It took seven minutes before a gaijin stepped in and said to Haruhi, "Could I borrow Tamaki for a second?"
Haruhi wasn't sure the gaijin knew who she was. Specifically, she was certain he had never heard of Professor Fujioka Haruhi, formerly of Sato and Akiyama, now a member of Tokyo University Law Faculty specialising in Criminal Law and Procedure. But he probably didn't know she was married to Tamaki too. Haruhi had only agreed to come to the party on the condition that Tamaki did not embarrass her.
"Embarrass you?" Tamaki had said, welling up. "I never embarrass you, do I?"
"You do," Haruhi said, puzzled. "Constantly."
"So," said Tamaki, "am I not allowed to tell people that you are the light of my life – the other half of my soul – the most precious, adored, cruelly indifferent, indubitably brilliant legal genius who ever lived?"
"You are definitely forbidden to say any of that!"
Haruhi wasn't a fan of the events rich people seemed to go to all the time: endless boozy receptions at which everyone talked incessantly about stocks and shares and holidays in the south of France. It wasn't like she was looking for ways to fill up her time. The main reason she'd decided to take up the post at Todai was because private practice was keeping her too busy.
"It's a career break," she'd told the former Host Club.
Kyouya had raised his eyebrows.
"You're putting in seven days a week doing teaching and research at the most prestigious university in the country," he said. "By any sane definition, that is not a career break."
Kyouya was right. It wasn't really working. But Haruhi was trying to scale back her teaching load. A small annoyed part of her felt that Tamaki didn't have to fall asleep with tear tracks on his cheeks every time she got home past midnight, but the rest of her felt guilty. His reaction might be unnecessarily dramatic, but it was fair enough, in a way. When they'd got married it had been on the understanding that they would get to see each other once in a while.
That was why she'd agreed to come along this evening. It was pure coincidence that they were both in Paris at the same time – or at least, Haruhi thought it was a coincidence. She'd told Tamaki about going to Paris for the conference and suddenly he'd had this event on the same day that he absolutely definitely needed to attend.
"Some of the most important faces of the Suoh conglomerate will be there!" he declared. "Can they really do their best in endorsing our products if they have not met the crown prince for whom they toil?"
"Why should they care, so long as they get paid?" said Haruhi. "I don't think it'll make a difference."
"It will! It definitely will!" Tamaki gave her a melting look of appeal. "Please, Haruhi? You could wear the dress Hikaru designed for you. You look so beautiful in it."
It was, Haruhi had to admit, a comfortable dress. But:
"I'm not bringing that along," she said. "It would get crumpled in my luggage."
"It could be like a date. We haven't gone on a date in months."
"A date," echoed Haruhi, unconvinced. "At a cocktail reception with a hundred strangers at one of Paris's fanciest hotels?"
Tamaki beamed, uncomprehending. "Yes! Doesn't that sound wonderful?"
It sounded unlikely, but Haruhi had agreed. She'd expected Tamaki would be spirited away at some point, but she'd half-hoped they'd get more time together than seven minutes.
At least the canapes were good. She took another mini burger and looked around the room.
She found she had no idea what the reception was for, or who any of the other guests were. They were mostly gaijin, and she caught snatches of conversation in a range of languages – not just French, but English, Italian … and was that Russian? She should have asked Tamaki what was going on, but she hadn't had the chance. She'd come straight from the conference and changed into a pantsuit in the hotel bathroom.
She'd made an effort: it was her favourite suit, the one she'd bought with her first paycheck because it reminded her a little of her Ouran uniform. She'd won every case she'd worn it for.
She could be in her hotel room right now, she thought wistfully, in a plush bathrobe – since Tamaki was here she was staying in a much nicer hotel than she would've gone for otherwise – having room service and watching YouTube.
YouTube was an addiction Haruhi had picked up while she was still in private practice. It was hard to fall asleep after a hectic day and night of work. She'd get home in the wee hours and still find her brain spinning restlessly.
Skating videos had been a fortuitous discovery. She'd never had any interest in skating before: her first encounter had been with that viral video everyone was linking to a few years back. It had been a revelation. Even with the poor video quality and no music, it had been so incredibly soothing that Haruhi had fallen asleep before it was even over. Tamaki had found her on the sofa the next morning, still in her suit, dead to the world.
She'd heard of Katsuki Yuuri before then, of course, but that was when she'd started actively looking him up. There were lots of videos of him on YouTube, almost all of them marvellously sleep-inducing, so long as you stopped before you hit the jumps.
Of course, it wasn't like she needed help to sleep tonight. Her paper had gone down well and she'd had a glass of champagne. She should try to enjoy the party.
She edged closer to the refreshments table. She wasn't the first to think of this: there was another person there. He was dark-haired – Asian, perhaps? More importantly, it was evident he didn't want to be at the party any more than Haruhi. He was radiating discomfort.
You didn't spend years in a host club without developing certain instincts. Haruhi said to the stranger:
"The food's good, isn't it? Have you tried the small quiches?"
She'd spoken English on the assumption that most people in the room would likely understand it, but when the man turned it became apparent that he was Japanese. Haruhi knew this because she recognised his face. It was the face of Japan's ace skater, Katsuki Yuuri.
"K-K-Katsuki Yuuri-senshu!" Haruhi clapped her hand over her mouth, feeling the blood rise to her face.
"Ah," said Katsuki. He was different off the ice. His spectacles reduced the impact of his eyes, and the shape of his face was somehow softer, less distinctive.
"Do I know you?" he said in Japanese.
"No, no!" said Haruhi, flustered. She bowed, conscious of a small stab of disappointment. "I just know you – I mean, I know your skating – I've seen your skating online. I'm sorry, I should have introduced myself. I'm Fujioka Haruhi."
Haruhi was experiencing the disillusion of meeting an idol in real life. Katsuki didn't seem especially pleased to meet her. In fact he was looking as though he wished her a million miles away.
It was probably hard to be a top figure skater, Haruhi told herself. Being clever with your feet didn't mean you had the ability to deal with everything that came with fame. No doubt Katsuki ran into crazy fans all the time.
"I came with my partner," Haruhi explained. There was a fair head in the distance, deep in conversation with a middle-aged gaijin with a shining bald pate ringed with longish grey hair. Tamaki could talk to anyone, of course, but she hoped he wasn't annoying the stranger too much. He had an impatient sort of face.
Katsuki had followed her gaze. He looked at Tamaki and the stranger as though he was wishing he could join their group. A thought struck Haruhi.
"Are you sponsored by the Suoh conglomerate, Katsuki-senshu?" she said.
Katsuki looked embarrassed.
"Yes," he said. "Ah, there's no need to be so formal … Fujioka-san, was it?"
Oh, thought Haruhi. He's nervous.
She knew how to deal with this.
Yuuri had wandered away while Yakov was busy listing Viktor's various character defects. Viktor didn't blame him – Yakov had lapsed into swift, idiomatic and extremely rude Russian, impossible for any non-native speaker to follow. Anyway, it wasn't like Yuuri wasn't intimately familiar with those defects.
