Even in the earliest days of his fixation, Yuuri never actually dreams of being Victor Nikiforov.
They watch him skate the Junior World Championships on the small, boxy television in the changing room of Ice Castle Hasetsu. The picture is distorted, not very good quality, but Yuuri stares with spellbound awe as Victor soars across the screen, glittering and graceful as he skates his way through the competition.
“He’s amazing, isn’t he?” Yuuko exclaims later, her eyes shining as Victor smiles down at the world from atop the podium. She claps her hands together, sighing deeply. “I wish I could be just like him.”
Yuuri can’t think of anything to say, so he just keeps watching. Keeps his eyes fixed on Victor as he waves at the screen; his gracious smile, the gold medal around his neck.
When he drifts off to sleep that night, he replays Victor’s routine over and over in his head as he imagines it: skating on the same ice as Victor. Watching him move, taking it in. Skating with him, their bodies moving together in aching harmony.
He imagines what it would feel like to have Victor watch him in return. For Victor, famous and talented and beautiful, so beautiful, to look at Yuuri and know all the very best parts of him; what it would be like if Victor could look at him and know him – not how he is, but how he should be.
As someone worthwhile. Someone special.
Yuuri sleeps, and dreams of bright blue eyes watching him as he glides over the endless ice.
He buys his first Victor poster when he’s thirteen years old, orders it special from one of the skating magazines they keep at the Ice Castle. It arrives in the mail six weeks later, a large brown parcel that barely weighs anything when his mother hands it to him after school.
“You can open it, Yuuri,” his mother says, laughing a little. He stares reverently down at the package in his hands, his father watching fondly from the corner. “It’s all right.”
It’s a quiet day at the onsen; there are a few women smiling and talking over cups of tea, one older gentleman in the corner. Yuuri glances around anyways, hesitating. He can’t explain why he doesn’t want to open it with other people watching. It feels too private, too special.
His mother seems to understand anyways.
“Go on, then,” Hiroko smiles, and he nods hastily in gratitude as he scrambles out the door, the package cradled carefully against his chest as he goes.
Yuuri slides the door closed once he’s safely inside his room, plunks down onto the floor and begins to carefully ease the package open. He pulls the long white tube out with trembling fingers, pulling the lid off with a quiet pop! before he slides the poster out and slowly, slowly rolls it open.
“Victor,” Yuuri breathes, exhales the word softly and reverently as he stares.
Victor Nikiforov stares back at him from the poster’s glossy surface. He’s wearing the costume he wore to the Junior World Championships – the one that looks like the night sky – and his long silver ponytail is trailing behind him. His expression is somehow eager and serene all at once as he skates on one foot across the ice, both of his arms outstretched and one leg extended behind him.
A spiral, Yuuri thinks, feeling vaguely proud – as though, by knowing the name of the technique, it means that he and Victor have something in common.
He puts it on the wall across from the foot of his bed, stares at it for long minutes before he turns off the lights. Knows with a thrill he can’t put into words that Victor is watching over him as he sleeps.
It’s the first poster of Victor that Yuuri buys, but not the last.
Yuuri’s room fills up with them over the years; Victor skating, Victor smiling, Victor with his face pressed into his poodle’s fur. It’s one of his only extravagances, other than skating: collecting pictures of Victor to hang on his wall, surrounding himself with perfect moments of Victor frozen in time like a silent embrace.
When he’s fourteen years old, Yuuri touches himself for the first time beneath Victor’s unseeing gaze. One arm thrown over his eyes and choking back his own gasps, hand moving slow and stilted beneath the sheets as he thinks about long silvery hair and that bright, familiar smile.
By the time he’s sixteen, Yuuri has so many posters that he has to start changing them out; has to alternate and rearrange and adjust them over time as he adds more and more to his collection.
Victor watches over him as he nurses his bruised feet and stretches his aching muscles, as he works his way up painstakingly through local competitions — is there to celebrate with him on the day he finally qualifies for his first national competition, watches over him kindly as he sobs with relief when he manages to just barely eke out a gold medal in the Junior World Championships.
