Trying to read Dr. Gilbert’s face was an exercise in futility as she flipped through Viktor’s ‘homework assignment’ journal. She would never openly judge him for his weirdness because she was a professional, but surely she was feeling some measure of confusion?
Was it a requirement for therapists to have perfect poker faces? Viktor fidgeted in the leather chair, playing with the fringe on the throw pillow in his lap. He’d declined Dr. Gilbert’s offer for water, obviously, so he had nothing else to do with his hands otherwise.
“Well,” Dr. Gilbert finally said. “You’ve had an eventful month and change.”
You have no idea how much I’ve left out, Viktor thought.
“Do you have anything you’d like to focus on?”
He considered her question for a long moment. “Well… I’m not really sure,” he admitted. “There are things that are bothering me, but they feel kind of insignificant in the grand scheme of things.”
“You mean small, or unimportant?” Dr. Gilbert frowned. “Viktor, what do I always say?”
Viktor had to think about it; she had a lot of sayings. “Uh… if it’s unimportant, I wouldn’t keep thinking about it?”
“So… I guess… I could talk about that thing with… uh--”
Dr. Gilbert settled in her chair and let him cast around for something to talk about, her expression pleasant and patient.
Viktor floundered for a long moment, and sighed. “I’m okay with you picking something.”
“Okay, let’s see.” Dr. Gilbert paged through his journal and hummed when she landed on a page near the front. “How about that night a few weeks ago when you went out with your work friends and made some reconnections?”
And that was why he loved Dr. Gilbert as his therapist. Maybe she was being kind, or maybe she was going somewhere with her line of questions, but he hadn’t even considered talking about that night with Georgi and his old classmates at Piece of Love. “Oh yeah! That was… that was pretty nice,” he admitted. “Even if I was still kind of distracted.”
“What was distracting you?”
“Work stuff,” he said, only half of a fib. Technically, he worked with Kolya, right?
“Do you want to talk about that?” Dr. Gilbert asked.
Viktor shook his head. “It was overwhelming in the moment but…” He waved a hand, because he didn’t want to lie that it had passed. The missing medallion was always lurking in the back of his mind, ready to keep him awake at night when he needed to be sleeping for the next day.
“Even so, it followed you home from work,” Dr. Gilbert said.
Viktor winced. “I tried to not let it, in my defense.”
“You don’t need to defend yourself,” his therapist automatically answered. “I don’t want you to feel like this was some kind of failing. Like you said earlier, you wouldn’t keep thinking about it if it weren’t important.”
“Let’s focus on the good things. You’re getting out more,” she said. “You’re reconnecting with family and friends. You’ve been very social and outgoing, and that’s a very big step for you!”
“Is it really?” Viktor hedged, tilting his head. “I feel like that’s something everyone does.”
“Have you ever considered that you may be an introvert?” Dr. Gilbert asked, tapping her pen against her chin. “It’s not quite as simple as being an introvert versus an extrovert, of course, but the gist of it may apply to you.”
“I’m not… socially repulsed or overly shy, though,” Viktor pointed out.
“That’s not what an introvert is, or that’s not the only way introvertedness is expressed,” Dr. Gilbert said. “You don’t go out of your way to make new acquaintances, and you prefer to spend your time surrounded by your important people. Your social battery seems to get drained quickly, but you have so much performative experience that you can pretend otherwise, don’t you think?”
Viktor thought about it. “Huh. I never really considered that.”
“That’s okay,” Dr. Gilbert said, smiling. “Something to think about. Being an introvert doesn’t mean you’re antisocial or awkward, it just means that you have a limit as to how much time you spend socializing outside of your comfort zone. Among other things.”
“And there’s nothing wrong with that,” Dr. Gilbert went on. “Your mother is an extrovert, for sure, and don’t you feel safe letting her take the reins when you’re out with her?”
Viktor thought back to the last new moon and that fateful yoga class. “Sometimes.”
Dr. Gilbert raised her eyebrows.
“She’s my mom, Doc. She embarrasses me every chance she gets, and it’s impossible to do it back to her!”
“Okay, as a mother myself, I hate to inform you but it’s actually one of our duties to embarrass our kids,” Dr. Gilbert said, chuckling. “It’s how we show that we love you.”
“She talked about bowel movements in front of someone I have a crush on,” Viktor deadpanned.
