A bachelor auction is not how Victor wants to spend his Friday night. He figures he has about twenty hours of work to do this weekend, and if he starts now, he might actually to be able to have a little bit of fun by Sunday afternoon. And by ‘fun’, he means wash his laundry.
“Victor!” Chris pouts and tugs on his sleeve. “You talked me into this, you can’t back out now.”
Victor glares at him. It’s after six o’clock on Friday and he’s still at the office. He really doesn’t have time for this, and what Chris is saying isn’t actually true. Victor may have suggested Chris sign himself up for the auction after a particularly long night of post-trial drinking a few weeks ago. That part is accurate. But no one talks Chris into anything he doesn’t already want to do.
“I have too much to do,” Victor says. “Yakov wants the presentation finalized by Monday afternoon, and I’m meeting with Lilia for breakfast on Monday morning to discuss the Grand Prix case.”
“Victoooooor!” Chris gets down on his knees. Victor glances at the closed door of his office. He’s never tested how soundproof it actually is. Apparently Chris is doing that for him. Friends are so helpful that way.
“You just want Stephane to bid on you anyway, what do you need me there for?” Stephane is Chris’s very hot, very rich, supercar-driving boyfriend. It’s not totally clear to Victor what Stephane does for a living, but it’s his charity that the proceeds of the auction will support.
“But he’ll be busy all night,” Chris says. “I can’t go to this alone. The senior partners will all be there!” He’s wearing his glasses, and his eyes look disproportionately huge behind them. Victor knows the glasses make him self-conscious, but Victor has always liked the way they look on Chris’s face.
“So hang out with JJ.”
Chris makes a disgusted noise.
“I’ve been listening to that asshole all week about how he’s going to raise the most money and his beautiful fiancee is so understanding and won’t be jealous at all if he winds up going home with some horny society wife just looking for arm candy and one night of ecstasy.” Chris shudders. “Honestly, does he even listen to himself when he talks?”
“I can’t.” Victor says.
“Victor.” Chris tries again. A headache forms between Victor’s eyes. “We get it. You’re the star. You made partner faster than any of us. You are the lead counsel on some of the firm’s biggest clients. But all you’ve done for the last six months is work. You will never make senior partner if you don’t get more face time outside the office. You’re the golden boy. They love to show you off. Think of tonight as a key opportunity for career advancement!”
Victor sighs. They do love to show him off. He knows how to be charming, wooing clients and decision makers as people press business cards into his hands and tell him to call anytime. The senior partners bring him out when they need to make an impression on a particularly difficult prospective account. He can smile and flirt his way into a retainer in under an hour.
Lately though, Victor hasn’t enjoyed that role as much as he used to. He’s not sure if he’s bored--it’s certainly less of a challenge than it was at first--or if the role of firm poster boy is taking away from the real work he needs to get done. He doesn’t want the distraction anymore.
“Come on.” Chris sighs. “You don’t have to stay late. Cocktails start at seven, but you know I like to make an entrance. The auction is at nine. I just need a wingman for an hour. At the very least, if you go, you know you get to eat tonight.”
There is that. Victor has been living on coffee and dehydrated fruit crisps for the better part of the last two weeks as he works early mornings and late nights to try to stay on top of his caseload. By the standards of the illustrious legal profession, the fruit crisps are practically gourmet. He looks at the half empty mug of room temperature coffee on his desk; it’s his sixth of the day. None of them were still warm when he finally got around to drinking them.
“Fine.” He leans back in his leather chair. If he goes with Chris, it means he’ll be able to go home after, which also means he’ll sleep in his bed for a change, instead of at the office. Chris’s face lights into a grin. He launches himself at Victor and kisses his cheek with a smack.
“Thank you!” he says. “I’ll make sure Stephane gets you something extra special for Christmas.”
The auction is at the art gallery across the street from the office. Victor and Chris dart through traffic at two minutes before eight. It’s snowing, and Victor slides in the slick soles of his wingtips. Chris nearly wipes out as they reach the curb, and they’re grappling and laughing as a doorman lets them into the gallery.
There are already people milling around. Chris and Victor chat with Georgi from the commercial team. His girlfriend Anya is up for auction tonight, and Georgi is running through the numbers to budget how much he needs to make sure he wins her. Georgi can be a bit intense like that. Servers wander around with trays of champagne; Victor has two in quick succession to ward off the chill from outside. More trays come by with food. Chris says the ceviche on lotus root is divine. Victor likes the tea smoked quail legs.
Victor nearly chokes on a tiny drumstick as someone claps a hand on his shoulder. He looks up to find Celestino’s absurd eyebrows looming over him.
“I didn’t see your name on the program!” Celestino says. Victor collects himself and smiles blandly. Celestino is one of the firm’s elderstatesmen. He has a knack for mentoring young talent, and worked closely with Victor in the early years of his career. Victor is grateful for everything Celestino taught him, but his personality is as big as his hair, and Victor’s too tired to take much of it tonight.
