After Barcelona, their lives whirled into a tornado of urgent tasks. They flew back to Japan Monday morning, as planned, only to immediately start packing, between marathon sessions at the skating rink.
“I gave you and Yurio two of my best short programs,” Victor said ruefully, the morning of the first full day back.
“It’s Nationals, and we won’t be skating against each other. You could skate Eros,” Yuuri said, refolding Victor’s clothes more compactly.
“I’m afraid that they’ll compare me to you,” Victor said.
Yuuri laughed. “Worried you can’t stand up to the comparison?”
Victor blinked at him, stunned, and then broke out in a radiant smile and kissed Yuuri on the nose. “Now, of course, I must skate it. I’ll come up with something new for the European championships.”
“What about your free skate?” Yuuri asked, rubbing his nose with a bemused smile.
“I have something in mind. But I think that I will practice that while you are elsewhere. You can watch it with everyone else. But let us see how I do with Eros today.”
The practice went well. After a while, Victor told Yuuri to go home and work on packing, and set to work on his free skate.
They fell into bed that night exhausted, Victor shaking with tiredness. “I should have run with you when you were training,” he said, wrapped in Yuuri’s arms.
“You’ll be fine by the end of the week,” Yuuri said. “How did the free skate go?”
“I think it will work fine, and no, I am not telling you what my plans are.”
“I looked up the schedules. Your free skate is going to happen after midnight for me, assuming you place first in the short program,” Yuuri said.
“Promise me you won’t stay up late for it. And there is no guarantee I will place first. Yurio has a very good chance of beating me this time, though I would love to make it difficult for him. I only need to place in the top three to go to the European Championship.”
Yuuri said nothing in response, and Victor glanced up at him, to find he’d fallen asleep already. He let the slow rhythm of Yuuri’s breathing pull him into sleep soon after.
The week passed in a blur of practice, packing, and paperwork. Victor’s things went ahead to St. Petersburg without him, care of Yakov, and on Monday, Victor got on a nonstop plane to Moscow.
Parting was hard. “I hate not being there for your skating,” Victor said, between dropping kiss after kiss on Yuuri’s ring at the airport.
“I’ll let the knowledge that you are making your comeback lift me on the ice,” Yuuri said. “You’ll watch me. It will be fine.” He laughed. “That’s getting wet.” He looked pointedly at the ring, which Victor was continuing to kiss.
“I want to make sure you have enough kisses for your skating while we are apart,” Victor said.
Yuuri sighed. “You’re ridiculous,” he murmured, and picked up Victor’s hand to drop a dozen rapid kisses onto the ring there.
“I’m in love with you. Of course I’m ridiculous,” Victor said, and abruptly pulled Yuuri into a tight hug. “I will miss you so much.”
“You won’t have time to miss me. And we’ll be together as soon as the visa clears,” Yuuri said.
Victor pretended a look of absolute horror. “Our reunion is dependent on Russian bureaucracy?”
“The lady at the consulate was a fan; that might help,” Yuuri said. “You need to get through security.”
“Ah, Yuuri, I hate leaving you. Tell me after this we’ll be together.”
“Until the next nationals,” Yuuri said. “Assuming the visa comes through.”
“If it doesn’t, I’m coming back,” Victor declared. “But it will. Both our governments have an incentive.”
“How did you get a visa so fast, anyway?” Yuuri asked.
“I walked into the Japanese consulate, asked to speak to the highest ranking official, and told her that you’d asked me to come to Japan to coach you, but that we’d lost touch before I could get your contact information. At first she could not believe that I would help someone not Russian attain such glory, but I said I was the only one who could talk you out of retirement, that the sport needed your artistry, and that I wanted to be an emissary of goodwill between our nations. She called the Japanese Ambassador in Moscow and they fast-tracked me for a visa for an indefinite stay, contingent upon me coaching you. It was very simple, really, once I was talking to the right people. It helped that I’d been in Japan multiple times before, but really, I think she was just a fan.”
“You have so many fans, Victor,” Yuuri murmured.
Victor laughed. “Not my fan. Your fan. In any event, tomorrow I go to the central processing facility in Moscow, and then on to St. Petersburg as soon as I can bang some sense into their thick Russian skulls. They might be dragging their feet because they don’t want to help a foreign national, but I think they will change their tune when I tell them that if they don’t want me competing for Japan at the next Olympics, they need to let you come.”
With a disbelieving laugh, Yuuri spluttered, “Could you even do that?”
“Probably not, but without you, I wouldn’t bother with the Olympics at all. I think their lust for glory will outweigh their distaste for letting me help you, and for our relationship.”
Yuuri dropped his head against Victor’s shoulder and said, “This isn’t going to be easy.”
“Since when is anything we do easy?” Victor said, his hand coming up to cup the back of Yuuri’s head.
“You know,” Yuuri said after a moment. “You should ask Yurio how he got a visa so fast.”
“He went to the Russian government, and told them that he was the only one who could drag me back to Russia. He apparently now has diplomatic credentials, if they didn’t revoke them for failure. It’s terrifying.”
“That is unsettling,” Yuuri said, pulling out of Victor’s arms.
Victor pulled him back for a quick kiss and then picked up the handle of his rolling bag. “Oh, Yuuri.” His face was a mask of worry and reluctance.
“Go. Be a champion. Let me kiss your gold,” Yuuri said with a smile. “I’ll be with you in no time.”
Victor kept glancing back as he made his way into the secured area.
Yuuri stared after him until he couldn’t see. Reflexively he removed his glasses to clean them, and a moment later, he turned away, slipping them back on, to be faced by a small group of giggling girls. Bemused, he signed autographs for them as they cooed over his performance and over Victor.
“We didn’t want to interrupt you,” one of the girls said. “But we took your picture.”
Still bemused and more than a little perturbed, Yuuri said, “Oh? Can I see?”
The girls conferred, and then nudged one of them to the front of the group. She held out her phone, and Yuuri breathed in sharply at the picture of the two of them, wrapped up in each other, startlingly intimate in the vast airport.
“Do you follow my friend, Phichit?” Yuuri asked.
“Who doesn’t?” one of the girls said with a laugh.
“Send that to him privately, tell him it’s for me and me alone. Send him the highest quality version you can.”
“Can… Can I post it?” the owner of the phone asked.
“Can you wait a few weeks?” Yuuri asked. “It’s an excellent photo. I would like to frame it and give it as a gift to Victor, but it won’t be a surprise if it’s up before then.”
Several of the girls giggled and more than one “Aww” was heard.
“Can I get a selfie with you and post that?” she countered.
Yuuri grinned. “Done.”
It took him another half hour to get out of the airport, but his heart was surprisingly light.
I’m taking canon-typical liberties with the location but not the schedule for both National Championships, because it makes the flights work better for Yuuri’s ridiculousness and narrative purposes.
