The stands had cleared completely. A Zamboni was resurfacing the ice. The monitors had all gone dark. And, yet, Yuuri sat staring up at them unblinkingly. “Yuuri?” Victor walked over slowly, one arm straight against his side, the other crossing his stomach to hold his elbow. “Yuuri?” His voice was soft, cautious, apprehensive. Yuuri didn’t flinch. “Are you all right?” Yuuri didn’t answer. “Sweetheart?” Yuuri did not move.
Victor zipped his jacket up all the way, hiding completely the flash of gold and the ribbon it hung from. Despite desperately wanting to show it off, he knew Yuuri didn’t need a reminder of that. Victor closed his eyes and took a slow, deep breath in and out. When he spoke again, he tried to sound more like a coach with a commanding tone. “Yuuri, it’s time to go now.”
Yuuri shook his head almost imperceptibly. “Can’t,” he whispered. “My legs won’t work.”
Victor stepped closer, putting a hand on Yuuri’s shoulder. He felt the costume’s rough sequins and the soft fur trim against his fingertips. “Then I’ll help you.”
A sob, startling and sudden, burst from Yuuri. “You can’t!” he tried to explain.
“Of course I can. I was your coach.” He fingered the costume then let his fingers stray to Yuuri’s neck. He caressed the warm skin but, as his slender fingers approached Yuuri’s cheek, the other man’s hand snapped up and caught it at the wrist.
Yuuri’s eyes were wet with tears but resolute, certain. “But you’re not my coach now.”
Victor could have pulled his hand away, but he didn’t. He let Yuuri squeeze his wrist. And he bent his fingers back with a skater’s grace, stroking two against Yuuri’s cheek. “That’s right. Now I’m your betrothed.” He glowed with pride at the title that meant more to him than the medal around his neck. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you. After all this time, you should believe that by now, my little pork—”
Yuuri pulled back and dropped his head into his hands. Tears spilled through his fingers, turning the red gloves of his costume dark. “I don’t deserve being called that. I don’t deserve you. I don’t deserve anything. I’ve never skated so badly in all my life!” His body trembled.
Sitting down on the bench beside Yuuri, Victor remained calm as always and put an arm around the man. This time, Yuuri didn’t pull away, but he didn’t lean into the touch either. “It was our first time competing against each other. You were bound to be nervous.”
“Nervous? I couldn’t even move,” Yuuri whispered amidst the tears. “My body just wouldn’t work properly! I tried… tried to do the jumps. I couldn’t even do the simple moves. No technical marks. No style marks. I humiliated myself in front of all those people. And everyone watching back home. The whole thing was a disaster.”
Victor knew, of course. He had watched through his hands, not wanting Yuuri to glance over and see the horror on his face. It had been worse than the Grand Prix. It had been worse than even his worst practice session when he was still learning the routine. It had probably been the worst performance of his life. Which meant, of course, that he could only get better. “It was,” Victor agreed, and Yuuri wailed at the statement. “But I still love you. And I still believe in you.”
Yuuri didn’t look convinced yet.
Victor took off his slate blue trench coat and draped it over Yuuri’s back. Then he hugged the man close. “Let me prove to you that your legs still work and take you back to the room.”
Yuuri shook his head more this time, but Victor pulled him up. So he really had no choice but to step forward on legs that were stiff from sitting still for the past five and a half hours straight. He leaned on Victor, hating himself for doing so, but needing the man. And Victor held tight, refusing to let go.
Like all the other skaters, they were staying in the hotel directly across the street from the rink, so it wasn’t an especially long walk. But it still took time to push Yuuri along from street to hotel lobby to elevator to the sixteenth floor to their room.
The moment they were inside, Yuuri shrugged off the trench coat then fell face-first onto the bed and would not be moved. “Do you plan on spending the whole night like that?”
Yuuri’s reply was muffled by the blankets. “I plan on spending the rest of my life like this. At least until my money runs out and the throw me out of the hotel.”
“It’ll be hard to party like that, though.”
“We’re having the after party here, remember?”
He had forgotten that the winner hosted the party for all the skaters. That meant booze and music and a couple dozen skaters crammed into their suite, dancing their asses off until the wee hours of the morning. Yuuri groaned.
Victor sat down on the edge of the bed and patted the back of Yuuri’s legs. “Yuuri?”
“I’ll get another room to hide out in.”
“You will not! I want you with me!”
Yuuri shook his head. “I’ll only embarrass you. You shouldn’t be seen with such a loser. I won’t let my humiliation rub off on you.”
Victor lay down on the bed beside Yuuri, arms bent at the elbows, tucked under him. But he slid one to the side enough to touch Yuuri’s cheek. “I want to be seen with the man I love, the man I support and believe in, no matter what happens out there in a competition.”
Yuuri turned his head to the side, robbing Victor of the ability to stroke his cheek. “You deserve someone who can skate as well as you can.”
Without hesitation, Victor crawled over his lover and lay down on the other side. He gave Yuuri a quick peck on the lips before the man could hide his face in the hotel comforter again. “I have someone who can skate as well as I can. I’ve seen you do it any number of times. You just let your anxiety freeze you up during competition tonight. But you’re better than your anxiety. You’re so much better. And next time, I know you won’t let it stop you.” He nuzzled his face into the comforter as well, nudging fabric out of the way and nudging Yuuri to tilt his head just enough so that he could give another kiss.
This one, Yuuri returned, albeit half-heartedly.
So Victor kissed harder.
Which made Yuuri kiss harder back.
Without breaking the kiss, Victor raised his head a little, guiding Yuuri’s in turn out of the blankets.
Yuuri lifted his head and pushed himself up onto his knees.
Victor sat all the way up, leaning forward so as not to lose contact with Yuuri’s lips.
Yuuri sat up as well.
Victor wrapped his arms around Yuuri.
And Yuuri did the same with Victor.
Finally, it was Yuuri who pulled away, laughing. The smile on his face made Victor’s heart soar with elation. “I’d better get out of this outfit before people start arriving.”
“Good idea. Need help, or are your legs working again?”
“They’re working,” Yuuri laughed. “But if you’re fishing for an excuse to run your fingers all over me, I’m obviously not going to say no. I mean, if you want to that is.”
Victor smiled, nodded. “Of course I want to.” His arm around Yuuri, he swept the man off the bed. He kissed the back of his neck beneath the dark hair as he undid the clasp there. When was Yuuri going to realize they were already equals? That he didn’t have to prove anything to anyone? That no matter how well or how utterly horribly he skated in a competition, Victor Nikiforov would still love him for being who he was? That Victor, more than anyone, wanted him to go out there and win gold so that they could finally get married?