Katsuki Yuuri didn’t think that he could do this.
Coach Celestino patted him on the back. “There’s nothing like preforming at home to get your head back in the game. You are on a whole other level from these other skaters. Medaling here will get you back on track.” He paused, “Are you ok, Yuuri?”
“I’m alright.” Yuuri gave his coach a smile. He desperately wanted his coach to leave him alone. He could feel his smile start to shake, so widened it forcefully. There was no way that he was going to give the other competitors more ammunition against him.
Celestino gave him a sideways look, but didn’t challenge his statement. “It’s over an hour until the short programs begin. I don’t think you should stay here and wait. You’ll get caught up in your head again. Go take a walk around the building. Warm up. Make sure that you are back in time for the placement drawings.”
Yuuri nodded, got up, and walked away from his coach. As he was leaving the gate area, he passed some of the earlier spectators as they were arriving. He though he heard one of them mention his name, but he averted his head, hunched his shoulders to avoid eye contact and hurried by.
There was no way that he could do this. It had only been two weeks since his absolutely disastrous performance at the Grand Prix Finals. Surely everyone saw then what a failure he was? He had finished over one hundred points below the medalists. It was an epic crash and burn. He had shown everyone how absolutely terrible he had been, how ridiculous it was that he was representing his country.
Despite what Celestino seemed to think, Yuuri already knew that the Japanese Nationals were not going to go well for him. Hadn’t he already proven to his coach that he was unreliable, a terrible skater who had only gotten as far as he had because of flukes? What more would he have to do before his coach would stop expecting things from him, things that Yuuri had proven he was not capable of?
The other skaters here just made it worse. Every single one of them was another skater who should have had his position in the Grand Prix series. Surely every single one of them knew that they would have done so much better if they had had the chance that he had. If they had been in the tournament, they would have medaled, or at least wouldn’t have embarrassed Japan with scores as bad as his had been.
It felt like everyone in the entirety of Japan, whether they followed figure skating or not, knew that he had let them down on the international stage. He couldn’t stand to look anyone in the eyes, especially not other figure skaters.
Celestino had asked if he had wanted to stop in at Hasetsu after the competition. Yuuri had told him that they didn’t need to go to the trouble, after all it was so far out of the way. Celestino had agreed, and Yuuri hoped that he hadn’t figured out the real reason that Yuuri didn’t want to go within fifty miles of his hometown. It was bad enough to look at total strangers and know that they knew all about his failures. He didn’t think he could take that level of disappointment from his friends and family, people who supported him and cheered him on for so long, only to realize at the end that he wasn’t worth it.
He took a deep breath, in and out, trying to calm himself. He could feel a panic attack coming on, and this was terrible timing for it. So much for keeping out of his head.
He was passing more people now, as it was getting much closer to the beginning of the competition. He could hear the rink getting louder as it filled up, a babble of voices that made no sense, no matter how he tried to focus.
He leaned against the wall, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. Let it out slowly, then took another.
The voice of a passerby broke his reverie, “Was that Victor Nikiforov? What is he doing here?”
Wait, what? He must have misheard. Yuuri ran that sentence through his mind again. It just didn’t make sense. What would Victor Nikiforov, Russian figure skating legend, be doing at the Japanese National Championship?
But no, more people were talking about it. Another spectator looked like she was going to swoon into the arms of her friends, babbling about the fact that Victor Nikiforov had spoken to her. A man was blustering that it had to be a cosplay.
Yuuri turned, and pushed through the crowd towards the lobby. The thought that his inspiration could be here pushed him off balance. Surely it was a mistake, the Russian Nationals were only a few days from now. There was no reason for Nikiforov to take even a few days off before the competition. And even if he did, why would he be at the Japanese Nationals? To size up the competition? As if anyone here was competition for Victor Nikiforov.
But what if he was there? It was terrifying enough to know that he was going to fail in front of all of Japan, but add in Victor and the pressure just skyrocketed.
He had to see for himself that this was just a mistake. He would ask the receptionists if Victor Nikiforov was really there, and when they laughed at him for the strange idea he would walk away in shame, wondering what he had been thinking.
Except it wasn’t a mistake.
He skidded to a stop in the main room, because there was Victor Nikiforov. He was mistakable, browsing the wares of one of the hawkers like he was a normal spectator and not a figure skating god.