The idea of Victor being competition-ready with the Russian Nationals happening 2 weeks after the Grand Prix Final is ludicrous, I don’t care if he is Victor Fucking Nikiforov. But we’ll just assume that he hasn’t been idle while Yuuri is training, and if he’s not trying to completely revise two programs, eh? Maybe? *waves hands* OH LOOK, FLUFF!
I’m also making an effort to explain the impossible visa situation the series presents. In that world, Japan and Russia MUST be diplomatic allies sufficient to have a no-visa-required policy. In our world, getting visas between the two countries is time-consuming and not particularly easy, especially for a stay of 8 months that involves periodically leaving the country, and the only way I could imagine Victor getting away with showing up like that is if he pulled a LOT of strings, and I’m making huge assumptions that the strings are there to be pulled at all. As for a minor travelling internationally without a hell of a lot of paperwork and permission from a guardian? Yeah, that wouldn’t happen, so we’ll just take the most entertaining option, which is a 15-year-old hellcat with diplomatic immunity. (Yakov: “Diplomatic WHAT???? THAT TIGER WOULD NOT KNOW DIPLOMACY IF IT KNOCKED HIM DOWN AND SAT ON HIM.”
Random obsequious Russian official. “We were desperate. Without Nikiforov, Russian skating could suffer terribly.” Yakov: “Yuri IS the future of Russian figure skating, you fool!”)
Every bit of Russian and Japanese I throw into these things will translate easily if you toss them into Google Translate (translate.google.com) with “detect language” on.
With Victor gone, Yuuri threw himself into his own packing and the remains of his preparation for the Japanese National Championships. His visa came through about 18 hours after Victor landed in Russia, and he laughed as Victor gloated about his storming of the Kremlin when they talked late that night.
“You will be here next week?” Victor asked.
“As soon as I can, once my competition is over,” Yuuri said. “I miss you.”
Victor sighed. “Soon. I will think of you the entire time I skate.”
Yuuri’s breath caught. “Yes,” he breathed. “Do that.”
Minako came to the Ice Castle to watch his last rehearsals before the competition. “You’re not nervous,” she finally said, at the end of his last skate.
“No. I’m not,” he agreed.
“In your entire career, I’ve never seen you not nervous,” she said.
“I know what I have to do,” Yuuri said. “I know I can do it. I have something to say, and I want to say it clearly, and even if I fail, I will have what I want most.”
“There was so much pressure on you at the Grand Prix final, and I know you skate best when you are alone. How did you manage?” she asked.
Yuuri laughed. “I had something I wanted to say, and that was more important than my fear. Now? One way or another, I will be with Victor. I will always talk to him with my skating, and if I win, I win. If I don’t, I still have him. But the better I skate, the more it…”
“Turns him on?” Minako said with a sly grin.
Yuuri shrugged, blushed, and didn’t deny it.
“So when do you leave?” she asked.
“I’ll go to the airport after the free skate, after the ceremony if I medal,” he said.
“The Exhibition is Monday, you’d skip that?” Minako said.
“I… will apologize profusely, and pay the fine,” Yuuri said.
“So that gets you to St. Petersburg…”
“I should get in around 2:30 in the afternoon.”
“When is his event over?” Minako asked.
“He does his free skate on Friday, a few hours after my short program. It could be very late at night. I’m so curious, he wouldn’t let me watch him practice it.”
Minako laughed. “He loves to surprise, and surprising you is his favorite. So what’s the real reason you want to leave so early?”
“I miss him. I want to see him as soon as possible. That’s where he’ll be, so that’s where I’ll be. I want to surprise him, too, for his birthday. That’s all.”
She looked at him suspiciously but said nothing more on the subject.
Yuuri’s suitcase pushed the limits for acceptability as a carry on, but he had many long years of practice traveling for competitions, and the last thing he wanted to deal with was baggage claim. So Thursday morning he said goodbye to his parents, who were supervising the shipping of a few boxes of his things to the apartment Yakov had found for them in St. Petersburg, and then with Minako dragged his over-full bag to the airport for a flight to Tokyo.
He had tried to talk her out of coming, but she brushed him off. “Victor can’t be here, and you shouldn’t be alone. Besides. It’s Tokyo.”
He shook his head and smiled, and stopped fighting.
He called Victor to check the schedule as soon as he landed.
“How do you feel?” Yuuri asked.
“My rehearsal yesterday was clean,” Victor started, and then was off on descriptions of the other skaters.
Yuuri let Victor’s words wash over him, listening, but also feeling a warm, tingling glow out to his fingertips. “I miss you,” Yuuri said, without a trace of sadness, completely interrupting something Victor was saying about Georgi.
“Oh, Yuuri,” Victor said. “I keep turning around to tell you something, and you aren’t there. I woke up this morning curled up on the side of my bed, and was confused that you weren’t on the other side. I always used to sleep in the middle.”
“I’m not sad,” Yuuri said. “I miss you and I’m not sad, because every time I think about you, I think, ‘Soon’ and ‘He’s mine.’”
“Do you have your flight information yet?” Victor asked.
“I’ll send it to you,” Yuuri said.
“I was looking, I figured you’d have to come Tuesday, the schedules are so awkward. I’ll miss you on my birthday.”
“Tuesday,” Yuuri echoed.
“You’re going to love the apartment, I’m getting it all set up. I’ve never lived this close to the rink before, but this way we don’t have to waste time if we don’t want to. It’s right next to the metro.”
“Victor,” Yuuri said reproachfully.
“It could be a cardboard box and I wouldn’t care, as long as you were in it.” Yuuri faltered. “Wait, that sounds wrong.”
Victor laughed in pure delight and said, “I want the space to make you happy, so you will not tire of our cardboard box in the Russian winter.”
“As long as you’re in it, there’s little chance of my getting tired of it,” Yuuri said. “You’ve kept my attention for a decade and a half, I’m not going to stop caring now that I get to sleep with you.”
“I’m skating at 2,” Victor said. “There’s a six-hour difference. You can watch me at 8.”
“I want to, but I haven’t been able to find a stream yet,” Yuuri said.
“I bribed Yurio. He skates last. His friend wants to watch him, you want to watch me, we'll hold each other’s phones. Also I promised never to call him Yurio, but I don’t know if that’s a promise I can keep.”
“You should have asked Mila, Yurio shouldn’t be watching you skate before his skate.”
“I plan to make him angry, so that he will skate well. I can’t lose, with him skating my choreography. Either he wins because I choreograph well, or he loses because I skate well. Either way, I win.”
Yuuri laughed. “Either way. I can’t wait to see your free skate.”
“You better wait, you need your sleep that night.”
Yuuri sighed. “I hate sleeping without you. I don’t know how I managed my whole life, but a week and you spoiled me.”
“That should please me, but I feel the same.”
There was a commotion in the background on Victor’s end, and Yuuri heard angry Russian in a tone that could only come from Yuri, but… “Victor, did his voice change?”
“If you mean has he gone from swearing at me in a falsely low voice to swearing at me in a lower voice that breaks absurdly high at the most awkward moments, yes. He had to change skate sizes earlier this week, but he isn’t much taller yet.”
