Robin took a sip of her wine and peered around the room at her new coursemates. People milled around the room, most of them in small groups chatting. These start of term events were always sort of tedious, and the wine wasn’t very exciting, but hey, at least it was free. Maybe she could nick a bottle for later - it was a bit early in the afternoon for getting properly trashed. She was just looking around for a conversation to join when she spotted a man, somewhat older than most of the other incoming students, hanging back by a wall by himself nursing a glass of orange juice and watching the room. He looked uncomfortable and slightly lost, so she sauntered over to him and stuck out a hand.
“Hey there. I’m Robin.”
He hesitated just the barest second before replying. “Yuuri Katsuki.” He stuck out a hand and shook hers, smiling nervously and watching her face. “Nice to meet you.”
“Likewise! I don’t want to presume, but is that a Japanese name?”
He nodded, looking relieved, and smiled more openly. "I’m from Kyushu, in the south. My family lives there.”
“That’s cool. I’m just from North Dakota. So what are you in for, MA or PhD?”
“MA. I’m not sure about going further yet. And you?”
“Starting my PhD, but I did my MA here too, so I’m kind of familiar with the school already.”
He grinned. “Oh good, someone who can tell me where the good coffee shops are! Any of them serve decent tea?”
They chatted for a while about their academic histories, their programs and interests, the fall course offerings, and found they had a course in common for the term, a literature theory course. Yuuri was easy to talk to and didn’t give off that competitive, ego-driven air that too many aspiring academics did, so she suggested a coffee and study date for the following week, once classes had started.
“To be honest, I’m grateful,” said Yuuri. “My English is very good from my time in Detroit, but it’s been a while and it would be nice to have someone to double-check with.”
“Mmhm. Especially this theory nonsense. I hate it, really, but it was the only course that fit in for me. Some of the names on the reading list are not exactly… light reading. At least now I’ll have someone to suffer with .”
Yuuri laughed, and Robin noticed he had a truly infectious laugh. In fact, she noticed, he was good-looking in a dorky sort of way. He was dressed in the style she privately referred to as “grad student chic”, with casual trousers and a button-up shirt that wouldn’t be out of place in a lecture hall or on a librarian, except in Yuuri’s case something suggested a bit more attention to fashion. His dark hair was slightly messy, and the brown eyes behind his glasses were penetrating. He’d seemed so awkward when she’d first spotted him, but that had disappeared during their conversation. Maybe he was simply as uncomfortable at these horrible wine-and-schmooze events as she was.
On impulse, she offered “Hey, this thing is winding down anyway, and I’m meeting some of the other PhDs at a bar shortly. We had classes together last year so I actually know them better than my own year-mates. Want to join us?”
He checked his watch. “I have a bit of time, so sure, that sounds nice. Thank you.”
Robin drained the last of her wine, and they set their glasses on a nearby table. Feeling slightly guilty about being a corrupting influence, she did not even look around for any invitingly full bottles that might have been opened and left unattended.
As they walked, Robin couldn’t help but notice how damn graceful Yuuri was. He moved like a man completely at ease with, and in control of, his body. Robin wondered if he danced. If she were into men, she’d be fighting a serious crush by now. As it was, she was enjoying looking at him, like she might enjoy observing a painting or a sculpture.
As they talked, Robin learned a bit about her companion. She learned he had two sisters and his family owned a hotel-spa, an onsen he called it, in his hometown. He’d studied in Detroit, and had owned a poodle. He was 29, and coming back to school after a break. He went running most mornings. He seemed more than happy to talk about his family and his past in general terms, but he carefully deflected the conversation any time it came to details. His voice got anxious when she asked, so after the first couple of questions, she let him have his privacy.
Warm light greeted them at the Bear and Badger, one of the popular haunts near campus. Waves greeted them from a table near the back, which turned into voices greeting them as Robin tossed her bag on a chair and fished out her wallet.
“Guys, this is Yuuri, he’s one of the new MAs. He's got Suranjit’s crit theory course with us this term. Yuuri, this is Esther, Steve, Deon, Amy, and Makshi. Mac loves the theory crap. She’s nuts. Let’s go get something to drink.”
Yuuri waved nervously and followed Robin.
Robin got herself another glass of wine, only marginally better than the reception plonk, and Yuuri ordered a sparkling water. She looked at him sympathetically. “Grad student budget, huh? I’ll spot you a glass of wine or a beer if you want one.”
He flushed a little. “No, no, it’s ok, it’s ok. Thank you for the offer but I just try not to drink much, that’s all. Sparkling water is fine.”
“Yes, please don’t worry about me.”
Collecting their drinks, they made their way back to the table. Conversation swirled around departmental gossip, and while he didn’t have much to contribute, Yuuri soaked up tips about professors and campus life. Robin did learn he wasn’t living in a campus residence. Someone made the mistake of leaving an opening, which let Deon get onto his planned dissertation topic, and it took a full forty-five minutes for the rest of the table to shut him up because Yuuri kept asking questions. He seemed genuinely interested . And his questions were intelligent and relevant.
As the conversation finally turned, she caught a look on Deon’s face. A longing sort of look. Deon noticed her watching him and gave a small, helpless shrug. And although she didn’t feel it herself, she couldn’t really blame him. In fact, looking around she noticed milder variations of the same look on Esther, and Amy.
