" I hate my father."
Viktor feels Yuuri shift against him, strands of hair tickling his chin with the motion. "That's not the kind of pillow talk I was expecting," the Japanese man mumbles sleepily.
" I'm sorry," Viktor chuckles, kissing the crown of dark hair tucked comfortably in the curve of his neck. "It's just, I thought about your stories of your father and wished I could've had the same experiences."
" Of my father embarrassing himself in public after overdrinking?" Viktor feels a puff of warm breath on his skin. "I doubt you'd want that."
" Oh I do," the Duke sighs, "I would much prefer that over a revolutionary who feels no love for anyone or anything but his own misguided beliefs."
" Well… I don't know if it's entirely misguided."
Viktor tenses, fingers digging deep into the slender waist lying atop his. "What are you saying? Surely you're not – "
" I'm not a socialist, you know that," Yuuri reaches up to cup a hand on Viktor's cheek and the Duke relaxes slowly. "I don't agree with the way your father treated you and your mother, either. But I'm also not a monarchist."
" What are you then?" Viktor murmurs.
I'm just… a pragmatist, I guess."
" What does that mean?"
" It means, as a working class citizen, I support any system that does right by me and my family." Yuuri pulls his hand away and raises himself up by the elbows. The covers fall from his shoulders, exposing sharp collarbones and love-marked skin, inch by agonizing inch. Even in the darkness, his solnyshko is a vision, his usual styled hair mussed by a round of lovemaking, brown eyes at half-mast. "Will you do me right?" he says in a low voice.
Viktor's eyes turn hazy with renewed desire. Mere weeks ago, Yuuri would have fled the room, beet red with embarrassment at his own audacity, but oh, for the Japanese man to speak vulgar innuendo with such ease now – his lover has emerged from his metamorphosis so very beautifully.
" Right and wrong and every possible way I can," the Duke breathes, before he curls a hand round the back of Yuuri's neck and surges upward to crush their mouths together.
Yuuri laughs into the kiss as he allows Viktor to tug him back down, pressing their heated bodies together and into the sheets. "You'd make a horrible politician."
" Then it's a good thing I'm not in politics," Viktor purrs against Yuuri's mouth, hands sliding down to the curves of his lover's behind.
They go for second round, and then a third before Yuuri leaves, when his sunshine does that ridiculous little hip wiggle as he pulls on his underpants.
Breakfast is a quiet affair. Mila and Yura have prudently chosen not to comment on the puffy redness of Viktor's eyes, the shadows of fatigue on his face. Viktor can see the questioning looks they exchange, the looks of concern, but he resolutely ignores it, focusing instead on forcing food down his throat.
A knock on the door breaks the terse silence. Feltsman opens it before he shortly announces, "Miss Isabella Yang."
Again, Viktor's siblings shoot piercing looks at him as Yang enters the room, still dressed in her clothes from last night. "Good morning," she says hesitantly.
"Good morning, Miss Yang," Mila replies brightly. "Would you like to join us for breakfast?"
"No, thank you. I'm afraid I've rather overstayed my welcome," Yang winces, glancing at Viktor. "I was only hoping to speak to Sir Viktor before I leave…"
Nodding, Viktor tosses the napkin on the table and rises to his feet. "Outside," he says curtly, sweeping past Yang and out of the dining room.
Yang follows after him, tugging nervously at her silk gloves. "I must apologize for my behavior last night…"
"What part of it, precisely?" Viktor says thinly.
Yang inhales, tugging once more at her gloves, before she straightens and meets Viktor's gaze evenly. "I will apologize for my impropriety, but not for my political inclinations."
"Of course you won't," Viktor sighs, turning to leave. "If that will be all – "
"Lord Giacometti warned me you might not approve," Yang says fiercely, "But I didn't realize it was to this extent. You must know that the world has no need of your kind any longer; a marriage with me would have helped you adapt to the changing times."
Three hours of poor sleep, drifting in and out of dreams and wistful memories, have not prepared him for a political debate, much less a burst of fury in the early morning. "You are here by the grace of my sister, Miss Yang, but not by mine," the Duke says through gritted teeth, "Never by mine."