Viktor had only stuck around for the lecture because he loved Yakov. Plus he'd forgotten what he'd done to make Yakov mad this time, and he was a little curious.
It turned out to be something he'd said to Yuri Plisetsky, which, Viktor said reassuringly, Yurio would definitely get over: "He's mellowing with age," said Viktor.
"Really?" said Yakov. "I hadn't noticed."
"He will mellow with age," Viktor said, with more optimism than was really justified by the available evidence. "He's got to get fed up of being so angry some time. I wonder where Yuuri is? Don't you think he's been gone for a while?"
Yakov rolled his eyes.
Viktor found Yuuri at the refreshments table, which he should have expected. He would have leapt on him, but he checked: there were two of them.
Yuuri was talking to a stranger – a slight man, attractive in an unassuming way, but dressed more for the office than a reception. He was shorter than Yuuri, but the resemblance was remarkable.
There was something weird about this, weirder than the fact that Yuuri should have found a doppelganger to talk to. Viktor hung back, studying them for a while, before he was able to put his finger on it.
Yuuri was relaxed, an open smile on his face. Viktor wasn't sure how he felt about that. He saw that smile all the time now, of course, but he'd never seen Yuuri roll it out for a stranger.
Yuuri had to know the guy. But Viktor had thought he already knew all of Yuuri's friends. There were only about five of them.
The stranger touched Yuuri's arm. Viktor didn't know what he was saying to make Yuuri look like that. Yuuri was gazing down into the man's eyes as though he was entranced.
Before Viktor quite knew what he was doing, he found he'd covered the distance between them and plastered himself against Yuuri's back.
"Yuuri!" he carolled. "I was looking all over for you!"
Katsuki Yuuri was from Kyushu: he had the accent, softened but recognisable. His family ran a ryokan in Saga prefecture. He liked dogs.
They'd got so far before it occurred to Katsuki to ask what Haruhi did. Telling him was a misstep. His eyes went huge and he froze up all over again:
"T-Todai? And you're here for a conference? That's amazing!"
Fortunately it wasn't too difficult to get him to relax again. Haruhi just asked for pictures of his dog.
"Her name's Makkachin," Katsuki told her, scrolling through an enormous gallery of dog photos on his phone. Pictures of food and various gaijin – presumably Katsuki's rinkmates – flicked past. "She's a poodle. Here she is by the river – we took her out for a walk, but she can't go very far nowadays. We had to carry her back."
"She's so cute!" said Haruhi. She didn't use the camera on her phone much, but Tamaki was always sending her pictures and she was able to show him Antoinette.
"She's beautiful," said Katsuki. "Is it all right to have such a big dog in Tokyo? I worry about Makkachin … but she's used to living in an apartment."
Haruhi thought of the Suoh mansions. She still slept over at her father's flat sometimes, when their size and grandeur grew too oppressive. "We have a big garden."
"Of course," said Katsuki. "I was forgetting Fujioka-san is a lawyer."
To change the subject, Haruhi said, "I wanted to say how much I admire your skating, Katsuki-san. I watch it all the time on YouTube. Your FS programme at the 2016 GPF – Yuri on Ice – that's my favourite."
Katsuki went pink, but not out of any apparent pleasure. He looked like he would rather Haruhi had stabbed him. "Ah! Thank you. It's really not – it's nothing compared to … "
"I once fell asleep 18 seconds into the video!" said Haruhi. "That was a record. I don't think I've ever fallen asleep so fast in my life, even when I was a kid!"
"I – what?"
"But all your routines send me to sleep," said Haruhi. "They're so soothing!"
"Thank … you?" said Katsuki. He swallowed, then said bravely, "That's fair enough. Not everyone finds skating interesting."
Self-evident as this statement was, it sounded like words in an alien language coming from Katsuki's mouth. He looked surprised, as though his own tongue had betrayed him.
Haruhi reflected. "I don't know if I find skating interesting. I did think of trying it out, maybe a class … Ah, but I'm sure it's much harder than it looks! You make it look so – " Not quite effortless. Katsuki's skating was full of striving. "So fluid. Your videos are the best."
This seemed to fire Katsuki up. He flushed. "Oh, Fujioka-san, you wouldn't think so if you'd seen Viktor. His FS from his last season … ! You couldn't fall asleep watching him."
"Oh?" said Haruhi. "Then I probably don't want to watch his skating."
Katsuki had a determined look on his face. He started fumbling with his phone. "You must. If you like any kind of skating, you'll like his. He's the best figure skater of all time. Look, here … "
The video he showed her was of a gaijin skating to something operatic. He was striking – tall and graceful, with blond hair so pale it looked silver under the lights.
After a moment she recognised the programme. The music had thrown her off.
"It's the same as yours," said Haruhi. "The video that went viral."
"It was Viktor's programme first," said Katsuki. His eyes, fixed on the phone, were shining. "I only copied it."
He was looking at the man in the video like he was watching a miracle unfold. Haruhi realised she was being shown something important – something precious to Katsuki Yuuri. She took the phone from his hand and studied it, frowning slightly.
She looked up to see Katsuki staring at her.
"Are you OK?" said Haruhi.
"Sorry! It's just – " Katsuki laughed. "I can imagine what you look like in court, Fujioka-san. You must terrify the opposition."
Haruhi smiled. "They usually underestimate me." She did not need to say that this was useful: from the answering glint in his eye, it was clear this was something Katsuki understood. She passed the phone back to him.
"You're right," she said. "There's no way I'd fall asleep to this. Does he always skate like that?"
"Yes," said Katsuki. He paused the video, looking tenderly at the skater on the screen. "Sometimes even better. He's amazing."
"That's sad," said Haruhi. The video had stopped on a close-up of the skater's face. The overwhelming impression was one of emptiness. Haruhi didn't know why anyone would keep skating if they found it so meaningless, but then, there were a lot of lawyers who stayed in practice even though it made them miserable.
"I like your version better," she said.
Katsuki stared, as though Haruhi was the one talking an alien language now.
"Maybe it's more obvious if you skate yourself," he said hesitantly. "But Viktor was much better. There's no comparison. I was out of shape, and I had to downgrade all the jumps."
"But Katsuki-san," said Haruhi, "when you skated the programme, you looked like you were fighting. Like you were - like you were interested. That person may be very good, but he skates like he's given up. Don't you think?"
Katsuki looked back at his phone. He seemed arrested by the image, as though he was seeing something new in it.
"Viktor's a performer," he said, but he sounded uncertain.
"Maybe I prefer skaters who aren't that good at performing, then," said Haruhi.
"At least I'm good at sending my audience to sleep," he said. He looked scandalised at himself. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean - "
Haruhi touched his arm.
"The first time I saw you skate, Katsuki-san," she said, "it was in that viral video. I'd just qualified and it was the night before a big trial. My client was accused of killing her husband."
Katsuki looked shocked. "Was she – did she do it?"
