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“Hello?”

Viktor gets the call during his walk to work. He’s one of the few people who still dares to walk instead of taking a bus or carpooling. But Viktor is Russian and that comes with a certain kind of pride at being able to weather the cold. Some people might call it masochism, but Viktor is willing to bet that those people aren’t Russian.

“I need to talk to you.”

“Oh, hello Uncle Yakov.” Viktor sighs. He hopes this conversation doesn’t take too long. He still has a dozen papers to grade before his first lecture.

“It’s about your sister.” He says in his gravelly voice.

“Ah, yes.” Viktor says, holding the phone up to his ear with his shoulder so he can put his hands in his pockets. “How is Katya?”

“She’s dead.”

Viktor stops walking. He takes his hands out of his pockets to hold the phone.

“Excuse me?” His lips feel numb. Surely Yakov is joking. Surely Viktor misheard. Surely…

“Katya is dead, Viktor. It was a car accident late last night.” Yakov stops and takes a breath, like he’s trying to keep himself together. Viktor just stares at the pavement. “Her car skidded off the road and hit a building. She died on impact.”

“Oh.” Viktor says because he can’t find any words that seem like enough. He doesn’t know if any words will ever be enough.

For what feels like a long time, he stands there and looks down without seeing anything. A few people walk by him and the wind blows, hard and cold, and Viktor’s sister is dead.

Nothing seems real.

~~~~

Detroit is cold in January, but it is nothing like Russia. When Viktor steps out of the airport and into the cold, he shudders and jams his gloved hands into his pockets. The wind bites at his nose and yanks at his hair. It makes his knee ache.

Viktor hasn’t been back in eight years. The bitter wind hurts more now than it does in his memories.

He takes a cab to Yakov’s apartment. It's fine. Yakov didn't offer to pick him up and Viktor didn't ask. 

The he driver chats with him about the weather and Viktor watches out the window as a city that's almost familiar passes by. The driver makes a joke and Viktor laughs faintly. It's strange to be in a place where everyone speaks Russian. Viktor keeps defaulting to English.

He gets to Yakov’s apartment and, after some perfunctory greetings and an awkwardly stiff hug, Yakov leaves Viktor on the couch to sleep the jetlag off. The couch is lumpy and uncomfortable and the whole apartment smells like dust and stewed cabbage.

It’s a cold and dull place, but Viktor isn’t surprised. His uncle doesn’t spend much time there. He is either at the rink or he is out of the country at competitions. Since his divorce, the apartment is likely a place to sleep and not much more.

But Viktor is tired enough that the cabbage smell and the general gloom doesn’t keep him from drifting off and sleeping for a solid ten hours. When he wakes, he’s confused about where he is for a moment. The light is wrong for his apartment and his bed isn’t half this lumpy unless he’s fallen asleep on Makkachin again and…

He hears Russian being spoken nearby and it clicks together. He’s at Yakov’s. He’s in Russia. His sister is dead. Right.

He drags a hand through his hair and sits up, blinking sleep out of his eyes. The first thing he notices is that someone took off his shoes for him while he was sleeping. The second is the boy sitting a few feet from him, glaring.

“Uh…” Viktor sits up and blinks. Again, he defaults to English without thinking. “Who are you?”

The boy snarls, actually snarls, before spitting back in Russian. “Why are you speaking English? Don’t you know Russian, idiot?”

“I…” Viktor blinks, taken aback, but the boy gets up and stalks away before he has a chance to say anything. He’s a small, willowy boy with pale blond hair that reminds Viktor of someone.

He rubs his eyes again and gets off the couch, pressing his hands together. The room is drafty and cold.

There are people he doesn't know, probably friends of Katya, milling about. They greet Viktor and offer their condolences and Viktor feels like an idiot still wearing the ratty sweatpants and sweatshirt he did on the plane. He eventually manages to make his way through the crush over to Yakov. He’s sitting at the table, cradling a bottle of something clear and alcoholic. Good man.

“Yakov.” Viktor sits beside him.

“Vitya.” Yakov grunts. “You slept long enough.”

Viktor just shrugs, accepting the bottle and taking a swig when Yakov offers. It burns on the way down, hot and refreshing as a forest fire. He scans the room, looking for the boy he saw early.

He spots him sitting in a corner, scowling ferociously at anyone who happens to get too close. He nudges Yakov.

“Who is that?”

Yakov looks pained. “That’s your nephew, Vitya. Katya’s son.”

That’s Yuri?” Viktor demands. Yakov grunts an affirmative. Viktor stares over at the boy, at this nephew, with a slightly open mouth.

The last time Viktor had seen Yuuri, he was a small boy with skinny wrists and a ready smile. The Yuri that he’s looking at now still has the skinny wrists, but has lost the smile. Instead, his face his pulled into sharp lines of misery.

That, though, isn’t surprisingly. His mother did just die.

Viktor sighs heavily and runs a hand through his hair. “Poor boy.” He says. “Where will he go after this?”

Viktor knows this part already. When he was five and Katya was twelve, their parents died. After weeks of being shuffled around and sleeping on couches, it was decided that they would stay with their Uncle Yakov. Viktor doesn’t have much living family left. He imagines Yakov will take Yuri the same way he took Viktor and Katya.

Perhaps Yuri can be Yakov’s champion the way that Viktor never managed to be.

But Yakov shatters all of that. “We were hoping that you would take him.”

What?” Viktor just stares at him.

“You are the best suited…” Yakov begins, but Viktor cuts him off. This is ridiculous.

“I'm twenty three!” Victor snaps. “And I haven't seen him in ten years!”

“But you can give him stability.” Says Yakov and he he looks so old all of the sudden. “You can give him a home. I can’t give him that.”

Viktor takes the bottle and drinks deep. He doesn't look at his uncle. 

“I’m a graduate student studying Russian Literature, Yakov.” Viktor says after a long silence. “I have classes to teach and a thesis to write. That isn’t exactly a recipe for stability.” He huffs a sigh. “I’m sure he doesn’t want to go to America either...his home is in Russia.”

Yakov examines him for a moment before drinking the rest of his glass. “Look.” He says finally. “I wouldn’t ask if there was another option. His grandfather is old and sick. I don’t have a home for the boy. You, Vitya, are the only option.”

“But Katya and I…” Viktor starts, but then stops. His sister, like his skating, is something that he doesn’t like to think about, much less talk about.

He turns instead to look at his nephew, at Yuri. He’s still sitting in that corner, dressed in black clothes that are a bit too small for him, and staring at the ground like he wants to fight it. God, he looks so young. And so small.

He’s got nobody left without Katya. Viktor knows that feeling.

“He needs a home.” Yakov says, following his gaze. “He needs you.”

Viktor has a thousand reasons to say no, a thousand very good reasons. He doesn’t want a kid-shaped hole blasted on the middle of his comfortable life. But Yakov is looking at him with something dangerously close to pleading in his eyes and Viktor can still see Yuri out of the corner of his eye, small and pale and so very alone.

Viktor knows he’s a selfish person.

“Fine. He can come with me.”

But that doesn’t mean he wants to stay that way.

~~~~

The funeral is short and cold.

Viktor doesn’t cry.

His sister was a stranger to him. Even growing up, they were never close. Viktor spent his time on the ice and Katya spent hers elsewhere. He never found out where. He never cared to.

And then he left for America and he didn’t look back.

Crying now would be dishonest. It would be holding onto grief that wasn’t his.

He watches, dry-eyed, as a coffin is lowered into the cold, hard earth. A priest is droning on in Russian. The sky above is the color of slate.

Yuri is crying.

Viktor is standing a few feet away from his nephew and he watches as Yuri clings to his grandfather and angrily tries to suppress the tears trickling down his cheeks. His grandfather is a stooped old man with lines around his eyes and his mouth who Viktor has only ever spoken to in passing.

Viktor spends a selfish moment wishing that the old man weren’t so sickly. If he was hardier, he could take Yuri in. Yuri clearly loves him. It would be a better arrangement for everyone.

Viktor sighs and looks back to the hole in the dirt. He wonders if anyone has even bothered to tell Yuri he’ll be going back to America with the uncle he hasn’t spoken to in years.

“I’m sorry.” He says, so quiet that the wind yanks it away before anyone can hear it. It’s fine. He’s not sure who it’s for, anyway.

~~~~

Yuri was not told he would be going to America.

Yuri is not told until roughly five hours before Viktor needs to be on his plane back. Viktor kind of wants to kick Yakov in the face. Yakov, apparently thinking it would be easier just to shove the kid on a plane without asking for his okay, packed up all of his stuff without actually telling Yuri.

Now Yakov, Yuri’s grandfather, Viktor and Yuri are standing in the kitchen surrounded by Yuri’s packed suitcases.

“So,” Yakov grumbles after his short explanation on Yuri’s new living situation is done. “It is going to be best for everyone if you go to America with your Uncle.”

This asshole?” Yuri borderline shrieks. “I don’t even know him!”

Yuri is incandescent with rage. He spits and howls and claws at everyone who tries to force him out the door.

It takes over an hour. He only calms down enough when his grandfather takes him aside and has a quiet word with him. Yuri comes back, face still alight with anger, but he follows them into the car and allows them to drive him to the airport.

He doesn’t speak during the plane ride. He doesn’t speak during the drive home.

He doesn’t speak for a full day after they’re back at Viktor’s apartment. He just sits around and practically vibrates with anger. Viktor is trying not to press him, to give him time to process and everything.

But, like...he has an angry-looking twelve-year-old sitting on the middle of of his couch. Glaring at him anytime he comes close.

Okay. This could be worse. Viktor can’t think of how at the moment, but it could be worse. Possibly.

“I’ve enrolled you in school.” He says tentatively. That’s something that seemed important to do, so Viktor went after his classes were all done and got it done. Yuuri should be able to start on Monday.

“Fuck off.”

Viktor frowns. “I know I’m not an expert, but that doesn’t seem like ordinary language for a twelve-year-old.”

“And stop talking in English!” Yuri snaps. “I can’t understand when you go that fast!”

“Ah, I apologize.” Viktor slips back into Russian like an old coat; unworn, but still familiar. “I’m used to English after being in America so long.”

“I hate English.” Yuri says.

“You speak it, though.” Viktor tries. “Yakov said that he helped to teach you.”

“I still hate it.”

They sit in silence for a while. Then Yuri breaks it.

“I hate you too.” Yuri says, not looking at Viktor.

“Hate me?” Viktor is genuinely surprised. “Why?” They don’t even know each other. He didn’t think Yuri knew him well enough to hate him.

“My mom hated you.” Yuri says flatly.

Viktor can’t help his full-body flinch.

“That isn’t exactly…” He tries, but Yuri just snorts derisively.

“Oh, she hated you.” He says. “I’m sure she did.”

Viktor swallows and gives up. “Yeah,” He says. “I know.”

Dinner is a muted affair after that.

~~~~

A week passes and then two and soon January is sliding into February. The snow outside softens into a thick, grey slush that clings to the hem of Viktor’s pants and ruins his second-best pair of shoes.

Yuri continues to growl and snap at Viktor occasionally. And then other times he demands food or money. But, for the most part, Yuri ignores Viktor completely.

It’s a lot like living with a large, feral cat.

Ah, well. At least he gets on with Makkachin, even if he complains constantly about the dog’s name and insists that they should change it to something less stupid. It’s one of the few conversations last more than a minute that Yuri has deigned to have with him.

Viktor is mostly sure that he’s failing abysmally at this guardianship business. He tries to read websites about how to be better at it and about grieving kids, but he’s still a graduate student with classes to teach, papers to grade and his own assignments to do. He doesn’t have the time to coax out an angry preteen who wants nothing to do with him.

He calls Yakov one night after three (very generous) glasses of wine and borderline begs him to take Yuri back.

“I’m doing everything wrong.” He insists, cradling the phone like a lifeline. “He ignores me and he hates me and I’m screwing him up and…”

“Vitya…” Yakov never sounds gentle, but his rough voice softens a bit with sympathy. “I’m sure you’re doing fine. Yuri lost everything. Give him some time. Things with get better.”

Viktor doesn’t really believe that, but he lets himself be comforted anyway.

~~~~

Viktor has many friends in Detroit. His instagram is always teaming with likes. When he wants to go out on a weekend there are always too many people volunteering to go with. And, sure enough, as soon as he came home from Russia there were dozens of notifications on his phone, all expressing pity and sympathy.

He deletes them without reading them.

It’s fine. He’s fine.

~~~~

“I need to skate.”

The request comes two months after Yuri comes to Detroit. Viktor is honestly surprised it took as long as it did. When he was Yuri’s age, he skated for hours every day until his feet were sore and bleeding and…

Well. That doesn’t matter anymore.

“Of course, Yuri.” Viktor says with a smile, closing his laptop. He’s got papers to look over, but he can do that while Yuri skates. “We can go now.”

Yuri doesn’t thank him, but he face softens just a bit and he doesn’t call Viktor any names so he’s willing to call it a win.

Viktor has never been to the rink on campus, but he knows where it is all the same. There should be public hours for a bit longer today and, if not Viktor can usually use his charm and good looks to get around silly restrictions like opening and closing times.

The rink is open and empty and Viktor decides not to question their good fortune. He settles halfway up the bleachers beside the ice and opens his laptop and Yuri ties his skates and steps onto the ice.

Viktor tries not to look at the rink, at the boy skating on it, but his eyes keep catching on it and staying there.