Without waiting for a response, Viktor strides up the spiral stairs, barely containing his temper. Now that he is privy to Yang's true nature, his dislike for her has exponentially increased. "Adapt to the changing times", indeed. What is it about socialists and their infuriating sense of self-righteousness? His father always acted like he was right, even when he was very much in the wrong, and it is exactly that sort of arrogance that Viktor cannot tolerate.
He's so lost in irritation that he bumps his shoulder against someone, who releases a small noise of surprise.
"I'm so sorry…" Viktor pauses when he realizes that the person is Mila's lady's maid. He so rarely speaks to the maid directly that his sleep-deprived brain grasps at thin air for her name.
"Crispino, your Grace," the maid supplies after a moment.
"I do beg your pardon, Miss Crispino," Viktor replies smoothly.
Lips quirking, Crispino bobs in a tiny curtsy. "That's all right, your Grace. I'm sure you have a lot on your mind."
As the lady's maid continues her way down the stairs, a thought flashes through Viktor's head and he calls to her before he even realizes what he's doing. "Ah, Miss Crispino?"
Crispino looks up, blinking. "Yes?"
"As it happens, I do have a lot on my mind. Such as, well, how…" Yuuri is doing "… ah, my new valet fits in downstairs?"
"Mr. Leroy?" the maid says, eyebrows furrowing together. "Some of us feel he's a little full of himself, but we generally get along with him."
Viktor nods slowly. "Right…" Yuuri's name remains on the tip of his tongue, but this is Mila's maid, which means his sister is likely to find out that he has been asking after his former valet. Even if he swears Crispino to secrecy, her loyalty will understandably lie with her mistress. And yet, Viktor can't bring himself to step away; besides Chulanont, who doesn't want to indulge him in his wishes, and Yura, whom he has no intention to involve at all, the lady's maid may just be his last remaining window to Yuuri's current state of mind.
There's a long beat where Viktor struggles with his next move, before Crispino clears her throat. "Is this about Mr. Katsuki?" she asks delicately.
Viktor's eyes widen in surprise. "What makes you think that?"
"Her ladyship and I think he's the source of your recent moods," Crispino says, "If you'll forgive my impertinence for saying so, your Grace."
Mila did mention something to that effect. He could deny it, of course; attribute his moods to something else, something less damning.
But after last night, he needs to know.
"Since you brought it up, I haven't had a chance to speak with Yuu – " Viktor mentally lets out a swear word in his head, "– Katsuki properly these days and I wish to know how he's faring."
If Crispino caught the slip of tongue, she didn't show it. Instead, she gives him a look that is soft and filled the compassion. "He is unhappy," she says, "Terribly, terribly unhappy."
A flash of brown eyes; covers pooling around a lithe waist –
" Will you do me right?"
Exhaling, Viktor digs a palm in his eyes, hard, willing the visions away. It's memories like that that keep him up every night, enveloping him with guilt and misery. "Will you pass a message to him, please? Tell him that I…" never meant to hurt him; miss him; want him back in my arms "… I hope he can find happiness again."
"Is that all?"
Viktor drops his hand. "What?"
Crispino doesn't flinch or back down; even Baranovskaya's ferocity pales in comparison to the maid's blatant disregard for servant propriety. "I would think you have more to say, your Grace," she states firmly.
First Yang with her politics and now Crispino: who on earth decided women was the weaker sex?
"Miss Crispino," Viktor says quietly, "What are you implying?"
"Only that you and Mr. Katsuki should have more trust in the people around you. Like lady Mila, for example."
"Mila?" Viktor frowns, just as a sharp voice pierces into their conversation from the ground floor.
"Miss Crispino, lady Mila wants to see you in the library!"
"Coming, Mrs. Baranovskaya," Crispino calls. She flashes an apologetic smile at Viktor before she hurries down the steps, flying by the ascending Baranovskaya.
"Has she been bothering you, your Grace?" the housekeeper asks, lips pursed in perpetual expression of distaste.
"No," says Viktor, eyes following the small figure below as it traverses the front hall towards the library. "No, she hasn't. Could you let Leroy know that I will be resting in my room until luncheon? I'll ring if I need him."
"Certainly, your Grace."
