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moments from his grasp

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Yuuri's dreams end under the faint trickle of light through water, while darkness closes in around him. He is drowning, he thinks, but the cold digs into his skin, snaring his last thoughts and dragging them away.

He was walking, wasn't he? Running with Makkachin to meet Viktor and Yurio. The road was icy, wasn't it -- St. Petersburg seems like it's under a permanent layer of ice and snow, in January. Yuuri was on the sidewalk, but then there was a car...

The Neva is even colder than St. Petersburg.

He has one final thought, and it is this: I hope Viktor didn't see.

~*~

Yuuri wakes up choking, under the sensation of falling. He throws off his blankets and scrambles out of bed before the world can right itself, and he ends up by the closet, knocking over a laundry hamper and hitting his head on the wall. The pain sends him reeling, but it also snaps him back from the cold, stopping his blind panic in its tracks. For a moment, all Yuuri can hear is his own frenzied panting.

There is no water in his throat. It's not cold, either -- he must have had a nightmare. Thankfully he hasn't woken Viktor, though Yuuri is slightly surprised that his fiancé isn't already reaching for him, making worried noises about Yuuri's bad dream. For a few minutes, Yuuri simply breathes, holding each breath for five seconds until his heart rate has slowed, then slowly stands up in the dark room, fumbling blindly for the bed.

"Viktor," Yuuri whispers, not wanting to wake his fiancé, but not wanting to be alone right now, either. He knows his limits. Viktor doesn't answer, so Yuuri reaches across the bed -- and his hand only meets emptiness.

Slowly, Yuuri draws his hand back. The bed is smaller than he remembers. The room is different, too. Yuuri realizes that there is light coming from the window, city light, but that the windows aren't the right size, and the light isn't the right color. He doesn't recognize the cityscape -- it isn't a part of St. Petersburg he has seen before.

I don't know where I am, Yuuri thinks, panicking. He sees a phone on the table beside the bed and grabs it, relieved to see that it is his phone, Vicchan in the background. He opens it hurriedly and goes to Viktor's number, the first one on his speed dial, then stops short when he doesn't see it there, nor in the contacts.

Did someone go into my phone?

Yuuri shakes his head, terrified by what this means. He doesn't recognize where he is, and he doesn't remember anything from last night. He had been dreaming of running through St. Petersburg -- or was that the last thing he did? Yuuri doesn't know. He doesn't understand what is happening.

He knows Viktor's number by heart, though. Quickly he taps in the number and presses call, putting it to his ear, his heart racing.

"Алло?" answers Viktor after two rings, and Yuuri falls to his knees, tears prickling his eyes in relief.

"Viktor," he whispers, trusting that Viktor will be able to help him. "I don't know where I am. Where are you? Can you come get me?"

There is a pause over the line, before Viktor answers. His voice sounds a little odd. "I'm sorry, but I think you have the wrong number. Who is this?"

Yuuri's heart leaps into his throat. He blinks and pulls the phone away, staring at the number on the screen, then puts it to his ear again. "This is... Viktor, right?"

"Yes. Who is this? How did you get this number, anyway?" Viktor sounds impatient now. He still has that odd edge to his voice -- maybe a little more polite than normal?

Yuuri reels a little. Viktor doesn't recognize his voice -- what happened? "I... it's me, Viktor."

"I'm sorry," Viktor says after a moment, and he does sound a little sorry -- but mostly he sounds like he wants to end the conversation. "You must have the wrong Viktor. Or if this is some kind of joke, it's a very poor one. I must go. Good luck, whoever you are."

Then he hangs up, and Yuuri is left sitting in a dark, unknown room, alone, with no idea where he is or what to do. His fiancé just hung up on him, and Yuuri is afraid.

Slowly he stands, grabbing onto the bed for support. He notices the shape of a lamp in the dim light. With a shaking hand, Yuuri reaches for the lamp and turns it on. When light floods the room, the hair stands up on the back of his neck. He isn't standing in his and Viktor's bedroom, nor any room in St. Petersburg.

He is standing in his bedroom in Detroit.

For a moment, Yuuri doesn't breathe as his world spins around him. He had been so sure that he was in St. Petersburg, asleep in his and Viktor's bed. But that's not right, either. Yuuri hadn't been in bed -- he had been on the way to meet Viktor and Yurio.

Who the hell is Yurio?

He knows who Yurio is. Yuri Plisetsky, his friend and rival, sixteen years old and full of teenage rage. He gave me katsudon pirozhki for my birthday.

Viktor doesn't recognize him. The calendar on his wall says that it is October 2014.

Yet Yuuri has never been more certain of the fact that it had been January 18, 2017 this morning. He had woken up when Viktor had left the apartment to fetch Yurio from Lilia's place. He had kissed Yuuri goodbye slowly, teasingly calling him his 'sleeping beauty,' before making Yuuri promise to get up soon and meet him at the bus stop.

Yet somehow, Yuuri is now in a place shaped out of a dream. He fumbles for his phone, pulling up his calendar. The date is listed as October 24, 2014, just the same as the paper one on the wall, and he has none of the events he remembers listed anywhere in future months.

Knowledge struggles to make sense in his head. Part of him understands that he had gone to sleep after the last of his midterms on Friday, but the other half of him has memories of waking up in St. Petersburg in Detroit. Yuuri is not sure which is true -- because he remembers both. His head hurts sharply from the effort to make sense of the memories. It's almost like his brain is being rewritten, and his sense of now is completely off-kilter.

Yuuri clearly remembers falling into the Neva. Had he somehow come back in time? Or was this the afterlife? Maybe this is his life flashing before his eyes, and in a few moments, he will die.

He closes his eyes, terrified. He can still hear the rush of water in his ears, but he isn't sure whether it is in his mind, or whether it is real. What should he do?

A soft knock at his door distracts him, and Yuuri flinches, not knowing what to expect. "Yuuri?" says Phichit from the other side, sounding tired. Knowledge comes to Yuuri slowly, as if dragged through mud. He remembers that midterms have just ended, and Phichit pulled more than one all-nighter to study for it. "I heard a noise, are you alright?"

It's October now.

It was January an hour ago.

Viktor doesn't recognize me.

"I'm okay," Yuuri says automatically. He is struggling to make sense of his memories, of the warring knowledge settling with itself in his head.

Phichit opens the door, rubbing his eyes. He blinks at the sight of Yuuri standing by his bed, staring at the sheets with a blank expression, and crosses the room to touch his shoulder. Yuuri must look sick, and he feels it, too. "Yuuri, you don't look okay. Do you want some tea? We still have a couple bags of your green tea left. We'll have to go to the Asian grocery store..."

"They'll be out," Yuuri says blankly, then covers his mouth. How does he know that? He feels dizzy. He remembers, though, going to the Asian grocery in a post-midterm haze and being dismayed to realize that the store was out of Japanese tea.

Phichit draws back and stares at him, then frowns. "Tea, definitely."

Yuuri doesn't protest. While Phichit pokes the water kettle into productivity, Yuuri sits in the wobbly kitchen chair and stares down at his hands, where a gold ring used to sit -- but no, he has never worn a ring, and who would he want to marry, anyway?

Viktor. He proposed to Viktor, under the guise of something else entirely. But Viktor doesn't...

His head is hurting. Was it all a dream? Or did it actually happen, and this is the dream? Yuuri pinches himself when Phichit's back is turned. Ow, his mind supplies, and Yuuri has to bite down on his lip, his eyes growing hot. If this is real, and it wasn't a dream... then what is happening?

"Here you go," Phichit says, setting down a chipped blue cup covered in poodles. Yuuri's favorite cup, which will break in the middle of finals week next semester, stressing him enough to fail one of his classes. He has had it since he was a teenager.

Yuuri doesn't touch it. "Phichit... does the name Yuri Plisetsky mean anything to you?"

Phichit leans back in his chair, studying Yuuri for a long moment. His typical smile is gone, a comfort Yuuri could have used, and he must see how panicked Yuuri is. Despite the odd question, he humors Yuuri and gives him a straight answer. "He's that Russian juniors skater, isn't he? I didn't think you paid attention to the juniors league anymore."

"I don't," Yuuri says softly. So Yuri Plisetsky is real. He knows he has never heard of the name before today, and he knows that in a year, Yuri Plisetsky will win a gold medal for Russia in the juniors men's section of the GPF -- where Yuuri will compete against Viktor for the first time. (And lose miserably.)

Phichit is waiting patiently. Yuuri thinks of all the things he could say -- I traveled back in time, I'm not your Yuuri, I dreamed about the future, I've lost my damn mind -- and he knows that he can trust Phichit. Despite that reassurance, Yuuri can't imagine telling anyone what is going on in his head. He doesn't know what happened, and he can't imagine even saying it, because of how insane it will sound.

Time traveling. Isn't it the same plot as his movie?

Phichit has made him watch The King and the Skater at least sixty-five times. Yuuri started keeping count when they watched it seven times in a row once when they got snowed in and couldn't go to the rink.

Yuuri takes a deep breath. "I don't think I'm supposed to be here," he says slowly. He doesn't look away from his tea, which is steaming gently as the sencha steeps. "Last night, I went to sleep in St. Petersburg with Viktor. Today I was supposed to meet him and Yurio -- um, Yuri Plisetsky -- for training. It's January 18, 2017..."

"That's two years from now," Phichit says slowly. "Yuuri... did you have an Arthur dream? I have those a lot, you know."

Yuuri bites his bottom lip. Arthur is the protagonist of Phichit's favorite movie, and ironically, also a time traveler. Even just thinking about the idea that he traveled back in time sounds insane, and Phichit is giving him a weird look. "Um, yeah, a dream. It was like, I was really in St. Petersburg, and I'd been with Viktor for a year. He was my coach," he adds in a small voice, knowing full well that Phichit has already heard of that secret wish. How many times has he drunkenly confessed his feelings about Viktor to his best friend?

He realizes his hands are shaking and clasps them together tightly. "I was running on a bridge. A car hit some ice and it spun out of control... I think it hit me." He digs his thumbnail into his wrist, remembering cold water and knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that he had been drowning not long ago. Or two years from now. "I fell in the river. And... then I woke up here. Now." His voice is high and reedy now, his anxiety stretched thin between his disbelief and his fear.

Either it didn't happen, or it did, and I came back in time. And Viktor doesn't recognize me.

Phichit is staring at him. "That... doesn't sound like a dream, Yuuri."

Yuuri can't help but laugh. It sounds a little hysterical. "Yeah, it doesn't. It wasn't. Which is crazy, right? I'm sitting here in Detroit talking to you now, but last night, I definitely fell asleep watching Amélie with Viktor. But that sounds crazy... it must have been a dream. Or maybe this is a dream."

He bows over his hands, the crushing weight of his new reality sending his anxiety spiraling. Phichit must think him insane. Yuuri feels like he is going insane. Maybe this is a nightmare, and he will wake up to Viktor kissing him good morning.

"I want to wake up," he whispers. Viktor, please.

A warm hand reaches into his vision and wraps around his hands, gently prying his fingers off his wrist. Yuuri stares down at the indention his thumbnail left, then looks up at Phichit, who is leaning forward over the table, worriedly watching Yuuri.

"It's okay, Yuuri. Take a deep breath."

Yuuri obeys, and the action loosens his shoulders a little. He unclenches his jaw and realizes how tense he is, then takes another breath, until the oncoming edge of panic has calmed a little. Belatedly, Yuuri realizes that his eyes are wet, and he reaches up to wipe at them with his arm. "Sorry," he whispers.

Phichit shakes his head. "Don't be. Tell me more about it, if it's not going to upset you more."

Yuuri hesitantly looks up. "You believe me?" Some part of him relaxes a little when Phichit smiles, squeezing his hand.

"If it was just a dream, it sounds awful. But if it's really the future, then we should try to figure out why you came back. I doubt it was to introduce a popular trading card game to save the Thai Kingdom," Phichit jokes, and Yuuri cracks a tiny smile.

"Okay."

He tells Phichit almost everything. About going to the Grand Prix and losing both his pride and his inhibition, thus dancing his way into Viktor's arms. Phichit believes that part readily, because he has witnessed Yuuri's absolute failure at being a normal human being when he is drunk, as well as Yuuri's marked increase of intensity about Viktor. (Yuuri once made a drunk powerpoint. It had 184 slides about Viktor. Half of them were about his hair alone.)

"So you humped him in the middle of the banquet and begged him to be your coach. And you did a pole dance for him?" Phichit is laughing at his pain, and Yuuri sighs deeply, hating his life. "That's filthy, Yuuri! Shame!"

"Shut up," Yuuri grumbles. "I was drunk and in Viktor's proximity. It's a miracle I didn't try to kiss him. I didn't even remember it afterwards, either," he groans. That sets Phichit off again, peeling laughter echoing across the kitchen, and Yuuri waits him out patiently. When Phichit is calm again, only a small smirk lingering, Yuuri continues.

He tells Phichit about that long summer of training, of growing closer to Viktor, of becoming someone who could look Viktor in the eyes without flailing. He tells Phichit about Beijing and Moscow and Barcelona, though he doesn't mention who the other finalists are, especially not that Phichit himself was in the Grand Prix Final. He tells Phichit about the engagement rings, and Viktor's challenge, and the decision to move to St. Petersburg to train with Viktor.

He doesn't tell Phichit that they were together. Phichit figures that out himself, his eyes going wide with surprise halfway through Yuuri's story. He has tears in his eyes by the time Yuuri finishes speaking, just as overwhelmed by emotion as Yuuri is.

Yuuri and Viktor. Two people who couldn't be more unlike each other, yet Viktor had fit into his life perfectly, and Yuuri hadn't even made the space for him. Not even years of following Viktor religiously though social media and magazines had prepared Yuuri for a life with Viktor Nikiforov, yet it had been all too easy, to accept Viktor as his coach, and then as more.

Viktor swept into his life and overwhelmed him immediately. The first few months were full of anxious fear that he was dragging Viktor down from the podium he had stood on all his life, but as Yuuri grew closer to him and came to know Viktor the person, versus Viktor the famous skater, he fell in love all over again. No longer was Viktor just his idol, but also his partner, his friend, and his lover.

His everything. And now Viktor is gone -- because none of that has happened, and Viktor doesn't recognize him, doesn't know him anymore.

Yuuri realizes that Phichit has come around the table to touch his shoulder when he feels tears hit his hands. He lets out a keening noise and covers his face, grief welling up in his throat. Sitting here in his kitchen with Phichit feels just as real as the past two years have felt, and somehow, Yuuri doesn't think he will ever get back to his own time -- to his Viktor.

Yuuri must have died. That is how he came back. "I can't go back to him," he whispers, choked, and Phichit wraps his arms around Yuuri, hugging him tightly. Yuuri barely feels it, barely notices anything beyond his own horror.

If he died, then that means there is no way for Yuuri to return. The thought comes back to him that this moment, right now, is the life flashing before his eyes before everything will fade away.

Yuuri pinches his wrist again. The pain feels real, and he isn't cold anymore. He shivers anyway, hearing the echo of water rushing past his ears.

He can't go home. The Viktor who just this morning had kissed him before leaving the apartment is gone. Dream or not, he only exists in Yuuri's head now, and Yuuri will never have that same connection with the Viktor who would eventually become him. Yuuri has already changed. Their relationship will never be the same, because Yuuri already knows Viktor intimately, and Viktor doesn't know him at all.

If this is permanent -- if Yuuri is meant to stay here -- then the past two years of his life are only memories. If he is to live his life normally as if that future never happened, then how can Yuuri go through with it again? Even if he were to do everything again exactly the same, there is no telling that events would fall out the same way. Yuuri can't arrange his life to such exact detail. He is a different person than he was two years ago, even a year ago. All because of Viktor...

Viktor, who does not know him any longer. Viktor, who does not have the same memories Yuuri does, and Yuuri has no way to recreate those memories for Viktor, to transform him into Yuuri's Viktor, except to live it again.