"Whatever she did, every human being has a fundamental right to legal representation," said Haruhi. Katsuki flushed, but before he could stammer out a disclaimer, Haruhi added gently, "And everyone deserves a second chance."
Katsuki cast his eyes down. His hand curled around his phone, covering the tiny image of the skater.
"Yes," he said.
"It was a pro bono case," said Haruhi. "My client was under a lot of stress. Her daughter was in hospital. The father – my client's husband – had sent the child there. That was before he died, of course," she added as an afterthought.
"It was bad timing. I was working on a big case for a fee-paying client at the same time. I'd been sleeping no more than three, four hours a night for two weeks. And I was wound up, worried about being underprepared. I couldn't get to sleep. I kept thinking about all the ways the trial could go wrong.
"So I got out of bed to get a hot drink, and I looked at my phone and someone had sent me a link to your video. I watched it. And I fell asleep."
Haruhi could hear the wonder in her own voice. Even now it seemed magical to her.
"I slept straight through till the morning," she said. "My partner had to wake me up. And I went to court and I won the case for my client. I kept her out of prison. When her daughter came home from hospital, she was there to look after her. Now her daughter is a florist and my client is in her second year at university. She's 54 and she's going to get her Bachelor's degree.
"I helped make that happen," said Haruhi. "Because I tried my best. And I was able to do that because of you, Katsuki-san. Because you tried your best."
Katsuki's eyes were huge. "Fujioka-san … "
"So please don't misunderstand," Haruhi was saying, when a blur of long limbs and champagne flung itself on Katsuki.
"Yuuri, I was looking all over for you!" said the blur in English. It resolved into a tall gaijin with silly hair.
He flicked back his fringe, revealing brilliant blue eyes. The man was smiling, but the eyes were like chips of ice.
"Is this a friend?" he said.
Viktor was acting weird. Weirder than usual. Yuuri usually liked Viktor's kind of weird, but Fujioka was a serious person with a serious job, and Yuuri wanted to impress him.
Or at least not leave Fujioka with the idea that Yuuri was a pervert, incapable of behaving himself in public. Fujioka didn't know Viktor was a genius, with a genius's usual allowed portion of eccentricity.
In fact, it turned out Fujioka didn't know who Viktor was at all.
"This is Viktor," Yuuri told him, readying himself for the widening of the eyes, the intake of breath. Even if Fujioka didn't know much about skating, Viktor tended to have that effect on people. It came from being almost six feet of pure charisma.
Sure enough, there was an interested flicker in Fujioka's eyes. "You look familiar," he said to Viktor. "Have I seen you somewhere before?"
"Er," said Yuuri. "The video I showed you … "
"No, don't tell me," said Fujioka. He brightened, tapping his fist on his palm. "I've got it. Madrid, 2017!"
There hadn't been any international competitions in Madrid in 2017, and Viktor hadn't done any ice shows either. Yuuri said, puzzled, "Do you mean – "
"You presented a paper on sentencing guidelines for child offenders at the International Conference on Criminal Law!" said Fujioka.
"No," said Viktor, after a pause. He sounded slightly winded. "No, that wasn't me."
"Oh," said Fujioka, crestfallen. "Was it on state immunity?"
Viktor was starting to be delighted; this was just the kind of thing he liked. But for whatever reason, he didn't want to be pleased with Fujioka. He said distantly, "Not that either."
"Viktor is Viktor Nikiforov," explained Yuuri. "He's my coach, and - "
"Ah, that's it," said Fujioka. "I must have seen you in Katsuki-san's interviews."
"Probably," said Viktor. His smile hadn't faltered for a moment. It was making Yuuri nervous. Viktor interlaced his fingers with Yuuri's, pulling their hands up so that his ring glinted in the light. "We're engaged."
Fujioka's eyes widened. "You didn't mention that, Katsuki-san!"
"Did he not?" said Viktor sweetly.
"Congratulations," Fujioka said. "When is the wedding?"
"Viktor," said Yuuri loudly, "is also a five-time world champion and an Olympic gold medallist, and I just showed you his gold medal-winning FS programme!"
"Oh, that was you?" he said affably. "I thought it was very nice."
"Thank you," said Viktor. "I try." He was being really obvious about staring at Fujioka's hands – specifically, at the bare fourth finger of Fujioka's left hand. Yuuri tried to elbow Viktor in the side, but Viktor dodged, which meant he knew he was being obnoxious.
"Your English is really good, Fujioka-san!" Yuuri said quickly.
Fujioka smiled, as if he was used to being told he was good at things and didn't see what all the fuss was about. "I studied in America for a while."
"Really?" said Yuuri. "I stayed in Detroit for a few years, for training."
"What a coincidence!" said Fujioka, pleased. "I was in Boston." He was about to say more, but then a woman tapped him on the shoulder.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, Fujioka-san," she said in Japanese. "Suoh-san begs the favour of your presence. He wants to introduce you to the President of the ISU."
"It was an honour to meet you, Katsuki-san," he said. "Good luck! I'll be cheering you on."
Just like that, he was gone.
Yuuri stared after Fujioka, all the things he could've said crowding his head – intelligent, profound things, things that would've shown Fujioka how much Yuuri valued what he'd told him.
It was funny. Viktor's skating had changed his life, but he'd never really thought about what his own skating might mean to others.
Yuuri would probably never see Fujioka again. That was Yuuri's life – a collection of missed connections. Moments he hadn't had the guts to follow up on. Until Viktor …
The thought of Viktor made him conscious of the man himself, standing next to him.
There was a certain tension in the air.
"Who was that guy?" said Viktor. He was smiling his meaningless public smile, his eyes crinkled.
Yuuri said, with a sense of foreboding, "We just started talking. He'd seen some of my skating. He was being friendly."
The smile widened. "He was, was he?"
Yuuri frowned. "You're not really jealous of some random guy I met at a party?"
Viktor said loftily, "Who said I was jealous?"
But it was the right thing to have said. Viktor relaxed a little.
"You showed him my FS?" he said.
Yuuri didn't answer. An inspiration had come to him. He knew what he needed to tell Fujioka.
Tamaki's best beloved was starting to get grumpy, which meant it was time to head back to the hotel. Haruhi had had a long day, after all, and she'd spent most of it speaking English. Tamaki had sent his assistant to get their coats when a stranger appeared.
"Fujioka-san!" The man was pink and nervous, but he pushed on, "I just wanted to say thank you, and – and I'm going to skate as soothingly as I can this season. So please keep supporting me!" He bowed.
Haruhi stared. Then she smiled.
"Just try your best, Katsuki-san," she said. "Then we'll see your heart in your skating. That will be enough."
"I will," said Katsuki, but Haruhi hadn't finished. She added:
"And it would be good if you didn't mess up your jumps! It's stressful when you do that."
Katsuki went crimson. "Y-yes, of course. Sorry."
Haruhi seemed vaguely aware that she'd stomped on the poor man's heart after he'd laid it at her feet.
"It's OK," she added kindly. "I usually fall asleep before then."