Once in his room, Viktor sheds his clothes and slips under the covers, Crispino's words circling round and round in his mind. It's clear that she and Mila have been discussing his relationship with Yuuri enough to form assumptions about them – whatever those assumptions may be – but what could the lady's maid have meant by having more trust? How could placing more trust in Mila help him or his situation with Yuuri? What would that involve anyway; surely not telling Mila about his love for Yuuri?
Huffing at the absurdity of the idea, Viktor rolls to his side to reach for –
… Yuuri as the other man curls into him, mumbling on and on about staying for 'just five more minutes' until Viktor has no choice but to silence him with more kisses
– cold, empty sheets.
He withdraws his arm, releasing a shaky breath. One thing is certain: if not heartbreak, he'll die from sheer exhaustion if he doesn't find a way to bring his beloved back into his life.
"So you really are in here," Yura declares.
Viktor looks up from his reading as Yura slides the doors shut behind him. "Were you looking for me?" he asks curiously.
"All over the bloody house," Yura flops onto the sofa next to Viktor, "Feltsman said you were in the library, but I never imagined that to be true."
"I do read now and then," Viktor smiles at the veiled insult, tucking a marker in his book before shutting it. "What did you want, Yura?"
"To talk about Yuuri."
For a whole week after that ghastly night with Yang, both his siblings have allowed him space to recover by leaving him to his own devices and waiting for him to initiate interactions. Viktor imagines Mila must have given Yura a stern talking to, because he cannot fathom his teenaged half-brother being in such fine control of his behavior. (Perhaps Crispino may have a point about trusting Mila more.)
It seems a week is the longest Yura's patience can last.
"What about him?" Viktor says calmly.
"Promise you won't go bonkers on me."
Viktor arches an eyebrow. "And why would I go bonkers?"
"Because Yuuri handed in his resignation."
It takes several seconds for Yura's words to fully register, before a sea of white emptiness rushes into Viktor's vision, crashing like a surging wave. The Duke feels his body slump forward, hears Yura's voice, but everything echoes and flickers around him like a scene in the moving pictures. Resignation has never been an option; it is not supposed to be an option. He knew that moment with Yang must have hurt Yuuri beyond reason, but he never expected such a drastic reaction. Then again, he never knows what to expect with his Yuuri.
Something like a sob, or maybe a scream, is trying to claw its away up his throat. How could Yuuri do this to him? How could his sunshine rip his soul to shreds so callously?
How could Yuuri expect him to go on living without him?
" –tor, you still with me?"
"So he's gone?" Viktor whispers brokenly.
"I knew you'd slip into the deep end," Yura sighs.
Viktor feels the sofa shift, before a sharp blow lands on his left cheek, snapping his head to the side and his mind back to reality. When he turns back to face Yura, his brother is on his knees on the sofa, right hand raised high in the air.
"Now are you going to listen properly this time or do I get to slap you again?" says Yura, looking a little too gleeful about what he has just done.
Closing his eyes, Viktor takes a long, deep breath. Calm down, calm down. If Yura's still in good spirits, then Yuuri can't have left. Not yet, at least. (And he can and will dedicate his life to tracking his lover down till his last dying breath.) He reopens his eyes with a nod. "…I'm listening."
"You really think I'd let Yuuri go like that? When I've finally found a decent valet?" Yura sniffs, dropping back down to a sitting position, "No, I threw his notice straight in the fire. I've told Feltsman to give me any notices Yuuri tries to hand to him so they can suffer the same fate."
Color returns to the world as relief floods through Viktor; thank god for Yura's adolescent self-centeredness. "And if he just disappears in the night?"
"He's too dutiful to resort to that," Yura shrugs. "But more importantly," he adds, jabbing a finger in Viktor's face, "I'm telling you this because I think his notice has something to do with you."
"Me?" says Viktor casually.
Yura rolls his eyes to the ceiling. "Oh, please, save your pretending. You looked like you were about to hang yourself when you heard about Yuuri's resignation."
"I was only – "
"My grandpapa told me there are different kinds of love in this world," Yura continues, leaning back, hands clasped behind his head, "Love for family, for friends, for our pets... that it's not only romantic or sexual love that exists." He rolls his head to the side, green eyes piercing into Viktor's. "I bet grandpapa would also say that one can love one's servants."