Yuri skates in big circles, not doing anything yet but enjoying the feeling of his skates sliding across the ice. The sight makes something in Viktor ache. When Yuri gets going, when he does jumps and spins one after another, the ache gets worse.

Viktor breathes deep, in and then out, and looks at his nephew’s face. Yuri looks different. He's not at peace, necessarily, but he looks less on edge. Better. More like a kid and less like an angry cat.

“You missed it?” Viktor asks softly when Yuri takes a break to come and get some water.

He doesn’t answer Viktor’s question, but looks him up and down. “You used to skate.” Yuri flings the words at him like an accusation. “M-mom said so.”

Viktor doesn’t comment on the way his voice slipped up on the word mom and nods, smiling benignly. “I did.” He agrees. “But not anymore.”

“You just quit?” Yuri demands, his voice wavering between anger and disbelief.

Viktor’s hands tighten on the walls, knuckles standing out stark and white. The ache doesn’t go away. It never does when the ice is this close.

“That’s not…” He starts, but a voice interrupts him.

“Um, hello?” Someone calls. “Who’s here? Is that you Celestino?”

Viktor closes his computer and stands. Yuri stiffens, still leaning up against the wall.

A man steps into the light, dressed in black clothes with hair just as dark. He walks closer to them and Viktor can see that he’s young, probably a freshman or maybe even a high schooler.

“Ah, sorry.” Viktor smiles winningly at him. “The door was unlocked...I assumed it was fine for us to use it.”

Yuri doesn’t say anything, just glares. Viktor wants to tell him that it’s probably not helping their case, but he can’t without the student overhearing.

“Oh!” The student gasps, his wide brown eyes going wider. “Um, I’m sorry! T-the rink is closed right now...I must have left it unlocked…”

He’s close enough to touch now, holding a bag that probably contains skating equipment.

Viktor smiles at him. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”

Yuri is still glaring at him.

“Professor Nikiforov!” The boy looks taken aback. “I didn’t know it was you.”

“You know me?” Viktor asks, surprised, and he nods. Ah, curse his terrible memory. “What’s your name?”

“Yuuri Katsuki.” He introduces himself. “I’m actually i-in your comparative literature class, Professor Nikiforov.”

“Oh, yes I thought a recognized you.” Viktor lies, leaning in a bit. “Oh, wait!” He snaps his fingers. There’s a boy with brown eyes like these ones in his comparative lit class, but they’re usually hidden behind glasses and fixed on his notes. “You usually wear glasses though, don’t you?”

“Um, yes.” Yuuri is blushing a rather fetching shade of pink. Huh...he’s cute.

“And your name is Yuri?”

“Yuuri.” He says, elongating the u. “Yes.”

“Hah, how about that?” He says. “My nephew here has the same name.”

“Really?” Yuuri blinks in surprise.

“Yes, I…” Viktor starts, but Yuri cuts him off.

“Viktor!” Yuri snaps.

Viktor takes his time looking Yuuri up and down before turning back to Yuri. “Yes, Yuri?”

“What?” Yuuri says.

“Oh, no...I’m talking to my nephew.” Viktor says, gesturing to Yuri who is still standing on the ice in his skates.

“Your nephew?”

“Yes, Yuri!” Viktor drags Yuri closer. “Say hi Yuri!”

“Fuck off.”

“Yuri says hi.”

The whole situation is stupid and confusing, but Yuuri is being a good sport about it. Viktor looks him up and down again. He’s slender but strong, a figure skater's build obviously, and his eyes are a clear, warm brown. Viktor is unsure how he overlooked him for so long.

Viktor smiles at him. “Can we skate? Just for a while?”

“I don’t mind sharing.” Yuuri says. “I practice by myself here most nights, but if you don’t tell anyone else about it…”

“Oh, a secret!” Viktor says with a laugh. “I like it!”

“Whatever.” Yuri says, but he looks relieved.

“Say thank you, Yuri.” Viktor says, pained. Did his sister really teach her boy no manners?

“Thank you.” Yuri grinds out, sounding like ever word causes his pain. “I’ll be on that side.” He jerks his head towards the left side of the rink and then skates away without a word.

“Sorry for him.” Viktor sighs. 

“Oh, it’s fine.” Yuuri's says, bending down to adjust the laces on his skates and take off the blade guards. “I share the rink when I practice during the day, so I’m used to it.”

“To people yelling at you?”

Yuuri laughs and straightens up. “Sometimes. But mostly I meant sharing the ice.”

“Well, thank you.” Viktor says. “We’ll only stay around a bit longer.”

“R-really, it’s fine Professor.” Says Yuuri and he skates off before Viktor can tell him that he prefers being called by his first name.

Viktor, satisfied that the situation is in hand for now, opens his laptop and manages to last a whole eight minutes before glancing back at the ice.

His nephew is a streak of blond hair and red practice clothes against the stark white of the rink.

Yuri Plisetsky is a talented skater. Viktor can see it in every move he makes, every landed jump, every deliberate step. He’s young and he’s learning, but he’s already so good. He’s going to be someone someday. Viktor tries to pretend like the weight on his chest isn’t jealousy.

He stares down at his computer for a while without seeing it. He writes, deletes and rewrites the first line of an email to his advisor a half dozen times before giving it up and shutting the computer.

Out on the rink, Yuri is still spinning in lazy circles.

But Yuuri Katsuki, the boy with the big brown eyes, is skating now too. His movements look like a routine, a little unpolished perhaps, but each element flows into the next. He jumps and spins and steps and Viktor can’t find it in himself to look away.

Yuuri is skating with no accompaniment but the hiss of his skates against the ice and the dull whirring of the fans. There’s no music.

There’s no music, but Viktor hears it anyway.

When Yuuri skates, he can’t look away.

“Viktor.” Yuri comes up to him a while later, sweaty and flushed. “I’m ready to go.”

“Ah…” Viktor blinks and glances away from Yuuri. He’s just messing around now, practicing jumps that he flubs more often that he lands. But there’s still something about him, something that’s just…

“Can we go get some food?” Yuri is asking as he steps off the rink.

Viktor forces himself to look at his nephew. “You don’t want me to cook for you?” He teases.

“Psh, no.” Yuri bends down and starts to unlace his skates. “You’re a terrible cook. There’s a reason I eat cereal all of the time Viktor. And it’s not because I like cereal.”

Viktor blinks, taken aback. This is the most he’s heard Yuri talk. Like, ever. Either he really hates Viktor’s cooking or skating was cathartic.

Viktor’s willing to bet it’s somewhere in the middle.

“You are a very rude little boy.” Viktor says mildly, picking up Yuri’s bag and slinging it over his shoulder.

“Yeah, yeah.” Yuri huffs, zipping up his hoodie and flipping up the hood. His blond hair pokes out, messy and damp with sweat. “Just feed me, asshole.”

“Give me a moment.” Viktor says, eyeing Yuuri back on the rink. He’s still skating, big circles that turn into lazy spins every so often.

“Yuuri!” Viktor calls, long and loud.

Yuuri startles and almost falls.

“Bye!” Viktor waves and smiles even though he’s probably too far away to see. “I’ll see you on Monday!”

“I, ah…” Yuuri seems startled, like he’d forgotten that they were there. “Yes! I’ll see you then, Professor Nikiforov.”

“Heh, Professor.” Yuri echoes derisively.

“Hush, you.” Viktor says, but he’s smiling as they leave the rink. “Where do you want to stop for food? I know you’re not always a fan of trying new things, but there’s a great Thai place on the way back…”

“Sure, whatever.” Yuri agrees with a massive yawn. “As long as there’s a lot of it.”

Viktor smiles.

“Whatever you say, Yuri.”

~~~~~

That night, Viktor looks up Yuuri Katsuki in between grading papers.

There’s little in English and nothing in Russian. 

He’s nineteen and doesn’t have any major accolades to his name according to his three-sentence wikipedia article and a JSF web page that Viktor uses google translate on. He’s never even been to the Grand Prix and he’s been skating competitively, from what Viktor can tell, for three years now.

He doesn’t understand it. Yuuri Katsuki should be a name that everyone in the figuring skating world knows. If he looks in competitions like he looked on the ice tonight, he should be winning gold medal after gold medal. 

But instead all he has is a tiny wikipedia article and a grainy video of his skating on youtube that’s only a minute or so long.

Viktor decides then and there that he will learn more about Yuuri Katsuki. He will get to know Yuuri and he’ll do his best to figure out why he’s not standing in the center of the ice accepting his Grand Prix gold.

~~~~

Two days later Viktor and Yuri go back to the skating rink late in the evening. It’s closed, sure, but Viktor has always been a bit hand-wavey about rules and Yuri honestly does not care.

Viktor tests door after door and finally finds a side one unlocked.

“This way!” He chirps to Yuri.

“If you get arrested for breaking and entering, can I still live in your apartment?” Says Yuri, but he follows Viktor inside anyway.

They make their way through the dark hallways to rink. It’s lit dimly, but lit all the same and on the center of the ice Viktor can see a single skater standing alone.

“Is that…” Yuri says, but Viktor shushes him.

He can already tell that it’s Yuuri Katsuki. He recognizes the dark hair and clothes.

He’s gearing up for a jump. He breathes deep, gains speed, lifts off and...

He falls, hitting the ice hard. Viktor is ready to run out onto the ice, ready to rush him to the hospital like he’s do with any skater who fell, ready to…

Yuuri is standing up and brushing himself off, clearly fine.

Viktor’s quick steps slow to a walk and, by the time Yuuri looks over, he’s cool and collected once more. Fine, it’s fine. He’s fine. Not every fall ends in injury. Most don’t.

He’s fine.

“Hello again Yuuri.” Viktor says lightly, raising a hand. Yuri grunts and jerks his head towards Yuuri in acknowledgement.

“Ah, hi Professor.“ His accent is a bit thicker now from exhaustion. “Hi other Yuri.” Viktor realizes that Yuuri, like himself and Yuri, is probably not a native English speaker. He wonders if they can bond over that. And then he wonders why he wants to bond with Yuuri at all. He’s nothing to Viktor, just an average student in one of his classes and a competitor in a sport that shouldn’t mean much to Viktor anymore.

It's fine. He's fine.

Viktor breathes deep and smiles, polished as ever.

“Did you want to skate?” Yuuri addresses the question to Yuri, not Viktor. Something about that simultaneously pleases and annoys Viktor.

“Of course I want to skate.” Yuri huffs, dropping down next to rink to put on his skates. “I’m not here to swim, stupid.”

Yuuri smiles and says, “Of course.” He looks up at Viktor. “We do have hours during the day, you know.” He doesn’t sound accusing. If anything, he sounds a bit like he's teasing.

Viktor leans against the wall separating him from the ice. It feels thin. Unstable. “I work during the day and Yuri…” He glances down at Yuri. He’s tying his skates with a tiny frown of concentration on his face. “He doesn’t do well around, you know, other people.” He stage-whispers that last part.

Yuuri visibly fights a laugh.

Yuri stiffens and shoots Viktor a look full of loathing. It’s not that much different than the looks he gives Viktor every day, so Viktor isn’t too bothered.

“Do you mind?” Viktor asks Yuuri, voice low. He’s still leaning on the wall. “Us coming here to practice like this, I mean.”

“I…” Yuuri meets his eyes for a moment and then looks away again. “No.” He says softly. “I told you before...I don’t mind sharing.”

“Mmmm.” Viktor hums. “Good to know.

“Okay.” Yuri gets to his feet and glowers at them both. “I’m taking the left side again.”

“Sure.” Yuuri says. “I was just doing some jumps...you’re welcome to it.”

“Thanks.” Yuri grunts and Viktor is mildly proud as he glides away.

“Thank you from me as well.” Viktor says with a smile as shiny and flawless as teflon.

Yuuri looks at him for a long moment, something searching in his eyes, and then he smiles back. “I’m doing you a favor. Does this mean I’ll get an A in class, Professor?”

Viktor’s laugh is surprised out of him. “Really, Yuuri?”

Yuuri just shrugs, like he can’t be blamed for asking, and pushes away from the wall.

Viktor watches him go with something like delight. Yuuri Katsuki is surprising.

Viktor has always liked surprises.

~~~~

“Do you want me to find you a coach?”

Hah?”

Viktor and Yuri are walking back from the rink together, Viktor with his eyes on the sky and Yuri with his fixed on the pavement.

“A coach.” Viktor repeats. “I know you skated with Yakov back...before.” He hurries on, trying to get past the spectre of his sister’s death, “I just wondered if you wanted me to find you someone, you know, here.”

He’s been thinking about it. A coach would cost a stupid amount of money and a good coach would practically bankrupt him, but Yuri skates like it physically pains him to be off the ice, he skates like he could be someone someday. If he wants a coach, Viktor will find a way to make it happen.

He’s not a person who would keep someone from their dreams. Not that. Never that.

Yuri doesn’t answer right away. Viktor looks at him sidelong and sees that his brow is furrowed. He doesn’t interrupt, just gives Yuri time to think. They’re almost back at the apartment when he answers.

“No.”

Viktor doesn’t look at him. “Can I ask why?”

“I’ll go back to Yakov someday. I don’t need someone here.” Yuri says and Viktor tries to pretend like the answer doesn’t hurt. It’s sensible. Yakov is his great uncle and one of the best figure skating coaches out there. Russia is where he’s from.

Viktor is the only thing keeping him here and he doesn’t even like Viktor.

“Okay.” Viktor says and he does his utmost to keep his voice light. “If you change your mind, let me know.”

“Whatever.” Yuri mumbles.

They don’t talk for the rest of the night.

