The days following Viktor’s departure are quiet.
Deathly silence fills the halls, robbing them of their light and color, as if when he had left, Viktor had taken with him not only Yuuri’s heart, but everything else that made life worthwhile, leaving but an empty husk behind. Yuuri does not wish to call the days lonely but they are, steeped with a desolation that covers him like a mourning veil, shrouding the world in darkness. The days after Viktor leaves do not so much pass as blur together in a haze, until Yuuri knows not how long it has been, only that the emptiness in his chest where his heart used to reside has yet to cease festering.
He has scarcely left his room ever since he and Vicchan arrived from Bath, only leaving for supper, the rest of his meals taken in the solitude of his rooms. In his family, only Mari has expressed her exasperation at his reticence, and even then it is only to shake her head and sigh at him in clear disappointment. And had he the wherewithal to feel anything aside from blistering heartache, then he might echo his sister’s sentiments, but Yuuri does not and so he continues to languish in his bed, hiding from the world for it has nothing left to offer him.
A knock sounds, followed by a plaintive whine from Vicchan, cutting up his peace and prompting Yuuri to emerge from his cocoon of blankets and turn weary eyes at the door.
“Come in,” he calls out, voice gravelly from disuse, and watches in trepidation as the door opens and Mari peeks inside with a look on her face that has him straightening up in concern. “Is something the matter?”
Visibly hesitating, Mari closes the door behind her with an almost inaudible click, her continued silence worsening Yuuri’s worry. “You have a visitor,” she says after a beat of silence, brow furrowing.
“I know,” Mari interrupts quickly, before continuing, her tone gentling as if to not spook him, “I know that you don’t want visitors, but this one was very adamant to meet with you.” She pauses then, giving Yuuri ample time to wonder as to who could possibly want to see him. He has already asked that any and all visitors be turned away, citing his poor health and melancholia, and this is the first time that anyone has not heeded his request to be left alone.
Whoever his visitor is, they must have an important reason to call upon him. “Who is it?” He asks, anticipation and dread filling him in equal measure.
“A Mr. Popovich.” As soon as the name leaves Mari’s lips, Yuuri is lurching to his feet in a panic. His mind races, his stomach twisting itself into knots as he steps into his slippers, and before long he’s securing a robe over his chemise and rushing out of his room, Mari’s call of, “he’s at the foyer,” floating after him.
After Viktor had gone, sinking into the depths of the pool never to be seen again, and after the portal had closed for ever with a great flash of light, Yuuri and Mr. Popovich had gone their separate ways with nary a word between them. There was nothing to be said after all, and without Viktor, they were but strangers to each other. Yuuri never once thought that their paths would ever cross again, and his heart stutters inside his chest as he considers all the possibilities that could have brought Mr. Popovich here, none of them good.
What if something had gone wrong? What if—what if Viktor had gotten hurt? What if he had gotten lost in time, damned into a lifetime of nothingness?
Blinking back the tears that threaten at the edge of his vision, Yuuri braces himself on the balustrade as he reaches the bottom of the staircase where Mr. Popovich stands.
“Mr. Katsuki,” Mr. Popovich breathes out, bending at the waist in a low bow. He looks bedraggled, drenched from the sudden downpour raging outside, hair a dark wet cap on his head. It was as if he had just ridden straight from Bath to London in the rain, and from the mud splattered all over his overcoat and caked on his boots, he may have done just that.
“What’s wrong?” Yuuri asks, courtesies forgotten, for the longer he allows his thoughts to roam, the more his fears worsen. Nails biting into the polished wood, Yuuri descends one more step and musters up all the strength he possesses. “Has something happened?” Something dire must have, Yuuri is sure of it, and he can only hope that whatever it is will not prove to be his undoing. “Is Viktor—” He falters, lower lip trembling as he lets loose the gnawing worry battering at his poor nerves. “Is he all right?”
Confusion flits through Mr. Popovich’s countenance, but it quickly smooths out into something approaching understanding, the sight of which has Yuuri’s hackles rising because it looks far too much like pity, leaving a bitter taste on his tongue. “Viktor’s fine,” Mr. Popovich says, the words ringing true, and Yuuri allows himself a small sigh of relief, consoling himself with the knowledge that albeit he will never see Viktor again, he is hale and healthy wherever he may be.
“Then why have you come here?” Yuuri asks, and carefully does not say, “Why must you darken my doorstep and trample upon my peace?” although he thinks it vehemently enough that he can smell his own bitterness thick in the air.