Katsuki said, "I know you're probably busy, and you don't have time to – but I'll be back in Japan next month, for a couple of weeks. I'll mostly be in Hasetsu, visiting my family, but I'll be in Tokyo for a few days, and, and if you meant it about wanting to learn to skate, we could – I could teach you."
"That would be wonderful," said Haruhi. "Here." She took out her business card, plucked Tamaki's pen from his jacket pocket and scrawled her personal number on the card before handing it to Katsuki. "Do you have a card? If you let me know when you're back in Tokyo, we can get something in the diary."
"Yes," said Katsuki, still pink. He was looking at Haruhi's card as though it was a hard-won trophy. "I would like that."
"What the hell was that," said Viktor, smiling.
"Did you devastate Japan's top skater with your artless charms, Haruhi?" said Tamaki tenderly. "I'm so proud of you!"
Haruhi poked her head around the bathroom door, surprised. "Tamaki-senpai, you know Katsuki-san?"
"Of course I know Japan's ace," said Tamaki. "He's the pride of our nation! We've got him signed up to an endorsement deal. The Ootori group is a bigger sponsor, though. He's the face of their best-selling health drink. Kyouya says he polls well with middle-aged housewives."
A thought struck him. "Wait. Haruhi, how did you hear of Katsuki Yuuri?"
"I like his skating."
Tamaki looked like he'd been hit on the head.
"Haruhi," he said in a trembling voice. "Are you telling me that you've become a skating otaku?"
"No! I've watched some of his videos, that's all."
"Haruhi has an interest in something other than work or food!" Tamaki flung himself into an armchair, pulling out his phone. "I must tell Kyouya!"
"What does Kyouya-senpai have to do with anything?"
"We can learn to skate together," said Tamaki, his eyes shining. "Of course, I can already skate, but I could dance on the ice with my Haruhi!"
"No," said Haruhi.
Tamaki's lip quivered. "Eh? Why not?"
"I've told you, it's good for us to have separate interests," said Haruhi. "You are not allowed to come – if Katsuki-san was even serious. I'm sure he doesn't have the time to teach random lawyers how to skate."
"He'll probably have the time to teach the wife of a sponsor," observed Tamaki.
There was a brief silence.
"Haruhi," said Tamaki. "Did you not tell Katsuki Yuuri you're married to one of his major sponsors?"
"Why would I?" said Haruhi, puzzled. "It wasn't relevant."
"Then he was paying tribute to your natural appeal, free of mercenary intentions," said Tamaki. "Poor doomed man! Ah, I feel myself culpable, Haruhi. I should not expose your irresistible charms to the unprepared. Even in that hideous suit you possess a fatal attraction!"
Haruhi looked at her suit, hanging in the closet. She'd changed into a T-shirt and shorts, instead of any of the silk nightgowns Tamaki had filled her wardrobe with. "What's wrong with my suit?"
"My Haruhi should not insult her exquisite skin with the touch of polyester! I asked Shima to arrange for it to be burnt, but she refused … "
"Tamaki-senpai!" said Haruhi, indignant. "Leave my clothes alone! Anyway, it's not like that with Katsuki-san. He's engaged, to – "
She had a distinct mental image of the gaijin hanging over Katsuki, but she found she'd forgotten his name.
"The point is, Katsuki-san was just being nice," said Haruhi.
"Oh yes?" said Tamaki. He gave her an odd look, as though he knew something she didn't.
Then he smiled. The moment passed.
"If Haruhi says so," he said, "it must be true."
Sometimes Viktor almost forgot he'd once been Yuuri's idol. That kind of adoration couldn't survive dirty socks, bad cooking and irritating domestic habits – all the elements of real intimacy Viktor had never experienced before.
There were still times Yuuri would stop and give him a stunned look, as though he couldn't quite believe Viktor was there. But this was different from how he'd used to treat Viktor – with a combination of terror and reverence, as if Viktor was a god who'd descended to walk the earth.
It had been heady, but Viktor didn't really miss it. Not when he had Yuuri as he was now, rolling his eyes at Viktor's more theatrical displays of affection, putting his cold feet against Viktor's calves when he came to bed. Demanding things from Viktor, as though he had a right to them.
Viktor would give Yuuri everything he could.
But it turned out Yuuri hadn't exhausted his capacity for hero worship. He'd just transferred it to a new object.
He'd been getting jumpy as their trip to Japan approached. Viktor thought it was to do with the new programme they were working out, until he said to Yuuri:
"We've got a free day in Tokyo, right? Why don't we visit Hakone?"
They were sitting at opposite ends of the sofa, their legs entangled. Yuuri looked up from his phone. "Hakone? What for?"
"I want to see Mount Fuji! And eat the black eggs."
"They just taste like eggs," said Yuuri.
"Yuuri," said Viktor. He crawled up Yuuri's legs, placing kisses where he thought right – the inside of Yuuri's thigh, the knob of his hipbone, the soft skin below his belly button. Yuuri wriggled and laughed: "Viktor, it tickles!"
"Don't you want to go on the cable car with me?" said Viktor.
Yuuri hesitated. "It's just … Um. Sorry, I should've said. I'm going for dinner with Fujioka-san, and then – remember, I said I'd teach her, him, how to skate."
Viktor had forgotten who Fujioka was, but now that evening in Paris came back to him. His fights with Yuuri were relatively infrequent, but always memorable.
"Oh," said Viktor.
"You're welcome to dinner! Fujioka-san's partner is coming." Yuuri's eyes were wide.
"But you just happened to forget to mention it."
"Viktor," said Yuuri. He curled his hand around the back of Viktor's head. "I would have told you, but the calendar invite came in when you were out. And then stuff happened, and … "
Viktor simultaneously wanted to push Yuuri away and pull him closer. He compromised by dropping his head and mouthing Yuuri's collarbone, pressing his teeth lightly against Yuuri's skin. Not quite a bite.
"Calendar invite?" he said.
"Fujioka-san sent me an Outlook invite for our meetup. Look." Yuuri showed Viktor the calendar on his phone. "I've never been scheduled in for dinner before. Fujioka-san said he'd forget otherwise. It's the middle of the semester so he's really busy."
There was no reason Yuuri should sound so impressed by that.
"I'm a busy person," muttered Viktor.
"Viktor," said Yuuri again. He didn't sound alarmed anymore. When had Viktor stopped being able to intimidate him? "I told you, Fujioka-san isn't single. I wouldn't be interested if he was. It's not like that."
"Not like what?" said Viktor.
Yuuri leaned back, his eyes gleaming.
"Are you mad that I'm friends with Fujioka-san," he said deliberately, "or that we're not planning to fuck so you can watch?"
Viktor froze. Yuuri cocked his head, though he was starting to blush.
"I," said Viktor. He thought of a dark head bending over Yuuri's neck, exactly where Viktor was right now, kissing the hollow of Yuuri's throat. Viktor swallowed. "Would you? Do something like that?"
The flush deepened in Yuuri's cheeks.
