Yuuri holds the coffee mug in his palms, watching the little puffs of steam curl up and brush against his nose.
The little coffee shop across the street from the hospital was a sanctuary after just finishing his 0800-1700 shift. The congestion of patients at the emergency room had been stifling, leaving him without even a minute to think, despite being lucky enough to have a manageable set of hours. By the time he could leave, he had practically stumbled into a pair of fresh clothes before tucking his white coat on his arm and crawling his way to get coffee. There was no way he could drive with his mind still buzzing. Thankfully for him, Phichit had offered to drive him home. He just needed to wait about an hour until Phichit could leave class. It certainly would beat paying for a taxi or trying to cram into the bus.
“Hi, I’m so sorry I’m late.”
Yuuri blinks, looking up to find a stranger pulling the chair across from him. He’s dressed in an impeccable gray slate suit and before Yuuri can ask him what he’s doing, he’s flashing him a charming smile and slipping off his blazer like he’s about to flip it over his shoulder. Yuuri is pretty sure he once saw a model do that in some television show on the Style Network.
“I’m Viktor,” he says, running a hand through his platinum blond hair. It’s a strange color, like some mixture between ashes and the glint of a star, if Yuuri could even categorize the two as possibly having a color-child. He thinks about his own thoughts for a while, before he realizes he’s exhausted, enough that his cheeks can barely move in effort of a smile. “I thought you would’ve left after an hour, but Chris told me you were an understanding type of guy. I’m really glad he set us up.”
Wait, Yuuri thinks, who’s Chris? – There’s an obvious misunderstanding. Yuuri has given his entire life to medicine. By default, he knows misunderstandings when he hears them. He’s spent just the last shift alone trying to understand how a misunderstanding could lead to a broken toe or a bad coffee burn. And, even if he didn’t have that experience, he knows, instinctively, that there’s no way he could ever manage to get a date with someone like Viktor without a misunderstanding. Viktor, who has a sharp, piercing stare and a strong, angled jaw and broad shoulders, or pretty much everything Yuuri has ever kept in a mental list on his type. At least he’ll have something to tell Phichit during dinner: ‘Hey, so remember when I said I didn’t have a type? I lied. Apparently, I like blonds with accents.’
“I’ll go get myself a coffee and come back,” Viktor continues. His smile only gets progressively bigger. It’s like a pulsing heart, sending out beats like signals. Yuuri is so tired, he can barely keep his eyes open. He considers bringing out his phone to take a sneaky picture of Viktor and ask Phichit if he’s seeing things. “Want anything?”
“No, I’m fine,” Yuuri says, taking a sip from his coffee. He sounds so nonchalant, even to his own ears. It’s so unlike the man, who is lying to another man about a potential identity he does not have. But, Yuuri can’t be sure, either? – After all, this could be something Viktor does. He’s heard of weirder tricks in the dating book.
“Okay, great! I’ll see if they have any tiny vanilla bean scones. I love those!”
He’s committed a big mistake. For all he knows, Viktor’s date could be around, just waiting. Yuuri’s anxiety spikes as he looks around, trying to study the only two other lonely men in the coffee shop. One is reading a book and looks too old for Viktor, like somewhere closer to post-retirement age. If Viktor was a sugar baby here to meet a potential daddy, that would be the gentleman, and there would be no question about it. Yuuri crosses him off the list. The other guy looks more like a college student with a ratty t-shirt and a pair of ripped jeans. Yuuri would like to think he is too young, but Yuuri has also been told he looks like he’s barely over eighteen, which sends him into a mild panic.
He's not sure how long he swings between panic and pride. He could be saving some teenager’s life. He could also end the evening with a slap in the face for leading someone on. But then Viktor returns with a cup of coffee and a bag of freshly baked mini-scones, and Yuuri forgets the world somewhere between the smell of expensive cologne and the sight of a hand reaching for his own across the table.
“So, Emil, tell me about yourself,” Viktor squeezes his hand, and Yuuri jumps.
“Uh, actually,” Yuuri licks his lips, unsure how to continue. It’s not often he gets to embarrass a total stranger. So, he doesn’t. He decides that it’s been already over five minutes and the initial opportunity for courtesy without awkwardness has now passed. A more desperate part of him also reminds Yuuri that he also hasn’t dated in almost a year. Not many people can deal with a resident’s schedule. What would it hurt if you had coffee with someone, Phichit always tells him. So, Yuuri does what any rational person starving for physical affection would do. He clears his throat, takes of his glasses to tuck them into the pocket of his shirt, pushes his hair back, and gives Viktor (what he hopes is) a charming smile. “Emil couldn’t make it. Chris asked me to fill in, said he thought we might hit it off. Name’s Yuu—name’s Yuu.”