It was around 7 o’clock when Yuuri glanced at his watch (Who wears a watch these days? Robin thought) and regretfully announced he had to go to leave, he had work.
“Work? At this hour?” Makshi asked. “You working at another bar or something?”
“N-no,” Yuuri stuttered, looking entirely flustered. “Um, at the ice rink across town.”
“At this hour? You’re starting a shift now?”
Yuuri was bright red now. “I’m just filling in for someone,” he muttered.
Robin put a hand on Makshi’s arm. “Chill, Mac. Even ice rinks need, like, cleaning and shit sometimes. There’s probably a team full of hockey teenagers or something leaving a mess while we hold Yuuri up. You don’t need to interrogate the new guy.”
The look Yuuri flashed her was so full of intense relief and gratitude that she almost laughed. “Yuuri, we all do what we need to to pay the bills. Those who can, take TAships or tutoring gigs, but no one’s going to judge you for being a janitor. I flipped burgers through my bachelor’s. And I know for a fact that there’s at least one girl in the department who does some cam work. It’s just part of being a student. Mac was only being nosey.”
“It-it’s alright. But I don’t want to be late. It was lovely to meet you all. I will see you around?” He bowed slightly. Everyone waved and returned the sentiment. Robin watched him weave his way around the other tables to the door, admiring his grace again. A long, soft sigh to her right assured her she wasn’t the only one.
The following Wednesday, when their critical theory class ended, Robin and Yuuri headed to a coffee shop a little ways off campus. Yuuri was very relieved to have someone he could confirm the more obscure vocabulary with, and Robin enjoyed his intelligent but egoless focus on the material. Without much discussion, their Wednesday coffee-and-study became a regular event.
When Deon found out that he was missing a chance to hang out on the regular with the object of his crushing, he accused her of trying to keep the adorable Yuuri to herself. "Deon," she'd replied with careful patience, "I'm a lesbian . Yes he's cute but he is missing the crucial characteristic of ‘being a woman’. This isn't news to you."
"Sorry," Deon replied defensively. "It's just, he never comes to any events. No pub nights, societies, nothing. If he comes to a special lecture, he disappears right after. I can't even low-key stalk Yuuri on facebook because he doesn't use facebook! Who doesn't use facebook! I see him in one lousy class a week. He's always friendly and happy to see me, and we sit together, but any time I suggest hanging out, he's working or he has a paper, and it's next time, next time . He is seriously hot , Robin. His ass would get Mother Theresa pregnant. And he's a total sweetheart!"
"'His ass would get Mother Theresa pregnant'? Deon," she laughed, "that makes absolutely no sense! I cannot even begin to count the ways that doesn't make sense! But sure, if you need more hours per week to ogle his ass, come join us. Just bring something to study so we can get on with our crit crap."
After that, he became a regular member of the Wednesday coffee/study session. Amy showed up the following week, and by early October, Esther and Makshi were joining them as well.
Yuuri made sure they used the time productively, keeping them all focused on their coursework. Without fail, at some point during their session, Yuuri's phone would buzz and he would flush slightly as the most tender expression came over his face. He never said anything, but it became clear that Yuuri was very definitively taken. The first time Deon watched Yuuri get a text from his mystery lover, his face turned wistful and he sighed. Robin just wished her friend would stop being so closed off and trust her.
A couple of weeks into October, Yuuri was late for the coffee-study. They'd almost given up on expecting him when he rushed in, breathless. Deon nearly fell out of his chair and Amy and Esther flushed at the sight of him. Yuuri was not dressed in his usual button-up and slacks, and his normally ruffled hair was styled back off his face. The suit he was wearing today instead was perfectly cut to emphasise his physique. Subtly applied makeup had turned their adorable Japanese friend into something heartbreakingly sensual.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Makshi practically shouted. "What's this! Has anyone seen Yuuri, and who is this fine looking man joining us?"
Yuuri shuffled his feet, looking embarrassed. "I'm sorry I'm late. I had a thing that went long and I didn't have a chance to get changed. Can I still join you?"
Deon, bright red, gestured wordlessly to a chair.
And Yuuri refused to say anything more about his appearance.
"Oh no", Yuuri whispered. "Oh no, no, no."
Makshi put her pen down. "Okay, Levi-Strauss isn't that bad. Derrida, I could see that response, but Levi-Strauss is more of a ‘someone get me an espresso’ sort of guy. Unless you've been ignoring me in favour of your phone again. In which case, what's wrong, mate?"
"Th-the department is sponsoring a stress break for us next Thursday."
"Really?" Amy asked. "They didn't do that last year. What's happening and when?"
"It's at the skating rink. The rink I, uh, work at sometimes. They're paying for admission and skate rental for everyone."
"But that's awesome!" Robin said. "We could all use the distraction, and it's nice for the department to have an event that's not a visiting speaker or a tedious wine-cheese-and-speeches thing. I haven't skated since I was a kid!"
Yuuri's voice was weak. "Awesome, yeah."
Makshi elbowed him. "Look, I know I hassled you about working there when we met. I was a bit drunk and I'm sorry about that. But no one cares if you clean up at the rink, Yuuri. Honestly. We've all been there. No one's going to give you a hard time. Besides, this is one event you can actually make it to! Your boss can hardly make you work when your whole department and all your friends are there. It will be fun!"
Yuuri looked at the excited faces around the table like a man caught in a bear trap.