"For you, maybe," he said. "But only if you wanted it."
His gaze dipped, his lashes dark against his cheeks. He was smiling – a small, secret smile, unutterably sexy. Yuuri only smiled like that in bed … or when he wanted Viktor to think of what they did in bed.
"Not with Fujioka-san," Yuuri added, breaking character somewhat. "He doesn't deserve to be mixed up in our perverted sex games. But … " He raised his eyes to Viktor's. "That doesn't mean we can't have perverted sex games."
"Yuuri," said Viktor helplessly. "I love you."
"I know," said Yuuri. He moved under Viktor, pulling up his leg and pressing his sole against Viktor's thigh. His feet were bare – and cold, Viktor could feel the chill through his trousers. Yuuri's toes dug into his flesh.
"Get on your knees," said Yuuri. The colour was high in his cheeks, but his voice was steady. He held Viktor's gaze until Viktor dropped his eyes and slid to the floor.
He kissed Yuuri's ankle, feeling dazed.
"Yuuri," he murmured into Yuuri's jeans. "Can I suck you off?"
Yuuri had learnt not to twitch when Viktor said things like that. He raised an eyebrow.
"Hmm," he said, drawing it out. "If you're good."
He was good, giving and game. He was everything Viktor had never known he'd wanted. What did it matter if he wanted to give skating lessons to some nerdy law professor? It was Viktor Yuuri went home with, Viktor he skated for.
"Oh," said Viktor in a low voice, watching Yuuri shiver despite himself. "I'll be good to you."
It was hard to hold onto that generosity when the dinner with Fujioka actually happened.
Viktor did not enjoy it. Two things rapidly became clear about Fujioka's partner:
He was an idiot.
His family's company was one of Yuuri's major sponsors, meaning that it was important for Viktor not to be obvious about how much of an idiot Viktor thought he was.
Viktor probably wouldn't have restrained himself if Suoh Tamaki was one of his own sponsors, but Yuuri's sponsors were a different matter. Yuuri wasn't hard up, especially since he'd first medalled at the GPF, but he actually had a family, obligations outside of his personal financial needs. He could use the money.
There was nowhere for Viktor to hide. The moment they were seated Yuuri plunged into intense conversation with Fujioka, in Japanese too rapid for Viktor to follow.
Viktor was left to talk to Suoh. Unfortunately they shared at least two common languages, though Suoh's French was better than his English.
"It's a privilege to support Yuuri's skating," Suoh said to Viktor. ("Please, call me René," he'd said when he discovered Viktor spoke French. Viktor had managed to avoid it so far.) "His free skate at Four Continents – such grace, such musicality! It was exquisite!" He glanced at Yuuri. "He's very different off the ice, isn't he?"
Viktor had thought this himself, once upon a time, but hearing it in Suoh's voice made him bristle. Suoh didn't seem to notice.
"A natural type," he said musingly. "But only when he relaxes." He shook his head. "He wouldn't make a good host. You have to be comfortable with strangers."
"I beg your pardon?" said Viktor.
"Oh, it's nothing. I was thinking about my old school days," said Suoh. He beamed.
It should have been charming, but his smile had a peculiar quality – he was smiling not at but upon Viktor, with the self-conscious munificence of a king scattering largesse upon the populace. A past master of exasperating smiles himself, Viktor admired but could not like this one.
But what really took the dinner from uncomfortable to excruciating was Yuuri's behaviour. He spent the entire time gazing yearningly at Fujioka.
Attempts to break in on their conversation were unsuccessful. Covert glances bounced off Yuuri. Even determined glaring went unnoticed. Yuuri was so engrossed in Fujioka that Viktor could probably have stripped and danced on the table without eliciting a response.
Viktor was tempted, but he wouldn't give Fujioka the satisfaction.
It was a struggle to focus on his side of the conversation, but luckily Suoh was fond of the sound of his own voice and seemed happy to carry it. Viktor only emerged from his fugue when he realised Suoh had gone quiet. He seemed to be waiting for an answer.
"Sorry, could you say that again?" said Viktor.
Yuuri could have the decency to pretend he wasn't totally enamoured with Fujioka, he thought. For the sake of his own financial prospects, if not for Viktor's sake. It was hardly going to endear Yuuri to Suoh if he made it so obvious he was madly in love with Suoh's partner.
"When is the wedding?" repeated Suoh, gesturing at Viktor's hand. His right hand, which bore the ring his faithless Yuuri had bought him, on a golden night in Barcelona.
"We haven't set a date," said Viktor. He was never getting married. He was going to lose all his hair and die bald and alone, pickled in vodka, while Yuuri had a hundred dogs and babies with his nice Japanese man, who would impress the Katsukis with his stupid law degree, who had a career that would outlast his joints, who would never embarrass Yuuri by being loud and too affectionate and taking off all his clothes when he was drunk –
Something struck Viktor. He looked at Suoh's hand again.
"You're married, René?" he said, forgetting himself.
Tamaki smiled dreamily. This time he didn't seem to know he was doing it, which made it actually endearing instead of obnoxious. "Ah, what you have to look forward to, Viktor! Our wedding was the happiest day of my life! Wasn't it, Haruhi?"
Fujioka was busy listening to some impassioned confidence from Yuuri and didn't hear him.
Viktor said, "I didn't realise, since Fujioka-san doesn't wear a ring … "
Suoh brightened, turning to Fujioka and addressing him in rapid-fire Japanese.
"You see, people expect you to wear a ring!" he added in English, for good measure.
Fujioka had a resigned look familiar to anyone in a long-term relationship.
"I told you," he said, "I won't wear anything that needs an insurance policy."
"I tried, Haruhi," wailed Suoh. "I tried, but how could I buy anything unworthy of you? It's too cruel to demand that I compromise on the beauty of the ornament representing our love! Besides, people insure even the smallest tiny rings. Even jewellery that's worth less than five figures – "
"Senpai!" said Fujioka. That was all he said, but Suoh dropped it.
"That man is whipped," said Viktor to Yuuri when they were walking back to their hotel.
Yuuri didn't answer at once. He seemed distracted. Thinking of Fujioka, no doubt. Maybe he was working himself up to telling Viktor he was bored of him.
Viktor had known there would come a day when he was no longer surprising to Yuuri. He'd hoped Yuuri would've got used to him by then, would want him around anyway. But now it had happened, sooner than Viktor had calculated on, and Viktor was going to drive himself off a cliff.
No, Viktor, be sensible. Maybe Yuuri just wanted to open up the relationship. He still loved Viktor, he just wanted to experiment. Keep things interesting. That wouldn't be so bad. Viktor could sleep with other people, too.
Like Chris. He'd slept with Chris before. Chris would probably be up for it. He had an open relationship. He hadn't driven himself off a cliff.
Yuuri's forehead wrinkled. It was coming.
Viktor didn't actually want to sleep with anyone else. This was incredibly unfair.
"Whipped?" echoed Yuuri.
