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Pacing Ourselves

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The first time Yuuri gives thought to physical contact with someone is when his puppy love for Yuuko awakens. He is eleven years old, and Yuuko helps him up off the ice for the umpteenth time after Nishigori bumps him. She usually makes to help him up but allows Yuuri to recover on his own, but today's incident looks particularly bad and her hands are on him in an instant.

He is aware that his face is numb but throbbing from hitting the ice, but Yuuko's strong grip shouldn't feel so warm through her gloves and his sweater. This is the first time that anyone, besides his parents when he was sick or scared, besides some roughhousing with his older sister Mari, or his ballet instructor Minako, has held him. Even then, his parents have held him since birth, Mari's arms were more casual, and Minako's hands were light and instructive.

Yuuko is none of those four, and her hands held him differently. It's not an intimate touch, but Yuuri feels himself fall in love and wishes that those hands could change positions and place him in a hug just as strong.

Yuuko is his first love and he is resolute with that thought, even when the years go by. The years go by and they both discover Viktor Nikiforov, the god on ice. How can someone only four years older than him make the entire world look as though it was spinning about his blade, and not the other way around? Yuuko and Yuuri both are enthralled by Viktor Nikiforov, and slowly their lives become defined by the older male's life from far away. The two mimic his programs, read up on his glamorous life, and play make-believe that they are world-famous figure skaters and able to meet their idol on the same stage. Yuuri's parents, so ecstatic that their son finding happiness one way or another, indulge him by getting a small brown poodle reminiscent of Viktor Nikiforov's larger canine companion.

The years go by and Yuuri overhears lewd talk in the locker room. He never lingers because he's had enough trouble as a child, chubby and timid and into ballet, that camaraderie and fun aren't the first thoughts in his mind when a group of guys congregate. They talk about 'Emi-chan' or someone in jocular tones, implying this or that in between snickers. Yuuri is put off from the talk and quickly makes his way home for the day, eager to finish his homework so that he can meet Yuuko and Nishigori at the skating rink. The boys' words flash back to his mind, and his unquestioned love for Yuuko is being challenged.

If he loves her, it would seem natural to think of doing sexual things with her, right? But Yuuri digs back in time, from his present age 16 to 15, 14, 13, the first time that his developing body makes itself known. He's touched himself before - understood that small part of sexuality - but realizes that any thought of Yuuko has always been divorced from physical reaction. He blushes and his heart beats wild when she smiles at him, or when she pulls him along the ice. Those reactions are love enough. But the thought of being closer, fingers laced, a warm sweet breath against his face makes Yuuri drop his pencil and he spends five minutes trying to fish it out from behind his desk. Vicchan, full name Victor, nuzzles up to him while he's on the floor and distracts Yuuri for a moment.

He sits back down, an exasperated sigh escapes his mouth as he looks at all the Viktor Nikiforov posters around his room. Each perfect face seems to be smiling indulgently at him. "I bet you don't have any problems with girls," Yuuri comments dryly to his silent, unmoving audience. Viktor Nikiforov, in the middle of his art, always elicits hope and determination within Yuuri. He laughs and thinks that as long as he can admit to Yuuko that he loves her and if all goes well, this disconnect between mind and body will disappear. After all, love is natural, right? His foot gently nudges Vicchan on the floor and the little brown poodle is wagging his tail hard enough to be vibrating Yuuri's leg.

Yuuri loses his opportunity. He's graduating high school and running out of time, but Nishigori beats him to it. He walks in on them at Ice Castle Hasetsu, Nishigori uncharacteristically somber and quiet. Yuuko blushes prettily from afar, and when Nishigori holds his hand out she meets him halfway with her own hand.

He hurts a little, but a part of him sighs in relief. He still is in question on the physical nature of loving someone, and not having the opportunity to face that hard question is the silver lining. Two years were not enough to figure it out, and a fleeting worry says that he might never figure it out.

But he still loves her, and is glad that his decision to move to the United States for school and figure skating will put some distance between her and his confused, aching heart.

Yuuri has a second evaluation on physical intimacy. He concludes that he sucks at understanding it.

Two years in Detroit, he gains a new rinkmate. Phichit Chulanont is his fast friend, both boys foreign in the same country. They share the same coach and soon, the same apartment.

For all that Phichit is three years younger than him, he learns his way around college life faster than Yuuri did. Phichit is a social butterfly, knows everyone, and is invited to all the parties. By virtue of being his friend, Phichit wholeheartedly wants Yuuri to have fun, and always invites him along.

It's a first for Yuuri to interact with his peers in such a casual setting. A cheap beer is in his hand and he's on the periphery of some random conversation about something or another. Someone says a joke that is slightly funny and he chuckles along with the group. Phichit is doing shots in the kitchen and Yuuri thinks with amusement that Coach Celestino will have the Thai boy paying for it thricefold in practice. Yuuri continues to nurse his beer and suddenly, the attention of the group is on him.