Robin laid her hand on his arm, and he flinched. "Sorry, Yuuri, I think that for once we are going to make you come out and have some fun with us. You need the break as much as we do. Like Mac says, we're not going to make fun of you. Please come?"
He gave them a hopeful look. "I can't persuade all of you to just stay home and not go?"
Heads shook. "'Fraid not, Yuuri," Robin said firmly.
His shoulders slumped. "Kuso."
"You look like it's going to be your funeral," Makshi laughed. "It's going to be fine . Now, back to our friend Herr Levi-Strauss."
When the group broke up, Robin hung back a little. "Yuuri," she said as she reached out to him where he was packing up. "Why is this such an awful idea for you?"
He paused and sat back down, rubbing his face. "I... I can't explain it. If it was only you guys," he replied, gesturing to the empty table, "I would probably be alright. I'm not good at trusting or making friends, but I'm trying. And I'm not good at mixing my lives up, if that makes sense. Knowing so many people will be there, professors even, that's scary. Being at the rink is... personal, to me. It's part of a separate life from this one." Yuuri sighed. "I guess I’ll have to let you drag me out. Trying to explain to Mac is never easy.”
“Yeah, she’s lovely and has a wicked mind for this critical theory stuff, but she’s stubborn as the proverbial mule. She’s not going to let this go without the full Spanish Inquisition.”
“I-inquisition?” He looked anxious.
“Yeah, you know, ‘no one expects the Spanish Inquisition’?”
Yuuri shook his head, still alarmed.
“It’s a joke? You lived in America for how many years, and you never saw any Monty Python? Yuuri, my friend, we’re going to have to fix this. Okay, first you survive the department Fun Skate, then we sit you down for some classic comedy. I was trying to say that Mac will make you spell out your reasons in detail. She will pester you endlessly, especially since you wouldn’t tell her anything about why you were all dolled up last week. You know she can’t handle mysteries - when Amy walked out mid-class last year, she badgered her about it for a week before Amy broke down and yelled that she’d had the shits suddenly!”
He sighed again. “Skating it is. I don’t stand a chance against Mac.”
"Oy, pork bowl!" a roughly-accented voice shouted over the laughter and general noise of dozens of grad students skating. Robin's head whipped up from her concentration on her skates and she slid into Professor Jorgensen's back. After apologising, she scanned the rink to find the source of the shout.
"You forget how to skate?" the voice taunted. "Do you need a frame?"
Robin's eyes fell on the source. Her eyes narrowed. The taunter was standing behind the boards leaning on them. He was young, wearing a dark sweater with the hood up, but some pale, straw-coloured hair escaped it. His eyes were fixed firmly on Yuuri, his mouth twisted into a gleeful, mocking smile.
Yuuri was ignoring him as he skated arm-in-arm with Amy and Makshi, but his body was tense.
"Careful, pig! Don't run into anyone! I can't believe they let an idiot like you on the ice!"
Robin carefully sped up to try to catch her friend. "Yuuri!" she called, and he turned toward her voice. He pulled Amy around in front of himself and they circled to a stop to wait for her.
"Yuuri! What is going on! Who is that!" They were barely even questions. Robin's head swung back and forth between Yuuri on the ice and the heckler behind the boards.
Yuuri's face was set into a mask of resignation. "He's, ah, a regular."
"A regular?!" Amy cried. "You put up with this regularly ?"
"But that's horrible! Doesn't the manager stand up for you? How can he let his employees be abused like that? There's definitely something in the state labour laws about workplace harassment! You should complain! I’ll complain for you!"
"Yuuri, she's right. That's totally not okay," Makshi agreed, frowning. "You shouldn't have to put up with being harassed at work."
"It's kind of a complicated situation," he muttered, looking over at his antagonist.
"Yuuri, no. This is not okay. And if your manager won't protect you, I'm going to go tell him to fuck off myself."
"No! No, Mac, please don't. I'll deal with it."
Skaters glided past and around them, some turning to observe the commotion. Robin grabbed his arm and pulled him in close. "Then if you want to keep your 'lives' separate, you better do it quickly," she warned in a low voice. "Some of the profs are starting to notice who he's making fun of, and I doubt they'll just let you 'deal with it' on your own. And Mac is going to start a fight any second."
His eyes widened with alarm and he looked up. Sure enough, Jorgensen, Suranjit, and Browne-Jones were clustered together, eyeing the young man at the boards with contempt and not a little determination.
Yuuri quickly broke away from her and started skating smoothly toward the source of the noise. Robin tried to follow, but she was out of practice and fell behind. Yuuri was much quicker than she expected, even though she felt silly about that. He worked at the rink, after all.
"If you can't figure out how to stop, pork bowl, don't worry! The boards will do it for you!"
When she caught up, Yuuri was leaning against the boards, looking serious and yet unconcerned.
"... tell him." She heard him say. "You know he won't be happy. You know how he'll react."
"So what?" the boy replied with a smile. "The old man doesn't intimidate me. So I'll hurt a bit more the next day. It's worth it to see you fumbling around like this. This is priceless. Too bad Phichit isn't here - he could show the whole world what a great skater you are!"
Yuuri's face grew bland and innocent. "Alright then. How about I tell them ? I’m sure the angels would love to know where you are."
The smile disappeared.