On the hardest days, when his nerves are too much and he feels so weak and useless he can barely drag himself to practice in the morning, Yuuri will close his eyes and imagine Victor’s voice in his ear.
You’re so good, Yuuri.
I’m so proud of you.
I can’t wait to meet you.
Victor is there for Yuuri to stare at in disbelief on the day Minako calls him, her voice shaking with pride and excitement, and tells him that Celestino Cialdini has agreed to take him on.
When he moves to Detroit, the very first poster is the only one that Yuuri takes with him. He rolls it up carefully and slides it back into the original tube it arrived in, nestles it into his luggage amidst a pile of neatly rolled-up socks as Vicchan nips at his feet and begs for attention.
He never takes it out or hangs it up while he’s there. It seems too much, like putting a piece of his heart on display to be picked-apart by anyone who looks at it. Even when he moves in with Phichit a year later, the poster remains innocuous and unopened on his bedroom shelf.
It helps having Victor there, anyways — like the silent gaze of a friend always watching over him.
Yuuri doesn’t date while he’s in America.
He tells his parents he doesn’t have time when they inevitably ask about it during their bi-weekly calls, politely changes the conversation to how practice is going or his most recent class assignment whenever they bring it up. He talks with them about practically everything else with relative ease, the language barrier keeping the conversation private as Phichit types away on his laptop or reads or scrolls through Instagram on his phone from the other side of their room.
It’s not that he’s not interested, exactly. Yuuri might expend most of his energy on the ice, striving and sweating and struggling to be better, but he still has urges. He still takes advantage of the times when Phichit isn’t there to slide his sleep pants down over his hips and take himself in hand, stroking himself to fullness with the stifled eagerness of someone who doesn’t get to do this very often. To linger over the half-formed thoughts and impressions at the edges of his mind; the ones he doesn’t look at directly, most days.
Yuuri always skates a little looser, a little more relaxed after he does it, as though he’s giving himself a reprieve from the wound-up tension that lives in the pit of his stomach. It’s a bit like stretching a sore muscle, like eating something healthy: not usually a primal need so much as a good thing to do for his physical and mental well-being, another part of himself that needs tending to if he wants to be his best.
“Yuuri,” Phichit says, groaning in overstated exasperation as the two of them leave the rink, beginning the walk home from a long evening practice. Phichit’s arm is linked loosely through his, as though the two of them are a pair of schoolgirls walking home together.
It had taken a while for Yuuri to get used to this particular one of Phichit’s habits; he’s not a very tactile person, can still be a little overwhelmed by how physically affectionate everyone seems to be in America. He’s used to it by now, though; just another quirk of Phichit’s personality for Yuuri to get his head around. Like his tendency to bookmark all the cutest animal gifs he comes across throughout the day to show Yuuri before he goes to sleep, or the way he always borrows Yuuri’s chapstick without asking.
“Mm?” Yuuri asks, gives him a tired smile. Celestino has been working both of them hard lately; the competitive season is coming up fast, and there’s a chance Yuuri might qualify for the Grand Prix Final if he puts in his best effort.
The two of them pass under a streetlamp, the yellow glow of the light briefly illuminating Phichit’s dubious expression.
“That girl at the rink was flirting with you,” Phichit explains, raising his dark eyebrows in exasperated affection. He cocks his head to one side. “Couldn’t you tell?”
“Oh,” Yuuri replies. He looks down at the sidewalk.
There’s a pause.
“You know, it’s none of my business,” Phichit begins, in the way he does when he’s about to make something his business. “But… Yuuri, do you like girls? Boys? You never seem to respond, even when people are interested in you.”
He can feel himself tensing up even though he tries not to, carefully avoiding Phichit’s gaze. For a second, his mind flashes to Yuuko; the way he used to admire her when they were children, how kind she always was while they were in school. Almost seamlessly, though, it flickers over to someone else: to long silvery hair and graceful limbs and bright, icy blue eyes.
Yuuri shifts uncomfortably at the thought, tries to subtly disentangle his arm in a way that won’t offend his friend. Phichit lets him go without issue, still regarding him quizzically.
