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Repeat After Me

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Katsuki Yuuri sweeps Victor Nikiforov off his feet, figuratively and literally.  He demands attention, draws everyone’s eyes to him and doesn’t let them look away.  Victor can’t make out the majority of what he’s saying--the only phrases he knows in Japanese are “konnichiwa” and “sayonara”--but he doesn’t need to understand Japanese to know that Yuuri is beautiful and enthusiastic and makes him laugh in a way he hasn’t in a long time.  He doesn’t need to speak Japanese to know that Yuuri is undeniably sexy, even sticky with sweat and champagne and slurring his words.  He doesn’t need to speak Japanese to know that dancing with Yuuri is fun, that he feels a little stab of regret when Yuuri pulls away from him to dance with Chris.

“Be my coach, Victor!” Yuuri cries, clinging to Victor, and Victor falls hard.

***

Victor downloads a Japanese language learning app the day after the banquet.  During his downtime, he practices simple sentences, tries to wrap his tongue around unfamiliar phrases.  It’s nothing particularly difficult--“My name is Victor,” “I am Russian,” “Have you been well?”--but he imagines surprising Yuuri next time he sees him, picking up their flirtation in Yuuri’s native language and carrying it until words become unnecessary.

When Katsuki Yuuri doesn’t appear for Worlds, Victor can’t help but feel disappointed.  The radio silence starts to feel less like Yuuri being busy, less like all of them caught up in the midst of the competitive season, and more like a conscious snub.

Victor channels his emotions into his skating, as he always has, clinches yet another gold at Worlds with a dazzling performance.  He remolds his frustrations into a two-minute routine for next season; if Yuuri doesn’t want him, if that night at the banquet was just a gorgeous man stealing his heart and then casting him aside after the revelry was done, well, he'll take the disappointment and pining and make something beautiful out of it.  Maybe when Yuuri sees Victor’s heart on display, he'll be swayed, or maybe he'll have already moved on to someone else, but in either case, Victor will come home with another medal around his neck.

***

Victor sees Yuuri skate his routine, echo back his plea for someone to stay close to him.  He doesn’t need to speak Japanese to know what Yuuri is saying, doesn’t need a translation for such an obvious gesture.

Victor listens to a Japanese lesson as he packs, repeats the phrases when the recorded voice prompts him.  He practices asking where the train station is, ordering food, inquiring about the price of a jacket, as he folds his clothes and boxes them up.  “Repeat the following sentences,” the recording commands, and Victor imagines Yuuri’s expression when Victor reveals himself, the heat and joy on Victor’s face echoed back at him.

***

Yuuri doesn’t seem particularly happy to see Victor, flinches and blushes and skitters away.  Victor flirts and reaches and displays himself--he knows he's coming on strong, but he's been waiting so long and has amped himself up so much.  He tries to continue the conversation they started at the banquet, steps in close and tries to convey exactly how available he is with his voice and his body, but Yuuri shuts him down at every turn.  Victor feels like they're talking past each other, like he missed half of a sentence that changed the context for the whole conversation.  But Victor has never been one to give up, never been one to tremble before language barriers, so he rushes forward and waits for Yuuri to catch up.

***

Victor hurls himself headlong into practicing his conversational Japanese.  Minako, Yuuko, and Mari can speak varying amounts of English, but he has to use Japanese if he wants to speak to Yuuri’s parents.  He does, he really does--he wants to know Yuuri from every angle he can, and his family is obviously important to him.  So Victor hurls himself headlong into conversation, trips over his own tongue and windmills when he hits the limits of his vocabulary.  Yuuri is quick to volunteer to interpret, save Victor from embarrassment and confusion, so Victor starts sneaking in conversations when Yuuri isn’t looking.  He chatters in clumsy Japanese at the bemused proprietor of his favorite ramen restaurant, tries to exchange a few words with Hiroko and Toshiya over meals (even if they’re just “This is delicious!”), speaks in a mish-mash of Japanese and English (interspersed with increasing Russian as the night progresses) when he goes out drinking with Minako.

