“38.7 million views in 24 hours. Do you know what that means? You beat Adele. You beat the Avengers. You beat that Psy video where he wears harem pants and pushes people off treadmills. You are in a very exclusive club, my friend.”
The audience laughs, and Yuuri should laugh too, but Kerry Washington’s skin is perfect and he can’t stop staring. And her teeth are so white that they don’t even look like teeth. It’s like when he was writing his thesis and spent so much time staring at the opening sentence of the discussion section that he had to check four times to make sure he spelled “the” right. There’s a name for that sort of brain malfunction, but hell if he knows what it is.
“I was told that your friend’s children were the ones responsible for uploading the video in the first place,” Kerry Washington goes on, propping her chin up with her fist. The studio lights catch the gold clasps of her bracelets. They look like they cost more than his entire existence.
“I, uh,” Yuuri coughs a little and tugs at his collar. It’s so damn hot in here. For a second, he thinks seriously about passing out but forces himself to rally. Otherwise, Mari will probably win a bet. “That’s right. My friend Yuuko’s six-year old triplets.”
“Normally I’d be upset that kids so young are going online unsupervised, but honestly, that routine, Yuuri. Even without music, it was maybe the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. The .7 million views were all me,” she says, grinning, inviting him to laugh along with the audience.
He does. It sounds like a hyena in its death throes. “Thanks. I’m… I can’t believe how big it got.”
Big enough that Jimmy Kimmel Live! called him up to invite him onto the show once the view count hit the 100 million mark. Yuuri only accepted because he's spent way too much time watching YouTube clips of the Kimmel-Damon feud to justify saying no. And both Phichit and Mari swore to disown him if he didn’t do it. And also he was super duper drunk.
They failed to mention that Kimmel would be on vacation and Actual Goddess Olivia Pope would be guest hosting, though.
“According to one of your old interviews, you’re a big fan of Victor Nikiforov.”
He wishes he weren’t conditioned to smile like a bashful second grader at the mere mention of the man, but he’s accepted this as his lot in life, so he doesn’t fight it when the smile comes. “Ah, yeah. You could say that.”
Kerry beams. “You are too adorable, Yuuri. Were you hoping he would see you skate his routine?”
Ducking his head, he picks at some lint on his suit leg and silently pleads with the studio light above him to fall and kill him. “I—no, it wasn’t—it’s just that…”
It's probably only out of pity on the part of the studio, but he’s saved from answering by a picture flashing onto the giant monitors just beyond camera three. It’s a familiar one, plucked right out of its frame in the sitting room back home in Hasetsu: him at maybe 12 or 13, wearing an oversized sweatshirt bearing a lilac fairy on it, cuddling Vicchan close to his shoulder.
The audience awww’s. His heart cramps and he swallows down a sudden but not unexpected wave of sorrow at the sight of such simpler times. Before the disappointments. Before the anxiety. Before he left his one true friend to die without him.
“I’m being told that Victor Nikiforov also had a poodle.”
“Has,” Yuuri blurts out, because things aren’t bad enough. “Makkachin isn’t dead.”
He grits his teeth and forces a smile when the audience laughs at him, like he doesn’t know just how pathetic he is. Kerry reaches over and puts a perfect hand on his shoulder, squeezing reassuringly.
“So, you weren’t hoping your celebrity crush would see the video,” Kerry says again, voice kind. “Why skate it at all?”
It’s a prompt, an invitation to redeem himself by sharing this deep, fundamental secret with a bunch of random strangers and the millions watching at home, and he locks his knees to prevent himself from getting up and walking off the set. The love and admiration he has for Victor isn’t for public consumption, but at the same time he needs them to know that this isn’t some stupid crush, some twisted attempt at being noticed. The routine and its originator are just as much as part of him as his bad eyesight and weakness for his mother’s katsudon. Victor Nikiforov isn’t a whim; he’s essential.
They need to know.
“I…” He reaches for his glass of water on the desk and sips before trying again. “When I was a kid, Victor was… he was a goal. No, not—he gave me a goal. He gave me purpose beyond the little world I was born into. Most people don’t leave my hometown, you see. I love it, and nowhere else will ever be quite home the way Hasetsu is, but Victor offered me a reason to look beyond it. Did I want to meet him? Sure. He was, after all, my celebrity crush. But more than that: I wanted to be worthy of meeting him. I wanted to earn my place on his ice, you know? He was the best, is the best, and for some little nobody from Nowhere, Japan to even qualify to be bright enough to share his light… he gave me a goal. He made me make myself better than what I was.” Yuuri draws a shaky breath, but the smile comes easily now. “I suppose I love him for that. Maybe that’s why I skated to Stay Close to Me. To thank him for sticking with me all those years. For helping me be the person I wanted to be for him. And, um, for myself.”
For as long as he can remember, he’s prayed that the day would come when someone would just knock him out mid-ramble and save him from himself. Today, naturally, is not that day.
Silence, stunned and terrifying, is what he gets in reply, and somewhere in Hasetsu, right now, his parents are probably discussing the real possibility of committing ritual suicide to deal with the shame of having such a dipshit for a son.
But there comes a clap of thunder so sudden that he damn near jumps out of his skin. Except— it’s not thunder at all.
The whole audience jumps to their feet and roars, and that’s all it takes for the rubber band that had been pulling taut in his chest from the moment they mic’d him up to snap in two, sending him into a fit of relieved, mortified laughter. Yuuri chances a look at Kerry, who wipes at her eyes, giggling.
“They said this stuff was waterproof,” she says with a wet sigh. “Yuuri, I can honestly say that—”
Somebody backstage must have knocked something over, because there comes a crash loud enough that even Kerry jumps, startled, followed by panicked shouting. Next to him, Kerry touches her ear where the producer must be telling her to cut to commercial or just end the segment before he says something else that will haunt him until the day he dies, but she gasps “It’s not time yet!” just as the doors through which Yuuri had entered the stage burst open.
Standing in the doorway, red-faced, chest heaving, and cheeks ruddy with fresh tears, is five-time world ice skating champion Victor Nikiforov.
The audience explodes into shocked, delighted gasps.
“Why are you—Victor, this isn’t your cue!” Kerry cries, and Yuuri whips around to stare at her, because what?
“I don’t care,” Victor rasps. “I couldn’t wait a second longer. I had to see him.”
Yuuri whips back to stare at him, because what.
Somehow he musters up the courage to look Victor in the eye, and what he finds there shakes him down to his bones. There are no words for the way Victor Nikiforov is looking at him—not in any language, dead or otherwise. The only thing that might come close is the way the sunrise gazes at the sea when dawn breaks over Hasetsu, full of stoked flame and indescribable love. The smell of salt fills Yuuri’s nose, sharp, wet, and there are gulls calling in the depths of Victor’s stare.
Trembling, Yuuri finds the wherewithal to get to his feet and take a step forward.
It must look like permission, because Victor bursts into motion, stalking forward with single-minded purpose, and for a moment he’s a wave careening toward shore, coming to drag Yuuri into the pull of the tide, and Yuuri only has a moment to tilt his head up when—
Jimmy Kimmel Live! The Kiss Heard ‘Round The World racks up 149 million views in 24 hours.
“We beat that lady in the Chewbacca mask,” Jimmy Kimmel crows in his opening monologue the following Monday.