“People aren’t interested in me,” Yuuri murmurs, his response automatic. He can feel familiar heat rising in his cheeks
Next to him, Phichit snorts with so much contention that Yuuri shoots him a reproachful look.
“Sorry, sorry,” says Phichit. “But… Yuuri, you know that’s not true, right? Remember Matthieu?”
Eyes still trained on the ground, Yuuri shakes his head stiffly – as though to shake away the memory. One of Celestino’s former students, Matthieu had spent a few months training with them at the beginning of the year. He’d been… uncomfortable to be around; always touching Yuuri when he least wanted to be touched, his hands forever wandering to linger along Yuuri’s arm, the small of his back.
Yuuri had never said anything about it, but he’d been more than a little relieved when Matthieu decided to return home to Paris after the holidays; when Yuuri had finally been able to settle back into the comfortable distance that exists between himself and his own body.
“Not like that,” Yuuri says quietly, and it takes him a second to realize that Phichit has physically stopped in place a few feet back. Yuuri turns back to look at him, confused.
“I’m sorry,” says Phichit, sounding genuinely apologetic this time. His sweet face is twisted into a pained expression. “I upset you.”
“What? No no no no no!” Yuuri says in a rush, raising both hands palm out and shaking his head emphatically. He gestures at Phichit to start walking with him again, his friend reluctantly complying. “It’s fine, Phichit! I don’t mind. It’s just…”
Yuuri hesitates on his next words, swallowing them down and taking a long moment to consider. His English has been improving ever since coming to Detroit, but he’s still painfully aware of his own inadequacies when it comes to his second language. He still worries about unknown implications in the words he chooses, would often prefer to remain silent rather than give the wrong impression.
“It just hasn’t come up very much,” Yuuri says eventually, uncomfortable aware of the sound of the words in his own mouth as his speaks them.
That’s… not quite right, he thinks, but it’s as close as he’s going to get for now. He smiles a little weakly over at Phichit, who regards him silently for a long moment.
Then, all at once, a bright smile washes over Phichit’s face.
“You’ve just got very high standards!” Phichit declares with tremendous confidence and enthusiasm, turning to focus on the sidewalk ahead of them as though this is an entirely normal conversation. “That’s a good thing, Yuuri. You’re too good for most people, so it’s only fair that most people aren’t good enough for you.”
“Phichit,” Yuuri hisses, feeling his face start to heat up again. Phichit throws back his head, laughing brightly.
“You’re so easy to embarrass!” says Phichit, giggling a little as Yuuri flails ineffectively next to him. He tucks his hands into the front pocket of his jacket, and Yuuri is silently grateful; he doesn’t particularly feel like linking arms again right at the moment.
“So what do you think of Victor’s latest Instagram post?” Phichit asks, changing the topic.
It never comes up again.
Yuuri has never understood the intrinsic allure that so many people attach to nakedness.
Maybe it’s an attitude he’s developed out of necessity. Growing up at an onsen has meant that, somewhat unavoidably, Yuuri has spent his life surrounded by impersonal, uncaring nudity. Sagging skin and knobbly knees, rounded stomachs and private parts – Yuuri’s seen it all. In general, the sight of other people naked doesn’t do much to excite him by itself: bare skin is a fact of life, the simple reality of what everyone looks like beneath their clothes.
Seeing Victor Nikiforov in the hot spring, standing tall and proud and utterly exposed in front of him, isn’t mortifying because of his nudity, exactly. It’s mortifying because this isn’t a part of Victor he’s meant to see; because he’s just arrived on Yuuri’s doorstep because of a stupid private routine that was never meant to go public, has come halfway around the world for – for –
“Yuuri!” Victor declares, a confidently brilliant smile on his face. “Starting today, I’ll be your coach. I’ll make you win the Grand Prix Final.”
Yuuri chokes, eyes widening as he realizes that he’s already gaped too long without meaning to. He averts his gaze sharply, face burning as he stares down at the ground, but it’s too late: the image is already burned into the back of his eyelids, seared onto his brain.