“No,” Victor says. “Chris is representing the department.” The arrangement for the auction is that each firm’s department sends one male and one female volunteer to be auctioned off for charity. Each bachelor or bachelorette comes with a personalized ‘date’. Despite a lawyer’s crazy work hours, the firm has been participating in the events for years. The crowd has certain expectations, and dinner and a movie doesn’t bring in much money anymore. In the past, high bidders have won trips on private jets to Martha’s Vineyard, and a wine tasting from Yakov’s cellar with his personal sommelier.
Celestino snorts as he glances at the program.
“Chris has an afternoon of yachting listed. No consideration for those of us who get seasick.”
Chris toasts him with his glass.
“It’s Stephane’s yacht, and he doesn’t get seasick. Everyone else will just have to find another date.”
Celestino smiles broadly.
“Touche,” he says, then catches sight of someone else he wants to speak to, and darts across the room. Chris downs the last of the champagne.
“Okay, I’m off! Wish me luck!”
Victor rolls his eyes. “You don’t need luck when you have a rich boyfriend with a yacht.”
Chris blows him a kiss and disappears into the crowd.
As the emcee takes the stage and tries to get everyone’s attention, Victor finds himself slipping towards the back of the room. This auction is really not his thing.
He participated once, a few years ago. He took a giggling young woman who couldn’t have been more than twenty-one years old on a behind the scenes tour at a Broadway show. They toured the maze of dressing rooms, costume vaults, and learned some simple dance steps on the stage. There was no illusion that the ‘date’ was anything more than an afternoon out. Mila’s father had bought Victor for her. They’d had a nice time, but at the end of it Mila had confessed she was secretly dating a hockey player, and Victor had walked her to her limo and waved goodbye.
Since then, Victor has been happy to contribute to the firm’s charitable initiatives with a cheque, rather than his time. It all feels a bit weird, this good-hearted buying and selling of people. Even more weird when a parent buys him to entice their young daughter away from a supposedly unsuitable boyfriend.
The first bachelorette comes out: Sara, a paralegal in a form-fitting dress. Bidding starts at five hundred dollars and increases quickly. Victor doesn’t plan to stay long, but there’s some kind of commotion in the crowd as Sara struts out onto the stage. Her confident smile falters. There are two men, both about Victor’s age, bidding loudly against each other. The money goes up fast, reaching over five thousand, which is unheard of so early in the evening, before the alcohol has really had a chance to loosen people’s wallets.
“That’s my sister, you asshole,” one of the men in the front of the crowd shouts. There’s some awkward laughter among the people there, and the emcee’s banter falters. Sara looks nervous and her bright smile turns brittle.
“Mickie,” she hisses. Her cheeks turn as red as her dress. The other man, the one who isn’t her brother, looks between them, and raises his hands in defeat. The emcee does another quick check on Sarah, then pounds a small gavel on his podium. She walks off the stage and ignores her brother as he follows after her, making apologies the whole way. She doesn’t look at him. Victor is glad he’s an only child.
The next crop of bachelors and bachelorettes go more easily. Days at the museum, box seats at the opera. Money changes hands. One intern, Minami, a nervous looking young man with brightly coloured hair, comes with courtside tickets to the Knicks, and the bidding goes beyond twenty thousand dollars before a tall black man in a perfectly tailored suit struts up to the stage and slings Minami over his shoulder like they’re headed straight to the game.
Victor checks his phone. It’s later than he thought. He’d meant to leave by now, but going home means thinking about work, and now that he’s out of the office, he’s not in a hurry to start up again. He flags down a server, takes another quail leg, and orders a vodka on the rocks.
Chris comes out, ridiculously dressed in a wide-striped shirt and white pants cut off at his ankles. He has a little sailor hat perched jauntily on the side of his head. He gives the crowd a salute as the emcee goes through the motions of describing his date. Everyone knows that Stephane is here for Chris, and to prove his point, when the bidding opens, Stephane bids thirty thousand straight out. More than the kid and the basketball tickets got, and this is a date on Stephane’s yacht with Stephane’s boyfriend. There is a polite smattering of applause. Chris comes down off the stage and gives Stephane a filthy kiss.
“Ladies and gentleman,” the emcee says. “You have all been so generous tonight. We have a late entry, but I hope you will be as generous with him as you have been with all our other bachelors and bachelorettes. From the IT department, please welcome,” he checks the white card in his hand, “Yuuri Katsuki!”
There’s a pause. The music starts, and for a second the stage is empty. There is a murmur from the crowd, and then a body stumbles out into the light, almost like has been pushed.
There’s a moment of uncertainty, as the young man on the stage straightens. Something in Victor’s chest tightens. This isn’t going to go well. He can tell already. The man stares out into the crowd, eyes squinting behind big dark-framed glasses. He fiddles nervously with his hands, and sways a little where he stands. The crowd keeps up its murmuring, trying to decide what to do.
