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On Shattered Ice

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Yuuri smiles as he lands the jump, fighting the urge to look immediately in Victor’s direction to see his reaction.  Still, even without looking, he feels the surge of warmth and pride coming through his bond that can only be from Victor.  His cheeks burn slightly and he fights to make it through the rest of his short program.  Sometimes he wonders how this can possibly be reality.  Just a few short months ago Yuuri had pretty much given up on his career.  His only interaction with Victor was obsessing over his collection of photos and memorabilia and watching him perform as a distant competitor.  And now Victor is his coach and bondmate.  Knowing there’s someone who has his back, who believes in him and will never leave him, makes all the difference in the world.

“Yuuri, what’s wrong?  You seem distracted.”  Victor’s concern is reflected in the worry and affection Yuuri can feel through the bond.

“Nothing, just happy,” Yuuri says, and is rewarded by a sudden flood of warmth.  It makes him smile.

“You’re getting a lot more consistent with that jump.  Should we go get some dinner as a reward?  Something other than katsudon for a change?”

“We never have katsudon!  It’s always ramen with you.”  Although if ramen is what Victor wants he’s not going to complain too much.  The last few months have been the happiest and most productive of Yuuri’s skating career and he’s fully aware of exactly how much Victor has to do with that.

Victor just laughs and slings an arm over Yuuri’s shoulder as he steps off the ice.  That’s something Yuuri has had to get used to – the constant casual touching.  Even when they barely knew each other Victor was always quick to touch him – a hand at the small of his back, a quick touch to his shoulder.  It’s a huge part of Victor’s personality which Yuuri knows and accepts and even enjoys now.  But it was hard in the beginning, when they were new bondmates just getting to know each other.  The feelings are much more intense when they are touching and it was a little overwhelming for Yuuri at first.  This person he had always admired from a distance being so close, his feelings invading Yuuri’s mind.  Now he can’t imagine not having it.

Victor withdraws from him briefly as Yuuri stops at the bench to remove his skates and Yuuri shivers a bit as that feeling of warmth fades.  It’s so much stronger when Victor is touching him that it’s almost like having his own personal heater.  Of course Victor notices his discomfort immediately.

“You okay?” The feeling of concern is different, not so much like heat but a little cooling. It still makes Yuuri feel better.

“Yeah, I’m okay. Just got cold for a minute.” Yuuri winces realizing how ridiculous it must sound for him – someone who spends a large part of his day on the ice to be cold, but Victor just laughs.

“You know I’ll keep you warm, Yuuri,” Victor says, eyebrows arching suggestively and is immediately back on the bench pressed up against him. 

Yuuri laughs and pushes him away.  “Stop, I’ve got to get my skates off.”

“Oh, am I distracting you?”  Victor trails his hand down Yuuri’s face, pushing his hair back and Yuuri feels his face heating as he gives Victor another shove.

He wouldn’t give this up for the world.

***

Later that night Yuuri starts thinking about his free skate again and can’t seem to fall asleep.  It’s not anxiety exactly.  He knows he has quite a bit of time until the Rostelecom Cup so he can definitely improve on the things he didn’t do so well on in the Cup of China.  Perfecting his quad salchow is pretty high on that list.  Absently he wonders if Victor is still awake and reaches out with his mind.  He can’t read Victor as well when they’re farther apart but the connection is still comforting.  Just knowing it’s there if he needs it gives him a sense of security and calms him down when he's feeling anxious.  Victor must feel the tentative touch because once again he is flooded with a sense of warmth and fondness and the tiniest bit of something that Yuuri thinks must be yearning.  It makes heat rush to his cheeks and he squirms in bed. 

Since Victor’s still awake Yuuri decides to go see him.  He does this sometimes when he can’t sleep and Victor never seems to mind.  He knows he shouldn’t be bothering Victor since they’re together all day, every day, but sometimes he just can’t help himself.  He tells himself that he would know if Victor was getting tired of him.

Victor is typing away on his laptop in bed when Yuuri comes in and smiles in that intimate way that makes Yuuri’s anxiety melt away.  “Couldn’t sleep?”  Victor pats the bed next to him and moves Makkachin over a little so that Yuuri will have more room.  The dog looks mildly disgruntled but goes back to sleep almost immediately.  Yuuri sits down next to Victor and runs a hand over the dog’s soft fur.

“No, I kept thinking about my free skate and all the things I need to improve on before Russia…”  Yuuri’s voice trails off, distracted by how beautiful Victor is up close, his usually perfect hair slightly disheveled.

“You shouldn’t be thinking about that at night.  You need to get your beauty sleep,” Victor says disapprovingly.

“For some reason,” Yuri hesitates, nervous about Victor’s reaction, “I sleep better when I’m closer to you.  Do you think it’s because of the bond?”  He knows that some bondmates live together and share the same bed but there are plenty who don’t as well.  Yuuri concentrates on the bond in case there is any negative reaction but there is just that same fond feeling of warmth.

“Maybe.  I sleep better when you’re closer too,” Victor admits and just for a second Yuuri thinks he sees a flash of something that could be vulnerability in Victor’s face.  “You know you can always come here if you can’t sleep.  Although I can’t guarantee I won’t keep you awake.”  He smiles suggestively.

Yuuri sighs and moves closer so that he is leaning ever so slightly against Victor.  Immediately Victor’s emotions wash over him, warm and comforting, almost like a fuzzy blanket.  It makes Yuuri smile and close his eyes. Victor puts an arm around him pulling him closer and Yuuri feels his eyelids getting heavy, all thoughts of his free skate melting away.  The last thing he’s aware of is a light touch of lips against his temple.

***

It's only the next day when his life falls apart at the seams.  He’s practicing his free skate and everything is going well at first.  He can feel Victor’s approval like a warm glow in the back of his mind.  Despite all his anxiety of the night before he’s really getting into the program and seems to be making some progress on the jumps he’s been struggling with.  He’s nearing the end of the program for the third time that day and doesn’t even seem to be getting tired. 

What happens is stupid really, when he looks back on it – a comedy of errors.  He ends up a little too close to the boards for his last jump which would normally be no big deal.  He can adjust mid-air easily enough.  And normally that’s what he would do but he is distracted for a fraction of a second by a child’s high-pitched scream, and that’s all it takes.