"So Yuuri, Janice seems to be into you," a guy leaning against the couch comments.

The phrase strikes him as odd, but he doesn't know who this 'Janice' is. "Janice?" he says as such.

Two giggling girls that are part of the group look Yuuri up and down (he starts to feel self-conscious about his flannel button-down, but it seems to be a thing here so hopefully he didn't look awkward), and they casually gesture with a nod off towards another corner of the party. Yuuri follows the gesture and his eyes land on a girl with long blond hair and a smirk on bright lips.

Yuuri smiles back tentatively but returns to the conversation. His hand idles on the rolled up sleeve of his shirt, and he starts to feel as though he's missed some crucial joke. "I... don't think I know her?"

Jeers and snickers of "Katsuki's playing hard-to-get!" answer that. Yuuri sullenly thinks that his acquaintances are "hard to get". Sometimes, he really doesn't understand his peers.

One of the boys in the group, who was hanging off of his boyfriend's shoulder, takes a swig of whatever foul drink in his hand and then says, "Well, she definitely wants to get to know you." He smirks and continues, "I'd want to get to know you, too," and his boyfriend mock-slaps him on his head.

But you already know me, Yuuri's slightly inebriated mind is trying so hard to catch up in this conversation.

Naturally, Phichit picks up this topic from the group chat in the following days and proceeds to start inviting Janice to gatherings. It becomes a headache and a half when Phichit continuously Instagrams their outings, and Yuuri notices that Janice stands really close when it's time for the Group Selfie.

And Janice asks to hang out with Yuuri, just Yuuri. She stops by after his practices and gives him bottled water. They eat lunch together in between classes. She is quite pretty, with nice hair and sweet expressions, but slightly off-putting with how much she smiles around him. He feels like her energy is limitless and he is impolite to not keep up, but he's frustrated that he's made to keep up at all.

His friends are irritating, always bringing up Janice more than they have to. "Yes, she's pretty," Yuuri answers exasperatedly, "I have to finish this lab report so can you guys just-"

And Janice, as kind and sweet and funny as she is, starts to feel like a wall closing in on him. She sits closer. Her hands accidentally brush against his more than they should. The faint scent of her perfume is distracting more often than not. The pictures of them together, whether it is on her Instagram or Snapchat or Phichit's accounts, feel like he's being exposed.

It all resolves when Yuuri gets a nonchalant text from Phichit asking if he could bring his laptop to room 243 of the nearby hospital. Yuuri feels his heart drop when he realizes that Phichit is injured. Janice naturally worries as well, and the two throw away their lunch and go to see their friend.

Yuuri is in the waiting room, as Phichit is still in examination. Their coach is there, and Yuuri tentatively asks about the injury.

"His ankle, definitely; landed wrong after a triple axel. Hopefully nothing wrong with his head - he hit the ice pretty hard," Celestino answers gruffly.

Yuuri nods and sits back down. Janice's eyes are blinking fast, but she's not crying. Yuuri whispers what Coach Celestino told him to Janice, and she shifts closer to hear him better. He leans back after, but she follows him.

Janice lets out a sympathetic noise, and suddenly her arms are wrapped around him. "It'll be okay, Yuuri." She's warm and her perfume is pleasant, but Yuuri wants out of her embrace. He's already afraid for his friend and uncomfortable, and this sudden intrusion into his personal space is almost offensive.

He stands up suddenly, her hold breaking, and declares that he needs fresh air before stepping out quickly. Celestino texts him twenty minutes later that Phichit free for visitors, and he comes back inside to his friend's room. Janice is not present.

Phichit is fine; his ankle is merely sprained, and there is no lasting head injury. Yuuri places the laptop next to Phichit while he is busy Instagramming his new splint.

"Glad you're okay," Yuuri says.

Phichit smiles. "Me too; that was crazy," he chuckles. The two of them somber up when the reality of career-ending injuries invade their minds. Phichit quickly changes the subject. "Apparently, Janice was with you? Ciao Ciao said she left after you went outside?"

Yuuri snorts at their coach's nickname. "She was... But yeah, she left."

"Where did she go?"

Yuuri is exasperated, which is becoming too common of an occurrence. "I was more worried about my friend's injury to ask. She didn't message me so I assumed it didn't matter."

Phichit lets out a whine and Yuuri backs up in alarm. "A-Are you in pain?! I'll get the nurse!"

"You're so oblivious!!! I've been trying to set you up with her! You practically pushed the poor girl away when she was trying to comfort you!"

Yuuri sees that Phichit's phone is on the screen of Janice's message thread. The last message was from Janice fifteen minutes ago.