The IT department? Victor doesn’t think he’s ever met anyone who worked in their IT department. Whenever there is a problem with his computer, he leaves it with his assistant, and it comes back later, fully operational. He’s sort of always thought of the IT department in the same way shoemakers think of elves.
The man on the stage has clearly not been prepared for this evening. Where all the other auctionees have been dressed to kill, this latest addition wears an ill-fitting brown suit and a blue tie that looks like it might come from a school uniform.
“For his date, our final bachelor is offering,” the emcee pauses again to check his notes, “an afternoon at the spa.”
More grumbling. The people assembled have been offered helicopter tours and one-on-one cooking classes with some of the city’s most sought after chefs. These people have standing weekly appointments with private masseurs. A spa afternoon with the IT department feels like pale inducement for them to part with their money.
The chattering continues. A few people at the back of the crowd start to wander away. Victor’s cheeks go pink in second hand embarrassment as he looks at the young man with dark hair, standing by himself on the stage.
And then the strangest thing happens.
Mr. IT Department starts to dance.
There’s music playing, gentle jazz piano meant to give ambiance. Whatever IT is dancing to, it’s not jazz.
It starts as a gentle swaying of his hips. Then his hands splay out to his sides. Victor half expects him to wiggle his fingers like a cheerleader.
“We will-” the emcee glances at the dancing man. “We will start the bidding at-”
IT starts marching on the spot. His head bobs to some silent rhythm. Macho Man, maybe?
It’s weird and horrifying. Victor has no idea what he’s doing, but he also can’t look away.
The crowd giggles. The bachelor of the moment seems to take that as encouragement. He skips around the stage in a wide circle, and then launches himself in the air. Victor holds his breath. There is at least a broken bone coming, he can feel it. But the man lands on his hands and holds himself upright, balanced in a handstand. He hops in place. The crowd gasps. Someone cheers. Mr. IT lifts a hand in the air, and swings his legs to one side, striking a pose like a breakdancer. The crowd goes nuts.
Something in the room shifts. The bachelor--why can’t Victor remember his name?--boosts himself back to his feet. His face is a wide smile. He shucks the brown suit jacket, twirls it over his head, and tosses it into the crowd. They laugh at his antics. He wiggles his hips in tight circles, then runs at the side of the stage. The emcee has just enough time to duck out of the way before the IT man leaps at the wall and does a backflip off of it.
The crowd goes nuts. Somewhere, someone finally gets the music changed over to some kind of thumping R&B. From there, the whole scene only grows more surreal.
Victor is transfixed. Everything about what is happening is completely unexpected. The man dances along the edge of the stage, fingers pointed like pistols out into the crowd. They raise their hands for him in their tuxedos and evening gowns. And then he raises his hands higher, looking over the tops of their heads.
He’s pointing at Victor.
There’s glare on his glasses, so Victor can’t see his eyes, but the angle of his face and the way his finger is pointed, Victor is absolutely sure the Dancing IT Guy is looking right at him.
From his spot at the back of the room, Victor straightens. It’s like he’s a puppet on a string, and the man on the stage is the puppeteer. Like everyone else, Victor is drawn in by his energy.
The song is reaching some kind of climax. The dancing man seems to know where the music is going. He does another tight circle, and flips himself back on his hands. Somewhere along the way, his shirt has come unbuttoned, and there’s nothing the material can do in the face of gravity. As he balances himself on his forearms, legs scissoring above him, the shirt drops away from his body, revealing a--holy shit--line of perfectly defined abs and obliques. Victor’s throat goes dry. Underneath the frumpy IT exterior, there is a good looking man.
The music dies, and the crowd cheers. The man on the stage rights himself. He’s breathing heavily and his hair is matted to his forehead with sweat. He grins and bobs little bows on the stage as he rebuttons his shirt.
“How about that, ladies and gentleman?” the emcee says as he resumes his position. “Let’s hear it for Yuuri Katsuki! He’s got a great spa package too. Can we start this final round of bidding at five hundred dollars?”
Someone puts up a paddle before the emcee has even finished speaking.
The bidding goes quickly, but it doesn’t go high. It’s still only a spa day after all. Victor watches as someone tosses the brown jacket up to the stage, and the young man slips it on again. Back in his suit, it’s like he reverts to a different persona. His eyes are downcast, and while he smiles when bids are called, he doesn’t look up to see where they’re coming from.
Victor is intrigued. He’s been working the cocktail and rubber chicken circuit for years. He’s seen lots of things, and shaken lots of hands. He has never seen anything quite like the IT department’s breakdancing bachelor.
The bidding starts to slow down around twelve hundred. A young woman with spiky purple hair currently has the highest bid. She does a happy wiggle in the front row.
“Five thousand dollars!”
The room goes quiet. Heads turn. The emcee squints against the lights. People look behind them.