Victor gets excited when he can pick out words, when he recognizes and understands part of a sentence even before Yuuri translates for him.  He picks up greetings and set phrases the fastest, cries, “Ohayou, Yuuri!” at Yuuri’s bleary expression in the morning and stumbles over “Ittekimasu!” when they go out for Yuuri’s daily jog.  Yuuri’s parents are encouraging with words (which Victor mostly can’t understand) and gestures (which he can), and Mari mostly seems amused at his halting attempts at communication.  Yuuri, on the other hand, looks confused every time he catches Victor muddling through a conversation in Japanese, tries to convince him that there’s no need for him to pick up such a difficult language, since Yuuri can communicate in English.  “But I want to,” Victor insists. Victor doesn’t know if Yuuri’s embarrassed by Victor’s language skills or just genuinely doesn’t want to inconvenience him, but it motivates him to improve, to practice with an urgency he hasn’t felt since he competed in Juniors.

***

Victor learns language through mimicry, hears phrases and repeats them back until the inflection becomes second nature.  He remembers watching American movies in his teens, repeating lines back to the screen and trying to match his voice with the actors’.  There are certain words, certain phrases that he’ll adopt a particular cadence for, always imagine them in a particular actor’s voice with the accompanying soundtrack.

Yuuri seems to communicate best through euphemism, through metaphor, through talking around the subject rather than approaching it head on, and so Victor tries his best to mimic him, to take his words and echo them back.  If Victor lets Yuuri set their pace, lets him choose how to frame the conversation, Yuuri stops shrinking away.  If Victor meets Yuuri where he is instead of bounding ahead and hoping he’ll catch up, Yuuri inches incrementally closer, closes the space between them.  So Victor lets Yuuri set the starting conditions (Yuuri is katsudon) and Victor will mirror that back to him with modification (Victor loves katsudon).  It’s a convoluted method of communication, especially given that neither of them are speaking their native languages, but after so long dashing ahead and looking back to see Yuuri running away, Victor will take anything that works.

***

Victor doesn’t remember how he began the Animal Game with the triplets, but they start playing it on and off whenever they come watch Yuuri practice.  They call out animal names in English (this is apparently what they are learning in school, although why it would be important for 6-year-olds to know the word “giraffe” in English is unclear to Victor), and Victor answers with the same animal name in Japanese.  They start easy enough: cat, dog, fish.  Then they start getting into harder animals: elephant, tiger, cicada.  When the triplets come to him with “barracuda” and “wood louse,” Victor tries to set rules about consulting the internet.  (The triplets don’t follow them, of course, but Victor can’t bring himself to scold them, even when they appear behind him with wicked grins and long lists written in round, childish letters).

Yuuri walks in on Victor puzzling over “whale” (he knows it ends in a “ra”--gokira?  Gukira?) while the triplets giggle into their hands.  For a moment Victor thinks Yuuri’s going to intercede, give away the answer and end the round early, but instead he just leans back against the wall and watches, smiling.

Gojira?” Victor guesses, randomly stringing together syllables--he’s sure he’s heard the word somewhere before, associates it with some kind of animal that lives in water.

Yuuri snorts in laughter and then claps his hands over his mouth, blushing.  “Sorry,” he says, but he can’t stop another giggle from escaping, the corners of his eyes crinkling in mirth.

“What?” Victor says, but what he sees is the way that Yuuri is flushed and happy, face relaxed and open, and what he thinks is, Oh God, this man, this gorgeous man.  What he thinks is, I want him to always look this happy.  What he thinks is, If I can keep seeing him like this, I would take that over any what-if scenario where we return to the way things were at the banquet.  It’s a bittersweet train of thought, sweetened by Yuuri’s soft smile, by Yuuri’s bright eyes gazing into Victor’s.  

“What?” Victor repeats, now that it’s obvious that Yuuri isn’t going to answer.

“Victor, Gojira is…”  Yuuri raises his arms and stomps dramatically around the locker room making growling noises.

Now it’s Victor’s turn to collapse into giggles, wiping away the tears at the corners of his eyes.  “What was that?  A dinosaur?”

“It was Gojira,” Yuuri says, lowering his arms and looking suddenly self-conscious.  “Er, Godzilla.  Was it...” he drops his gaze, fiddling with the zipper pull for his jacket, “...was it not obvious?”

“No, no, perfect performance,” Victor rushes to assure him.  “I’m just not familiar with many monster movies.”

“You’ve never seen Godzilla?” Yuuri gasps as the triplets chorus, “No Godzilla?” behind him.

