Pairing: Ivan Braginski/Yao Wang (Russia/China)

Summary: Human AU. Awkward, average chef Yao Wang is sick of being thought of as boring and predictable. When he meets the enigmatic and slightly unnerving Ivan Braginski, Yao is immediately captivated. As he falls deeper it becomes apparent just how dangerous Ivan really is… but Ivan is just as smitten, and Yao may be too in love to care about the consequences…


February, 2010
A city in America

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"Yao, honestly, would you lighten up? You've barely said a word all night!" Arthur snatched a red paper streamer from a passing vendor, scrunched it into a ball, and tossed it at Yao's head. Yao attempted, unsuccessfully, to catch it before it hit him.

"It's called fatigue," Yao grumbled irritably. "I haven't had a day off in two weeks." He fumbled for the red paper ball and tossed it back at Arthur. Alfred neatly intercepted it then unravelled it, placed it over Yao's neck, and tied it into a neat little bow. Yao stopped and glared at the too-cheerful American.

"Yao, you have to celebrate!" Alfred grinned down brightly.

"Why?" Yao asked through gritted teeth.

"Because it's Chinese New Year! It is a time for your people to gather, dress as giant dragons, consume fortune cookies, and purchase tacky little Buddha statues!"

Yao continued to glare blankly. He did not know which was more astounding - Alfred's wilful ignorance, or the fact that after all these years, it still managed to surprise him.

"Alfred, you are an imbecile," said Francis disdainfully, swatting Alfred over the back of the head.

"What?" asked Alfred indignantly, rubbing his head as Arthur just laughed. The four young men continued walking down the busy, colourful inner-city street, passing energetic performers, crowds of onlookers, and endless rows of bright market stalls. A swarming, yelling, cheering mass filled the streets of Chinatown, and Yao could feel a headache developing. He had not ventured out for Chinese New Year in a very long time, and now he remembered why. He never did do well with crowds. He grimaced in annoyance as a loud group of men suddenly pushed through them and nearly knocked him over.

"Watch where you're going you bastards!" shouted Arthur. One of the men flipped them his middle finger and Alfred had to wearily restrain Arthur from chasing after him. It was the third time Arthur had tried to start a fight all evening. "Wankers!" Arthur finally gave up and fell back into step with the others, pulling a cigarette from his pocket and lighting it swiftly.

Yao sighed in exasperation. This was all far too much hassle. "Guys, seriously, why did you make me come out here? We could have just had a few drinks back at my apartment."

"You never want to go anywhere lately," whined Francis. "You're becoming a complete shut-in. Not to mention a bore, mon cher." Francis took a swig from a bottle concealed in a paper bag and offered it to Yao. Yao took it and drank - maybe it would get rid of his headache.

"That's not true." Yao coughed slightly. He never was a big drinker; even a few sips of strong wine were enough to burn his throat. "We just went out like last week, remember? That big party at the Beilschmidt's place."

"That was a Christmas party," said Arthur, reaching insistently for the wine bottle. "A rather early Christmas party, if I remember correctly."

Yao took a few more gulps before handing the bottle over. "Fine, so it's been a few, er, months. So? You know how busy I get at the restaurant."

"Oh, for the days when our Yao was the life of the party," said Alfred, sighing loudly and shaking his head melodramatically.

"What days were those?" asked Arthur before taking a large gulp of wine. "I never remember our Yao being the life of the party."

Alfred shrugged. "Well, at least we could drag him out of the house."

"Um, guys, I'm not dead," snapped Yao. "I've just been busy lately, aru." He immediately swore under his breath, annoyed that his friends had got an 'aru' out of him. An old nervous habit, Yao only came out with it these days when either very angry, irritated, or nervous.

"Oh please," said Francis flippantly. "You are making excuses. I work the same hours as you at the restaurant."

"You see?" said Alfred, waving his hand. "And Francis hasn't turned into a predictable, boring old man!"

Yao scowled. "I hate it when you call me an old man. And I'm not that predictable." He quickly tried to remember the last change to his routine. "Uh... only the other night I stayed up until two a.m."

Alfred whistled then shouted, "Two a.m, look out, he's a wild one!" He immediately ducked as Francis aimed another swipe at his head.

"Really?" asked Arthur, narrowing his eyes suspiciously. "What were you doing?"

"I was… rearranging my shoes." The others stared blankly as Yao tried to explain. "I couldn't sleep, and they were messing up my closet, and…" Yao trailed into a mumble. He felt slightly embarrassed, but the feeling was quickly drowned by indignant anger. Fine, so he'd been a little antisocial lately. That was no reason to attack him! "What the hell is it to you if I want to stay home and organise my wardrobe anyway?" Yao shouted. "I don't have an obligation to go out with you anytime you want, you know!"