Sometimes a crowd gathers to watch him practice, not a ton of people, but there are always a few.  Today a child, probably only 2 or 3, has wandered on to the ice and managed to trip over the step at the entrance.  The scream, accompanied by a sharp wave of fear and confusion from Victor makes him flub the jump.  On a normal day, Yuuri falls plenty of times.  It’s certainly not something to get upset about.  He dusts himself up and goes right back into the routine.  But this time he goes headfirst into the boards. 

The pain rushes through him for an instant and he falls hard.  It’s nothing compared to what comes next.  A pain like he has never felt before comes tearing through his bond with Victor.  It’s terrifying and overwhelming and he screams, unable to control himself.  He can hear Victor’s answering scream just for a moment before he blacks out.

***

When he wakes, the first thing he is aware of is that he is alone.  For the first time in months, Victor isn’t in his head.  Yuuri reaches with his mind, trying to feel him.  Maybe Victor’s far away – back in Russia.  Since they formed the bond they haven’t really tested the limits – they’ve been completely focused on training.  But, no, Victor wouldn’t leave him.  That much he’s absolutely positive about.  Yuuri reaches as far as he can until his mind almost feels strained but it’s just emptiness as far as he can sense.  He fights the feeling of panic that seems to be taking over and opens his eyes.

He’s in a hospital.  That much is clear by the sterile white bedsheets and blinking machines around him.

“Yuuri, you’re awake!” a voice says, and he manages with difficulty to focus on Yuuko sitting in a chair beside the bed, and his mother standing beside her.  Yuuko is holding his hand and now that he is awake she squeezes it gently.

“Yuuko.”  He tries to respond, but finds that his throat his too dry to get anything else out.  His mother helps him drink some water through a straw and he finally manages to form coherent words.  “Victor… where’s Victor?”

Yuuko and his mom just look at each other and share an expression that he can’t read.

“Is he okay?!”  The panic floods back in a rush, stronger than ever.  Something must be wrong if he isn’t here.  There’s no way Victor wouldn’t be at his side if he was injured.  “Why can’t I feel him?”

“Yuuri, calm down.” His mother’s voice is calm, her expression more serious than usual.  “Victor’s going to be okay.”

Yuuri breathes a sigh of relief.  His mom wouldn’t lie to him. 

“When you hit your head it damaged the bond.  It was unexpected and hit Victor really hard.  He went into shock,” Yuuko says hesitantly.

“Victor…” That’s why he can’t feel Victor. It’s his fault.

Yuuko squeezes his hand again.  “Doctors have made a lot of progress with bond research in the past few years, Yuuri.  You may be able to repair the bond through therapy.”

“What if they can’t?”  Yuuri’s voice is shaky.  This can’t be happening.  He could lose everything all because of a stupid mistake.  He could lose Victor.  It’s too upsetting to even contemplate and he closes his eyes.

“Yuuri, look at me.”  Yuuko’s voice is firm, unwavering.  “You have to be strong now.  That kind of attitude isn’t going to help Victor.”

“I have to see him.  Where is he?”  Yuuri fights to keep his voice from shaking.

His mother and Yuuko exchange another look.  Clearly they expected this reaction.  “Yuuri just give it a little time,” Yuuko says.  “You have a concussion, plus you’ve been through a lot with the bond.  You need some time to recover.”

“And Victor is still unconscious,” his mother adds.  “He wouldn’t even know you were there.”

“I don’t care. I have to see him.” Seeing Victor is all he can think of at the moment.  Like if he sees Victor somehow everything will be fixed.  If he could just touch him-

“Yuuri, there’s something else you have to think about,” Yuuko adds.  She hesitates like she doesn’t want to go on and then continues. “The bond was damaged in a traumatic way.  Seeing Victor too soon could actually hurt him.”

Yuuri knows what she says is true.  He’s heard stories of bondmates whose bonds were severed unexpectedly and they couldn’t even tolerate each other’s presence afterwards.  When he thinks about it being that way for he and Victor he starts shaking and can’t seem to stop.  He can feel tears welling up in his eyes but forces them back.  Victor is hurt.  He’s the one who has to take responsibility now.  He’s the one who has to be strong.

“I have to see him.  I understand the risks.  But I have to be there when he wakes up.  He was always there for me no matter what.  I have to be there for him.”  Yuuri’s voice cracks and he looks away from his mother and Yuuko.  They can’t deny him this.

Yuuko now looks near tears herself.  “Yuuri,” she says, and then stops.

Yuuri’s mother nods.  “As long as you understand the risks.”

“I do,” Yuuri says, and tries not to fall apart.

***

Yuuri refuses to allow anyone to come with him into Victor’s hospital room.  His mother and Yuuko put up a fight but he manages to convince them that he’s fine despite the fact that the dizziness is a little overwhelming.  At least he’s on enough medication that he’s not in any real pain.  Physical pain, anyway.

The hospital staff have put Victor in a room on a different floor on the complete other side of the hospital.  Apparently it’s supposed to help them both recover from the bond damage to be as far apart as possible.  Yuuri hesitates again as he reaches for the door handle to Victor’s room.  He doesn’t want to do anything to hurt Victor.  Would it be better if he stayed away, like his family and the doctors want?  But then he thinks about what he would want if he was the one unconscious.  He would want Victor near him to give him strength.  He knows Victor would go to him.  Yuuri opens the door.

As Yuuri approaches the bed he can feel the dizziness coming back and reaches a hand to the wall to steady himself.  Victor is so pale, his brow slightly furrowed like he is in pain. It makes Yuuri want to touch him, to shake him, to make him open his eyes.  But he is afraid to touch him.  He doesn’t want to do anything that might hurt him.  He tries to think of what to say to make Victor open his eyes.

“Victor, it’s me.  I know you’re in pain right now.  I’m so sorry.  What happened was my fault, just a stupid mistake.”  He manages to shake off the sob that almost comes out.  “I need you here with me.  I know I messed things up, but I’ll fix it.  We’ll make it work.  I promise.”  He studies Victor’s face, but there is no reaction.  Carefully, he pulls up a nearby chair to Victor’s bed.  He’s afraid to touch Victor but he’s not leaving him alone here again.

Yuuri must have fallen asleep because when he wakes up his cheek is against the scratchy hospital sheets and a gentle hand is in his hair.  Yuuri almost gets whiplash he sits up so fast.

