Yuuri is suffering under the weight of the worst hangover of his life, after the worst day of his life, when he accidentally body-checks the person he admires most in the entire world.
Not lightly, either. Yuuri slams right into him, his shoulder landing solidly just under Victor Nikiforov’s breastbone, knocking the breath out of him.
It happens early, so early in the morning, the hotel cleaning crews still getting the halls ready for the new day. In his rush, Yuuri runs over an unplugged extension cord with his rolling suitcase, which immediately snags a wheel.
Yanking on the handle, Yuuri unsticks the wheel and stumbles forward, only to slam hard into a man coming out of the nearby hotel room.
“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry,” Yuuri's already bowing and apologizing, racking his brain for the Russian word. “Prostite, izvinite!” and then he looks up and his heart stops.
The same blue eyes that stared down from a dozen posters on the walls of Yuuri's childhood bedroom. The famous swoop of silvery hair. The red and white jacket emblazoned with RUSSIA.
"Sorry," Yuuri says again weakly as figure skating living legend Victor Nikiforov rubs his sternum and coughs.
Once he's breathing again, "Don't worry about it," says Victor with a sudden, dazzling smile. "I was just coming to look for you, Yuuri!"
"Look for me?" Yesterday, Victor didn't even know who Yuuri was, didn't recognize him as a fellow competitor at all when Yuuri was standing five feet away from him. And somehow this morning Victor's looking for him?
"Yes. Are you in a hurry? Do you have some time?"
"I. Sure." Yuuri's supposed to meet his coach downstairs in forty minutes, but he'd worked himself into a fit of worry that he'd be late, so he was heading down early. He'd hoped to used the extra time to find food to settle his hungover stomach.
But screw all that, Victor Nikiforov knows his name.
"Great!" Victor keycards his door open again and guides Yuuri inside with a hand on his shoulder. Yuuri tries to remember when he last had this jacket cleaned, because obviously he's never washing it again.
Victor has a large corner room with huge wraparound windows and a spectacular 180 degree view. In addition to the bed, minibar and TV cabinet that are identical to the ones in Yuuri's room, this room has a sofa, cushy chairs, and a coffee table, as well as a small dining table circled with another set of chairs.
Yuuri's first unworthy thought is that the event planners don't even wait for Victor to win anymore, they just assume he'll get the gold and automatically give him the best room of the skaters' block.
Right on the heels of that, he realizes the Russian skating federation must have paid for an upgrade, and why wouldn't they? Victor had already claimed four Grand Prix Final gold medals for Russia before they ever booked his room. They have every reason to coddle him a little. And he repaid their support; he won his fifth GPF gold yesterday.
While Yuuri repaid his supporters with a miserable sixth place finish.
"Would you like anything?" Victor asks politely, with a nod toward the minibar.
"No! No, thank you." Yuuri shakes himself out of his misery. This is no time to beat himself up about his pathetic showing at the Final. It's a once-in-a-lifetime moment. He's in Victor Nikiforov's hotel room. At a directing wave from Victor, Yuuri sits in one of the armchairs around the coffee table.
"Some water, at least. After the party last night, I think we all need it," says Victor, passing him a chilled bottle of water with a Cyrillic logo, and opening one for himself.
"Thank you." Yuuri nervously wrings the bottle's neck without opening it until Victor looks at him curiously. Yuuri hastily cracks it open and drinks. "Thanks. And-- congratulations, of course."
"Thank you. So..." Victor's smile is still friendly and bright, but he seems less sure as he strums his fingertips along the textured plastic of his water bottle. "Things got a little wild at the banquet last night."
Yuuri wouldn't know; he spent the entire thing slurping champagne and drooping unhappily in the corner for a blurry eternity until his coach came to haul him back to the room and put him to bed. Yuuri barely remembers anything of the night beyond staggering out of the elevator and careening to his door, the hangover already setting in.
"I guess," he offers, trying to smile back.
"Everyone had a great time. Most fun I've had in ages."
Yuuri and his wallflower misery are not included in 'everyone,' of course, and that's a little painful. But even if Victor didn't recognize him yesterday or notice him lurking unhappily around the fringes of the banquet last night, Victor knows his name now, and Yuuri's admired him forever. He can say with complete sincerity, "I'm glad you enjoyed your celebration."
"More than any other," Victor says warmly. "But... things did get a little crazy, and there were photos... it wouldn't matter normally, but-- did you know Chris is getting married?"
Yuuri almost asks who Chris is before he realizes, of course, Christophe Giacometti; it would never in a million years occur to Yuuri to call him Chris, even though they've spoken a few times at competitions. But Victor can probably call anyone anything he wants.
"I didn't know that, no," Yuuri says.
"The wedding's not far off and they've both been getting jitters," says Victor blithely. Yuuri wonders if he'll ever get used to the way foreigners seem to pour out secrets like water to anyone who'll listen. "Chris is worried that the photos from last night could upset his fiancé, maybe even enough to call things off. Even though it was just for fun, it ended up looking risqué, and nerves are running high. It would calm things down a lot if Chris could tell him that the other guy in those photos isn't single."