“I grew an inch overnight when my growth spurt started,” Yuuri said. “It was awkward.”
“Mine was never that abrupt,” Victor said.
“No wonder you were a skating god for so long,” Yuuri laughed. “The rest of us had to take years to recover. I was better at copying your jumps at 12 than I was when I was the age you did them. Be nice to him, he’s terrified.”
“The nicer I am, the more he swears,” Victor said.
“Exactly,” Yuuri said. “I’ll watch you tonight.”
“Dai suki da yo,” Victor said, and Yuuri blushed down to his socks.
“Ya ne mogu zhit bez tebya, Victor,” Yuuri said softly.
“Oh, Yuuri,” Victor said. “You surprise me, always. And you won’t have to for much longer.”
They’re both very comfortable in English, but it’s natural to want to communicate love in someone’s native language, and while “I love you” is a natural and potentially intense thing to say in English, it is not, apparently, the most natural phrasing in Japanese, nor the most sincere in Russian. And those of you who’ve been following anime for years knew that, I assume, but I’m new to it, so I find it fascinating.
Literally, Victor says, “I like you”, and Yuuri says, “I can’t live without you” and the fact that these two dweebs had to ask people specifically what the best endearment was, independently, because you know they didn’t ask each other… My god. I mean, Yuuri asking Yuri… it would make Yuri SO angry, and I can just hear him yelling the answer, and then grunting with frustration. And Victor asking Minako, amirite?
True to his word, Victor called just before his program and kissed his ring right in front of the screen and waited for Yuuri to do the same before skating onto the ice. They said nothing to each other, but Yuuri’s breath caught when he saw Victor’s new costume.
It echoed the shape of the costume Yuuri had been wearing all season, but in silvers and blues with just enough shimmer to make the most of the light. Victor turned, and looked slyly at the phone in Yuri’s hand, and winked.
Yuuri laughed and blew a kiss. Victor’s hand came up to his lips, as if choreographed for catching it, and the music began.
As Yuuri watched Victor move, he gave a tiny gasp as he realized how much Victor had changed the program without actually changing the basic structure of the moves.
This was not the tale of the seductress, or the playboy. It was blind infatuation and an ingenue. A ridiculous suitor throwing himself at the feet of someone who has forgotten him, not out of malice, but out of circumstance. It was Victor poking fun at himself, and the audience actually laughing with him. And then, the beginning of love anyway, something real and foolish and true.
Every jump was technically perfect. But more, they punctuated the story, and the beats of his skates, his hips, his arms, sank into the music as if they could not possibly fall anywhere else.
“You got that from me,” Yuuri didn’t say aloud, but the words were on his lips. “You got your Eros from me.”
Victor finished, not with a sly look and lifted head, but with his hands on his heart, looking across the arena at the tiny phone where he knew Yuuri watched.
“If I could run to you from here, I’d do it in a heartbeat,” Yuuri said softly, as the crowds cheered and Victor skated over to where something had landed on the ice.
“He can’t hear you from here,” Yuri’s voice was startling, but soft.
“I know, Yura,” Yuuri said. “Can you give the phone to him soon?”
“He will ruffle my hair on national television. again,” Yuri said.
“Let him. He is so proud of you.”
“This is supposed to be a battle,” Yuri growled.
“He told me earlier that he couldn’t lose against you, because if you won, it was his choreography winning, too.”
“Insufferable arrogance,” Yuri muttered, but his heart wasn’t in it. “You better be coming here soon. He’s acting the lovesick fool.”
“You know when I’m there, we both will,” Yuuri said, laughing.
“Yes, but then he won’t be seeking me out to talk about you because he misses you,” Yuri said. “And you’ll be here.”
“I miss you too, Yuri,” Yuuri said, and then the view on screen spun, and Victor was there.
“My Yuuri, did you like it?”
“It was perfection,” Yuuri said. “I gasped.”
“Everything about that was from you,” Victor said, still breathing hard.
Yuuri blushed. “It was all your choreography, music, everything.”
“That routine was always about you. I just made it truer.”
Yuuri laughed. “You weren’t foolish.”
“I was,” Victor said. “Completely ridiculous.”
“It didn’t stop me from falling in love with you,” Yuuri said.
“Love is ridiculous, and amazing. Tell me why we waited this long?”
“Are you seriously going to talk on your phone to me in Kiss and Cry?” Yuuri asked, as the view behind Victor settled into a logo-tiled backdrop.
“How else will I show you off when you are not here?” Victor said, turning the phone around. Yuuri could see a number of cameras and then a giant finger over the lens.
When Victor turned the phone back around, Yuuri said, laughing, “Did you really just point at me for the cameras?”
“You are the one I was skating for,” Victor said. “Oh, look! My score!”
“Just read it to me,” Yuuri said.
“116.27,” Yakov muttered in heavily accented English. “A personal best.”
“I still left room for little Yuri,” Victor said. “Let us see what he does later. And you were worried, Yakov, about my taking time off.”
“He hasn’t yelled at you once,” Yuuri noted.
“Going soft in my old age,” Yakov said. “And I had so little to do with this performance, I do not feel qualified yet to comment on what could be done better.”
“I tell you, though,” Victor said. “I am feeling those late quads. My god, Yuuri, if I can get another year out of this, it will be a miracle. How you do it over and over again…”
Yuuri grinned, and said in Japanese, “It’s the pole dancing.”
Victor coughed. “I might just have to try that then.”
“Chto?” Yakov asked, annoyed.
“Nevermind,” Victor answered.
“We should hang up and you should call me when you’re done there,” Yuuri said. “They’re going to want to interview you, not watch you point at your phone.”
“You sound like Okaasan,” Victor said. “But yes, I’ll call you later. When are you sleeping?’
“In three hours. I want to practice first.”
“Practice? Where?” Victor said, but the call had already ended.
A little research found Yuuri an outdoor rink, where they were closing, but the girl managing it recognized him and refused to take his money to let him work something out on the ice. He waited a few minutes, until everyone else had gone, before putting his skates on and sliding out onto the ice.
He didn’t run the whole routines, just pieces, getting a sense of what he wanted to say. He didn’t jump, the ice was too rough to risk the landings, but he danced, and spun, and laughed with exhilaration when he knew he had it.
His phone rang, and he fumbled it out of his pocket, skating off the ice and waving to the manager to let him know he was done.
It was Victor.
“How did he do?” Yuuri asked, without preamble. “What are the standings?”
“He did not reach quite so high this time, but he’s still in second,” Victor said. “108 something. He’s convinced that puberty is destroying him before our very eyes.”
“Are you with him?” Yuuri asked.
“I could be, or you could call him when we are done.”
“If he doesn’t answer, I’m calling you back and making you shove a phone into his hands so I can tell him what an idiot he is,” Yuuri said.
“That’s not like you,” Victor said.
“It’s what he needs to hear. As if every other senior skater hasn’t gone through puberty and come out stronger for it, eventually. He’s going to be able to do bigger and better things. He might not be a ballerina, but he will certainly still be able to dance and create beauty.”