“Victor?”  Victor’s face is still pale and drawn, but his eyes are open, his gaze direct and piercing as always.

“Do you have a concussion?  You’re not supposed to sleep with a concussion.”

“How did you know?” Yuri asks.

“Well if you hadn’t just given it away the bandage on your head probably would have.” Victor points to his head and Yuuri reaches up and touches it gingerly.  He had barely noticed it was there.

“I’m okay, Victor.  You’re the one who didn’t wake up.  I was so worried.”  Now that Victor is awake and talking he can feel some of the tears threatening to overflow.

“Hey.  Stop that.”  Victor takes his hand and kisses it gently.  Yuuri blinks at him.  Normally when Victor touches him he can feel so much.  Now there’s nothing, not even a low level awareness of what Victor is feeling.  He can tell that Victor notices too from the look of pain on his face, but he hides his reaction quickly and doesn’t let go of Yuuri’s hand.  They’re interrupted by a nurse coming in, shuffling a pile of manila folders.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Katsuki, but you need to leave for now.  We need to run some more tests now that Mr. Nikiforov is awake.”

Yuuri glances at Victor quickly.  He still looks so pale and vulnerable.  “I’m not leaving,” he says.

“It’s okay, Yuuri.  You need to get some rest yourself.  Rest that doesn’t involve actual sleep,” Victor adds pointedly. 

Yuuri manages to choke out a slight laugh, but he’s still unsure about leaving Victor in this condition.

Victor turns to the nurse, not letting go of Yuuri’s hand.  “Please give us a few minutes alone, first,” he says.

“Mr. Nikiforov, I’m sorry, but he shouldn’t even be here.  You’ve been through a traumatic bond injury.  In those types of situations bondmates should be separated for a minimum of a few days before reintroduction is attempted.”

She sounds extremely serious and Yuuri flinches.  Maybe he is hurting Victor by being here. “Victor, maybe I should go.  I can come back tomorrow,” he adds hesitantly.  Normally he could tell instantly if Victor was in pain but the emptiness when he reaches through the bond is throwing him off.

“No!” Victor sounds panicked and it makes Yuuri flinch. It takes a lot to make him lose his cool. “Just a few minutes, please.” 

“Very well, Mr. Nikiforov.  Five minutes and I will come back.”  The nurse exits the room in a whoosh of disapproval.

The outburst has clearly taken a lot out of Victor and he collapses back against the bed, gripping Yuuri’s hand tightly.

“Victor, you don’t look well.  I should probably go.”

“Please.  I can’t argue with you too.”

Victor sounds defeated and it makes Yuuri’s heart break.  This is his fault.  “I’m so sorry, Victor.  I’ll find a way to fix this, I promise.”  He has to be strong for the both of them now.  “I’ll meet with the bond therapist tomorrow and get some advice.”

Victor opens his eyes and fixes his gaze on Yuuri.  “Yuuri, you do know this isn’t your fault, right?  This was an accident.”

Yuuri looks away, unable to meet Victor’s eyes.  This isn’t the time to argue with him. “I know,” he says.

“You’re not doing a terribly good job of convincing me.”  Victor sighs but doesn’t push the subject.  “I don’t want to waste our last three minutes.  Come lay on the bed with me.”

“Are you sure? I don’t want to hurt you.”  Victor just looks at him without replying and Yuuri knows he will give in.  It’s not like he can deny Victor anything even when he isn’t hurt, much less when he is so pale with dark circles under his eyes.  Yuuri kicks off his hospital slippers and climbs on the bed, wrapping his arms around Victor firmly.  He presses his face into Victor’s neck and feels Victor’s hand soft against his hair.  He tries not to let the tears slip out, but can’t stop himself from trembling.

“We will fix this,” Victor says.  And he sounds certain enough that Yuuri allows himself to believe it is true even without the security of the bond.

***

The next day Yuuri is released from the hospital but they won’t allow him to actually leave until he meets with the bond therapist, without Victor.  Yuuri doesn’t like it but after some internet research he knows that it is considered best practice to meet with the untraumatized bond partner first before any joint meetings occur.

The bond therapist is introduced to him as Ms. Suzuki.  She’s a middle aged woman with glasses but has a comforting presence that Yuuri can’t help but respond to.

“Hello, Mr. Katsuki.  How is your head feeling?”

“It’s fine,” Yuuri says.  And it really is.  The pain has faded and he’s no longer having side effects from the concussion.  But without his connection with Victor he feels like a completely different person.

“That’s good to hear.  I’m going to go ahead and ask you a few questions about your relationship with your bondmate now, if that’s okay.”

“Okay.”  Yuuri is not excited about this but he will do whatever it takes to fix things.

“How long have you known you been bonded to Mr. Nikiforov?”

“It’s been about six months now.”

“And how did the bonding first occur?  You had met him in competition prior to the bonding, correct?”

“Yes.”  Yuuri can’t help but think back to watching Victor perform, first as an ethereal teen with long flowing hair to the beauty and maturity of his more recent skating.  “We met in competition but we never really had much interaction until he came to Hasetsu to be my coach.”

“But you admired him before that, correct?  As a fan.”

“Yes.”  Yuuri knows that Ms. Suzuki must have interviewed his family prior to his interview but it still catches him off-guard.  “Is that important?”

“Maybe,” she says non-committedly.  “Mr. Nikiforov had a very severe reaction to the bond being broken considering that you had been bonded for such a short time.  It makes more sense if one or both of you had a connection to the other prior to when he came to Hasetsu to be your coach.”

Yuuri looks down at his hands.  He’s uncomfortable sharing his feelings for Victor with this person he doesn’t know.  But if it would help- “I always admired and looked up to him from the first time I saw him skate.  He was so beautiful.  He inspired me.” 

“And how did he feel about you before coming to Hasetsu?” She peers at him intently.

Yuuri lets out a short laugh.  “He barely even knew who I was.  I’m sure to him I was just that random Japanese skater who was constantly crashing and burning.”

“Then why do you think he did come?”

Yuuri looks at her sharply.  “I’m sure you know the story – he saw that video of me skating his program.”

“And that’s all there was to it?”

“Yes?”  Yuri hesitantly.  “To be honest I don’t really know what it was about that video that made him decide to come.  It really wasn’t that amazing.”