Dr. Gilbert didn’t burst out laughing, but only barely. “Oh, dear,” she said instead.
Viktor sank into the couch cushions. “I was having a rough day, so it kind of annoyed me more than it usually would.”
“I can imagine. Did you talk to her about it?”
“A little,” Viktor said, nodding. “She can’t seem to help it, but she’s being friendly to the person in question, so it’s all working out.”
“I’m glad to hear you’re spending more time with this special person!” Dr. Gilbert leaned forward, her elbows balanced on her knees. “I’m guessing everyone is very excited for you?”
“Well, almost everyone,” Viktor said, making a face. “It’s a little strange to have so many people invested in my romantic life. The person I like isn’t really giving me any clear signals on how he feels, so it’s been pretty one-sided.”
“And I take it that would make it awkward to have it be the subject of your friends’ and family’s gossip?” Dr. Gilbert nodded. “Do you think you would be best served if you spoke with everyone about these feelings?”
“I already am,” Viktor said. “Almost everyone understands.”
“That’s good. I want you to surround yourself with supportive people, and not people who push you too far away from your comfort zone.” Dr. Gilbert winked. “Stepping out of it consensually is very good, though. I’m very proud of you for that, Viktor.”
Viktor couldn’t help but beam a little at that; her words made him feel all warm and fuzzy inside. “I appreciate that, Doc.”
“You’re doing great, Viktor. Don’t push yourself too hard, if it doesn’t feel right then you have every right to stop and back off,” Dr. Gilbert reminded him. “Now, tell me about what happened with that stingray?”
“It was an anemone,” Viktor corrected her. “It stung me, and I had to go to the hospital.”
“I heard a little about it. I was really worried for you,” Dr. Gilbert said. “I’m so happy you’re feeling much better.”
“Yep, fully recovered,” Viktor said. “It was no fun at all, but the hospital took good care of me. I felt bad for scaring my cousins.”
“I’m sure they’re very happy that you’re well again,” Dr. Gilbert smiled. “You mentioned they’ll be moving out here soon?”
“Yes, around Halloween,” Viktor confirmed. “I’m looking forward to seeing them more often! They’ll see me so much, they’ll get sick of me.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” Dr. Gilbert said, laughing. “I bet you tell them all about the fun things you do. You live such an interesting life, Viktor!”
You don’t know the half of it, Viktor thought, but he smiled back at her anyways.
After finishing up with Dr. Gilbert and setting up his next month’s appointment, he caught a bus that dropped him off a couple of blocks away from the groomer that he’d left Makkachin at a few hours before.
His favorite groomer, a platinum-haired lady named Alice, grinned when she saw him. “Hey, Viktor! I just finished up on Miss Makkachin, she’s all ready for you!”
“Is she completely dry?” Viktor asked. “I do need her completely dry.”
“Of course she is, when have I ever sent her home without finishing her blowout?” Alice pulled the invoice out of a folder under the check-in counter and punched something into the computer that doubled as a point-of-sales system. “She got her usual teddy-bear cut, quarter-inch all over and half-inch head, everything rounded, and I even put a little bow in her topknot! We got a shipment of autumn shampoos and scents, so she got some of that. Nails grinded, teeth brushed, and I threw in a nice bandana for you.”
The register beeped.
“Sixty dollars for today,” Alice said.
“I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be more,” Viktor said, squinting.
“Oh, hush, you’re one of my best clients. Makka has never had any matting when she’s come to me, so you get a Good Dad Discount.” Alice winked. “And it’s my shop, so no one can tell me otherwise.”
Viktor smiled at her as he swiped his debit card, and then dug a twenty out of his wallet to drop in her tip can. Alice flapped a hand at him, but didn’t fight him on it. She always did a good job, and Viktor appreciated it.
“Makkachin is always super happy and excited to come in, but she lets me do what I need to do,” Alice said as she finished ringing him up and handed him his receipt. “She’s a lot better than every goldendoodle that’s ever come here.”
“Oof, you’d think they’d be good dogs, being part poodle,” Viktor said, not bothering to hide his bias.
“People who own doodles get some kind of brainworms,” Alice stage-whispered to him, rolling her eyes. “Makes them go loco, amigo. I had amazing pet parents turn into idiots once they got their doodles. It’s ridiculous.”