~~~~

“Okay!” Viktor claps his hands. “That’s all for today. Make sure you all do your readings!”

The class lets out a collective groan and Viktor beams. He knows for a fact that half the class will not read at all and most of the rest will find the wikipedia entry or sparknotes article about what he’s assigned instead of actually reading. Ah, teaching is such a joy.

A gaggle of girls and a few boys who like to chat him up after class are already coming towards him. Usually, Viktor likes the attention. But today he has plans and those plans involve the boy in the second row still neatly packing up his notes.

Even before Viktor saw Yuuri skate, he knew that he was one of the few people who actually bothered to read what Viktor assigned. So he’s interested enough to shoulder his way past his usual group of fans to stand in front of Yuuri’s desk.

“Yuuri.” He says because Yuuri is still focused on organizing pens.

“Viktor!” Yuuri yelps, so surprised that he flings his pens off of the desk. “Or, ah, Professor Nikiforov! Sorry!”

“Viktor is fine.” He says with a smile and bends down to gather the pens off the ground.

“Wait, you don’t have to…” Yuuri insists and reaches down to gather his pens so Viktor can’t. Their fingers brush and Yuuri jumps back like he was burned.

Viktor hums softly. Interesting.

“Here you are.” He straightens up and hands Yuuri the pens.

“Thank you.” Yuuri mumbles, taking the pens and dumping them in his bag, still looking horribly embarrassed.

“It was no trouble.” Viktor says, still smiling and sinking into the desk in front of Yuuri, sitting backwards so he can face him. “So,” He rests his elbows on Yuuri’s desk and leans towards him a bit. “When is your next class?”

“I’m actually done for the day.” Yuuri says, still not meeting his eyes. Viktor notes that the glasses perched on the end of his nose make him look rather cute and soft.

“Oh, brilliant!” Viktor beams. “Then there’s nothing to stop you from coming to lunch with me!”

“Wait, what?”

~~~~

Twenty minutes later, they’re settling down at a table at one of the many sandwich shops on campus. Yuuri still looks mildly panicked, like he can’t figure out what Viktor wants. Viktor is unsure himself. He’s not sure why he invited Yuuri to lunch. He just wanted to know more.

And after reading garbled internet articles and snippets from the school paper, actually talking to Yuuri seems like the logical next step.

“Are you from Detroit originally, Yuuri?” Viktor asks, propping his chin up on a hand. He knows that Yuuri isn’t from Detroit. He knows that Yuuri is from Japan, where he’s a certified figure skater, but Viktor isn’t eager to let Yuuri know about the extent of googling that he did since seeing him at the rink.

“Ah, no.” Yuuri says. “I’m from Japan originally.” He picks up his drink and takes a sip. “I came here for school.”

“And for skating, I imagine.” Viktor says lightly.

“Ah, yes.” Yuuri nods. “And for skating.” He looks at Viktor. “Where are you from?”

“Russia, of course.” He says. “I grew up there and came to the states when I was a teenager.”

“You’re like me then.” Yuuri says with a smile. “Did you come for school?”

“Among other things.” Viktor says. “But let’s stop talking about that! I want to hear about you, Yuuri. What’s your favorite food? Do you have a lover? What do you do for fun? Who are your friends?” He smiles at Yuuri. “Tell me all about yourself.”

“Why do you want to know?” Yuuri says, clearly perplexed.

“Because I’m very interested in you Yuuri.” Viktor says before coming up with a reason why being so forward isn’t a good idea.

“M-me?” Yuuri goes very pale and then very red in a very short span of time. “Why?”

He sounds so perplexed that Viktor has to laugh. “I saw you skate.” He says with a wide smile. “I think that would be reason enough for anyone.”

Yuuri looks away. “I’m nothing special.”

“I would say differently.” Viktor says and wants to say more, but their server arrives with a smile and their lunch. Viktor thanks her and turns back to Yuuri, but the moment is broken.

They lapse into silence as they eat their sandwiches. Viktor wonders idly if Yuuri is breaking his diet with all of the bread he’s eating.

They pick up a conversation again after a while, talking about the latest piece of work Viktor had assigned and Yuuri’s opinion of the readings. His opinions are concise and intelligent. Viktor is pleasantly surprised. Yuuri has been paying attention in class.

All too soon, the check is being set on the table. Viktor snatches it up before Yuuri can even look at it.

“Please, let me at least pay for half…” Yuuri says.

“No, no.” Viktor says. “I asked you to come to lunch so I should pay.” He winks. “Besides, you can get me next time.”

Yuuri blushes at that, but doesn’t fight Viktor when he hands the server their total plus a generous tip. Viktor doesn’t actually have the money to be tipping generously, but he’s been a server a few times and he feels guilty for stealing a table during the lunch rush and then lingering for more than an hour.

“Are you in the international dorm?” Viktor asks.

“Ah, yes.” Yuuri says, standing up and shouldering his bag.

“My apartment is that way.” Viktor says. “Let me walk with you.”

They set off down the sidewalk. March has been a chilly month. Yuuri is still wearing his winter coat. Viktor, who is stubborn and also Russian, is wearing only a light jacket. He refuses to shiver.

“Did you bring a coat?” Yuuri asks as they head out.

“Yuuri.” Viktor says seriously. “I’m Russian.”

“Ah...okay?”

Viktor laughs a bit at the confusion on his face.

They walk in silence that is mostly comfortable for a few minutes.

“Professor Nikiforov…” Yuuri begins. Viktor glances over at him and sees that his cheeks are pink from the cold. Cute.

“Viktor.” Viktor corrects insistently.

“Viktor, then.” Yuuri says and his cheeks go a bit pink. “Can I ask you something?”

“Ask me whatever you like, Yuuri.” Viktor winks at him. “Nothing is off limits. Do you want to talk about past lovers? Well, my first was…”

“No! Stop! Stop!” Yuuri shrieks, waving his arms.

Viktor pouts. “Fine…”

“I was just wondering…” Yuuri looks at him and glances away. “About your nephew.”

“Ah, Yuri.” Says Viktor. He’s mildly disappointed the question isn’t about him, but whatever.

“You seem young to have a nephew that old living with you.” Yuuri says. “You don’t have to answer, but I wondered why.”

Viktor shrugs. It’s not a terribly interesting or personal story. It’s just sad. Still, there’s no reason for him not to tell Yuuri.

“My sister, his mother, died recently. She was older than me.” Viktor says matter-of-factly. “His father died years ago, when Yuri was only two or so, and the rest of my family is too old to look after him. So I was the only one left who could care for him.”

Yuuri looks horrified. “Professor, I’m so sorry…”

Viktor waves him off. “We weren’t close, it’s fine.” He flicks a few stray strands of hair out of his face, “I wouldn’t have answered if I minded talking about it.”

“It was still rude of me to ask.” Says Yuuri. “So I’m sorry. And I’m sorry for your loss.”

“I appreciate that.” Viktor says. “But I’m fine.”

They fall into silence after that and soon they’re standing outside of Yuuri’s dorm. It really is quite cold. Viktor can see his breath rising lazily like smoke. He fights a shiver.

“Will I see you tonight?” Viktor asks and, damn, he did not mean for it to come out that flirty, he really didn’t.

Yuuri lets out a tiny noise somewhere between a laugh and a hiccup. “I...yeah. I’ll see you tonight Professor...uh, Viktor.”

VIktor laughs. “It’s progress, at least.”

Yuuri gives him a look and, apparently deciding something, shrugs out of his coat. “Here.” He holds it out to Viktor.

“I’m fine…” Viktor begins but Yuuri is still holding out the coat. There’s a blush staining his cheeks, but he looks unmoved.

“It’s cold. You can borrow my coat. Okay?”

Viktor blinks. He looks surprisingly determined.

“Okay.”

VIktor takes it and slips it on. It’s a bit tight across his shoulders and short in the arms, but it’s warm and surprisingly stylish. It smells nice too, like something citrusy and fresh. He wonders idly if Yuuri wears cologne.

“Thank you, Yuuri.” He says. “I’ll bring it back tonight, okay?”

Yuuri seems to have trouble meeting VIktor’s eyes. “Stay warm.”

“I will, thanks to you.” Viktor says and winks.

The walk home goes seems much quicker than usual bundled up in a coat that smells like citrus and summertime.

~~~~

Yuri and Viktor continue to go to the rink late at night and Yuuri continues to leave the side door unlocked for them.

After a few days, Viktor starts to bring Makkachin along because, try as he might, he can’t get any of his real work done with the ice so close and the sound of blades scraping against it ringing in his ears. Instead, he brings Makkachin and a book and he reads a bit or watches both Yuri and Yuuri skate.

It’s nice. It still hurts, but it’s nice.

~~~~

"Fine then! Leave, like you always do!”

“Katya, please…”

“I hate you, Vicktor! Just go!”

“Katya…”

“Go Viktor. Don’t come back.”

Viktor wakes, tangled in sweat-soaked bedsheets and old memories. He lies there for a minute, trying to remember if his dreams were anything more than memories, but they slip away too quick and soon he is staring that the ceiling with nothing left of the dreams but a faint sensation of loss.

His sister is still dead. It isn’t worth dwelling on.

He gets up and goes to the kitchen without turning on any lights. Makachinn whines in protests when he leaves, but doesn’t follow. Viktor stands in the kitchen, toes curling against a floor that isn’t as cold as his childhood kitchen floor back in Russia, and he gets a glass of water.

He stares out the window without seeing and drinks it slowly, sip by sip. He’s almost finished when a soft sound startles him and makes him look towards the doorway.

Yuri is standing there, clad in bedhead and pajamas that have tiny trains on them. He looks so young like this, his usual anger stripped away by exhaustion. His eyes are red and his cheeks are flushed. He’s been crying.

Viktor, worried he’ll just make things worse, doesn’t say anything. He just goes to the cabinet, gets another glass, fills it with water and hands it to Yuri. He murmurs a soft thank you and then stumbles off like he’s going to go back to his room.

Viktor catches him by the shoulder.

“What?” Yuri glowers at him but, with the red eyes and the bedhead, it is much less intimidating than usual.

“I was going to watch a movie.” Viktor offers. “Would you like to watch with me?”

Yuri just stares at him for a minute and then heads towards the living room. “I get to pick.” He says and it makes Viktor smile.

He shouldn’t stay up like this. He has a lecture at 8 and a paper he hasn’t even started due at 12. But Yuri looks small and fragile crouched in front of Viktor’s collection of movies and Viktor knows the look on his face; tired but swearing off sleep because exhaustion can’t be as bad as nightmares. Viktor knows what it feels like to lose absolutely everything and then to be left to pick up pieces that he never even wanted.

So he makes them both hot chocolate and they watch some terrible action movie and then another and another until the sun comes up and Yuri looks a little less hopeless.

Viktor is yawning all through his lecture and he naps in the cramped office he shares instead of eating lunch, but he can’t regret it. Because he thinks he might have helped, just a little, and that’s enough for now.

~~~~

“Your work is...not up to your usual standard, Nikiforov.” His advisor huffs. She’s stern woman with slate-colored hair and dark eyes. Typically, they get along well, but lately there’s been a disconnect between them.

She’s not wrong that his work so far this semester has been far from his typical dedication. Between Yuri and skating and Yuuri and skating he’s been constantly distracted. There are so many things he wants to think about and, sadly, Russian literature is not one of those things.

He can understand why his advisor insisted they meet.

“I…” He stops, clears his throat, starts again. “I know, Dr. Patel. I’ve had a few...changes in my personal life and I…”

“I know about your sister, Nikiforov.” She says. “And I am sorry for that. But in the last two months, you’ve been acting like your academic career no longer matters to you. Have you even worked on your thesis?”

He fights a flinch. He hasn’t opened the document since getting back from Russia.

She sighs, “Viktor. I believe in you...you’re a smart man who does good work. But,” She looks at him with her dark eyes, “You have to want to do that work. You have to have passion for it, do you understand?”

“Of course, Doctor.” He murmurs, looking down at the pockmarked, linoleum floor beneath his shoes. “I understand.”