She smiles at him.  “I’m sure you’re just being modest.  I haven’t seen the video but I got the impression that it was very impressive!”

“Thank you,” Yuuri says.  “But how is any of this going to help Victor?”

“How much have you been told about Victor’s condition?”

“Not much,” Yuuri admits.  “Only that he has bond trauma.  And when I went to see him he didn’t look well.  He looked like he was in pain.”

“I’m sure you’ve been told this, but it’s better not to see him yet.  We need to do some testing to determine the severity of his condition.”

“He – he needs me,” Yuuri says.  “He was all alone.  He doesn’t have any family here.”

“I’m sure he does.  It’s very difficult to go for any length of time without a bondmate – even if the bond has been broken.  But we need to give both of you some time if we want to have a better chance at fixing things.”  She smiles encouragingly.

“What if it can’t be fixed?”

“I’m not going to lie to you.  That is a possibility, but one that we will do everything in our power to avoid.  But to help repair the bond you are going to need to trust me.  Do you think you can do that?”

Yuuri swallows.  “Yes.  I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“That is what I like to hear.”  She smiles at him.  “The first step is to meet with you both together.”

“Now?” Yuuri looks up hopefully.  It already seems like forever since he has seen Victor.

“Let’s give him a few more days before we start.  And, Mr. Katsuki, it would be best if you avoid interacting with him until then.  It’s not good to rush things in this situation.”

Yuuri sighs and tries to keep the desperation off his face.

 

***

It’s another two days before Victor is released from the hospital.  Yuuri keeps his promise and doesn’t go to see him.  But Yuuri’s family, the Nishigoris, and Minako visit every day and give Yuuri reports.  From what they say it sounds like Victor is much better, just frustrated that he’s stuck in the hospital and can’t see Yuuri.  When Victor is finally released they are all there to welcome him home except for Yuuri.  He runs through his free skate program a few times at the rink and tries to imagine Victor’s presence in his head.  It doesn’t work.

When he gets back home a few hours later, Victor is already asleep.

“He asked about you, you know,” Mari says.  “Why weren’t you here?”

“They told me to stay away from him.”  Yuuri hasn’t told his family much about his meeting with the bond therapist and they haven’t pushed. 

“Are you serious?  Staying away from him isn’t going to help!  You should have seen his face when he asked for you!”

Yuuri cringes.  “If I go near him I could hurt him – make things worse.  I can’t do anything that might endanger the bond.”

Mari shrugs.  “That seems like the opposite of what you should be doing to me, but what do I know.”

Mari looks at him thoughtfully. “You should at least eat something.”

“I’m not hungry.  I think I’m just going to turn in.”  Yuuri picks up his bag and heads toward his room.

“It’s only 7 pm,” Mari calls after him.  He ignores her and then flops thankfully on the bed when he finally gets to his room.  He just doesn’t have the energy to face anyone right now.

Unfortunately, being alone is only a relief for a few minutes before the emptiness in his head becomes overwhelming.  He thinks about Victor lying in bed only a few rooms away and wonders if he is sleeping.  Could he tell when Yuuri came home?  Yuuri can’t feel anything no matter how far he reaches.  Victor might as well be back in Russia.  Who knows if Victor will even be able to continue coaching him.  Just as the tears are threatening to spill Yuuri hears a scratching noise at the door.  He goes to open it and sees Makkachin.  Yuuri kneels to greet her and she licks him comfortingly.  He wraps his arms around her and buries his face in her soft fur.  He knows without having to check that Victor has sent her.

The next few days Yuuri gets up early, pulls on some clothes, and goes immediately to the rink.  He stays there all day, not even going home for lunch.  Yuuko is there too with her comforting presence and gentle words.  She encourages Yuuri and forces him to eat and films some of his practice routines to show Victor.  Nishigori shows up from time to time too and helps Yuuri with training.  He knows that with only a few weeks left until the Rostelecom Cup there isn’t any time for slacking and reminds Yuuri of that fact frequently.  Yuuri quickly realizes that the presence of other people makes the emptiness in his head much less obvious.

Night times are the worst.  Even though Victor continues to send Makkachin to him he tosses and turns and spends way too much time thinking about Victor and what he is doing, what he is thinking.  You’d think after 6 straight months of having Victor’s feelings in his head 24-7 he would know, but those feelings are like the fragment of a dream that he just can’t hold on to.  Sometimes he tries to remember what it feels like and panics that he is forgetting.  On those nights he goes to Victor’s door and sits outside, leaning against it and petting Makkachin gently.  He can’t hear anything from inside but likes to imagine that Victor knows he is there. 

***

After another two days it is time to meet with Ms. Suzuki.  His family clears a small tatami room for them to meet in so that they have some privacy.  Yuuri makes sure to get there as early as possible so that he has some time alone with Victor.  It’s the first time Yuuri has seen Victor since that time at the hospital and he still looks pale and unwell.  The sight makes him tremble with guilt, but at the same time he can’t look away. Just being this close to Victor is such a relief that it almost overwhelms him.

“Yuuri…” Victor opens his arms and it’s like a magnet that he can’t resist and he stumbles into them, pressing his face into Victor’s neck, breathing him in.  He feels Victor press a light kiss to his hair and then Victor gently releases him.  Yuuri can’t resist clinging for a few brief seconds before he looks up and sees that Ms. Suzuki has come in the room. 

If she has any thoughts about how she found them when she came in she keeps them to herself as they sit down at the table.  Victor sits directly next to him and Yuuri has to struggle to keep himself from leaning into him. 

“I’m glad to see you both again,” she says.  Yuuri is confused at first but then he remembers she met with Victor at the hospital before he was released.  “How about we start by each of you telling me how you’ve been doing.  Then we’ll see where we are and plan the next steps.”  Victor and Yuuri look at each other.  “You can start, Mr. Nikiforov.” 

“Ah, I told you before – you can call me Victor.”  Victor frowns at her.  “I’m not that old.”

She smiles.  “Very well, Victor then.  I know you were in a lot of pain in the beginning. How is your pain level now?”

Yuuri turns to Victor anxiously to hear his response. He knew Victor must have been in a lot of pain but hearing it is something different.

“It’s much better. Just a light headache most of the time.” 

“Have you been taking the medication you were given at the hospital?”