Struck dumb, Viktor can only stare in return. Of all the things he expected, he never thought he would hear such words from his insensitive brother. Even if Yura hasn't exactly hit the nail on the head, he is so close to claiming acceptance of Viktor's relationship with Yuuri that ribbons of unbridled joy wash away the horror of hearing Yuuri's resignation. "Yura…"
"Look, I don't know what's going on between you and Yuuri, nor do I care," Yura sniffs, crossing his legs on the sofa in a most ungentlemanly manner, "But it's turning into a real nuisance for me. If I have to watch the two of you put on your bloody 'brave face' again, I might just have to slap you both. So for all our sakes, or at least mine, take Yuuri back as your valet already. Not completely, mind you, I still want him as my valet, so we'll just go back to our original – ack! What the hell do you think you're doing!?"
Viktor has moved before he can think, drawing Yura in a tight hug and ignoring the loud protests and flailing that result.
" You and Mr. Katsuki should have more trust in the people around you."
"I love you too, Yura," Viktor murmurs, tightening his grip.
There's a pause, before slowly, Yura stills in his arms. "So… you'll take him back?"
"It's not that simple."
"If you mean Leroy, just sack the buffoon already."
"I'd like my old valet back' is not an adequate enough reason."
"Ha, I can give you a hundred more."
Viktor chuckles lightly. "Just what is your beef with Leroy? I don't recall you interacting with him that much."
"Once was enough," Yura mutters with a shudder.
"Besides, it wouldn't be fair to dismiss him quite so soon after hiring him. We have a duty to do right by our employees."
"Do right by our employees?" Yura's eyes slant. "Is that woman rubbing off on you?"
"Not Miss Yang," Viktor says, lips curving at the memory of Yuuri hovering over him, glowing with radiance in the darkness, "Definitely not Miss Yang." He pulls away then, lifting a hand to ruffle Yura's hair as he always did when they were younger. "Leroy isn't the only factor anyway."
"Stop that, I'm not a child anymore," Yura swats at Viktor's hand, the familiar scowl returning to his face. "Whatever it is, figure it out. Knowing you two, you're probably just complicating things for no good reason."
Viktor lowers his head, laughing. "Probably."
He still has so much ground to cover – not to mention the yelling he's going to do about that resignation stunt when, if, he and Yuuri make up – but it's the first time in a while since he's felt even just a sliver of happiness.
He has been so preoccupied with what he lost that he had entirely neglected what he had.
"I feel like we haven't had a proper chat in ages," Viktor says, face softening into a smile. "Tell me about your week."
Yura blinks, and grins. "All right."
For the first time in a while, Christophe decides to host dinner at his country house – a final hurrah before he sells it away and moves into his smaller, more affordable London home.
Viktor isn't surprised to see Yang mingling among the guests – Christophe is a firm believer of maintaining every connection in his address book – but he takes care to maneuver about the drawing room in a manner that allows him to avoid the political woman. Though Mila has continued to entertain Yang at their estate, Viktor has always found something to do in that time, either out riding on his horse or taking a slow walk through the village.
Unfortunately, there's only so much one can do to avoid a person in an enclosed space for too long, so Viktor is relieved when Georgi finally arrives – and then intrigued, when he sees a handsome young foreigner trailing in after his old friend. The stranger's military cut, hard features, and stiff gait suggest the career and personality of a seasoned soldier, and Viktor wonders how the romantically-inclined Georgi would have met a person of such a hardened nature.
"Ah, Sir Viktor," Georgi says, smiling as Viktor approaches. "Allow me to introduce Sir Otabek Altin. His father is an official in the Kazakh – ah, government," Georgi coughs surreptitiously. "Sir Otabek, this is one of my oldest friends, his Grace, the Duke of Sheffield, Viktor Nikiforov."
Otabek clicks his heels together and bows sharply. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Duke."
"A pleasure to meet you as well, Sir Otabek," Viktor dips his head in greeting. "I can't say I'm familiar with your country. Are you in civil service as well?"
"No, I'm a lawyer, actually."
"That's how we met," Georgi chimes in. "My family has been keen on tying up my inheritance ever since they heard about my undying love for Anya. Sir Otabek has been a most kind mediator throughout the whole ghastly process."
"I was only doing my job," Otabek notes modestly. "And I quite enjoyed the verbal sparring with Lord Popovich's grandmother."