Three hours and two bowls of popcorn later, Victor assures Yuuri that now that he has seen Godzilla in the flesh he understands the true artistry of Yuuri’s depiction, the pathos and drama, the internal struggle conveyed through his subtle body language, and Yuuri laughs himself sick and flicks popcorn at him as Victor’s praise gets more and more over the top and ridiculous.  What he says is, “And your eyebrow raise paired with the soft but gravelly roar!  Such artistry!” but what he thinks is, Please, God, give me this, if only for a short time.  

***

Victor remembers thinking how cool English sounded before he started properly learning to speak it; the sounds, the intonation, the words--all of it sounded so cool.  He repeated words without knowing their meaning, just that they sounded good to his ears, made him feel like the hero of an action movie.

Now, of course, Victor can appreciate a particularly beautiful piece of poetry or prose (although he doesn't have the linguistic skill to create them himself), can appreciate wordplay and metaphor, but just hearing English spoken doesn't give him that impression of coolness anymore.  English is a tool for communication, and its beauty or ugliness depends in large part upon its wielder.  He wants to be the best coach he can to Yuuri, so he picks phrases he’s heard before and repeats them back with the appropriate inflection, stitches disparate utterances together with his trademark bluntness and more personal interest in Yuuri than may be strictly professional.  

Japanese sounded beautiful and exotic when he first heard it--even falling slurred from Yuuri’s lips at the banquet, it sounded ephemeral and lighter than air, something to be admired at a distance.

Japanese stays beautiful for Victor, but it's a different kind of beautiful--it’s a small, familiar beauty rather than a breathtaking, untouchable one.  It’s the beauty of phrases given meaning through repetition and association.  It’s the look of surprise on Yuuri’s face the first time Victor says, “Itadakimasu!” before digging into a meal, the warm feeling that settles in his chest when Yuuri calls, “Tadaima!” without tacking on an English translation for Victor.  Japanese isn’t as beautiful when he knows it, will probably never be as beautiful as the image he unknowingly built up in his head, but he would rather have something solid and real and imperfect than something beautiful but untouchable.

***

Listening to Toshiya speak Japanese is like being hit by a freight train--a cheerful, friendly freight train, but a freight train nonetheless.  Victor can hold a simple conversation with Mari or Minako, and Toshiya seems to understand him just fine, but the moment he opens his mouth, Victor’s barraged with incomprehensible syllables that barely sound like Japanese.  Hiroko is similarly difficult to understand, although Victor can usually pick out a few words at the beginning of her sentences.

When Victor brings up his failure to understand Yuuri’s parents with Minako during one of their nights out, she laughs.  “It’s a dialect,” she explains.  “Everyone speaks Saga-ben here.”

You don’t,” Victor points out, tipping his beer bottle toward her.

“Oh, I can,” Minako says, chin on her hand.  “I just normally speak hyoujungo--standard Japanese,” she explains, seeing Victor’s blank expression.  “Same with Yuuri and Mari.  Young people don’t want the accent--it makes them sound like they’re from the countryside.”

“Oh.”  Victor isn’t sure what to say to that, so he takes a sip of beer instead, considering.  “Could I learn it?”

Minako looks bemused.  “Sure, but why?”

“Because…”  Victor tries to think of a plausible excuse but can only think of Yuuri’s face, the wideness of his eyes and soft curve of his lips when Victor surprises him.  He could blame the alcohol, say it’s hitting him harder than he thought, but he knows that’s not true.  “Because.”

Minako laughs and changes the subject.

***

“Please teach me Saga-ben,” Victor requests in halting Japanese, sitting next to Mari in one of the empty banquet rooms and folding towels.  Yuuri is soaking in the hot spring after a particularly challenging day of training, and Mari took one look at Victor, overflowing with nervous energy with no outlet, and put him to work immediately.  He may be a guest, but that line is blurring farther and farther as time goes on.  There are only so many times you can wait impatiently for the toilet in the morning or get into a friendly competition over a hotpot or keep finding your clothes in other people’s rooms (because Makkachin enjoys stealing shirts and socks and gifting them to others) before you start to feel something like a family.

Haa?” Mari asks, not looking up from her folding.

“I want to speak to your parents, or at least understand them,” Victor explains, smoothing down a corner before folding.  Wait, no, he folded the wrong way in the wrong order.  He sighs and shakes the towel out to start over--he never knew that there was a “right” way to fold towels until he started helping with chores around the inn.  He switches into English, realizing he doesn’t have the vocabulary for what he wants to say in Japanese.  “And, of course, I’d like to be able to talk to the people in the town without needing Yuuri as an interpreter.  He already does so much, so forcing him to translate for me when I could learn myself seems unfair.”

