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Twenty-Five Hours

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0 hours and 50 minutes until take-off

Yuuri slid a bookmark between the pages of his book and gently closed it. Almost five minutes until boarding. He stretched and rolled his shoulders against the wall, pushing fern leaves out of his face. All the seats had been taken by the time he arrived at the gate and he’d tucked himself down on the floor instead. It was a quiet spot, hidden between a pillar and a pot plant, and he’d spent the past twenty minutes sitting there on the tiles charging his phone.

He heard the quick footsteps before he saw the person. Nice looking sneakers shoved into view in front of him as someone ran directly into his spot. Grabbing his phone, Yuuri yanked his knees to his chest and glanced up.

Victor Nikiforov was stripping in front of him.

His hoodie. Scarf. Victor. Victor was ripping clothes off. Yuuri’s book fell from his limp fingers to the floor.

‘Fans are following me and I’m hiding.’ Victor shoved in close against the wall, breathing heavily and down to his t-shirt.

‘Um-’

‘It’s not that I’m ungrateful but my flight is boarding in five minutes and I’m tired,’ Victor said all in one breathless whisper.

Yuri stared.

Footsteps clattered down the hall behind the potted fern and a group of teenagers charged past in a sudden burst of noise. Hands braced against the wall, Victor held his gaze and Yuuri was pinned in place by blue eyes. They stared silently at each other as the herd thundered by and echoed down the walkway. It was almost an afterthought to realise he was holding his breath. Finally, Victor blinked and looked away. He glanced over his shoulder and carefully leaned away from the wall, craning his neck to look down the walkway. Yuuri watched mesmerised as Victor’s collarbone jutted out, a sharp line beneath pale skin.

‘Well,’ Victor’s voice lifted as he turned back to Yuuri, ‘that was exciting. My apologies for dumping those clothes on you, I thought it would make me less noticeable.’

Yuuri wordlessly held up his clothes, receiving another grin in return. Victor’s smile was ever so slightly lopsided, how had he never noticed that in the pictures? Their hands brushed as he took back his clothes and Yuuri tried to stop staring at his face.

 

0 hours and 35 minutes until take-off

Someone probably announced the boarding call, someone probably checked his pass, his passport was probably scanned, but in a daze, Yuuri wandered down the aerobridge with no real memory of how he’d got there.

It was obvious that Victor had no idea who he was, for which Yuuri was both eternally grateful and slightly depressed. He was glad Victor did not immediately recognise him as the skater who failed so spectacularly at the GPF, however it was disheartening that he had made so little impression even despite failing spectacularly. Was he really that plain and boring? No, Yuuri decided, he was going to spend the next half an hour feeling depressed rather than grateful.

The plane was half full when the attendant waved Yuuri down the right side aisle and it took a few minutes of weaving and waiting to reach his seat. The plane was a big airbus, one of the ones with two aisles and a set of four seats in the centre row. He’d tried to book a seat on the centre aisle but the system had allocated him the next one along, stating that 54D was unavailable. When he’d then tried to take 54G that too was unavailable. At that point he simply took the middle seat at risk of being allocated somewhere worse and resolved to be more organised next time.

Sat in his 54E seat, it was with a distant sort of horror that Yuuri watched Victor approach down the aisle. Twice in one day. He hurriedly looked down at his bag and leaned forward in the seat, waiting for Victor to pass. Was seeing him at the airport not bad enough? Why did they have to be on the same flight? He should have realised when Victor said he was boarding in five minutes. Yuuri groaned into his hands. What would he have done anyway? Changed flight? Victor didn’t recognise him so what did it matter? Still, Yuuri kept his face down and tried not to feel completely inadequate.

‘Hello again,’ a familiar accented voice said cheerfully.

Yuuri died on the inside.

‘Who is this?’ Another voice asked with a definite note of annoyance.

‘Someone you’ve just offended probably,’ Victor said calmly as he shoved his bag into the overhead locker. He bent down and flashed Yuuri a smile. ‘Sorry, ignore him. He is young and unpleasant.’

‘Hey.’ Young and Unpleasant thumped into the seat beside Yuuri and stared at him. ‘This armrest?’ He tapped the one between their seats. ‘This one is mine, so don’t even think about touching it.’

‘Ah, Yuri, so charming. Try not to flirt so obviously with the nice man.’ Victor slid gracefully into his seat and flashed Yuri a wink.