“I hope so.” She says. “Because if you don’t, we will have to have a serious talk about your future here.” He looks up and is surprised to find her expression sympathetic. “For your sake, as well as mine.”

~~~~

Yuuri keeps falling.

Again and again he tries to land his quad and again and again he fails to do so.

After his meeting with Dr. Patel, Viktor is frustrated. Watching Yuuri fail the same jump isn’t helping that frustration.

Viktor has been a rink for over an hour now and he’s been watching as Yuuri takes and and falls hard over and over again Even Yuri is watching now, his own skating loose and lazy as Yuuri tries and fails again and again.

Viktor knows what the problem is. He figured it out about forty minutes ago. But he’s not a coach and he’s certainly not a skater, so he just sits in the empty stands with Makachin and watches.

Yuru gains speed, takes off and...wham! He hits the ice and sprawls out against it, his black clothes standing out like a dark, spreading stain.

He stands slowly.

It looks like it hurts.

If Yuuri keeps on like this, he’s going to do damage. Not for the first time, Viktor questions his decision to skate alone like this without a coach or even a rinkmate to skate alongside him. What if he gets hurt? What if he keeps falling and something goes out? What if...

“It’s your free leg!” Viktor can’t help it. “You’re extending it too far when you land and it’s making you overbalance and fall.”

Yuuri stops and looks over at him, eyes wide.

“What?” His voice is confused.

Viktor stands and goes to the wall. Makkachin follows him, nudging at his heels. Yuuri skates over to meet them. Across the rink, Yuri has stopped moving entirely and is watching them while trying to look like he’s not.

“I’ve been watching you try to land that quad all night.” Viktor says when Yuuri reaches him. He taps Yuuri’s hand with his knuckles. “The problem is your free leg. Focus on that and you’ll land it no problem.”

“How do you…” Yuuri begins, but Viktor cuts off the question he doesn’t want to answer.

“Just try it, Yuuri.” Viktor draws his hand back. “It’ll work, you’ll see.”

“But you…” He says with a frown.

“I know what I’m talking about.” Viktor says. “Believe me.”

Yuuri gives him another of his long, searching looks, like he can see right through Viktor’s shiny smiles and easy words if he tries hard enough. Viktor just keeps looking back, even and steady.

Finally, Yuuri nods. “I’ll try.”

He pushes away from the wall and skates a few lazy circles. Viktor stands there, Makkachin sitting beside him, and grips the wall with two hands. Viktor watches, knuckles white, as Yuuri gains speed and takes off, smooth and anything and then, finally...

Yuuri lands his quad.

It’s beautiful.

Yuri has stopped his skating and is looking at Yuuri with wide, impressed eyes.

“There you go.” Viktor says softly, just for himself.

Yuuri looks over at him with a brilliant, gleaming smile.

“Viktor!” He says. “I did it!”

Oh.

Yuuri Katsuki keeps surprising him.

~~~~

Yuuri stops him just outside the rink after practice, a hand catching his sleeve.

“Viktor.” He says. “Can I talk to you for a second?”

Viktor bites back a sigh. He expected this, but it doesn’t mean he’s looking forward to it.

Yuri looks back when he realizes Viktor’s not following him. When he sees Yuuri holding Viktor’s sleeve, he rolls his eyes. “Come on, Makkachin.” Yuri snaps his fingers and Makkachin goes to him. Viktor feels mildly betrayed. “We’ll go on ahead. Leave these idiots to their flirting.”

He leaves before Viktor can tell him no.

Now it’s just him and Viktor standing by the rink, faces lit up orange in the glow from the nearby streetlamp.

“What is it, Yuuri?” Viktor sighs even though he knows exactly what it is. “What did you want to ask?”

“You obviously know a lot about skating. What you said today…” He fidgets. “It’s the reason why I even managed to land my quad.”

“I’m not hearing a question.” Viktor says.

Yuuri bites his bottom lip. It’s distracting, but the question he asks is enough to make Viktor pay attention. “Are you just a fan or…?” He trails off, clearly unsure.

Viktor purses his lips. This is a topic he steers away from, if he can help it. It’s an old wound by now, but it still aches when he prods at it. He briefly considers lying, but all Yuuri would have to do would be a quick search online to find out the truth.

Viktor sighs. If he’s going to do this for someone, at least it’s someone like Yuuri who has big, brown eyes and a smile that Viktor would like to see more often. If he’s going to do this, at least it’s for someone who Viktor thinks might understand.

“I used to be a figure skater.” He says with a shrug that he wants to look casual. He knows it probably doesn’t. “But I got hurt and I had to stop.”

“Oh.” Yuuri says softly. “How long ago?”

“I started training in Russia when I was eleven.” Viktor says, “I trained there until I was fifteen. Then I came to America. I injured my knee when I was eighteen, right before my first grand prix.” He sighs. “I tried to skate on it. And I was never able to go back to what I was, after that.”

“Oh, Viktor…” Yuuri says softly and Viktor flinches because somehow that soft sadness in Yuuri’s voice is worse than his coaches’ disappointment, his rinkmates’ pity, his sister’s crushing silence.

“It was a long time ago.” Viktor says and gives Yuuri a smile that hurts to wear. “And I do like what I do now.”

“You’re studying Russian literature, right?” Viktor nods. “Why? It seems far from figure skating.”

“I have always loved stories.” Viktor says and, for the most part, he’s telling the truth. “Even back when I was skating I loved to find stories in my routines.” He shrugs. “I’m still finding them...it’s just more literal this time.”

“I think that’s amazing.” Yuuri says. Viktor looks up, surprised, and he finds Yuuri looking at him with pink cheeks. “To rebuild your life like that, to find something new to love…” He stops and smiles. “You’re amazing, Viktor.”

Oh.

Oh no.

~~~~

Viktor is sitting on the floor of his kitchen the next morning, clutching a cup of coffee and telling the residents of his apartment, at length, about what makes Yuuri Katsuki so amazing.

“He’s just so cute and great and I want to kiss his face and watch him skate and....”

Makkachin is lying on the floor beside him and looking generally sympathetic. Yuri, unfortunately, does not have as much patience for Viktor and his many feelings.

“Oh my god, can you not be so gay right now.” Yuri groans. “I’m trying to eat.” He’s camped on the couch, wearing a pair of pajamas and crouching over a bowl of sugary cereal, watching some brightly-colored cartoon on the TV.

“That’s rather intolerant, Yuri.” Viktor tries to make his voice sound light, but his heart is suddenly beating too fast. He had let his guard down with that sort of thing after being in America so long. Here, his attraction to Yuuri Katsuki wasn’t something that most people would openly discriminate against. But back in Russia...things were very different.

“I don’t care who you want to get with.” Yuri says flatly, cutting off his mildly panicked train of thought. “It could be a dude. It could be a chick. It could be your fucking poodle. I just don’t want to hear about it.” He punctuates his sentence by taking a massive bite of his cereal.

Viktor gasps in mock offense and gets to his feet. “But Yuri!” He says, “Don’t you want to hear about my feelings? I thought we were close!”

“Yeah, the same way that a parasite is close to its host.”

“Blegh, that’s so gross!” Viktor complains.

“We’re learning about tapeworms in science.” Yuri says, taking another massive bite of cereal. “And hookworms. Wanna hear about hookworms, Viktor?” He glances back to leer at Viktor with a mouth half-full of cereal.

Viktor throws a pillow at his head. Yuri narrowly avoids spilling milk all over Viktor’s couch.

“Yuri!” Viktor chides. “We need that couch!”

“So don’t throw fucking pillows at me, idiot!”

Viktor has to admit he has a point. He pours himself a bowl of cereal, the same sugary kind as Yuri’s because fuck it it’s the weekend and he settles on the couch beside his nephew.

He waits a minute to make sure Yuri isn’t going to run off before he speaks. “So, do you like science?” He asks, trying desperately to keep his voice light. He doesn’t know how to do this, how to be a guardian to a kid, but he’s going to try.

Yuri swallows and then shrugs. “It’s fine.” He says.

“What’s your favorite, then?”

“I don’t have a favorite.” Yuri huffs. “But I probably hate science the least.”

“I was never very good at science.” Viktor admits. “And when math got involved…” He shakes his head. “No chance.”

“Idiot.” Says Yuri, but it sounds almost fond.

They’re both quiet for a while, watching the tv and eating their cereal. Yuri is hunched over and his pajamas draw up at the ankles and the wrists so Viktor can see several inches of pale skin. Huh. They’re too small.

Yuri didn’t bring very many clothes with him when he came to Detroit. He didn’t bring many belongings period. The pair of pajamas he’s wearing now are threabare and worn and Viktor has seen them often enough to know they’re one of the only three or so pairs that Yuri has. And now they’re too small.

Yuri has been growing. Yuri needs new clothes. It’s kind of a basic fact, but it’s one that hadn’t occurred to VIktor until just now.

Wow, he really is bad at this guardianship business. He was planning on working on his thesis, but this is some basic guardian stuff. His nephew needs new clothes. That’s something he needs to do.

Besides, he hasn’t got a clue where to go next with his thesis. Maybe inspiration will strike in the sock aisle.

“Come on. Go get dressed” Viktor says, standing up and shutting off the tv. “We’re going out.”

“What?” Yuri says. “Why? I don’t go skate until tonight!”

“Your clothes are all getting too small.” Viktor says. “You need new ones.”

Yuri looks cagey. Viktor is starting to think that cagey is his default. “No.” He says. “These are fine.”

“You’re not going to stop growing, though and soon they won’t fit at all.” Viktor says, reaching down to flick his nephew’s forehead. “I know it’s not Russia, Yura, but you’ll still be cold with no pajamas.”

“I want to wear these ones.” Yuri mutters, not looking at Viktor.

“But they’re too small.”

“I don’t want new ones, Viktor!”

“You need them, though.”

“No!” Yuri snarls, hands balling into fists.

“Why are you being so stubborn about pajamas?” Viktor borderline shouts the question. He just doesn’t understand this frustrating, rude boy. As soon as he thinks they’re making progress, Yuri does something like this. It’s maddening.

For a beat, he’s quiet. Then,

“My mom...got me these.”

The air the apartment feels thick and oppressive. Viktor has no idea what to say.

He swallows. “I…” He swallows again. “I’m not saying you have to get rid of them, Yuri. You just...you need new ones as well.”

“I don’t want new ones.” His voice is choked.

Viktor sits on the couch next to him and puts a tentative hand on his shoulder. He doesn’t immediately bite it off, so Viktor leaves it there.

“I used to be a figure skater. You know that, right?”

Yuri nods mutely.

“Well, when I was 18 I got hurt. Badly enough that I hate to stop skating for good.” Viktor tightens his grip on Yuri’s shoulder. “And I was here, in America, where I had come to skate and I had no one and nothing. I know it’s not the same.” He says. “But I know how it feels to have everything taken away.”

Yuri’s face is in his hands, clearly hiding tears. He’s only twelve and already he doesn’t want anyone to see him cry. Viktor takes his wrists carefully and pulls his hands down. His eyes are watery and his nose is red.

Viktor, not caring that it will likely get him punched, pulls Yuri into a hug.

“I know it’s hard and I know it hurts.” He says, holding Yuri tight. He’s shaking and so, so small. “But you have to keep going, Yura.”

Yuri’s stiff body slowly unwinds and, soon, he is holding Viktor right back.

“I’m not asking you to forget her or to forget Russia.” Viktor says. “But you can’t forget to make new memories too.”

It takes a while, but eventually Yuri’s choked sobs die down and he lets Viktor go.

He scoots away and doesn’t look at Viktor.

Viktor doesn’t dare to move. Yuri is still sniffing every few minutes, rubbing his nose with the back of his hand.

“I’ll go get dressed.” He finally says. “And then we can go to the store.”

“Are you sure?” Viktor says, surprised. He honestly didn’t expect Yuri to listen. He expected Yuri to yell and ignore him not to...listen. He listened.

Yuri just nods and stands.

“Can we get Thai food after?” He sniffs. His eyes are horribly red and his hair is a wreck.

Viktor smiles shakily at him, impossibly fond and sort of terrified that he has so much feeling in him for another person. “Of course.”

~~~~

April comes, thankfully a bit warmer, and Yuri is still skating on the rink nearly every night. He has tried, without success, that convince Viktor that twelve is old enough to wander a college campus alone after dark. For all of his failure at being a guardian, Viktor is reasonably sure that this time he’s definitely in the right.

One night, though, Viktor comes to the rink to find the doors closed. He rattles on them a bit. Yuri tries and fails to climb through a window before angrily pulling out his phone and texting Yuuri. VIktor is surprised that they have each other’s numbers.

“He’ll be here soon.” Yuri says, shoving the phone back into his pocket.

“When did you get his number?” Viktor prods.

Yuri ignores him.

Ten minutes or so later, Yuuri comes jogging up dressed in his typical black warm up clothes.

“Sorry!” Yuuri is panting. He looks pale and his nose is red. The skin under his eyes looks bruised. “I was just sleeping and…”

“You’re sick.” Viktor accuses.

“I am not.” Yurri says before sneezing three times in a row. Viktor raises an eyebrow. “Okay, fine, I’ve got a little cold, but…”

“Go home and rest, Yuuri.” Viktor says.

“I’m really fine…” He protests.

Yuri snorts. “You look like hell, idiot. Go sleep.”

Yuuri laughs and it sounds rough. “If you’re telling me to rest…”

“A little rest would be good for everyone.” Viktor says, mind on days he spent skating on a knee he knew was bad, a knee he could feel getting closer and closer to a disastrous release of tension. “It’s a good skill for a skater to have, yes?”

“Psh, fine.” Yuri huffs petulantly, jamming his hands in the pockets of his hoodie.

“And you!” Viktor looks over at Yuuri and, on a wild impulse, he says, “Come over tomorrow afternoon. We can all have time off together.”

Yuuri looks taken aback, but says. “Um, okay.”

He’s blushing a bit. Viktor thinks he must be blushing a bit too. Yuri makes a loud sound of disgust.

“If we’re not skating,” He snaps, “Then let’s go already.”

“Right, right.” Viktor says. He smiles at Yuuri. “Get better soon, okay?”

“Yeah.” Yuuri smiles back. His cheeks are still red, but honestly that could be from his fever. “Send me your address okay? What time should I be over?”

Viktor shrugs. “Whenever is fine. Um, four maybe? I could make dinner!”

“Sounds good.” Yuuri says. “I’m just gonna…” He gestures awkwardly towards the way he came. “Yeah.”

“Feel better!” Viktor calls after him.

Once he disappears into the night, Yuri turns to Viktor. “I have literally never seen you cook, moron. How do you expect to make him dinner?”