Mari is staring at Victor, a neat stack of folded towels on her lap, her expression considering.  He doesn’t know how much of his English explanation she caught--she always says her English isn’t very good, but he can’t tell how much of that is false modesty.  “Saga-ben isn’t easy,” she says in Japanese, tone measured.

“I know.”

“It will take a while to learn.”

“I know.”  Victor feels like he’s having one of those conversations with Yuuri--one of the ones where they’re ostensibly talking about one thing but they’re actually talking about something else entirely and using the first thing as a metaphor or a euphemism.  Usually it isn’t too hard to read between the lines--Yuuri wanting to win and eat katsudon with Victor, for example, is a fairly unambiguous request for Victor to stay.  Yuuri is katsudon, and Victor loves katsudon--also obvious, if a little odd to outside ears.  But this conversation?  Victor hasn’t the faintest clue.

“You’re serious,” Mari says, and it feels like a question even though her intonation doesn’t rise, even though it’s obviously a statement.

“Yes,” Victor says distractedly, finally managing to fold the towel the right way.  It doesn’t look as neat as the ones Mari folded, rumpled and haphazard despite his best efforts.

Mari lets out a puff of air, sounding both exasperated and relieved.  “Alright,” she says.  “Alright.”

Fifteen minutes of lessons and five terribly folded towels later, Mari mutters something under her breath in Japanese (the only words Victor can catch are “foreigner,” “Saga-ben,” and “weird”) and refolds all his towels for him.

***

Victor doesn’t know what he has with Yuuri, doesn’t know the word to put to whatever they’re tentatively building together.  Yuuri drifts closer and closer, slowly bridges the space between them, but never declares his intentions, never asks Victor to be anything but Victor.  Victor has always jumped into everything with both feet, never looked before he leaped, but Yuuri eases in, one step at a time, seems to always be searching for an escape route and a fallback plan.  

“You should have seen Yuuri when he started learning English,” Minako declares one night, waving a beer bottle expansively.  “He was so afraid of making a mistake he wouldn’t speak at all!”

Yuuri protests, face bright red and hands waving, but Victor can easily imagine it: Yuuri swallowing down his words for fear that they’re the wrong ones whereas Victor lets them come bubbling up and spilling over, verbally button mashes his way through conversations.

“Once he was ready, though,” Minako adds, teasingly, “he wouldn’t shut up.”

Yuuri denies that even more viciously as Victor laughs beside him.  Yuuri is always so hesitant and careful, but Victor is willing to let him lead, let him decide the bounds of this...whatever it is they have.  Someday, maybe, Yuuri will be ready, and then, well, then Victor will follow his lead into whatever comes after.

***

Victor once read that you have different personalities when you speak different languages--that being multilingual means you can be multiple people--and he could understand that sentiment immediately.  Victor is Victor, is always just Victor, but which language he speaks affects how he presents himself, which parts of himself he brings forward and which parts he tucks away.

Victor in English is Victor the competitor--he uses English to communicate with other skaters, to speak to the media.  Victor in English is the artist and the playboy, the world champion.  Victor in English is suave and charming, flirts and teases and encourages by turns.  He doesn’t feel fluent in English--feels acutely when he tries to express a thought and realizes he doesn’t have the requisite vocabulary--but he is, more or less, comfortable.

Victor in Russian is Victor the national hero, Victor born and raised and trained to use his body as an instrument.  Victor in Russian never listens to Yakov’s criticism, never bows beneath the weight of his crown.  Victor in Russian is an inspiration and mentor to his rink mates, tucks away his growing unease about the future, his desire for something more than this, and stands tall and proud. Victor in Russian is fluent, can express himself without hesitation or second guessing.

Victor in Japanese is head over heels for Yuuri, only exists because of Yuuri.  Victor in Japanese is excited and bubbly and trips over his own tongue, squirrels away odd vocabulary and bits of dialect so he can surprise Yuuri later.  Victor in Japanese is nowhere near fluent, could not pass an exam or carry on a conversation without pausing to consult a dictionary or Yuuri (whichever happens to be closer at hand), but he is unafraid--unafraid to try new things, to make embarrassing mistakes, to love unabashedly and openly.  Victor in Japanese is born of, motivated by, and surrounded by love, and that shines through in the way he speaks, in the way he shapes and arranges words, in his body language and mannerisms.

