Viktor is a morning person, except when he’s hungover. Yuuri wakes up to an empty bed, nine times out of ten; throws his arm out blindly, to feel the pillows still warm from the imprint of Viktor’s head, half the blankets kicked to the floor. Gets up, eyes sleep-crusted. Fumbles for his glasses. Goes out into the hallway to find Viktor already nursing his first cup of tea, wintry sunlight filtering through the blinds and falling in waves onto his profile — looking so still, so warm.
That moment every morning, just before Viktor looks up and sees him and says: ‘Ah, Yuuri,’ in a tone of new delight, is what Yuuri will never get used to.
Here’s the thing: Viktor Nikiforov is a consummate performer. Yuuri feels as though he’s grown up watching Viktor take the spotlight in his lean experienced hands and make it his own — his smooth deflections at press conferences, the precise delicacy of his smile. Even as a new-blooded sixteen-year-old, sharp and charismatic and oh, so beautiful, Viktor did not like to talk about his personal life.
Now they are on the same side of the cameras. Yuuri clutches the bouquet he’s picked up off the ice, almost unseeing, and focuses on the dizzying perfect details. His skin is still damp. His pulse is only just beginning to slow. Viktor’s hand has not moved from the small of his back since Yuuri came off the rink. Viktor blinks. He smiles — eyes widening in slight, very slight surprise — entirely guileless. His plans… his future? Yes, says the interviewer, everyone wants to know what Viktor Nikiforov has lined up for himself. Viktor smiles wider. He looks as though the question has never crossed his mind; as if he hasn’t thought about it a thousand times, head on Yuuri’s shoulder, blankets tangled around their waists. He doesn’t want to talk about himself. He wants to talk about Yuuri.
It hurts to watch. It is physically painful. Yuuri clutches tightly at Viktor’s wrist, in the taxi back to the hotel — the flowers abandoned somewhere, he can’t remember — and thinks oh, what will I do without you.
This is what Yuuri thinks he knows. From childhood obsession, shamefaced adolescent fixation. From every twist and leap and spin on that smooth expanse of ice that has been his whole world as long as he can remember. Rinks look the same everywhere. From watching and re-watching Viktor’s old YouTube videos on bad nights in Detroit, his heart tight in his chest. Wondering, even then, allowing himself to imagine: what are you thinking? The bright sweep of the camera loving Viktor. The crisp, exhausted satisfaction on those fine features as he raised his arms to the cheering audience. The flash of pure anger, quickly masked, when he flubbed a jump or fell in competition.
In the hotel room that night, their twin beds pushed together, Viktor looks hurt. Or… no, he doesn’t put on a hurt expression, that pained wince that is meant to draw laughter, it is so nearly a pout. He only gazes at Yuuri, that careful velvet mouth gone slack, those heavy eyes lingering on Yuuri’s face. Watching. Waiting. Says: ‘Would I ever leave you? Is that something I would do?’
Yuuri closes his eyes. He lets himself believe.
They sit on the floor of their living room as Yuuri treats his feet with antiseptic. Makkachin whines, head heavy on Yuuri’s lap. The curtains flutter in the sunset breeze. As the evening grows dark around them, Viktor laughs.
‘Look how worried you’re making him.’
‘Ah… it’s okay, Makkachin,’ Yuuri says on reflex. He strokes Makkachin’s fur. His feet are broken and bleeding from the day’s practice and the punishing runs, but he’s seen worse. Viktor has seen worse. Viktor — fingertips gentle on the cracked skin of Yuuri’s soles, pulling a few sheets from the ever-present Makkachin tissue box with his other hand — stops abruptly. He pulls Yuuri to his shoulder, palm cupping the back of Yuuri’s head, his nose buried in Yuuri’s hair. Yuuri turns his cheek into the touch and breathes in that hot familiar scent of black fabric.
‘Really, I’m okay,’ he insists, a little impatient now. He presses the antiseptic wipe to his heel and winces.
Makkachin paws at Yuuri’s knees, his ears twitching anxiously. Viktor picks up the tissue box and pushes it into Yuuri’s face, making ridiculous dog-noises that are echoed by the real Makkachin, grinning at Yuuri’s muffled protests.
‘Look! Makkachin’s kissing you! And —’ He leans in, seemingly all spontaneity; Yuuri knows better. ‘— and now I’m kissing you!’
Viktor is, Yuuri thinks, frankly less interested in coaching than he is in Yuuri.