“Yikes,” Viktor said. “I’ll try to never turn into one.”
“I sure hope you don’t, but just to be safe… stick with your poodles, please!” Alice winked at him, and then ducked into the back to grab Makkachin from her kennel.
“Planning on it!” Viktor called after her before waving at Alice’s bather, a teenage boy who was struggling with what looked like a goldendoodle with really weird hair. “Sorry, man.”
The bather shot him a long-suffering look, but shrugged. “It’s better than Walmart,” he said.
Viktor laughed, and then Alice was running back up with Makkachin on her leash. “Oh, oh oh oh oh oh!” he exclaimed as his poodle barreled into the swinging door keeping the lobby separate from the workspace. “My puffy princess! You’ve done it again!”
“Her topknot bow has a jewel on it,” Alice added, handing him the leash and letting Makkachin out so she could immediately jump up on Viktor and demand pets. “Enjoy the apple perfume!”
“You bet!” Viktor said, and he waved as he let himself and Makkachin out onto the street.
The day was still bright and sunny, Viktor was off work early for his therapist appointment, and the oppressive summer heat was letting up at last. He didn’t feel quite like heading home just yet, and the schools would be letting out very soon, so Viktor whistled and turned Makkachin towards the boardwalk.
It was so funny, seeing the boardwalk as much as he’d been lately. He’d spent a good portion of his childhood and adolescence at the boardwalk before it had gotten a massive facelift, around the time that he’d had his… mental health crisis instead of college. As a result, the boardwalk barely resembled what he remembered from his childhood. It was both fun and a painful kind of nostalgic to compare what was there now compared to what had been there before.
One welcome addition that had popped up in his ‘hiatus’ was, of course, the Sachihoko Cafe. Viktor led Makkachin in and grabbed a table in the shade. An employee whom he didn’t recognize walked past, a young Asian woman with her dark hair swept up in a ponytail, and he caught her attention.
“Hey, sorry, I completely just spaced, but is it okay if I have my dog with me outside? She won’t be a bother,” he said, and to her credit, Makkachin sat politely next to the table and let her tongue lol out to pant.
“Oh my gosh,” the waitress said, her eyes widening. “You– Viktor Nikiforov! Of course you can bring her here! Does she need water?”
“Am I really still that famous?” Viktor asked, trying not to cringe. “Yes please to the water if that won’t be a problem.”
“Absolutely not a problem! And of course you’re still that famous, you’re a hometown hero!” The waitress seemed starstruck. “Besides, my husband and I are classical music people, hah!” She gave Makkachin a pat and cooed at her. “Oh, she’s so fluffy! I love her bow!”
“Thanks, I just picked her up from a spa day,” Viktor said, smiling.
“Aw, that’s so nice! I’ll be right back with water for you and her, do you need a menu?” The waitress pulled a menu out of her apron and handed it to him before bustling away.
Viktor took his seat and wrapped Makkachin’s leash around the arm of the patio chair. “I don’t know if I like how many people are still recognizing me,” he said to his dog, who panted at him and nudged his hand with her wet nose.
After a few minutes, the waitress reappeared with a metal doggy bowl and a plastic glass in one hand and a sweaty pitcher in the other. Viktor watched cautiously as she set the doggy bowl down under the table and then placed the glass in front of him. “Here you go,” she said, pouring water into the bowl for Makkachin before serving him.
“Ah, thanks,” Viktor said, already planning on pushing the glass away. “Could I just get a vanilla milkshake? And lots of napkins, please.”
“Absolutely, I’ll get that started for you. I’m Yuuko, by the way, so grab me if you need me!” She smiled and bobbed her head in a mini-bow before disappearing with the pitcher.
Viktor carefully edged his seat away from Makkachin’s water bowl, while Makkachin lapped up a few mouthfuls of water before settling on the ground next to his seat with a sigh.
Makkachin suddenly sat up and made an interested noise, and Viktor followed her gaze. “Oh, Yuuri!”
Yuuri stopped when he heard his name, and Viktor realized that Makkachin was reacting to Vicchan.
He grabbed his poodle’s collar. “Makka, stay.”
Makkachin whined, but complied.
Yuuri was smiling a little as he edged his way over. “Hey, Viktor. Nice to see you again. You’re feeling better, right?”