Victor is Victor, is always just Victor, but who Victor is has never been static, has always been shaped by his surroundings and the role he is expected to play.  He watches Yuuri grow and blossom, and grows alongside him, their lives and their languages slowly becoming more and more intertwined.

***

If skating was its own language, Victor would be fluent in that as well.  Victor is emotional and expressive when he skates, channels his feelings into something ephemeral and beautiful.  Victor is not particularly eloquent in other languages--even in his native Russian he is direct and occasionally abrasive--but in skating he conveys his meaning in poetry, effortlessly illustrates and sparks the imagination in a way he could never manage with spoken language.  He skates “Stay Close to Me” as a plea, wraps himself in the music to deliver a heartfelt message to whoever out there might be listening (and if, by chance, a certain young Japanese man is watching him, if he hears the plea and is moved by it, so much the better).  He takes the night of the banquet--that night that Yuuri stole his heart and left him flushed and breathless--and condenses it into a short program, a symphony of sequins and ice and Yuuri beckoning and enticing.  He hears the music Yuuri picks for his free skate and immediately can imagine the bare bones of the program in his head, the height and rotation of Yuuri’s body punctuating the soft but sweeping score, Yuuri’s history laid out for perusal and reflection and to create a basis for further growth.  It will be a challenging program--Victor does not choreograph non-challenging programs--but Victor is excited to see Yuuri tackle it.

Yuuri is fluent in skating too, but in a different way than Victor.  Yuuri takes Victor’s choreography and echoes it back to him, gives it a new spin, a new angle, a new interpretation. Yuuri mimics, but then he conquers and reshapes and makes the program his own.  Victor watches the evolution of Yuuri’s eros, from a self-conscious mimicry of Victor to something feminine and alluring (even if it feels, in some ways, artificial) to Yuuri, just Yuuri, inhabiting every step and every turn, demanding attention and dominating the ice with his presence.  Victor expected that Yuuri’s eros would remind him of the night at the banquet, would bring back memories of pole dancing and a heady flamenco, but instead it’s something more solid, more intimate despite the audience, despite the distance between them.  Yuuri’s eros is half of a conversation, growing more and more confident with every iteration, a demand to watch him, to keep his eyes on him, to never look away (as if Victor would ever be able to, as if Yuuri hasn’t held Victor’s heart in the palm of his hand for months).

At the China Cup, despite his exhaustion, despite crying his eyes out in a parking lot only a few minutes earlier, despite Victor failing as a coach in every conceivable dimension, Yuuri turns the final toe loop of his free skate into a flip.  Victor doesn’t need a translation for such an obvious gesture--there is no room here for missed context or alternate interpretation.  Words escape him, and so he replies by flinging himself across the ice and kissing Yuuri in front of the world.

***

Victor expects some kind of reaction from Yuuri’s family, some pushback or discomfort, maybe even an awkward conversation where he’ll have to defend his intentions toward Yuuri.  On the flight back from Beijing, as Yuuri dozes with his head on Victor’s shoulder, he wonders if his language abilities will be up to the test, or if he’ll have to get Yuuri to interpret for him (and how awkward would that be?).

Instead, the Katsukis welcome them back as they always have.  There is katsudon (“You didn’t win, but I think we can let it slide this time,” Victor teases) and conversation (which mostly flies over Victor’s head) and no mention of how Victor kissed their son on international television.  Maybe they don’t want to acknowledge the shift in their relationship, Victor thinks; maybe they want to keep pretending that this is just Yuuri and his overly affectionate coach.  Victor sneaks his hand onto Yuuri’s thigh under the table, and Yuuri blushes but doesn’t push him off.

Yuuri turns in early, but Victor stays up, sharing a beer with Toshiya and Mari while Hiroko cleans up in the kitchen.  They don’t talk much, Victor too tired to try to hold a conversation in Japanese, but the silence feels warm and comfortable, despite the language barrier.

“Vicchan,” Hiroko calls when Victor finally pulls himself to his feet to collapse into bed.

Victor pauses in the doorway.

She says something which he can’t catch a single word of, other than Yuuri’s name, and pats his arm with a smile.

Victor smiles back hesitantly, glancing at Mari for help.

She hums, chin in her hand.  “Took you long enough,” she says, mouth quirking upward.