Well. No. That’s not fair at all. He picks out imperfections in the other skaters’ performances as easily as breathing, narrows his eyes at their step sequences; chin on Yuuri’s shoulder, his slow breath lifting the bangs that fall messily into his eyes. Thinking. Assessing. It’s like he’s not even conscious of what he’s doing — it simply comes naturally, to Viktor. Viktor is constantly in observer mode. But it’s only when Yuuri goes on the ice that there is warmth to his scrutiny.
Yuuri is different. He can’t help himself. Yuuri loves music, loves skating; he has a quiet collection of program tracks on his phone, favourites saved from his fellow competitors’ past performances. Yuuri’s memory is pitch-perfect. He can imitate small, shorn-off parts of their routines on impulse, does it sometimes for warm-ups when it’s just him and the dark natural rhythms and the great emptiness of the rink — earbuds singing brightly, exhilarated and content. It’s a secret he keeps. It’s wildly embarrassing. On one of the rare Saturday mornings when he arrives early at the rink, Yuuri hums idly along to Guang Hong’s violin elegance, lands the jump Phichit messed up at the Cup of China, and thinks: Viktor would never skate Christophe’s “Intoxicated”. He wouldn’t. He couldn’t. They have the same gorgeous, magazine-model charm and the same reputation but it’s not Viktor’s style. Viktor is not interested in this.
‘Very nice,’ Viktor says from the entrance, dryly amused. Yuuri trips over his own feet and yelps.
‘— and posters, of course. Figurines.’ Yuuko leans against the rail next to Viktor as Yuuri straps on his skates. She pauses before she speaks again; Yuuri knows she wouldn’t bring up Vicchan in any kind of joking context. ‘We were, what, eleven? We watched so many videos of you with Takeshi.’
‘Really?’ Viktor’s tone carries very little surprise and a whole lot of pleasure. He cups his hands over his mouth and calls, ‘Not so fast, Yuuri!’
Yuuri puts in his earbuds, turns up the volume and skates backwards away from them at breakneck speed. ‘I’m going to skate compulsory figures now, okay? Okay.’
‘Yes, of course,’ replies Viktor in a bemused when-have-you-ever-asked-for-my-permission? sort of voice. Yuuri is not sure why he even bothers at this point. Viktor already knows how painfully Yuuri adores him. ‘Yuuri, Yuuri, will you show me…?’
‘I can’t hear you! I don’t know what you’re saying!’
The only show Viktor watches with any kind of commitment is Eurovision. He sits beside Yuuri for hours, sharing earphones, as they race through singing contests and Japanese dramas and old Netflix favourites from Yuuri’s college days. Whatever they’re watching all depends on Yuuri’s mood, but it doesn’t seem to matter to Viktor; he gazes at Yuuri’s laptop screen, utterly content, falls asleep on Yuuri’s shoulder more often than not.
‘Turn off the English subtitles!’ Viktor orders one night, bright with excitement, as they’re sitting in the inn after dinner with the television humming in the background. It’s late — the only customer is an old man asleep in his sake, and Yuuri obligingly picks up the remote. Viktor claps in delight when he understands everything the actors are saying without asking Yuuri to translate even once. He leans against Yuuri; rattles off one of the love interest’s lines with the same concentration Yuuri uses on his choreography. Tips his face up to Yuuri’s, mouth warm and liquid and drowsy. Asks, ‘How’s my accent?’
‘Cute,’ Yuuri says, laughing. He kisses the top of Viktor’s head. Thinks: I’ll never let this go.
When they break for lunch Yurio takes one look at Yuuri and Viktor’s joined hands and says, ‘No, I’m, no, nope, you guys go ahead, I’ll. I’ll eat by myself.’
‘Nonsense,’ says Viktor. Yuuri zips up the front of his hoodie. ‘We’re all going to the same place, aren’t we, Mila?’
Yurio scowls as he lifts himself out of a perfect split. ‘I want to eat with Mila.’
‘Yes, all right,’ Mila agrees. She puts Yurio in a headlock and drags him towards the rink’s entrance with them. ‘Come along, Yurochka!’
In the little corner café, by unspoken agreement, Mila drops cheerfully into the single seat opposite and leaves Yurio sitting between Yuuri and Viktor. Yurio glowers into his dumplings. Yuuri’s never tried borscht before; shivering from the chill of the outdoors air, he spoons it down in what must be record time. From the other end of the bench, Viktor smiles at him.
‘Very,’ Yuuri answers, and leans around Yurio to feed Viktor a generous spoonful.
‘Kill me now,’ Yurio says.
‘Oh! Sorry, did you want some, Yurio?’