The sum of a person doesn't change just because the components do. Viktor is the same person, thrilling and whiny and petty and sweet, but Yuuri only got to know that side of Viktor because Viktor opened up to him. Not even all of Viktor's friends know those parts of Viktor, because he hides everything behind a smile. Yuuri doesn't even know all of him -- but that year of Viktor...

It had been perfect. Loving Viktor, knowing Viktor, every moment had been perfect. Yuuri wouldn't trade the world for it, but he had lost it anyway.

Viktor doesn't even know he exists, now.

There is a small cracking noise, but Phichit doesn't seem to notice it, and Yuuri realizes dimly that it must be his heart. Viktor will never know him, will never remember the months of training, of laughter and flirting and smiles and tears. He will never gasp in surprise at seeing Yuuri do a quad flip, nor will he ever blush when Yuuri slides a ring onto his finger.

Yuuri cannot bear a world without Viktor -- his Viktor, the Viktor who gave up everything to lift Yuuri up to his level. The Viktor who got to spend a year with Makkachin while romping around in Yuuri's hometown and pushing him, inspiring him, until Yuuri broke Viktor's own record.

They were going to get married. He was going to train with Viktor. He was going to compete against Viktor -- and it's all gone. Everything is gone. And Viktor doesn't know him, will never know him...

Yuuri closes his eyes to the world and mourns.

~*~

A long time later, Yuuri finds himself on the couch, a fluffy blue blanket tucked around his shoulders while Phichit texts furiously on his phone.

"There," Phichit says, sitting down on the couch and picking up the remote. "Emails sent to Celestino and all our professors."

Yuuri blinks slowly at him. "Our?"

Phichit flashes him a smile. "I'm staying home with you so that we can figure this out! Our official story is a cold. Don't you worry, Yuuri. We'll get everything sorted before Monday."

Yuuri says nothing, watching as Phichit navigates through the Playstation menu. He groans when he sees the title of the movie Phichit pulls up. "No, Phichit --"

"But this is exactly the situation that we need to review!" Phichit says. "Arthur went back in time so that he could save the King's life. Has anything bad happened in the next two years that we should know? Do you think you came back to save someone?"

Yuuri sighs, resigned to the inevitable music that begins to play from the TV. "I doubt it. No one in my family died or anything..."

He trails off. That's not really true. Phichit picks up on his silence and looks over at him, waiting, and Yuuri swallows slowly.

"Vicchan died," Yuuri whispers, and Phichit gasps, pausing the movie.

"No! Not your poodle! What happened? I mean, what will happen?"

Yuuri pulls out his phone, which shows a picture of Vicchan on the lock screen. Vicchan had died of natural causes, being almost twelve years old, though Yuuri had always thought he was a little too young when he passed away. He had hoped that Vicchan would still be there when Yuuri went home, but...

"It was a bladder infection. It made him lose too much weight too quickly, and he developed complications and passed away... will pass away next year. Around this time. It'll make me fail my exams and the Grand Prix," Yuuri says quietly.

Phichit makes horrified noises and has to go get his hamsters. Yuuri lets Phichit deposit two of them in his lap, gently petting the small creatures. He never went home in the five years he lived in Detroit, not even when he returned to Japan for competitions, though Minako-sensei always came to support him.

He could go home. He could see Vicchan and his family. If Yuuri is correct...

He pulls up the JSF website and checks the calendar. He already went home for the Chugoku, Shikoku, and Kyushu Championship, where he placed first. Yuuri had won gold in Nationals in the other future, and at Worlds in March, he had beaten both of the other Japanese competitors and placed high enough to be seeded for the next Grand Prix Final. (He hadn't met Viktor, at that Worlds, since they had skated in different groups. But he had worked hard, so that he could be seeded for the GPF.)

Yuuri barely remembers what his current programs are like. He only remembers failing for most of them.

After a few minutes of watching Arthur skate around morosely and flip through his cards, Yuuri pulls up his messaging program.

To: Katsuki Hiroko
Hi mom, I will be in Tokyo for the Nationals competition in December. Can I come home and visit at that time? Yuuri

It is the middle of the afternoon in Japan, but his mother answers within a few minutes.

From: Katsuki Hiroko
Of course, Yuuri! I'll clean your room for you (o^▽^o) Let me know what dates you will be here! Vicchan will be so happy to see you!

Yuuri's eyes tear up a little, but he closes the app with a smile, looking back at the screen. Arthur is walking home after a frustrating day at the rink; Yuuri understands that feeling all too well, though Arthur has already retired in the movie.

Viktor won't let me retire until I win five gold medals.

Yuuri absently moves the hamsters to his shoulders. One of them crawls up and along the back of the couch to Phichit, while the other nibbles on his hair. Yuuri won't win any gold medals now. Well, he could -- but it would be empty of the promise of marrying Viktor when all is said and done.

His Viktor is gone, after all. The promise means nothing now.

He and Phichit remain silent as Arthur is whisked away in his sleep to the ancient Thai Kingdom. The movie used special effects for the time travel, and seeing Arthur flailing as he sits up on the ground reminds Yuuri uncomfortably of the sensation of sinking through water. He closes his eyes with a flinch, and Phichit looks over worriedly.

"Yuuri, is this too much? I thought maybe it would have a clue, you know..."

Yuuri doesn't have the heart to tell him that it's just a movie, not based on anything real, and all the effects are fake. Phichit knows this, but he also wants to help, which Yuuri appreciates. "It's okay, we can keep watching."

He spends the movie thinking, not really paying attention to either the plot -- he knows it by heart, now -- or the homoromantic tension between Arthur and the King, which both he and Phichit have discussed at length on multiple occasions. (Phichit wrote fanfiction, too. Yuuri stuck with powerpoints.)

Yuuri came back two years into the past. His year with Viktor is gone, as is his stressful year leading up to the GPF in Sochi. He had been a wreck the entire time, worrying about whether his program would impress Viktor, what it would be like to skate against him, and so on -- and so Yuuri hadn't enjoyed the season at all. That had been part of the reason he had been considering retirement.

If he skates well enough at Nationals and Worlds, then he could go to the GPF next year and compete against Viktor. Then would come the banquet, and...

Yuuri closes his eyes, pulling his blanket tighter around him. He cannot imagine going into that banquet room and seducing Viktor with a carefree night of dancing again. He wouldn't be Yuuri's Viktor -- and it wouldn't be fair for Yuuri to take him from ice skating a second time.

His heart aches at the thought, but in the same moment, the tension drains out of him. The past year of his life has been full of regret over taking Viktor away from ice skating. Yuuri has always believed that making Viktor be his coach was slowly killing him as a competitive skater, no matter how amazing Viktor's return to the ice would be. Knowing how much Viktor had stressed over his return to the ice, how his relationships with his own coach and fellow skaters had fallen apart, how the entire world had gossiped and pointed fingers uncaringly -- how can Yuuri put Viktor through that again?

He had a lifetime with Viktor, the best time of his life, however short it was. Yuuri isn't selfish enough to demand a second life with Viktor. The thing that makes Viktor happiest is skating, not Yuuri.

He opens his eyes to watch Arthur invite the King onto the ice. The image reminds him a little of his pose to Viktor at the end of Yuuri On Ice, and Yuuri smiles a little, his heart aching.

The decision settles into his bones. Yuuri will not ask Viktor to be his coach, this time.

By the time the Thai Kingdom is saved, the King and Arthur smiling tearfully at each other, Yuuri's stomach is growling, and Phichit is sharing the characters' tears. Yuuri helps him fetch the hamsters from under cushions and blankets, gently dropping them into their cage and following Phichit into the kitchen.

"I suppose there's no telling what might have sent you back," Phichit ponders, rinsing out Yuuri's empty cup. Yuuri shrugs a little, crossing his arms more tightly over his middle. "You're here now, though. And you're still Yuuri, of course. It's not like you became somebody else."

"It doesn't bother you? There's no reason this isn't all in my head," Yuuri says quietly, but Phichit shakes his head.

"You know Yuri Plisetsky's name, and everything sounds far too details to be a dream. Dreams don't make sense when you talk about them afterwards, usually, but yours sounds perfectly normal. Other than Viktor Nikiforov standing naked in your parents' inn," Phichit adds cheekily, and Yuuri blushes. "Though his Instagram is full of pretty wild pictures..."

"Tell me about it." Viktor's Instagram is a source of great happiness and frustration to Yuuri. Over the years, Yuuri has had to watch Viktor take photos with beautiful people and burn with jealousy that he is not in them -- but he also gets to see lots of pictures of Makkachin and Viktor doing fun, interesting things. Viktor has always been extravagant, even before he walked into Yuuri's life naked.

"I guess what we should be figuring out now, is what you're going to do," Phichit says thoughtfully.

Yuuri thinks about it. He has made one decision already, but he is still in the prime of his figure skating career. He doesn't want to quit either, because he still loves figure skating, despite not believing he is good enough for it.

Stop that. I broke Viktor's own record -- I know I'm a good skater.

"I guess I'll just keep going," Yuuri says slowly. "I can't go back... I don't think so, anyway. Not if I ended up drowning." Phichit doesn't say anything to that, and Yuuri winces slightly at the horror on his face. "Sorry. Oh, I can land the quad salchow in competition now. Maybe I should put that into my free program..."

Phichit's eyes widen dramatically. "In competition?!"

Yuuri nods absently, his mind already back to Viktor. At one point, Viktor had confessed to him that he had been unhappy with his career, that he had been unable to surprise people any longer and that he felt like he was getting too old for figure skating. Then when Yuuri and Yurio had swept in and taken both of his records, Viktor had felt the fire of competition again, renewing his love of skating. If Yuuri doesn't become his pupil, then Viktor will never feel that way...

...unless Yuuri gives him real competition, but earlier. Now, if he can.

Yuuri has the skills for it, at least in knowledge. He needs to practice his quads, but he is reasonably confident that he can pull them off, especially with a body that is two years younger. If he figures out his programs and tinkers with them, changes the composition around, his short program and free skate would be good enough to get him on the podium.

Maybe even good enough to be a challenge for Viktor. And wouldn't that give Viktor something to think about? A random challenger from Japan, someone who could give Viktor a run for his money...

Yuuri can't take Viktor from ice skating, not again, but he can give Viktor a reason to stay.

The decision cements itself in his mind. He looks over at Phichit, determined. "Phichit, can you pull up the training videos of my programs for this year? I need to change them. I can't go back, not to my own time -- but I can move forward."

Phichit stares at him a long moment, then smiles widely. "Sure can, Yuuri! Leave it to me!"

~*~

Celestino is pleasantly surprised when Yuuri shows him the proposed changes, though skeptical. Yuuri waits with his hands clenched at his sides as Celestino reviews the paper, wondering if he is being too ambitious, if he can even pull this off. He nearly reaches out to take it back; what if Celestino doesn't approve? Yuuri shouldn't be doing this after all.

Celestino ignores his nerves with an ease born of familiarity. "I hadn't thought of adding a quad salchow to your free skate. Do you think you can do it?" Celestino asks thoughtfully, rubbing his chin. Yuuri is aware of Phichit staring at them with wide eyes. He is even more excited about this than Yuuri is.

He swallows. "I can." The quad salchow is something he can definitely do, though whether or not he can pull it off in his program is unknown. He hasn't dared to tell Phichit about his quad flip. Now, the only two quads that he cannot do are the quad lutz and the quad loop. (Yuuri briefly wonders what it would be like to be able to land those jumps. Viktor can land all of them.)

Celestino nods. He has always wanted Yuuri to open up and be more confident in his skating. Yuuri is kind of surprised that Celestino is willing to let him change around the components; usually Celestino is a lot more strict about that, especially with Yuuri. Still, Yuuri wants to make him proud; he has always regretted not letting Celestino push him harder. "Let's see it, then."

Phichit gives him a thumbs up from the CD player, and the other skaters step off the ice, giving Yuuri curious looks as they pass him. Yuuri takes a deep breath, then skates out to the center of the rink, waiting for the opening notes to Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95, B. 178. A fairly straightforward ensemble, and hadn't Phichit laughed at him when Celestino had chosen it for Yuuri, because it sounded like that famous shark movie? Even though he hadn't fought hard enough back then, now Yuuri thinks he can use the dramatic music for his own goals.

To be good enough to challenge Viktor.

When the music starts, Yuuri begins to skate, thinking of the power behind the song and how he wants to use it to impress Viktor. He needs to win Nationals with this program. If he doesn't fall apart, he could even place at Worlds with this. He has the skills, which Celestino, Minako-sensei, and Viktor have all hammered into his head.

As he skates, his old routine comes back to him in pieces. He skated this two years ago in his own timeline, and he had fallen too many times -- but the elegance and grace of his skating had gained him enough points to get a gold medal at Nationals. He has been comfortably at the top of the skating world in Japan for a year now, Japan's so-called ace, though Yuuri never saw it that way until Viktor showed him the light.

Yuuri doesn't know if he can get gold again, but he has to medal in order to get invited to Worlds. Once at Worlds, he has to get a high enough score to get seeded for the GPF. In his past, he had done all this despite his mental weakness. Yuuri knows he has the ability, and that in a way, he has always had the ability -- but he doesn't know if he can do it. Not again.

He has to try.

He and Phichit spent the entire weekend combing over videos of his routines, and Yuuri had rearranged the jumps to his own satisfaction. They even booked time at the rink on Sunday so that Yuuri could practice in secret. He has added the quad salchow to both of his programs, replacing the extra toe loops in hopes for more points.

It's not as intensive as his Yuuri On Ice program, or even Eros, but it does make use of his stamina, saving one of his quad toe loops for the end of the program. It's daring, just like his future free skate was -- most skaters would never put a quad at the end of the program, and both Phichit and Celestino must think him insane for daring to try.

Yuuri must show them he can do this.

The first part of the song is fast jumps and expressive dances, his renewed determination, and Yuuri throws in a little of his Eros flair, more than he knows he had when he first skated this program. The components are more difficult than how Celestino had arranged it, but he skated it well enough in practice in front of Phichit. After his quad salchow, Yuuri starts his step sequence, flipping around and showing off quick precision -- and here he skates more easily, thinking of the dance lessons with Minako-sensei years ago.

Then the song slows, and Yuuri's grace returns, bringing to mind his memories of Viktor, filled with light and love. The song builds, and Yuuri goes back to his jumps, more powerful than before. He lands all of his triples. Beautiful, Viktor says in his head, and with that warmth tucked away in his chest, Yuuri throws himself into his final quad, a toe loop.

It'd be good as a flip, too. Maybe another time.

He lands it, but barely. The song comes to an end, and Yuuri slows, lifting his arms up and thinking, Viktor. One way or another, I'll make you happy.

The song isn't a particularly emotional one, but Yuuri feels tears in his eyes all the same. Everything he does is for Viktor -- even the Viktor who doesn't know him, who will never know him. His entire skating career has been built from the ground up so that he could reach Viktor someday, and not even in his last life, in the two years Yuuri has yet to live, did he get to skate against Viktor properly. At Sochi, he had fallen apart mentally because of Vicchan's death, and then Viktor had taken a year off -- and finally, when they were working side-by-side for Worlds, Four Continents, and Europeans...

Yuuri had died. He had left Viktor alone, unable to complete their future together, unable to savor the thrill of skating against each other properly.

The least he could do, for both himself and Viktor, is to give him a challenge to relish. No matter what the world thinks of him, Yuuri wants to give that to Viktor, even if he has only two years to do it. He doesn't know what will happen -- Yuuri might die in two years no matter what he does.

Viktor, though... Viktor has a future, and Yuuri wants to see him happy. For the Viktor who fell in love with him and supported him for a year, who is two years away from him, whom he can no longer reach out and touch. For the Viktor who doesn't know him, who has never met him and will know a different Yuuri, a Yuuri who loves him more than anything.