"... is that what that was?" Yuuri felt his face color. For one, he was oblivious. And he feels slightly violated that his friends colluded to manipulate his love life. He tries to justify his obliviousness. "I was genuinely worried about you! How could I think about getting with some girl when my friend is in the hospital?!"

Phichit smiled sheepishly, knowing that Yuuri's seen his messaging and gives it up. "Now I feel really bad - I made you worry this much, and I ruined her chances with you."

While Yuuri is annoyed, he tries to assuage his friend with the fact that it wouldn't have worked out in the first place. "Well, the whole time, I thought she was being... weird? Like, Janice is nice and all, but it just... felt like I was being corralled or something. And I wasn't paranoid because all of you were plotting!"

Phichit laughs easily enough. "Yep, every last one of us," he sells out the rest of their friend group with ease.

"...Thanks but no thanks - I can't help who I like or don't like, and it wasn't fair to Janice," Yuuri says reproachfully.

Phichit claps his hands together and bows his head in acquiescence. "Okay, okay Yuuri; we'll stop interfering with your love life."

Yuuri sighs but laughs as well. "There's not much to interfere with."

His love life, or the absence of, is moved to the back burner for the next few years. Coach Celestino sees real potential in Yuuri to succeed, and pushes him so that at age 23, he stands on the stage of the Grand Prix Final in Sochi.

Yuuri's heart is threatening to shatter from nerves. He looks across the rink and sees Viktor Nikiforov in the flesh.

He thinks he can implode from sheer anxious joy. He receives a call from his mother, and he lets out an indulgent sigh. He knows that she probably forgot that he was due on the ice in an hour, and just wanted to check up on her son.

One phone call later and a devastating spectacle on ice, and Yuuri forgets that the day ever started out well.

He is ashamed. Even just standing in the atrium, he feels like an unseemly intruder. If it were any other time or situation, Yuuri would have eagerly stammered a shaky ‘yes’ to his idol’s offer of a commemorative photo together.

Yuuri remembers the daydreams, the make-believe with Yuuko. If I were a famous ice skater... I'd want Viktor Nikiforov to see me - no, I'd want to skate on the same ice as him! Thinking of Yuuko at this time is ironic: he's missed his opportunity with her, and now he's made a mess of his opportunity with Viktor Nikiforov.

Five times crowned the king of figure skating, and Viktor Nikiforov got treated to some half-hearted and pathetic flailing on ice. And there was the salt in the wound - Viktor Nikiforov's question sounded like one to a fanboy. Was he so worthless that a fellow competitor didn't bother to remember his face?

The additional fact that a fifteen year old caught him crying in the bathroom was just part of the 'terrible day' package.

Yuuri's brain methodically walks through the events of the night. He made it to the Grand Prix Final, he was slated to skate 3rd, his mother called and told him that his Vicchan passed away, and then he blanks out on ice and barely managed two of his jumps without crashing. Viktor Nikiforov wins gold yet again, and offers him a commemorative photo like he was one of the man's faceless adoring fans.

Yuuri lets himself walk away.

He bombs the rest of the season, of course he does. The inevitable course for when he trips is to keep spiralling down.

“This can’t be the end of it,” Phichit said. “Things happened, you got shaken. That isn’t the end of it. You still love skating, don’t you?”

Yuuri does. He's had a few months to think on it, with the backdrop of Celestino's stern words. All he says is, "I'm sneaking down to the rink after homework, if you want to join." Phichit grins and nods.

The two of them sneak into the ice rink after hours, Yuuri worn thin from his schoolwork and Phichit grumbling about an essay he was procrastinating on. They skate circles around each other, play many of the little games that they’ve made up to pass the time on ice.

“Duuuude,” Phichit drawls exaggeratedly, the mocking term slowly becoming unironic in their diction the longer they stay in Detroit.

“Dude,” Yuuri chimes back, skating in lazy circles.

Phichit catches him by the arm, and the two start spinning around each other and drifting across the ice like binary stars. His friend is uncharacteristically serious.

“You can’t give up, okay? We’re going to skate together again."

Yuuri smiles softly and Phichit takes it as confirmation, lets loose his grip.

He graduates with little fanfare. His bachelor's degree is useful enough - if figure skating doesn't pan out, he can work for some firm or another. His body is soft again, stressed from eating and not eating, all nighters and lazy days alternating, and lack of consistently intense training. His time on the ice turns into a personal project, of sorts.

He arrives home and after being pulled this way and that by his former ballet instructor Minako, he settles in for dinner with his family. He is embarrassed to be called out for falling so far from his fit form barely three months ago, but his family respects that he'll make his own decisions and that he respects and appreciates his family's support.

After a quick prayer to Vicchan's altar, he beelines for Ice Castle Hasetsu. He hopes that Yuuko will be there, and that after meeting everyone else, seeing Yuuko will be the closure he needs to start anew.