“Where are you?” Victor asked. “It sounds like you’re outside. You should be getting ready for bed.”
“I needed to practice. I found an outdoor rink.”
“Tell me you weren’t…”
“Of course I wasn’t jumping. You’ll see when you watch me skate.” Yuuri got his skates off and into his bag.
“I worry,” Victor said. “It’s my job. Why must they put all the nationals on such a ridiculous weekend at the same time? I want to be there with you.”
“This may sound funny, but I’m kind of glad you’re not right now,” Yuuri said, getting his shoes on.
“I’m hurt,” Victor said, but he sounded more curious than wounded.
“If you were here, it would be wonderful, but I would not have anything like the opportunity I have now to surprise you.” Yuuri stood, clipped his headphones on, and slipped the phone into his pocket.
Victor laughed. “You know me so well. I can’t wait.”
“Talk to me, Victor, I’m going to jog back to the hotel, and I want to hear your voice.”
Victor launched into a lurid description of Yuri’s rants about the catastrophe of puberty, and Yuuri ran.
When Yuuri got back to the hotel, he got a quick shower and then called Yuri.
“Victor told me to answer you when you called or he’d come make me answer you,” Yuri grumbled. “What do you want?”
“He says you’ve started your growth spurt,” Yuuri said.
“My fucking feet grew two sizes last week. They hurt from breaking in the new skates, which are already starting to get tight. I look like some ridiculous, deformed thing with giant hands and feet, and people keep trying to tell me how I’ll get this tall, strong body, and I don’t WANT it.”
“Don’t want to be strong, or tall, or…” Yuuri asked.
“I like being small and beautiful. Victor asked me if I wished I was a woman, and the idea is repellent, I just want to stay small and graceful and I want everything to stop fucking hurting.”
“Do you think Victor and Otabek and I aren’t graceful? That we don’t create beauty on the ice despite all of us having gone through puberty already?” Yuuri asked.
“This isn’t about you. It’s about my body doing this thing. It smells bad. There’s hair. Things stick out. The line isn’t smooth. I even asked if I could go on hormone blockers to stop it and they all said that I couldn’t do that and keep skating, and even if I did that, no doctor would let me go another year without starting puberty because it would destroy my bones. I don’t want to be female, but this growing up shit is for the fucking birds. And it’s going to ruin my skating.”
Yuuri waited a breath and then said, “It actually made mine better. You’re amazing on the ice, but the one thing holding you back is your size. A bigger arm span can make for a faster spin, especially while the rest of you is still small. Stronger legs can make for a higher jump. There are things I can do now that I couldn’t dream of doing at 17. Your flexibility might be less, but that will just bring you into the realm of us mere mortals, and it won’t be too bad with Lilia helping you. I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong about how you feel. I was so angry at my body during puberty, it felt like betrayal, and I lost so much confidence because of it. It took Victor to bring that back.
“But you know it’s going to affect you. You know that you’re going to have to take a little time off while the worst of it’s going on. Maybe it takes you a year to get back to your peak. Maybe it takes three. But I think you forget that Victor is twelve years older than you. And I’m eight years older. And both of us hit our peaks in our twenties. You have so much time.”
There was a rough sob on the other end of the line. “I just hate it when things change.”
“Change is hard, but some change is good,” Yuuri said. “A year ago, we weren’t friends. A year ago, you couldn’t have won the Grand Prix.”
“Why are you friends with me?” Yuri said, exasperated. “I’m never nice to you.”
“You’re never nice to anyone, but you care fiercely for Victor and for skating, and for, I think, me. Also you’re cute, like a snarly little kitten we can’t help but be fond of.”
“I kicked your ass,” Yuri grumbled.
“You barely squeaked by me,” Yuuri said. “But competing against you has done nothing but help me get stronger. I probably wouldn’t be competing at all if it were not for you. So thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Yuri said. “I just wish that this whole growing up bullshit was more of a choice.”
“You will be beautiful, regardless, you know,” Yuuri said. “It’s just a different kind of beauty than you already had.”
“I thought that’s what you wanted? For the world to see you as beautiful?”
“Yes, but not you. I want you to see me as a fearsome opponent.”
“You are a fearsome opponent. So is Victor. And he’s stunning. It’s possible to see beauty and power alike. But I’m not intimidated by you, because even losing to you will not hurt me.”
“I could use my feet.”
“At some point, Yura, that will stop being cute, and start getting you into the news in a bad way.”
“Why do you call me Yura?” Yuri asked.
“I heard Lilia use it, and it’s different from my name, and it isn’t the name you hate. And it seems to imply the right level of fondness, or did I misunderstand? Would you prefer the other?”
“No!” Yuri said quickly. “Yura is good. It is better than ‘Little Yuri’ or… the other one. What do they do in Japanese like that?”
“It’s different. You would never normally call me anything but Yuuri-san or Yuuri-senpai, because I'm older than you. My closest childhood friend might call me Yu-chan or Yuuri-chan, but it’s rare and almost never between men. Simply calling me by my name, in Japanese, is very intimate, or disrespectful, and rarely done. But I lived in the US for a long time, and no one uses honorifics there, and I don’t expect it from Westerners. Honestly, from you, it would just be nice for you to stop calling me names. Yuuri-san or Yuuri-senpai would also be acceptable.”
“I could call you Yuuri-ka,” Yuri said.
“That joke followed me for five years, and would be very rude,” Yuuri said. “By that logic, we should call you Yurip.”
“Augh, no, Yuuri-san it is. Until we settle on a Russian nickname for you that isn’t already mine.”
“You'll be okay,” Yuuri said. “It’s going to hurt and it’s going to be frustrating and you will think you’ll never get it, but you will. The jumps… if your center of gravity goes, and you’re growing fast, if you can just take some time off and let yourself get to where you’re going to be, get strong and stay limber, but not force the jumps, you’re less likely to hurt yourself.”
“Why did it have to start now?” Yuri whispered.
“You took gold at your first Senior Grand Prix Final, Yura. It could have started a year ago, and you wouldn’t have taken Junior Worlds or the Grand Prix. You’re already on the late side, all that extra time was a gift. But this is not a curse, it’s just a change, and an inconvenience.”
“That’s what Lilia said.”
“She cares about you.”
“I don’t know if I’ll like the body I’m growing into,” Yuri said.
Yuuri laughed. “I’m pretty sure Victor’s the only person I’ve met who is absolutely satisfied with the body he has.”
“Christophe and JJ seem pretty okay with theirs,” Yuri’s voice had a bitter edge.
“Theirs don’t get them the gold medals they want most. Yours did, and will probably, again. Even if you never beat Victor, or if I beat you, neither of us is going to be in it for that much longer. And a stronger body will help you beat JJ’s long program into tiny bits.”
“You will teach me how you stay so strong?” Yuri asked.