It takes a second for Victor to realize he has spoken. The five thousand dollars are his. He purses his lips, and debates for a minute about trying to renege. But then IT Department looks up and his eyes meet Victor’s across the room. His skin flushes under the stage lights, and Victor suddenly wants at least a chance to see this man up close and find out who he is.
“Going once, twice.” The emcee pounds his gavel. “Sold!”
There is applause. Victor feels rooted to the spot. He promised to be Chris’s wingman for an hour, and now he just bought a computer nerd for five grand.
The crowd disperses. Victor’s new friend steps down off the stage. He smiles and babbles as people shake his hand and congratulate him on his dance skills. Victor can only stand and watch.
Eventually, the crowd moves away, back to their cocktails, and Victor is left facing him. He is shorter than Victor expected. If Victor hadn’t seen the body underneath, he’d say he’s slight too, skinny to the point where he’d blow away in a strong breeze. But Victor knows that’s not true, even if he can’t see it underneath what turns out to be a truly horrible brown suit.
“Hi,” the man says.
“Hi.” Victor shakes his hand. His grip is firm. “I’m Victor.”
The other man smiles and bobs his head again.
“Yuuri Katsuki. It’s very nice to meet you.”
Victor needs new friends.
Chris strides into Victor’s office on Monday afternoon, grinning from ear to ear.
“What?” Victor, once again, is not in the mood for Chris. Especially for Chris. Chris is the reason Victor spent Friday evening at a charity auction, instead of working, and then spent Friday night staring at his ceiling wondering what the hell he had done, instead of sleeping. Chris is the reason Victor worked fourteen hours on Saturday, and another twelve on Sunday. He is the reason Victor’s laundry’s not done, and the reason why Yakov just tore apart Victor’s presentation for an hour, while the interns cowered in the back of the conference room.
Well okay, that last part might be stretching it. Yakov was always going to tear apart the presentation. It’s how he rolls. He says it sets the bar high for the interns and their fear forces them to think like a unit. Victor’s undergrad was in psychology, and he’s not sure Yakov’s right about that bit, but self-preservation keeps his mouth shut.
In any case, Chris is wearing what can only be described as a textbook shit-eating grin, and Victor is really starting to wonder why it is they’re friends again.
“Yuuri Katsuki!” He pronounces it ‘Kat-soo-key’. Chris pulls a sheet of white paper from the inside of his suit jacket. He holds it in front of him and reads it like he’s making a proclamation. “Assistant Director of Network Services. Date of hire, August 29, 2012. Graduated Summa Cum Laude, Software and Network Engineering, Colgate College. Master’s in Network Engineering, Cornell.”
“Wait!” Victor comes around his desk. “What is this?”
“It’s your new boyfriend’s HR records. The file was disappointingly thin, I have to say. Regular performance reviews, always meets expectations. No changes in dependents or...”
“Chris!” Victor grabs the sheet out of his hand. “Tell me you didn’t steal his file. Do you know how much trouble you could get in?” He looks at the page. Chris chuckles. The paper is just a plain white sheet of printer paper, with messy words scrawled haphazardly on it, making up the information Chris has just relayed.
“Kiss ass,” Chris says.
“Takes one to know one. Seriously, what is this?”
“Relax.” Chris sprawls in the brown leather club chair opposite Victor’s desk. “I had one of the interns do some recon on your mystery man.”
“Which intern?” Victor tilts the paper, trying to understand what’s written in the bottom corner. “He writes like a first grader.”
“I don’t know. The little one.” Chris waves a hand like he’s irritated that Victor is bothering him with details. “King Kong?”
“Guang-Hong?” Victor rolls his eyes.
“Sounds about right.”
“He’s a smart kid. Top of his class at Yale.”
It’s Chris’s turn to roll his eyes.
“They’re all top of their class somewhere. We wouldn’t hire them if they weren’t.”
This is true. Internships at the firm are highly coveted by all the best law programs in the country.
“Sadly,” Chris says. “Little Kong did not get the photo of Yuuri Katsuki in his natural working environment that I specifically asked for. So the little mutant gorilla will not be getting the upgrade to the cubicle down the hall from a window.”
Victor laughs. “You’re a horrible human being.”
“What?” Chris raises his hands. “I didn’t see daylight in this place for at least the first two years we worked here. Do you know how lucky he would have been? His desk would be the cool desk, the place where all the interns hang out on their daily five minute water or pee break.”
“You can’t promote that kind of fraternization, Chris. How will we know which ones to offer articling positions to if a few haven’t had to fight to the death for their turn at the water cooler before break time is over?”
Chris flashes him a shark-like grin.
“Now you’re talking.”