Yuuri was so focused on him that it seemed like there was no one else in the crowded room but the two of them. He was strongly reminded of the last time they had met (if that was the right term for their very brief interaction) and it seemed that at any second Victor would turn, see him, and offer another damn photo. Or something worse. But he couldn’t bring himself to move as his brain worked to process this unexpected encounter.
Victor began to turn away from the hawker, a bag in his hand. Yuuri fought to move, so that he wouldn’t be caught staring at him again (not that everyone else in the room wasn’t staring). Victor was looking straight at him.
“Yuuri!” Victor Nikiforov waved his free hand over his head, a beaming smile on his face as he hurried over towards Yuuri.
“I didn’t think I would catch you before the short programs began. I tried to get an earlier flight, but you know how it is around this time of year. But I made it in the end after all!” Victor Nikiforov said. He had an enormous giddy grin on his face and nothing he was saying made any sense.
“What are you doing here?” was the only thing that Yuuri managed to make out.
“I wanted to support you, obviously.” Victor glanced at the clock on the wall. “Isn’t it getting close to the start? You should head back to the rink.”
Victor grabbed his hand and started towing him back towards the rink, still talking all the while.
“So these are the Japanese Nationals? I’ve never been before, normally the Russian Nationals are at the same time.” Yuuri could feel the eyes of everyone one in crowd on him. Some people were even taking pictures. Victor didn’t even seem to notice. Yuuri didn’t know what was happening.
Victor Nikiforov was holding his hand. Obviously this was a very vivid dream.
“No, what are you doing here? The Russian Nationals are in like three days!” Yuuri protested, trying to find some shred of rationality in the situation.
“Yes, but the men’s short program isn’t until the second day, so I have time. Yakov will be angry of course, but I’m experienced enough to get myself ready.”
Yuuri pulled his hand free, with an inner pang of regret. Still, making sense of this madness was more important that holding even Victor’s hand.
“But why are you here!?” Yuuri asked again, hoping to get an answer that actually made sense this time.
“To cheer you on, of course.” They had stopped halfway down the stairs, right in the middle of traffic. Still, everyone seemed to be giving them, or rather Russian figure skating legend Victor Nikiforov space.
Victor reached into the bag to pull out a banner.
“Look what I bought! I didn’t have time to make one, but this should work, right?” He held up a Katsuki Yuuri banner, smiling ear to ear.
Yuuri just looked at him. The image just didn’t make any sense. It continued for a beat, then two, while Yuuri tried to marshal his thoughts.
“W-why?” he barely managed to get the word out, and it wasn’t a coherent question.
Victor stuffed the banner back into the bag. “Well, Giorgi says that this kind of support is important in relationships.”
That answer made no sense. He was about to ask what relationship Victor thought they had, seeing as their only interaction to date was a photo opportunity, when they were interrupted.
“Ah, Yuuri, I was just looking for you. The drawing will be in a fifteen minutes. You really need to head back…” Coach Celestino trailed off as he realized who exactly Yuuri was talking to.
“Celestino, right?” Victor turned sideways and waved to the person coming up the stadium steps behind him. “It was my fault entirely. I just wanted to wish him luck before the short programs began.”
“I didn’t realize that you were going to be attending. Shouldn’t you be in Russia preparing for your own Nationals.” Yuuri wasn’t sure how Celestino was managing to have a conversation with Victor, because the Russian still wasn’t making any sense.
“I was free and wanted to offer my support.” Victor smiled again, stepping back towards Yuuri. Yuuri was struck by how different he was in person from how he came off in interviews. That Victor was calm and serene, with quiet confident smiles, not these ear to ear grins.
“Oh, I had better go, you need to get ready to start. I will see you after your short program, alright.” Victor was standing very close to him, his hands warm on Yuuri’s shoulders. Yuuri was pretty sure that his brain had stopped working. It was all he could do to keep breathing.
“Good luck!” Victor hugged him tightly, then let go. He headed up into the stands backwards, waving again.
Yuuri stood still, feeling very shell-shocked. Did Victor Nikiforov just hug him? A glance at Celestino showed that his coach’s jaw had dropped, so it wasn’t a hallucination.
What just happened?