“I absolutely am,” Viktor said. “Just had my monthly therapy session, and I’ve been feeling great for the past week or so.”
“That’s great,” Yuuri said, nodding. “Good to hear. I kinda blanked out after we left the hospital room, sorry.”
Viktor felt something cold go down his spine and settle in his stomach. “You don’t need to apologize. You got home safely?”
“Yeah, I did,” Yuuri said with a funny look on his face. “It’s so weird. I remember walking out of the hospital with you to take Vicchan out for a pee, and then the next thing I knew, I was on the bus headed back home.”
“You… right,” Viktor said. “I don’t really remember much of that night either, to be honest. I was exhausted.”
“You seemed it,” Yuuri agreed. “I don’t think I was that tired, but I must have been.”
“Chris said you were dazed when you left,” Viktor hedged, hating himself for not telling Yuuri the whole truth. Then again, he wasn’t even sure of the whole truth himself.
“I must have been. No idea why,” Yuuri said, frowning. “I don’t lose time that much anymore,” he added. “That only happens when I get really bad panic attacks. Did I get one that night?”
“No,” Viktor said, refusing to outright lie to Yuuri.
“Right, because I can’t remember getting set off,” Yuuri nodded. “I slept fine, and I’m feeling okay, so I guess I shouldn’t dwell on it, huh?” He smiled, and Viktor felt like the sun had broken through clouds to warm his face.
It was almost enough to banish all his worries about this siren business. Almost.
Makkachin’s tail began thumping on the ground, but Viktor kept a hold on her collar. “Sorry, she loves other dogs,” he said, glancing at Vicchan in his little service vest.
“Oh, I know. They’ve played together before at the dog park,” Yuuri said.
“Oh.” Viktor blinked. “Really?”
“Yep. I’ve seen you there,” Yuuri said, looking away.
Viktor drooped in disappointment. “And you never came over to say hi?”
“I’m kind of awkward, you might have noticed.” Yuuri winced.
“I really haven’t.”
Their eyes finally met, and Yuuri smiled timidly. “Thanks,” he said after a moment.
“For what?” Viktor asked.
“For… validating me, I guess.” Yuuri shrugged. “It’s nice of you.”
“I mean, I’m happy to validate you, because it’s the truth,” Viktor said, shrugging. “You’re no worse than I am, to be honest.”
“See, I don’t believe that,” Yuuri said. “I’ve never seen you fumble dealing with other people like I do.”
“Years of practice. My mom’s a teacher, she gave me pointers.” Viktor winked, and was gratified when Yuuri laughed.
It was then that Yuuko came back with his milkshake and napkins, and she wasn’t alone; Phichit had tagged along, and he looked like he was dying to say something.
Yuuri greeted them before Phichit could, though. “Hey guys, how’s the cafe been?”
“Same old,” Phichit said, raising his hand for a high-five that Yuuri reciprocated. “Got your ook?”
“His what?” Viktor asked, noticing that Yuuri was carrying a medium-sized hard case that resembled a violin.
“My ukulele,” Yuuri said, pronouncing the instrument’s name in an interesting way. “Of course I have it, Peach.”
“You play the ukulele?” Viktor asked, fascinated. “I had no idea!”
“It’s really easy to learn,” Yuuri said, scuffing the toe of one shoe on the ground. “Nothing special.”
“Bullshit,” Viktor answered. “Instruments are all special.”
“We keep telling him that!” Yuuko said. “He won’t listen.”
“Okay. Viktor,” Phichit said after Viktor had taken a sip of his shake and wiped off the condensation with one of the napkins. “I need you to settle something for us. How common is your last name?”
Viktor frowned. “Why?”
“We’re just having a bit of an argument about it, it’s really stupid,” Yuuko said. “But we would still appreciate your input, which you are totally not under any obligations to give.”
“Oh my god, you guys,” Yuuri said, shaking his head.
Viktor blinked, confused. “Uh, I don’t know how common my family name is, to be honest,” he admitted. “I’ve never really thought about it. My dad has two brothers, one in Canada and one in Florida, but those are the only relatives I can think of.” He shrugged. “I only really talk to my uncle in Canada, the Florida one is kind of a jerk, so I don’t even know if he’s using our last name.”
“Canada, though?” Phichit said, his eyes widening.
“Yyyyyyeah,” Viktor said, making a face.