Yet Yuuri cannot reach out to Viktor now. The Viktor he spoke to on the phone isn't and will never be his Viktor. To try and be with him would betray his feelings for his Viktor.

Even if Yuuri wants nothing more than to fall into Viktor's arms again, he can't, not ever again -- but he can give Viktor something else. A rival, someone who can put the spark back in his life, because Yuuri is the only person in the world who knows Viktor's secret doubts. He understands what Viktor needs -- a challenge.

Yuuri and Yurio were the only people to give Viktor a real challenge on the ice.

And maybe it's a little selfish of Yuuri, too -- because what else can he do, but keep skating? He wants to skate against Viktor. That has always been his life's goal. He wants to stand beside him on the podium. He wants the thrill of beating Viktor's long-held records, and he wants to inspire Viktor to try to beat him, too.

But he can't ever ask Viktor to love him again. To know that he will never fall asleep to Viktor's smile, that he cannot reach out and hold Viktor, breaks his heart. Two years of his life, gone. A year with Viktor, gone. The only person he has ever wanted to hold onto... gone, and Yuuri will never, ever see him again.

For all intents and purposes, his Viktor is dead, lost in a future that Yuuri will never be able to reach.

Yuuri closes his eyes, hearing applause from the other club skaters, alongside glee in Phichit's and Celestino's chatter. When he can open them without tears clouding his vision, he makes his way back to the wall, accepting his glasses from Phichit and looking hopefully at Celestino.

"I love it," Celestino beams, pounding Yuuri on the shoulder and making him wince. "Looks like your cold did you some good after all! Hopefully it worked wonders on Phichit, too," he adds, giving Phichit a doubtful look. Phichit grins sheepishly, his phone already in hand -- one of Celestino's everlasting headaches.

Yuuri merely smiles, his heart strangely light in his chest. He has made his decisions. This is what he can do.

~*~

Two weeks fly by. Yuuri somehow manages to deal with both his classes and his training without falling flat on his face. The déjà vu of going to his classes and repeating lectures, seminars, and homework is jarring, but after a while the discomfort fades to the background, strange but no longer upsetting. Phichit is a godsend, supporting Yuuri without once complaining, and even though Yuuri sometimes makes jokes that Phichit doesn't understand, or mentions memes that haven't even blessed the pages of the internet yet, Phichit is quick to roll with it.

Dealing with classes is interesting. Yuuri remembers the material, which means he does a little better on exams. His Russian classes are much easier than he expected, considering how much of the language he used regularly in St. Petersburg. Yuuri is so overwhelmed by his training and his growing mental problems that he needs all the help that he can get. He never had a problem with school, except that he always spent more time skating than studying.

Yuuri does make a point to talk to his family often. He thinks they might be a little weirded out by the change, considering he has barely spoken to them for four years now, but they all seem to appreciate it, even Mari, who was a little cold to him for a while. Soon, though, she's happily texting him pictures of Vicchan, who is beautiful and sweet in every single photo. Yuuri saves every one of them, not wanting to miss out on Vicchan's life any more than he already did.

Two weeks after Yuuri returns from the future, his new skate is put to the test at the NHK Trophy, to which Yuuri was invited by Japan. This year, the NHK Trophy is Yuuri's only qualifying event for the GPF, taking place in the middle of November, too soon for Yuuri to strengthen his program enough to place highly.

Minako-sensei and, surprisingly, Mari come to the NHK Trophy to cheer for him. Having that support goes a long way to soothe Yuuri's nerves before he skates. He only messes up two jumps during his short program, and his free skate is good enough to win him bronze at the end of the competition.

Unsurprisingly, Yuuri does not qualify for the finale, but the single medal fuels his determination. He needs to reach Viktor again.

Minako-sensei corners Yuuri after the free skate to find out his schedule for Nationals. She promises to meet him the day before the competition starts to take him and Celestino out for dinner, and Yuuri readily agrees, glad for the support. He had taken his loved ones for granted for so long, unable to accept their support for him because he was too focused inward (and on Viktor) -- but if this is a second chance, then Yuuri wants to give it his all.

He owes it to them.

He doesn't try calling Viktor again. He makes sure to delete the record of the call off his phone, to keep the temptation of contacting him as miniscule as possible. He might have the number memorized, but it helps that he doesn't make a contact entry for Viktor. Out of sight, out of mind. As much as he can, anyway.

Viktor is constantly on his mind, as is St. Petersburg. Both of them, plus the months he spent at Viktor's side, feature heavily in his dreams. The Neva also appears, as a deep, cold oblivion that wakes Yuuri to wide-eyed terror every time the nightmare surfaces.

Yuuri takes to avoiding the waterfront, which is unfortunate, because he and Phichit used to go walking by the lake when they didn't have anything better to do. Yuuri can't look at the Detroit River or even Lake Erie anymore without going into full-blown shivers. It doesn't help when the waterways start to ice over, either; it just reminds him more of the Neva, of the death that sent him back in time.

At one point, he tries writing down the dreams, because not long after he came to America, Yuuri looked up ways to cope with his mental weakness -- anxiety and depression, as the school counselor told him. That helps a little, so Yuuri writes down other memories that haunt him -- the shape of Viktor's smile, his favorite types of alcohol, the types of treats Makkachin prefers. He writes more about that summer in Hasetsu than anything else, even the kiss in Beijing, and the kisses that followed it, because that summer shaped the relationship between him and Viktor more than anything else in their lives.

The memories hurt a little less. Yuuri hides the journal under his bed and takes to pulling it out when he feels lonely, stroking his fingers over the ink spelling out Viktor's name. He adds little details that come to him in the darkness, things he said to Viktor that meant the world to both of them. The way Viktor looked at him. The way Viktor kissed him.

He misses him so much. Makkachin, too -- and how many nightmares has he had about Makkachin falling into the Neva with him? Sometimes it's Vicchan, and once it was Viktor -- and Yuuri hadn't slept for almost two days after that one, until Phichit had bullied him into taking a day off.

He knows he is depressed, but all he can do is continue to push forward, training harder every day and trying to deal with it as best as he can on his own. He should probably see a therapist about his problems. The list of resources on the school counselor's website doesn't cover I traveled back in time and lost my one true love.

Yuuri almost doesn't watch this year's Grand Prix Final. Other than the NHK Trophy, he has been ignoring the qualifiers ever since he came back, to give himself some space, but the whole skating club sets up a viewing party after practice one day since Celestino accompanied two skaters to it this year. In the end, Yuuri lets Phichit drag him to Andy Simpson's apartment.

Viktor is beautiful on Andy's widescreen television. Seeing him again gives Yuuri a small shock; he thought he would be used to it, since Viktor's posters are still all over his room, but seeing Viktor stepping onto the ice reminds Yuuri that he once spoke to this Viktor -- and that this Viktor is not his Viktor. The feeling makes him a little sick, anxiety twisting his stomach.

He wants to get up and run away. Instead, he sits and watches, his knees pulled close to his chest.

Yuuri hears several sighs around him and has to agree; the sleek, sexy ensemble for this year's short program rather suits Viktor. The costume is fit to his body and hugs every contour, and Viktor's hair is swept back messily, like he just had sex. Viktor has dressed himself like he is going clubbing, skating to Adam Lambert's Pop That Lock in a fit of pique that Yuuri hadn't understood two years ago.

He understands a little more, now.

He's rebelling. Everyone sees him as something to covet, and the media wants to write him into a neat little box, but Viktor hates being told what to do. He's doing this for his own fun, and he wants everyone to know it.

Yuuri shifts a little uncomfortably. Two years ago, this particular short program had become fuel for his sexual fantasies for months afterwards, and Viktor is no less alluring to an older Yuuri, who actually knows what it's like to have sex with him.

At that thought, Yuuri sits up a little with shock. Shit, I'm a virgin again. Is that even possible? Physically, maybe -- but not mentally, not in experience. He lost that not long after Beijing. Viktor had been rather thorough, too, teaching Yuuri through lips and hands what porn and fantasy had been unable to give him. Skating to Eros had been nothing compared to sex with Viktor, and Yuuri realizes he misses it.

He misses the intimacy more than anything. Viktor had been his partner, his companion, and they had lived together for months, settling into each other's habits without a backwards glance. Yuuri still finds himself reaching for a hand that isn't there; he still turns onto his side in bed, hoping for Viktor to wrap his arm around him to ward off the cold.

He shakes his head and keeps watching, ignoring his own discomfort. Viktor moves beautifully to the music, swaying his hips with the heavy beat and giving the audience dark, heated stares. He knows he is attractive and that every single person's attention is on him, and every movement is meant to entice.

Viktor had been just as erotic during sex, especially so to Yuuri who had very little experience compared to him. Dancing with a pole and drunken sloppy makeouts had not made him an expert at sex before he met Viktor, and truly, they had only been together a few times before Yuuri had died.

The thought sobers him a little. Yuuri will never know that intimacy again. He can't imagine being with anybody else but Viktor; to be with anybody else, even just for sex, would betray Viktor's memory.

When Viktor finally finishes, winking at the camera and sending a painful jolt through Yuuri's heart, he sighs a little with longing. It hurts more to see him than Yuuri had imagined, and that more than anything cements Yuuri's decisions.

He doesn't pay much attention to the other skaters; he rarely does, when Viktor is present. He does watch when Chris' turn arrives, eyeing his quads with a critical eye. Christophe Giacometti has always been a major contender for the podium, and Yuuri will have to keep an eye out for him. Jean-Jacques Leroy, too, and if he isn't mistaken, Otabek Altin will make the podium at Worlds next year.

"Chris is sexy, isn't he?" Phichit whispers to him, giggling, and Yuuri rolls his eyes and pushes him away.

He is supposed to say, "Not as sexy as Viktor." He doesn't.

"He has a boyfriend," Yuuri mumbles instead. "Masumi... whatever his last name is. That half-Japanese man who did ice dancing for Switzerland a couple years ago."

"Wow," Phichit says, his eyes widening a little. "They're together?"

"Mm. Masumi's his choreographer, too. I think they've been together for two years now." He picks up his phone and sends off a text to Christophe, with Phichit leaning over his shoulder.

To: Christophe Giacometti
Watching GPF. Nice routine this year. Tell Masumi I say hi

"You were rivals with him in juniors, right?" Phichit asks, as Chris finishes his program and waves at the camera, his green eyes twinkling with contentment.

Yuuri considers it. "Sort of. I never beat him, if that's what you're asking, but we got along well enough. He's the one who talked me into joining that pole dancing class."

"Ooh, scandalous. I'd love to meet him. I bet he's a riot at parties," Phichit says with a laugh. Yuuri resolutely refuses to comment on that; he still doesn't know exactly what happened at the Sochi banquet, and he is glad for it.

"He'll be strong at Worlds," Yuuri considers, then reluctantly adds, "Viktor, too."

"I can beat both of them," JJ boasts from the couch, and Yuuri hides a groan. For the past two months, he has done his best to ignore Jean-Jacques Leroy, who is as arrogant as he will be in two years. Yuuri will be glad when he goes back to Canada after this year so that he can start college.

"Keep dreaming, Leroy," somebody snarks back, and Phichit and Yuuri descend into giggles with the rest of the room.

Viktor, of course, gets first place after the short programs end, but Chris is close behind him. Yuuri savors the repeated clip from Viktor's short program, guiltily thinking that he will have to find it online later. While Phichit grabs their coats, Yuuri pulls out his phone and finds a message from Chris.

From: Christophe Giacometti
Thanks love ♡ Masumi says hi. Did my program make you feel good? ;)

"Shameless flirt," Yuuri mutters, a small smile touching his lips. He's glad that Chris never changes.

To: Christophe Giacometti
Sure, keep thinking that

From: Christophe Giacometti
I bet not as good as Viktor's did though ;)

To: Christophe Giacometti
Shut up!

Yuuri puts the phone away, his face turning red. He will always be affected by Viktor, it seems, and Chris had figured out his worship of Viktor years ago. It's not like Yuuri really did anything to hide it, but Chris had honed in on that particular part of him like a moth to the light. The fact that Chris tends to send him some of the selfies he takes with Viktor, the ones that never see Instagram, is part of the reason Yuuri lets him get away with the teasing.

Something cold touches the back of his mind. Yuuri shouldn't be saving pictures or videos of Viktor anymore. He's not his Viktor.

"Alright?" Phichit asks, holding out Yuuri's coat. Yuuri nods and pulls it on, determined not to think about Viktor any longer.

When Chris texts him a picture of Viktor at a bar, laughing as he tips his head back, Yuuri can't stop himself from saving it.

~*~

For the entire flight to Japan, Yuuri struggles not to work himself into a panic, his headphones firmly in his ears while Celestino snores in the seat next to him. Not even his most soothing playlist can take the edge off his anxiety. Sleeping is useless as well, because every time Yuuri closes his eyes, he finds himself thinking of all the ways he could destroy his programs.

All he can think about is failing and missing his opportunity to get into Worlds and the GPF. He has to reach that goal, or else everything he has been working toward will be meaningless.

Japan's Nationals competition always takes place in Tokyo. When Yuuri was in juniors, Minako-sensei escorted him as his official coach, and she still takes the time to come cheer him on at every local competition, plus the majority of the international ones, too. Yuuri unfreezes his face a little when he sees Minako-sensei waiting at the baggage claim, smiling widely.

"Yuuri," Minako-sensei croons, taking his hand and spinning him around. "Look at you! Hiroko-chan is so happy you're coming home to visit!" She gives him a piercing look, as if trying to see his intentions, and Yuuri shifts uncomfortably. Of all the people who know him, Minako-sensei is the most likely to sense the change in him. He stares back at her until Celestino distracts them both.

"Ms. Okugawa! It's nice to see you," Celestino booms, and Yuuri dutifully follows them to gather his bags, sighing a little as Celestino distracts Minako-sensei from her interest in him.

He feels her attention throughout the day, though. Maybe his mother has gushed a little too much about his messages recently, or maybe she knows him too well. He wonders what he could possibly tell her. Minako-sensei is well traveled, but she isn't nearly as fascinated by the supernatural as Phichit is, nor is she particularly religious, so would she even believe him? She might try to make him attend therapy, or she might tell Celestino.

Yuuri broods. Then he realizes that he doesn't need to worry too much about it; he is still the same person as when he left Japan four years ago. Viktor had changed him for the better, made him happier, but Yuuri is still as much an anxious wreck as he was before. He doesn't behave too differently, even though everything inside him has changed. As for his family, he can say truthfully that he had a wake-up call about his behavior. Minako-sensei will believe him.

She does, though she waits until Celestino is well into his cups before pouncing on him. "Something's different about you, Yuuri," Minako-sensei says, tapping a long nail against her cocktail glass. Yuuri meets her gaze briefly, then looks past her to the mural on the wall behind their table for a distraction. His calm expression belies the roiling nausea in his gut. "You haven't visited your family in four years. You've barely spoken to them outside of birthdays and New Years. What's changed?"

Yuuri traces the edge of the mural with his eyes, considering. "I had a dream that Vicchan died," he says quietly, and Minako-sensei sits up in surprise.

"Died? He's fine, though," she assures him, and Yuuri nods, his shoulders sinking slightly.

He won't be in less than a year, and I can't take him back to Detroit, Yuuri doesn't say.

Instead he shrugs. "It made me think about my family. I realize I've behaved badly, and... I want to make it up to them. I miss them."

Minako-sensei's expression softens, and she gives him a small smile, reaching over to wrap her arm around his neck. "You're a good boy, Yuuri. They're proud of you, you know."

Yuuri's eyes sting a little, but he manages a smile. "I know. Thank you, Minako-sensei."

Walking into a building full of Japanese skaters, several of whom have competed against him and won, is more than a little terrifying, but Yuuri manages to keep a placid expression as he follows Celestino to the sign-in table. If Yuuri has his way, he will beat all of them today. He has to, so that he can go to Worlds and the GPF.