The teenager turned bright red and shoved himself halfway across Yuuri’s space, hissing a response. ‘I wasn’t fucking flirting with him you-’ he spat out rapid-fire Russian. Yuuri cringed back into the headrest. Victor shot back in Russian, cool and unruffled as he untangled his headset. Fervently wishing he was elsewhere, Yuuri stared straight ahead and attempted to mould with the seat as the two argued at an increasingly rapid pace across him. This was going to be a fantastic 15 hours. Yuri wrenched off his seatbelt and-

‘Yakov.’ A large hand suddenly appeared in front of Yuuri, palm offered. Yuri was silent and pinned to the seat with Yakov’s other hand spread firmly over his face.

Yuuri tentatively shook Yakov’s outstretched hand. ‘Yuuri.’

Unpleasant Yuri made an indignant noise into Yakov’s hand. Victor threw his head back and laughed. Even Yakov’s face cracked into something that could be briefly termed a smile.

‘So, my saviour speaks.’ Bright blue eyes stared into Yuuri’s, crinkled at the edge with amusement. ‘I’m Victor.’

My entire bedroom is covered in pictures of your face.

‘Nice to meet you, Victor,’ Yuuri said politely and slipped his hand into Victor’s. He was touching Victor Nikiforov. Touching him. His hand was warm and soft, grip firm. Yuuri could feel the individual press of every one of Victor’s fingers against the back of his hand. His internal scream was close to becoming external and he forced his expression to remain blank.

Victor withdrew his hand with a friendly smile and Yuuri congratulated himself on having handled that with minimal overt creepiness. He’d just never be able to wash his hand ever again now. Yuuri sank back into his seat and stared fixedly at the blank screen ahead. It was also possible he wouldn’t be able to use the bathroom for the entire flight as that would involve either climbing over the aggressive Russian teenager and the stoic man or shuffling his backside past Victor’s face and all things considered he’d rather just let his bladder burst.

‘I think perhaps I didn’t make a good impression earlier?’

Surprised, Yuuri turned without thinking to face Victor. Who was leaning against the armrest. Putting his face approximately three inches from Victor’s. How was he supposed to do this? An entire flight next to Victor, who was openly regarding him with a faint smile and the most perfect blue eyes?

‘You surprised me,’ Yuuri said awkwardly.

‘Ah,’ Victor looked down and toyed with the edge of the armrest, ‘well, if that was all it was-’ he glanced up at Yuuri, still with that smile.

Yuuri didn’t know how to respond to that or even what response Victor was looking for. Confused, he looked away. ‘Do you want to change seats?’

‘Nope,’ Victor said cheerfully, ‘this seat is perfect.’

 

0 hours and 0 minutes

The plane taxied slowly out across the runways. Victor already had his headphones in and was slumped comfortably back in the seat. Yuri was rapidly switching between the outside cameras, leaning closer to his screen with a widening grin. On his right, Yakov was downing what looked like sleeping tablets and adjusting the height of his compression socks. With a final grimace, Yakov tucked his hands under his arms and leaned back in the seat like a man condemned.

As the plane lifted off, Yuuri couldn’t help but wonder what he’d got himself into.

 

1 hour and 03 minutes

‘Sorry to wake you,’ Victor said quietly, ‘they’re bringing the food around. I thought you might want to wake up for dinner.’

Yuuri blinked and shoved his glasses back up. He added waking up to Victor’s hand on my shoulder to the list of things he would never forget. ‘That would depend on what the dinner is,’ Yuuri muttered. He hid his face to the side and hurriedly felt over his cheek. What if he had drooled in his sleep? What if Victor saw?

‘Do you fly much? You sound like a man who has flown before.’

‘A few times.’ He could do this, he could talk normally to Victor. He could be casual. ‘You?’

‘For work, yes. A lot.’ Victor accepted something covered in foil from the flight attendant. He politely passed across Yuuri’s pasta meal. ‘I don’t usually do this sort of distance though.’

‘I suppose it’s plenty of time to catch up on movies.’ He was going to be casual if it killed him. He ripped the lid off the water cup and took a quick gulp.

‘Any recommendations for me?’

‘I - I was going to watch Disney movies,’ Yuuri confessed, because apparently being both casual and cool was more than he could handle.