“Oh, come on.” Viktor scoffs. “How hard could it be?”

~~~~

Very hard. Very, very hard is the answer he was looking for the night before.

“Can I just, like, make toast or something?” Viktor cries in desperation. It is five minutes til four and he knows that Yuuri is a considerate sort of personal who will get here at four o'clock exactly.

Yuri is laughing at his pain, sitting on the couch with Makkachin. 

Viktor has a pot of water boiling for some reason and nothing else happening in the kitchen when he hears a knock at the door. He goes over and opens it to see Yuuri standing there, looking adorable in jeans and an old t-shirt with blue glasses perched on his nose. 

“Hi.” Viktor gives Yuuri his best smile, the one that used to make audiences swoon.

“Hey.” Yuuri says with a small smile. 

Oh no he's perfect. 

"So..." VIktor says after Yuuri has his shoes off and is following him into the apartment. "I might have exaggerated a bit. When I said that I was capable of cooking dinner. At the current time." 

"Oh." Yuuri blinks. "Well, if you don't have a problem with me going through your kitchen, I don't mind cooking." 

"You can try." Yuri supplies from the couch. 

Viktor acknowledges defeat. "Go ahead, Yuuri." He sighs. 

Yuuri gives them both a weird look and goes into the kitchen. He opens the cabinet and closes them. He opens the fridge and, for a long moment, he doesn’t say anything. “Okay." He takes a deep breath, like he's steeling himself. "Um...do you ever cook, Viktor?” There is palpable despair in his voice.

“I cook!” Viktor protests.

Yuri snickers. “I don’t think he means pouring cereal into a bowl, idiot.”

“Well, you need to go shopping.” Yuuri reaches into the fridge and pulls out some mayonnaise. “Like, no offense, but this expired two years ago.”

Yuri hops off his spot on the couch and walks over, making his own inspection of the fridge. “Yeah, I’m pretty sure that this milk has been here since I moved in.”

“And how long ago was that?” Yuuri asks, clearly curious but doing his best not to pry.

“A few months.” Yuri says with a shrug. “Look at these pickles. I’m pretty sure that they’re older than I am.”

“Ha, you might be right.” Yuuri says with a grin.

Like usual, Viktor’s incompetence is making Yuri laugh. Yuuri’s lips are twitching too, like he thinks its funny but is too polite to say anything. Yuri and Yuuri exchange a glance and quickly look away from each other, overwhelmed by giggles.

“You two are so mean.” Viktor pouts, pretending that he’s upset and not ecstatic that they’re getting along off the ice.

Yuuri bites his bottom lip, trying to get under control. “Sorry, Professor.”

“Yeah,” Yuri pops up next to him, grinning. “Sorry, Professor.”

“Don’t you start that again.” Viktor says.

“Well, this won’t do.” Yuuri says and he heads towards the door.

Viktor is moderately heartbroken. Is Yuuri really going to just leave because he can’t cook? Seriously?

“Come on.” Yuuri turns back to look at them both still standing in the kitchen. “Let’s go to the store.”

“Why?” Yuri asks. “Can’t we just order takeout?”

“Yeah, takeout is good.” Viktor agrees.

“Just come on.” Yuuri says. “You can’t live off of takeout. And Yuri is an athlete, he needs better food.”

“Oh, right.” And here is another guardianship thing that Viktor has been screwing up without realizing it. He and Yuri have both been eating like college students and while that might be fine for Viktor, Yuri is a kid who exercises hard pretty much every day. He probably needs more than greasy noodles and hamburgers and cereal. “Let’s go, then.” Viktor picks up his keys and wallet off of the counter and heads to the door.

He turns back to look at Yuri, still standing in front of the open fridge. “You coming?” He asks.

“Someone need stop keep you from getting gross food.” Yuri grunts, but his cheeks are flushed and the smile he’s trying to hide from them is all too visible.

They take the bus to the store. Viktor gets further into Yuuri’s personal space than is strictly required on the mostly-empty Sunday afternoon bus and tells him that he looks nice in his casual clothes. After blushing a bit, Yuuri tells Viktor that he looks nice too. Yuri proceeds to loudly talks about how he doesn’t know them. So Viktor does the sensible thing talks even more loudly about how much he loves his adorable nephew. This right here? The joy of public embarrassment? This alone justifies why a person would have a child.

Once they get to the store, they each grab a basket and split up.

VIktor skated for most of his formative years. He knows what foods are good for him, even if they look a bit different in American packaging. Soon enough, he has enough to fill his basket and he wanders around trying to find Yuri or Yuuri.

He finds Yuuri first, in the spice row staring at the rack of spices with a slight frown.

“This and this…” Yuuri says to himself, “Oh, and this of course…”

“What are you doing, Yuuri?” Viktor asks, looking down at the stuff in his basket.

“Oh, hi Viktor.” Yuuri glances up and smiles at him. “I was just getting everything I need.”

“Oh?” Viktor asks curiously. “Need for what?”

“I’m going to cook for you and Yuri.” Yuuri says, straightening up. “My parents own an inn back in Japan so I’m actually pretty good at it.” He stops to pulls something else off a shelf and put it in his basket. “Nothing on my mom, of course.”

“My, my.” VIktor leans into him a bit and taps his own lips with a finger. “A man who can cook and skate like a dream. How are you single, Yuuri?”

Yuuri colors at this, face going blotchy and pink. “I, ah…” He trails off into nervous laughter and Viktor wants to press the subject further, see if Yuuri would possibly like to become un-single by way of Viktor Nikiforov, but they’re interrupted.

“Viktor!” Yuri is standing at the end of the aisle, his own basket full of what are probably exclusively sugary cereals and candy. “Other Yuuri! Let’s go!”

VIktor sighs, long suffering, and leans away from Yuuri. “Fine, fine.” He reaches out to tap the back of Yuuri’s hand. “Are you ready?”

“Oh, y-yes.” Yuuri smiles at him, face still pink. “Let’s go.”

The bus ride back is less pleasant thanks to the bags of food they’re all weighed down with. Viktor really needs to invest in a car. He’s not sure if he’ll ever be totally comfortable driving on the wrong side of the road. Americans are weird like that.

He mentions this to Yuuri and Yuuri just shrugs. “I didn’t really get a chance before I left home. I was still in high school, so I didn’t really need to.”

“How old are you now?” Viktor asks. “20, right?” He nods.

“You’re really that old?” Yuri pipes up, apparently forgetting that he’s pretending not to know them. “You look way younger.”

Yuuri shrugs. “20 isn’t that old. I’m still can’t even drink.”

“Psh.” Viktor nudges him. “Like that stops anyone. Most of the bars in this town don’t even card.”

“I...wouldn’t know.” Yuuri fidgets.

“You really haven’t gone to the bars?” Viktor says, peering curiously at him. His undergrad was basically just one long party montage broken up by occasionally classes. Back then, the numbness of alcohol and the loud beat of dance music were two of the only things that could drown out the ache in his knee and the throbbing in his head.

“No.”

“I’ll take you sometime.” Viktor murmurs. He’d like to see Yuuri enjoying himself, dancing under multicolored lights with Viktor pressed close, lips wet and wanting and…

“We’re here.” Yuri grunts, standing up and heading for the door. Yuuri, after a moment, follows. And Viktor, after another moment, goes too.

Yuuri more or less commandeers the kitchen once they’re back up at the apartment. Viktor and Yuri are all too happy to leave him to it. Viktor answers his occasionally questions about where bowls or pots are as he and Yuri tidy up and then idly watch some sitcom on TV.

Soon, Yuuri is setting three bowls of something that smells absolutely delicious on the table.

“It’s not exactly authentic, but it’s called katsudon.” Yuuri says with a smile. “It’s my favorite food.”

“It’s good!” Yuri likes it so much he forgets about being suitably tsundere. Huh, who would have known? Food is the key to Yuri’s heart. Viktor should be taking notes here.

“Viktor, try it.” Yuri says, kicking him under the table.

“So rude,” Viktor sighs, but he takes a bite anyway. It’s...it’s...oh wow. “Vsukno!” He says, delighted, and beams at Yuuri. “Yuuri! This is amazing!”

Yuuri laughs and rubs the back of his neck. “It’s nowhere near as good as my mom’s.”

“S’my new favorite.” Yuri mumbles through a mostly-full mouth. He swallows. “What did you say it was called?”

“Katsudon.” Yuuri says.

“Thank you for the katsudon, Katsudon.” He says.

“Wait, I’m not…” Yuuri starts, but then seems to give it up. “Oh, whatever.”

They finish dinner, chatting about skating (“Do you think Christophe from Switzerland will win another Grand Prix gold?” “I used to know Chris and I don’t even know how he won one.”) and about Viktor’s thesis (“Have you gotten any work done on it?” “Um...yes?” “Why don’t I believe you?”). It’s comfortable and warm in a way that Viktor hasn’t felt since he was very small.

After dinner, they collapse on the couch together and watch some action movie that Yuri picked out. It turns out the couch can fit three plus a dog if Viktor snuggles up to Yuuri a bit. By the time the move is over, they’re all yawning. Yuri wanders off to take a shower while Viktor walks Yuuri to the door.

“Thanks for today.” Viktor says. “I had fun.”

“Me too.” Yuuri says softly.

“And thanks for being nice to Yuri. I know that he can be a bit difficult and kind of rude and there was the one time he kicked you in the throat and…”

“Viktor.” Yuuri cuts him off. “It’s okay. He’s a good kid. I like him.”

“You do?” Viktor blinks in surprise. People don’t like Yuri. Hell, Viktor doesn’t like Yuri a lot of the time. He’s rude and abrasive and…

“I like him.” Yuuri repeats and Viktor would propose right now, he really would, if he had more to offer than half of a master's degree, a blown out knee, and no car.

“I’m glad.” Is all he says. “I’m...yeah. Thanks.”

Yuuri’s lips quirk into a smile. “So, you seemed to like my katsudon.” He says, “If I brought some of that too the final exam for you would I get an A?”

“Yuuri!” Viktor pretends to be scandalized. “Are you casting doubts on my ability to be a fair and impartial professor?”

“Kinda, yeah.”

Viktor laughs. “You know what?” He leans in the doorframe, getting a bit closer to Yuuri. Their noses are almost touching. “Add in a kiss as well as katsudon and even a wise and rule-following professor like me will have trouble being impartial.”

“V-viktor…” Yuuri is blushing again. As always, it looks lovely. As always, Viktor wants to see how far down it really goes.

“Yes, Yuuri?” He hums. He wants to kiss him, he wants to wake up next to him, he wants to hold his hand and hear him laugh and have him join Viktor and Yuri on Sunday mornings when they laze around the apartment in pajamas and watch terrible cartoons. He wants a lot from Yuuri Katsuki.

“I should go.” Yuuri says softly. “It’s...late.”

“Oh,” Viktor leans back, moment lost. “Okay. Stay safe on the walk home.”

“I will.” Yuuri mumurs. He’s still blushing. “Goodnight, Viktor.”

“Goodnight.”

Viktor waits until Yuuri disappears down the stairwell before he closes the door. He stands there and then lets his head fall against the cool wood.

Oh no.

He sinks down by the door and hides his face in his hands.

Oh no.

A while later, Yuri finds him there.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I think I love him.” Viktor mumbles, voice muffled by his hands.

Yuri pats his head. “Hurry up and marry him, then.” He says. “Katsudon is way too good for you.”

Viktor moans in mild agreement.

 ~~~~

A few days later, Yuri and Viktor are spending their afternoon in the thrift store a block from their apartment. Viktor should be working, but Yuri looked bored and Viktor’s computer looked cold and unfriendly in the corner so...to the thrift store they went!

Viktor likes the thirft store. He isn’t exactly flush with cash, so the low prices are nice and, besides, the store is fun. He and Yuri have started to stop there a few times a month before skating practice. They’ve found some pretty great stuff, including but not limited to snakeskin cowboy boots, a lamp made from a taxidermied turtle, a bottle of what Viktor thought might be absinthe and a few horrible romance novels in Russian that they both are unreasonably fond of.

Viktor starts poking through the bin of VHS tapes (which, really? VHS tapes? Who was going to buy those?) while Yuri starts pawing through the clothes.

“Vitya.” Yuri calls after a few minutes. “Check it out.”

“Mmmm?” Viktor tries his very best not to react to the fact that Yuri called him Vitya and instead focuses on the sweatshirt that he’s holding. Honestly, it’s not that hard. The sweatshirt is impressively awful. “What the hell.”

It’s huge, for one, and luridly purple. There are a half dozen cats on the front, all holding and playing different instruments. One of the cats is wearing sunglasses.

“I’m getting it.” Yuri says.

“Yuri, no.” Viktor gasps in horror.

“Yuri, yes.” Yuri says, baring his teeth in what is possibly a grin but also might be a snarl. “It’s amazing.”

“You are the worst nephew.” Viktor sighs in defeat. He takes out his phone and takes a picture of Yuri still holding up his awful sweatshirt. He snaps it to Yuuri and a few more friends with the caption ‘crimes against fashion committed by my own family.’

He leaves Yuri to his sweatshirt-induced rapture to look at the shoes. His dress shoes are close to worn out and if he can find a new pair here instead of going to the mall then that would...oh.

He stops.

There’s a pair of black ice skates sitting on the bottom shelf. He bends down, ignoring the twinge in his knee at the movement, and he touches them carefully. They’re figure skates. He picks them up and examines them. They’re in his size.

They’re far from competition grade, blades dull and foggy, but they’re figure skates and they’re his size.