Victor looks down.  “I was at first, but it makes me feel foggy. I like to be clear-headed.”

“Victor!  You should be taking your medication!”  Yuuri shudders of the thought at Victor feeling pain that could be prevented so easily with just some tablets.  Under the table Victor’s hand squeezes his thigh just for a moment, and Yuuri closes his eyes.  Victor is trying to comfort Yuuri when he is the one in pain.

“Thank you, Mr. Katsuki.” She looks at Victor intently.  “He’s right, you know.  The medication is a very low level.  It shouldn’t have any major side effects.”

Victor sighs dramatically.  “I’ll take a few and see how it goes.”

“What about now that you’re in the room with Mr. Katsuki.  Is there any difference in the level of pain?”

“Not that I notice.”

Yuuri cringes.  Victor is obviously lying.  Luckily Ms. Suzuki notices too.

“If you’re not going to be honest with me Victor, then we will not be able to proceed any further towards repairing the bond.  Is that what you want?”

“I am being honest.”  Yuuri recognizes that particular note in Victor’s voice as frustration and tries not to remember the way his frustration feels through the bond.  He misses it just as much as he misses the rest of Victor’s feelings.  “There’s not any difference in the level of pain.  I just feel strange.  I guess you could say, more tired.”

She nods. “That’s completely normal too, especially at first.”  She turns to Yuuri.  “Have you noticed any side effects from being this close to Victor?”

Yuuri reaches out with his mind again and just encounters the same blankness that’s been there every day since the accident.  “No, I don’t feel any different.  I just can’t feel him-“ he struggles to find the words and settles for “the way I could before.”

“That makes sense.  Your mind has not been damaged, so you won’t experience the same issues as Victor.” 

Yuuri’s face falls as that same feeling of paralyzing guilt threatens to overwhelm him again.  Suddenly Victor’s arm is around his shoulder.

“That’s a good thing, Yuuri!  The fact that one of us is relatively normal means that we should be closer to fixing this.”

Ms. Suzuki smiles. “I do think you have reason to be optimistic.  You are able to be in the same room and even touch without any issues.  I have had much worse cases before.  However, I do want you to be prepared for the fact that your bond may never recover.  That is always a possibility in situations like these.”

Victor’s arm tightens around Yuuri’s shoulder as he fights to keep his expression blank.

“However that doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a normal relationship.  I can see that you are very close.”  She smiles and Yuuri feels his cheeks heating. 

Victor laughs. “Yuuri is my beloved student.”  He manages to say ‘beloved’ like it’s an innuendo and Yuuri wishes he could hide his face in his hands.  “How soon can I go back to the rink?” Victor asks.  “Yuuri has gone long enough without a coach and he has a competition coming up very soon.”

“I see no issues with you going back to coaching him as long as you limit the number of hours you are around him and stop if you feel unwell.  I would start with no more than two hours a day and gradually increase the amount of time.  Please keep in mind that if you push things it could cause a setback.”

They both nod.  “We’ll be careful,” Victor says.

“Is there anything else we could do that would help?” Yuuri asks.  He’s willing to try anything at this point.

“Unfortunately these things can’t be forced.  They take time.  You both will have to be patient and understand that you cannot be together every moment.  If you plan to spend your allotted time together training, then you still need to stay away from each other when you are off the ice.” She looks at them pointedly. 

Yuuri feels Victor’s arm tighten around his shoulders a fraction more.  This is not going to be easy.

“At the same time, you do need to spend time together.  The bond needs to be nurtured.  If Victor were to leave to go back to Russia, for example, your chances of ever restoring the bond would be very slim.”

Yuuri hadn’t thought about the possibility of Victor going back to Russia. The thought terrifies him.  He would lose everything.  But he wouldn’t blame Victor for wanting to get away from the whole situation.

“That won’t be happening.” Victor sounds determined and it makes the lump in Yuuri’s throat melt away.  Victor’s not giving up on him, on their bond.

Ms. Suzuki smiles. “It sounds like you two are on the right track.  I’ll let you get to it then.  Please contact me immediately if you run into any issues.”  They both nod and thank her.  Thirty seconds later they are alone in the room.

Yuuri looks at Victor, eyes really drinking him in.  He takes in the dark circles, the paleness.  Victor doesn’t look like he’s been sleeping.  He wants to hold him close and never let him go.  “You’ve been sending Makkachin to my room,” he says instead.

“I wanted her to be with you since I couldn’t.” Victor smiles and it’s so tender it makes Yuuri’s heart hurt.  “Come on, let’s get to the rink.  I hope you haven’t been slacking since I’ve been gone!”

Yuuri laughs. Maybe things are going to be okay after all.

***

Things at the rink don’t exactly go smoothly.  They are both awkward at first.  Yuuri is used to being able to sense Victor’s coaching in his mind – he knows exactly how Victor feels when things are going well and how he feels when Yuuri over-rotates a jump or doesn’t extend his free leg.  He’s not used to having to pay such close attention to Victor’s words.  It’s not long before he can hear the tension in Victor’s voice when he starts to get frustrated that his words aren’t making an impact.

“Victor, let’s take a break.  I’m tired.”  Yuuri skates over to where Victor is standing at the edge of the rink.  They’ve only made it through his short program twice, and they clearly aren’t getting anywhere.  Victor looks worse than he did when they started, his face starting to take on a grey tone, but he still meets Yuuri’s eyes.

“I’m sorry I snapped at you.  You’re doing great.”

Yuuri has to restrain himself from rolling his eyes.  “You didn’t snap at me. And no, I’m not.  This is a disaster.”

Victor looks taken aback for a moment and then starts laughing.  “It is. Are we really this bad at communicating with words?”

Yuuri smiles and reaches to take Victor’s hand.  “Apparently so.”  He squeezes it gently and smiles when Victor twines their fingers together.  It seems that non-verbal communication is something they can still do.  “Your two hours are up.”

Victor frowns but doesn’t drop his hand.  When they were bonded Yuuri felt Victor so much more strongly when they were touching.  Now all he feels is Victor’s warm skin and hands slightly rough with cold where he has taken off his gloves.  It’s a different sensation, but still pleasant.  And touching Victor makes him feel more connected to him.  He doesn’t want to let go.