To his surprise Victor’s face lit up. He bit his fork, holding it between his teeth as he tapped at the screen with both hands. ‘D’you reckon they have 101 Dalmatians?’ His voice was muffled and slurred around the fork. ‘I love dogs.’ He removed the fork. ‘I love dogs,’ he clarified and then looked at Yuuri. ‘Sorry, I’m keeping you from eating. Ignore me, I’ll fall asleep soon enough.’

 

1 hour and 05 minutes

Yuuri swallowed and flicked a glance across at Victor. He cleared his throat. ‘I’m not sure if this is really pasta.’

Foil rustling, Victor looked up from unwrapping his meal. Within a minute or two he had made another comment on the quality of aeroplane food and Yuuri relaxed, reassured his invitation to continue talking had been understood.

It was established by joint investigation that no, the grey mass on the tray definitely didn’t look like pasta. Victor leaned just a little across their shared armrest and watched as Yuuri carefully unwrapped each item on his tray. He was close enough that Yuuri could see each individual crinkle at the corner of his eyes. Yuuri pulled the plastic off a rock hard bread roll and fought to keep his gaze fixed ahead. He ripped the packaging from his cutlery. Slowly, his gaze crept sideways. Victor had the smallest brown freckle to the left of his nose.

‘Do I have something on my face?’

Yuuri felt his face burn and his heart squeezed in his throat. ‘You have a freckle.’

Idiot! Why did he say that?

For a moment Victor just looked surprised. Then his expression settled into something that could only be called playful. ‘This one?’ He tapped his cheek and tilted his head, gazing at Yuuri.

Glowing with embarrassment, Yuuri could only nod. Salvation came in the form of an aggressive teenager, rescuing him from Victor’s openly contemplative, amused gaze.

‘Why does his look better than mine?’ Yuri demanded and stabbed his fork accusingly at Yuuri’s meal.

It was a moment of solidarity between the three of them as they inspected the contents of Yuri’s tray.

‘That’s quite disgusting,’ Victor said finally. Yuuri wanted to agree but felt somewhat uncomfortable criticising a relative stranger’s food. ‘I thought I’d seen everything cabbage related. I’m Russian,’ Victor confided to Yuuri, ‘we know cabbage.’

‘You sound like Gru when you speak English,’ Yuri cut in.

‘Yuri,’ Victor said quite pleasantly, ‘I am going to take this carrot and I am going to shove-’

Yuri cackled.

‘Are you both from Russia?’

He’s Russia’s golden boy-’

‘Better that than Russia’s brat,’ Victor said loudly.

‘I don’t chased through airports by stupid fans-’

Victor sighed and rolled his eyes at Yuri before turning to face Yuuri. ‘I have competed in athletic events and I have a small number of fans, that’s all. If you could not refer to them as stupid,’ that was directed pointedly at Yuri, who sniggered in response and stabbed at his food.

Modesty was not a trait Yuuri had expected Victor to possess. Honesty, open and occasionally unthinking, was more Victor’s style. He was as quick to criticise his own performance when justified as he was to declare his competence.

‘Anyway,’ Victor continued, ‘I’ll be stopping that soon so it hardly matters.’

Yuuri choked on pasta.

 

2 hours and 14 minutes

Quitting skating?

Aeroplane blanket draped around his shoulders, Victor slumped back in the seat and played with his phone, a half-frown on his face. Yuuri tried to imagine a skating world without Victor Nikiforov in it. He was magic. How could he quit? He could still remember the wonder and excitement he felt seeing Victor skate for the first time, the effortless way he moved and the grace in his body.

Victor absently rolled his headphone cable between his lips and scrolled on his phone. One knee bent and the other leg stretched out, he made even boredom look graceful. This was the man that had skated Stammi Vicino and he was going to just stop? It’s true he was older than most figure skaters, but he was also better than most figure skaters. Why would he stop? His performance at last year’s GPF had been nothing short of technical perfection. Yuuri stared back at his screen and watched blankly, taking nothing in, his mind fixed entirely on the man sitting next to him.

After another five minutes he gave up. Yanking his headphones off, Yuuri switched off the screen. His face glared back at him in the black reflection, confused and a little more annoyed than he had any right to be.

‘Movie not that good?’

Yuuri looked at him and Victor raised one ash blond eyebrow. Yuuri sighed and pushed his frustration aside. ‘Didn’t give it a chance really, I wasn’t watching it properly.’

