktor swallows hard, clenching a fist at his side. He shouldn't feel relieved and betrayed by that. He shouldn’t want to hear it at all. He shouldn’t have even asked that question. But he’s always known Yuuri would be his undoing, why would this be any different?

 

“Then tell me,” Viktor says evenly, “when did it start?”

 

Yuuri shrugs and somehow the move is both dismissive and elegant. “Your phone. How silly of you to have info of your next two jobs on there. Made it easy to bump into you at the Don’s first party and the wedding after.”

 

“The champagne…” Viktor says slowly in realization, mind finally working again, prying apart the pieces and putting them together in a long, convoluted story with him as an unwitting main character. “That was a cover. And the clumsiness...cute, Yuuri. Very cute. And clever. And I suppose you’re the one who shorted out my earpiece both times?”

 

Yuuri smirks. “My apologies, I misjudged your communication system. It was only supposed to short your signal for a few minutes while I tried to talk to you in private but it was far more sensitive that I gave it credit for.”

 

Viktor narrows his eyes. “Why me?”

 

Yuuri smirks and slips into a chair with his legs crossed, a startlingly graceful gesture that reminds Viktor, again, he’s not dealing with the Yuuri he thinks he knows. “You just looked so bored and pretty I had to get closer. Can you blame me?”

 

The time for games as run out though and Viktor doesn’t take the bait. No more banter, no more witticisms, no more games.

 

Yuuri’s expression falls into something more severe before continuing, “You’re not a regular man, Viktor, and your team is brilliant at taking out a target. But it was your information gathering that truly impressed me. I had to stay close so you wouldn’t suspect me -- after all, if you want to hide a bomb, you put it right under the nose of the people trying to find it, right? And all I had to do was bat my lashes at you and lay a few crumbs before you were asking me to join your team. Yakov-san was right to be angry, you didn’t do your research thoroughly enough, but Leo-kun and Guang Hong-kun would’ve made sure you didn’t anyway. Your team is good, but mine is better.”

 

Viktor ignores the sting of those words and focuses on the hurt layered beneath his taunts. “What can I say? I’m a sucker for a pretty face, so color me surprised to find you have more than just a sad backstory. You have a motive. Several in fact. Your parents and your sister...they were casualties of your uncle’s grab for money and power, weren’t they Yuuri? Even your closest teacher and mentor wasn’t safe.”

 

The younger man doesn’t blink and Viktor doesn’t know if he expected it to. The hurt from those particular wounds had most likely scarred and hardened until they made a grotesque, impenetrable shield he claws at now.

 

Yuuri nods. “Cliche, I know, but those police reports don’t tell the whole story. They never mentioned I was trapped in that car with their dead bodies for hours before someone noticed the lights and smoke, did they? Or that Minako-sensei was next in line to take me in. He took my whole world so now I’m slowly taking his.”

 

Viktor’s stomach churns at that, horror washing through him at the thought of young Yuuri desperately trying to escape, crying out for his dead parents and older sister and stuck with their rotting corpses, unable to even seek comfort in another parental figure he loved. He wants to fold Yuuri into his arms and protect him, but the prickly chill emanating off the other man warns him to keep his sentiments to himself.

 

Instead, he clears his throat and says, “The Duchess wasn’t planned, though, was she?”

 

Yuuri narrows his eyes. Ah, now he’s defensive. “What of it? Maybe I didn’t have enough time for an elaborate set up. Minami-kun is usually in charge of those.”

 

“Or maybe,” Viktor continues, the clues clicking rapidly into place, ignores the names Yuuri keeps dropping because he knows it’s Yuuri’s way of goading him, “you didn’t know she was the reason your friend couldn’t get the treatment she needed and she died. Yuuko, was it? She asked you to shave her head before the chemotherapy caused it to fall out but she died shortly after. The straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak. So in retribution and a way to throw off investigators, you planted that hair on the bodies of the men and women who had a hand in your uncle's schemes.” A sad, dark declaration of war.