Yuuri coughed. “Not in Russia, I won’t. But take dance lessons. Not just ballet. All kinds. Ballroom. Hip hop. All of it. It’s a good thing to do while you’re growing, to help you figure out your body. Some dances require even more strength than skating does, and far more stamina.”
“She’ll understand,” Yuuri said. “I have to sleep, but good luck tomorrow. I wish I could see both of your performances, but if you’re skating back to back, I can’t ask that of either of you.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Yuri said, and hung up.
The next day, Yuuri talked to Victor before his practice skate, but Minako was nowhere to be found, and he found himself in this quiet headspace that was unlike anything he’d felt before. It was as if he’d caught the calming peace of skating slow, precise figures at night in an empty rink in a bubble, and climbed into it in the midst of the bustle and chaos of other skaters and media.
The practice skate was good. He ran a couple of Tano jumps with an arm up, to see how they felt. Two in, he stopped testing jumps and ran through a few other elements, because his body was simply doing what he wanted it to, as he wanted it to, and the result was powerful.
As he skated off the ice, Minami said, “Your skate at the Grand Prix was so amazing! I cried!”
Yuuri smiled, and said, “Thank you. So did I! You’re going to do great out there, you know. You’re really a delight to watch. Good luck!”
Minami turned pink and skated out onto the ice with the next group.
Yuuri was first in the third group, and Minako finally showed up as the second group was finishing up. He smiled at her without taking out his headphones as she babbled on about how sorry she was to have disappeared. Finally she looked at him, cocked her head, and pulled the headphones out herself. “Are you mad at me? Are you nervous?”
He sighed, and said, “I’m actually doing very well. Will you hold the phone for me when I skate so that Victor can watch me?”
She nodded. “Do you need help? A pep talk?”
He laughed. “Just don’t disappear, I need you to hold my phone.” He put the headphones back in, and turned away from her to stretch his other leg.
She looked at him oddly, opened her mouth, shut it again, and picked up his tissues and water bottle.
As the Zambonis started resurfacing the ice, she trailed after him to the edge of the rink.
He called Victor and said, “Don’t talk right now, I’ll start the video in a moment. I’m very calm. You shouldn’t worry.”
“Really?” Victor said.
“Just… watch me,” Yuuri whispered. “That’s all I need right now.”
“Always.” Victor’s response was plump with emotion.
Yuuri put the headphones in his pocket, handed the phone to Minako, and shrugged out of his jacket.
He skated onto the ice, went to the wall, and looked at Victor’s face on his phone, then closed his eyes, brought his ring to his lips, and opened them just in time to see Victor do the same. Minako stepped back, and he skated out to center ice.
The story is simple. She is not a seductress, and not a beauty, and she doesn’t understand why a beautiful man is trying to seduce her. She has loved him from afar, forever, but he is the lord in the castle. She is simply herself. He doesn’t understand her confusion, her rejection, because to him the story is very different.
He asks her what she wants. And she tells him, “You. Just you. But I don’t understand why you want me.”
And he tells her that she makes him feel something new, that she demands nothing from him but who he is, and that he is enthralled.
And something magical happens. She starts to believe him.
She starts to believe that she might be worthy of this romance. That she might be who he tells her she can be. That she is special. And the distant, worshipful love that she has had for as long as she can remember, changes, becoming something much more personal. She sees him as human. She meets him as his equal, and finds that when she does not hold him so far above, it is much easier to find herself, and be enough, and love him back.
The basic structure, the order of jumps, even the footwork were all essentially the same. But the body language, from the confusion and shyness to the arm reaching upward in the early jumps, as if trying to reach for an unattainable goal, made the story completely different. And instead of the seductress, moving on to the next suitor, the ending felt more like an embrace between lovers, and his eyes fixed on the blur that was Minako.
He had not missed a landing.
The crowd roared.
Did you see? Did you understand? Yuuri managed to make himself pick up a few of the things that had landed on the ice, and then managed, he hoped, to not look too desperate as he made a beeline for Minako.
Victor was babbling at Minako in Russian, she was letting him, but whether she understood more than every other word was not clear. “Yes,” she was saying in English as Yuuri took the skate guards from her. “It really was that good. Better in person. Of course. Yes, I’ll buy a recording. And put it in his luggage.”
“YUUUUUURI!” came out of the phone’s little speakers. “That was so perfect! It was you! And the arms! And you did it alone!”
“Minako was here,” Yuuri said, chuckling and dazed as they made their way to the Kiss and Cry.
“I really wasn’t very much,” Minako said. “That was all you, Yuuri-chan.”
“I just knew what I wanted to say,” Yuuri said. “So I said it.”
“Jesus Christ. If only I’d told you to do that four months ago,” Victor said.
“I wouldn’t have believed you,” Yuuri said reproachfully. “It took the time it took, but I needed to figure it out myself. You helped in every way you could.”
“I don’t know how they’re going to score that, but I think it was more technically difficult than mine, and you skated it perfectly. It was perfect, not just the tiny phone camera blurring out the little flaws?”
“It felt right,” Yuuri said. “I knew my body would do what I told it to do, and it did it.”
“Lyubov' moya,” Victor breathed. “You have come so far.”
“I wouldn’t have done it without you,” Yuuri said.
“Yuuri-chan, the score!” Minako said.
Yuuri squinted, and she stuffed his glasses on his face. The numbers swam into focus. 110.61.
Minako was reading them aloud to Victor. “It should have been higher,” Victor said.
“Different judges,” Minako said. “You would have been scored very close to that here.”
“What’s the next highest score?” Victor asked.
“102 so far,” Minako said. “But of the remaining skaters, over 92 would be a personal best for any of them.”
“You took such a risk, Yuuri, throwing your arms up like that. I’ve never seen you practice that way.”
“I tried out a few to make sure it wasn’t going to change things too much. And they worked.”
Victor laughed. “They worked perfectly, but you need new music for the first half of that. Let me think on it.”
“You just want to skate Eros for yourself the next time we’re on the ice together,” Yuuri said.
“If we change the music for one of us enough, it would be a good show, yes?” Victor laughed and said, “Get up and wave and go give your interviews and support that kid who thinks you’re god.”
“Yes, oh great deity,” Yuuri said.
“Are you always this insolent to your coaches?” Victor grumbled, but with a wide smile.
“I’m pretty sure my coach wouldn’t have it any other way,” Yuuri said.
“He’s always very respectful to me,” Minako said.
“I’m hanging up now,” Victor said. “Oh, but wait, I forgot to say. I’m so proud of you, Yuuri!”
“Even though I didn’t beat your score?” Yuuri asked, with a smile.
“We’ll sit down and score them later, side by side, and see who we think won.”
Minako shook her head. “The things you kids do for fun.”
The call disconnected, and someone asked to interview Yuuri. “Tell me when Minami is about to go out,” Yuuri said to Minako. “It’s important.”
That he finished the short program in first felt somehow inevitable. He managed to get away from the rink and head back to the hotel at 11, after taking some time to talk to Minami and giving a couple dozen short interviews. He spent the next 45 minutes trying to find a stream of the Russian competition, but couldn’t even manage to find one behind a paywall, and Phichit was coming up empty, too.