Victor looked marginally less bored. ‘Thinking deep thoughts on this flight?’

‘Work.’ It was half true.

‘What do you do?’

‘Nothing I’m particularly good at. You?’

‘I’m in a - transitional stage, you could say.’

Yuuri curled his toes in his sneakers. ‘You said you were quitting competitive sport? That’s what you do, isn’t it?’

Lounging in his seat, Victor still managed to look comfortably at ease, but a small frown line appeared between his eyebrows. ‘I’ve found that sometimes the reasons you have for doing something disappear over time, gradually, so slowly you don’t even notice. Until one day you realise they’ve gone and you’ve just been continuing out of habit. But, to answer your question with less drama, yes, I am thinking of stopping.’

‘What sort of sport?’

Victor looked at him for a long, quiet moment then smiled and shook his head. ‘Doesn’t matter. Especially if I’m not doing it anymore, no? Come on, I’ve unburdened my thoughts to you, now you must tell me something in return.’

‘I’ve stopped practising for months now. I know what good looks like, and I don’t think I can ever get there.’

‘How long have you been practising this thing?’

‘Since I was about five or six.’

‘Bah,’ Victor waved it away, ‘then you’re either modest or lying to yourself.’

What if,’ Yuuri slowly voiced what was eating at him, ‘what if like you, my reason had gone?’ You, being like you, beating you, that was my reason for skating.

‘Then that would be a shame. I’d look at your reasons and make sure they were the right ones. Maybe you could find a better reason?’

‘Couldn’t you do the same?’

The last of the boredom disappeared from Victor’s face and he smiled a small, genuine smile. ‘Perhaps. I haven’t found one yet.’

 

2 hours and 57 minutes

 When Yuuri drifted out his half-nap, the seat next to him was empty. He immediately pulled himself out of his sleepy state to hurry to the toilet, seizing the opportunity granted by the empty seat. If he was really lucky Victor would still be gone by the time he came back and he wouldn’t have to shove past Victor’s seat with his butt at eye-height.

And despite all previous evidence to the contrary, it would seem in this moment the world smiled down at him because on his return the seat was still empty. Standing on his toes, Yuuri peered down the aisle and yep, seat was definitely still empty.

‘Stretching your legs too?’

Empty because its occupant was standing behind him. Yuuri turned around and promptly staggered as the plane jerked.

The Captain has switched on the fasten seatbelt sign, if everyone could please return t-

Another drop and Yuuri stumbled forward. Victor caught his forearm and held him steady, his other hand hovering just above Yuuri’s waist. It could have been the roll and dip of the plane making Yuuri’s stomach clench, but Victor’s bright blue eyes were so close and his smile wide- Distracted, Yuuri found himself staring at the freckle on Victor’s cheek.

‘Nervous flyer?’

‘No,’ Yuuri said honestly.

‘Neither.’ Victor’s hand tightened on Yuuri’s arm as the plane shuddered again. ‘This is quite exciting.’ Quite casually he laid his hand on Yuuri’s waist.

‘We have to return to our seats.’

‘Mm, I know.’ Victor didn’t move his hands. Yuuri wasn’t sure if he wanted him to.

As it turned out, it wasn’t a decision he had to make. A flight attendant hurried up the aisle and shepherded them to their seats, citing brief turbulence. Doing up his seatbelt, Yuuri could still feel the pressure of Victor’s hand.

What just happened?

 

4 hours and 22 minutes

Cheek mashed against the edge of the headrest, Victor breathed heavily through his open mouth and gave the occasional snore.

It would have been a peaceful, cute scene if not for Yuri staring at Victor with undisguised glee and grinning like a goblin. He motioned at Victor and silently held out his phone to Yuuri. With only brief hesitation, Yuuri accepted the phone and received a thumbs up in return.

Even sleeping Victor looked unfairly handsome. Personally, Yuuri thought the photos he took just showed Victor at a different attractive angle, however Yuri clearly felt differently and seized the phone with both hands, swiping through and snickering.

‘If he drools, you take more,’ Yuri ordered in a whisper, pointing at Yuuri as he shuffled out of his seat and past Yakov.

 

4 hours and 54 minutes

Yuuri agonised over waking up Victor. On one hand, Yuri had been missing a long time. On the other hand, plane food wasn’t always the greatest and if it was him camping out in the bathroom, he’d really rather everyone just pretend he hadn’t been glued there for thirty-two minutes.