Viktor hasn’t been back on the ice in years.

“Gonna buy those?”

Viktor jumps and drops the skates.

“Yuri!” He puts a hand on his chest. Yuri is standing behind him, arms full with his terrible sweatshirt, looking at him with a curious expression.

“So are you?”

“Am I what?” Viktor flips his bangs out his eyes and pretends to be examining a pair of violently yellow rainboots.

“Are you gonna buy them?”

Viktor panics and plays dumb. “Buy what?”

“The rainboots.”

“Well, no, I…”

“I was being sarcastic, idiot.” Yuri huffs. “The skates. Were you gonna buy them?”

Viktor looks down at the skates on the ground. They’re figure skates.

“It’s a waste of money.” He says even though they’re twelve dollars and Viktor spent more than that on the taxidermied turtle lamp.

“Psh, just get them, moron.” Yuri says, not looking at Viktor.

Viktor swallows hard and leans down to pick up the skates. They’re heavy. Solid.

He holds them tighter.

~~~~

“How’s Yura doing?” Yakov’s voice is a heavy rumble on the phone, putting Viktor in the mindset of thunder and cigarette smoke.

“Okay.” Viktor says. He’s between classes, resting in his tiny shared office with a sandwich he packed and some candy he stole, ahem, confiscated from some of his students earlier. The sunlight coming in through the single window is watery, but warm. “Better, I think.”

“That’s good.” Yakov says. “I’m glad.”

“Mmhmm.” Viktor takes a bite of his sandwich. He chews and swallows before he speaks again. “So?” He prompts. “Did you need something?”

“I just wanted to check up on his training.” He says. “He’s started skating again, right?”

“Yes.” Viktor says.

“Have you found him a coach?”

Viktor pokes at the remains of his sandwich. “He said he didn’t want one.”

“Yeah, well, he’s also 12.” Yakov snorts. “Find him a coach and keep an eye on him. He needs to learn his limits. You should know better than anyone what happens when young skaters don’t learn their limits.”

“I know, Yakov.” Viktor sighs. “I know.”

~~~~

Viktor goes to the rink during the day when he knows Yuuri has class and when Yuri is at school. It’s public skating hours, so the rink is milling with college students and a few ditching high schoolers. He pays the bored twenty-something at the front his five dollar admission and sits down on a bench to lace up his skates.

His fingers do the laces, nimble and sure. The muscle memory is still there, even after all of this time. He’s not sure if that makes him feel worse or not.

He stands and takes a few wobbly steps towards the ice.

The rink is less magical with all of the lights on and without Yuri and Yuuri spiraling around, lone spots of color against a field of white. This is stupid. Viktor has so many things he should be doing.

He needs to be writing his thesis, he needs to be be grading papers, he needs…

He steps on the ice and everything else just...fades.

He’s not under any delusions that he’s still anything like what he used to be. He hasn’t trained and his knee still gives out occasionally just walking, even after two surgeries to make it right. But he’s done with sitting on the sidelines.

Being back on the rink can’t be worse than the ache he feels being off it.

He glides onto the ice, among people who have done this for a single day and not years and years.

Viktor doesn’t wobble, even in his old skates. He was a professional. So he doesn’t wobble now. He doesn’t fall. He skates clean, easy circles.

Ghosts of his old routines flicker through his mind and he raises an arm, he tilts his head. It seems like a lifetime ago. It was a lifetime ago.

And, then without realizing it, he starts to cry. He knows that people are staring, that people are whispering behind their hands, but he can’t be bothered. He looks down at the secondhand skates he’s wearing and the white ice beneath them, all blurry through his tears.

“Hello,” He tells the ice in Russian and then he repeats in English. “Hello.”

“I missed you.” He whispers and he feels something heavy leave his lungs. “But I’m home.”

~~~~

“You’ve been in a weirdly good mood all week.” Yuri flings the words at him over dinner like an accusation. They’re eating chicken and pasta, all the product of Viktor’s fledgling cooking skills. It’s nowhere near as good as the stuff Yuuri makes, but it’s edible at least. His first few attempts were...not that.

“Oh, have I?” Viktor says. He knows he has. Instead of working on his thesis like a responsible, sane adult he’s been spending almost all of his spare time down at the ice rink during public skate time. He isn’t doing anything particularly strenuous, just gliding lazily over the ice and occasionally imagining new bits of choreography he should have Yuuri or Yuri try. It’s a complete waste of his time, but still.

It makes him happy.

“Did you finally get your act together with Katsudon?” Yuri asks, taking a large bite of noodles.

“Mmmmmm,” Viktor just smiles. “All things in good time, my dear nephew.” He reaches over at ruffles Yuri’s hair. It’s getting long.

“Fuck off.” Yuri says, but by now, it sounds almost affectionate.

Viktor keeps smiling.

~~~~

The next day when Viktor goes to skate, he's only able to for about ten minutes before being ushered off the ice. 

"Why?" He complains. 

“Skate club, dude.” One of the bored employees tells him. “They’re practicing now. Public skating is done for the day.”

“Can I stay and watch?”

“I don’t care what you do.”

Truly, the dedication of the rink employees is an inspiration.

Viktor puts his skates away and heads into the bleachers, high up and far enough away that Yuuri won’t notice him. He’s never seen him skate with others before, aside from Yuri of course, but he recognizes him on the ice at once.

The skates go through their warm-ups, chatting together. The sight makes Viktor ache with nostalgia. He didn’t keep up with his rink mates. After what happened, it felt like a wasted effort.

He watches Yuuri, noticing that for the most part he keeps to himself.

They start in on what seem to be short programs soon afterwards. The first few skaters are fine. Nothing remarkable, but pleasant enough to watch.

But then Yuuri steps up and Viktor feels electric.

He starts out fine, but soon...he starts, for no discernible reason, to flag. Yuuri flubs his first jump, a triple axle, badly. Viktor frowns. He’s usually rather good at those. Then, not a minute later his step sequence loses its rhythm. His sit spin after that wobbles too, not at all clean like it usually is.

Viktor squints, wondering if he’s looking at the wrong person. But, no. That’s Yuuri.

“It’s getting better, Yuuri!” The coach says once he’s finished and Yuuri bows a little before skating off to the edge.

Viktor is, frankly, shocked.

Yuuri is being wasted. Yuuri is wasting himself. Why? He’s an amazing skater and he can do so much more than this! Viktor can’t see this as better. This is so, so much worse than what Viktor has come to expect from Yuuri.

But he can’t even blame the coach. Yuuri isn’t skating like Viktor knows he can. If he skates like this in practice, then it's just what the coach has come to expect. He’s skating...average. It’s not good, it’s not bad. It’s just...not Yuuri. Not at all.

He needs to figure this out.

He waits until Yuuri is taking a water break before he ambushes him.

“Viktor!” Yuuri looks more surprised than anything to see him. Surprised, but happy. That makes Viktor preen just a bit. “You’re here!”

“Hello.” Viktor smiles at him. “Sorry, I hope you don’t mind. I was around and I decided I would watch the first part of your practice.”

“Oh.” Yuuri frowns. “Okay.”

Viktor reaches out to touch this arm, careful and deliberate. The fabric of his jacket is slippery and cold under his fingers.

“Why?” Viktor has to ask.

“What?” Yuuri stops and looks at him. His hair is still pushed back and his big brown eyes are wide. God, Viktor has a type and apparently its name is Katsuki Yuuri. He wishes, sometimes, that he had met Yuuri back when he could still skate.

He wishes he could have been the routines that Yuuri inspired him to do.

“You’re amazing when I see you practice alone.” Viktor says. “And trust me, I know. But when it comes to this, to today...”

“I don’t...skate well.” Yuuri says. “Sometimes. When there’s pressure.”

“Why? You skate so beautifully, but then you just…”

“I choke.” Yuuri finishes for him, not meeting his eyes. “Yeah, I know. It’s like that in competitions as well.”

“Why though?” Viktor demands. “You could beat them all.”

Yuuri laughs and it’s hollow-sounding, but Viktor is being honest. He knows figuring skating like he knows nothing else, except perhaps Russian literature. And Yuuri...he’s something special. He’s something special and no one seems to realize it, not even Yuuri himself.

“I just…” Yuuri sighs and drags a hand through his hair. Viktor wonders absently if Yuuri knows how very seductive that move is. “I’m not some kind of genius...I just try hard. But when I look at the rink and think about the way that other skaters can move and everything I just…” He shakes his head. “I guess I don’t have the confidence to make it happen.”

Viktor can’t help it. He reaches out and takes both of Yuuri’s hands in his. They’re warm and just a bit smaller than his. Perfect, just perfect.

“You should know, then.” Viktor says. “I’ve skated with those skaters you’re talking about. The geniuses...I used to stake right next to them. And, Yuuri,” Viktor makes sure Yuuri is meeting his eyes, makes sure he understands, “Not one of them made me hear music the way that you do.”

Yuuri’s face is suddenly a bright scarlet. “V-viktor….I…”

“Oi!” A loud voice Viktor look around in surprise. “Yuuri! Let’s go!”

“Yes coach!” Yuuri calls back, glancing back at a tall man with a thick ponytail. “Just a second!” He looks back to Viktor. “I have to go.”

“Yuuri.” Vikor squeezes his hands once and then lets go. “Have faith in yourself, please.”

Yuuri doesn’t answer, just turns and skates back towards his coach.

Viktor sticks his hands in his pockets. They feel cold.

He gets up and gathers his things before heading out of the rink. He stops by the doors and turns back for one more glance at Yuuri, head bowed and eyes narrowed.

He looks beautiful.

Viktor looks away and steps outside.

He has so much work to do.

~~~~

Viktor is summoned to his advisor’s office two days later. He goes like a man attending his own execution, steps slow and shoulders hunched. His thesis is still open on his laptop, a few sentences the only evidence of two days of hard work.

He feels tired and useless.

Dr. Patel doesn’t both with pleasantries. “You haven’t been coming to your early classes. I’ve checked you attendance record. It’s dismal.”

“Well, yes,” He admits, “But I usually spend evening with my nephew. He’s a skater and sometime he doesn’t keep track of time at the rink and…”

“Nikiforov.” Dr. Patel cuts off his rambling. “I didn’t ask to meet so I could hear your excuses.”

“Oh.” He frowns. He figured that was the main point of this meeting. “Why did you call me here, then?”

She sighs and leans back in her desk chair. “This is a competitive program, Nikiforov. And in this entire semester I haven’t seen a single thing that makes me think you actually care about your place here.”

“I do!”” He protests. “Of course I do...I just have so much to think about with my nephew and my sister. If you give me more time…”

“I’m sorry, Viktor.” She cuts him off. “But this isn’t a negotiation. You’ve got the rest of the semester to show me something that will make me want to keep you. If you don’t…” She gives him a look that he doesn’t need clarification on.

He sits there, feeling numb and cold.

Doctor Patel clears her throat. “You can show yourself out.”

~~~~

Viktor sends out emails cancelling his classes for the rest of the day, goes home and he cries.

He’s such a fucking idiot. Of course there would be consequences to not doing any of his work. He just never thought about them. It was easier to put all of that out of mind and keep focusing on Yuri and skating and Yuuri and...god. He rubs his eyes. He’s so stupid.

But the thing is, the stupidest part of this whole fucking situation, is that he still doesn’t want to work on his thesis. He doesn’t want to write another word.

He doesn’t want to read another story. He doesn’t want to read one more line. He’s so done with reading other people’s stories.

He wants to make stories again, with his body and with music and with the simplicity of the ice. He’d forgotten how that felt until Yuri and Yuuri. God. He wipes his eyes with a hand. He’s so mad

Other stories aren’t enough anymore. He doesn’t love them anymore. He doesn’t want to.

He hasn’t loved them for a while now. Maybe he never did. Maybe he was convincing himself it was enough, that it could fill the skating-shaped explosion that tore through the middle of his life.

He never should have stepped back onto the ice. He never should have let Yuri skate. He never should have met Yuuri fucking Katsuki.

God.

He never should have agreed to bring Yuri back home with him. He’s bad at it anyway, the worst possible guardian. Yuri hates him.

Just...fuck. He stares up at the ceiling without seeing it.

His sister hated him too.

And that’s the truth of it. His sister died hating him and there’s not a single thing he can do to change it.

It hits him like physical blow and he starts to cry again.

He weeps into his hands, shuddering hard. She asked him not to leave, begged him not to, and he did anyway. Figuring skating was more important than family, than her, than anything. Winning was all that mattered.

And then, it was gone.

It was gone and Viktor had nothing to show for his leaving.

Come home, she had said after that.

And he had refused.

Now she’s dead and Viktor is doing a horrible job raising her son.

He’s still in tears, lying on the couch, when Yuri comes home from school. He takes one unimpressed look at Viktor lying there with puffy eyes and he sighs, like this is to be expected.

“Viktor. Please.” He says. “For the sake of my mental health. Ask out the stupid Kastudon.”

“This isn’t about Yuuri.” Viktor says, sitting up and rubbing his nose with the back of a hand. He knows he must look horrible.

“Okay, sure.” Yuri plops down next to him.

“Sorry.” Viktor says to no one in particular.

“You’re fine.” Yuri says awkwardly. “I’m going to put on a movie.”

“Okay.” Viktor sniffs.