Yuri texted him at midnight. If ur gonna be up lmk, 45 min to mine, V next.
Please, Yuuri sent back. I’m at the hotel, and won’t sleep until I know how you both did.
be lucky to stay on my feet puberty sux.
Call me, Yuuri sent.
The phone rang a moment later. “Don’t even try to give me a pep talk, Katsudon,” Yuri growled. “What do you want?”
“Your feet are bigger,” Yuuri said. “More chance to land on them. Your hands are bigger. That means you spin faster, not slower. Don’t compensate in the wrong direction. Don’t spend so much time being angry at the wrong thing.”
There was a little clatter, and a small thump in the background. Then another thump, and another. Yuuri waited. Then a rustle, and Yuri’s voice saying, “How did you know?”
“It’s physics,” Yuuri said. “It will take you time to adjust, and everything is going to be changing for a while, but if you have to do it consciously, you might as well do the right thing.”
“If he scores in the 210 range, there is no way I can beat him,” Yuri said.
“Don’t set your goal on beating Victor this time. This is about proving to yourself that you can start to adapt to your body’s changes. You’ve already beaten him once. Focus on the thing that you really need. You will waste everything trying to beat him, rather than trying to do the best your body can do right now. Remember what you want.”
“He said that, too, at the Final.” Yuri was quiet for a moment, and then laughed bitterly. “It’s not like any of these other fools can give me a run for my money, puberty or not. I have 16 points on the next one.”
“Anything can happen, Yura.”
“Oh, if you don’t want Victor to know you’re staying up late to watch, I better hang up.” The phone beeped, and Yuuri stared at it for a moment, and then plugged it in to wait.
The video chat came in from Mila at 12:44. “The things I do for you boys,” she said, laughing, and then turned the phone around. “I think they’re both pining for you, in their own way.”
“I’ll be there soon,” Yuuri said, and then they fell silent as Yuri’s music began to play.
The first jump was wobbly, with a touch, but the second was better, and by the next Yuri was skating with renewed confidence. No upthrust arms, but by the halfway point, the skating was smooth and beautiful, the jumps clean.
Mila murmured, “He fell every jump during the practice skate.”
As the music faded away, Yuri looked over and mouthed, “Arigatō.”
“What did he say?” Mila asked, turning the phone around.
“Spasibo,” Yuuri answered.
“Are you sure you translated that correctly?” she asked.
“He told me thanks,” Yuuri said. “That one I do know.”
“Our Yurachka? Thanking someone?” Mila snorted. “You are some kind of miracle worker.”
“I just told him he was correcting in the wrong way. He thought it was making him slower when it was really making him faster.”
“Whatever you did, if he stops throwing tantrums everywhere, we will all owe you.”
“What’s his score?”
“195.46,” Mila said. “Yakov looks relieved. Victor is at the rail, smiling. Even Yuri looks okay.”
“He beat 300,” Yuuri said. “There aren’t many who can do that, puberty or not.”
“You’re one of them,” Mila said.
“We’ll see tomorrow.”
Mila turned the phone around, and Yuuri watched as Victor skated out to center ice, closed his eyes, and kissed his ring. Yuuri kissed his own, reflexively, and then realized what he was seeing.
Just as the short program costume had been a near inverse of his own, this was an icy white suit with a translucent, iridescent midsection. It made the music less of a surprise.
It was not Yuuri’s exact routine. The music was his, though, and the structure familiar, though the jumps were in a different order.
It began almost hesitantly, as his own version would, but not with the sense of being alone that Yuuri usually brought to his own performance at that point. He was suddenly reminded of the day Victor first took him to the ocean, the day Yuuri had stopped pushing Victor away. The jumps were pure flirtation, starting with a quad Salchow, triple toe loop combo and then soon after, a quad flip. The flip led into an incredibly romantic footwork sequence, and Yuuri itched to be on the ice with Victor, weaving his own footwork in.
Yuuri startled when he realized that Victor had reversed the backloading of the jumps in the second half. The technical difficulty of this could be lower than mine.
That was a heady thought. With Yuri’s issues earlier, Victor wouldn’t need the harder jumps in the second half, but it was surprising to Yuuri to realize that his own program’s scoring potential might be as much as half a dozen points higher.
The rest of the routine unfolded. There were four quads, but the toe loop was last, and Victor looked a little tired to Yuuri’s eye, though he doubted anyone else would know. Their story unfolded, hesitation grown to confidence, insecurity gone, infatuation grown to love.
The last pass of footwork was something more typical of pair dancing, which to the audience might look like secure partnership, but which, to Yuuri, said only, I miss you.
It ended the same, arm outstretched, Victor’s face longing.
Yuuri’s hand came up to his mouth, and he realized his whole face was wet.
Victor was taking his bows as the screen blurred and turned and Yuri’s face appeared. “It would have been wrong for you to miss that,” Yuri said.
“You’re learning. Good. You’ll need it. I will take you to talk to him if you like.”
“Yes, please,” Yuuri said.
“Say pazhalsta,” Yuri said, walking.
Yuuri laughed. “Pazhalsta.”
There was a roar in the background. “Well, he’s done it,” Yuri said. “210 points. Combined, 326.”
Yuuri laughed. “So if I managed 217 points tomorrow, I might actually outscore him.”
“Rub it in, why don’t you?” Yuri muttered.
“Yura, how boring would the world be if you had no mountains to climb at 15?”
“You sound like my grandfather,” Yuri grumbled fondly. “And I’m almost 16.”
“You’re eager to grow up now?” Yuuri asked
Yuri frowned. “Hey, I’m doing you a favor, and this is the thanks I get? Anyway, we’re almost there.” He looked away from the phone and said something in rapid Russian.
A moment later, Victor’s face appeared on the screen. “You’re supposed to be asleep.”
“I couldn’t miss it,” Yuuri said. “Yura offered, Mila helped. You were amazing.”
“Well, it wasn’t up to your standard, but I’m an old man, and I figured it would have to do until I’m in shape again. Ow!” The image jostled.
“Yura stop kicking him, he’s an old man,” Yuuri said.
“I swear to God, when my body settles, I am going to leave both of you in the dust,” Yuri’s face appeared over Victor’s shoulder. “If anyone else got that score, they’d be over the moon.”
“Your records both still stand,” Victor said. “And I decided to use the order of jumps that made the most narrative sense.”
“So it wasn’t to spare yourself the quad flip at the end like Yuuri does?” Yuri asked.
“Well, that was a happy coincidence. I’m going to have to install a pole in the apartment if I’m going to keep up, won’t I, Yuuri?”
“Augh, that is IT. I’m taking my phone back.”
“Victor needs to do interviews anyway,” Yuuri said. “Victor, are you doing Stammi Vicino for your exhibition?”
“The solo, yes,” Victor said. “It fits the narrative.”
Yuuri laughed. “Spokóynoy nóchi.”