Finally, Yuuri touched Victor’s shoulder. He gave it a tentative shake.

‘I’m sorry to wake you up, and it might be absolutely nothing, but Yuri hasn’t come back to his seat.’

Victor screwed up his face and blinked. He slowly hauled himself upright and blinked again. ‘Sorry, what?’ His voice was rough with sleep and Yuuri felt his ears go red.

‘Yuri’s been gone for half an hour.’

It took a little longer for Victor to properly wake up to a state where he could process information and act on it. Watching Victor push his hair back and stretch, Yuuri felt like he was intruding on something. It was one thing to have posters of an idol on your wall, it was entirely something else to watch them yawn into the back of their hand and tug down a crumpled hoodie.

‘Alright,’ Victor pulled himself out of the seat, ‘let’s go find him.’

Yuuri wasn’t sure why Victor was including him in this search, but he scrambled out anyway.

It took approximately 10 seconds to locate Yuri.

A ring of flight attendants and a growing crowd of passengers surrounded one of the toilet doors, one of the passengers had their arm up against the door and was calling through. Victor froze and then shoved froward, pushing past people with badly concealed fear.

‘What happened? Is it Yuri in there? Is he okay?’

The flight attendant turned with professionally diplomatic expression. ‘The door appears to have jammed. It seems someone is temporarily stuck in there.’

Victor stared. Then he choked out a sudden laugh. He quickly composed his face and turned away. With one hand held up for silence, he slowly approached the toilet and leaned his shoulder against the door.

‘Yuri,’Victor’s voice shook with suppressed laughter, ‘Yuri, I hear you’ve trapped yourself in a toilet?’

A stream of angry Russian blasted out of the cubicle and Victor dissolved in laughter. If Yuuri had expected Victor to have a charming, refined laugh then he was wrong. Victor made a sound like a dying duck and snorted out a helpless honking noise. It was a fantastically ugly laugh. It was great. Victor choked back something in Russian and the door rocked with a violent thud. Victor slumped against the wall and cried into his hand.

Usually, an attendant explained, they could simply unlock the door from the outside, but it seemed something had stuck in the mechanism itself. Yuuri hung back as more capable people rattled and shoved strategically at the door, aided by the flight staff. Victor was banned from helping with the extraction efforts when it became apparent that all he wanted to do was take pictures and cry with laughter.

It was only a matter of minutes before the door clicked audibly and folded open, one woman having applied her engineering skills. Victor let out a shaky sigh and wiped his eyes.

Yuri emerged looking like murder.

Victor lost it again.

 

5 hours and 02 minutes

‘Hey, Yuri, remember that time you got stuck in an aeroplane toilet?’

Yuuri cringed back into his seat as Yuri shoved himself out and lunged for Victor.

 

5 hours and 03 minutes

‘Yuuri,’ Victor leaned in close and whispered loudly, ‘does something smell strange to you? Almost like…a toilet?’

At this point Yuuri was regretting his seat between Victor and Yuri. He was reminded quite forcefully of several long car trips with his sister when they were younger.

 

5 hours and 05 minutes

‘Yuuri-’

‘Are you sure you don’t want to swap seats?’ Yuuri asked loudly.

 

5 hours and 09 minutes

This time Victor managed to hold it in for a bit longer. But evidently the upper limit of his restraint was around five minutes.

‘We should tell embarrassing stories. It’ll pass the time. Yuri, you can give us a recap of the time you got trapped in a public toilet.’

Several explosive words later and more tears of laughter from Victor, and Victor returned in earnest to sharing stories.

‘Yuri doesn’t need to contribute because we already know his. You first, Yuuri.’

Completely embarrassing himself on the ice yet still being so unremarkable that Victor didn ’t recognise him, not after the competition and not now?

‘I - I fell during a competition. Everyone was watching…’ Yuuri trailed off, cursing his stupidity. He should have just made something up. Yuri was looking at him with narrowed eyes. Face bright red, Yuuri stared down at his feet.

‘Oh, a competition? You’re an athlete?’ Victor sounded delighted.

‘Just ballet.’ This time Yuuri had the sense to lie.

Oh.’ This time there was a warmer note to the appreciation in Victor’s voice. Yuri groaned quietly. ‘Don’t suppose you have any pictures on your phone of you performing?’