Viktor’s eyes practically sparkle as he gasps (a sweet, shaken puff of breath like Yuuri has just tried to strip), “Oh! Yuu. Like, like you? Wow, that sounds so exotic. So, Yuu, what do you do?”
Yuuri nods, pretending in his head that random, gorgeous strangers call him exotic all the time. Typically, the only people that give him that glazed over, sultry expression are women over fifty looking for a doctor for their daughters, as in a doctor for life, to get married, not for a prescription. Yuuri swore he never again wanted to do an OBGYN rotation.
“I’m, uh,” Yuuri should keep lying. He knows that. Behind him, his white coat warms his back in reminder that he has just come out of a shift and, even if he showered, he could still be carrying bacteria that could easily transfer to Viktor just from their hands touching. And that’s why you haven’t had sex in months, Yuuri, he tells himself. He’s not exactly sure he wants to share with Viktor the story of how he looked at a severed toe today or how his colleague was threatened by a couple of drunks brought in from southeast. So, with a small prayer in his head, and a panic attack bubbling in his heart, he says, “I’m a diplomat.”
It’s a thing he’s heard at bars. The reception is always warm and positive, like it’s the best job in the world. It’s a special brand of cool – a badge of honor if you’re a foreigner with special status in the District, and, if you’re returning home, at least tolerable if you have some fun stories, like drinking shots with the Prime Minister of some island state. Yuuri’s never really believed any of the stories he’s heard, half-drunk and trying to pretend his bedtime – on non-work days – isn’t 9 o’clock.
Viktor’s eyes widen immediately, “Wait, really? Me too!”
“Wait, what?” Yuuri says, voice practically breaking near the question mark. Leave it to Yuuri to lie one time in his life and find the one real diplomat in the city. Stupid, he berates himself, hand shaking as he tries to buy himself time to drink his coffee. You just lied to someone with a government clearance. What if he decides to suspend your passport? How will you take that vacation to Bangkok? He knows all of that is unlikely, but he’s also not sure he wants to test the waters.
“Oh,” Viktor sits up straight, suddenly looking very serious as he whispers, “not for the Russian government silly. People always assume because of my accent. We’re both with the Department.”
Yuuri frowns, “what Department?”
Viktor laughs (and, later, Yuuri will understand that’s a common question – The State Department? For what state?), “The State Department. I like your sense of humor. Wow, what a wonderful coincidence. No wonder Chris thought we’d still hit it off. To be honest, Yuu, I’ve been complaining for weeks about how hard it is to meet someone in our line of work. I’d practically given up on the idea of dating, what with me shipping out in just a month.”
“You’re being deployed?” Yuuri coughs, almost choking on his coffee.
“I didn’t opt for Afghanistan this time,” Viktor shakes his head, and just the idea that it was a choice floors Yuuri. He feels like a jerk. “I’m being sent to Paris. I’ve paid my dues and now it is my time, I guess. I chose it because it looked incredibly dog friendly and I already spoke French so I can leave quickly. Do you have a dog? I have one. Her name’s Makkachin. She is the sweetest, most wonderful poodle in all the world.”
“You’re moving to Paris in a month,” Yuuri repeats, whistling softly to himself. Viktor doesn’t just look fancy; he is fancy. He even speaks French and owns a poodle.
“Yeah,” Viktor repeats, pulling out his phone to scroll through a lengthy line of photos. He looks up at Yuuri with so much hope, so much genuine excitement, and Yuuri feels so guilty, “where have you served? – This is Makkachin in Beijing. That was our first post. She was only a puppy back then. This was her at our second assignment in La Paz, Bolivia. I bought her one of those cute hats so she could pose with the llama. The elevation really did us both in for months; they gave me an oxygen tank to take home. And here we are—”
“I’m not a U.S. diplomat,” he retracts the statement, closing his eyes in embarrassment. “I’m a doctor. I just, I was trying to make a joke. I didn’t know how to backtrack. I’m really sorry.”
“Oh,” Viktor says, bringing his phone closer. There’s a fraction of a second where Yuuri thinks he looks hurt, but it’s fleeting. And then, something changes, a flicker of fire that settles in his eyes. It reminds Yuuri of how ice looks when its doused with rum. “Wow, Yuu, that’s so sexy. But I’m sure people must tell you that all the time.”
People don’t say those kinds of things to Yuuri. He almost thinks about asking, because he’s Yuu right now, not Yuuri, if Viktor can say that in French. He can probably say it in Spanish and Chinese, too.