“Oh,” Victor says, and he can feel the blush crawling up his face. The Katsukis are looking up at him like he belongs, like he has a place at their table and a spot beside their son.  He doesn’t know how to process the realization that this is not a grand declaration of acceptance so much as it has been a slow drift into their orbit, an imperceptible reconfiguring of their lives to create space for Victor.

He can’t think of an appropriate response, and so he just says, “Good night,” and then adds, “Oyasumi nasai.”  He sounds fluent, for a moment, the words slipping smoothly from his tongue with just the right inflection.

Oyasumi!” the Katsukis call back, as Victor heads down the hall, feeling overwhelmed but loved.

***

Yuuri hands Victor his phone (“Phichit keeps asking for pictures, but I’m so bad at selfies!” Yuuri explains apologetically) and Victor notices a Russian language learning app on his home screen.  Victor feels his heartbeat stutter, his cheeks suddenly warming.  “Victor?” Yuuri asks, and Victor quickly snaps a few pictures of his adorable confused face.

Victor stops trying to hold himself back from code-switching, lets himself lapse into Russian when he can’t be bothered to reach for the English or Japanese words, and Yuuri adapts, Yuuri listens, Yuuri occasionally asks for clarification when Victor uses an unfamiliar word.  Yuuri stops interceding when he catches Victor stumbling through a conversation in Japanese, will only interject when Victor gets stuck and can’t gesture and onomatopoeia his way out.  The first time Yuuri shyly describes something as “vkusno,” Victor can’t stop himself from peppering Yuuri’s face with kisses.  (“Ara ara,” Hiroko sighs with her chin in her hands as Yuuri blushes bright red and simultaneously tries to crawl under the table and hide his face in Victor’s shoulder.  Victor apologizes cheerfully and doesn’t mean a word of it.)

Yuuri cheers Yurio on with a “Davai!” in Moscow and Victor shouts, “Ganba!” in return.  Yurio looks disgusted, but Victor doesn’t care.  He’s proud of both Yuris, and he’ll use every language at his disposal to remind both of them of that, cheer for Yurio and shower Yuuri in affection.

***

Victor stares into space, Makkachin clutched in his arms.  Makkachin is fine, barely any worse for the wear, but Victor is filled with nervous energy with no outlet.  In a few hours, Yuuri will be stepping onto the ice for the free skate.  Victor should be there to stand beside him and support him, to steady his nerves and remind him that he is loved.  Instead, Victor is here and Yuuri is there, and Victor feels so helpless.

He starts when Mari sits beside him, dumping a pile of towels on the floor between them.  She wordlessly pushes half of the pile toward him, carefully plucking a hand towel from her own half and folding it with a few deft flicks of her wrist.

A few minutes (a few hours? Victor loses track of time in repetitive motion and the sensation of soft cloth against his fingertips) later, Hiroko pokes her head into the room.  “Vicchan, have you eaten?”

“No.”  Victor’s stomach cramps at the thought of food.

Hiroko looks at him for a long moment, her expression warm but tired.  “He’ll be alright,” she says.

“I know,” Victor says, even though he doesn't.

“He's lucky to have you,” she says, and Victor realizes that she's also worried, that while she might have gotten used to watching her son compete from afar, while she might not have much interest in or knowledge of the sport, that doesn't mean it's easy for her or Toshiya or Mari.

“He's lucky to have you,” he echoes back.  He knows he’s not the first one to love Yuuri, he’s not the only one to love Yuuri, and that thought is somehow comforting.  Victor is far away (too far away), but he is surrounded by others who love Yuuri, who worry for him and want him to succeed.

It's only when he sits down to eat (rice gruel, which tastes much better than it sounds and, more importantly, his churning stomach doesn't object to too strongly) that he realizes he had a mutually intelligible conversation with Hiroko in which he never had to pause to consult a dictionary.  It should feel like an accomplishment--it is an accomplishment, and one he's worked hard for--but at the moment he has no space in his heart for anything but worry.

***

“I had a conversation with your mother,” Victor says on the train ride back to Hasetsu, fingers intertwined tightly with Yuuri’s.

Yuuri hums a question, head on Victor’s shoulder and eyelids drooping.

“I'll tell you later,” Victor murmurs, pressing a kiss to his forehead.