Victor goes back to his chair and reads the list again. Yuuri Katsuki is a computer geek. Victor is surprised he has a graduate degree. He’d looked younger than that to Victor on Friday, but then again their conversation had been brief. Once the bidding was over, the DJ had kept on with the R&B theme, letting the volume rise as people made their way to the dance floor. Of course, it was only a matter of minutes before Yuuri was pulled out into the crowd, and even before that, Victor had struggled to hear what he was saying over the music. He’d thought about following after Yuuri, but the other man had been enveloped in the dancing crowd by a bunch of other guys, all dressed similarly wrinkled shirts and polyester ties. They’d slapped Yuuri on the back and danced with giddy abandon. Workmates, Victor assumed. He left them to their thing, and went home.
“So have you heard from him?” Chris asks.
“Guang-hong? Why would I? He’s your intern.”
“No, not the intern. Your new boyfriend.”
“He’s not my boyfriend.” Victor hasn’t had a boyfriend in years. Not since he made partner. Nothing about his life is conducive to a relationship, unless he maybe dates another lawyer, and lawyers are assholes, so why would he do that?
“He could be,” Chris says. “Dance moves like those, he’s not going to stay single for long.”
Victor thinks again about that first moment after the auction, as Yuuri had come up to him, cheeks flushed, eyes a little glassy. His mouth was slightly open and had looked incredibly kissable.
“It’s not a real date,” Victor says, shaking the image away.
“It could be.” Chris doesn’t seem to want to let this go. “You’re going to the spa right? That’s got lots of potential. Get a massage, maybe his and his facials, then go to the sauna and at just the right moment, you stand up and your towel falls down and…” Chris waggles his eyebrows.
“Remind me why I let you in here?” Victor says. Chris grins.
“Okay, okay. Then skip the naked sauna. Take him out for dinner. Sushi? There’s that new place that opened up next to Rosco’s. Japanese people love sushi.”
“Well that’s a little racist, don’t you think? That’s like saying all Russians love borscht and pirozhkis.” Victor asks. In fairness, pirozhkis are awesome, although Victor can’t eat them the way he could in his twenties. His suits are too expensive now to let his gut expand with a pirozhki-heavy diet. But borscht…Borscht is something he only ate when he spent time at his grandmother’s, and the memory of it hasn’t improved with time.
“Victor.” Minako, Victor’s assistant appears in the door of his office. “Otabek is here to see you.”
“Minako!” Chris stands, his smile growing. “You like sushi, don’t you?” Minako gives him the indulgent smile she always does. She’s been Victor’s assistant for three years. She knows not to take anything Chris says seriously.
“Sure,” she says. “It’s a requirement of maintaining your Japanese citizenship. You have to participate in an annual sushi-eating contest. The minimum standard is eight pieces in ninety seconds or they kick you out of the country.”
“Really?” Chris asks. Minako scowls.
“I don’t know, Chris. My family is from Texas, not Tokyo.”
“Hey, do you know Yuuri Katsuki in IT?” Chris is unrepentant. Minako scowls harder.
“Why, because we both have Japanese names? That really is racist, Chris. And it’s pronounced Kat-ski. The U is mostly silent.”
He does have the good sense to look a little embarrassed now.
“I just thought…He’s taking Victor on a date!”
Victor groans. Minako comes into the office and pulls the door behind her.
“I thought I had a meeting with Otabek,” Victor says, trying to head Minako off.
“You’re going on a date?” she says. Victor grits his teeth. Minako started working for him as a temp when his previous assistant went on leave with pneumonia. When she’d come back to work, Victor had asked to keep Minako, and the other assistant had been sent to work for some senior associate in the accounting department. Victor likes working with Minako. She’s efficient, is great at anticipating his needs, and is an expert in her role as dragon lady gatekeeper, which limits the traffic in his office mostly to important issues. Except for Chris. She always lets Chris in, and the two of them are way too invested in Victor’s personal life.
“It’s not a date,” Victor says.
“It’s a date with a breakdancing Japanese hottie whose hips don’t lie, that’s what it is!” Chris says. Minako’s eyes go wide.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” she swats at Chris’s lapel. “I’ve been trying to set him up for months. He won’t date anyone I suggest.”
“It’s not a date!”
“You should have seen his face,” Chris says. Victor’s next protest dies on his lips. What about his face? “Our little Information Technology dancing queen showed a little skin, and he was practically drooling.”
“I was not!” Was he drooling? He pictures Yuuri’s abs, all long lines and hard like a washboard. Victor had maybe thought once or twice over the weekend about what they would feel like under his hands and then his mouth. But he’s not drooling. And it’s not like he’s picturing Yuuri when he does that. He doesn’t know the guy. They could be anyone’s abs in his head.
“What’s he doing now?” Minako whispers. She and Chris are standing opposite Victor’s desk, their heads tilted together like conspirators.
“I don’t know, but he looks like he’s enjoying it.” Chris’s shark grin is back. Victor shakes himself.
“Get out of my office,” he says. Chris and Minako laugh, but Chris goes to the door and holds it open for her.
“This isn’t over,” Chris says as Minako glides from the room.
“I’ll get one of the interns to do a little recon and find out what there is to know about Victor’s new beau!” she says.