Victor Nikiforov is standing in his family onsen, the steam doing nothing to obscure him. The sight of is him surreal, his body strangely impersonal in its perfection; the obvious strength in his muscles, the water sliding down his smooth skin. And between his legs, not even hidden by a towel, is—
“Are you happy to see me, Yuuri?” he hears Victor ask, and it’s almost as though there’s a challenge in his voice beneath the lighthearted tone, and Victor’s here, and he can’t – he doesn’t –
“I’m sorry,” Yuuri replies numbly, his hands sliding up to cover his face as he stares down at the ground, crippling anxiety churning at his insides. “Welcome to – I mean –”
He spins on his heel, shouts something unintelligible over his shoulder, and stumbles blindly back inside.
Later, once some of the shock has worn off, Yuuri stands in his room and stares in numb incomprehension at the panoply of Victor posters on his walls. He’s dimly aware that keeping them up is a dangerous game to play at this point; that, now that the object of his adolescent admiration is staying just a few doors down the hallway, chances are his collection will be discovered in the most humiliating way possible unless he takes the proper measures.
It’s difficult to convince himself to do it, though, when — in his heart of hearts — Yuuri still can’t bring himself to believe that Victor is actually here in the first place.
He stares at the posters for a few long minutes; carefully staged photos of Victor posing in his skating costumes, iconic moments from his most well-known routines. It feels as though his heart is stuck in his throat as something small and bright and tentative starts to take root within his chest; as the full weight of it begins to sink in.
The realization that somehow, Victor — blunt and dramatic and absurd Victor, who by all rights should be in the process of gearing up for yet another wildly successful competitive season — looked across the world and saw him despite his failures. Beneath the botched jumps of his last Grand Prix Final, beyond the layer of fat that still clings to his cheeks and belly.
Victor looked, and saw something in Yuuri worth encouraging — something worth sacrificing for.
Yuuri stares, and stares, and tries to reconcile the familiar, glossy images with the reality of the man just down the hallway.
In person, Victor is different than Yuuri has always imagined him.
It’s subtle things, mostly; small, almost imperceptible differences between this Victor – warm and alive and so close Yuuri could reach out and touch him – and the Victor Nikiforov that has existed inside Yuuri’s head for so many years.
The broad strokes are mostly the same. Victor has always presented himself to the world as vivacious, beautiful, talented; has always had a flair for the dramatic that’s served him well in competitions and press conferences, that has kept the public interested in him over so many competitive seasons.
That tendency towards the dramatic feels different, though, when the person in question is flailing in overblown horror at a centipede in the corner of the room, or enthusing at Yuuri to translate for his mother how dinner is completely delicious, Hiroko; amazing! with his cheeks stuffed full of karaage.
Victor is blunter than Yuuri ever expected, with all the subtlety of a hammer to the face whether he’s dealing out compliments or criticism. He’s shameless in both his enthusiasm and his excesses, throws himself wholeheartedly into whatever he does. Whether it’s coaching Yuuri or mangling new Japanese phrases or exploring the town, Victor just goes for things in a way that makes Yuuri want to die of secondhand embarrassment one minute and watch in admiration the next.
Yuuri thinks that maybe he should be more fascinated by watching Victor skate in person every day than he is by watching the other man painstakingly floss his teeth at night.
He isn’t, though; he holds them both equally close to his heart instead, quietly treasuring every little part of Victor that belongs to Yuuri, now, and no one else.
All of the little moments that are singularly theirs.
This is dangerous, Yuuri finds himself thinking one night, idly watching as Victor starts to fall asleep at one of the tables in the onsen front room, his head pillowed in his own arms. Makkachin is cuddled up beneath the table, his curly brown head resting on Victor’s feet. Victor’s chest rises and falls slowly, his green robe falling slightly open in the front as he settles and shifts.
He makes it difficult to remember that Victor’s presence in Yuuri’s life is something fleeting rather than permanent; something to savour while it lasts, not depend on for the future.
It doesn’t help that Victor keeps touching him.