“Canada!” Phichit exclaimed, turning to Yuuko.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” she retorted.
“What…?” Viktor turned to Yuuri, who shrugged.
“Katya Nikiforov,” Phichit said.
Yuuri groaned. “Phichit, no.”
“What about Katya?” Viktor asked, making a face.
“You know her?” Yuuko asked, eyes widening.
“Uh. Yeah. She’s my Canadian cousin, along with Dmitry. They’re my Uncle Denis’s kids, I see them once or twice a year in-person, but she blows up my phone sometimes. Usually right around the time she’s planning her next ice dancing season.” Viktor watched as Yuuko and Phichit both grew even more excited. “Why do you ask?”
“Dude! I freaking told you she was related to him! How many Nikiforovs are out there, seriously?” Phichit poked Yuuko and did a victory dance. “In your face, Nishigori!”
“Oh my god shut up,” Yuuko said, ignoring him. “Viktor, are you serious? Katya is your cousin?”
“Yes, she actually is.” Viktor blinked. “Were you… arguing about that? I arrange music for her all the time.”
“You’ve got tons of cousins, right?” Yuuri asked. “Those two that were with you at the marine park, and then the others out east?”
“Yeah, my mom is the oldest of five,” Viktor said, nodding. “My youngest cousins on that side are moving out here soon, and Letty is based in Oregon, but the rest are out by Detroit.”
“Hold up,” Yuuko said, stopping him. “Letty. Who is Letty?”
“She’s another skater,” Viktor said slowly, leaning back as both Yuuko and Phichit began to… well, lose their shit. “Why?”
“You don’t mean Leticia Addams, do you?” Phichit demanded.
“Yep, she’s my cousin,” Viktor said. He blinked. “Are you two figure skating fans?”
“They are,” Yuuri confirmed.
“Ah.” Viktor pulled out his phone from his pocket and opened the group chat that he shared with Katya and Letty. “Here, they both were badgering me a couple weeks ago to compose for them. Look at this,” he added, pointing to one of Katya’s messages. “No jazz. Can you believe that?”
“These are actually from Katya Nikiforov and Leticia Addams, oh my god,” Yuuko squeaked.
“Oh my god,” Phichit echoed, fanning himself.
“Here,” Viktor said, pulling up his contacts list. “Letty will still be in school, most likely, but Katya is definitely done with classes.” He hit the FaceTime icon next to Katya’s name, and watched as the call went out.
Yuuko and Phichit went still, and Yuuri started snort-giggling behind them.
Katya picked up after a minute of ringing. “Viktor! You still in the hospital?” She wasn’t at the rink, but instead a dance studio, sitting against a mirror.
“Nope, been out a week,” Viktor said, waving. “Did I interrupt you?”
“Nah, Danny and I are taking a breather,” Katya said, and tilted the phone so that her ice dancing partner was visible. “Say hi to Viktor, Danny!”
“Hey, Viktor! Jazz is okay with me!”
“And that’s enough from you,” Katya said, snatching the phone back. “No jazz, Vitya. I’m serious.”
“But I like jazz,” Viktor whined. “You guys never want jazz from me.”
“Because you can’t skate to jazz!”
“You absolutely can! Yuuri, back me up on this, you can skate to jazz!”
“Maybe not freestyle jazz, but there are jazzy compositions you can skate to,” Yuuri agreed.
“Ooh, who’s that?” Katya peered at her screen, and Viktor turned the phone around to show the others. “Oh, hi there! Who are you?”
“Katya, these two are your fans,” Viktor said, and Katya gasped at the same time that Phichit and Yuuko did.
“You’re awesome,” Yuuko squealed.
“You were robbed at Worlds!” Phichit said at the same time.
“Oh, thank you!” Katya said cheerfully. “We appreciate your support! We’re already working on the next season!”
“Can’t wait to see,” Viktor said. “Katya, say hi to Yuuri!”
“Is that your fellow jazz fan?” Katya sighed. “Jazz doesn’t suck,” she said loudly. “But please give us a merengue if you’re able.”
“I haven’t been able,” Viktor said, turning the phone back around. “Don’t you already have something?”
“Yeah, I do,” Katya admitted. “I just like bothering you. You should come see me in competition if we get sent to Skate America! Or come up to Canada, everyone misses you here!”