“We’ll make this work, Yuuri, I promise.”  Victor’s words are gentle and Yuuri can tell that he believes them.  Yuuri just wishes that he were as certain.  It’s hard to believe that when just being around Yuuri is draining Victor’s face of color.  He releases Victor’s hand.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he says. 

Victor nods in resignation.  “I want you working on that step sequence.”

“I plan to.” Yuuri knows he needs to train for at least another few hours to make sure he’s ready.  He’s already lost so many days of training because of the accident.  He’s got to make Victor proud in Russia.

***

The next few days are a whirlwind.  Yuuri trains by himself in the morning and Victor comes by for a few hours after lunch.  Then Yuuri usually does another two to three hours after Victor leaves.  He’s getting better at listening to Victor’s words instead of instinctively trying to sense what Victor wants, but there are still moments of frustration.  Yuuri’s usually exhausted by the end of the day, but it’s nothing compared to how Victor looks at the end of one of their sessions.  He still denies that he’s in pain, but Yuuri notices that he never turns Yuuri down when he says it’s time to stop or encourages Victor to take a break.  Yuuri’s even started asking Yuuko to distract Victor by saying she needs his help with something to get him away from Yuuri for a while.  He usually looks slightly less pale afterwards.  Seeing Victor like that is killing him inside.

Nights are the worst.  Even though he’s exhausted he lies awake on his bed staring at the ceiling, imagining what it would be like to be lying next to Victor, to be able to see him more than a few hours a day.  Being able to touch him and lie next to him seem like distant fantasies now.  He thinks back to every night that he told Victor he couldn’t sleep with him and hates himself.  He didn’t know what a luxury it was to be able to spend an unlimited number of hours with him a day.

Yuuri’s still awake when he hears a noise at the door and gets up to let Makkachin in.  He can never sleep anymore unless she’s there.  He breathes in her soft fur and imagines that he can smell Victor on her.  But when he opens the door it’s actually Victor who is standing there.

At first he thinks he is imagining things.  Maybe he is actually asleep?  But Victor looks so real, standing there in his night clothes, his gray hair disheveled in a way that makes him look achingly vulnerable.  Then his thoughts go straight to panic.  Victor has never disobeyed the therapist’s rules and come to see him outside of their allotted hours before. 

“Victor!  Are you okay?  Do you need to leave the house?”  They have been stretching the amount of hours Ms. Suzuki recommended, only by a fraction, but it must have been too much.

“Yuuri, I’m okay.” Victor takes a step closer to him, entering the room.  “I just wanted to see you.”

Yuuri looks at him blankly.  “You just saw me earlier today.”

“I mean, I need to talk to you,” Victor says.  When Yuuri doesn’t respond Victor goes over and sits on Yuuri’s bed.  “We never see each other outside of training.  I miss you.”

Yuuri inhales sharply and then goes to sit next to Victor.  Just being this close to him feels like a luxury.  “I miss you too,” he admits.  Victor puts his arm around Yuuri and pulls him close.  Yuuri presses his face into Victor’s chest so that when he speaks his voice is muffled.  “But I don’t want to lose you.  Right now this is all we can have.”  Victor’s hand is warm against his hair.  It’s the closest he’s been to Victor since his time in the hospital.

“You’ll never lose me.  I’m not giving up on this.” Victor is pressing kisses against Yuuri’s temple now and across his hairline.  They make Yuuri shudder and a warmth spreads throughout his body.  Yuuri can’t resist anymore.  He takes Victor’s face in his hands and kisses him firmly.  It’s worth it to hear the huff of surprise and feel Victor melting into his touch.  He hasn’t kissed Victor since China when their relationship seemed so perfect, their emotions flowing into each other’s and multiplying.  Now he can’t sense Victor’s emotions but he can feel Victor’s lips, soft under his own and the sharp intake of breath as Victor gasps into his mouth.  The sense of power goes to his head, and he feels himself getting hard.

He’s practically in Victor’s lap now and their kisses are becoming heated and desperate.  Yuuri honestly doesn’t know if he can stop.  He feels almost drunk, like he abstained from Victor’s touch for so long that now it’s going to his head, making him want more and more.  He’s not sure where this is going and he’s not sure he cares as long as Victor is in his arms.  He pushes Victor down on the bed and grinds against him as Victor sucks kisses onto his neck.

Suddenly, for a split second he feels a flood of warmth and longing so strong that it makes him gasp.  He freezes. 

“Yuuri,” Victor’s eyes flutter open.  “Don’t stop.”

“Wait!” Yuuri sits up.  “Do you feel that?” he asks excitedly.

“What?” Victor looks confused for a moment and then suddenly the feeling is gone like a candle has been blown out and Yuuri feels cold and alone.  Victor gasps and holds his head.  Victor is in pain.

Yuuri is off him and on the other side of the room immediately.  “You have to get out of here.  Go back to your room and take your medicine.  If the pain doesn’t go away, we’ll have Mari take you to the hospital.”

Victor is sitting up on the bed now cradling his head in both hands. He looks confused and vulnerable and Yuuri hates that he can’t go to him.  Hates everything about this situation that he himself caused.

Slowly Victor gets up and starts walking to the door. He looks back at Yuuri and his eyes are filled with regret.  “I’ll send Makkachin to you.”

Yuuri nods and manages not to collapse into tears until Victor leaves the room.

***

The next day Victor doesn’t come to practice at all.  Yuuri hates himself for it.  He should have sent Victor back to his room immediately.  He shouldn’t have touched him, shouldn’t have kissed him, should never have let things get so out of control.  Mari and his parents have all checked on Victor numerous times and assured him that he’s fine, just a little tired.  Yuuri doesn’t believe a word of it.  He knows Victor was pushed too hard last night.  For a split second he could feel their bond, open and flowing between them and it had been the most amazing feeling ever.  But now Victor was paying for it.

Yuuko and Nishigori watch him run through his free skate and try to cheer him up.  He tries to keep his mind on his skating, he really does, but he just keeps thinking about Victor and their setback from the night before.  Finally, during their strength training session, Nishigori brings it up.

“Everything going okay with Victor?  You seem really distracted today.”

“Yeah.  He’s just not feeling well and couldn’t come to the rink.  I’m a little worried,” Yuuri admits.

Nishigori takes the weight from Yuuri that he had been holding and was on the verge of dropping.  “I think you need to stop worrying about him and concentrate on your skating.  There are only a few more days until you leave for Russia.”