"You wouldn't. You wouldn't dare, pork bowl," the blond hissed.
Yuuri gave a quiet, high pitched squeal. "Yurotchka!" he exclaimed in a sing-song voice, eyes wide now with manufactured adoration. Then he turned suddenly around and skated back past Robin into the swirl of departmental skaters. Robin mutely looked back and forth between the two men, turning to follow her friend.
When she caught up to him yet again, she didn't even say anything. She just caught his eye with a questioning look.
Yuuri sighed. "He doesn't want to mix up lives any more than I do," he said to her unspoken question. "I just had to remind him. He'll leave me alone right now, and hopefully that will be the end of it. Can we let it go? Please? For my sake?"
Robin searched his face carefully. Finally, she nodded.
"Thank you," he said. "I really appreciate it. Thank you."
And when she looked back over her shoulder to where the mocking young man had been, there was nothing but air.
The study crew were engrossed in a discussion regarding gaze theory when Yuuri's phone rang. Yuuri glanced at it with a worried expression and stood. "Excuse me, everyone. I have to take this."
He walked a short distance away, and answered it. The others tried to hide their curiosity and failed utterly.
" Da, Yura? "
" On sdelal chto ? "
His face went pale, and then Yuuri pinched his nose. " Konechno. O, Vitya. Ya budu pryamo tam."
He hung up and returned to the table to begin hastily gathering his notes and books. They looked on with worry. "I'm really sorry, something's come up and I have to go. Robin, I'll call you later to see if I missed anything crucial? Would that be alright?"
"Of course, Yuuri," she replied. "I hope everything is okay? If you need anything, you can always ask, you know."
"Thank you, it's fine. I'm ok. I'll see you all later, okay? Okay."
And he rushed out, leaving them all worried and bewildered. Was that Russian ?
Makshi spoke for them all. "What the actual fuck ?"
Later that evening, Robin's phone rang. Glancing at the screen, she sat up a bit straighter on her couch and paused the show she was pretending not to binge-watch.
"Hello, Yuuri? Are you ok?"
He laughed nervously. "Still ok. Did I miss anything important?"
Robin decided to push him a bit. He was their friend, or they wanted him to be. "To be honest, we were all so confused and worried about you that we didn't get much further before we broke up. If something happened, we'd like to know so we can help somehow. I know you're pretty private, but you can trust us, you know."
He was quiet for a long moment, then drew a deep breath. "My husband hurt himself at work doing something dangerous." His voice faded slightly as if he'd turned his head away from the phone. " Da, Vitya! Dangerous! And stupid! Sorry, Robin. It wasn't as bad as it could have been but I'll need to miss some classes over the next few days to take care of him."
"His name's Victor," he added, almost as an afterthought.
"Yuuri, you never needed to hide that from us. We're not wearing blinders, you know. Everyone knows you have someone who makes you go all soppy. If you were trying to hide that , you frankly do a shit job of it."
There was silence on the other end of the line, and then: "I wasn't trying to hide that I'm married?" He sounded confused.
Now it was Robin's turn to be confused. "You've never, even once, mentioned him to us. You wear a ring on your right hand, and I always just figured it was fashion, but now I'm thinking how much it looks like a wedding ring that you've switched hands to disguise. How is that not trying to hide it from us?"
"Oh! Ohhhh. I completely forgot. Oh dear, I'm sorry." He sounded sheepish. "No, it's just that... Victor is Russian. They wear wedding rings on the right hand in Russia. I never thought about it, but of course in America it's the left hand, isn't it?"
She had to laugh. "Yes, yes it is. Yuuri, you are a dork. Alright, I'm sorry for accusing you. But you have to admit I had reason to be suspicious you were hiding it on purpose! You’ve hardly told anyone anything about yourself. Okay. So your mystery husband had a work accident and you will be AWOL for a few days. Deon and Amy have classes with you too, don't they? I'm sure they can send you notes. I'll fill them in and let them know to email you. I can tell them about your Victor, right? You don't want to keep on, uh, keeping him a secret?"
Now Yuuri laughed as well. "No, it's fine. You are free to spill my beans. Tell Mac, too. She’ll be mad if she gets left out."
"If you’re taking care of your husband, you're probably going to be feeling a little cooped up. Would you like me to come by tomorrow to do some dishes or laundry or something? I'm sure you have your hands full."
He snorted. "That part is definitely true." Another deep breath. "Alright, that would be really appreciated. Maybe we can talk a little, too. You're right, I have a hard time talking about myself, but I want to try to be more open."
"How about I drop by after the Patterson seminar?"
"That sounds good. And Robin?" he paused. "Thanks."
She hung up and turned her show back on. So Yuuri was gay, bi, or otherwise into dudes. And also very much taken. Poor Deon.
Robin knocked on the door at the address Yuuri had texted her. This... was a good deal nicer than the average student hovel. It was a sleek, modern high-rise, and it looked expensive . She buzzed at the door.
" Daaaa ?" an unfamiliar voice giggled through the intercom, followed by " Vitya! Vitya, net! " and then "Hello? Robin? Come on in." And the door buzzed.
At the top floor, the elevator opened and she stepped out. Locating the right door, she knocked. Yuuri opened it and gestured her inside.
"Let me get your coat."
"Thanks. Here, I picked up some orange juice and some carrots and hummus. How are you holding up?"