“I’d love to visit,” Viktor said. “I’ll see when I’m able, but it probably will be after the Grand Prix series. Sorry, Kitkat.”
“Yeah, I know, you have all those concerts to prep for,” Katya said, pouting. “You should still take time for yourself, and Letty agrees with me.”
“Of course she does, she still wants to get payback for the cotton candy thing,” Viktor said.
“Nah, she’s forgotten about that,” Katya said. A baldfaced lie if Viktor had ever heard one.
Someone offscreen called to her, and it echoed around the dance studio. “Okay, water break is over,” Katya said. “Gotta go. Bye Viktor!”
“Bye Viktor!” Danny called over her shoulder.
“Talk to you later,” Viktor said, and hung up the call. He looked up at the others. “Proof?”
“Holy shit,” Phichit said, sounding shellshocked. “We just talked to Katya Nikiforov. The Canadian bronze medalist.”
“I need to sit down,” Yuuko said. Viktor pushed his water over to her, and she downed half of the glass in one go.
“I didn’t know you had famous cousins,” Yuuri said, blinking.
“Well, they’re famous in winter sports,” Viktor answered. “Letty’s dad still blames me for her getting into skating, too. Long story,” he added. “But it wasn’t actually my fault, and he’s actually very proud of her.”
“That’s cool,” Yuuri said, nodding.
Viktor looked at Phichit and Yuuko, still recovering from their idol encounter, and then back at Yuuri. “I’m so sorry, did I just keep you from punching in?”
“Oh, I don’t punch in for a while,” Yuuri shrugged. “I’m actually performing out here in a little bit, once my sister shows up.”
“You’re performing?” Viktor sat up. “Oh, I want to see!”
“Stick around,” Yuuri said, smiling. “Mari should be here any minute, she got off work half an hour ago.”
“Yay!” Viktor said, grinning back at him. “A perfect way to end my day!”
“I think you broke my coworkers, though.” Yuuri eyed Phichit, who had draped himself over a nearby chair and was wheezing loudly.
“I’ll just keep them away from my cousins in the future,” Viktor decided. “At least while they’re on the clock.”
After a little while, Yuuko and Phichit drifted away to get back to working. Yuuri eventually took Yuuko’s abandoned seat and fiddled with his ukulele case as Vicchan sat patiently next to him. Makkachin’s tail kept thumping on the ground, and eventually Yuuri took Vicchan’s service vest off and let him socialize with Makkachin between himself and Viktor.
“They’re so cute, aww,” Viktor cooed. “We should do doggy playdates at the Bark Park sometime!”
“That would be fun,” Yuuri agreed.
“Gimme your phone,” Viktor said, sitting up. “I can put my number in and text my phone. That way we can plan for stuff, and you can come to me to help you with dealing with little Yuri P.”
Yuuri hesitated. “You… want my phone number?”
“Of course I do!” Viktor nodded. “We keep running into each other, I think that’s a sign that I should have a way to contact you. If you’re okay with it,” he added, suddenly feeling like he was being a little pushy.
“It’s just… it’s funny,” Yuuri said, fidgeting. “I’ve looked up to you for years, it’s crazy that you’re… here.”
“It’s really not,” Viktor answered. “I’m not… Yuuri, I’m not like some A-list celebrity. I’m just a pianist nowadays.”
“One of the best pianists out there,” Yuuri countered.
“I’m sure there are others who are even better,” Viktor said.
“Yeah but they’re not you.”
They stared at each other.
“You really did look up to me, huh?” Viktor said, not sure whether or not to laugh. “Huh. I never really thought I was that big of a deal.”
“Your mom kept you humble?” Yuuri quirked a smile.
“Got it in one.” Now Viktor laughed. “So did everyone else.”
“Move, Piggy! Hey old man, your dog is drooling all over the floor,” Yuri’s voice barked from behind him. He scooted behind Yuuri, hefting his violin case over his head, and dropped into one of the other chairs at the table.
“Yuri, what are you doing here?” Viktor checked the time on his phone. “Neptune only let out twenty minutes ago.”
“Today was an early release day,” Yuri said, glaring at him. “Staffing conferences or something. I got out an hour ago. Beka picked me up.”
“Did you tell your mom about that?” Viktor asked as Otabek joined them at the table.
Yuri made a face. “A while ago.”