“What? The fact that I made a really bad joke?” Yuuri asks, shocked. This is probably the best date he’s been on in years, and it’s not even real.
“No! The fact that you save people with your brain and your hands,” Viktor tells him, looking like he’s one step away from getting love drunk. He takes one of Yuuri’s hands, playing with his fingers for a couple of seconds. It’s quite a revelation. Yuuri doesn’t know if he should run now, but he opts for pulling his hand back and downing the rest of his coffee. Viktor’s not even talking to Yuuri anymore, though. He’s whispering to himself, a finger pressed over his bottom lip like he’s plotting something wonderful, and Yuuri really wants to know what it is: “Not to mention that you must be so smart. And, I’m pretty sure that’s a portable career. You could be a doctor anywhere. The whole world has a doctor shortage, I think. Maybe not Rome, but I probably won’t stay in Europe forever.”
Yuuri hears the last part and blinks, “wait, what?”
Viktor shakes his head, “no, nothing. I was just talking to myself. I’m surprised you haven’t run, considering I just told you I’m moving in a month.”
“Why would I run? – You were really upfront about it,” Yuuri shrugs. “Besides, it’s just coffee. So, what’s it like to move around so much?”
Viktor pushes his chair back, crossing his legs to rest his elbow on his knee and stare at Yuuri. He’s never been studied like this before: “It’s lonely sometimes, but a lot of fun, especially when friends visit. I really like my job. It’s unconventional, but every day is an adventure. And I get to meet interesting people and learn about all types of things, sometimes on-call, and—I’m talking too much. I talk too much when I’m nervous. I’m sorry. I’m really not trying to sell you a brochure on the Foreign Service. What about you? Tell me about being a doctor. Did you work today? Did you see any difficult cases? Any severed body parts?”
“Uh, well,” Yuuri squints, in the distance he thinks he can spot Phichit waving at him from the window, “most people don’t like to hear about all the blood and stuff. I’m on a rotation at the emergency unit. Viktor, I’m sorry, but I actually need to go. Since you were late—”
“Oh, of course,” Viktor sighs, pushing his phone across the table. He pulls out a cardholder from his pocket and plucks out a card with gold embossed letters that confirm his name. Yuuri has been talking to Viktor Nikiforov, Desk Officer for Serbia. Yuuri’s never been to Serbia. He couldn’t even identify it on a map. Barely standing, he gives Yuuri a wink as he deposits the card inside his pocket, “Would you like to try this again in a couple of days or whenever you have some time? I’m sure being a doctor, you must be super busy!”
Yuuri nods. His mind is a fogged of sleepy, poor decisions, and this feels so much like a dream that he grabs Viktor’s phone to dial in his number. When he’s done, he almost pockets the phone on accident. A part of him yells that this is a really bad idea. It’s one thing to pretend to be someone’s blind date; it’s another thing entirely to keep pretending to go on a second date.
“There you go,” he says, smiling, just when the establishment’s doorbell chimes and a tall man with honey-brown hair wanders in a light blue sweater. His eyes are skittish as he rubs at his chin. He seems to spot Viktor and makes a beeline for him, and Yuuri knows that’s his cue to go. His cue to go had been Phichit honking his car to remind him he’s standing still in a no-parking zone. Yuuri stands rapidly, grabbing for his white coat before throwing a few dollars on the table for tip. “Uh, bye, Viktor.”
“Bye, Yuu,” he says, eyes still sparkling as he keeps holding Yuuri’s hand. “I’ll call you? Or will you call me?”
“How about I call you?” Yuuri says, barely able to see without his glasses on. This is what he gets for trying to be smooth.
“Viktor?” Yuuri hears the other man say, looking apologetic, “I’m Emil. I’m so sorry I’m so late. There was an emergency that kept me over at Treasury. And then the metro was lagging again – did you hear there was a fire at Metro Center station? So I ran here. You know how bad traffic is at peak time.”
Viktor blinks, “wait, you’re Emil—what? Oh my gosh.”
“Who are you?” Emil asks Yuuri, a friendly tone, even though he should be angry he’s been chatting up his date.
“Oh sorry, you’re Emil? I was just leaving,” Yuuri gives them both a small wave as he makes a rapid trot for the door and right into Phichit’s car.
“Wait, who are you?” Viktor yells after him. “Is this your actual number? So I guess this means I'll call you?"
And, to Yuuri’s surprise, it’s not even five minutes later that Viktor does call. Of course, he decides to let the call go right to voicemail. He'll need at least eight hours of sleep before he can brave up to explaining that Yuu, who is not a diplomat, is also not a real name, probably not even a real person, considering Yuuri can't even see without his glasses.