Yuuri concludes that he still loves her, even if he can't give her any form of that love and she can't receive that love. He still needs to tell her. This feeling is the last thing holding him back from being a blank slate and trying to rediscover his love of figure skating without it being with respect to anyone other than himself. Even his admiration of Viktor Nikiforov is his own, and not something he owes his idol.

The only way he knows how to be his strongest, his most confident in his feelings (and isn't that ironic, after being nicknamed "the figure skater with the biggest glass heart") is when he's out on ice. He and Yuuko were tied together through their admiration of Viktor Nikiforov, and it's only fitting that he convey his feelings with a rendition of their idol's program.

It is Viktor Nikiforov's winning program from this year, and Yuuri's spent a month or two working on it. It was how he kept sane after the season and his schooling turned full-time. He would take to the rink after Celestino and his former rinkmates left, Phichit the one telling him their schedules, and just chip away at recreating Victor's performance from the grainy video of his phone night after night.

Stay With Me is the yearning dance of a soft-hearted, innocent young man who can't bear to let his lover go. Yuuri knows he will have to let Yuuko go, but he wants her to know. Despite everything, he wants his feelings to be seen.

The program is punishing no matter how many times he practices, but in the near-empty rink and without his glasses he can feel no pressure. All the jumps come easy, the steps natural, and the spins are meditative. Each gesture he sweeps out with his arms is everything that he feels towards Yuuko, gratitude and love from past til present. He knows she can't accept. He knows she's married, and has been sent pictures of her adorable triplet daughters. But he's loved her since he knew about love.

Yuuri's heartfelt confession is interrupted by Yuuko's daughters and Nishigori comes up to wrangle them. Yuuri doesn't know whether to feel exasperated that he has yet another lost opportunity to add to his growing tally, or be thankful that he doesn't have to deal with an undoubtedly awkward conversation.

In a way, the performance was cathartic enough that Yuuri feels like he's starting over already. He considers it all over and done with and spends the rest of his week lazing around, shoveling snow, and lightly exercising.

He doesn't realize that he's ruined his own life until a week later.


"I'm so sorry - the triplets were hiding and filming that whole time! If we'd had known-! And... it's gone viral..."

Yuuri hangs up on Nishigori. For all that he's bullied him as a child, Yuuri knows that Nishigori has his back now. He wouldn't have done this to mess with him intentionally.

The only thing worse would be if Viktor Nikiforov sees the viral video and laughs. Laughs long and hard at the spineless, chubby imitation of his winning choreography. Finds his profile on the JSF site, calls his number, and just laughs as soon as Yuuri picks up. And that'll be the end of Yuuri Katsuki.

Yuuri decides to just sleep forever. For the next 48 hours, he will sleep. Minako drunkenly stomps into the room and ruins that goal.

Yuuri has his life figured out, mostly. He loves figure skating. He has good friends in Phichit, Yuuko, Nishigori, and Minako. His parents and his sister love him. He has some weight to lose before getting back in the rink. Viktor Nikiforov is a terrific skater and still his idol. He'll probably never figure out if someone was flirting with him, or how to love someone beyond a concept.

The viral video, while mortifying, is fine. Just another tally mark of embarrassing things about him, a list in conjunction with the one on his lost opportunities.

His introspections do not account for the famous Russian skater to be bum-fucking naked, in his face, and declaring with a saucy wink that he will be Yuuri's new coach for the Grand Prix Final gold medal.

As Yuuri goes into severe denial catatonia, he begs himself not to look down the man's naked body.

Yuuri's traitor eyes look down. And learns the answer to those sordid questions about Viktor Nikiforov's body hair.

He politely indicates that his soul leaving his body via beached whale noises, and scrambles out of the onsen.

Yuuri had it all figured out, and his life was like a neat little system with simple governing equations. And Viktor Nikiforov's naked body smashes into his carefully reassembled life that he just put back together.

pchit_chu: so ur getting back into skating

katsudon_y: so twitter is telling me

pchit_chu: more like "so says vikiforivs tweets"

pchit_chu: ciao ciao will b thrilled

pchit_chu: he was really worried abt u

katsudon_y: ive probably dissappointed him enough for that to be a lie

pchit_chu is typing...

pchit_chu: so i heard he was naked

pchit_chu: did u bang

katsudon_y is typing...

katsudon_y: PHICHIT no no no no no no

pchit_chu: is this why janice didnt work out

pchit_chu: dont no me im not the one w the crush on him since 11

katsudon_y: phichit pls

pchit_chu: even then i would humbly accept viktorforvs offerings

katsudon_y: dont make me resort 2 begging in japanese phichit

pchit_chu: mimicking his gpf fp is basically a love confession

katsudon_y: im doing it お願い

katsudon_y: やめろ

pchit_chu: ok ok ill stop

pchit_chu: pls dont implode

pchit_chu: i want 2 see my friend @ gpf :)

katsudon_y: :|