“Already on it!”
“I knew I liked you!”
“Otabek! Get in here!” Victor slumps in his chair. He needs new friends and associates.
Later, after the meeting with Otabek, and then after a long conference call with the Delhi office, and then a longer debrief discussion with Yakov, Victor is packing up his things to go home. There’s a headache forming between his eyes, and he hasn’t had anything to eat in the better part of ten hours. He leans over to shut off his computer, and a new message pops up as his finger hovers over the power button.
From: Yuuri Katsuki
To: Victor Nikiforov
Subject: Charity Auction Coordinates
Dear Mr. Nikiforov,
Booked Constantinople Spa, Saturday, 4 pm. Will forward details to your assistant.
Victor looks at the message. It’s not even twenty words long, but it feels like a thousand pounds pushing down on his shoulders. He hits the reply button, all set to tell Yuuri Katsuki not to bother, that he’s happy to make his donation to the charity, but now is just not a good time to be away from work. He’s right too. He’s too tired to do any more work tonight, but he’s already set the alarm on his phone to go off at four o’clock tomorrow morning so that he can go to the gym and then be at the office before six. He doesn’t need distractions, definitely not from ripped breakdancing IT directors who haunt his half-awake moments with lean bodies and dance moves that look like freedom.
Go home Vitya. You’re tired.
Victor leaves Yuuri Katsuki’s message unanswered.
Chapter 3: The Date (Part 1)
A date's not a good idea, but it's been a rough week. Victor could use a few hours at the spa. Why not spend it with company?
Sorry for the gap in posting! I'll try to get the second half of this date done by next weekend.
The rest of the week goes by in a rush. The Grand Prix case blows up in their faces. Something about a Russian judge taking money under the table. They still don’t have all the information, but there has been a lot of yelling, a lot of late nights, and even Chris is lying low. It’s always a sign of how bad things are when Chris isn’t bubbling around the office with snappy one-liners.
At least twice a day, Victor goes to reply to Yuuri Katsuki’s email, telling him to call the whole thing off. Each time, he deletes his reply. If he were really serious about cancelling, he would just have Minako do it. His whole professional life may be going up in flames, and giving up a few hours on his Saturday is a bad idea, but he just can’t make himself cancel.
On Saturday at three o’clock, he’s still at work. At least Yakov hasn’t come in today, so Victor’s dressed in just a worn striped henley instead of the mandatory shirt and tie. Victor’s already called the car service that was supposed to pick him up at his loft and told them to come get him at the office. It’s actually a small miracle that he’s got a few hours at the spa booked. There is a muscle in his neck that is so tense it feels like a piano wire, and it’s shooting little sparks of headaches over the back of his scalp.
At three-thirty, he shrugs into his coat and wraps his scarf around his neck. The car should be downstairs. He leaves his laptop on his desk, a tiny act of defiance. Any work he needs to do tonight will need to be simple enough to be completed over his phone. He’ll be back tomorrow morning before seven anyway.
He’s exhausted. He leans heavily on the side of the elevator as it carries him down from the fifty-third floor. For all Chris and Minako have been drawing little hearts in the margins of their post-in notes all week, this really isn’t a date. Doesn’t even have to be friendly, really. Victor knows lots of people who view a trip to the spa as a social thing. Yakov goes to the banya once a week, to sit in the sauna and mutter with the executive partners of the other firms. Victor has never been interested in that kind of thing. He likes to get in and get out, relaxed and ready to start again. Networking is for cocktails and passed snacks, not sweating out another week in a steam room. With any luck, he won’t have to talk to Yuuri Katsuki at all.
The elevator slows too soon to be on the ground floor. Victor opens his eyes as the doors part. The first thing that catches his eye is a dark head of hair, followed by thick-lensed glasses with blue frames.
It’s Yuuri Katsuki, because of course it is.
“Oh!” Yuuri looks as surprised to see him as Victor is.
“Are we...were we….I think I was supposed to meet you there?” Yuri says it like Victor’s the one who made the plan. He shrugs.
“I had to come in to work on some files.”
The elevator doors slide shut. Yuuri stands next to Victor as the floors tick by.
“Me too,” Yuuri says as they pass the fifth floor.
“What?” Victor’s eyes were closed again.
“I had some work to do today too.”
“Oh.” He’s not sure what to say to that. He knows IT isn’t always a nine to five job. There was the Saturday last summer where the firm’s email servers crashed. You could hear the howling all the way down the cubicles. The IT team must have worked continuously to fix it; there was no waiting for Monday.
“They’re doing overnight server maintenance in Frankfurt. The last time it happened, one of the HVAC systems failed and melted all their back ups. So we’re on standby this afternoon and…” Yuuri trails off. He cheeks turn a little pink and he bites at his lip nervously, and Victor is suddenly a little more awake.
“I’ve got a car waiting. Do you need a ride?” he says. Yuuri holds up his phone.