“Ah.” Viktor let it drop. “How was class?”
“Boring,” Yuri said.
“Normal,” Otabek said at the same time.
“Yuuri?” Viktor asked, looking to his fellow pianist.
“Today was a light class load for me,” Yuuri said, shrugging. “I have no complaints.”
“I’ll be glad when the Fall Showcase is over,” Yuri said. “Mom’s been shutting off the internet at nine every night so I barely have any time to grind XP in Starcrash.”
Yuuri suddenly let out a loud snort, and covered his mouth when everyone looked at him. “Sorry. You play Starcrash?”
“Uh, yeah,” Yuri said, narrowing his eyes. “You play?”
“Yep, I was one of the beta-testers when it was on Kickstarter.” Yuuri eyed the younger teen. “My roommate and I are both in a guild on the local server. You?”
“I have a guild too,” Yuri said, suspicion heavy in his voice. “What’s yours?”
“Ah,” Yuuri said delicately. “We’re Blue Lightning–”
“YOU!” Yuri shouted, jumping to his feet. “You stole our base on Andromeda! YOU MOTHERFUCKERS!”
“Hey, we didn’t steal it, we recaptured it from you,” Yuuri said, leaning away from him. “And you tried to do the same twice this week, so you’re no better.”
“That base was ours,” Yuri growled.
“It was,” Yuuri said gleefully.
Viktor blinked and looked at Otabek. “This is that video game thing, right?”
“Hm.” Viktor looked back to the argument. “Yuuri versus Yuri. This could get confusing.”
“Yuuri versus Yura?” Otabek offered.
“Fuck off,” Yuri said. “I’m the better Yuri!”
“I don’t spell my name the same way that you do,” Yuuri pointed out. “So it’s a moot point.”
“No, it’s not! Everyone mixes us up at the Ariel!”
“Hey, Niichan,” said a new voice, and a woman around Viktor’s age joined them at the table. She was carrying a case similar to Yuuri’s, and she had bleached blonde hair with very overgrown dark roots pulled back from her face. On second glance, she looked like she was probably related to Yuuri. “Look at you, being all social. I almost can’t believe it.”
“Oh shut up,” Yuuri said, making a face at her. “You and Mom.”
“Viktor, Otabek, Other Yuri,” Yuuri gestured at the woman. “This is my big sister Mari.”
“Together, we are Katsukulele!” Mari said, striking a pose. “Did you say ‘Other Yuri’?”
Yuuri pointed at Yuri P, who bristled.
“Oooh,” Mari cooed. “You remind me of a cute K-pop idol! Oh, sheesh, this is weird, you have the same name as my brother.” She wrinkled her nose. “I’ll just call you Yurio to keep things simple.”
“What?!” Yuri - now Yurio, hah! - demanded. He stomped his foot. “I’m the superior Yuri!”
“Can you ukulele?” Mari asked, waggling her case. “Speaking of which, Yuu-chan, we should set up.”
“Watch Vicchan for me?” Yuuri asked, handing the leash to Viktor. “They’re settling down.”
“Can do,” Viktor said.
“Oh, wait.” Yuuri unlocked his phone and handed it over to Viktor. “Go ahead and put your number in. For doggy playdates,” he added, suddenly blushing.
Viktor felt like he could burst out in song. “You got it,” he managed, grinning.
“Aww,” Mari said. “You’re making friends, Yuu-chan!”
“Eew,” Yurio grumbled, retaking his seat in a huff. “Beka, they’re being gross.”
“Shut up, Yurio,” Viktor said cheerfully as he punched his phone number into a blank contact form on Yuuri’s phone.
“I’m gonna kill you for that.”
“Oh, shush.” Viktor snapped a cute picture of Makkachin with her little bejeweled bow for the contact icon and saved it. He texted himself, and felt his own phone buzz in his pocket. “There, all done!”
Yuuri was smiling as he took his phone back. “Any song requests?”
“Ooh, what’s that one surfing song? The one that goes…” Viktor thought about it, and tried to hum the melody.
“Oh, that’s Miserlou,” Mari said. “Yeah, we can do that.”
“Awesome! I can’t wait to hear.”
Yuuri blushed even harder, and Mari punched his arm as they headed off to get set up.
“You’re gross,” Yurio repeated, crossing his arms. “Both of you. Ugh.”