Yuuri spots Minami Kenjirou, though he is still in juniors, and his enthralled stare is hot on Yuuri's back as he walks through the stadium. Yuuri unbends from his tension enough to give Minami a small smile, which makes the boy's face light up with delight.

Yuuri still doesn't believe he has fans, sometimes.

Despite every intention otherwise, Yuuri still draws first. He thinks he might be cursed.

Warm-up is miserable. Yuuri can't stop worrying, and the one time he tries a jump, he completely fails it. He can feel Celestino watching him worriedly. Yuuri is sure that both he and Minako-sensei have been waiting for Yuuri to fall apart mentally. Two years ago, he definitely would have, but the last thing Yuuri needs is to have a mental breakdown in the middle of an important competition, not when so much rides on his determination. Yuuri can fall apart later, when he is alone in his hotel room.

Steel slides into his heart. If Yuuri does not do well, then he will never skate against Viktor. That, he simply cannot accept. With great effort, enough that it strains him, Yuuri locks away his worries, instead picturing Viktor's face when Yuuri started crying in the parking garage at Beijing. If Viktor were here, he would be trying to calm Yuuri down, and Yuuri wants to be calm enough that he wouldn't need Viktor right now -- because he doesn't have him anymore.

When at last Yuuri takes his place on the ice, his eyes closed with his head and arms tucked close to his body, he thinks of his death. Dragged into the past with no idea how it happened, nor any way to return to the life he left behind -- a cursed existence.

His anxiety will always stay with him, an unfortunate life partner that Yuuri will never be able to leave behind. Once, Viktor had been able to deal with it, having refused to see for months that Yuuri was a wreck. Yuuri's lips twitch slightly, his mien softening, and some of the pain inside him seeps away.

You don't have to say anything. Just stay by my side and believe in me.

Viktor isn't here to believe in him anymore. Yuuri has to believe in himself without Viktor's support.

The music for his short program begins, a rendition of Swan Lake Op. 20, Act II: 12, and Yuuri starts to skate. No longer is the story about Odette and her curse, but about Yuuri and his curse, of being dragged back in time to a world that is cold and empty to him, devoid of understanding or acceptance. His friends, his family, his fellow skaters -- none of them will ever be able to understand what Yuuri has lost. Phichit is the only person who comes close, but Yuuri has still kept so much from him, unable to open his heart and let in anything other than sharp, miserable pain.

He wants to be free of it. He wants to go home to Viktor. He wants to live again, but he is trapped in this time, with no way forward except to live differently, which means he will never have the same future.

By the time Yuuri looks up, drawing himself out of his misery, he is reaching out for a familiar hand -- but Viktor is not there, and Yuuri will never reach him.

His short program grants him a new personal best and sets him near the top of the competition. As he listens to Celestino's feedback, Yuuri realizes that he barely missed any jumps, which is a relief. Celestino is pleasantly surprised, and Minako-sensei is ecstatic when she reaches them afterward. Yuuri just pastes on a smile, numb after his performance.

He swears he will not cry in public again.

Somehow, Yuuri manages to hold himself together through the rest of the day after his short program, but he has a minor breakdown when he gets back to the hotel. Celestino sees his face crumple and pats his shoulder consolingly, then distracts Minako-sensei with an invitation to drinks, giving Yuuri some space to be alone with his thoughts.

Skating reminds him so much of Viktor. Even here in his homeland, Yuuri cannot escape him; and he just knows that when he goes home, he will take one look at the old banquet room where Viktor slept and start crying. Hasetsu is filled with memories of Viktor, of an eternal summer of bliss and new beginnings, and Yuuri is sure he will see Viktor wherever he looks.

The bittersweet feeling that wells up in his throat makes him ache. He needs to let go of this -- but Yuuri knows in his heart that he can never let go of Viktor. They had been together for a year, and Yuuri has looked up to him since he was a child. Viktor has shaped nearly every part of his life by now.

He goes to bed with a heavy heart, dreaming of reaching out for a hand that disappears beyond the water's surface. He wakes up with damp eyes, and as he rubs the tear stains off his cheeks, Yuuri gives in and opens his folder of Viktor pictures.

He taps on the most recent gift from Christophe -- a picture of Viktor leaning against a balcony looking over Paris, a small smile on his handsome face. Yuuri strokes one finger down the edge of Viktor's cheek on the screen, wishing he had something from the future other than his memories. He wants the picture of Viktor at the beach in Hasetsu, lifting Makkachin up as she wags and sprays water all over him. That picture is his favorite in the world, because of the bright happiness in Viktor's smile.

Yuuri smiles a little and closes the picture app, then forces himself out of bed. He can't sit here wallowing in memories. He has a competition to win.

And somehow, miraculously, amazingly -- Yuuri wins. The gold medal sits on Yuuri's chest hours later, and Celestino and Minako-sensei keep taking pictures and excitedly talking about Yuuri's free skate. Yuuri has already sent a selfie to Phichit as well as posted it on Instagram, his one concession for not bringing Phichit with him.

It has a hundred likes by the time Yuuri leaves the arena. When he gets to Hasetsu, it will have thousands.

"I'm so proud of you," Minako-sensei cries to him, after they accompany Celestino to the airport and see him off. Yuuri is still a little proud of himself, too; he had hoped, but he hadn't actually expected to win gold.

He still isn't sure how he did it. Somehow, Yuuri has turned his anxiety into a weapon, using it to push himself ever harder. It doesn't work as a shield, not against his own misery, but it fuels him just the same, propelling him forward into a future unknown.

He is now the top skater in Japan, and it's more than a little daunting.

~*~

When Yuuri calls out tadaima, his mother nearly trips in her haste to reach him, beaming smile on her face. Yuuri can't help but smile at the sight of her, setting down his bags and toeing off his shoes before climbing up to give her a hug.

"Oh," Hiroko says, before hugging him back tightly. "Welcome home, Yuuri!"

Yuuri lets go of his mother and opens his mouth to reply, when he hears the sound of skittering nails from down the hall, followed by high pitched yipping. He gasps and turns to see Vicchan flying down the hall, barking excitedly and running straight to Yuuri.

"Vicchan," Yuuri sobs, reaching out to catch Vicchan as he leaps up, accepting the puppy kisses with a wet laugh. Vicchan squirms to get as close to him as possible, whining and barking and licking until Yuuri just hugs him tightly, overwhelmed. He hasn't seen Vicchan in so long, and the guilt wells up, threatening to choke him. How could he leave Vicchan alone for so long? It had always been Yuuri's greatest regret, not going home to see Vicchan before he died, and now to hold him, to see him alive...

"I love you so much," Yuuri whispers into Vicchan's curls, laughing when Vicchan starts licking away his tears. "I'd take you back to Detroit with me if I could. You're such a good puppy, such a good Vicchan." I'm so sorry, he can't say, because the words stick to his throat, hot and heavy and miserable. I'm sorry I left you here. I'm sorry I didn't come back sooner.

He notices that his mother and Minako-sensei have retreated to the dining room, and Yuuri stands up to follow, wiping his face and shifting Vicchan in his arms.

"Let's go say hi to everyone," he tells Vicchan, who barks happily and licks at his chin.

A party awaits him. Mari grins at him and ruffles his hair, telling him she knew he could do it. The locals all welcome him with a toast, and Minako-sensei gets roaring drunk, shouting to everyone who will listen that her Yuuri won a gold medal. Yuuko and Nishigori show up with the triplets for a little while, and isn't that a shock, seeing the girls so small? They are already his fans, though, and they demand to take pictures with him, marveling over the gold medal that still hangs around Yuuri's neck.

All the while Vicchan never leaves him, taking up residence in Yuuri's lap and basking in his company. Yuuri can't stop petting him, taking bits of fish and meat from the table and feeding them to Vicchan, patting his plump belly with a smile.

He's so happy to be home. Dying and losing Viktor nearly destroyed him, and Yuuri is still having nightmares about his own death, about the life he will not live. It has taken him months to process what happened, and Yuuri still isn't over it. He doesn't think he will ever heal from what happened.

Seeing Vicchan again, though, holding him and cuddling him... this is one thing that makes his ordeal a little easier to handle. This is one silver lining out of everything else that happened to him.

When the party has wound down and most everyone has left or gone to bed, Yuuri is still sitting in the same spot, absently scratching Vicchan's ears while he snoozes, snuggled against Yuuri's belly. His father has retired upstairs, but his mother comes over to sit beside him with a sigh, reaching up to untie her apron and looking over at him with a warm smile.

"That was a good party," Hiroko says, and Yuuri nods, his eyes on Vicchan. He is thinking of Vicchan's death in less than a year, and he cannot bear the thought of it again, when Vicchan is alive and resting against him.

"Mom... Vicchan is doing okay, right? He's still eating well and everything?"

Hiroko blinks a few times, tilting her head. "Of course. Why, does he seem different?"

Yuuri wets his lips a little. Twisting the truth like this never felt worse, but he is determined. "I didn't tell you before, but... I had a dream about Vicchan dying, and it really upset me. Since he's getting older, I wonder... maybe the vet should do some blood work more often? Just to check for anything. His checkups are regular, right?"

Hiroko considers this for a moment. "We could do that. He's due for his shots soon, anyway. I'll have a talk with the vet."

Yuuri nods, accepting the promise. He doesn't know if they can catch the infection early, but he wants to believe that they can save Vicchan. "Thanks."

"I'm glad you came home, Yuuri," Hiroko tells him quietly. She glances at his medal, and her smile widens with pride. Yuuri puts his guilt aside for a little while and returns the smile, then gently takes the medal off and holds it out to her.

"It's taken me four years, but I finally brought you a gold medal. The next one will be for Japan," Yuuri promises, and Hiroko takes the medal to admire it for a few minutes.

She sets it down on the table gently, her gaze returning to his face, and Yuuri belatedly realizes that Minako-sensei isn't the only person who knows him too well.

"Something happened, didn't it?" his mother asks quietly, and Yuuri's face crumples a little. Lying to Minako-sensei is one thing, but Yuuri can't lie to his mother. Not about this. He can't tell her the truth, either... not the whole truth, anyway.

"I fell in love with someone. He made me happy," Yuuri finally whispers after the silence goes on a little too long, swallowing against the knot in his throat. He liked to sit in this spot and help you fold towels. You adored him. "I can't be with him anymore, though. Losing him... it made me think about all of the people in my life I've taken for granted. You and dad and Mari. Minako-sensei. Yuu-chan and Nishigori. Vicchan, too." He rubs his fingers behind Vicchan's ear, smiling sadly when Vicchan snuffles into his shirt.

"Oh, Yuuri," Hiroko whispers, drawing him close for a hug. Yuuri hides his face in her shoulder, soaking in her love and hating himself for being such a bad son before. He will do better this time.

Hiroko sends him off to bed with a gentle nudge, and Yuuri climbs the stairs slowly, Vicchan following at his heels. He pauses at the end of the hallway, his gaze going to the closed banquet room doors, where Viktor had slept for months. He knows it will be full of junk, boxes of old pottery sets and cleaning supplies, and not Viktor's bed or his pictures or his couch.

They had moved everything to St. Petersburg, anyway.

Just as he expected, tears begin to trickle down his cheeks, but Yuuri doesn't bother wiping them away. He wants to hold onto this feeling for a little while, love swelling in his chest, echoed by desolation.

Yuuri cannot resist trailing his fingers along the edge of the door, imagining opening it and seeing Viktor in bed, reading with Makkachin. He imagines sitting down beside him and putting Vicchan on top of Viktor's book. Viktor would react with delight and cuddle Vicchan immediately. He would have loved Vicchan.

Vicchan butts his head against Yuuri's leg, and Yuuri gives in and scoops him up, cuddling him close. "He's gone, Vicchan," he whispers, and the melancholy ache stays with him through his dreams.

~*~

Seeing Vicchan and his family heals some of the raw pain that Yuuri has carried for months. He goes back to Detroit with a lighter heart, taking packages of sweets and food to introduce to Phichit, as well as promises from his mother that she will keep an eye on Vicchan for any sign of illness.

Life goes on. Yuuri trains for hours, refining his programs and thinking about the future. If he gets seeded for the GPF again like he intends, he will need a better program than what he performed in his other future. He considers his quads; JJ can do the lutz, and both Seung-gil Lee and Emil Nikola will do the loop one day in the future. He thinks about the mythical quad axel, then shakes all the quads from his mind. Something to worry about for next season.

Yuuri goes to Four Continents, but he doesn't place. Instead, he loses silver to JJ's more difficult program, while a skater from China takes gold. Yuuri ekes out a spot just under the bronze winner, after flubbing two of his jumps in his free skate, which makes him work twice as hard when he gets home.

Finally, Worlds approaches. This year it is in Boston, which is a ten hour drive from Detroit -- or a two hour flight, which Celestino eventually chooses. Phichit is attending Worlds, which is a relief to Yuuri -- he doesn't think he could handle traveling with only Celestino and JJ. The Canadian skater has been irritating him lately, keeping a close eye on him during practice and taunting him at times when Celestino is out of earshot. Yuuri has seen JJ act like this before, but at Yurio, and he wonders if JJ sees him as a rival.

He had better. It's not going to be JJ on the podium with Viktor, after all.

The night before they travel to Boston, Yuuri has a long dream, and it stays on his mind throughout the entire competition.

~*~

Yuuri opens his eyes to find himself in a large room filled with rows and rows of pews, all facing a small empty altar. His clothes are wet and cold, and the edges of the room are dark, the light breaking through the air oddly, as if shining through water.

The room is empty of people, but there lingers a heavy scent of flowers, lilies and hydrangeas. It reminds him a little of a church, the kind he would like to get married in, though the pews are decorated with black shawls. Yuuri looks around but sees nothing, no one that can tell him where he is -- but then his eyes catch on a figure sitting at the front of the room.

The silver hair is a shock to his system. Viktor is dressed in all black, and he has his head bowed, his lips pressed tightly to his hands. When Yuuri walks down the aisle, he realizes that Viktor is crying, harder tears than the ones Yuuri caught with his fingers in Barcelona.

"Viktor," Yuuri whispers. Viktor doesn't look up.

"I can't do this without you, Yuuri," Viktor says, the words muffled by his hands. Another shock runs through Yuuri. He steps closer and tries to peer into Viktor's face, but Viktor has his eyes closed, and he doesn't seem to sense Yuuri at all.

"I'm trying. I really am. It's so hard, though. It was never supposed to be like this," Viktor whispers, a sob catching in his throat. "We were supposed to live together forever. You weren't supposed to leave me."

Yuuri's heart clenches. This is his Viktor -- he is certain of it. Slowly, he kneels down before Viktor, wanting to reach out and hold him, but something tells him that Viktor would not be able to feel him.

Viktor breathes in deeply. "But I'll keep trying," he says softly, opening his eyes slightly. The tears have filled his vision, and Yuuri can't resist reaching up to brush his cold fingers over the redness under Viktor's eyes. Warm tears spill over his fingertips, and Yuuri gently wipes them away, though Viktor doesn't seem to feel his touch for a moment. Then he closes his eyes and leans against Yuuri's hands, making him hold his breath.

"I'll look after Yurio and Makkachin. I'll keep going. I'll win gold for you, and then... and then I'll retire and try to live in a world without you. I don't know if I can... but I'll try."

Viktor opens his eyes, and a smile touches his lips. "I love you so much, Yuuri."

"I love you too, Viktor," Yuuri says quietly. He is crying, too, and he wants badly to take Viktor into his arms, to soothe his pain. "I'm so sorry I left you. I'm sorry! I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you, too." He inhales tightly, bowing his head to rest on Viktor's knee, a tiny bit of Viktor's warmth seeping through the black slacks. "I miss you so much. I want to come home."