He picks out a romantic comedy and doesn’t even make fun of Viktor when he starts to cry halfway through. They stay there for the rest of the evening, not saying much and watching as perfect, fictional love stories play out onscreen in shiny HD.

~~~~~

The next day, Viktor takes a stab at his thesis.

Twenty minutes later, he slams his laptop closed so loud that that Makkachin barks in alarm.

“Sorry!” He calls.

Makkachin barks in rely. All is forgiven.

Viktor sighs and looks down at his closed computer. He doesn’t have anything else to give. Not right now. He thinks about calling Yakov. He thinks about breaking every dish in his apartment one by one. He thinks about changing his degree to something completely different. He thinks about his nephew. He thinks about Yuuri. He think about a lot of things.

In the end, he picks up his skates and heads down to the rink.

~~~~

Yuri gives Viktor the shock of his life when he comes home and announces that he, Yuri, has made and friend and that he, still Yuri, has been invited to a slumber party that Friday night.

“Yuri!” Viktor beams. “You socialized! I’m so proud of you! ”

“Shut up.” Yuri says, but he’s smiling just a bit.

“Will you be okay?” He ask curiously. “Without me and Makkachin, I mean.”

Yuri scoffs. “I’ll be just fine. You’re the one who I’m worried about.” He looks Viktor up and down. “You’re too clingy.”

Viktor gasps in fake affront. “Yuri! So rude!”

“Go away.” Yuri waves him away. “And go spend some time with Katsudon. If you don’t lock that down soon someone else will. He can cook, Viktor.” Yuri gives him a flat stare like he might not understand the importance. “Real food.”

“So I should marry him so he can cook for you?” Viktor raises an eyebrow. “Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes.” Says Yuri seriously before heading off to his room.

Viktor shakes his head. Such a weird kid.

~~~~

Yuuri’s not wrong that hanging out with Yuuri just the two of them would be nice, though. So after the next class Viktor goes to Yuuri’s desk and waits patiently for him to pack up his pens.

“Hi.” He says.

Yuuri smiles. “Hello, Viktor.” He slips his notes into a folder. "Are we skating tonight?" 

“Ah, no. Yuri has plans.” Viktor says. “He made a friend.”

“Huh.”

“Yes, I was surprised too.”

“Viktor!” Yuuri laughs. “Don’t be mean.”

Viktor just smiles. “He’s staying the whole night there tonight.”

“Wow, way to socialize.” Yuuri says.

“Right?” Viktor laughs. “So I’m free until tomorrow.”

“Oh?” Yuuri finished packing up. He stands and slings his backpack over his shoulder. “Big plans?”

“Not yet.” Says Viktor. “You should come out with me. Tonight.”

“Out where?” Yuuri is frowning. “To the rink?”

Viktor laughs and shakes his head. He feels centerless and strange. “No, come to the bars with me.” He leans into Yuuri’s space. “It’ll be fun.”

Yuuri’s eyes flick to Viktor’s lips and away again.

“I…” Yuuri’s voice is quavery and soft.

“Please?” Viktor knows he’s laying it on thick, thicker than he’s ever done with Yuuri, but he wants this. He wants to badly to forget his thesis and his sister and the nephew he’s screwing up and…

“Viktor?” Yuuri’s put a tentative hand on his arm. “Is everything...okay?”

Viktor is so surprised by the question his mind goes blank. “Why do you ask?”

“You’re not acting like yourself.”

Ah.

“Yes I am.”

“You’re not, though.” Yuuri presses. “Did something happen? Is Yuri okay? Is everything…”

“I’m fine. Everything is fine.” Viktor insists and he thinks briefly to all of his friends on instagram. Perhaps it would be better to call one of them to go out with him. They would just say yes. There wouldn’t be questions, wouldn’t be any doubts what his motivations are.

But he doesn’t want them. He wants Yuuri.

“Please,” He tries again. “Come out with me tonight Yuuri. We’ll have fun.”

“Okay, Viktor.” Yuuri still looks worried. His hand is still resting, warm and solid, on Viktor’s arm. “Okay.”

~~~~

Yuuri isn’t wearing his glasses.

This isn’t the first time that Viktor has seen him without them. He doesn’t wear them to skate after all and most of their time together is spent with Yuuri skating. But somehow, dressed in dark jeans and a shirt that hangs a bit so Viktor can see his collar bones, Yuuri’s uncovered eyes seem almost obscene.

“Where are we going?” Yuuri asks. He’s fidgeting, clearly less comfortable on a dark street lined with bars than he is in the rink.

Viktor reaches over and takes his hand. “A couple of places.”

All it takes is a bit of flirting and they’re in even though Yuuri is a year too young. Viktor is very good at getting into bars without showing ID, thanks to both his charm and his face. Yuuri, on the other hand, is doing it with just his face. The bouncers just seem to wave him by.

Viktor lets himself be jealous for minute, but then proceeds to admire Yuuri’s profile as they go to the bar.

“Let me pay.” Yuuri says with a smile. “I never got you back for lunch that one time.”

“Oh.” Viktor blinks. “Right.”

Yuuri proceeds to order them both a shot of something pink and highly alcoholic. Viktor approves.

“Well.” He raises his own shotglass. “Nostrovia.”

“Kanpai.” Yuuri responds by lifting his own.

They both down the shot in one.

Viktor grins. This is going to be fun.

~~~~

Two hours later, Viktor isn’t that far from sober.

Yuuri, though, is so far gone that he’s having trouble keeping his languages straight.

Viiiiiktoooor.” He’s leaning against Viktor, smelling like vodka and feeling like a strip of fire even through Viktor’s clothes. “Dance with me.”

Viktor is helpless to refuse.

They dance. They dance like the other people in the bar, close and intimate and hot, but they also do some ballroom and tango and, god, it’s stupid and ridiculous and it’s so much fun.

Yuuri holds him and laughs and if Viktor wasn’t in love before, then he is now.

Yuuri...god, he doesn’t even look like himself. His profile is sharp and dangerous in the shifting lights of the club and when his eyes catch on Viktor he feels weightless. There’s something distinctly predatory in Yuuri’s gaze, something that makes Viktor feel like he’s being pursued

It makes him shiver.

Yuuri’s lips curve into a smile and he leans close to Viktor, close enough that his lips brush Viktor’s ear. “I’ve liked you for a long time, you know.” He says.

“Oh?” VIktor grins at him.

Yuuri’s breath is hot. “Since the first day of class.” He presses in closer, his body flush against VIktor’s. “You’re so nice to look at, Viktor. And your voice, mmmmm.”

“Seriously?” Viktor’s breath catches. That is...incredibly flattering. Also it’s getting hot in here. Like, really hot.

“And you know skating too.” Yuuri is still going. “Ah, Viktor.” He moans and, yep, it is too hot to stay in this current establishment.

VIktor steers them through the crowd and out onto the street. People are still milling about in varying states of drunkenness. It’s weird, Viktor reflects, to not be one of the drunk ones this time. Yuuri, though, is definitely one of the drunk ones. He’s all over Viktor, hands on his shoulders and his arms and his face.

“You’re perfect.” He hums as they stop outside of another bar, sitting on the curb so Yuuri can cool off. “I wish I could have seen you skate.”

“Me too.” Viktor says honestly.

Yuuri puts his head on his shoulder. “You’re still perfect, though.”

VIktor smiles. “Thank you, Yuuri.”

“You know what?”

“What?”

Yuuri shifts a bit, leaning away so he can look Viktor in the eyes. “Viktor.” Yuuri says softly. “Be my coach. You should...you should coach me.”

Viktor’s eyes widen.

“Oh.” He breathes. “Oh.”

~~~~

Viktor takes Yuuri back to his dorm soon after. He would let Yuuri sleep on his couch, but Yuuri seems pretty intent on getting Viktor’s clothes off. Viktor reluctantly tells Yuuri that no, Viktor needs to stay clothed until they are both sober enough to know what they’re doing.

He flirts with the night guard of Yuuri's building until the man agrees to let Yuuri in without telling his R.A. Yuuri planting a big, wet kiss on his cheeks and murmuring “call me,” probably helps too.

Viktor gets him into bed and leaves water and aspirin on his bedside table. He pokes around a bit before leaving. He’s never been in Yuuri’s dorm before. It’s small, neat and clean. It looks impersonal, like it could belong to anyone. Viktor supposes it’s because Yuuri spends most of his free time at the rink.

“I’ll call you tomorrow.” He tells Yuuri before he leaves. Yuuri mumbles something back, probably in Japanese. VIktor smiles a bit and shuts the door behind him.

He doesn’t get much sleep that night after he gets home. He’s too busy figuring out the logistics of his future coaching. He could coach Yuri too, once he was old enough. Sure, the transition period would be messy, but once they got there...once they got there it would be perfect.

He doesn’t have to do his thesis. He can do this. Yuuri is right. He loves skating. He’s always loved skating and like this he can keep loving it, keep making it most important.

VIktor can do this and forget all of his mistakes.

He waits until the afternoon the next day to call Yuuri, figuring that he’s still pretty hungover.

Yuuri answers on the fourth ring. VIktor gets some mumbled Japanese and then finally a groggy, “What?”

He bites back a giggle.

Good morning sleeping beauty.” He sings.

“Ugh.” Yuuri groans. “What time it it?”

“Past two.” He informs. “Normal people have been up for hours.”

“You’re not normal.” He says and lets out another groan. “The light is so bright…” He trails off into more mumbly Japanese.

“Greet the sun, Yuuri!” He says brightly. “Go out an run! Go skating!”

“Fuck skating.” Yuuri mumbles. “Can you imagine spins hungover? God…”

“When I was sixteen I skated a whole short program hungover.” He says. “I did pretty good too. Got a silver.”

“You suck.” Is Yuuri’s very intelligent response.

Viktor laughs. “Buy me dinner first.”

“You’re the worst.” Yuuri says.

“I’m the best.”

“Liar.”

“You’re jealous.”

“Let me sleep, Viktor.”

Viktor laughs again. “Fine, fine. But I just wanted to check about what you said last night.” He curls sideways onto his bed, curling into himself like a comma. “Do you...really want to?” His voice sounds breathless to his own ears.

“Viktor, I’m sorry.” Yuuri yawns. “Last night is really fuzzy.”

“Oh.” Viktor is taken aback, but rallies. “Well, you asked me something very interesting last night. And I thought…”

“Viktor, I didn’t mean it.” Yuuri cuts him off. “I was so drunk. Whatever I said was probably stupid. Just forget it.”

“But Yuuri…” Viktor tries.

“I’m sorry.” Yuuri says. “I’m really hungover. Can we talk about this later?”

“Sure.” Viktor says. “It’s fine. You try to sleep it off, okay?”

He hangs up before Yuuri can answer and lets his phone fall onto the bed. He curls up tighter and tries to will the world away. It doesn’t work. He still has papers to grade. A thesis to write.

He closes his eyes.

~~~~

VIktor is laying on his couch watching the fan rotate round and round. He feels numb. Yuri is sitting at the table, pencil scratching as he works on his homework.

“Do you want to go back to Russia?” Viktor asks softly. He doesn’t look at Yuri.

“What? Why?” He doesn’t expect Yuri to sound so very worried. Yuri voices his hatred for America on a near daily basis.

“I thought you might want to.” Vitor says. That’s not the truth at all. The truth is that he wants a reason to run away, to leave his unfinished thesis and Yuuri’s no. He wants to leave it all behind and not look back.

“But I thought that you…” Yuri stops and starts again. “Yakov said he wouldn’t take me until I was 16. And Grandpa is in the hospital. So...so...I don’t have anywhere to go.”

Viktor frowns. “Yuri,” He says. “What are you talking about?”

“You’re sending me away.” His voice doesn’t even sound like him.

“No, of course I’m not.” Viktor sits up and stares at him. “I’m not going to leave you, Yuri. I wouldn’t do that.”

Yuri’s face is wet. He’s crying.

He looks young and scared. “Why would you ask that then?”

“I was thinking we could both go back.” VItor clambers to his feet and rushes to Yuri. He touches his shoulders, his face. He’s desperate to reassure, to make Yuuri feel wanted. “You and me together. Okay?”

“But you…” Yuri smacks Viktor’s hands away. “You can’t leave. You have school.”

Viktor shrugs. “I could finish later.” Or never.

“What about the rink?” Yuri says.

Viktor bites back a sigh. “What about it?”

“You should stay at it. I thought you could coach Katusdon.” Yuri says. “He’s good, but you can make him better.”

Viktor laughs and it hurts. “I asked him.” He admits. “And he said no.”

“What?”

Viktor doesn’t want to say it again.Instead of talking he sweeps Yuuri into a hug and he smiles just a bit when he feels, after a few seconds of impersonating an ice sculpture, that Yuri hug him back.

“You shouldn’t worry about me.” He says, patting Yuri’s back. “It’s my job to worry about you.”

“You’re not my dad.” Yuri says and Viktor flinches.

He tries to let Yuri go, but Yuri keeps holding on. “You’re not my dad.” He repeats. “So I think it’s okay if instead of just you worrying about me, we both worry about each other.”

Viktor has to let Yuri go to wipe the tears from his eyes.

“Yeah.” He says once he finds his voice again. “Okay, Yuri. That sounds good to me.”

~~~~

Yuri sends Yuuri a text.

>>>meet me at the rink

He doesn’t bother clarifying anything else. Yuuri will come because Yuuri is a stupid pushover.

This whole stupid thing has gone on way too long. Yuri is so sick of all of it. He’s going to fix things and then everyone (*cough* Viktor *cough*) can calm down and stop being so dramatic all of the time.