Viktor raises his glass of scotch. "Then I shall know who to call if I'm ever in need of legal assistance."
"Dear god," says Yura, nudging his way into the conversation, glowering, "Would you believe that socialist woman's gotten even worse since the last time we saw her? It's like she lost all her filters along with her marbles."
"One shouldn't use the lord's name in vain, Lord Yuratchka," Georgi chides.
"Well one was just trapped in a neverending lecture about women's suffrage, so one will use whatever the hell name one wants."
Otabek lets out a quiet snort.
Yura's green eyes flick over, narrowing. "And you are?"
"Otabek Altin," Otabek responds smoothly. "You don't support women's suffrage, Lord Yuratchka?"
"I think women can do whatever they want," Yura shrugs, "Just so long as they don't bloody preach my ears off about it."
"Hm," says Otabek, and Victor sees the hint of a smile on the stoic features for the first time that evening, "Fair enough."
"Dinner is ready, Lord Giacometti," the butler announces near the door.
Dear god, thinks Viktor, as Yang's voice continues to drift over the dinner table. Yura isn't exaggerating about the loss of her filters. The woman has taken command of the dinner conversation, which in itself is a travesty, but people are far too shocked by her words to react.
"… and for that matter, I don't see why property should come into play. In fact, I would argue that the woman with the least amount of property and hardly a penny to her name has the greatest right to a vote!"
"I don't disagree with you, Isabella," Mila says quietly from the other end of the table, "But there is a time and place to talk about such matters."
"For goodness sake, Mila, it's 1925," Yang laughs, "Surely anything goes at the dinner table by now. Did you know that America has allowed full suffrage for women since 1920? Five years, five whole years! Must the continent always lag behind foreigners when it comes to treating our people right?"
"So go to America then, if you like it so much," Yura huffs several seats away from Viktor.
"Oh it's very tempting, but I believe I can make a greater difference here. Perhaps you would best understand that, Sir Otabek, given that your father serves in the Soviet Republic."
Viktor's eyebrows shoot up and he turns to the Kazakh man sitting next to him. He is surprised, not only by the fact that Yang knows Otabek, but that Otabek may be a socialist. Perhaps he ought to start familiarizing himself with the politics of Kazakh.
"I'm afraid I may not be the best comparison, Miss Yang, as my country's alliance with the Bolsheviks was not by choice," Otabek says, expression unreadable.
"But surely – "
"Miss Yang," Christophe cuts in suddenly, the corner of his smile twitching slightly. "Much as we appreciate your passion for the downtrodden, I would like to note that I am losing the home that I have lived in for my whole life because of the new reforms, so I hope you might respect me enough to leave aside your politics for tonight?"
Yang has the sense to finally cease then, and the murmurs of conversation resume after a brief pause.
"I struggle to understand why Christophe keeps her in his address book," Viktor sighs, reaching out to take a drink of claret. "How can she hope to open people's eyes with such an obnoxiously self-righteous attitude?"
"Perhaps Lord Giacometti enjoys her fire," Otabek states, dark eyes shifting over to Yura.
Following Otabek's line of sight, Viktor smiles behind his wine glass. "And does that draw you as well?"
"I fought for my country before the surrender," Otabek says, lips quirking as Yura rolls his eyes at something his conversation partner is saying, "So I greatly appreciate a person with spirit."
Having had to read social cues from men for most of his life, Viktor would consider his radar fairly accurate, especially when a misinterpretation could so easily lead to an entire gamut of social and legal consequences.
And his radar is now screaming that Otabek Altin is smitten.
Though Yura is not quite as easy to read, his real emotions hidden beneath the thick cloud of anger and bluster, Viktor does know that his lonely half-brother could do with more friends.
"How would you like to visit my estate this Saturday?" Viktor suggests lightly. "You could stay the night and go shooting or hunting the next day if you so choose."
"I'm not very adept at either of those, I'm afraid."
"Perhaps Yura can assist you then. Hunting happens to be one of my brother's favourite outdoor activities."
Otabek arches an eyebrow. He glances at Yura again. And then, slowly, his lips curve into an almost imperceptible smile. "I would like that, thank you, Sir Viktor."
After all that Yura has done for him and Yuuri so far, one good deed deserves another.