"Oh," said Viktor, after a pause. "I mean, Fujioka is the boss in that marriage." Even an idiot like Suoh could get married. Why wasn't Viktor married?
"Oh yeah," said Yuuri. "I guess. Fujioka-san is stronger than he, she looks." He turned a limpid gaze on Viktor. He looked wistful and sweet. "Fujioka-san … "
Yuuri wanted to break up. He was going to get married to Fujioka Haruhi. He didn't care that he was going to ruin Viktor's life, and Suoh's too, because it was obvious that Suoh was almost as crazy about his quiet bespectacled Japanese man as Viktor was about his.
Viktor's brain, flailing around for distraction, alighted on an image of him and Suoh comforting each other. It was revolting. He would never forgive his brain for that. Viktor was his own worst punishment.
"Fujioka-san ate two whole donburi," said Yuuri.
It took a moment for the sense to penetrate through Viktor's panic. He heard himself say, "Really? I didn't notice."
"They looked good." Yuuri's voice was full of longing. He and Viktor had had sushi.
"You were looking at his food?" said Viktor.
"I've never eaten two whole donburi in one sitting," said Yuuri. "But Fujioka-san could eat anything and not gain weight. His, her metabolism is amazing. I think her brain must just burn it all up. Only a small number of people pass the bar exams, you know. You have to be really smart. But she never makes you feel bad, even though she's so good at everything."
"You're mixing up your hes and shes," said Viktor. Yuuri was usually better at English pronouns than Viktor, but clearly adoring Fujioka Haruhi was taking up so much of Yuuri's brain space that it didn't leave much for retaining his mastery of English. It had done a number on Suoh's brain. Maybe Fujioka only seemed smart because liking him made everyone around him stupid.
"Oh," said Yuuri. He blinked. "Didn't you … I guess not. Why would you know? I wasn't sure until Fujioka-san showed me photos from her time in America."
"Wait," said Viktor. "What?"
Yuuri had stopped under a street light. Viktor turned to look at him.
Yuuri was squinting against the glare. "What's up, Viktor? You've been weird all day – " He cut himself off, saying incredulously, "You're not still jealous?"
"You didn't say a word to me at dinner," said Viktor, knowing he was being ridiculous but unable to stop himself.
Yuuri looked both tender and annoyed. "Doesn't it make a difference that Fujioka-san isn't a man?"
Viktor wanted to kiss away the crease between his eyebrows, but he also wanted to needle Yuuri, make him feel as off-balance as Viktor had felt.
This was a new feeling for Viktor to have around Yuuri. He still surprised Viktor, without even trying. Everything with Yuuri was fresh, even if it wasn't easy.
"You tell me," said Viktor.
Yuuri sighed. "I'm sorry about neglecting you, but I see you every day. It's not like I get to talk to Fujioka-san all the time."
He walked past Viktor, taking Viktor's hand on the way.
Viktor considered pulling it away. But there didn't seem to be any inoffensive way to do this, and also he didn't really want to.
"What do you even see in him?" grumbled Viktor. "Her."
It did kind of make Viktor feel better to know Fujioka wasn't a man. Yuuri hadn't been attracted to a woman since Yuuko, and from what Yuuko and Yuuri had let drop about their childhood, that was all done with by the time he turned 12. Viktor had taken over Yuuri's attention from then on.
Either that was more than enough time to be obsessed with one person and Yuuri was ready to move on … or else Yuuri was a man given to lifelong fixations. He wasn't like Viktor. He didn't forget anything easily.
"Fujioka-san is nice," said Yuuri.
"We meet a lot of nice people," said Viktor. "You don't offer them free skating lessons."
"She's just … " Yuuri's voice trailed off. He was thinking, his eyes sparkling. "I feel calm around her. Like I don't have to think too hard. Like – like I could say anything and she would understand. It's relaxing."
"I'm not relaxing?" said Viktor.
Yuuri laughed out loud. Viktor was about to take offence, but then Yuuri looked up, his eyes glowing.
"You're a lot of things," he said, "but you're not relaxing."
He made it sound like a good thing, though. Yuuri was interlacing his fingers with Viktor's in a way that made it hard to stay mad.
Viktor opened his mouth to explain how lucky Yuuri was to have a fiance like him: handsome, successful, solvent, even-tempered, and tolerant of Yuuri's every inexplicable whim, up to and including the befriending of boring androgynous law professors.
"I try to understand you," said Viktor.
"I know," said Yuuri softly.
Katsuki was acting a little strangely at the rink the next day. Haruhi couldn't work out why until she caught Katsuki staring at her water bottle.
"Are you all right, Katsuki-kun?"
Katsuki went pink. "No – yes – it's fine! I just, er, I didn't … I didn't realise they did water bottles."
"Did water bottles," echoed Haruhi, confused. She looked down at the bottle. Katsuki's face was emblazoned all along one side. The remainder of the bottle was covered with his name, entwined with cherry blossoms and chibi cartoons of him. "Argh!"
"I should know this stuff," Katsuki was saying. "Viktor always says I don't pay enough attention to the business side of things."
"Sorry!" said Haruhi, heat rising in her cheeks. She pressed her hands against them. "You must think I'm some kind of crazy otaku!"
She shot a glare at Tamaki where he was standing with Viktor at the other side of the rink. Tamaki beamed and waved.
"Not at all," said Katsuki unconvincingly.
"My husband bought some of your merchandise for me after he found out I like your skating," said Haruhi.
It would be more accurate to say that Tamaki had bought all the Katsuki Yuuri merchandise for her. Haruhi wasn't surprised he'd discovered things even Katsuki didn't know about: Tamaki appeared to have scoured every two-bit fan site on the Internet. Haruhi had filled a closet with T-shirts bearing embarrassing fanart, calendars, magazines, CDs and DVDs, cushions, fans … even a body pillow. Just looking at that had made her feel uncomfortable.
She'd eaten the chocolate bearing Katsuki's face and taken the water bottle, since she'd cracked the cap on her old bottle. She decided Katsuki didn't need to know about the rest of it.
"He was excited to find out I was interested in something new," she explained. "I don't really have a lot of interests."
"What do you like doing?" said Katsuki. "Outside of work, I mean."
Haruhi reflected, gazing at the white expanse of the ice. She couldn't really think of anything but … "Eating." She laughed. "That's pathetic, isn't it?"
"No," said Katsuki earnestly. "I love eating. We have so much in common!" He blushed.
Haruhi wasn't really paying attention.
"I guess I've spent most of my life focused on a goal," she said.
Mother in heaven, would you approve? Or would you think I should've made space for other things?
She had done other things. The Host Club kind of counted. But even then, all through her teens and twenties, hadn't she guarded herself against being drawn too far into their madness? With a few exceptions, she'd always held herself back. Among them, but set apart.
It had been sensible, a self-preservation tactic. Haruhi was attached to her former schoolmates, but she didn't want to be like any of them.