Why exactly Victor cared about that was a mystery. Confused, Yuuri glanced between Yuri’s embarrassed face and Victor’s steady gaze. ‘No, sorry.’

‘Shame.’ Victor sounded like he meant it.

‘Big competitions?’ Yuri asked suddenly.

‘What?’

‘Have you performed in big competitions? You look familiar.’

No. No. I’m definitely not that good. You wouldn’t have seen me, unless you came to a small town in Japan,’ Yuuri tried to joke and was very aware he reeked of desperation.

Yuri’s eyes were hard and blue and searching and Yuuri wanted to shrink back into his seat. ‘You’re Japanese?’

‘Yes.’ This wasn’t going anywhere good.

‘How old are you?’

‘Are we interrogating Yuuri?’ Victor leaned into the conversation, casually pressing his shoulder against Yuuri’s. ‘Can I join in?’

With a final searching stare, Yuri tucked back into his own seat and snapped his headphones on. Yuuri breathed a sigh of relief.

‘Don’t mind him. Of all the people I have sat beside on flights, you are quite my favourite.’

‘Oh.’ Yuuri swallowed. ‘Well, you’re my favourite too.’

Victor pushed their shared armrest up and tucked his knee up, shuffling in the seat to face Yuuri. For a brief moment he just watched with a half-smile. Then his smile deepened. ‘You haven’t heard my embarrassing story.’

Listening to Victor talk, the chatter and hum of conversation in the cabin faded. He was oddly captivating. This wasn’t what Yuuri had expected. It was true, he’d imagined what it might be like to meet his idol in person, what he might say and how he’d come off as calm and competent. Victor would be charming and friendly and would compliment him on his skating, and Yuuri would be left feeling validated as an equal. Instead this Victor was curled up in his seat, his hair messy and eyes engaging. He paused his story to laugh and rub his nose, continuing on with a sweeping hand gesture and another messy laugh.

Yuuri was barely following what Victor said, caught up instead in his expressions and the sound of his voice, until-

‘So do you think I have stubble again? I think I do.’ Victor dragged his palm down his jaw. ‘Can you see it?’

Honestly Yuuri couldn’t see anything. He said as much and tried not to stare as Victor rubbed over his cheek. It was unfairly mesmerising.

‘No really,’ Victor grabbed Yuuri’s hand and pressed it to his jaw, ‘feel that.’

There was the faintest of prickle beneath his hand. ‘I’d have to wait at least five years to grow stubble that long,’ Yuuri said a little wistfully. He swiped his thumb down Victor’s cheek, feeling the change from smooth skin to stubble.

‘You’re lucky.’

‘What if I wanted to have a moustache one day?’ Yuuri mused, only half focusing on what Victor said as he drifted his thumb back and forth. He jolted back to reality when Victor chuckled and he felt his jaw shift beneath his palm. Oh, god, he needed to move his hand. What was he doing?

‘It’s like a tiny strip of velcro beneath your nose.’ Victor moved Yuuri’s fingers to his upper lip. ‘See? Who would want to kiss that?’

Great, he was touching Victor’s face and thinking about kissing him. Yuuri wasn’t sure if his face could physically get any redder. ‘I think it’s fine,’ he mumbled.

‘Really? I’ll keep that in mind.’ Victor winked and Yuuri snatched his hand back.

 

5 hours and 19 minutes

With a wiggle, Yuuri turned sideways in his seat and tried to position himself so that his elbows wouldn’t club either Victor or Yuri in the face. He pulled the hem of his jumper up and tried to shuffle carefully out of it. It was doomed to failure from the start. Everything tangled and twisted and Yuuri was left with his arms pinned above his head, his glasses crushed into his forehead, his t-shirt tucked up, and probably half of his bare chest exposed. Thinking fast and starting to sweat, Yuuri gave the hem another desperate yank and yelped as it tugged on his ear.

‘Victor.’ Yuuri heard Yuri say in a weary sort of voice.

‘Um-’ Yuuri hurriedly tried to pull his arms down before Victor looked around to an eyeful of his unimpressive bare chest thanks Yuri? His frantic wriggle was stopped by hands on his elbows and a soft laugh.