"Yuuri," Viktor whispers, and Yuuri lifts his head to find Viktor staring at him, eyes wide. Viktor lifts a shaking hand, and Yuuri feels his touch on his cheek, seconds before Viktor falls off the chair and throws his arms around him, sobbing.

"It's you, it's really you," Viktor says, over and over, and Yuuri buries his face in Viktor's shoulder. They sit like that for a long time, just holding onto each other, and somehow, Yuuri knows it cannot last. This room is a liminal space where they can meet each other, but only for a little while.

He tightens his arms around Viktor, not wanting to let go.

"You're dead," Viktor whispers into his hair. "I know this isn't real. They pulled your body out of the Neva."

"Not really," Yuuri whispers back, before he can stop himself. Viktor lurches back and grabs his shoulders, staring into his face with a manic energy that makes Yuuri flinch.

"You're alive? You're okay? Where are you, Yuuri? I'll find you, I'll do whatever it takes, I'll bring you home even if I have to make a deal with the devil --"

Yuuri gently reaches up to take Viktor's hands, shaking his head slowly. "You can't find me, Viktor. It's not a place -- it's a time. I... I went back. To the past, to a past where we didn't know each other." His eyes well over with tears again. "I woke up in Detroit, and I tried calling you. You didn't know me. You... the Viktor here, he's not you. I can't come home to you, I don't know how to travel through time." He smiles tremulously, reaching up to stroke Viktor's limp hair away from his face. "I'm so sorry. I don't think I can come back. Not... not if I'm dead."

"Time travel," Viktor repeats blankly. Then he seizes Yuuri's hands again, kissing his fingers, then leaning over to kiss him. "Then you'll come back to me eventually. The future will happen again. I'll keep you safe, I won't let you die like you did."

Yuuri shakes his head, clutching Viktor's hands tightly. "No, Viktor, I can't. How can I? I've already changed the past. I've done things that never happened for me before. It won't happen the same way, meeting you, loving you --"

"I don't care," Viktor says fiercely. "I'll love you no matter what happens. Find me, Yuuri. Tell me everything --"

"But it's not you!" Yuuri cries, and that shuts Viktor up. "He's not you. He doesn't know me, he doesn't remember me. What should I do, dance with him at the banquet again? Take him to Hasetsu and try to recreate our life together? I can't do that, Viktor. I can't pretend with him, I can't pretend that he's you. He's not! He'll never be you!"

For a long moment, Viktor is silent, before he gently brings Yuuri's hand up and kisses his ring. "But he is me, Yuuri. Another me, maybe, but it's still me, and you're still you. We're meant for each other."

Yuuri's breath catches on a sob, and he wraps his arms around Viktor tightly. He thinks of staying here forever, lingering in Viktor's life as a ghost, but he knows he cannot. He can feel it, now; the cold of the Neva, clinging to him, threatening to drag him back into darkness if he stays here. He doesn't want to go back to that past that is empty of Viktor, but he cannot stay in a place where he is dead, either.

"How can I fall in love with someone who doesn't remember what we have? He's not my coach. He didn't kiss me at Beijing. He didn't sit with me at the beach and tell me I'm not weak. He's not..."

Viktor gently pushes Yuuri back and takes his face in his hands, looking into his eyes. The tears are gone, replaced by familiar determination, and the fierce blue of his eyes takes over Yuuri's vision, silencing him. "Then you can make different memories. I will still love you, Yuuri. A thousand lifetimes, a thousand repeats, and I will fall in love with you every time." He finally smiles, and it looks sharp, brittle with the edge of grief. "Trust me."

Yuuri doesn't know if he can. "What if... what if he doesn't become you? What if you're still alone here?" A separate future, one he can't ever reach -- he can't bear leaving Viktor alone.

Viktor shakes his head, then leans up to press a soft kiss to Yuuri's forehead. "But you'll be alive, and you'll be with me. If I know that, then I'll be okay. Even if I can't meet you again, at least another me will. And you'll be safe. You'll be alive. That's more important than anything else, Yuuri."

Yuuri closes his eyes against the tears. "I miss you. It hurts so much, Viktor, I keep having dreams about drowning --" His voice breaks. He is trembling hard, now, the cold overbearing, and he can hear the water rushing in his ears.

"Oh, Yuuri." Viktor wraps him up in his arms again, and now Yuuri can feel his warmth, easing away the cold that is gripping his entire being. He closes his eyes and relaxes into Viktor's arms, until the last of the shivers fade away. The Neva is far away, now. Viktor will be far away, too -- and that hurts worse than his death.

All too soon, he feels a strange pull, and he burrows tighter into Viktor's arms. "No, I don't want to leave," he begs, not knowing who or what might be listening, but the sensation tugs harder.

He is going back.

"I guess you can't stay here forever," Viktor says softly, and the sadness in his voice is a physical weight against Yuuri's heart, dragging him down into desolation. "It'll be okay, Yuuri. I'll find you again, and I'll protect you. Trust in me."

"Viktor," Yuuri says helplessly, and he leans up to give Viktor one last kiss. One last promise. Viktor kisses him back desperately, and though they cling to each other, Yuuri knows he has to leave.

"I love you," he says, before everything fades away to white.

~*~

The dream stays with him all through the flight to Boston. They go to the airport at the crack of dawn, and Yuuri retreats into himself, to hide the bags under his eyes and the ache in his heart.

No one really questions his quiet mood; Yuuri is usually like this before competitions, though typically wrought with panic and anxiety, which is still true, and he uses that assumption as a shield. JJ spends most of the trip talking to Shasta Nguyen and Amelia Hart, and Phichit reads a book on his phone. Yuuri slouches in his seat and stares out the plane window with his headphones in, listening to Adam Lambert and Darren Hayes and Mumford & Sons until the only feeling inside him is halcyon and soft.

He left Viktor alone. He knows without a doubt that the dream was real, just as he knows that his memories are real. Somewhere in the future, Viktor is crying, but when Yuuri had left him, there had been peace in Viktor's mien, acceptance that Yuuri doesn't think he would have reached on his own.

At least he gave Viktor that. Otherwise, Yuuri wouldn't be able to live with himself.

By the time they reach Boston, Yuuri has come to peace with the dream. He doesn't know if he can do as Viktor asks. He still cannot imagine being with Viktor as he is now, a Viktor who never shared Hasetsu and the GPF with him. His decisions come back to him; he will do his best to make Viktor happy, no matter what happens between them. Even if Viktor never falls in love with him again, Yuuri will be whatever Viktor wants him to be, so long as he never has to see Viktor cry again.

After a while, JJ starts wearing on his nerves. He is either excitedly talking about his choice for college in Toronto, prattling about his parents choosing to coach him for next season (while ignoring Celestino's quiet huffs about that) or boasting about the gold medal he wants to take home from Worlds. Yuuri does his best to drown him out with his music. Two hours later, Yuuri tucks his headphones away and stumbles off the plane, following the rest of his rinkmates to baggage claim with a heavy sigh.

He just wants to go to the hotel and sleep. He's also starving, which is never good, because it makes Yuuri irritable.

Checking in and getting badges takes a little longer than normal, because there is a complication with Phichit's badge. Celestino leaves Yuuri and the others sitting in the lobby, and for a while, there is silence between them. Amelia and Shasta have their heads bowed over a video, and JJ is watching the skaters arriving, likely scoping out the competition. Yuuri sits curled up in a chair, flipping through his Instagram.

Viktor has posted a picture of the Boston cityscape from his hotel room.

v-nikiforov: Ready to meet me, Boston? #worldscompetition #figureskating #hereiam!

Yuuri lingers on his name, then scrolls past it. Phichit and JJ have already updated their Instagrams, and Yuuri probably should, too; maybe when he doesn't feel like a hobgoblin. With a sigh, he sits up and rubs the back of his neck, looking past JJ to see if Celestino and Phichit are back yet.

"Alas, they're not done yet," JJ says with an elaborate sigh. "Pity, isn't it? It's nice to see everyone arriving, though."

Yuuri debates not answering. JJ will probably try to be annoying if he doesn't. "It's always like this the first day," he finally says. Small talk, boring enough that JJ will hopefully stop bothering him.

JJ laughs. "And it will only get busier! Look at all of them, Yuuri. Waiting for their new king, no doubt."

Oh, no, here he goes again. JJ has been going on for a while about how the ice skating world needs a new king, as if Viktor Nikiforov could ever be dethroned. Yuuri knows Viktor's future, and it does not involve losing to JJ, of all people.

He has noticed that JJ has a habit of talking down to people, not unlike his future self. His insults are usually disguised as compliments, but Yuuri perfected the art of lying to one's face years ago, and he knows how to spot a nasty comment. JJ usually limits his smiling disparagement for Yuuri and his rinkmates, but when he starts on Viktor...

"Can you just stop for one minute?" Yuuri says without thinking, and after a long moment, JJ turns to stare at him, his smile gone. Amelia and Shasta look up at them, blinking in surprise.

"Run that by me again?" JJ asks, his voice as pleasant as can be. Yuuri looks up and glares back, his temper stretched thin by his exhausting night and the early flight. He has no patience for JJ's arrogance. Slowly he stands, stretching his back with a faint crack, and turns to face JJ.

"Stop it. For one whole minute, JJ. You've been harping about Viktor for hours, and I'm sick of it."

JJ scoffs. "Oh, right, you're his fan. He's never going to look at you, you know."

Yuuri lets the insult slide off him. Yurio has told him far worse. "First of all, there is no way that you will beat Viktor Nikiforov. That is a fact. He's the best in the entire skating world. Second of all, before you worry about beating Viktor, you should worry about me." He narrows his eyes, his competitive spirit rising up. He usually doesn't get involved with tiffs like this -- but he is irate, and JJ is being annoying.

JJ steps back, surprised by Yuuri's fervor, then laughs loudly and mockingly. "You? Why should I worry about someone like you? Twenty-two and you've never even medaled internationally. Someone like you could never hope to reach the podium."

In two years, JJ will not be this rude. He will be charming and abrasive, but he won't tell skaters to their faces that they will fail. Yuuri snorts, unimpressed by JJ's view of him, though it stings a little. He gives JJ a flat look. "Then why have you been watching my practices so closely, hm? Worried?"

JJ has nothing to say to that. Yuuri holds his stare, then turns around to see if Phichit or Celestino have returned, thinking that if they haven't, he can try to find a vending machine or something to escape JJ's attention.

He stops short, though, when his eyes meet blue. His heart drops to his stomach.

Viktor Nikiforov is staring at him from a few feet away. He is standing with the rest of the Russian contingent, though only Viktor is focused on him. JJ makes a noise behind him, and Yuuri wildly wonders if Viktor overheard the argument. Quickly he averts his gaze, his heart beating fast.

Seeing Viktor hurts. He looks younger than the Viktor in his memories, and seeing him so soon after his dream last night rips open the raw wound that Yuuri nursed for the whole trip. He is achingly beautiful, his hair cut a little shorter than his normal style, and Yuuri wants more than anything to run into his arms, forget about his dream, and just let Viktor's warmth soothe away his pain.

He can't, though, because Viktor doesn't know him.

Viktor says nothing, still watching Yuuri curiously. After a moment, he glances beyond him, and a second later Yuuri feels a heavy arm land on his shoulders. "Viktor Nikiforov!" JJ says loudly, drawing attention from around the room. "We were just talking about you --"

Oh, no. He is not doing this. "Stop," Yuuri says, before he slips out from under JJ's arm and steps away from him, fixing him with a glare. "I'm going to find Celestino." He walks away without waiting for a reply, using his speed to cross the room in moments. He spots Phichit coming toward him and nearly melts in relief, going to meet his friend. He doesn't care what JJ does or says to Viktor, and Viktor will probably ignore him, anyway.

At least, Yuuri hopes so.

To his relief, JJ shows up with the girls a moment later, eyeing Yuuri with something like irritation. Yuuri ignores him and takes his badge from Celestino, then leans over Phichit's shoulder to look at the schedule.

The ISU always sets up two days of practice before the actual competition begins on Wednesday. The men's short programs are taking place on Wednesday. Then Thursday will be another practice day, with Friday the main event for the men's finalists. Sunday will be the exhibition skate and the banquet.

Yuuri will cram in as much practice as he can, just as Phichit will. They also have meetings and interviews, and Yuuri doesn't look forward to those. His popularity in Japan has risen exponentially after winning at Nationals, and he expects Morooka Hisashi to hunt him down and grill him within an inch of his life about his sudden increase in ability.

He sighs heavily, then straightens with determination. He didn't come all this way to fall apart now.

"Why is JJ staring at you like you murdered his skates?" Phichit whispers to him, peeking over his shoulder.

"I'll tell you later," Yuuri whispers back, knowing that JJ is staring at the back of his head. He isn't sure what he has done this time to get JJ's attention so quickly; in the other future, JJ usually ignored him whenever they saw each other, both during their training in Detroit and after.

As Yuuri follows the rest of his team out of the room, he feels eyes on the back of his head and hesitates by the door, turning slightly to see who might be watching him.

Viktor is staring at him again. Yuuri meets his gaze briefly, then disappears out the door.

~*~

"I can't believe he said that to you," fumes Phichit the next day, frowning at JJ from across the ice. The three of them are at practice, and luckily enough (for unluckily for Yuuri, who is still stuck with JJ) they were put in the first group together. Yuuri shrugs, turning backwards on his heel and wondering if he could get away with a quad while Celestino isn't looking. He was warned off them for today, which irritates him.

"JJ is a brat, you know this," Yuuri says with a sigh. On the other side of the rink, JJ raises his head as if sensing that he is the topic of their conversation. Thankfully, JJ hadn't said another word to him for all of yesterday.

"It's not right, though!"

Yuuri doesn't bother telling him that it doesn't matter. JJ will do whatever JJ wants to do, and there is little Yuuri can say to convince him otherwise. The insults mean nothing to him; Yurio once called him twelve variants of 'fatso' without taking a breath, each worse than the last. Yuuri is no stranger to the types of comments one gets on the internet, either.

For a moment he considers Yurio and his insults, which never once managed to get under Yuuri's skin. He once walked around a museum with Yurio, and every moment was filled with insults, disparagement, and diatribes about how Yurio was better than him and that he would wipe both Viktor and Yuuri off the the map of the skating world.

Yuuri's lips twitch slightly. Yurio's insults never bothered him, not even when the younger boy would start in on Viktor and call him rude names. Most of the time, he would insult Viktor's age, his hair, his forgetfulness -- he called Viktor an idiot all the time. Yet none of it had bothered Yuuri, because he had seen through Yurio's bravado with ease.

He misses Yurio. He wonders how he is doing in Russia.

When JJ insults him, though, Yuuri can't help but be irritated. Therein lies the difference -- JJ is not Yurio, nor is he Yuuri's friend. He doesn't have any respect for Yuuri, and he truly thinks himself better than everyone around him. Yurio might have put on a strong mask, but he was doubtful of himself, and he never stopped admiring Viktor or Yuuri despite his intention to beat both their records.

It infuriates Yuuri when JJ starts mocking Viktor. Nothing has ever made him angry faster.

It's his own fault for losing his temper at JJ. He's a little better today, but that ugly feeling is simmering under his ribs, ready to lash out if JJ so much as says Viktor's name. He has to hold onto his patience, lest he actually lose his temper and cause a scene much larger than yesterday's little argument.

In front of Viktor, no less.

Viktor. Yuuri still can't believe that Viktor had been standing there. Listening, likely overhearing that Yuuri is his fan, hearing Yuuri defend him to a younger skater. Just the memory of him brings his humiliation back to the forefront of his mind, and Yuuri sighs heavily. He wants to crawl in a hole and forget that any of this ever happened.

He wonders what time Viktor is practicing. He is determined not to see him for the rest of the competition, any more than he can help.