“I know.” There’s no way that Victor will be well enough to travel to Russia, especially with Yuuri.  He’ll have to go on his own.  “I’m wondering if I should just drop out.”

Nishigori looks at him sharply.  “You know that’s not what Victor would want.  Have you talked to him about this?”

Yuuri squirms, uncomfortable with the direction this talk is taking.  “Not yet.  We don’t exactly get much free time for talking anymore.”

“Well I think you need to make time.  This concerns him too.”

“I know that,” Yuuri says, struggling to make his voice sound less defeated than he feels.

“I think you need to talk to him about the possibility of looking for a new coach.”

“A new coach?”  Yuuri repeats the words numbly.

“You really have a chance this season, Yuuri!  You could go all the way!  Victor wouldn’t want you to give up that chance.”

“No.”  Yuuri stands up.  Suddenly everything seems to be closing in on him, the accident, the previous night with Victor, all of his hopes for a gold medal.  Nishigori is continuing to talk, something about how he and Victor could use some time apart and how it might be for the best.  Yuuri doesn’t hear any of it.  Instead he turns and runs out of the room and then out of the building.  Behind him he can hear Yuuko asking Nishigori what he had said.

***

When he gets back to the house all he wants to do is collapse into bed and maybe cry for a while.  Instead he runs into Mari.

“What’s wrong with you?  You look like shit,” she says.

“Nothing, it was just a long day.”

She looks at him knowingly.  “Victor didn’t look very good either.  Did you guys have a fight?”

Yuuri sighs.  “Not exactly.  It’s complicated.”

“Well he left early this morning and hasn’t come back so I figured something was up.”

Yuuri looks up, concerned.  “And you just let him leave?  Even though he wasn’t well?”

“He’s an adult, Yuuri.  There’s no way I could have stopped him.  And besides, he was looking a little claustrophobic.  It might do him good to go somewhere other than the rink for once.”

Yuuri turns back towards the door.  “I’m going to go look for him.”  He knows that he should leave Victor alone, especially after last night, but he can’t shake the feeling of worry he has.

“Good luck,” Mari shouts after him with a knowing tone and he blushes.

Yuuri isn’t sure where Victor would have gone, but he checks his favorite ramen shop, the bar Minako frequents, and several other places Victor likes in rapid succession.  Finally, he heads to the beach and is relieved when he sees Victor sitting in their usual spot.  The sun is just beginning to set and Victor’s cheeks look pink from the chilly November air.  Yuuri wonders how long he has been sitting there.  Now that he knows where Victor is and that he is safe he considers going back to Yutopia.  But something about the way Victor is looking at the ocean makes him want to stay.  He has a wistful look about him that makes Yuuri’s heart ache.

Walking down to where Victor is he sits beside him, close but not touching.  Victor doesn’t say anything but after a moment his hand moves to cover Yuuri’s, sending a rush of heat through him.  Yuuri takes his hand more firmly.  For several long minutes they are silent just gazing at the ocean and the beautiful sunset.  And then the words that Yuuri doesn’t want to say come out of him in a rush.

“Do you think that you should go back to Russia?”  He manages to get it out without his voice breaking which feels like a big accomplishment all things considered.

Victor turns sharply to look at him and his fingers tighten around Yuuri’s, on the verge of being painful.  “Is that what you want?” he asks.

“No,” Yuuri says.  He’s not going to lie to Victor.  “But I’m worried about you.”

Victor makes a small noise that sounds half pain half relief and then puts his arm around Yuuri’s shoulder, pulling him close.  “I’m not leaving.  And I won’t give up on what we have.”

Yuuri can’t stop his tears then and presses his face against Victor’s shoulder to hide them.  He doesn’t think Victor is fooled.

“I think we need to meet with Ms. Suzuki,” Victor says.

***

She agrees to meet with them on short notice and arrives at Yutopia the next morning looking like her usual put-together self.

“Wow, Ms. Suzuki is looking very beautiful today,” Victor says immediately, but if she has a reaction to his compliment she doesn’t show it.

“Thank you.  So tell me how things have been going so far.”

Victor and Yuuri look at each other.  “Not so well,” Yuuri admits.  “I don’t think the pain is going away.”

“There’s no pain,” Victor interjects, “It’s more like I’m just really really tired.  And sleeping doesn’t help.”

Ms. Suzuki does not look surprised by this.  “And how many hours have you been spending together?  Have you been keeping to the schedule?”

Yuuri looks at Victor again.  “For the most part,” he manages to get out.

“What does that mean?” 

Victor sighs.  “What Yuuri is hesitant to say is that I came to his room last night after we had already been together for the allotted hours.”

“Ah,” Ms. Suzuki says.  She does not seem at all surprised.  “Describe to me what happened.”

Yuuri flushes and looks down at his hands.  She’s going to have to know.  Luckily Victor steps in.

“We were...being intimate.  There was a moment where it felt like our connection was back.  It was only for a few seconds and then it shut down again.  There was a lot of pain.  And then today I’ve just been feeling drained.”

She turns to Yuuri.  “And did you feel the same connection?”

Yuuri nods.  “Yes, it was just for a moment.” He pauses, remembering.  “But I know it was him.  I could feel the warmth of his mind.  I could sense his feelings.  It was- “he struggles to keep his voice steady, “like it used to be.”

“What happened afterwards?” Ms. Suzuki asks.

“It just stopped. When I reached out with my mind it was like nothing was there.  Like it is now.  And Victor was in pain so I made him leave.”  His face crumbles remembering and Victor takes his hand and squeezes gently.

“Thank you, Yuuri, both of you, for being honest.  I know this is a difficult subject to talk about, but it does sound like you have made some progress.”  She looks at them both seriously.  “Sometimes when a bonded mind receives a trauma like Victor’s it can put up a mental shield for protection.  It sounds like that is what is happening here.  It explains why Victor is not necessarily in pain but feels tired all the time.  Maintaining a mental shield like that is very draining.”

“You mean I’m doing this to myself?” Victor asks, sounding incredulous.

“Not consciously.  Your mind received a serious trauma during the accident. It sounds like it has repaired itself remarkably well.  But you are still subconsciously using a mental shield to keep your mind safe from Yuuri’s.”

“But I know Yuuri won’t hurt me.” Victor looks confused.

