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Winning Hearts

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Victor Nikiforov, gold medalist in his first Grand Prix Final in the senior division (and soon-to-be gold medalist in his second, he’s confident), is bored.

His rinkmate, Georgi, is still in Juniors, and his first event is being held in the United States. So their coach, Yakov, decided that, since there’s not a lot of time between it and Skate America, where Victor has been assigned, the best thing to do is to have them stay together in America for a little longer than usual and just watch each other’s events.

He and Yakov, have already checked into the hotel the competitors are staying at. Unfortunately, Georgi is having trouble checking in, prompting Yakov to come to his aid.

“Vitya,” Yakov speaks gruffly. “I can trust you not to get into trouble on your own, can’t I?”

“Of course!” Victor says cheerfully. “I’m much older and wiser than last year.”

At his first competition last year, Victor had sneaked away from his coach to have lunch with the other competitors, convinced them to get wine… a lot of wine… and, well, Yakov hadn’t appreciated having to deal with a drunk 16 year old for the rest of the day.

Yakov fixes him with a commanding stare before going off to help Georgi.

And so, with nobody to talk to, Victor is bored.

“I guess I’ll go skate a little to pass the time,” he decides, completely ignoring the fact that Yakov probably would prefer that he stay in his room.

He ties his long hair back into a ponytail and grabbed his skates. He fully expects to be the only one at the rink. Even though the hotel is booked full with skaters, he knows that most had not yet arrived, and, furthermore, they would take a while to settle in, even if they felt like practicing.

So when Victor arrives only to see somebody else already on the ice, he’s surprised. Surprised enough to keep quiet and just watch.

The boy looks to be younger than Georgi, so Victor assumes he must be competing in the Junior Grand Prix Final. He’s practicing triple toe loops, but he can rarely land them, and even when he does, his form is all wrong.

’If he gets any stiffer he’s going to snap in two.’

Finally, the boy stops the toe loops and moves into a new routine, and it’s incredible how his entire demeanor shifts, as if some weight had been lifted off of his shoulders.

And even without music, Victor recognizes it. It’s his own short program from two years ago, the last he had done before moving into the senior division. The quad he had in the original gets reduced to a triple, and the original triple axel gets reduced to a double, but other than that…

’He can move. He could win if he skates like this.’

Though the only sound came from the scraping of blades on ice, Victor can practically feel the music reaching him. It emanates from the boy’s every movement.

As the boy finishes Victor’s program, he adds one more jump, the triple toe loop that he had been practicing before. With his body more relaxed, it comes out much better, but…

“You need to shift your center of gravity a bit!” Victor, who had gravitated to the side of the rink, calls out.

The boy looks up, takes one glance at Victor, shrieks, and falls forward.

“Oh, my,” Victor says, quickly entering the rink to help him up. The thought of what Yakov would say if he accidentally hurt someone before the competition is enough to send a shudder through him.

“V-V-Victor Nikiforov! D-Do you need the ice? I’m so sorry! I’ll leave right now! I- I just, I…”

“No need to stop on my account,” Victor says cheerfully, patting the boy’s shoulder gently after pulling him to his feet. “You almost had the hang of that toe loop. Here, watch me and I’ll show you why you’re doing it wrong.”

The boy is, well, as frozen as the ice he was standing on. Victor frowns.

“No, don’t tense up again. Just look at what I do.”

He skates a couple of loose circles around the center of the ice before launching himself into a triple toe loop. He lands smoothly and glides back towards the boy.

“See? Do it like that,” he says..

“I-I can’t…” the boy whispers miserably.

“What do you mean you can’t? You almost did before!” Victor protests.

“Not… I didn’t know you were there… I…”

Victor crosses his arms in frustration.

“You can’t do it if I’m watching you?”

When the boy nods, he continues.

“So are you planning to fall on your face tomorrow, too?”

“N-No!” The boy looks up in alarm.

“You know I’m going to be there, don’t you? I’m just trying to help you out. You already know how to copy me, yes?” Victor says, smiling encouragingly.

The boy covers his face, which has become entirely red, with his hands.

“You saw that…” he moans.

The boy looks ready to explode. This isn’t good…

“I saw it and I loved it!” Victor exclaims. “And I can’t wait to see what your short program is. I’m guessing you have a triple toe loop? What else?” he says coaxingly.

It seems to work, because the boy lowers his hands from his face.

“Uh… the triple toe loop… a double axel… a… a double lutz…”

Victor nods encouragingly.

“and… a sit spin.”

Well, it wasn’t too bad, but it’s not what Victor would have told him to do.

“Is this your first Grand Prix?” he asks the boy.

“Yes. Uh, I’m 13.”

Good, he’d have time to improve.

“Okay, ah… What’s your name?” Victor asks.

“Y-Yuuri Katsuki!” the boy says, finally looking him in the eye.

“Okay, Yuuri, I really want to see you make it to the Final, so here’s some advice. Your step sequences are good, but you’re not going to be able to jump if you’re too stiff. You need to relax, first, and then focus on keeping your balance. You can do that, right?”

“Y-Yes.”

“Good! Show me!” Victor says excitedly.

“Okay…” Yuuri looks at him shyly, clearly trying to say something else. Victor waits for him.

“But first, can… can you… can you show me the jump again? Please…” he asks, fidgeting nervously with his hands.

Victor smiles broadly.

“Absolutely!”

They spend about an hour together practicing moves. Yuuri refuses to do any jumps on his own, but he’s willing to copy Victor’s jumps if prompted to. Victor is surprised at the feeling of pride that flows through him whenever Yuuri finally nails his triple toe loop.

’Is this what being a mentor feels like?’ he wonders. Then, he smirks. ’Take that, Yakov! I’m totally a good role model.’

Their practice comes to an end when Yuuri’s phone rings and he has to rush off the ice to answer it. He speaks in what Victor thinks he recognizes as Japanese. As soon as he hangs up, he starts cramming all of his things into his bag.

“Ah, sorry, Victor. I have to go meet my coach,” he explains without looking up. “I… I had a good time skating with you, uh… “

Victor exits the ice as well, though he takes his time pulling off his skates.

“I had a good time skating with you, too, Yuuri! Good luck with your short program tomorrow!” he says, waving as Yuuri runs out the door.

He’s a bit disappointed to watch Yuuri go, but it’s probably about time for him to show his face around Yakov, anyway, lest his coach think he got into trouble on the first day... again.

“Hmm, but I wonder if Yuuri can beat Georgi? I’d better not mention that I’m rooting for another competitor,” he says to himself.

But hey, there are three medals, so it’s not so bad if he hopes Yuuri gets one, is it?