Otabek shushed him. “We’ve all had a rough couple of weeks, Yura. Let him have this.”
“I’m not sure what ‘this’ is but I’m happy to have it,” Viktor agreed.
“Besides,” Otabek went on. “We need to figure out what to do about JJ.”
“Oh my god, we’ve only been talking about this for a week now,” Yurio groused, burying his face in his crossed arms on the tabletop. “I still say we pull that rock out of the ocean floor and toss it away.”
“We’d need heavy machinery for that,” Viktor said. “And we don’t know what would happen if any of us tried to touch it. And it would be one of us, because it’s on the ocean floor.”
“I’m thinking about getting scuba certified,” Otabek said. “I want to see what you guys are seeing down there.”
“It’s the same thing you’d see on Animal Planet,” Yurio said dismissively. “No big deal.”
“It would still be cool to go diving with you guys,” Otabek said. “Yura, you can breathe underwater.”
“Have you noticed that the saltwater doesn’t sting your eyes as much?” Viktor mused. “I just realized how strange that is. And we shouldn’t be able to see so well underwater.”
“It’s magic,” Yurio said. “Of course.”
“Actually, I think that you guys might have a third eyelid that helps you see,” Otabek said. “I did some research, and apparently this pink part at the inner corner of our eyes used to be a third eyelid that evolved away.”
“Interesting,” Viktor said. “I want to test out that theory but I have no idea how.”
“Chris would probably be able to confirm, he’s gone swimming with you,” Otabek said. “I didn’t notice anything when Mila and Yura were swimming with me back when school started, but we also weren’t going too deep into the ocean.”
“I haven’t noticed anything when we’ve all three been out swimming,” Viktor said. “But then again, I wasn’t looking for it.”
“This is gross, stop talking about it!” Yurio covered his ears. “I’m not listening!”
The sound of strings being strummed made Viktor look up at the little performance space on the other side of the cafe patio.
“Hel-lo, Sachihoko Cafe!” Mari called out. “This is Katsukulele for your listening pleasure! Yuuri?”
Yuuri began to play something very quickly on his ukulele, and Viktor immediately identified the opening riff to that one surfing song that he liked.
“Didn’t the Black Eyed Peas do this song?” Yurio asked, making a face.
“They sampled it,” Otabek said.
“He’s really good!” Viktor said excitedly, watching as Yuuri furiously strummed to mimic the Dick Dale guitar song, pulling it off quite well. “Wow!”
“It’s just a wussy version of a guitar,” Yurio said, scoffing.
“Shush, Yurio,” Viktor said, waving a hand.
The younger teen screeched in anger, and Viktor let Otabek talk him down. He pulled Vicchan into his lap and gave Makkachin a pat on the head as Mari joined in with Yuuri, and he sat back in contentment to let the excellent music and decent company wash over him.
(6:37 PM) Yuuri: hey
(6:37 PM) Yuuri: [sent a photo]
(6:39 PM) Viktor: omg!!!! cute baby!!!!!
(6:39 PM) Yuuri: :)
(6:41 PM) Viktor: [sent a photo]
(6:42 PM) Yuuri: wow omg that looks so yummy
(6:42 PM) Yuuri: did you make that?
(6:43 PM) Viktor: yep! makka has been begging for it the whole time
(6:44 PM) Yuuri: I can’t blame her it looks good
(6:44 PM) Viktor: aw thank you!
(6:45 PM) Viktor: I found the recipe online and wanted to try out out
(6:45 PM) Viktor: want me to send it to you?
(6:45 PM) Yuuri: sure! except I probably won’t be able to cook it lol
(6:45 PM) Yuuri: my apartment is more of a hotel room with a kitchenette
(6:46 PM) Viktor: ohhh I see
(6:46 PM) Viktor: I could just make some extra one of these days and run it over to you
(6:47 PM) Yuuri: omg you dont have to!
(6:47 PM) Viktor: I don’t mind :)
(6:47 PM) Yuuri: :)
(6:48 PM) Yuuri: hey do u have netflix?
(6:48 PM) Viktor: of course!
(6:49 PM) Yuuri: I’ve been obsessed with this show on it called sense8 its so good
(6:49 PM) Yuuri: the watchowskis made it
(6:50 PM) Viktor: ooh? whats it about?
(6:50 PM) Yuuri: well