“Ah, but Yuuri did hurt you.  And even though you understand consciously that it wasn’t his fault your subconscious mind does not.  It is trying to protect you.”

“What can we do to fix this?” Yuuri asks.

“It may still take some time.  But it sounds like in this case being physically intimate was what allowed Victor to relax enough to bring down his shields.”

Yuuri looks at her in shock as Victor starts shaking with laughter beside him.  “You mean we have to…”

“Do what you were doing before,” she says.  “But obviously break things off if Victor seems to be in pain or has any issues.”

“Since I’m consciously aware of what the problem is can’t I just force my shields down somehow?” Victor asks.

“Unfortunately, I think you’ll find it’s not that easy.  Your subconscious mind has to be convinced that you are safe with Yuuri.  That may take time.”

“But the Rostelecom Cup,” Victor says.

“Victor,” Yuuri turns to look at him directly so that he can’t avoid Yuuri’s gaze, “This is more important.”

Ms. Suzuki nods.  “If you can repair your bond I think you will find that you have many more competitions together ahead of you.”

“We can do this,” Yuuri says and wills Victor to believe it.

***

That night Yuuri goes to Victor’s room.  He’s nervous, but the idea of how close they are to fixing things makes him light-headed with happiness.  Maybe he isn’t going to lose Victor after all.  Victor is listening to some music with his earbuds, Makkachin curled at his side.  He looks relaxed, or at least more relaxed than Yuuri has seen him since before the accident.

Victor takes the earbuds out and lays them to the side.  “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you in my room.”

Yuuri smiles and shrugs off his slippers.  “It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be here,” he says, as he lies down next to Victor in the bed, Makkachin still between them.  He runs his hand through her wiry fur and rests his head next to her chest, listening to her steady heartbeat.

“I know,” Victor says, and something in his voice catches.  For a while they just stay like that, Victor watching him with a fondness that Yuuri doesn’t have to be bonded to him to feel.  Eventually Yuuri sits up and Makkachin, disgruntled at being awakened, jumps off the bed and settles on the tatami.

Yuuri leans against Victor and Victor immediately wraps an arm around him, pulling him close. Yuuri tilts his head up to look at him, drinking him in.  He looks pale, like he has ever since the accident, but his cheeks are flushed with color.  Yuuri really wants to kiss them and the sound Victor makes when he does is extremely satisfying.  He presses light kisses to Victor’s neck and cheeks until Victor takes his head in his hand and kisses him firmly.

“Yuuri is such a tease,” Victor says when he pulls away and Yuuri laughs.  He doesn’t want to think too much about the bond and how relaxed Victor’s mind needs to be for him to drop his shields. 

Yuuri tries to take things slow, starting with long lingering kisses and keeping his hands away from the rest of Victor’s body, but things quickly get more heated.  Not being able to spend much time together for the past few weeks they had been deprived not only of each other’s minds but also their touch.  Victor is such a casual toucher always putting an arm around Yuuri or a hand against the small of his back.   Yuuri had been so focused on the loss of Victor’s mind that he had forgotten how much he had missed it.  Now he doesn’t want it to ever end.

“Yuuri.” Victor stops kissing him and Yuuri moans in protest.  “I need your hands on me.  Please.”  The desperation in his voice is evident and Yuuri pulls back a little to see him more clearly.  His hair is disheveled and pupils are blown, the blue just barely visible.  Yuuri doesn’t answer but leans down to mouth him through his underwear instead, tracing Victor’s erection with his tongue.  The little sounds Victor makes in response go right to his head and he wonders if he will come just like this, Victor’s hands tangled in his hair.

Victor pulls him up for a filthy kiss, still rocking against Yuuri and Yuuri tries to avoid doing the same in return.  He doesn’t want this to be over.  Suddenly he is overwhelmed with warmth with an undercurrent of desire so strong that it makes him gasp.  This is Victor’s mind.  He tries not to latch on to it but everything is just too much, their desire mingling and sending him over the edge.  Beneath him Victor cries out sharply as they both come.

Yuuri must have blacked out for a moment because when he opens his eyes again, Victor is shaking him gently and looking concerned.  He immediately reaches for Victor’s mind and is panicked for a moment but then he feels it, a tiny tendril where before it had been like a river flowing into him.  He strokes it mentally and it becomes more real, like a thing that is actually there rather than a figment of his imagination.  Victor gasps beneath him and presses his face into Yuuri’s neck, and Yuuri feels a wetness that can only be tears.

“I can feel you inside me,” Victor says with a tone of wonder and Yuuri closes his eyes and wonders if he’s ever been this happy.

***

The next evening, they take some blankets and a container of tea and go to the beach.  Yuuri leans comfortably against Victor as he throws a stick for Makkachin to chase over and over.  Practice that day had been the best one they had had since the accident.  They are still taking things easy, Victor only staying for a few hours so that they don’t strain the bond, but it is feeling more secure by the hour.  Yuuri can feel it now, tiny but strong in the back of his mind, Victor’s unmistakable warmth.  He’s confident that with Victor there to support him he will perform strongly in Russia, even with the turmoil of the past two weeks.  But there’s still something that has been bothering him.

Victor must sense his unease because he pulls back slightly to look at him.  “What’s wrong?” he asks, his voice warm and concerned.

Yuuri can’t meet his eyes.  “I wanted to apologize,” he says.

“For what?  Yuuri the accident wasn’t your fault.  It was an accident.”

“I know that!”  Yuuri takes a deep breath and tries to calm down.  “I was selfish. You were in pain because of me for almost two weeks!  I should have sent you back to Russia.  But I couldn’t let you go.”

“I didn’t want to go back to Russia!” Victor’s voice is emphatic and even Makkachin looks concerned, coming immediately to his side.  “I told you I was never going to give up on us.”

“I know,” Yuuri says.  “But I hurt you.  Everything worked out in the end but I still hurt you because of my selfishness.  I hope,” he breaks off.  “I hope you’ll forgive me.”

“Yuuri,” Victor takes his face in his hands and tilts it up so he can see his eyes.  “There is nothing to forgive.”

Yuuri touches the bond gently with his mind and can sense only absolute truth.  He collapses with relief and feels Victor’s arms around him tightly.  He’s not sure that he deserves to be this happy but he’ll take it.