He starts doing it almost as soon as he arrives, no hesitation or reticence in the way he reaches out freely into Yuuri’s space. Victor touches the small of his back to guide him back to Yutopia after a particularly grueling stair run leaves Yuuri gasping for breath as his lungs burn in his chest, places his hands confidently on Yuuri’s arms and legs to guide him into near-painful stretches and positions.
The touches aren’t just restricted to his coaching, either. Yuuri finds himself on high alert almost constantly at first, waiting for the touch of Victor’s with barely-restrained nerves twisting in the pit of his stomach. He tenses imperceptibly whenever Victor steps in close and adjusts Yuuri’s glasses, or reaches out unthinkingly to wipe a bit of broth from Yuuri’s chin when they’re eating soba with his family.
There’s no respite from it, no real end to his formal coaching hours so that Yuuri can have a chance to pull himself together.
Instead, Victor is always there: eating with him and asking him questions and bathing with him in the hot springs, brushing stray eyelashes off of Yuuri’s cheek and massaging the back of his neck once training is done for the day. The glowing idol from his childhood suddenly everywhere at once, his hands on Yuuri’s skin as though they’ve always belonged there.
It’s as though Yuuri has missed some kind of fundamental step between them, as though Victor has simply skipped over the part of their relationship where they figure out boundaries.
It’s just that he’s a foreigner, Yuuri tells himself on the day Victor finally allows him back onto the ice, acutely aware of Yuri Plisetsky and Yuuko’s eyes on him from the side of the rink as Victor moves in close to him. He flushes when Victor reaches out and takes his chin in his hand, breath coming shakily when Victor rubs his thumb over his bottom lip. They’re different about intimacy. It doesn’t mean anything.
No matter how many times he tells himself that, he still has trouble remembering.
It’s strange, too, because the touch of Victor’s hands against his skin feels subtly and uncomfortably different from when other people have done the same. There have been people in his life who have pressed into his space without his permission, whose hands were never anything but unwelcome on skin.
Yuuri is tense and flustered beneath Victor’s hands, but his touch has never been accompanied by that same visceral sense of invasiveness that has always been so deeply interwoven with physical contact in his mind.
He wonders whether years of watching him from a distance has made something of Victor lodge itself irrevocably beneath Yuuri’s skin. Maybe that’s what makes Victor’s touch feel so familiar even though he’s barely more than a stranger; why Yuuri has to jerk away in order to stop himself from leaning into the brush of his fingertips, the warm press of his palms.
During the lead-up to the Hot Springs on Ice event, Yuuri rises from his bed one night to get a glass of water and ends up nearly running right into Victor in the darkened hallway. He snatches himself back just in time, suddenly wide awake as he pulls himself sharply out of the other person’s space. He realizes it’s Victor even before his eyes have a chance to adjust to the dim moonlight coming in the hallway window; from his height or his smell or the way that Yuuri can feel Victor’s eyes on him even now.
“Sorry,” Yuuri exclaims softly, steadying himself on his feet. He looks up at Victor, blinking as the other man’s face slowly begins to become more visible. “It’s… dark.”
“Yuuri,” Victor replies softly, his voice barely audible, and it’s mortifying that the sound of his name on Victor’s tongue is enough to make heat rise in his cheeks.
He swallows, abruptly reconsidering just how badly he wants that water. He starts to turn on his heel, to move back towards his bedroom — but is stopped in his tracks when Victor reaches out through the darkness and places a hand on Yuuri’s shoulder.
The gentle touch stops him just as surely as if he’d been frozen in place. Yuuri sucks in a breath, incredibly aware of the warmth of Victor’s hand through his clothes. The silence hangs heavily between them for a long moment, the hallway so dark that Yuuri can’t quite make out the expression on Victor’s face.
“Yuuri,” Victor tries again, as though he’s trying to convey something in the way he says it. His gaze is heated, so intense that Yuuri can feel his eyes like a physical touch. His thumb slips under the fabric of Yuuri’s shirt for a moment, dragging over his skin in a brief caress. “I wanted to –”
It hits Yuuri then like it never has before; heat pooling in the pit of his stomach so forcefully it makes him want to squirm beneath Victor’s touch, an urgency surging under his skin. Yuuri’s breath catches violently in his throat, mouth falling slightly open as it finally dawns on him why, exactly, Victor’s touch is so different from everyone else’s.
