It didn't seem like much of anything when it started. Training season was going well and it was months before his next competition. There was no reason for him to feel anxious about anything, not when he had everything he ever wanted and more, when his life was objectively wonderful. He was an international gold medalist and married to Victor Nikiforov, for heaven's sake. He should never be sad for another moment for the rest of his life.
Except he was.
He'd tried everything to snap out of it. Forced himself to smile and pretend he was okay. Took long hours of practice and training to sweat the anxiety out of him -- so long that Victor started to complain that he was missing him because Yuuri was always moving, always driving himself so hard all he could do when he made it back to their apartment was collapse into sleep.
He needed to be fit and ready for the season, he'd lied, to both Victor and himself.
He knew that neither of them believed him.
With his stamina it was almost impossible for him to overtrain, but he knew he was edging dangerously close to that anyway. When he saw Victor's frown the next day, Yuuri preemptively apologized to him for getting carried away, for being too eager for the new season. He didn't want to make Victor upset, to disappoint him. Just the thought of it made his chest pull tight.
"Yuuri," Victor began, still concerned despite Yuuri's reassuring lies.
Yuuri didn't want to lie. If anything it made him feel worse. But he couldn't stop himself, couldn't keep the anxiety from speaking for him. He knew how irrational it was, knew it was groundless, that Victor loved him and would want to help however he could.
There's nothing he can do, his anxiety replied, with utter certainty. There's nothing anyone can do. This is just what you are.
At practice that day, he drove himself hard even as he flubbed jump after jump. He was going to be black and blue, but he'd never let pain stop him. But he couldn't meet Victor's eyes, couldn't bear to see his frown deepen. The band around his chest tightened until he was finally out of breath, exhausted. He was bent over on the ice, cold seeping up through his knees and elbows, barely able to move.
"Are you finished?" Victor asked, his voice tight.
Yuuri gave a short nod, braced himself for Victor's anger. He was his coach, he should be angry. But Victor's touch, when it came, was gentle, kind. Yuuri's throat tightened. Don't, he wanted to say. Don't be kind, I don't deserve it. But the words couldn't reach his tongue.
He could barely stand, much less skate, and so had no choice but to let Victor half-carry him off the ice. He collapsed onto the bench, muscles trembling from overuse and abuse, and watched silently as Victor removed one skate, then the other, then his bloodied socks. Yuuri stared at his bare feet, calloused and blistered and rubbed raw, toenails black and blue as the rest of him. Victor took Yuuri's feet in his hands and held them, just held them.
I'm sorry, Yuuri thought. For being so weak, for hurting himself, for making everything harder. For hurting Victor even though that was the last thing he ever wanted to do.
He hated himself. How long would it take for Victor to hate him? How much could he ruin things before Victor finally came to his senses and walked away?
Victor put Yuuri's feet down and rose up, pulled him close. Victor's shoulder was wet, and it took a moment before Yuuri realized it was from his own tears, pouring silently from his eyes. He gulped for air as he started to shake apart in Victor's embrace. Victor hushed him, held him.
"Sorry," Yuuri rasped, when the worst of it was over. In the aftermath he felt wrung-out, dulled. Like an old dishrag that was overdue to be thrown in the trash.
"Let's just get you home," Victor said.
Yakov drove them. If there was anything Yuuri could still feel it was the burn of his humiliation. He had made a spectacle of himself again, and worse he had embarrassed Victor. He couldn't even walk home because he'd made such a mess of himself. It was only sheer stubbornness that kept him on his feet as they walked (hobbled) through the lobby, into the elevator, through the apartment door.
As he shucked off his sweat-soaked clothes, Victor went to their closet and pulled out something dry for him to wear. Yuuri pulled on the loose sweatpants, then unfolded the shirt. It was one of Victor's, worn kitten-soft from years of use. Yuuri pressed his face against it and breathed deep. It smelled like Victor. He pulled it on and felt a little calmer.
They sat on the couch and Yuuri let Victor take care of him. He mechanically ate his portions of steamed vegetables and chicken breast, held the heating pad against the worst of his bruises while Victor patched up his feet. His urge for self-destruction was used up, beaten out of him by the pain he'd already achieved. It wasn't so much that he felt better for it. He was just too exhausted to drive himself any further.
As soon as the plates were set aside, Makkachin leapt up onto the couch and sprawled himself over Yuuri. He whimpered and nuzzled until Yuuri pet him, stroking his fingers through the dense curls of his fur.
Makkachin was better than any heating pad. His warmth soaked into Yuuri, chasing away the bone-deep chill of the rink. Yuuri felt himself going slack, unable to keep his eyes open to watch the show playing nearly muted on the television.
He woke up the next morning in bed, tangled up with Victor as the sun cast its light over them. For one blissful moment, everything was calm and good and right again. And then he breathed in and everything hurt.