But it was funny hanging out with Katsuki. For all that he had an unusual job, he was a normal person from a normal family. It made Haruhi realise how little there was of that in her life. Ouran had expanded her world, but in some ways it was still so narrow. Normal friends, normal hobbies … could she say she had any of that? When was the last time she'd done something just for fun that the Host Club hadn't forced her into?
It was good to know that at the advanced age of thirty-something Haruhi was still capable of surprising herself.
She looked up, smiling.
"But you'll know what that's like, Katsuki-kun, more than me," she said. "It's nice to do something different. I'm only sorry I'm making you work on your day off."
Katsuki blinked. "Oh! I guess. I don't really think of skating as work." But the reminder of what they were there for made him business-like. "Have you done any skating before, Fujioka-san?"
"At shopping malls," said Haruhi. "I can go forward. And I can fall."
"OK," said Katsuki, gliding out onto the ice and turning to face her. He smiled. "Let's go forward."
Katsuki was different when he was skating. Movement came to him easily, unlike words. When he skimmed across the surface of the ice, it was like he was thinking out loud – beautiful, wordless thoughts.
"Like a hippopotamus," said Haruhi admiringly.
"You think I skate like a hippopotamus?" Katsuki didn't seem overjoyed by the comparison.
"Have you seen them underwater?" said Haruhi. Katsuki shook his head. "They're graceful. We should go to a zoo together, Katsuki-kun. You'll see what I mean."
"That would be nice," he said.
Yuuri was starting to see what Fujioka had meant about hippos. Only with Fujioka it was the other way around. It wasn't like Yuuri spent much time watching novice skaters, but Fujioka did seem unusually bad at managing her limbs.
"Ah," he said at her third fall, "maybe we should try something easier … "
His voice trailed off. It had been Fujioka's idea that he teach her compulsory figures: "They look cool," she'd said shyly. He'd started her off on edges, but they hadn't got very far with that. He wasn't sure how much easier he could make it.
Fujioka's head was bowed. This had been a terrible idea. What had made Yuuri think he could teach anyone? Now he'd put her off. Viktor …
But even Yuuri's brain in anxious self-flagellating mode couldn't imagine that Viktor would be any better at teaching the basics of skating to a beginner. Phichit, though, he'd know how to make it seem easy. Fun.
Yuuri tried to remember what it had been like when he'd started learning, but that was so long ago the memory was shrouded, indistinct. The time before he'd known how to skate seemed unreal. He couldn't call up any of the feelings he must've had then. Skating had been vital to him for so much of his life.
"I'm really bad at this," said Fujioka. Her voice trembled.
"No, no!" said Yuuri, feeling guilty. He'd never seen anyone with less aptitude for skating, but then, everyone he knew who skated did it for a living. He was probably the worst person to judge. "You're fine. You're just – it'll just take time … "
"I haven't been bad at anything in a while," said Fujioka. It dawned on Yuuri that she was laughing. She looked up, eyes shining. "It's kind of fun! Can we try again?"
Fujioka held out her hand. When Yuuri helped her up, she bowed.
"Please keep looking after me, sensei!"
The first time Fujioka stumbled, Suoh lunged over the barrier, wailing, "Haruhi, my petal!"
Fujioka was all the way across the rink, but the look she shot Suoh almost had physical substance. It was like she'd lobbed a bomb. Suoh fell back with a whimper.
Fortunately he was too absorbed in his Haruhi's valiant efforts to have much attention to spare for Viktor. He hung over the barrier, whimpering from time to time, leaving Viktor to watch Yuuri in peace.
He'd seen Yuuri on the ice a lot of times. He never got sick of it.
Yuuri did look relaxed. Happy. Viktor wanted Yuuri to be happy. Maybe he could let Yuuri have this without going insane. So long as Suoh didn't talk to him, Viktor thought he could manage it.
Suoh only looked away from the rink when they were joined by a stranger: a sleek Japanese man in an expensive suit. He was beautiful and impassive and gave the impression, like Suoh, of having walked into the workaday world from another plane.
Suoh greeted him without surprise, though they'd booked out the rink: "So Yuuri isn't disturbed by fans," Suoh had said sunnily. Yuuri had blushed, of course, stuttering out an embarrassed denial. Viktor had never liked Suoh better.
Suoh and the stranger spoke quietly in Japanese for a while before the stranger turned to Viktor.
"So this is the man who brought Japan's ace to the eyes of the world," he said. His English was accented, but precise and elegant. "I have always wished to meet the great Viktor Nikiforov." He held out a hand. "Ootori Kyouya. I have the pleasure of sponsoring your protégé."
The name sounded familiar. It came to Viktor while he was shaking the proffered hand.
"Of the Ootori group," said Viktor. Fujioka Haruhi had powerful friends.
"Just so." Ootori cocked an eye at the skaters. Yuuri was trying to teach Fujioka swizzles. "I see Haruhi has brought all her usual grace to the ice."
"Don't be cruel, Kyouya," said Suoh mournfully. "It's not Haruhi's fault she has no sense of rhythm or athleticism. She has many other talents!"
"You're off to Hasetsu tomorrow, I believe?" said Ootori to Viktor.
"Yes," said Viktor, after a pause. Yuuri was famous in Japan, of course. Probably everyone knew where he was from.
"A pleasant town. It's been good to see how Yu-topia Katsuki has benefited from Katsuki-senshu's winning streak. The closing down of our traditional resorts has been a real loss," said Ootori. "When are you heading back to St Petersburg?"
"In a couple of weeks' time."
Ootori nodded. "You won't be able to spare much time off, of course, with Katsuki-senshu's competition schedule. And you'll want to get back to Makkachin. She looks happy enough, but Yuri Plisetsky is more of a cat person, isn't he?"
Viktor smiled tightly. "Do you follow me on Instagram?"
Ootori smiled back, unembarrassed. "No, I have assistants who do that for me."
"Kyouya runs background checks on everyone we meet," said Suoh. He spoke as though this was meant to be reassuring.
"A strange habit, I know," said Ootori, in a tone of mild apology. "But necessary, I'm afraid. We've successfully prevented three attempts to kidnap Haruhi so far. She's the most vulnerable, since she refuses bodyguards. But we keep a close eye on her, so you don't need to worry about Katsuki-senshu. We'll make sure he's safe."
"Hahaha," said Viktor, not actually laughing. "I was less worried before you started talking!"
"Kyouya has that effect on people," said Suoh proudly.
"There is really no need to concern yourself, Mr Nikiforov," said Ootori. "The Ootori Group protects its own. We get an excellent return on our investment in Katsuki-senshu. He is – what is the word?"
He declined Suoh's suggestions of "a Narcissus, but with ice instead of water" or "an innocent Adonis in skates".
"Ordinary," said Ootori. Viktor's empty smile grew wider, but then Ootori said, correcting himself, "Relatable."
"How do you know the CEO of the Ootori group?" squeaked Yuuri.
"I told you," said Fujioka. "I went to a weird school."
"I thought you meant you did the International Baccalaureate or something," said Yuuri. He was so alarmed he'd forgotten his usual shyness. "Did the owner of every company on the Tokyo Stock Exchange go to your school?"