"Uh oh, Ciao Ciao wants to talk to me," Phichit says in trepidation, and Yuuri smiles a little, watching him skate over to their coach. He focuses on his practice, moving through the second part of his short program. It uses his grace and step sequences to entice the audience, and Yuuri has to admit he once found it a little conventional. Now he throws himself into the art of it, thinking of Viktor telling him, "Skate like you are the most beautiful person on the ice."

He wishes Viktor would look at him like that again.

He needs to stop thinking about Viktor -- yet all Yuuri can think about is the way Viktor watched him yesterday. After his glimpse into his original future, the thought of Viktor paying extra attention to him sends shivers down his spine, a chill reminiscent of the Neva. He wonders, a little hysterically, if Viktor had a similar dream -- if Yuuri's Viktor reached out to him, to guide him to Yuuri.

Absolutely not, Viktor!

It's impossible, anyway.

"Too bad Celestino won't let you do quads today," sings JJ as he passes Yuuri, and Yuuri drags himself out of his thoughts to give him a blank stare.

"You're not allowed to do them, either," Yuuri returns evenly, then turns his back on JJ and focuses on his program. A quad toe loop coming up, which means Yuuri has to make it a triple today.

"I could do them if I wanted. He only keeps you from doing them because you'll mess them up," JJ says with an uncaring shrug, and the words grate on Yuuri's nerves. He can ignore JJ, and the Canadian man will eventually go away, and Yuuri will be able to escape practice with only a small headache, instead of the migraine that is threatening to bloom behind his temple.

He doesn't bother replying. This seems to displease JJ, who switches to a different track. "I think it's amazing that you can even do the salchow now, you know," JJ says, a little louder than he should, twisting to skate beside Yuuri.

Yuuri throws a desperate look over at Celestino, but his back is turned as he talks to Phichit, who hasn't noticed his dilemma either. "Can we just practice?" he asks pointedly, and JJ laughs, with that same mocking edge from yesterday.

He really pissed JJ off. Yuuri is kind of amazed at himself for managing it -- JJ usually brushes off criticism, maintaining a constant belief that he can do no wrong, and he rarely acts spitefully to the other skaters despite his arrogance. Yuuri sighs again. "Look, JJ --"

"You know, it's too easy to learn these quads," JJ boasts. "I've already got the lutz down, and next is the flip. What about you? Oh, that's right. Just the salchow and the toe loop." He clicks his tongue, and Yuuri narrows his eyes, wondering where JJ is even going with this. "Only the best can make it to the top, Yuuri, and the best always know more than two quads."

Ah. That is probably JJ's goal, to tempt him into doing a quad and getting in trouble with Celestino. To Yuuri's dismay, it's close to working; he really wants JJ to shut up. "That's ridiculous. Most skaters can only do two quads, anyway."

"Mm, and none of them are guaranteed winners," JJ returns, meeting Yuuri's eyes. "You can try all you like on this week, but you only know two quads. It won't be enough for the judges." JJ sighs dramatically, and that's when Yuuri's temper snaps.

"I know three quads, thanks," Yuuri says before he can stop himself. Then he claps a hand over his mouth, shocked that he gave in to JJ's taunts, and glares at JJ before skating off to the other side of the rink.

Shit. He doesn't want anyone to know he can do the quad flip. He hasn't even shown Phichit, because as understanding as Phichit is, he will push Yuuri to announce it to the world. Yuuri wants to hold that ace up his sleeve for as long as possible. It was an amazing feeling, using that to surprise Viktor, and a small part of him wants to save it, in case events do fall together in the same way as his first future.

The quad flip had earned him his first kiss from Viktor. It's special to him in a way no other jump is.

His outburst seems to shut JJ up for a little while, because Yuuri finally gets to focus on practice; however, he's too agitated to do as well as he wants. By the time practice draws to close, Yuuri is wound more tightly than a spring, and all he wants to do is run away again.

Once again, JJ refuses to let him back out.

"Yuuri," JJ calls from across the ice. Yuuri squares his shoulders and turns to face JJ, who comes to a stop in front of him with a smooth glide. His smile is in place, but something is glittering in his eyes, a challenge. Yuuri takes a deep breath and waits, and JJ's smile widens. "Show me the third quad you can do. Or are you a liar?"

Yuuri bristles. "I'm not a liar. You know we're not supposed to do quads today. Are you trying to get me in trouble?"

"Who, me?" JJ raises his hands, adopting an innocent expression. "You could just tell me what it is."

Absolutely not. "No," Yuuri bites out, turning away. He hasn't done the quad since he came back in time. A moment of doubt strikes him; what if he cannot do it anymore? It's been months since he last made the jump, and that was in another life, when Yuuri was glowing under Viktor's guidance.

What if he can't do it?

JJ's next words set his teeth on edge. "Then I'll tell everyone you're a liar. Trying to put yourself at my level? You just don't have the skill."

His frayed temper snaps again, and Yuuri glares over his shoulder. "You want my third quad? Fine. But I'm throwing you under the bus if Celestino sees." He skates away to the emptiest part of the rink before he can see JJ's satisfied expression, thinking of the very end of Yuuri On Ice and pulling that feeling into his heart, a temporary salve against the rage and anxiety burning in his chest.

He has to do this. He has to know if he can still land the quad flip.

He forces himself to slow down before he hurts himself, sliding into the final steps of his future free skate with ease. He meets JJ's eyes across the ice, and then he turns.

He lands the quad flip perfectly. The final spins are beautiful and familiar to his body, like sliding on a favorite sweater, and Yuuri gathers that feeling close around him, relishing in the warmth it evokes. This was his and Viktor's song -- and that flip is Yuuri's now, given to him by Viktor. He comes to a stop and lifts his hands, then points at JJ and glares.

"Gonna call me a liar now?" Yuuri calls out, his voice ringing across the ice, and that's when he realizes that the entire rink is staring at him.

Oh, shit.

Yuuri freezes in place, the attention shocking him. JJ is staring at him open-mouthed, stunned by his action, and everyone else is wide-eyed with amazement. Nobody else in the skating world can do a quad flip at this point except Viktor, and Yuuri winces, closing his eyes for a moment.

Damn his temper. He had not wanted his quad flip to be revealed like this.

"Yuuri Katsuki," Celestino booms, and Yuuri flinches again at the realization that he was caught. "Jean-Jacques. Both of you, to me."

Yuuri skates over to him silently, not looking at JJ again. Phichit is staring at him with wide eyes, and only Celestino's thunderous expression keeps him from asking every question on his mind. Yuuri accepts the skate guards silently and follows Celestino off the ice, hearing whispering from the other skaters and coaches.

"We're going to have a thorough talk about what I just witnessed," Celestino is saying, but when Yuuri looks up from his feet, Celestino's voice fades away, as does all other sound.

Viktor is standing in front of him again -- and now his eyes are wide with shock as he stares at Yuuri. Yakov and the other Russians are similarly speechless, and Yuuri's stomach drops to the floor, horrified that Viktor is even here.

He saw my quad flip. I can't surprise him anymore.

Abruptly, tears well up in his eyes, but Yuuri looks away before Viktor can see them. He hurriedly wills the tears away and somehow manages not to cry in front of Viktor and the rest of their peers. After a brief moment, he looks back at Viktor and nods a little, then steps around him to follow Celestino.

"Wait," Viktor says behind him, but Yuuri is already leaving the rink. He doesn't think he wants to hear what Viktor has to say anyway.

Celestino pries the entire situation out of Yuuri and JJ. Yuuri admits to his own behavior with reluctance, and just like he promised, he wastes no time in throwing JJ to Celestino's displeasure. JJ doesn't bother lying, saying that he wanted to see if Yuuri could actually do it, but Celestino glowers at all three of them, even Phichit who had nothing to do with the situation.

JJ is restricted to the hotel for the rest of the day. Phichit escapes punishment by virtue of being innocent in all this, but Yuuri gets a long lecture on the importance of telling one's coach when one is practicing dangerous jumps alone. At the end of it, Celestino takes one look at Yuuri's miserable face and lets the three of them go shower and change, deciding only to give Yuuri a curfew.

Yuuri accepts it without complaint. He deserves it for letting JJ get under his skin and breaking Celestino's trust.

Phichit tries to convince him to go walking, but Yuuri takes one look at the light glinting off the Charles River, running beside the TD Garden where the competition is being held, and heads back to the hotel alone. He retreats to his and Phichit's hotel room and closes the curtains, turns off the lights, and burrows himself into his bed.

Then he falls apart.

It isn't fair. Yuuri is supposed to be strong enough to handle this, but with Viktor here, all of his plans and decisions are turning to dust before his eyes. Yuuri couldn't even hold onto the one piece of proof that Viktor had coached him for a year -- the quad flip, the most important jump of his life. His anxiety and temper had ripped it out of his hands as if it meant nothing.

Viktor saw it. Yuuri cannot surprise him anymore.

A sob catches in his throat, and Yuuri swallows convulsively against the hot knot of anger and humiliation. How could he ever hope to reach Viktor's level the way he is? He hasn't changed at all. He is still the same anxious wreck of a person as he was before Viktor danced his way into Yuuri's life, taking him by the hand and showing him light and warmth that Yuuri will never, ever feel again.

He wants to go home. He wants to go to Viktor. He wants to go back to that room where Viktor was crying and stay there at his side; he can take being a ghost, so long as he can be close to his Viktor.

After a long while, Yuuri struggles to stop his tears. He can't cry like this; he has to be strong, has to keep going, otherwise he will never get seeded for the GPF. Yuuri's tears fall harder at the thought.

It isn't fair. Why can't Yuuri be stronger than this?

He stays in bed for hours, until the sky outside is beginning to darken. Phichit returns to the room then and gently pries Yuuri out of bed, silently handing him a towel and picking out some jeans and one of Yuuri's favorite hoodies while Yuuri washes his face, pressing the cold towel to the reddened skin under his eyes.

"Carbohydrates and seafood?" Phichit offers, and Yuuri nods.

"Definitely."

Yuuri stays quiet beside Phichit as they walk away from the hotel. The sky is cloudy with a threat of rain, which matches Yuuri's mood perfectly. While they wait for the light to change, Yuuri stares down at his feet, thinking darkly of all the things he could have said to JJ but didn't. He knows JJ is just testing him, sizing him up as a competitor, but it bothers Yuuri that he let himself be riled up so easily.

He knows that it is partly because of the dream he had of Viktor, and because of meeting Viktor himself. Everything has been ruined now, though; if everybody knows about his quad flip, then Yuuri cannot use it to surprise Viktor in the future. There is no way to get back the future that he has lost. All because Yuuri couldn't control himself.

Phichit leans into his side. "Purple elephants on a bus," he says quickly, and Yuuri is so flummoxed by it that he turns to stare at Phichit -- only to get caught and pulled into a selfie.

"Ha!" Phichit says, quickly uploading the picture to Instagram. "I got you good!"

Yuuri stares at him another moment, then finally smiles. Phichit grins and tugs him across the street, waving his phone a little. "You're all over the internet, you know."

Yuuri groans, his laughter fading. "Don't tell me that. I don't even want to know what they're saying."

"Oh, just something about you being the next Viktor Nikiforov..."

"What?!" He covers his face for a moment, debating going back to the hotel room to hide, but Phichit sees right through him and hooks his arm through Yuuri's to keep him from escaping. Yuuri leans into him with a sigh, tilting his head back to look up at the sky. "I can't believe he saw it. I can't believe he was there..."

"Talk about the worst timing," Phichit agrees. After a moment, he nudges Yuuri's side. "What was it like, seeing him?"

Yuuri doesn't answer for a moment, his eyes tracing the line of the tallest building above them, before he lowers his gaze to the ground. "Terrifying. I keep thinking that it's him... but it's not him. It's confusing. I'm afraid that if he starts talking to me, I'll say something horribly wrong, and he'll never look at me again. But I'm also afraid of him even looking at me."

Phichit squeezes his arm reassuringly. "He's nice to everybody, though. I don't think he would ever treat you like that. Especially not from how you've talked about him, you know... in the future," he whispers, glancing around them.

Yuuri smiles without humor. "Maybe. I don't know how I'll handle it. I guess that's something to worry about later." After a moment, he decides to pull out his phone, absently turning it off airplane mode.

Yuuri had turned off his phone while he was hiding in the hotel room. He stops short when he sees several messages on his phone. Half of them are from Minako-sensei, which makes Yuuri wonder how widespread her information network is, and the others from his rinkmates back in Detroit.

The last message is from Chris.

From: Christophe Giacometti
Heard about what happened. Are you alright?

"Chris is texting me," Yuuri mutters, and Phichit obligingly pauses to lean against a storefront nearby.

To: Christophe Giacometti
I don't want to talk about it.

From: Christophe Giacometti
That's fine. Want to go eat with us? You can bring your friend :)

Yuuri glances up at Phichit. "Chris is inviting us to dinner. He must have brought Masumi with him. Want to meet them?"

Phichit lights up. Chris is one of the skaters he looks up; Viktor is another. "I'd love to! Where do they want to meet?"

To: Christophe Giacometti
Ok. Can we get seafood?

From: Christophe Giacometti
Sounds great. Meet us in front of Atlantic Fish Co in twenty :)

"A restaurant called the Atlantic Fish Company," Yuuri says dutifully, and he and Phichit spend the next few minutes pulling up maps and menus. The restaurant is thankfully within walking distance, so he and Phichit set off together. Yuuri listens with a small smile as Phichit talks excitedly about getting to meet Chris. He's more interested in the menu, truthfully -- all the seafood Yuuri could ever want.

The afternoon is dipping toward evening, and beyond the clouds, Yuuri can see hints of pink and orange. Yuuri lets the chatter of Phichit and the crowd around them soothe away some of his misery, looking forward to talking with Chris and Masumi. Ahead on the street, he notices Chris standing in front of the restaurant, wearing casual jeans and talking to --

Yuuri pales. That's not Masumi.

He grabs Phichit and drags him into the doorway to Starbucks, out of sight of Chris and his companion. His life is falling apart in front of his eyes, and Yuuri can't do anything about it. "Chris brought Viktor here," he hisses to Phichit, hysteria building up in his throat. Phichit's eyes go round, and he starts to lean out of the door so he can look, but Yuuri pulls him back before he can get them noticed.

He whips out his phone.

To: Christophe Giacometti
YOU BROUGHT VIKTOR?

From: Christophe Giacometti
I'm sorry! Masumi had to go to a meeting, and Viktor was already with me. Please come?

To: Christophe Giacometti
How could you do this to me???

From: Christophe Giacometti
It's okay, he's not mad, just come eat with us? Please? It'll be fine

"Nooooo," Yuuri whimpers, covering his face. "Viktor is going to eat with us." He slumps against the glass face-first, defeated, his phone hanging limply in his hand.

Phichit is beside himself. "Oh my god, we're going to eat with Viktor Nikiforov?"

"Yeah." A beat passes. Yuuri wonders if it's too late to run away. "I give up, Phichit. I'm going to end it all."

Phichit fixes him with a startled look. "Yuuri --"

Yuuri doesn't look up from the ground. "I'm going to pack everything up and move to Wisconsin and become a potato farmer. Potatoes are important, right? More important than my dismal skating career and every crap decision I've made in the past five months. You can make a lot of things with potatoes, you know. Fries. Croquettes. Curry."

"Vodka," Viktor adds helpfully.

Yuuri nods against the glass. "Right, vodka, that one's pretty important. See? Potato farmer it is."

Yuuri's brain catches up to what he just heard, and he whirls around to see Viktor watching him with a little grin, Chris standing behind him looking like he wants to laugh at Yuuri's misery. Phichit has his hands over his mouth, and for a moment everybody just stares at each other.

Then Phichit clears his throat. "Isn't Wisconsin next to Canada? You'd still be neighbors with JJ."

Yuuri blanches. Chris and Viktor crack up, and after a moment, Phichit joins in. Yuuri manages a weak laugh, too, his mind whirling. The door to Starbucks opens, and Yuuri reluctantly shuffles out of the way, joining Viktor and Chris on the sidewalk.