 

There it is, he thinks, vaguely apprehensive but mostly relieved to see actual emotion flicker over Yuuri’s face; a heart-breaking combination of devastation and rage, the result of a festering wound that has been manifesting from the older ones of his family’s death.

 

“That was four years ago, and just months later the first murder began. Why is that, Yuuri? Why not start after you found out your uncle's role in your family’s death from just three years before that?”

 

Yuuri watches him for a long moment, eyes like glittering black jewels as he slips from one side of the room to another to stand in the shadow of the floor to ceiling windows beneath the moonlight. He looks ethereal like that and it makes Victor’s breath catch and his heart pick up it’s pace, as if he’s seeing a specter, haunting and unearthly.

 

“Do you know what I almost got my first degree in, Viktor?” Yuuri asks, not looking at him.

 

Viktor frowns but doesn’t say anything.

 

“I was going to be lawyer.” There’s a ghost of a smile on Yuuri’s lips. “I told Yuko-chan my suspicions and she convinced me to do the right thing. Gather evidence, tell the police, and become a lawyer who could prosecute my uncle myself. Get justice for my family. She was always so...optimistic. So trusting in the system, in me, so good. She was there for me what I thought I was going to drown in...everything, I guess.”

 

And then I did.

 

It goes unsaid but not unheard, and sorrow weighs heavily on Viktor’s chest. Oh Yuuri. Why you? “She wouldn’t want this.”

 

Yuuri doesn’t look at him. “No, she wouldn’t. But dead people don’t want. Now it’s about what I want.”

 


 

“Viktor?”

 

“You were right.”

 

The office is dark, only illuminated by the light of the fireplace, warm and homey and surrounded by tomes and scriptures from around the world. Viktor had always wanted a place like this with comfortable leather seats he could sink into after a long day, a place for Makkachin to rest on the hearth, and secret compartments filled with his guilty pleasures. Now it just feels like isolation.

 

“All of you. You were right. I din’t-didn’t see it.”

 

He’s amazed the words come out somewhat coherent because his mouth -- his everything -- feels numb from the sheer amount of whatever he had in that decanter.

 

Chris comes closer with a sigh, closing the door behind him. “None of us knew this would happen. Not even you.”

 

“I was s’pposed to. But you were right. You knew, didn’t you? You saw it. All of you saw it. Yurio. Yakov. Even Georgi.” He laughs and covers his mouth with a hand to stifle the wrecked sound because knows he won’t stop until he’s suffocating. But he already can’t breathe, so what’s the point? “I let him go.”

 

“You won’t next time.”

 

“You don’t know that. I let him go. I let him go.

 

Chris sighs. “Viktor, it’s time to go to bed.”

 

“I’m not tired.” Yes he is, so profoundly tired he doesn’t think he has the will to get up.

 

“I don’t know what to say to make this better,” Chris admits quietly, standing at his side like he has infallibly for so many years.

 

“Yuuri...he’s not...he’s not Yuuri, is he?”

 

His oldest friend settles beside him, hazel eyes so sad. Viktor is suddenly reminded that he’s not the only one to lose a dear friend in this, to lose so many. “With you, I think he was.”

 

Somehow, those words give him strength. He allows his friend to escort him to bed soon after, cover him with a blanket and press a warm hand to his cheek for a fleeting moment, and he sinks into a deep sleep with conviction in his heart.

 

After all, his friend is always, always right.

 


 

“I love you,” Viktor says to the apparition swaying in and out of his vision, and it’s desperate, so desperate, not at all how he’d imagined his confession would be. There are no candles, no soft music, no glittering stars overhead as he held Yuuri’s face in his hands as gently and tenderly as a precious gem, no promises of more, of a future as he held Yuuri close and never let go.

 

And this dark figure wearing Yuuri’s face only cocks its head and smiles sadly, pityingly, as if saying oh but how could you?