More than anything, Yuuri is afraid. He’s afraid of the day he’ll look at Viktor and not find him already looking back with that gentle smile. He’s afraid of losing this — not Viktor, exactly, but the deep overwhelming awe that tugs at his lungs when he least expects it. That singing wonder — you are here, you stayed, I chose you and you chose me. He doesn’t know which option adds more heat to the anxiety coiling beneath his ribs: one day taking this for granted, or never getting used to it.
Viktor shifts and murmurs behind him, lips at the nape of Yuuri’s neck. Under the blankets, the weight of his arm across Yuuri’s waist is very heavy. To this day Yuuri still does not know why Viktor wants so many fucking lamps in their bedroom. He’s not going to ask. ‘Stop thinking so much.’
‘You’re thinking too,’ Yuuri whispers back.
‘Yes,’ Viktor agrees. He kisses the spot behind Yuuri’s earlobe where the skin is dusty and soft. He doesn’t elaborate.
Yuuri breathes. In, out. Deep and steady and sweet. He always finds himself tempted to try to synchronise the rhythms of their breathing, just before they drift off to sleep; he can’t help it. It feels so natural, and they are pressed so close. It doesn’t matter. Viktor grumbles in Russian in his sleep, and turns over and over, and comes half-awake in sleepy curiosity to Yuuri, irritated, dragging the blankets off him because Viktor has wrapped himself up in them and left Yuuri freezing in the night air. It’s okay. They’re okay. It’s okay.
In an Osaka supermarket, Viktor holds up two packets of dog treats which look, to Yuuri, practically identical. ‘This one? Or this one?’
‘Vit’ka, they’re the same,’ Yuuri says patiently.
‘No, no — this one makes his breath smell, but he likes it better —’
They’re in Chicago for Skate America, crammed into the window seat of a deep, fireplace-like burger joint. Phichit is there — when they’re assigned to the same events he is always invited wherever Yuuri and Viktor go, always — and where Phichit goes, the others invariably follow. Seung-gil’s on his way, and Christophe is apparently stuck at one of the subway stations. Yuuri is never entirely sure whether Viktor likes Christophe. He certainly has a knack for showing up out of nowhere whenever Christophe decides to slip one hand into Yuuri’s jeans pocket. Sometimes Yurio asks witheringly (in Russian, which Yuuri is picking up in scattered phrases), ‘Jealous?’
Viktor says, blue eyes all wide and perfect innocence: ‘Who, me?’
‘Leo says to order the fries extra large,’ Phichit tells them now, his cheeks cool from the wind as he scrolls through his messages. ‘He says the cheeseburgers taste funny, but the milkshakes are their specialty —’
‘I know. Vitya’s been here before,’ Yuuri says absently, chin in hand, before he starts and remembers it’s rude to interrupt. He puts on his best Russian accent (which is terrible): ‘Delicious! Amazing!’
‘Yuuri!’ Phichit and Viktor exclaim together, dragging out the syllables of Yuuri’s name in exactly the same singsong rosy tone. Yuuri’s heart brims over. He hides his face in the menu.
Phichit is ecstatic to discover that this place offers free wifi. ‘Smile for my Snapchat!’ he says, leaning back in his seat beside Viktor to get Yuuri in the shot. ‘You know, I was telling Otabek just now that — dog!’
‘Dog?’ says Viktor, still untangling the ends of his scarf.
Yuuri and Phichit press their faces against the window as a woman in peacoat and scarf passes by, heels clicking on the pavement outside, her five golden retrievers flocking about her. Viktor rests his head on the windowpane and massages the bridge of his nose.
Yuuri’s thighs are burning and his breath comes fast in his ears. He crosses the bridge — the scent of flowers thick in the dusk, water lapping darkly beneath him — and is just about to head into the park when Viktor steps out from the shade of the trees. Yuuri, still afire from his momentum, turns his head automatically to look but doesn’t slow down — then Makkachin shoots forward and is at Yuuri’s side in an instant, dancing narrow circles around his ankles.
Yuuri skids to a halt, bracing himself with both hands on his knees as he catches his breath. His heart thrums harshly. Viktor, wearing one of Yuuri’s old jackets although he’s no stranger to cold, follows Makkachin lazily with his hands in his pockets. What little light there is left gleams on his hair. It’s a strange safe feeling, Yuuri thinks, to be so secure in his Viktor: this soft-edged reality of a man, thoughtful, perceptive, private.
‘Makkachin missed you, so we came looking,’ Viktor says, laughing. He lifts out one of Yuuri’s earbuds with a questioning look and, when Yuuri nods, slips it into his own ear, bobbing his head appreciatively. ‘Are you done?’
‘Yeah,’ Yuuri says softly, disbelieving; breathless and wondering at his own good fortune. ‘Let’s go home.’