“I already called an Uber,” he says. Then he blushes some more. “But I can cancel it.” He fiddles with the screens as the elevator comes to a stop and the doors open.
It’s snowing when they step out onto the sidewalk. Yuuri’s bundled up in a parka that make Victor think he’s on his way to trek to the North Pole. The big puffy coat looks like it’s swallowing the man inside.
The black town car is parked at the curb, and a uniformed driver opens the door for them. Victor slides across the seat and waits until Yuuri is in and the driver has closed the door before he unwinds his scarf and shakes the snow from his hair.
As they pull away from the building, Victor feels some of the tension slide off. It’s been a week. He knew there would be weeks like this when he decided to go into law, and he’s pretty good at keeping his cool under pressure, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel it.
“Would you like something to drink?” he asks. There’s a console built into the seat between them, with a cooler inside. Victor uses this car service regularly, and he’s never taken more than a bottle of water, but he finds he’s in the mood for something a little more fun. This may not be a date, but he’s out in the city, socializing with no ulterior business strategy for the first time in what feels like months. That seems like reason enough to celebrate.
“What?” Yuuri asks. He’s still bundled up in his enormous coat. Victor pulls a small bottle of champagne from the cooler and waggles it towards Yuuri.
“Between the two of us, we could polish it off before we get to the spa?” Victor says. Yuuri ducks down into his coat, so that the edge of his glasses are practically resting on the edge of the big collar.
“I’m fine,” he says. Victor bites back a second of disappointment, but opens the bottle anyway. The cork pops out with a fizz, and he pours the champagne into a glass.
“Cheers!” he says, then takes a sip. Yuuri scrunches farther down into his coat.
The drive to the spa is quiet. Yuuri Katsuki isn’t big on small talk. He answers Victor’s questions about work and weather, but he hardly looks at him the whole time. Victor drinks more champagne than he probably should, which is to say he drinks the whole bottle, but it’s a small bottle, so he figures he’ll be okay.
The spa is an old building decorated in white columns, and blue and gold mosaic. Victor has been to the Constantinople Spa once or twice. It’s not his favourite, but he knows the inside is nice. Yuuri stands next to him on the sidewalk, eyes big behind his glasses as he looks up at the building.
“Have you been here before?” Victor asks him as he pulls the front door open. Yuuri shakes his head.
“My intern picked it out,” he says. Victor smiles. Looks like even IT gets their interns to do the dirty work. A thought crosses his mind, making the smile vanish.
“Have you been to a Turkish spa before?”
Yuuri hesitates beside him, then looks up again at the marble and tile designs on the walls as they approach the receptionists desk.
“My grandparents in Japan used to run a hot spring. Is it like that?” Yuuri unzips his jacket and, coupled with the mention of grandparents, looks very young to Victor.
“Not really,” Victor says. He’s never been to Japan, but he has an idea of what a hot spring is, and Turkish bath, despite being a ‘bath’, is not that.
“Mr. Nikiforov, Mr. Katsuki!” The receptionist pronounces it Kat-soo-key, and Victor has to bite his tongue to keep from correcting her. He’s been correcting the way people say his last name his whole life. The receptionist got it right, but many others haven’t. He wonders if Kat-soo-key bothers Yuuri as much as Ny-kee-fur-ev bothers him.
“That’s us,” he says as he undoes his coat.
“Welcome to the Constantinople Spa. We have your packages booked and ready to start, and we have a welcome gift for you, Mr. Nikiforov.” She gestures to a large bouquet of flowers and a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice. There’s a small card attached to the flowers that reads
Thank you for choosing me
Victor reads the card and glances over at Yuuri. He’s staring at a wall of products for sale and appears to be ignoring Victor.
“Would you like us to open the champagne?” the receptionist asks. Victor looks to Yuuri again, but still gets no reaction.
“Why not?” he says. The two glasses in the car have left him warm and his headache has gone away, mostly. If he can convince Yuuri to have a glass or two, they could have a good time.
The receptionist leads them to a change room and hands them each a red and white patterned towel. Victor changes out of his clothes, glad he doesn’t have to worry about a shirt wrinkling in the small locker before going back to work. He wraps the towel around his hips. He glances at Yuuri, who has neatly folded all his shirt into the locker, but holds up the towel like he’s not sure what to do next.
“Like this,” Victor says, indicating his own towel. Yuuri looks him up and down, and his face goes pink, followed by the skin from his neck to halfway down his chest. He turns and burrows back into his locker. Victor chuckles and lets him wrestle with his embarrassment alone. No sense making it harder for his companion than it needs to be. It’s not a date, after all. If it were, Victor would have stepped into Yuuri’s space, wrapped his arms around his slim body, and showed him exactly how to tie the towel so that it sat high enough for modesty, but low enough for Victor to appreciate the flushed skin and tight muscle of Yuuri’s mid-section. What Victor had thought he’d seen at the auction turns out to be right: For an IT geek, Yuuri clearly spends a fair bit of time at the gym.