"Okay..." So Chris and Victor took some cheeky photos together and now they regret it. That doesn't explain why Yuuri is here. He must have missed something.
Victor tosses his head to get his hair out of his eyes, and Yuuri feels a powerful moment of dissociation: he's seen that exact gesture in countless interviews, and now it's happening right in front of him. That's Victor Nikiforov. Five feet away, his smile dwindling to an enigmatic little curl of his lips.
"I know we only really met yesterday, and this may be skipping ahead a lot," says Victor, "but would it be all right if we told people we're dating?"
Yuuri's jaw drops. "Huh?"
"Just hear me out," Victor says. "I think this could be good for everyone."
"Why are you asking me?" Yuuri blurts. "Who'd even believe you're dating me?"
Victor touches a finger to his lips thoughtfully. "I guess it might seem like a stretch, since this is the first time we're competing together. But we can just tell everyone we hit it off really well during the GPF and let them fill in the rest."
"But wouldn't-- somebody else--?"
"Why someone else? Why not you and me?" Victor asks. "I'm single. You're not seeing anyone, are you?"
"No!" Yuuri nearly shouts. Though the certainty in Victor's tone stings a little. Does Yuuri have "undateable" stamped on his forehead?
Victor breaks into a sunny smile. "Well, then."
"What about Crispino, or Cao Bin, or Leroy--?"
"Straight, in a long-term relationship, engaged," Victor counts them off on his fingers and shrugs.
"What about literally anyone else on earth?"
Victor drops his hands onto his knees. "Ah," is all he says, his mouth a straight line.
Yuuri, unaccountably, feels bad. "I'm not saying-- of course-- it's just," he gulps, "who's going to believe the five-time winner of the Final is dating the first-timer who bombed out and came in last?" He stares at his feet, trying to get his breathing under control.
"Most people don't base their relationships on figure skating scores, do they?" Victor says reasonably. "And I realize this competition's been rough for you, but you did make it to the Final, and you were so good at Skate America!"
Yuuri's head snaps up. Ow. "When did you see...?"
"After the finalists were announced, I watched everyone's programs, of course."
"But yesterday you didn't know who I was."
"In the lobby, you mean? I didn't recognize you with your glasses on." Victor tilts his head. "Is that still bothering you? I do feel bad about it. If I'd just stopped to think for a second, I would have realized it was you. I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry," Yuuri says, chest tight, "I don't-- feel very well--"
"Oh! Champagne hangovers are the worst," says Victor. "Drink more water. Small sips! Have you taken painkillers yet? Can you take ibuprofen? I'll get some. Do you think you could drink something with electrolytes or would that make you sicker? It always makes me nauseous after a night like that, but Chris swears by it..."
While Victor bustles around him, Yuuri gradually reins himself in, getting his breathing under control. He is not going to freak out in Victor Nikiforov's hotel room, not even in a dream, which this obviously is.
When Victor disappears briefly out of sight, Yuuri reaches over to the arty floor lamp nearby and switches it on and off. It lights up and flicks out obediently. And a few moments later, when Victor presses a packet of crackers into Yuuri's hands, the Cyrillic text is accompanied by "Tea Biscuits" in English, perfectly legible.
Supposedly you can't change the lights or read anything in dreams, but Yuuri's still not sure he can believe this.
He checks the time on his phone. Eighteen minutes ago, he had never found the courage to say a single word to Victor Nikiforov, hadn't even been able to bring himself to approach him to so much as shake his hand. But somehow, today... this.
Victor supplies him with ibuprofen, the tea biscuits, a sports drink, a cup of ice, and a cool damp washcloth, which he personally drapes over the back of Yuuri's neck.
"I find it helps," Victor shrugs, breezy and charming.
It does help. Maybe not the cool cloth, but the kindness definitely helps as Yuuri reminds himself that he's safe here. He's read and watched so many interviews with Victor, and he always seems gracious and good-natured. And here's proof that even if Yuuri completely loses it and nearly makes himself sick with worry, Victor will just try to smooth it over and make him feel better.
Anyway, what is Yuuri so afraid of? That he'll make a fool of himself in front of his idol? He already did that when he skated.
Yuuri nibbles a cracker, swallows the painkillers, sips the sports drink and gathers his courage. "If you... if you really think it might help," he says. "You can tell people whatever you want. About, uh. About you and me."
Victor lights up. "Yuuri! Are you sure?"
Absolutely not. "Yes."
"I really think it'll work out well for everyone," says Victor. "If we're dating, Chris's fiancé won't mind the photos. You'll have a new story for reporters to talk about. Something to change the subject. Same for me. Instead of hounding me about my plans for next year, they'll ask about us!"
"Us," Yuuri repeats, dazed.
"Us," Victor says. "Let me see your phone! I know your flight's soon. I suppose there's no way you can reschedule?"
"No, it's-- no."
"That's okay, we can keep in touch and coordinate everything by phone for now. Is it all right if I ask you questions? You can ask me anything. But if you don't want to talk about something, just say-- or you don't even have to say, you can send me emojis and I'll back off, I promise. I just want us to get to know each other better. And you may have heard this about me, but I don't know when to quit." He catches Yuuri's eye and winks, because this whole experience wasn't surreal enough already. "I'll stop whenever you want, though. No questions asked. Just let me know if it's too much."