Chris grins at him, wrapping an arm around Yuuri's waist and sliding his hand down. Yuuri yelps and gives him a dirty look, and Chris winks, gently leading Yuuri away. "Let's get some food. I'm famished, aren't you?"

"Yuuri, did Chris just touch your butt?" Phichit whispers, and Yuuri sighs heavily.

"It's like saying hello for him," Yuuri says flatly, and Chris just laughs, while Viktor watches them curiously, his gaze lingering on Yuuri.

Yuuri tries not to look at him too much. The only contact he has had with this Viktor is that phone call the night he arrived back in the past, and he has no idea if Viktor will recognize his voice. So far, Viktor doesn't seem to think badly of him, only showing curiosity and polite interest.

He has no idea what Viktor must think of him, after seeing that quad flip.

Once in the restaurant, Chris expertly maneuvers them into a booth so that Yuuri is sitting across from Viktor and next to Phichit. Yuuri is pondering exactly how to murder Chris without getting caught when their server arrives, and since Yuuri is at his wit's end, he orders a beer.

"Sam Adams draft, please," he requests, pulling out his ID. He watches from under his eyelashes as Viktor orders an Amstel Light, and Chris takes advantage of the cocktail menu. Phichit is left with water, which makes him sulk, and Yuuri finally manages a smile.

"It's not fair," Phichit whines. "American laws are so strict."

"You can't drink in Thailand, either," Yuuri reminds him, grinning a little when Phichit pouts at him. He will have to make it up to Phichit later; right now, he needs something to take the edge off this disaster of an evening.

When he looks at their table companions, Yuuri finds Viktor watching him again, and he can't help but flush under his attention. Viktor's smile widens a little.

"You're different than what I expected," Viktor tells him, and this pulls Yuuri up short, making him blink at Viktor. He hadn't even thought Viktor knew who he was, let alone what he was like.

"Um, okay," Yuuri mumbles, glancing at Chris, but Phichit has already drawn him into conversation. Traitors, he thinks mutinously.

This is the first time he and Viktor are talking face to face in this timeline. It's almost a year earlier than Yuuri originally expected, and meeting Viktor like this would have been hell on Yuuri's younger self. It's still hell on Yuuri's nerves, but for entirely different reasons.

He has never experienced this before. This encounter between them is entirely new.

You can make different memories.

Yuuri closes his eyes briefly, thinking of his Viktor. Then he meets Viktor's gaze evenly, deciding that since he cannot escape this situation, he might as well let it happen. "I didn't think you'd have an opinion of me. We've never met before."

Viktor's smile widens a little. "I've heard about you, though. You nearly got bronze at Four Continents, didn't you? Then you won your Nationals back in December."

Yuuri stares at him. How does Viktor even know that? "I suppose," Yuuri admits. "I just didn't think you'd look me up." Four Continents had been a disaster, but it had only fueled his resolve to work harder.

Viktor shrugs a little. "My rinkmate, Yuri Plisetsky, started watching your programs after someone linked him because you two share a name. You caught my attention." He smiles again, the expression a little sharp, and a lot cooler than any smile Yuuri remembers from his Viktor. The realization chills him a little. This isn't his Viktor; he needs to keep that in mind.

Then he catches Viktor's meaning. He wonders how Yurio is doing, and why he is watching videos of Yuuri. The thought warms him. "Yuri Plisetsky," Yuuri says carefully. "He's in juniors, right?"

"Mm," Viktor agrees. "I'm sure you'll meet him sometime. I'll have to thank him for bringing you to my attention, because it's definitely proven worthwhile." He flashes his teeth, and Yuuri has the sudden epiphany that Viktor is sizing him up as a competitor.

He can do Viktor's quad flip. He is somebody who could be a challenge to Viktor, and Viktor already senses that, even this early. It sends a little thrill through Yuuri, and he can't help but smile, quietly pleased that Viktor is paying so much attention to him.

Their server brings them their drinks, and Yuuri takes a drink of his beer with a relieved sigh. He hears Chris ordering some appetizers, but his attention remains mostly on Viktor, who is tasting his bottle of beer, licking his lips afterwards. Yuuri has to avert his gaze after that.

"You can do the quad flip now," Viktor says, catching Yuuri's attention again.

He sighs. There is no escaping this, now. "Yes. I haven't performed it in competition, though."

"Why not?" Chris asks, and Yuuri realizes that he and Phichit are paying attention to their conversation now. "From what I heard, you landed it perfectly at practice today."

Yuuri shrugs a little. "I haven't been sure about the landing," he mumbles, then moves on quickly past the lie. "My coach didn't know I had it down. I kind of hid it from him." The admission makes Viktor's eyes widen a little, and Chris raises his eyebrows.

"You kept a secret like that from your coach?"

"He didn't tell anybody," pipes in Phichit. "We're all in the same skating club, and none of us knew that Yuuri had a third quad." He gives Yuuri a pout. "Not even me, your roommate! How could you keep this from me, Yuuri?"

With so much attention on him, Yuuri feels his nerves bubbling over, and he looks over at the wall, choosing to focus on the art. "I'm sorry. I wanted it to be a surprise," he finally says, and Phichit knocks their shoulders together. Forgiven is his silent message. (Yuuri expects a thorough questioning later, though.)

"Do you think you'll add it to one of your programs? Your free skate, perhaps?" Chris wonders, and Yuuri shrugs, wiping his finger down the side of his glass.

"I haven't thought about it. I'm in trouble with my coach right now, so..."

"Mm, that's disappointing. He should be praising you for landing it," Viktor says, which makes Yuuri startle and fix him with a disbelieving stare. How many times had Viktor lambasted him for learning the quad salchow in secret from Yurio? Yuuri's ears are still a little blistered from the lecture that Viktor gave him right after he had first performed Eros.

"Well, that's up to him," Yuuri replies, shrugging again. He can't control what Celestino accepts, though it is ultimately up to Yuuri to decide how he performs. He is unsure of actually performing the quad flip in his program this time, since he had been thinking of saving it for the future, for Viktor...

What if Viktor expects him to use it now?

Viktor hums in consideration, then takes another drink of beer, saving Yuuri from more conversation. He focuses on his beer, relieved for the moment of quiet, though soon his gaze returns to Viktor, still a little overwhelmed to see him in person.

He's beautiful.

He really is. Yuuri could look at him all evening and be perfectly content -- and he is really going to get Chris back for putting him across from Viktor. Chris gives him a knowing little smirk and engages Phichit in another conversation, likely about their pets, if Phichit's quick draw of his phone is any indication.

"How long have you been practicing the flip?" Viktor asks him after a moment, making Yuuri wonder how to answer. That is tied into his future, where Viktor had started teaching him the jump in June, five months before the Cup of China. It's been almost a year since Yuuri first learned it, in his own time, but...

He might as well just start counting from October, when he came back in time. "Five months," Yuuri finally says, watching Viktor's gaze sharpen with interest.

"That's very impressive, Yuuri," Viktor says, his smile widening, and the sound of his name on Viktor's lips sends a jolt through Yuuri. He closes his eyes briefly, unable to stop himself from savoring the sound. Viktor has always had a way of saying his name that makes him melt a little every time he hears it.

Even in this new encounter with Viktor, that hasn't changed. The thought hurts Yuuri a little.

"That means a lot coming from you, Viktor," Yuuri says quietly, opening his eyes to look at Viktor again. Viktor will take the meaning as it appears, that Yuuri is his fan and looks up to him, but Yuuri means so much more than that -- and Viktor will never know. Yuuri cannot tell him the depth of his feeling, but he is grateful that he can express at least this much.

Viktor stares at him for a moment, before his eyes warm with pleasure. "I'm glad."

Thankfully, food arrives a few minutes later, saving Yuuri from having to continue the conversation, and then they have to give their orders. Yuuri orders the salmon salad, mindful of Celestino's dietary requirements, but intent on getting his seafood. He needs the calories, too, because he intends to go all out, no matter what JJ might have to say about it.

Thinking about JJ sours his mood a little, and he distracts himself with rings of calamari, steamed mussels, and crab cakes. Phichit has to take pictures of the food, and Yuuri dutifully pulls out his phone as well, because the calamari is very pretty.

He notices that Viktor orders a salad, too, which is a little surprising. Viktor would always order new and interesting entrees whenever they went out to eat, though he would often restrict Yuuri's diet to salads and lean meats. He insisted on Yuuri maintaining his strict standards for nutrition levels, but never forced himself into the same restrictions.

Oh. Viktor wasn't competing when he was with Yuuri, so the diet wouldn't have been necessary.

The food is pretty good. It soothes both his stomach and his nerves, and his beer quickly disappears. He briefly debates another glass, before switching to water -- he doesn't want to lose control on alcohol, especially not with Viktor in the vicinity. Who knows what he might say without any inhibition?

For the rest of dinner, Viktor mostly leads the conversation with Chris, and Phichit is all too happy to chat with his two idols. Yuuri is a little more circumspect, still smarting over his mistake earlier and his fight with JJ, but Viktor manages to draw him out of his shell somewhat, with questions about Yuuri's life in America and, perhaps not surprisingly, Vicchan.

Viktor spots the picture of Vicchan the next time Yuuri pulls out his phone, and he happily engages Yuuri in a conversation about poodles. Talking about Vicchan is easy, once Yuuri gets over the embarrassment of telling Viktor his dog's name. Plus, Viktor shows him pictures of Makkachin.

"Isn't she beautiful?" Viktor croons, while Yuuri swipes through Viktor's Makkachin gallery, his heart aching to see his dear canine friend looking so happy and content. He misses her very much, and it's a balm to his grief to see Makkachin again, if only in pictures. "She's such a sweetheart. I miss her already." Yuuri nods in commiseration, touching his own screen where Vicchan's photo rests.

"It's hard to leave them behind. I hadn't seen Vicchan for four years, before I went home for Nationals a few months ago," Yuuri says with a sigh. "I'm glad she's doing well." Then he rethinks his phrasing, but it's too late, and thankfully Viktor doesn't seem to find it strange.

"Four years? Wow! I don't think I could stand to be apart from Makkachin for that long," Viktor says, taking back his phone.

Yuuri picks up his fork and pokes it through his salad, his shoulders sinking a little with old guilt. "I lived in a dorm for my first two years in Detroit, and they didn't allow pets. When I moved in with Phichit, I could have had him sent over because our apartment allows pets, but I didn't want to stress him out with a trip like that."

"That makes sense," Viktor agrees. "If I could, I'd bring Makkachin with me wherever I go. She's a little too old for travel now, though."

"Dog people," Chris interjects with a laugh, and Phichit grins in delight. Yuuri frowns at both of them, huffing.

"Cat people," he retorts, knowing full well that Chris' phone background is his cat. Viktor starts laughing, and Chris only smiles, winking at Yuuri before he goes back to eating.

At the end of the night, Yuuri is glad that he didn't run screaming into the heart of Boston to escape dinner with Viktor and Chris. Viktor was every bit as charming as Yuuri has ever known him, though the emotional distance between them still hurt. It was... nice, though.

With true regret, he and Phichit make their excuses, since Yuuri still has his curfew, though he doesn't tell Viktor and Chris about that. When they step outside, Viktor crooks a finger at Yuuri, and like a moth to flame, he can't help but go to him.

"Come here," Viktor cajoles. Viktor moves closer, into his personal space, and before Yuuri can protest, Viktor has brought up his phone to take a picture, putting an arm around Yuuri's shoulders.

His hand is a hot brand on Yuuri's skin, even through his clothes. When Viktor lets him go, a pleased hum escaping him, Yuuri stumbles a little, shaken.

"Perfect," Viktor says, tapping at his phone, and Yuuri's pocket buzzes with an alert. He opens his lock screen shakily, seeing that it is for a new photo from Viktor's Instagram.

Viktor posted the picture of the two of them together. Yuuri doesn't look half bad, for once, but he isn't smiling and he looks surprised, while Viktor is flashing a grin.

v-nikiforov: A lovely night with a new friend! #WorldsCompetition #figureskating

"Viktor, you have three hundred thousand followers," Yuuri says blankly, watching the likes count rack up -- alongside comments, mostly ranging along the lines of "Is that Yuuri Katsuki???"

Then he flushes. Viktor called him his friend. They aren't even supposed to know each other yet, and Viktor is calling him his friend.

"Oh, you have Instagram, Yuuri?" Viktor asks curiously, then smiles brightly. "What's your handle?"

"Um," Yuuri says, unsure what this even means. Is Viktor going to follow him? He stares at Viktor closely for a moment, trying to see past his charming smile, but Viktor's motives remain frustratingly obscure. Finally he spells it out for Viktor, waiting for the notification on his phone for "v-nikiforov is now following you!"

The whole moment is surreal. Yuuri feels like he is in an alternate reality. In a way, he kind of is, and Yuuri looks down at his feet. "I guess this is really happening," Yuuri mutters to himself.

"It isn't that bad, is it?" Viktor asks wryly. Yuuri gives him a startled look, wondering where that comment came from. Viktor notices his expression and chuckles. "You ran away as soon as you saw me earlier. In fact, you've been running away from me all week, and it's only Tuesday."

Yuuri flushes and looks away, pulling his coat a little closer around him. "Can you blame me? Every time we meet, you witness something embarrassing happening to me."

Viktor watches him, and something in his blue gaze makes Yuuri want to drop everything and melt into his arms -- but this isn't his Viktor, and that is the tenth time tonight that Yuuri has had to remind himself not to think of this Viktor as his. "I didn't think any of it was embarrassing. That Canadian skater... he was rather rude, wasn't he?"

Yuuri grimaces. Inside, his heart is hammering a little harder. "I don't know why he has it out for me. We're in the same skating club, but..."

"Sounds like he's jealous to me," Viktor says thoughtfully, making Yuuri stare at him. "You've improved so much in such a short time. He gets to see that firsthand, since he skates in the same rink as you, and it's making him very worried. Still, he doesn't need to be so rude about it."

It means a lot to Yuuri to hear that from Viktor. He still isn't sure exactly what he did to paint himself as a target for JJ, but Viktor's reasoning makes sense, and it soothes his lingering irritation a little. JJ doesn't deserve his attention like this -- he should focus completely on Viktor.

"Thank you," Yuuri says quietly. "I'll have to try to ignore him for now. I've got to focus on the competition."

"Good idea," Viktor says with a small smile. "I look forward to your short program tomorrow."

Yuuri meets his eyes. It's not Eros, and it's not anything Yuuri has really designed for himself, other than rearranging the jumps -- but he looks forward to showing off his skills for Viktor, anyway. He wets his lips, and to his shock, Viktor's eyes follow the movement of his tongue, before he seems to catch himself and looks up politely.

"If you can... I'd love for you to watch me perform," Yuuri says softly. Watch me, and only me.

In another life, another future, Viktor wouldn't be able to take his eyes off Yuuri. It might be selfish of him, but he wants it to happen again. He wants Viktor to look at him, and only him -- if just for a little while.

After a moment, Viktor smiles, and it is a slow, dark thing, with a little bit of challenge, and more than a little flirtation. "Okay," Viktor says, sending a hot shiver straight through Yuuri. "If you promise me you'll do the same. Watch my short program."

Oh. Viktor will be performing Pop That Lock, which is still Yuuri's guilty pleasure and half of his fantasy material. Yuuri feels himself blush to the tips of his ears and has to look away, knowing that his reaction is obvious, and not daring to say anything in reply.

Viktor seems pleased by his reaction, chuckling but not bothering him again. Yuuri wonders what the future will bring, if Viktor is paying this much attention to him this early.

He fears, for a little while, that he has done something irreversible, that by pushing himself this hard and improving so fast, that he is changing something momentous -- but that had been his intention in the first place, hadn't it? He wants to be a challenge for Viktor. He wants to give Viktor his love for skating back. If Viktor is this interested in him already, then Yuuri should use it to his advantage.