‘You know you could have just asked for help.’ Victor’s voice was amused and soft and far too close. Yuuri went still as Victor’s hands traced two slow lines down his chest. Yes, he did tug down his t-shirt for him, but all Yuuri could focus on was the brush of Victor’s knuckles against his bare skin. Was that much touching necessary? Did Victor really need to slip his palm up the front of his throat just to pull the jumper over his chin? Or was he just reading too much into it? Victor was being polite and he was simply seeing what wasn’t there.

Freed from smothering fabric, Yuuri stared through lopsided glasses into Victor’s face. He was very close and very attractive and Yuuri couldn’t attribute all of his flush to being trapped in a sweater.

‘Your glasses are crooked.’ Victor reached out and gently straightened them.

 

5 hours and 23 minutes

Yuuri couldn’t help but notice that Victor hadn’t put the armrest back down.

 

6 hours and 48 minutes

The lights had long been fully dimmed and the cabin was dark, people tucked beneath blankets and sleeping in silence. The constant background drone of the plane and the dark, still cabin had Yuuri’s eyes drifting shut. He felt heavy and warm, on the verge of sleep.

‘Can I ask you something?’

Yuri blinked and tugged his blanket down a little, exposing his face. Victor wasn’t even looking at him. He was staring down with a blank expression at his outstretched feet.

‘Of course,’ his voice was rough with sleep.

‘Have you ever felt that feeling,’ Victor began slowly, picking at the stitching on the seat in front, ‘that even when you’re surrounded by people, and everyone knows your name, you’re completely alone? It’s a strange feeling. Like no one truly cares what you think or feel, they only want to see what they expect of you.’ He fell silent, then dropped his hand from the seat. ‘Sorry. You’re wanting to sleep-’

‘I don’t have a huge fan following, and I rarely have an entire stadium of people knowing my name, but yes, I know something of that feeling.’ Yuuri shifted upright in his seat and felt Victor’s eyes follow him curiously. It was easier to feel bold in the dark. ‘In my case though I have my own cripplingly awkward personality to thank. I imagine your situation is a little different.’

Victor breathed a chuckle and dipped his head, Yuuri watched as his hair slid down in a wave of silver and black shadow. ‘Yuri told you that I skate, did he? For something I love, it hasn’t brought as much happiness as I thought it would. At least not recently.’

They sat in silence together, the aeroplane humming in the background. Yuuri fought the urge to reach out and gently run his fingers through Victor’s hair, which would be wildly inappropriate and all kinds of creepy. Eventually Victor lifted his head and gazed quietly at Yuuri.

‘And I don’t think you’re cripplingly awkward, Yuuri, I think you’re quiet and you’re kind.’

Yuuri was glad for the dark cabin that hid his red face. ‘I’d prefer to be like you.’

‘Like me?’

‘Ah - you’re- I mean how you spoke with me, you were friendly. I’d like to be that confident talking to people,’ Yuuri backtracked hastily. He had meant the way Victor was on the rink and interviews, his easy charm and confidence, the way he would laugh and always say the right thing. But he had forgotten, these weren’t things he was supposed to know.

‘Better to be quiet and make genuine friends.’

‘Unless you’re too quiet to make many friends.’

‘Well,’ Victor tipped his head against the head rest and gazed openly at Yuuri, a half-smile tugging at the corner of his mouth, ‘I think you’re quite charming.’

Was he -? Was he being flirted with? His heart in his throat, Yuuri stared at Victor with absolutely no idea how to react. Victor’s smile deepened for a moment and then he slowly rolled his head away, facing forward once again.

‘Perhaps I should let you sleep,’ Victor said.

‘No,’ Yuuri said quickly. ‘I mean, unless you’re tired.’

Victor shifted comfortably and stretched his legs out, lightly brushing his foot against Yuuri’s ankle. He didn’t say anything about it and Yuuri kept perfectly still, hyper aware of every point their legs touched. ‘Perhaps then you could tell me something about yourself. Given I am spending the next nine or so hours at your side.’

Yuuri looked at him in silence before replying. ‘You want to be distracted, don’t you?’

Victor’s eyes snapped to Yuuri’s, surprised, and then his expression softened into something unreadable. ‘How astute.’

Still feeling blurred at the edges and heavy pull of sleep, Yuuri didn’t reply. He untucked the edge of his blanket and dropped it over Victor’s legs. ‘It feels colder with the lights down, don’t you think?’

Victor remained silent, watching Yuuri’s movements instead. Yuuri relaxed back and pretended he couldn’t feel Victor’s eyes on him. Eventually Victor followed Yuuri’s gaze up to the roof of the cabin. The roof was dimmed to a midnight blue and tiny soft lights glowed all along the ceiling like a galaxy of stars.