"Okay," says Yuuri faintly. "How long, um...?"
Victor texts himself from Yuuri's phone and saves the number to his own contacts as Yuuri xoxo, which seems like a massive overcommitment to verisimilitude. Is he worried some reporter is going to check his contacts or something? Actually, Yuuri supposes that could happen to someone as famous as Victor. Phone hacking and all that.
"How long...?" Victor looks up, his expression growing thoughtful. "I'm not sure. It may be a while, maybe not even til Worlds. I know that's a lot to ask. But I can wait for you. Do you think you can wait for me?"
He seems oddly serious. But Yuuri supposes it would be embarrassing for Victor to pretend to date some dime-a-dozen skater, only for them to turn around and "cheat" on him.
"Of course," Yuuri promises.
"Great!" Victor smiles broadly. "Do you feel better?"
Yuuri nods. "Thank you for everything you gave me to help."
Waving that away, Victor stands. "I'll walk you down. That shoulder bag is only going to make your head worse, let me get that one."
Oh. They're starting now. Of course they're starting now. If the point is to try to reassure Chris's boyfriend that Victor doesn't have designs on Chris, no matter how racy the photos they took together might be, then of course Victor needs to establish his alibi as soon as possible.
They leave Victor's room together, walk down the hall together. Yuuri glances at Victor from the corner of his eye: tall, confident, so handsome he seems to glow with it.
Who in the world is going to believe he's dating Yuuri? When Yuuri used to fantasize about meeting Victor, he had to project some magical future version of himself, older, a better skater, more accomplished and self-assured, with better hair and broader shoulders. Otherwise the fantasy crumbled away because he couldn't believe Victor would waste his time.
Yuuri doesn't have to believe it. He shouldn't believe it, because it's not real. As long as he remembers that, it'll be fine. It'll be better than fine. He'll have a reason to talk to Victor Nikiforov. Maybe they'll even be friends after this. Friendly. Acquainted, at least. Maybe.
Yuuri follows Victor into the elevator; Victor's closer to the button panel, but he doesn't press anything. The doors slide shut, but they still don't move.
Victor turns to him. "Yuuri." His voice is low. "Can I kiss you?"
Yuuri's vision goes white around the edges. He's reminding himself as much as asking when he says, "In front of reporters?"
"Would that be okay? There are a lot of them around."
Sure. Right. Of course. "Yes," Yuuri says, slapping the button for the lobby.
Victor smiles. It's not the friendly public smile he gave Yuuri yesterday when he offered a photo to a fan. It's practically just a curl of the lips compared to that, small and secret.
Abruptly Yuuri reaches for the buttons again, looking for Stop-- but that button is bright red and also says Emergency, so instead, he presses all the buttons for every floor between them and the lobby. The lift pauses on the sixth floor, the doors opening.
"Actually. No," he says, keeping his eyes on the lighted buttons. "I don't feel right about doing that for cameras, I'm sorry, this is why-- I don't think I should be--"
"It's okay," Victor cuts in as the doors close and the elevator sinks. "We don't have to. Announcing it doesn't have to be a big deal. Someone will ask when they see us together, and we can tell them we're dating, and that's that."
The doors open to the fifth floor. Yuuri is simultaneously kicking himself for throwing away the only chance he's ever likely to have to kiss Victor Nikiforov, and glad he said no after all. This is a favor Victor is trying to do for Chris, it doesn't have anything to do with Yuuri. Victor should never have to kiss someone he doesn't want to touch.
The elevator descends another floor, opens to the fourth floor, holds, closes.
"Could I kiss you now?" Victor asks, quietly.
"Yes?" Yuuri can't stop himself from answering. He's only human.
The elevator glides to a halt on the third floor. Opens. Closes. Yuuri holds his breath.
Victor turns to Yuuri, his fingers cool along the angle of Yuuri's jaw, tracing over his chin, tipping Yuuri's face up as Victor leans down.
It's very light. Victor's mouth is warm against Yuuri's. He tilts his head, silver hair shifting, and his lips part just enough to send a thrill through Yuuri-- and then he holds right there, right on the edge of too much. The elevator slow and stops, and Victor eases back. The doors open to the second floor.
"You're too good at this," Yuuri says, dizzy.
Victor laughs softly. The doors close again and they descend.
"Okay," says Yuuri. There's a little smudge on his glasses where Victor's skin touched the lens. He's having these glasses encased in Lucite. "If it's like that. It's okay. In front of-- whoever. Wherever. It's fine. Sorry I keep changing my mind."
"No, I'm glad you said." Victor lets his hand fall to Yuuri's shoulder. "Always tell me things like that. I only want to do what you like, Yuuri."
I am going to die, Yuuri thinks very calmly as the doors open and close on the first floor. His face is so, so hot. He must be purple by now. "Okay," he croaks.
At last the doors open to the lobby. Victor's arm slides around Yuuri's shoulders, and he walks them out to face the world.