"No," said Fujioka, after a pause for reflection. "Most of the students' family businesses were private companies. Don't worry, Kyouya-senpai is nicer than he seems." She sounded slightly doubtful. But she went on, "It could've been a lot worse! It could have been one of the others."
"You don't want to know," said Fujioka darkly.
Yuuri nearly overbalanced bowing to Ootori. In justice to Ootori, he showed no sign of having noticed Yuuri's nervousness. His manner was calm and courteous, even kind.
Watching Yuuri slowly relax, Viktor was conscious of a certain wistfulness. His Japanese had got rusty, even though he insisted on interrupting Yuuri's Skype sessions with his family to delight Hiroko with broken Japanese. In any case, he'd never been fluent enough that he could've kept up with the conversation between Suoh, Ootori and Yuuri.
There was more to it than language, anyway. Viktor had noticed the way Yuuri's shoulders came down from around his ears whenever they returned to Japan. On their first night in Tokyo, Yuuri had chugged the complimentary bottle of water in their hotel room before collapsing on the bed with a blissful sigh.
"You're happy," Viktor had observed.
Yuuri's eyes were shut. He was hugging the bottle to his chest. "The water here tastes different."
"It's Evian," said Viktor, perplexed.
But he kind of got it. There was something about being in your own home country, where you belonged. Yuuri didn't make friends easily anywhere, even here, but wasn't there something different about the way he held himself around Fujioka and Ootori and Suoh?
Were there things Fujioka knew about Yuuri that Viktor would never really understand, because they shared a language, a culture, a country?
It was a pointless question, whatever the answer. What did it matter? Yuuri had chosen him.
In his desire to stay as far away from Suoh as possible, Viktor had somehow manoeuvred himself into a position next to the bench where Fujioka was sitting, cut off from Yuuri where he was walled in by his sponsors. Fujioka was struggling with her skates.
"Sorry," she said. "I should get out of your way."
"Let me help you," said Viktor. Fujioka looked almost as surprised as he felt.
She'd managed to get her laces into an impossible knot. Disentangling them brought Viktor back to doing the same for Yuuri.
He hadn't had much experience of looking after someone else, before Yuuri. He'd never wanted to try before.
"What are they talking about?" he said.
Fujioka looked up. "Tamaki-senpai and Kyouya-senpai, you mean? They're talking about Katsuki-kun – about Yuuri's skating." Suoh was doing most of the talking, gesticulating wildly. "My husband admires it very much."
This sounded plausible. The colour was rising in Yuuri's face.
"I think Tamaki-senpai is suggesting a charity gala," said Fujioka. "He's saying Yuuri could skate for our school alumni association."
"Don't worry," said Fujioka. "You don't need to intervene until Kyouya-senpai starts talking. Though it's not a bad idea if Yuuri is not too busy. The alumni gala pays well. They had Lady Gaga last year."
"She was cheaper than Beyonce," explained Fujioka.
Viktor swallowed the questions that sprang to his lips. He'd ask Yuuri later.
"Thanks for translating," he said instead. "I try to practise Japanese with Yuuri, but it's boring for him. And of course he'd rather work on his Russian."
"You speak Japanese, Nikiforov-san?"
"A little." Viktor was watching the play of expression across Yuuri's face. "I'd like to be better. I'm jealous of you." It was easier to say than he'd thought it would be.
Fujioka looked up in surprise.
Viktor said, half-smiling, "You and your husband – it must be easier to understand each other, speaking your mother tongue. That's why Yuuri … I can see he's comfortable with you."
Fujioka seemed amused. "I don't think that's why. Yuuri is not that good at Japanese. You share the same mother tongue."
Viktor blinked. "Eh?"
"Skating is Yuuri's best language," said Fujioka, as though this was obvious. "It's yours too, isn't it? That's why you get along."
"Ah. Maybe," said Viktor. "There are disadvantages to communicating through skating."
Like his and Yuuri's initial confusion about what their rings actually meant. It would be embarrassing how bad Viktor had been at proposing, if it wasn't for the fact that Yuuri had been even worse.
He said, in a burst of magnanimity, "It's nice for Yuuri to have made a friend."
"It must be hard, with all the travel," said Fujioka. "It's nice for me too. You don't expect it to happen after you graduate, do you? Most of my friends are from school or university or work. It's nice to have something outside those things." Viktor stood back as she got her shoes on.
"It's like a gift," she said. "Two new friends." Fujioka's eyes were large and serious. They were a lighter brown than Yuuri's – a pretty colour, like bourbon.
"Two?" said Viktor.
"You and Yuuri," said Fujioka. It didn't seem to have occurred to her that Viktor might not want to be her friend.
Viktor was starting to see the appeal for Yuuri. Very little seemed to worry Fujioka. It was restful.
"Yuuri was so kind as to invite me to visit you in St Petersburg," added Fujioka, unexpectedly.
"He did?" Viktor wasn't sure how he felt about that.
"I couldn't do it this year," said Fujioka, "but it would be nice, some time. I'd like to have a better understanding of the Russian legal system. I hear the service of proceedings often presents difficulties?"
"We couldn't help with that," said Viktor, after a pause. "But we could show you around. It's a beautiful city." If they were both friends with Fujioka, he thought suddenly, she'd have to speak English around them, and Viktor would know what she and Yuuri were talking about.
Fujioka looked a little flustered. Weirdly, it made her look more like Yuuri, though Viktor no longer thought they were very similar. "That was a weird thing to say, wasn't it? I forgot. Usually when I use English I am speaking to lawyers." She paused, reflecting. "I don't have many normal friends. You're my first in a long time."
Forgetting not to be charmed, Viktor said, "You're not big on false flattery, are you?"
Fujioka blinked. "Oh, sorry. Did I say something wrong?"
"No, no. It's just that people don't usually call me normal."
"But it's a compliment, isn't it?"
"I guess it is." Viktor glanced at her. "You know, it says something about your life if two of the world's best figure skaters count as normal."
"Nothing good," said Fujioka grimly, but then she seemed to register the full import of what he'd said. Her face lit up. "Are you? I didn't know that. Well, Katsuki-kun did say you have medals ... But the best in the world, really? There must be a lot of competition, right?"
"Yes," said Russia's hero. "A little."
"That's amazing!" said Fujioka. "Congratulations."
"I was the top men's singles figure skater in the world for a long time," said Viktor, just to see how she'd react. "I won so many gold medals it got boring."
"That's very good, isn't it?" said Fujioka. Perhaps she didn't mean to sound as though Viktor had told her he'd won the class prize for cleanest desk three years in a row. Perhaps when you'd had a job that involved saving human beings from incarceration, you might reasonably think of skating as a relatively trivial pursuit. "Well done. Ah! But that means you're not normal either."
"No," agreed Viktor. "But we can still be friends, right?"
Fujioka laughed. "Of course, Nikiforov-san."
"Please," said Viktor. "Call me Viktor."