And yeah, Yuri may be twelve but at least he’s not a total idiot like his stupid uncle. God.

He leaves the apartment as quietly as he can. Viktor is shut up in his bedroom with his dog, either working obsessively on his thesis or ignoring it completely. There is no in between with him.

Yuri heads out, hood up and hands jammed in his pockets. This whole situation is stupid. Viktor and Yuuri are both making it complicated when it’s actually simple.

The truth of the the thing, the real objective truth, is that Viktor makes Yuuri a better skater.

Yuuri looks better after a few minutes of Viktor’s off-hand comments than he does after a whole session of actual coaching. Viktor...he’s an idiot and an airhead and a complete waste of space sometimes, but he cares. Always. About everything. It’s exhausting to watch sometimes, honestly.

But, like, maybe that's what Yuuri needs. Maybe he just needs someone there for him who cares so much it hurt. He’s skilled on his own. Yuri can admit that. Yuuri Katsuki is a good skater, a really good skater. Yuri wants to see him do the best he could.

Yuri wants to see Yuuri skate with no mistakes.

And Viktor is the person who could make it happen. Viktor-the-coach may be a new idea to Viktor himself, but he’s not new to Yuri. Viktor the coach shouts out suggestions about foot-placement at the rink, makes sure Yuri is sleeping enough and taking rest days

It’s been easier to think of Viktor as a substitute for his coaches than it has been to think of him as a substitute for Mom.

It’s not like he ever could be a substitute, anyway. Viktor can’t cook and he forgets to clean and he lets Yuuri watch on TV whatever he wants regardless of the rating. He didn’t want to like Viktor. He tried really hard not to. But Viktor is a stupid fucking idiot who tries hard and care harder and Yuri doesn’t hate him even a little

So Yuri has to do something to fix this mess.

The walk is short and the usual door is open. Yuri goes inside to find the heartbreaker extraordinaire lacing up his skates at the edge of the rink.

“Hi, Yuri!” He waves, cheeks a bit pink from the cold of the rink.

Yuri is not here for pleasantries. “You’re a fucking moron.” He says. Okay, good start good start.

“W-what?” Yuuri looks more startled than anything.

“Why the hell did you say no to my stupid uncle?” Yuri demands.

“No?” Yuuri blinks at him. “No about what?”

“Coaching, you dumbass!” Yuri snaps. “Why don’t you want him to coach you?”

“Coach me?” Yuuri’s eyes are wide. “Is that...oh no.”

“What?”

“I didn’t understand what he was talking about.” Yuuri moves to stand and then seemed to remember that his skates are only laced halfway. He shakes his head and looks back down at them. “I must have asked him when I was, ah…”

Yuri snorts and stomps over to leans against the wall between them and the ice. “I know you two got drunk.” He says. “I’m not stupid.”

“I never said you were.” Yuuri says quietly. He’s slowly lacing up his skates now, showing more care than he usually does.

“So?” Yuri prompts.

“So what?” Yuuri doesn’t look up.

“Viktor wants to coach you.” Yuri says. “So let him coach you.”

“That…” Yuuri swallows. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Yuri frowns and crosses his arms. “Why?” He demands. “Because he’s hasn’t done it before? He really was a good skater before he hurt his leg. My Mom and me watched him on the tv a few times.” Yuri has never admitted this out loud before and he doubts he will again.

He remembers her tears when she watched his uncle, her brother, move across the ice. His whole life, she said she hated him. But Yuri doesn’t think that’s true, really. His mother missed her brother, that’s all. She missed Viktor and the longer that Yuri spends with him and without his mother, the more he understands.

Being mad is a lot easier than being disappointed.

Yuuri doesn’t seem to realize what a big reveal that was for Yuri, which is what Yuri prefers. He just shakes his head. “It’s not about him. It’s about me. I…”

“What?” Yuri says. “You’re in love with him. Is is that?”

Yuuri winces, but doesn’t deny it. His skates are fully laced and tied with neat bows. He doesn’t look up from them.

“Oh, come on.” Yuri almost laughs. They’re both so stupidly dramatic. “He’s in love with you too, moron.”

“He’s not.” Yuuri says, but he doesn’t sound sure.

“Oh my god, he so is.” Yuri says. “He doodles Mister Viktor Katsuki in his notebooks.”

“What, seriously?”

“I don’t know, probably.” Yuri gives up looking cool and goes to sit beside Yuuri. “And even if you don’t wanna love him, just let him coach you. Let him help.”

“I couldn’t ask for that from him.” Yuuri says softly. “It wouldn’t be fair of me.”

“Get it through your fat head.” Yuri hits Yuuri lightly over said fat head. “You’re not asking. He’s offering. He’s been offering.” He scooches a little closer to Yuuri so their sides are touching. It’s just for warmth. It’s cold in the ice rink. “All that’s left if for you to say yes.”

~~~~

Viktor is sitting on the couch, working listlessly on his thesis, when he hears a knock at the door. He frowns, wondering who it could be, and he sets his laptop on the table so he can go answer it.

He opens the door. Yuuri standing there. 

“Hi.” Yuuri says with a smile that looks strained.

“Yuuri.” Viktor blinks, nonplussed. “What are you doing here?”

“We should probably talk.” He says. “Can I…?”

“Oh, of course.” VIktor steps aside to let him. Yuuri lingers in the entryway for a bit, saying hi to Makkachin and taking off his shoes.

They go to the living room together. Viktor is going to offer a drink or to put on a movie or something, but Yuuri doesn't wait. 

“I’ve never been drunk before.” He says without preamble. He looks beautiful in Viktor’s untidy living room, a study in black and white and warm brown. “But, honestly, I don’t think I said anything I didn’t mean.”

“Yuuri,” VIktor sighs. “You don’t have to…”

“No, I do.” He looks determined. Determined and scared. “Because if I don’t then I’m going to lose you. And I’ve never had someone I don’t want to lose before, VIktor. I’ve never felt like this.”

“You won’t lose me.” Viktor says.

Yuuri shakes his head. He walks over to Viktor, eyes hard behind his glasses and grabs him by the shoulders to pull him in for a kiss.

It’s not a good kiss. Yuuri is clearly inexperienced and Viktor too shocked to respond so he just stands and doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t even breathe. It’s a pretty horrible kiss, actually. But it sends sparks all the way down to VIktor’s toes.

It feels weightless and impossible, free and uncontrolled and terrifying like the moment just before landing a jump. Viktor is terrified to move away. He knows how painful the fall can be.

Yuuri leans away

“I don’t want you to leave.” He says. “Stay. You should stay.”

“How did you know?” Viktor asks with lips that feel numb.

“That you were thinking about going to Russia?” Yuuri asks. Viktor nods. “Yuri came down to the rink and told me. He also said something about you being a colossal idiot.”

Viktor stares. “He told you?”

“He was worried about you, Viktor.” Yuuri says. “He cares about you.”

Viktor smiles a little, remembering their hug. “Yeah.” He agrees. “I think he does.”

Yuuri reaches out and grabs his hand. “I care you too, Viktor.” He says.

Viktor looks over at him, at his big brown eyes and he wants so much. “I might believe that, Yuuri.” He says softly.

“So you’ll do it?” Yuuri says, just as soft. “You’ll coach me?”

“No.” Says Viktor.

Yuuri is taken aback. “What?”

“I’ll stay in Detroit. But I need to finish this first.” Viktor says, gesturing at his computer on the coffee table where his thesis is still blinking on screen. “I need to fix this and finish what I started. I’m not giving on it.”

“Oh.” Yuuri swallows. “I understand.”

“But, Yuuri,” Viktor leans in. “As soon as I get my degree, as soon as I can figure out how exactly to start this, you and me and Yuri...we’re going to make everyone know our names.” He swallows and looks at Yuuri’s lips. They’re still a bit wet. “Can you wait for that?”

Yuuri’s breath hitches. “As long as that’s all I’m waiting for.”

VIktor hums a laugh. “Oh, I like you Yuuri Katsuki.”

“And I like you too, Viktor Nikiforov.”

After that, they kiss again and again and again. Viktor slides his hands up Yuuri’s shirt and Yuuri sighs into his mouth. Everywhere he touches is hot, so hot. Viktor is pressing Yuuri into the couch, thinking about suggesting they move into the bedroom when the door clicks open.

“Hey, Vitya, I’m back from...oh god!” Yuri shrieks in horror and covers his eyes with his hands.

Yuuri lets out a string of panicked Japanese and shoves Viktor off of him. Viktor falls to the floor in an ungraceful heap. Maybe it’s a good thing he’s not a professional anymore if that’s how he lands after a fall.

“Yuri, I’m so sorry!” Yuuri is saying, his face the color of a tomato. “I thought you’d still be at school and I’m so sorry and, oh god, this is so embarrassing.”

“Hello, Yuri!” Viktor cuts Yuuri’s babbling off once he’s managed to sit up. “How was school?”

Yuri finally lowers his hands and looks at them with hollow eyes. “I did this to myself, didn’t I?”

“Yeah.” Yuuri says.

“Kinda.” VIktor agrees.

“Ugh.” Yuri says like that sums everything up.

~~~~

There is a 24-hour waffle place within walking distance of the apartment.

After a day spent kissing and fighting and crying and laughing it’s where Yuuri, Viktor and Yuri end up.

“Why have we never been here before?” Yuri demands to know, tearing into a stack of waffles with an alarming amount of enthusiasm.

“I used to come all the time.” Viktor says with a shrug. “Back when I was an undergrad.”

“You were probably drunk.” Yuri accuses after swallowing a mouthful of waffles.

“Well,” Viktor concedes. “You’re not wrong.”

Yuuri laughs, Yuri rolls his eyes and Viktor smiles.

Outside, the sky is flat black. Inside, the fluorescent lights buzz like cicadas. The boundary line is harsh and defined. Viktor notices.

“So you’re really going to coach Katsudon?” Yuri grunts.

“He can coach you as well, Yuri.” Yuuri says with a small smile. “We’ve been rink mates for month now, after all.”

Yuri looks away, his cheeks pink. “I guess.” He mumbles.

“Not right away, though.” Viktor says. “I need to finish my master’s degree first. Then I need to find out the situation with the rink and the skate club...so we won’t be starting til next season.”

“Seriously? Why bother with the dumb degree.” Yuri huffs.

“My degree is not dumb.” Viktor pouts.

“Oh, yeah.” Yuri says. “A master’s in Russian Literature is really helpful for coaching figure skating, isn’t it.”

“Well, no, I guess not.”

“So why even bother?” Yuri demands before stabbing his waffles again.

“I think it’s impressive that you’re finishing.” Says Yuuri loyally.

Viktor grins at him. “And that’s why you’re my favorite.”

“Good.” Yuri says. “He can have you.”

“Aw, Yuri!” Viktor says. “You’re my other favorite!” He leans across the table to hug him.

“Argh, no, help!” He snarls.

“Viktor…” Yuuri says chidingly.

“Fine, fine.” Viktor leans back a little.

Yuri ducks out of his arms. “I’m going to the bathroom.” He announces and scurries off before Viktor can hug him again.

Yuuri laughs. “He’s so funny.”

“He’s something alright.” VIktor agrees and take a sip of his coffee. “Yuuri…”

“Hmm?” The fluorescent light glints off his glasses. It makes him look remote and alien. A distant and unreachable star.

“This whole coaching thing…” Viktor says. “We don’t have to if you don’t want to.”

“I want to.” Yuuri says.

“I’ll stay with you, even if you don’t.” Viktor says. He reaches out and touches the backs of Yuuri’s hands splayed out on the table.

“I appreciate that.” Yuuri says with a nod. “But I want to be better, Viktor. And I think I can be with you.”

“I don’t deserve you.” Viktor says softly.

Yuuri smiles. “You deserve a lot, Viktor. And this isn’t about that, anyway. I want to be with you. Deserving has nothing to do with it.”

“But I’m not a good man.” Viktor tells him because Yuuri is amazing and special and perfect and he should know, he should want more than Viktor, he should want better than someone who leaves and doesn’t look back.

“Viktor.” Yuuri flips their hands, claps Viktor’s tightly in his own and Viktor’s mind goes blank. “I’m not asking for you to be perfect, okay? I just want you to be yourself.”

“But, just so you know,” He says as Yuri comes back . “I think that you are a much better man than you give yourself credit for.”

“What’re you talking about?” Yuri says. He’s got his hood up and he’s slouching in his seat. He looks very young.

VIktor grins. “How cute you look in that hoodie!”

He shrieks in anger and Yuuri and Viktor both laugh.

They talk and laugh and eat waffles together until dawn. They all go quiet when the sun peeks up over distant buildings, bathing the nearly-empty parking lot in new light. The boundary between the restaurant and the outside seems to fade into nothing at all.

“Stay with me.” Viktor says, eyes still on the gradually lightening sky.

“Always.” Yuuri says softly.

“You two are the worst.” Yuri sighs. “But I guess someone has to stick around and look after you.”

Viktor can’t decide if he needs to laugh or cry so he does both.

“You two never stop surprising me.”

~~~~

The rink is empty. Morning light is coming in through the high windows, sending pools of light splashing off the slick, white ice. Viktor takes in the sight and takes in the two people standing on it, once dressed in black like an inkstain and the other in red like blood.

“Viktor.” Yuuri is smiling, one hand outstretched.

“C’mon, old man.” Yuri jerks his chin at him.

Viktor breathes and steps out onto the ice.

He’s ready now.