“You’re learning, lyubov' moya. Good night.”
The call ended, and Yuuri settled into bed.
Yuuri says "good night" and Victor says, "My love".
sinkorswimming made a moodboard for this!
He didn’t know whether it was stranger that he slept really well, or that he woke up with his calm shattered anyway for no good reason. His brain seemed to be pulling him in three directions at once, and it was downright physically uncomfortable. He tried to scramble inside the the bubble of calm that had wrapped around him the day before, but one part of his mind kept worrying about how others would look at his program after seeing Victor skate something so similar, while the other part of his brain kept yelling that it was ridiculous, he had this, Victor hadn’t even skated his program, and in the gap between them slid the old monsters of past falls and potential failure.
Minako came pounding on his door at 11 am, finally, and he managed to drag himself away from the struggle and into the mundane tasks of a small meal and practice gear and getting to the rink in time to practice. Luckily his group was fourth, and he was last within it, but there would be a vast gap between the end of his practice and his actual skate, and there were cuttlefish of anxiety slapping their suckers on his limbs and every time he pried one off, ten more would slap themselves down.
Minako watched him, and then said, “Look, you said it yourself, yesterday, right? You know what you want to say. You know you can do the moves. You know you are capable of skating this flawlessly, and you know that even if you lose, you get what you want anyway. If you skate this program the way we know you can, you’ll beat your next competitor by 30, 40 points. That’s a lot of room for messing up, but it’s also less pressure than you’ve ever felt. You’ll call Victor this afternoon, you’ll be fine.”
Yuuri breathed slowly, deliberately, and let her words sink in. Let his emotional skin grow slick and cold. Felt the cuttlefish start to let go.
“Don’t take it with you on the ice,” Minako said. He gave her a quick hug, and skated out onto the ice for practice, visualizing a dozen squid-things flopping around on the sidelines, unable to reach him.
He began slowly, measured, building his bubble anew, letting the cut of his skates take him back to the empty nighttime rink.
He smiled, and pushed into a quad toe loop. Perfect.
As he skated, he imagined the cuttlefish dying, one by one on the sidelines, every successful spin or jump sweeping them away.
By the end of the session, his head was clear.
The upside of skating last was that it was worth going back to the hotel room for a nap.
The downside was that he didn’t skate until after 9 pm. Too late to catch the best flights to Victor, but early enough that the wait at the airport might be long enough for the media to find him.
He thought about changing his long program, knew that parts of it would change by themselves, as they always did, but really, it already said what he wanted it to say, and this would simply be his answer back. The math was tantalizing. Victor’s 326 point combined score, minus Yuuri’s short program’s 110 points came in at 216 points. And, well, he’d bested that by 5 points at the GPF, so maybe, just maybe, if he did as well this time, the Japanese judges would be loathe to offer such a slight as to second guess such perfect marks. But anything between 216 and 221 and he’d not only have the gold, but he’d best Victor’s nationals performance overall. The world record didn’t matter so much, not at a national competition.
By the time his group had started that evening, the highest posted combined score was 200 points. He called Victor, and said as much.
“The best six skate last, but the other five, none of them come close, not with their current programs. Next year, though, they might give you a run for your money,” Victor said. “Once you show them what can be done, they will want to do it, too.”
After his warmup and stretching, he handed his phone to Minako as Victor said, “You only need 170 to win.”
“Hush,” Yuuri said. “I have a story to tell.” And with that, he placed a lingering kiss on his own ring, as a wide-eyed Victor did the same.
It was perfect, charmed the way the whole competition had felt charmed, nothing getting in the way of his storytelling. He managed two arms raised, spiraling over his head on his last jump, when he knew the others were all landed and that even a full fall would not lose him the gold, and landed it easily. He laughed himself breathless as he skated around, gathering up an absurd number of flowers that would never go home with him. Who would ship flowers to Russia?
Victor was spinning and gesticulating wildly once he got to Minako. “Yuuri! That you would make your last jump harder still? How are you still standing upright?”
Yuuri grinned. “It was fun.” He slipped on his skate guards, and walked with Minako to Kiss and Cry. Victor was rambling about math and GOE and Yuuri knew more from the roar of the crowd than the blurred numbers swimming in front of him that he’d done something special.
“Read it to me, Minako,” Yuuri said.
“333.67,” she said. “If this were an international competition…”
“223 on your free skate?” Victor’s voice seemed distant. Yuuri heard rushing in his ears as he stood and waved at the crowd, and the crescendo of them waving back.
A voice overhead echoed, telling the audience that the medals ceremony would begin in 15 minutes.
Victor’s voice cut through the hurricane of applause. “Hey, Yuuri. I finally get to kiss your gold.”
And then. Will they forgive me?
It was supremely satisfying to feel the weight of the medal around his neck.
Someone asked him, after the ceremony, during an interview, what his exhibition would be, on Monday.
He smiled apologetically and said. “I cannot.”
And then he left, with no further explanation.
“You understand what I need you to do?” Yuuri said to Minako, as he packed the last of his things into his carry on bag.
She nodded. “They won’t like it, but they’d rather win Worlds with you, I suspect.”
He checked the time on his phone. “I’ve got to be on the train in a few minutes. Thank you, honored teacher. You helped me so much today.”
“You helped me find my calm.”
“Go get your boy,” Minako said. “They may be mad, but they love a good romance.”
“Let’s try to keep it a secret? So Victor can be truly surprised?”
“Take a cab,” she said. “You’ve been doing that to the hotel the whole competition.”
He nodded, and zipped the final compartment. She threw her arms around him in a quick hug, and he started toward the door.
Minami was there. Yuuri smiled, and said, “Good job on fourth! If they ask, say yes. For me.” Then he put a finger over his lips, and kept moving, not waiting to see the confused expression on Minami’s face.
He made it to the airport on time, and the place was quiet enough that no one noticed him in his hoodie. He slept from Tokyo to Dubai, the night stretched dark and long by crossing five time zones and almost 12 hours of travel. The sunrise turned the air and the sand into molten gold as the plane circled and landed.
I have your gold, Victor, Yuuri thought with a smile. His face was on an Arabic newspaper, which he bought and stuffed into his bag, keeping his shoulders hunched and his expression slack the whole time.
From Dubai to St. Petersburg was another six hours. This time, he explained to the stewardess who he was as he got on the plane, and what he was doing, and they bumped him up to first class and agreed to have ground transport waiting for him. They showed him a space in the galley where he could stretch and limber up during a break in service, and he managed to get a message to Yuri to find out the exhibition schedule.
“He’s last, why?” Yuri said, on video chat.
“I need you to get them to swap the solo for the duetto.”
“Where are you?” Yuri asked, his voice cracking.
Yuuri held the phone up, so Yuri could see the cabin of the plane.
“ARE YOU KIDDING ME? You have an exhibition tomorrow! Victor said!”
“I’m touching down at 2…” Yuuri looked at the screen at the front of the cabin. “2:15, they’re making up time. It’s what, half an hour? An hour, tops, to the Ice Palace from the airport. I’m warming up on the plane.”