“I can do it,” Mr. Popovich starts, a non-sequitur that has Yuuri’s eyebrows furrowing in confusion. However, the feeling lasts only but half a heartbeat, quickly replaced with a hope Yuuri can ill afford as Mr. Popovich explains, with eyes that are fever-bright under the glare of the lamps, “I can send you to where Viktor is if you want.”
Yuuri’s heart, fool that it is, stutters and skips, tripping over itself all over again as if it isn’t already bruised, as if it isn’t broken still.
“But you said—”
He remembers the stilted conversation they’d had that fateful morning, the light in Viktor’s eyes growing dim as Mr. Popovich explains how Viktor will be sent back, and how it can only be done just the once and how it can only work for Viktor alone. He remembers how the hope he had cultivated overnight had been torn out by its roots, how he had forsaken his own happiness and made a choice that haunts him until this very day.
“I was wrong,” Mr. Popovich says, and Yuuri cannot help the way his next breath leaves him in a sob at the admission. “I found a way, a different one. It’s kinda complicated, but—” Here, Mr. Popovich’s eyes flash with a conviction that has tendrils of hope unfurling deep in Yuuri’s breast, and the gravity of it has his knees buckling, the strength leaving them entire as Mr. Popovich adds, “But you two can be together. I can make it happen.”
How many times has Yuuri dreamt of this? How many nights has he hoped, wished, and prayed to a deity he does not truly believe in that there is a chance that they can be together? He has thought of nothing else in the first few days after his and Vicchan’s return from Bath, has tortured himself with the possibility and the futility of it, and to hear that it can be done, feels very much like a fantastical dream borne of desperation that Yuuri has to pinch the inside of his arm to make sure that this is real.
But before he can say anything—an acquiescence, a question, a plea—his Mama steps out of the parlour, bustling over to where they are and taking in their tableau with curious eyes. “Yuuri?” She begins, holding a hand out and drawing him to his feet effortlessly, as if Yuuri was still a small child and not a man grown. “Why don’t you allow your guest to freshen up?” She turns to address Mr. Popovich with a warm smile, acting as if she had been expecting his call all along. “I had tea prepared in the drawing room.”
For a moment, Mr. Popovich looks as if he might argue, but he must see the same thing that has everyone who knows his Mama hurrying to do whatever it is she may ask of them, for he wisely follows the maid who leads him down the corridor to the east drawing room.
As soon as the maid and Mr. Popovich disappear from view, his Mama nods towards the parlour, an entreaty that does not require words. He trails after her, a mimicry of what he used to do as a young boy clutching at her skirts, and it’s not long before he’s sat beside her on the lounge, a cup of tea in his hands.
She wants an explanation, that much is evident, but Yuuri cannot quite bring himself to come up with the words necessary to explain just what is going on, much less speak them, and so the silence grows and grows, filling up the room with a miasma of dread.
“My dear Yuuri,” she begins to say, one gentle hand tipping his chin up so he has no recourse but to meet her eyes which he had been avoiding, afraid of what he might see there—disappointment, perhaps. But there is not a trace of it on his Mama’s countenance, instead he’s met with her love and understanding, which may be worse than her disappointment, especially when he has done nothing at all to deserve them. “If there is a chance for you to be with your Mr. Nikiforov, then you should take it.”
The words are not at all what he expected to hear, and so he ends up asking the question his heart is pushing out of his tongue with each frantic beat. “Even if I must leave to do so?”
“Yes,” his Mama says, even as her voice wavers and the edges of her smile tremble under the weight of her conviction. “If your leaving means that you will be happy, then far be it from me to stop you.” The still-full cup is plucked from his suddenly nerveless fingers and Yuuri can no longer see what expression his Mama is wearing through the tears welling up in his eyes. “A parent’s only joy is their child’s happiness,” she murmurs as her hands cup his damp cheeks, “And my darling boy, I would give anything on this Earth to have you smile again.”
“I suppose that’s that, then?”
“Yuuri. Don’t listen to him, Mr. Popovich, he’s going and that’s final.”
“I’m not--I’m not changing my mind, it’s just—can I at least bring Vicchan with me?”
The resemblance is uncanny. There’s really no other word for it. Or maybe there is, and Viktor’s brain has just stopped working. Because if Viktor didn’t know any better, didn’t know that the man standing in front of him can’t be Yuuri, he would think that it is Yuuri. But Viktor does know better and there’s an apology burning on the tip of his tongue, except—
—except the man—Yuuri? Not Yuuri?—bites down on his bottom lip until it turns a familiar and dear shade of red that Viktor had spent weeks and weeks recreating, and Viktor forgets how to even breathe—