It’s because Yuuri wants Victor to touch him; wants that casual intimacy to mean so much more than it does. In that moment, he wants Victor to step into his space, to crowd him up against the hallway wall and take; to find satisfaction in whatever Yuuri has to offer him.
He can feel himself getting hard beneath his sleep pants, his face burning and his skin electric beneath Victor’s touch, and it’s too much, too much, too much –
“I’m sorry,” Yuuri whispers abruptly, throat suddenly dry. He pulls himself back, stepping out of Victor’s reach. The absence of contact when his hand falls away is physically painful . “I have to —”
Yuuri thinks he might catch an expression of disappointment on Victor’s face as he turns to leave but he can’t be sure, is too focused on making his way back to his room as quickly and quietly as possible. He slides the door shut when he gets there, scrambles back into bed and pulls the sheets right up to his chin as though to protect against the outside world.
His heart pounds in his ears as he lies there in the dark, his breathing too loud on the quiet night air. The hardness between his legs is impossible to ignore, yearning and unsatisfied as his hands flex in his sheets, as he shifts and squirms helplessly beneath the covers.
It takes a long time to fall into an uneasy sleep after that, the unfamiliar spark of primal arousal still burning bright in the pit of his stomach by the time he finally drifts off.
Trying on the Eros costume makes something fundamental slot into place inside his head, disparate pieces finally coming together.
It’s the costume Victor wore to the Junior World Championships when he was sixteen years old, the one that he and Yuuko and Nishigori first watched all those years ago in the back room of the Ice Castle. It’s the same one that Victor was wearing in the very first poster of him that Yuuri bought all those years ago, his good luck charm during his time in America.
It looks like the night sky spilling over his hands. Yuuri holds it reverently, remembering the way Victor’s long, silvery ponytail streamed behind him when he wore this; when he won gold with the highest score in the competition’s history.
Yuuri tucks himself away in his bedroom, locks the door, and tries it on for the very first time.
When he drags the final zipper all the way up, he turns to look at himself in the mirror – and finds himself staring at what he sees.
Even though he’d known that the size was ostensibly correct for him, Yuuri had been half-expecting it to fit at least somewhat poorly. Victor had worn it when he was sixteen, willowy-limbed and slender, and at the very least Yuuri had anticipated a few unseemly lumps beneath the fabric.
It fits like a glove instead, clings to his body seductively as its sequins gleam in the low lamplight.
He raises his chin, turns around so that he can see himself from every direction. He licks his lips, eyes following the costume as he moves; the way the sewn-in shards of crystal catch the light, the way the half-skirt flutters as he shifts in place.
This costume has touched Victor just like it’s touching Yuuri now; holding him, fondling him, a whisper of fabric against his skin. Wearing it feels like being wrapped up in Victor, contained by him, encompassed by him — as though he is enfolded in everything Victor was, everything he is .
Everything he wants Yuuri to be.
Intellectually, Yuuri knows that it doesn’t mean anything; that Yuri Plisetsky will be competing dressed in Victor’s old clothes just as much as he is. That wearing one of Victor’s old costumes is a matter of convenience rather than a statement of something profound.
It feels like being claimed by him anyways.
Look at you, the costume seems to say, Victor seems to say inside his head when he wears it. He tilts his head to one side as he takes himself in. Yuuri’s face looks flushed, heated; he drags his eyes over his own reflection, exhaling deeply. Just look at you. So beautiful, so untouchable.
He only takes it off when he hears his father calling him to dinner, startling sharply. He struggles out of it quickly before folding it with painstaking care, setting it down onto his bed right above where his hidden posters of Victor should be.
Yuuri tries and fails to not stare at Victor for the rest of the evening, as he lingers over the idea of the costume in the back of his head. Of what it would be like to wear it to a proper competition with Victor as his coach: his eyes fixed on Yuuri as he dances across the ice, the brush of the glittering fabric against his skin an indirect kiss twelve years in the making.