Victor shakes his head. It’s not a date, and whatever freedom or enthusiasm or whatever else Victor saw in Yuuri, that night as he danced on the stage, it’s gone into hiding. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t a little disappointed, but then Chris would accuse him of lying when he’d said he wasn’t looking forward to this date, and lying twice is some kind of double negative that always gets Victor into trouble. He tries not to think about it too hard.
Yuuri slides out of his pants, keeping the towel tucked in place, and folds the rest of his clothes into the locker. He scratches at a spot just under his chin as he turns to Victor, and won’t quite meet his eyes.
“This way,” Victor says.
Their spa package includes a private steam room. The large low marble slab in the centre is big enough for at least four men, and there are benches along the wall. The air is hot and thick, and it shakes off the last of the outdoor winter chill. Victor stretches as he steps inside, and Yuuri follows silently behind him. The champagne is in a stand by the door and Victor pours himself a glass before he crawls on his hands and knees onto the platform and spreads out on his belly. He groans as the heat seeps into his pores.
A quick glance over his shoulder shows him that Yuuri Katsuki is still standing by the door.
“A Turkish bath is very ritualized.” Victor rests his cheek on his hands and closes his eyes. “They’ll let us warm up in here for at least twenty minutes before anyone comes in.”
“And then what happens?” Yuuri’s voice is nervous, but Victor hears the damp smack of his feet on the tile floor as he moves farther into his room. Victor smiles. Yuuri, despite it being his date to organize, really does seem to have no idea what he’s gotten himself into.
“Then the bath starts.” He lifts the champagne off the floor and takes a drink.
He hears Yuuri move through the space, and expects him to join him on the slab, but when Victor opens his eyes again, Yuuri is sitting on one of the benches, shoulders hunched in. His glasses are foggy.
“So tell me about yourself,” Victor says. He’s feeling lazy already. This date that’s not a date was a good idea. If he can pry a little conversation out of Mr. IT, it will become a great idea.
“What do you want to know?” Yuuri says. Victor almost relays the information that Chris’s intern dug up, but stops himself. Yuuri will no doubt find it creepy, even if Victor is fairly confident that the intern got most of it through legitimate means, and not by hacking the HR department.
“You said something about grandparents in Japan?” he says instead. He glances up at Yuuri and is pleased to see his companion relax a little, leaning back against the bench and tilting his head back. Victor takes another sip of his champagne.
“They live on Kyushu. They’ve sold the onsen now, but it was one of the oldest and most successful onsen in the province for generations. We visited a few times when I was growing up.”
“Why did they sell it?”
Yuuri shrugs. “They’re my mother’s parents, and she’s their only child. My mother came to the United States after she married my dad. I don’t know if my grandparents planned for her to take over the business, but once she left a Japan, there wasn’t really an option for them.”
“So you were born in the US then?” Victor asks. He’s not really surprised. Yuuri has no accent to speak of, but there is a quietness of movement to him that makes Victor think of some of the places he’s been to in Asia, even if he’s never been to Japan. Americans are big and loud. They take up space and make eye contact with everyone. When Victor had worked for six months in the Shanghai office, he’d found that was not the case everywhere.
“My dad’s a surgeon in Buffalo. My mom’s a music teacher.”
“A music teacher?” Victor says it likes it’s the most interesting thing he’s heard all day. It might be the champagne talking. He has another drink for good measure. The glass is empty. “Do you play anything?”
Yuuri turns pink again, whether from the steam or from embarrassment again is hard to say.
“I played the cello until I went to grad school.”
The conversation continues like that. Yuuri’s not the most engaging spa partner, but he’ll answer anything Victor asks. As their chat wears on, and Victor pours himself more champagne, Yuuri’s participation in the conversation becomes less important, because Victor talks more about himself.
“My father always wanted me to be a doctor.” He rolls until he is facing up at the white marble ceiling. His whole body feels warm and sloppy. “But I can’t stand the sight of blood.”
“How does he feel now that you’re a big successful lawyer?” Yuuri asks. Victor cranes his head back, and warms even more when he sees Yuuri’s tentative smile. Victor settles down again so he won’t have to see the smile vanish.
“He died before I finished school.”
Victor doesn’t need to look up to know that Yuuri’s smile has, indeed, disappeared. The happy chatter dries up, like it always does whenever Victor brings up his dad. He rolls over again and polishes off another glass of champagne.
They’re saved from awkward silence by the sound of the door opening, and two men in similar towels to Victor and Yuuri’s come in.
“Please,” one of them says in an accent the size of Chris’s ego. He gestures to Yuuri and then to the slab.
“You have to lie down,” Victor says. He rolls onto his back again.
“I thought we went to the bath next.” Yuuri he slides nervously off the bench. He lies down on the marble, as far away from Victor as he can get.
“They bring the bath to us.” Victor stretches out and waits for the splash.