Yuuri pushed his hair back from his forehead. "I didn't get much sleep last night. My husband is, well, difficult when he's on painkillers. He fell at work and injured his elbow. Thankfully it's not broken, and he should be okay in a couple weeks. Right now, though, he's in a lot of pain. I just got him sleeping on the couch, so if you want to come into the kitchen, I'll make some tea. Unless you like coffee. Would you prefer coffee? It's very kind of you to come over."
"Tea would be lovely, Yuuri."
She followed him into the kitchen - to eyes accustomed to years of dingy, cramped student kitchens, this one looked palatial. It had counter space . And a breakfast bar. Yuuri, meanwhile, was busying himself with the kettle. He paused at a cupboard. "Do you like green tea? I'm wanting a taste of home, but I can make you something else if you'd like."
"Yuuri, I came to fuss over you . Make whatever you'd like. I'll try anything once."
He nodded and pulled out a brightly coloured tin from a cupboard full of them. She sat at the table. He didn't say anything as they waited for the kettle, or while he busied himself with the tea. Robin sat patiently until he set a mug of a delicate amber liquid in front of her, and sat beside her with his own. Right away she could smell that this was no cheap supermarket tea. Yuuri sipped his and closed his eyes, seeming to collect himself.
"A bit of home always helps when I'm anxious. I'm sorry I bolted off so quickly yesterday. I've asked not to be called while I'm on campus unless it's an emergency, so when my phone rang, I panicked a little. Victor's usually very careful, I don't know what he was thinking. Now that I know he'll be fine, I'm not so anxious. I'm just tired. I, um, sort of forgot that I might worry you, yesterday. It's been hard moving to a new place and not knowing anyone or being known. I'm kind of out of practice at making friends." He paused. “Victor is even worse. He never went to university. He did high school by correspondence. He had a very small group of people he could be friends with, and living in this totally new place upended that. He puts on a good front if you don't know him - he's very friendly and charming - but he's even worse at making real friends than I am. Despite his injury, I'm glad he managed to bring his work out here, so at least he has those connections. I’m babbling. I’m sorry.”
He took a deep breath. "So. As for me, between my undergrad in Detroit and here, I mostly lived in St Petersburg, where Victor is from, except for a half-year or so I spent back home in Hasetsu. He followed me out here when I said I wanted to go back to studies." Yuuri blushed and looked toward the couch where his husband slept. "He's very supportive of me. He likes hearing about my school friends and what I'm doing, not that he actually cares about the topic. If it wasn't for Victor, I wouldn't be able to afford being here. I work at the rink so, um, so the burden's not totally on him."
Robin rested her hand on his forearm. "Oh, Yuuri. I'm sorry you had such a scare. I'm just glad everything will be ok. You really do have friends here. People who care about you.”
Yuuri smiled - a warm, genuine smile. "I'm learning that."
They sipped their tea in silence.
"So, you're from Japan and Victor is from Russia. How did you meet? Was it in Russia?"
Yuuri opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, an arm popped up from behind the couch and shouted "SOCHI POLE DANCING!"
Yuuri turned white, and then bright red. He flew off his seat and over to the couch, where a figure was struggling to sit itself up. "Vitenka, lay down," he whispered urgently. "Lay down. You need to rest."
The first thing Robin noticed about Yuuri's husband was striking silver hair. The second was that he was slender and pale. He was also refusing to lie back down, and was wrestling both Yuuri and his blanket in an effort to stand up. Yuuri's efforts to get him back on the couch were hampered by his husband's injured arm in its sling, and the need to be careful of it for the both of them.
Finally Yuuri had to give in, and Victor stood beside the couch with a look of triumph on his face. The blanket having been vanquished, he stood there is only a pair of boxers. She revised her initial impression of "slender" to "lean, lots of muscle, not the gross kind". A vicious scar crossed his abdomen, and he had a large, angry bruise on his right side.
"POLE DANCING!" he yelled again, grinning. Yuuri's head sunk into his hands with a look of complete mortification as his husband, now singing in slurred Russian, swayed up and down Yuuri's side as if he was a stripper pole.
"He's... he's on a lot of painkillers. I'm so sorry, Robin. I'm so sorry. Please pretend this isn't happening. Vitya, stop!" Yuuri, entirely red, grabbed at his husband's good elbow and hauled him up to standing. "Vitya, please stop, we have a guest. This is Robin. She's from the university. If you won't lie back down, you can come and have tea with us, but you have to behave. Da ?"
" Da ," he replied, still grinning.
Yuuri kept his hand firmly on his husband's good elbow as he guided him to a chair at the table and draped the blanket over his shoulders. Victor peered into Yuuri's mug and whined plaintively " Russkiy chay? Chay s varen'yem? " Yuuri sighed.
"Alright, but only because you're injured."
Victor smiled happily as he watched his husband go put the kettle back on. He then turned to Robin and began to chatter at her. In Russian. "Yuuri? He doesn't actually expect me to understand him, right?" she called after a minute of this.
"He would be using English if he weren't so loopy. He's perfectly fluent. Just smile and nod along with him, he probably won't remember any of this." He re-entered the room and put a mug, a spoon, and an open jar of jam in front of his still-chattering husband. "Here you are, you barbarian. Do not expect me to make this when you're better."