First, though, he has to make the podium. For that, he has to beat JJ and twenty-eight other skaters.

And that includes Viktor.

~*~

JJ doesn't speak to him the next morning, which is a great relief to Yuuri. He puts in his hours at the practice rink and thinks about adding the quad flip to his free skate. When he brings this up to Celestino, his coach tells him he will think about it, since right now he wants Yuuri to focus on his short program.

So Yuuri does, and later that afternoon when the men's short programs are set to start, he goes into the rink with a racing heart. His nerves are different than usual, not due to the fear of performing and messing up. Instead, he feels excited.

By sheer luck (and Yuuri spends quite a few minutes cursing his luck when he finds out), Yuuri gets placed into the same group as Viktor and JJ. His rinkmate only gives him a look, and Celestino takes care to keep them apart, knowing that tension is still simmering.

When JJ starts on Viktor, though, Yuuri can't help but tense up. Celestino is out of earshot, again, talking quietly with Yakov Feltsman about something. Yuuri shoots JJ a glare, but it doesn't deter him.

"It must be pretty disappointing, knowing you're not the only person who can do a quad flip anymore," JJ comments, when the section before them has already gone. Yuuri is set to go next, and JJ will follow him, with Viktor last. Viktor lifts his head from where he is doing stretches, raising a thin eyebrow at JJ. His pleasant expression never changes.

"I think it's something to be celebrated, actually. Shouldn't we all support each other as skaters?" Viktor says with a smile, and Yuuri is startled to realize how sharp that smile is, promising destruction to whoever crosses it. He has seen that smile before, and he knows full well how dangerous it is.

"Yes, yes, of course," JJ is quick to agree, glancing at Yuuri and grinning at him. "Still, it's a shame when some of us just don't compare to the rest."

"Hm? I can't imagine there's anybody like that." Viktor's smile is all teeth.

JJ laughs. Yuuri heaves a sigh and stands up from his bench, twisting to meet JJ's gaze with a flat stare. He says nothing, letting his silence speak for him, and JJ's smile fades a little, until finally he looks away.

"Yuuri, it's time," Celestino calls, and Yuuri dutifully unzips his jacket. His skating outfit is beautiful in ombre white, blue, and violet, with little pieces of fabric on his arms and back that produce an effect not unlike feathers. Perfect for Swan Lake. The five of them walk out to the rink, and Yuuri slides off his skate guards and hands them to Celestino.

"You can do this, Yuuri," Celestino tells him with a smile.

"I'll be sure to cheer you on, Yuuri," JJ says from behind his coach. Yuuri doesn't bother replying, and as he turns, his eyes catch on Viktor, who is watching him.

Viktor smiles and touches a finger to his lips. Yuuri holds his stare for a moment, then kicks off and makes his way to the center of the rink, holding his arm up in a wave when the audience cheers for him.

He can do this. He will prove himself to Viktor, and to the world. To give Viktor someone to strive against.

Swan Lake begins to play. He doesn't think of his goals, for once, nor of JJ's antagonism. Instead he thinks of his dream of Viktor, and of Odette's strange curse. In a way Yuuri has been cursed as well, stolen from his time and forced into a world that is changing too rapidly for him to make sense of it, and Yuuri uses that emotion to carry out Odette's story.

It's his story, after all. His and Viktor's, though Viktor will never know it.

When the song comes to an end, Yuuri has tears in his eyes. In the older versions of the story, Odette's curse lingered and kept her captive, and Yuuri knows in his heart that his own curse will be the same. He will never go home, he will never see his Viktor again, and all he has now is the broken relationships with his family and friends and an uncertain future. He has Viktor's attention, but it will never be what Yuuri truly wants, and he has no idea what the future holds.

All he can do is keep moving forward. He has to keep grasping for that distant future, even if he can never reach it.

The audience is giving him a standing ovation. Yuuri bows, to cover his emotional exhaustion, making a couple of laps around the rink and collecting a bouquet and a small shrimp plushie. When Yuuri leaves the rink, his eyes catch on Viktor, and what he sees shocks him.

Viktor is crying. When Viktor notices his attention, he smiles and wipes his eyes, then waves, and Yuuri flushes and looks away, horrified that he brought Viktor to tears. He never wanted to hurt Viktor.

Maybe he had put a little too much emotion into his skating.

When Yuuri's score comes out, he is doubly shocked.

"Amazing! Katsuki has shot up to second place! There are still five competitors who have yet to perform, and I think everybody is looking forward to Viktor Nikiforov's upcoming short program. It looks like even Viktor was moved by that performance! That is a new personal best for Katsuki!"

"Wow," Yuuri whispers, and Celestino laughs and pounds his shoulder, sending him stumbling.

"Great job, Yuuri! I knew you had it in you! Now, you have an interview when you exit the rink. I'm going to send JJ off, and then I'll see you afterward, okay?"

Yuuri nods, rising to his feet with a stumble and making his way to the edge of the rink in a daze. The interviewer asks him lots of questions, and Yuuri somehow answers, though he has no idea what he says. He's too busy thinking about the tears in Viktor's eyes, and the emotions he evoked during his short program.

I have to do better. I have to make the podium. There's one person ahead of me, and Viktor will definitely place above me. JJ might, but he'd have to work really hard to catch up. Chris, too.

After he escapes the reporters, Yuuri makes his way up to the stands where the skaters can sit, sinking into an empty chair beside Phichit. He arrives just in time, too; Viktor is doing a welcome lap around the ice, waving at his adoring audience. Absently, Yuuri wonders what JJ's score was, but soon stops worrying about that, because Viktor has lifted his head and is searching the stands for something.

He seems to find it when his gaze lands on Yuuri. He smiles slowly, and Yuuri feels a hot shiver run through him.

He's challenging me.

Pop That Lock starts to play, and Viktor kicks into his quick step skate, and if possible, this is even more overwhelming than when Yuuri saw it on TV for the GPF. Yuuri sits frozen as Viktor skates with abandon, every movement full of sensuality and beauty, and to Yuuri's horror, heat sweeps through him every time Viktor so much as glances his way.

Yuuri can't look away. His entire body is stiff with the heat curling through Viktor's gaze, his hands clenched over his knees. He has always been attracted to Viktor, ever since he was a teenager, but now it feels completely different, since he knows what it feels to lose himself to pleasure in Viktor's arms.

He aches for that feeling again.

When the last notes fade out, Viktor stands from his position with a flourish, bowing to the audience which has erupted with applause. Yuuri sits in silence, hunching down in his seat, knowing without looking that he has a hard-on, and hoping desperately that his jacket and the shadows hide it. He closes his eyes as the next skater steps onto the ice, focusing on his breathing, until his body is no longer raging with want.

A few moments later, JJ drops into the chair on his other side, throwing an arm over the back of Yuuri's seat. "Those reporters are vultures," he sighs, and Yuuri shoots him an incredulous look. JJ catches it and grins, winking and nodding up to the score boards, where Viktor's score has just appeared.

Viktor is first. Naturally -- and Yuuri is now fourth, because JJ has taken over third, since his program is technically more difficult. Yuuri narrows his eyes slowly, irritated by the sight of JJ's smug smile, and sets himself to ignoring JJ for the rest of the short programs. The heated thoughts from Viktor's short program are gone; now all Yuuri can think about is skating to the podium and wiping that smug smirk right off JJ's face.

I'll do it. I'll beat him, and he can go back to Canada with his tail between his legs.

At one point Viktor comes upstairs, pushing his hair back with a contented smile. Yuuri eyes him surreptitiously, absently thinking back to the first time he competed here with Viktor. He hadn't come upstairs to the stands the last time, definitely -- instead he had found an empty bathroom somewhere downstairs and cried his eyes out over his anxiety. Viktor hadn't even looked at him.

Now Viktor can't stop looking at him, because he knows Yuuri can do a quad flip... and apparently because Yurio, of all people, has taken an interest in him. Yuuri wonders if he should be worried about that.

Something to stress over later. When he gets home, Yuuri is going to write down everything that happened this week and go over it with a fine-toothed comb. It will probably drive him a little insane, but Yuuri needs to understand what has changed.

"Sorry you didn't make it to the top three," JJ taunts him, and Yuuri grits his teeth but says nothing in reply. A moment later, a warm arm slides over his shoulder, blocking JJ from his sight. Soft hair brushes his cheek, which makes Yuuri start in surprise. A phone with a gleaming black and gold case appears in front of his face, and Yuuri blinks to recognize Makkachin in its background image before she disappears beneath the Instagram app.

"Smile, Yuuri," Viktor whispers into his ear, and Yuuri just knows that his ears have turned red. He can't help the smile that appears on his lips, a little giddy at having Viktor so close, and on the phone screen, Viktor returns the smile, looking satisfied.

"The short program was a success, wouldn't you say?" Viktor says airily, before letting go of Yuuri and leaning back to catch whatever Chris says behind him. Yuuri doesn't know whether Viktor means his own, or Yuuri's -- but the words still send a shiver through him.

He briefly meets JJ's gaze, then looks forward to watch the rest of the skaters. I'll win. I'll show everyone what I can do. I have to.

~*~

On Thursday, Yuuri manages to avoid Viktor almost completely. He spots him at practice, leaving as Yuuri is arriving, and then manages to escape dinner with him and Chris again by promising to meet Minako-sensei, who has flown from Japan to watch the competition. Minako-sensei accompanies Yuuri and the rest of Celestino's team to dinner, spending most of the meal chatting with Celestino, but frequently turning to Yuuri and congratulating him for his placement.

At one point, JJ tries to point out that Yuuri still fourth, not even in the top three, but Minako-sensei is quick to shut him up with, "there's still the free skate, boy." Yuuri buys her dessert just for that comment alone.

Celestino finally makes a decision about Yuuri's quad flip. Yuuri isn't sure how to feel about it, and he only manages to sleep because Phichit gives him some over-the-counter pills.

Then Friday comes, and with it, the free skate for men. Out of the thirty contestants that year, twenty of them reach the final stage, and they are separated into groups of four.

To Yuuri's dismay, that means he will be skating in the last group, with Viktor and JJ again. He groans a little at the realization, not looking forward to the awkward tension between the three of them. He really, really hopes that JJ does not pick a fight -- but it seems JJ cannot resist poking at Yuuri's temper.

"So, are you going to use it?" JJ asks him, not long before the four of them will be called out. Yuuri reaches up to rub his forehead, sensing an oncoming headache.

"What are you talking about?" he asks JJ tiredly.

"Your quad flip, of course." JJ's gaze sneaks across the room to Viktor, who is watching them with a raised eyebrow. Cao Bin is completely ignoring them, headphones in his ears. "Since you stole it from the current reigning champion."

Yuuri's jaw clenches briefly. Celestino turns away from his conversation with Josef Karpisek and fixes JJ with a warning look, and JJ thankfully subsides. Yuuri stands and walks to the hallway where the air is less oppressive with tension, taking a deep breath and pushing against the wall to stretch again.

"Jealous, like I said," Viktor says quietly, settling against the wall beside him. Yuuri blinks and stands up straight, feeling Viktor's warmth brush his shoulder. It's a little disconcerting to see Viktor clad not in his favored suit, but instead in all black, in a beautiful costume that already has over a million posters printed, reminiscent of a military uniform with accents in silver. Yuuri's own red and purple costume, glittery and dazzling, seems rather soft in comparison.

He considers Viktor's words for a moment. "It's probably because I landed it before he did. He has the lutz, but he hasn't done the flip, yet."

"Like I said," Viktor repeats, a faint smirk curling at his lips. "Whether or not you use it in your skate, you shouldn't let him stress you out. You should skate the way you want to skate, not because anybody else demands it of you."

Yuuri makes a soft noise. "He doesn't bother me. But thank you, anyway." He hesitates, watching Viktor's face for a moment, before finally letting himself say what is roiling through his mind. "Good luck on your free skate, Viktor."

Viktor holds his gaze for a long moment. At the end of the hallway, one of the staff signals the time, and Viktor's lips curl slightly. "To you as well, Yuuri."

Yuuri skates first. He pours his determination into the program, his desperation to create a future for Viktor that will make him happy, to become a better skater, one that will challenge Viktor and pull him out of the funk that is already threatening to overwhelm him and draw him away from skating. He has met this Viktor, now, and despite his own Viktor's wishes, he does not think he has a future together with this Viktor.

Yuuri can fall in love with him, surely -- and he knows he already has, in a way. Just as his Viktor said, this is Viktor, a version of Viktor that Yuuri never got to know, and one that he can love just as easily. Yet this Viktor is not his Viktor, and Yuuri holds onto his resolution more firmly, now: he will not pursue a relationship with this Viktor. He had Viktor once, and to have him again would be far too selfish. Viktor doesn't deserve to have his fate twisted and shaped by Yuuri's hands any more than he can help.

Better to love Viktor and let him go. Yuuri will give Viktor what he always wanted -- a true rival, so that Viktor can retire from ice skating with a peaceful heart.

Then Yuuri will quietly retire as well. Maybe even as soon as next year. He isn't certain that he will be mentally healthy enough to skate the year he would have been with Viktor in his original future. He will not have Eros, nor Yuuri on Ice, and Viktor will be far away from him, too far for Yuuri to reach.

He can give Viktor this time, though. Enough time to make him happy, before Yuuri lets go.

As the end of the song approaches, Yuuri turns his foot inward and kicks off. The quad flip is just as perfect as the one he landed in front of Viktor that day in practice, but in his mind, Yuuri is thinking of that day in Barcelona, where he skated Yuuri on Ice and won silver. He is thinking of the dream he shared with his Viktor, of Viktor's promise to find him again.

The song comes to an end, and Yuuri slows, lifting his arms up and thinking, Viktor. I'll never stop reaching for you.

He closes his eyes, and a moment later, he hears the applause. He can't bring himself to smile, but he gives a low bow to the judges, then to the audience, before collecting a bouquet of roses and going to greet Celestino at the Kiss and Cry.

He doesn't dare look Viktor's way.

The scores come out. Yuuri has a new personal best -- and he is first, now.

Celestino leaves him to go send JJ off, and Yuuri retreats to the hallway for the media to pounce on him. As he expected, Morooka is there to interview him, firing off question after question about the quadruple flip, Yuuri's intentions for training next year, and whether he feels his goals for this year were met.

"I don't know if I did what I set out to do this year. I won't know until we get the next score," Yuuri admits, rubbing the back of his head.

Morooka opens his mouth, then pauses as the announcer comes over the intercom.

"Jean-Jacques Leroy's scores are in. He has finished at... 302.16, below Yuuri Katsuki at 307.01! This means that Katsuki is still in first place and has secured a spot on the podium! Yuuri Katsuki is definitely the dark horse of this year's competition!"

Yuuri stares at the TV screen on the other side of the room, where JJ is waving at the crowds. A slow smile spreads across his lips, and he turns to face Morooka.

"Let me change my answer, please. Yes, I have done what I set out to do." Morooka is delighted by his confident answer, once more complimenting Yuuri and thanking him for competing for Japan. Yuuri makes his way to the stands, already knowing in his heart how Worlds will go. Viktor will get gold, and Yuuri will manage bronze.

Except in the end, Yuuri is wrong.

Instead of bronze, he wins silver. Christophe, who won silver last time, gets bronze with a final score of 305.80. Viktor wins gold with 317.94.

I won silver, Yuuri thinks blankly, staring up at the results. Phichit is shouting in his ear, and at his other side, JJ is silent with shock. He thinks he can hear Minako-sensei screaming with pride in the crowd.

Across the ice, Viktor meets his gaze, something fierce burning behind his blue eyes, striking through Yuuri like a punch. After a long moment, Yuuri gives him a small nod, the only thing he can do.

Viktor, are you watching me, wherever you are? I did it.