‘It’s like star gazing,’ Yuuri said quietly. If he leaned back, if he relaxed, it was almost possible to imagine he was staring up into the night sky, that the little lights were distant stars. He turned his head and was surprised to find Victor looking at him and not the roof. Victor’s expression was soft and Yuuri didn’t quite know what to do about that. He tried a smile in return and Victor just stared quietly a moment longer, then he settled back into his seat with their shoulders almost touching.

‘What do you think that one is?’ Victor pointed up at one of the pin-prick lights on the ceiling. The backs of his fingers brushed Yuuri’s wrist beneath the blanket.

‘Aquarius, definitely,’ Yuuri said confidently, grinning in the dark as Victor snickered beside him. He told himself he could be brave. He carefully twitched his index finger and pushed back against Victor’s hand. Victor fell silent and under the blanket he laid his hand flat, both a question and an invitation. Yuuri slid his hand into Victor’s and gently pressed their palms together, his breath catching as Victor curled his fingers up through his. For the second time that day Yuuri could feel the press of Victor’s fingertips to the back of his hand, a firm pressure just below his knuckles. He was holding hands with Victor.

‘And that one?’ Victor’s voice was quieter and closer.

‘The Fish.’ Yuuri shifted to let their shoulders brush together.

‘Ah, The Fish. A well known constellation.’

‘Please don’t question my astrological knowledge.’

Victor chuckled, a warm, intimate sound so close to Yuuri’s ear. ‘Sorry, sorry. Forgive my impertinence.’

The seat creaked as Yuuri moved and tilted his head towards Victor, resting his forehead against Victor’s. He felt soft hair against his skin and the surprised stutter of breath over his cheek. Then Victor sighed and shifted closer in a way that felt very deliberate. He pressed his nose to Yuuri’s cheek and breathed deeply again. ‘You know,’ Victor murmured and fingertips trailed Yuuri’s jaw, ‘I would kiss you,’ up over his cheekbone, ‘right now,’ down over the corner of his mouth, ‘if you wanted.’

He did want and Victor was gorgeous and his thumb was drawing a slow pattern beneath his lower lip and Yuuri kissed him.

Victor responded immediately with a stifled moan and slid his hand into Yuuri’s hair, gripping and holding him close. His mouth was warm and he kissed with a slow, firm intensity. Yuuri tilted his head and let the pressure of Victor’s hand in his hair guide him. Beneath the blanket Victor clutched their hands tighter. Yuuri gripped hard, an anchor as Victor’s mouth moved against his own, open and gently insistent. He could hardly focus. His heart pounded in his ears and everything narrowed to the feel of Victor’s hands and mouth. He was being kissed. Victor’s hold shifted in his hair and urged him forward, kissing him deeply. He caught Yuuri’s bottom lip between his and tugged slowly. Yuuri’s answering groan was embarrassingly loud.

He felt rather than saw Victor’s intimate little smile as he drew back. Gazing at him from an inch away, Victor’s eyes were dark and lips wet. Yuuri felt stunned.

‘Well,’ Victor said simply, keeping that little smile.

‘You were flirting with me, weren’t you?’ Yuuri asked, dazed.

‘Yes, thank you for noticing. I was trying very hard.’

He couldn’t help it, he had to laugh, a stuttering hysterical sort of laugh. It was either that or go mad. He’d just kissed Victor Nikiforov. Been kissed by Victor Nikiforov. Quite thoroughly kissed.

He’d never kissed anyone before.

Without any sense of hesitation and awkwardness, Victor settled down comfortably beside Yuuri, giving their hands a brief squeeze. ‘I think I’ll sleep well now,’ he murmured, eyes already closed. ‘Feel free to wake me with a kiss. I’d like to do that again.’

Head spinning, Yuuri stared down at Victor, who was firmly settled against his shoulder. Who was going to sleep. Yuuri transferred his wide-eyed stare forward and felt like he was fraying at the edges. He had no illusions that he was anything but Victor’s distraction. You don’t kiss a stranger on the plane after seven hours with an expectation of anything else. It was nothing. Even in Yuuri’s dazed mind he could process that thought. This meant nothing. In eight hours they would land for the stopover and that would be the last of Victor.