Victor stirred, his hold on Yuuri tightening, which would have been fine except that it made every inch of Yuuri's body scream. He whimpered again and this time Victor's eyes opened with alarm.
Yuuri had accepted painkillers last night along with everything else Victor had done to ease the inevitable pain. But the pain was still inevitable. It was his own fault.
"How bad is it?" Victor asked, all his suppressed worry finally pouring out of him. "Yuuri, you have to tell me. As your coach if not as your husband."
Yuuri could hear the pain his his voice. That was his fault too. He'd pushed Victor away. Victor probably worried that Yuuri didn't love him anymore, when the truth was that he loved Victor more than he could ever express, even to himself.
"Just sore," Yuuri managed. "Nothing broken."
"Not for lack of trying," Victor grumbled, and it was a relief to hear him complain. Victor was only ever quiet when things were really bad.
Yuuri belatedly realized that Victor had been very quiet for the past few days, maybe longer. That Victor had been watching, waiting for Yuuri to reach this point, to wring himself out so completely that he couldn't run away. They'd been through this dance before but it had never been this bad. Yuuri felt a fresh pang of guilt but he already felt so awful it barely registered.
Except he didn't feel quite so awful anymore. Physically yes, but emotionally... he felt purged. Emptied out. Like he'd pushed all the pain out of his chest and into his feet, his legs, his hips, his back. It was safer there; his body could heal what his heart couldn't.
He wanted to apologize again, but instead he forced his ruined muscles to turn him over so he could bury his face against Victor's chest. Victor gave a little start of surprise but didn't hesitate to welcome Yuuri close, to hold him back just as tightly. After a while, Victor's hand moved to card through his hair, steady and soothing.
"It would have been a lot easier for both of us if we just skipped to this part." Victor's voice rumbled through his chest, through Yuuri's cheek.
Yuuri gave a soft grunt of agreement. He wished he could have. Yesterday it had felt impossible. He was a terrible husband, hurting them both because he let his anxiety convince him that he didn't deserve Victor's love. Maybe it was right, but Victor loved him anyway.
He'd tried medications, supplements, diets. In Detroit, Celestino had made him go to therapy because his nerves would flare up and hurt his skating. Sometimes some of it helped, but nothing ever took the anxiety away completely. After Vicchan and Sochi he'd stopped all of it. Let himself drown, at least for a while, just to see how far down it would take him. Skating had been the one thing that pulled him back again, until Victor had swept him up and set him on solid ground.
It was just that sometimes the ground still gave way and down he went. Like a sudden sinkhole, like quicksand or a tsunami sweeping him off his feet, and it didn't matter whether he fought or gave in, the result was always the same. Eventually he would wash ashore again, weak and sodden, and drag himself back to his feet for as long as the ground stayed solid.
He used to think it didn't matter because he was alone, that it didn't really affect anyone else if he suffered. But it had. It always had, even when he couldn't see it. His family, his friends, and now Victor; they all suffered with him, hurt for him. But he still couldn't make it stop.
He was crying again, making Victor's shirt damp with tears and snot. Victor just kept holding him, strong and steady. When Yuuri was all cried out, head aching and heart sore, Victor gave him tissues and water and more painkillers and toast. There was no need to state the obvious, that there would be no training for Yuuri for today and probably not for a few days; instead Victor tucked him into the couch with a blanket and a kiss and took Makkachin out for his morning walk.
Yuuri stared at a Russian morning chat show until they returned, and then all three of them snuggled up together, Yuuri in the middle. Eventually the band around Yuuri's chest loosened enough for him to talk. They read the morning's social network feeds and Yuuri texted Phichit just to say hi. He let Victor guide him through some light stretching to ease the stiffness from his joints. By dinnertime, despite his aches and pains, he was able to smile again, to kiss Victor back, to feel grateful instead of guilty.
This was just what he was. His anxiety hadn't been wrong about that. And maybe it would alway be like this, dragging him under every so often before dumping him back ashore again. It was hard not to feel alone, hard not to make himself alone when the waves were over his head.
But his anxiety had been wrong about the rest. Victor loved him enough to swim down as deep as he went, to hold his breath until the water released them, to carry him up to where they could breathe again. Victor had done all of that for him, would do it all over again because that was what Yuuri needed.
In bed that night, they curled up together. Yuuri pressed his ear against Victor's chest and listened to the steady beat of his heart, feeling calm, content. Feeling loved, his heart full again.
"I love you," he said, tracing patterns on Victor's arm, compulsory figures and the rhythms of his routines. "So much, I..." He trailed off, chest aching with love. I'm sorry I scared you. I'm sorry I hurt myself. I wish I could promise to never do it again but thank you so much for staying with me.
"My Yuuri," Victor said, soft and doting, and relieved, too. "I love you so much." Always. Forever. In sickness and in health.
Yuuri decided that even if it would never be perfect -- even if he would never be perfect -- his life was still wonderful. Objectively and subjectively.