Alfred and Arthur looked faintly amused at Yao's outburst, but Francis tilted his head apologetically. "Oh, forget this, mon cher. We are here to have fun, no? Here, have a Buddha statue." Francis stopped in front of a stall, picked up a small figurine, and threw it to Yao. Yao was surprised when he managed to catch it. "It may bring you luck." Francis winked before turning to pay the stall owner.

Yao seethed silently as they came to a stop on the street. He knew he should be used to his friends' teasing by now, but he was still annoyed - not least because he knew they were kind of right. Sure, Yao worked long hours. Sure, he was a perfectionist when it came to his work. And sure, he had chosen a competitive business and strived to be the best. But maybe that was all just an excuse. Maybe Yao really was as everyone saw him - tedious, boring, and predictable.

"Red streamer neckties, little Buddha statues… you're getting into the spirit of the New Year after all." Alfred grinned widely. Yao restrained himself from kicking Alfred's foot.

"Is there an off-licence around here somewhere?" asked Arthur, waving the now-empty bottle as Francis rejoined them. "I finished your wine."

Francis' face twisted in disgust. "Merde, who gave you that?"

Arthur straightened up confrontationally. "Whad'ya mean by that?"

Francis put his hands on his hips and met Arthur's stare. "I mean, ros-bif, that it is never a good idea to hand you a full bottle, for it will invariably be empty before you hand it back."

"Sod off, Frog, this French piss tastes like vinegar anyway." Arthur exhaled a stream of smoke in Francis' direction.

Alfred looked confused. "What the hell is an off-licence?"

Arthur scoffed and flicked his cigarette butt to the ground. "Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot you only speak Dumb American."

Alfred folded his arms huffily. "You expect me to keep up with your insane British names for everything? Why can't you talk normal?"

Yao took a few short steps away from the group and looked down at the tiny Buddha in his hand. Years of practice had enabled him to tune out the sound of his friends bickering, so all he heard was the noise of the crowd buzzing in his ears. He turned the small brown figurine over in his hand, contemplating the previous conversation. Yao was utterly sick of being thought of as boring, predictable, old man Yao Wang. It was infuriating. It was insulting. And it wasn't who he really was. Yao squeezed the lucky Buddha and slowly came to a decision. Starting right this moment, he wasn't going to be old man Yao Wang anymore. This was the New Year, after all. It was time for a new beginning. It was time for his luck to change. Yao nodded decisively, put the figurine in his pocket, then immediately jumped when he heard an unfamiliar voice right behind him.

"Hello."

Yao spun around. The first thing that struck him was the man's size. His chest and shoulders were massive, and Yao almost had to strain his neck to look up into the man's smiling, interestingly handsome face. The next thing that struck him was the man's eyes - cold, piercing, and the strangest shade of violet. The third thing that struck Yao was that he was frozen still, staring dumbly up at a stranger in the street and gawking like an idiot. He quickly cleared his throat. "Um, hi."

"You are very beautiful. Can I buy you a drink?"

Yao paused, feeling a little thrown. Well, this was unusual. The man's voice was heavily accented, most likely Russian. He was dressed immaculately in a boot-length trench coat, slightly open to reveal a black suit and a pale scarf around his neck. His presence was overwhelming. Yao opened his mouth but did not know what to say. The man just smiled down at him, those violet eyes stared through him, and Yao felt some reckless part of himself grasp at what seemed a perfect opportunity. "Okay." Yao turned to his friends to find them all staring at the stranger warily. He smiled smugly. "I'll be back soon, this strange Russian man is going to buy me a drink."

Arthur, Alfred and Francis stared at Yao with open mouths and raised eyebrows. "You're not bloody serious," said Arthur.

Yao shrugged nonchalantly, enjoying the shock of his friends. Now who was being boring? "Hey, it's still early." He grinned. "I'm being unpredictable."

Alfred abruptly grabbed Yao by the arm and dragged him a few metres from the stranger. "Are you crazy?" he hissed. "Accepting drinks from Russians in trench coats isn't unpredictable - well okay it is, but it's also insane!"

Yao narrowed his eyes, muttering quietly so he wasn't overheard. "Don't be ridiculous, Alfred, it's just a drink."

"Yeah," snorted Arthur, "Francis does it all the time."

"And if Yao doesn't go, I will," said Francis, gazing appreciatively at the Russian. "He's hot."

"I am going," said Yao insistently, shaking his arm free and backing away. He gave a tiny wave. "Bye guys!"

"Wait!"

Yao stopped at the frantic tone of Alfred's voice. "What?"

Alfred looked almost panicked. "Do you have a can of mace?"

Yao raised his eyebrows, rolled his eyes, and turned back to the still-smiling stranger. The Russian had simply waited patiently during the entire whispered conversation. Yao looked up at him, heart thumping in his chest, and smiled back. "So. Where are you taking me?"


To be continued...