The stream of Russian stopped as Victor took a heaping spoonful of jam, plopped it into his tea, and stirred. He hummed happily. Yuuri shuddered. To Robin, he explained, "In Russia, lots of people sweeten their tea with jam. I lived there for five years and I still find it disgusting. Normally if he wants it, he has to make it himself. I just don't trust him with a kettle full of boiling water right now, and I don't trust him not to try and do it himself."
Victor's face took on a tragic cast. Russian protestations poured out of his mouth and he draped himself over Yuuri's shoulder and started kissing his neck. Yuuri sighed and rubbed his forehead. "You can see why I might not have slept well. The doctor says to start weaning him off the painkillers in a day or two, so I'll be able to come back by Monday or Tuesday, I hope. He's probably not going to settle as long as you're here, though. I'm sorry to ask after you came out of your way to check on me, but do you mind if I cut this short? When he's feeling better, we can have dinner sometime and you can meet him properly."
He looked so resigned that Robin had to laugh. "Of course, Yuuri. Hang on, this might help." She got up and retrieved the bag with the carrot sticks and hummus, opened both, and placed them in front of Victor, who was immediately entranced by them. She winked at Yuuri. "I've babysat my share of stoners before."
They left Yuuri's husband carefully dipping the end of a carrot in the hummus and examining it with fascination, and returned to the entryway. Yuuri returned her coat and thanked her effusively for coming.
"That's what friends do, Yuuri. They look out for each other. Text if you need anything, alright?"
She only noticed later that night that Yuuri had never actually denied his husband's claim that they met because of pole-dancing somehow.
Deon was slightly crushed to learn that Yuuri was definitely into men, but that he already had a husband. Robin kept the pole-dancing tidbit to herself. Partly it was out of respect for Yuuri's privacy, but partly because she suspected it would break Deon's brain to imagine Yuuri anywhere in the vicinity of a stripper's pole.
The following Wednesday, Yuuri met for the coffee and study session as usual, looking a little sheepish.
"Um, sorry about last week. I wasn't trying to worry you all." He looked down. "Robin probably told you, but my husband, Victor, injured himself, and I kind of panicked. He isn't as careful as he should be. Robin pointed out I've been being secretive, and she was right. So, please, I'd like to apologise. When he is better, I'd like to introduce you all."
It was quiet for a beat, and then Makshi demanded he not be an idiot and sit down, he was their friend and Derrida was a pain in the ass even for her, so they shouldn't waste time. Exams were coming on fast.
Early in December, Robin was waiting for her bus home when she spotted Yuuri in the coffee shop across the street, sitting with a younger man. He was taller than her friend and skinny, and appeared to be very upset about something, gesturing broadly and causing his long braid of blond hair to whip from side to side. The shit-disturber from the rink! Yuuri, in contrast, seemed entirely unfazed by his companion's ranting, replying calmly and smiling fondly when the younger man wasn't looking. Really, he looked more open and relaxed than she had ever seen him. What on earth? she wondered. His face bore none of the caution she'd grown used to seeing, despite the company.
Robin just watched them in puzzlement, trying to decipher this latest mystery surrounding her friend. They seemed to be two good friends simply enjoying a coffee. She was staring so intently at Yuuri's face that she only noticed the teenage boys approaching when his gaze flicked over to them. They were blushing and shuffling, obviously nervous. One of them gave a little wave in Yuuri's direction.
And then an even more baffling thing happened. She watched as a gorgeous, enthusiastic smile appeared on the face of her quiet, anxious, reserved friend. The younger man scowled a little deeper. Yuuri beckoned to the boys to come closer, and they both blushed deeply. Without looking away from them, Yuuri kicked the sullen blond in the shin. And then he too was sporting a welcoming, gracious smile.
Robin felt like she was suddenly viewing an alternate reality. Or perhaps pod people had abducted her friend.
Selfies. They were taking selfies. Yuuri had held his hand out and one of the boys gave him his phone. Gesturing them closer, he leaned in close to them and held the phone up for a photo. The blond stood up and came over to join in a second selfie. The boys were blushing still, but now they were also giggling. One of them appeared to ask a question, holding a notebook out. Yuuri smiled further and took it, passing back the phone in exchange. He bent over, writing in it briefly, and then passed it to his companion, who did likewise. The boy took his notebook back and clutched it to his chest. Then the both of them, still blushing, walked back away from the two men, who continued smiling.
The boys exited the coffee shop and clutched at each others' hands in obvious excitement as they walked. The one with the notebook pulled it out to pour over the inscription in it. The other was texting furiously on his phone, eyes shining.
Inside the coffee shop, Yuuri and the blond had resumed their earlier seats. Their faces slid from the bright smiles back into more natural expressions as quickly as the smiles had come on. Yuuri ran a hand through his hair while the blond slumped back in his chair.
Robin was still staring when her bus arrived, and only made it on because the driver stopped to ask if she was okay.
What with exams and papers, Yuuri did not get to make good on his promise of a dinner invitation for another two weeks. And in the end, the entire regular crew of the coffee-study were invited. Robin told them little beyond "tall, pale, blue eyes, Russian", not sure how to describe Victor. "He was high as balls when I saw him - I have no idea what he's like in reality!" Robin felt she couldn't ask about the incident with the younger man with everyone listening, so she just kept quiet about it.
They met outside Yuuri's building. Esther paged the apartment, and they were buzzed in by an unfamiliar voice in lightly-accented English. The anticipation kept them silent on the elevator ride up.