 

It’s grotesque, the way this creature wears Yuuri’s face, grinning with his lips and laughing with his lungs, moving with his body and masquerading so well as the happy boy Katsuki Yuuri used to be. That boy died though, a long time ago, right there with his parents and sister and his best friend, and instead of a sweet child with wild dreams, this came crawling from the wreckage, twisted beyond recognition and smiling for the world to see.

 

And damn him if Viktor doesn’t still love him, it.

 


 

“You’ll never stop, will you?”

 

It’s not a question or a statement, really. It just is . And Yuuri’s face, cold and resolute, is all the answer he needs. He ignores the blood cooling on the tiles, doesn’t spare a second thought to the dead man at Yuuri’s feet.

 

“If you continue this crusade, you will die. ” Viktor can’t feel relief or pride when his voice comes out evenly because something in him is crumbling faster than pillars of sand. He knows where this road will take Yuuri if he continues, almost walked this path himself years ago, and he will burn.

 

“Good. I’ll make sure to take all of them with me.”

 

Yuuri means it, Viktor finds to his private horror, says it so easily like a sigh of relief, and yet he can’t find it in himself to be truly surprised. It twists something in him, something like his heart but deeper, more agonizing, to hear Yuuri say those words with such conviction. There is no going back and there hasn’t been for a long time. “I can’t help you like this. I can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved.”

 

“Then don’t,” Yuuri bites out, hackles raised.

 

“We’re more alike than you care to admit, Yuuri,” Viktor says lowly, one last plea, sharp blue eyes never leaving the agile form in front of him as Yuuri slips across his vision, quiet and smooth as a shadow darting across the moonlit room. How could he ever mistake those precise, purposeful steps to be clumsy when they are anything but?

 

“Oh Viktor,” Yuuri purrs, right next to him, slender fingers slipping under the lapels of his jacket, “how badly do you want that to be true?”

 

It’s mocking, edged with genuine, savage anger. Not aimed at him or even the men who have awakened such wrath, not anymore. It’s a living thing on it’s own now, focused and white hot, lashing out at everything, everyone, unquenched by the blood already spilled. It’s all consuming. Volatile. Has swallowed whoever Yuuri was once upon a time whole, destroyed and remade him into this creature breathing hatred and flames, spitting poison and sweet words.  

 

It’s nothing like he’s ever encountered before.

 

Viktor grips Yuuri’s hands in his own and refuses to let go, seized with breathless desperation. He meets those fathomless eyes, glittering like black jewels, and all Viktor can feel is his heart constricting at the anguish in Yuuri’s beautiful face, hidden so far down beneath the surface he can’t be quite sure if it’s not just his own being reflected back at him. “You can stop, Yuuri. You can help us and put your family to rest.” He grips those murderous, blood-soaked hands harder, tries to make Yuuri understand. “You can stop.”

 

And Yuuri looks like he believes him for a heartbreaking moment, expression so open and vulnerable and wanting before it shutters, disappears like the full moon behind storm clouds.

 

Viktor’s hope disappears with it.

 

“That’s the problem, Viktor,” Yuuri murmurs, suddenly soothing, “I can’t stop.” His other hand comes up, brushes a few locks of silver hair out of Viktor’s face in a startlingly tender, familiar movement, the hard lines of his face softening with a broken smile that Viktor’s seen so many times but never truly seen . “You made me want to, for a moment, if itś any consolation. Sometimes I wonder what we’d be like if we were someone else. We could’ve been devastating.”

 

It’s then that Viktor knows, knows with a bone-deep ache, that he will never see this broken mess of a man again, finally understands that this isn’t good riddance but goodbye.

 

Pink lips, soft and swollen from gnawing teeth, brush against his softly, so softly he almost feels nothing at all except the lightning racing up his spine and the stuttered beat of his heart. Yuuri’s eyes are dark like sin and promise, porcelain skin ethereal in the weak moonlight, a fallen, wrathful angel’s last breath fanning across his cheek.

 

“I’ll see you in the next life, Viktor.”