They talked for a bit, and Yuuri explained his plan.
“And you just want me to make them swap his music?”
“You’ll know if I’m there on time. My bag is with me, nothing checked. I’ll change on the plane.”
“I wonder if this will rattle even the great Victor Nikiforov,” Yuri mused. “He’s going to cry. And he’s going to yell at you.”
“Not on the ice he won’t. Well, he’s not going to yell at me on the ice, anyway. But you’ll do it?”
“You’re just lucky I have diplomatic privileges,” Yuri said.
Yuuri blinked. “I’m pretty sure that’s not how those things work.”
“Never, EVER underestimate me, Katsudon,” snarled Yuri.
Yuuri laughed. “Of course not, Kotenok.”
“Hey, do you want my help, or not?” Yuri’s grin belied the indignation in his voice.
“Of course. This won’t work without your diplomatic prowess,” Yuuri said.
“I might just resort to subterfuge. In the great Russian tradition.”
“Swapping CDs?” Yuuri asked.
“It’s probably easiest. Let Victor give them the wrong music.”
“If there’s time. Just makes sure it’s swapped.”
Yuuri let the pent up energy from the long flight prod him into a run to Customs, and he was amazed at how quickly they passed him through. Once through, he ran again to ground transport, where a tall man, bundled, held a sign with his name in Japanese.
“Spasibo,” he murmured as the man loaded his bag into the car.
At 3:20, he walked through the doors of the Ice Palace, and Mila dragged him down the hall and into the skaters area. “Yura’s got him over by the rink,” she said. “He’ll keep him there until it’s time. You can be back here.”
“I can’t believe I made it,” Yuuri said.
“I can’t believe you skipped your exhibition,” Mila said sternly. But then her expression softened, and she said, “But I’m very glad you’re here. He’s been missing you terribly. And sulking about his birthday.”
“If it hadn’t been his birthday, I probably wouldn’t have skipped the exhibition. Do you have a skate coming up? Congratulations, by the way.”
“Skated already.” A text notification beeped on her phone.”Oh ho… they know you’re gone. Phichit is flipping out. Victor doesn’t have his phone. Yuri hid it so he wouldn’t try to call you. He’s been sulking because no one will loan him one.”
He pulled his phone out and sent off a quick text to Phichit, and checked the news.
Skater Katsuki Yuuri won gold last night with a score that beat his previous world record, and then vanished. His ballet coach was there to accept on his behalf the assignment to three international competitions, and gave his regrets for being unable to perform at the All Japan Medalist on Ice Exhibition tomorrow. She would not say why, or where he’d gone, but in a country completely saturated with fans, phones, and cameras, he seems to have vanished into thin air at his moment of greatest triumph.
Mila looked over his shoulder, and he switched to an English version of the page and handed it to her.
She laughed. “Oh, they’re going to love this.”
Her phone blipped and she glanced at it. “Yuri’s going to do his program now. I’m going down to the rink to keep Victor from swiping a stranger’s phone. Oh, I have an idea.” She dragged Yuuri down a short hallway and pushed him into a supply cabinet, turned on the light, and looked around. She cleared a space and said, “That wall is bare. Keep your back to it when I call. Keep your coat zipped. The minute I disconnect, you head rinkside. You know where it is?”
He nodded. He’d skated here at a couple of competitions as a junior, and at least one as an adult.
He slid his skates on, and worked them tight, a giddy, nervous excitement bubbling in his chest.
He breathed, and waited for the call.
“Yuuri! I’m so sorry, I lost my phone, have you been trying to reach me?”
Yuuri grinned. “Your skate must be any minute.”
“Mila won’t let me keep the phone out this time, I’m so sorry. I will have to show it to you later.”
“I know this routine like I know my own heart,” Yuuri said. “I will see it for myself, as if I was in the room with you.”
“God, I miss you. Two more days.”
“Go, skate, Victor. You know I’m with you, even when I’m not standing in front of you.”
Victor brought his ring up to his lips. “Soon, my love.”
“So soon,” Yuuri said, and kissed his own ring.
As soon as the call disconnected, he was out the door.
He got to the side of the ice before the music started, nearly threw his jacket at Yuri, who pointed him to the darkest corner of the rink. A bright spot was on Victor, and Yuuri knew from experience that it would be blinding. Shaking out his arms, he moved through the deep shadow, and watched.
As the first notes of the duetto began, Victor startled, a tiny shudder through his whole body, but muscle memory carried him past his surprise at the music change, and through the introductory movements.
It’s the same, you know it’s the same. I know you wonder if you handed them the wrong disk, out of wishful thinking, but you know you didn’t. That look of hope on your face, bafflement… awe… I live for that. Your jumps are beautiful, hopeful… I am here.
And feeling the music in his bones, Yuuri skated out to center ice in a rush.
Victor caught him in a half turn, eyes wide and tears sliding down his cheeks, and they were in the places they’d rehearsed without missing a beat. They skated through, each touch, each turn saying everything their voices could not.
At the last, they finally came to a swirling stop together, and after one beat, and another, Yuuri found himself completely enveloped in Victor’s arms.
“I don’t know how you’re here, and I don’t know how much trouble you’re going to be in, but I missed you so much and this might just be the best birthday present anyone has ever given me,” Victor sobbed onto his shoulder.
“I flew,” Yuuri said inanely.
They became aware then of the strange roar of the crowd. Many were on their feet, cheering, others were on their feet, yelling, and Yuuri sighed. “Can we get out of here?”
“Yeah,” Victor said, sliding his fingers down to tangle with Yuuri’s. “I think I’ve surprised them enough for one competition.”
They bowed, and then, hand-in-hand, they skated to the edge of the ice, where Mila, Yakov, and Yuri stood at the front of a crowd of skaters. Yuri handed Victor his skate guards, and Mila gave Yuuri his, and the skaters formed a buffer between them and the crowd.
A news crew couldn’t be avoided right outside the locker room. “Are you not worried about being slapped with a fine for violating the propaganda law?”
“What propaganda?” Victor said, looking genuinely perplexed. “I haven’t seen my fiancé in almost a week. It’s my birthday. He surprised me in the way he knew I would like the best. I missed him. Skating is what we do. It’s how we fell in love. He’s made me better and I’ve made him better, and together we’ve made the sport better.”
Yuri bulled his way in front of them and said, “I’m 15, and watching that didn’t make me think, ‘Oh, it’s great to be gay.’ It made me think, ‘My friends are being gross again and in love.’ I’m happy for them, but their nonsense is the opposite of propaganda. If anything, it makes me want to be celibate until I die of old age. Neither one of them beat my short program record. And until I get my free skate difficulty level up to where I need it to be and beat both of them, I would very much appreciate it if you’d leave my coaching staff alone.”
Yuuri snorted, and Victor gaped.
“Enough,” Yakov said. “Out. Everyone out.”
Yuuri and Victor made their escape into the locker room.