***

English is neither Yuuri nor Victor’s native language--both of them can communicate, can convey their meaning, but that doesn’t mean that they are always comfortable.  There are times when one of them reaches for a word only to realize they can’t remember the translation, when one of them starts a sentence in the wrong language, when one of them fumbles a phrase and leaves the other confused.  There are times when one of them realizes that their linguistic proficiency is insufficient for the concept they are trying to express, that trying to talk around something so complicated is more effort than they are willing to expend, and so they decide to leave things unsaid.  Sometimes they leave too many things unsaid, in the hopes that the other will catch on without words, that they can read between the lines.

“After the Final, let’s end this,” Yuuri says, as though this is the logical continuation of a conversation in progress.

Victor has always jumped into everything with both feet, never looked before he leaped, but Yuuri eases in, one step at a time, seems to always be searching for an escape route and a fallback plan.  Victor knows this, knows Yuuri, but Yuuri is acting as though this has been a business transaction, bows and formally thanks Victor, and Victor can’t stop the anger that comes bubbling up with the tears, can’t stop himself from lashing out and calling Yuuri selfish.

English is neither Yuuri nor Victor’s native language, but this is not a problem born of insufficient linguistic proficiency, a miscommunication that could be solved if they just spoke the language better.

***

They need to talk.  Victor knows this, but words seem to be failing him--every time he thinks of something to say, he can’t bring himself to open his mouth, can’t let the words loose just in case they’re the wrong ones.

Oh, he thinks.  Oh, this is how Yuuri felt learning English.

In the end, they are running out of time, and so Victor tries to say something coach-like, picks phrases he’s heard before and repeats them back with the appropriate inflection.

Yuuri calls his bluff, and the words come bubbling up in response.  They’re not polished or perfected, not beautiful poetry or elegant prose, but they’re undoubtedly Victor’s words through and through.  If Yuuri seems to communicate best through euphemism, through metaphor, through talking around the subject rather than approaching it head on, then Victor will try his best to speak his language, to have a conversation about Yuuri stealing Victor from the ice, about Victor wanting to kiss Yuuri’s gold metal, that’s actually about something else entirely.

Yuuri leans into him, expression disbelieving and lovestruck, and Victor knows he understood.

***

Victor has seen Yuuri skate this program so many times in so many rinks, in and out of costume, with and without music, in various states of exhaustion and anxiety.  He knows this program inside and out, the height and rotation of Yuuri’s body punctuating the soft but sweeping score, Yuuri’s history laid out for perusal and reflection and to create a basis for further growth.  But Yuuri has never been one for simple mimicry and repetition, never been one to stay static.  He inches forward, takes things one step at a time, but he is constantly moving forward, constantly reaching for greater heights even as anxiety tries to pull him down.  He grows and he blossoms and Victor doesn’t have room in his heart for anything but pride.

If Yuuri’s short program was a conversation, his free skate is a declaration.  Victor doesn’t need a translation for such an obvious gesture--there is no room here for missed context or alternate interpretation.  Neither of them are good with words, neither of them are entirely comfortable communicating in a non-native language, but they’ll always have this, the ice and the music and the look of determination on Yuuri’s face as he demolishes Victor’s world record.

Victor cries for the second time in twenty-four hours, but it’s a good cry this time.  He wanted something solid and real, and Yuuri gave it to him, surpassed his expectations yet again with a performance that was ephemeral and bittersweet.  Victor always knew their time was limited, but at least they’ll always have this, Yuuri reaching toward him as the audience goes wild.

***

“I don’t feel like kissing it unless it’s gold,” Victor says, and he means something different.

“Please stay with me in competitive figure skating for one more year!” Yuuri says, and he means something different too.

Someday, maybe, they’ll be ready to communicate without hiding behind double-speak, but until then, Victor will keep holding Yuuri’s hand, will drag him forward sometimes and follow his lead at others, will remind him as many times as he needs and in as many languages as he can that he loves him.

***

“I’m going to have to learn Russian,” Yuuri murmurs into Victor’s hair, curled around him in bed after the exhibition skate, after the sound of their blades on the ice and the glint of their rings and their bodies curved around each other in perfect synchrony.

Victor hums a confirmation as he tilts his head up to kiss Yuuri, tender and slow.

“I’m going to be so bad at it,” Yuuri says, when Victor finally pulls away, but his expression mirrors Victor’s, the heat and joy on Victor's face echoed back at him.

“I believe in you,” Victor says, and he means exactly that.