Yuuri opened the apartment door smiling and gestured them inside. "Hi, everyone. Come in, come in. Victor is just in the kitchen finishing up dinner."
He took their coats. The apartment was warm and smelled delicious. Curious eyes flicked over their surroundings. Pictures of what were obviously Yuuri's family members dotted the walls, and the living room he ushered them into was comfortable but modern.
Esther was handing Yuuri a bottle of wine when Victor poked his head around the corner. Yuuri had to react quickly to catch it as she dropped it in surprise. Deon sat down hard, and Makshi whistled. “Yuuri, your husband is a babe . Congratulations.”
Yuuri blushed and waved a hand at his husband. “Vitya, come meet my friends.”
Victor waved. “Hello, Yuuri’s friends! Just let me wash my hands, da ? I’ll be right there.” He disappeared into the kitchen.
He reappeared a moment later, wiping his hands on his apron. He shook hands warmly with each of the students as Yuuri introduced him to them. “It’s so nice to finally meet the people Yuuri talks about so much. I am Victor.”
His voice was warm and tinged with lyric Russian vowels. Victor’s hand slipped comfortably around Yuuri’s waist. “We are making a very delicious meal of Yuuri’s mother’s. Pork katsudon is a meal for good friends, for welcomes.”
“Except for yours, Esther,” Yuuri broke in quickly. “I know you said you’re not very observant, but we cooked one chicken dish first, before bringing the pork out.”
“Aw, thank you, Yuuri and Victor,” Esther replied, smiling. “I really would have been fine, but thank you for thinking of me. That’s very sweet.”
“Yes, my Yuuri is very thoughtful!” Victor’s voice and smile were proud.
Yuuri blushed, then rallied. “Please come have a seat, while I open the wine. Vitya, are the katsudon ready?”
“ Da, zolotse . I even got the eggs right! Hiroko-kaasan will be so proud. I took a picture to show her! Come, everyone, sit while we bring the food!”
"Yuuri?" Robin asked hesitantly, after all seven diners had cleaned their bowls. The conversation had stayed on neutral topics over dinner, although department gossip constituted a large portion of it. Victor had been eager to learn more about Yuuri’s school and his life there, and about university life in general. (“It is so different from your movies!” he exclaimed more than once.)
"Can I ask you a question? It's probably a little personal, so you don't have to answer if you're not comfortable."
He became very still, and his eyes closed. She waited. He drew a long breath and opened his eyes to search her face. Then he seemed to come to a decision.
"Go ahead, Robin. I really do want to stop hiding from my friends." He finished the wine in his cup and poured some more, then looked around the table at each of them.
She fidgeted, feeling intrusive despite his assent. "Yuuri. Um. This might be a little weird, but are you famous for some reason?"
“Robin!” Deon exclaimed.
Yuuri blushed, but seemed to have expected the question. "Yeah, kinda."
She waited expectantly while the others all stared at their friend.
He rubbed a hand on the back of his neck. “I, um, I used to figure skate. I won some events.” He paused to collect himself. He possibly shouldn’t have.
“Some events!” burst out Victor. “My Yuuri took gold at the Grand Prix twice, and silver three times. Two golds at Worlds, four at the Japanese nationals, and three at the Four Continents. Oh, and silver at Pyeongchang.” He was beaming as if his body could not contain his pride.
Yuuri’s blush deepened to a bright red. “Vitya!” he protested.
They were speechless for a moment. Robin wasn’t sure what exactly she’d been expecting, but it hadn’t been that .
“ WHAT .” Makshi practically shouted. “Yuuri, you went to the Olympics ? The Olympics, man! Why’d you never say anything?!”
He was entirely flustered. “I-I didn’t want to make a fuss. I’m not competing anymore, I’m retired. I wanted to do something new. I wanted to make friends here. N-not fans. And how would I bring it up, anyway?” His hands gripped the empty bowl in front of him tightly and he grimaced. “‘Hi, my name is Yuuri Katsuki, I’m starting my MA, and I’m a famous figure skater’? That wouldn’t single me out at all.”
“But that’s amazing! I’d be telling everyone I met, for, like, ever!”
“Mac,” Robin reminded her, “not everyone is as… outgoing as you are.”
Amy and Deon had been tapping rapidly at their phones. Deon’s eyes grew wide, and he held out his phone for the others to see. “Look at him,” he breathed. They crowded around and watched as Yuuri flew across the ice, performing dizzying spins and jumps to the faint music of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite . Victor peered over Esther’s shoulder.
“Ah yes,” he said proudly. “The Zhar-ptitsa free skate. Yuuri choreographed that one himself after a leg injury made him miss Worlds. He took gold with that program at the Grand Prix, nationals, and Worlds. I was so excited! He was so beautiful, he looked like a flame dancing over the ice.”
Robin looked up at Victor as the program ended. “That’s you over on the side, isn’t it?”
He grinned widely. “I was Yuuri’s coach for most of his career!”
“You were my coach,” Yuuri repeated from his seat across the table. “Seriously, Vitya, that’s all you have to say?”
“Yuuri,” Amy interrupted with awe, “that is a lot of medals on your wikipedia page. You have your own wikipedia page.”
Everyone was looking at her phone now. As they read, their heads one by one turned to look at Yuuri across the table, and then up at his beaming husband. “Yuuri,” Deon said in a slightly strangled voice, “this bit here, where it says ‘Katsuki’s coach, rival, and husband, Victor Nikiforov passed him in the free skate to win gold’...” His voice trailed off.
Yuuri sipped at his wine. “Mm. You should see his wikipedia page. He’s quick to tell you about me, but that idiot looming over you is the most medalled skater in men’s singles history. There was a solid five-year stretch where he won gold at every competition he entered. No one else has even come close to that sort of run.”
“I was bored! It was boring!” Victor protested. “I was ready to quit by the end of those years! Instead I went and found the most beautiful man I’d ever seen, the one who I knew could challenge me on the ice, and convinced him to astonish the world. Oh it was so much more fun skating when he was there to beat me!”
Yuuri’s fellow students just started back and forth at the two men.
Finally, Deon broke the silence. “I need another glass of wine, I think.”
Yuuri got up to fetch another bottle, and they all resumed their seats.
“So,” Makshi said when Yuuri returned and was refilling their glasses. “You’re a world-famous figure skater, and your husband is a figure skating legend. You are both retired. And now you’re a grad student and you do custodial work at the local rink. There is something about that that confuses me.”
“Yuuri, what?” questioned Victor. “I am pretty sure my English is good, but I just heard her saying you are a custodian at our rink?”
“‘Our’ rink?!” That was Amy.
Yuuri sighed, blushing again. “Yeah. Um. Victor bought it so he could continue working while I am in school. He doesn’t compete anymore, but he coaches. I, um, never said what I do at the rink. You all assumed I cleaned it when we met, and I didn’t know how to correct you without explaining everything. I help Victor with the coaching. It’s mostly his job, but my step sequences are better and sometimes he needs to be travelling.”
“You know,” said Esther, “I wondered why you weren’t wearing hockey skates like the other men from the department. This… actually explains a lot.”
“But Yuuri,” she continued, “If you - or your husband, or whatever - own the rink, how come you didn’t make the kid who was harassing you leave?”
“Yuuri, someone was harassing you?” Victor cried, immediately distressed.
Yuuri reached out and put his hands over one of his husband’s reassuringly. “Yurio heard about the department coming. He couldn’t resist, that’s all.”
Robin felt another piece click into place in her head. “Wait, let me guess. That little blond shit is Victor’s student.”
He nodded. “Yuri Plisetsky is a former rival and the reigning champion of the Grand Prix and Worlds. His coach retired a year after Victor retired the second time. Victor took him on as student.” A smile came over his face. “Despite what you saw, he’s more like family than anything else. Except for his rink-mates, he’s been pretty much on his own since he was 14. When all three of us were still competing at the same time, we shared the podium a lot of the time. He’s actually a good kid underneath, but he’d probably kill me for saying so.”
“He followed you all the way from Russia to here.”
“Like I said, practically family. Besides, I was coming here and so was Victor, and losing access to both potential coaches was not something he was keen on. He did scream at us for a solid month about it, though.” He laughed. “When he realised he might be able to hide from his fans - who are alarmingly rabid - he became quite enthusiastic. We’ve kept our location quiet since we moved here, for his sake. He was the one who called the day Victor injured himself and I rushed off.”
The table was silent for a minute as Yuuri’s friends processed all of this. He stood and began collecting the empty bowls to bring into the kitchen. When he returned, Amy looked him up and down.
“That time you came to the study group all made up-”
Yuuri made a face. “Photoshoot for a sponsor that took way too long. God I wanted to be out of there quickly but she would just not be satisfied. I was so embarrassed when I didn’t have time to change.”
Deon sighed wistfully at the memory and lifted his glass to his lips. Victor grinned at him. “My Yuuri is something spectacular when he is made up for the ice, isn’t he? Of course he is always beautiful, but when he is dressed for his public, it takes my breath away.”
“It was hard to concentrate on studying that day,” Deon agreed.
“He has that effect. When I first met him, he enchanted me so much that-”
“ Vitya, net, net! ” Yuuri interrupted, blushing deeply.
“But zolotse , you said I already told Robin about your pole dancing at Sochi!”
Deon spat his wine across the table, and Yuuri sunk his head into his arms. Amy pounded Deon on the back, and Makshi demanded to know the story, claiming that leaving a statement like that hanging was tantamount to war crime.
“Well, you see,” began Victor, but Yuuri lifted up his head from the table and glared at his husband, who fell silent.
“Vitya, I’ll get you for that,” he warned, wagging a finger. “I have more than enough incriminating photos on my phone and my best friend is a social media god.” Victor looked like he was about to relax, but Yuuri continued. “No, not any of the sexy ones. I know you have no shame to blackmail you with. But you fell asleep last week with toothpaste on your face .”
Victor paled, and stayed silent.
Yuuri looked at his friends, who were struggling to keep up with the seemingly endless revelations of the evening. Makshi finally leaned in, wine glass clasped earnestly in her hands and a solemn look on her face. “Yuuri. I will not rest until I hear this story.” Deon nodded furiously.
Yuuri tossed back the last of his most recent glass of wine. “Fine,” he said, speaking rapidly and staring at the ceiling. “When I was training in my undergrad, I needed to work on my core strength, and my roommate convinced me that pole dancing classes with him would help. After a particularly bad competition, I got wasted at the banquet. Really wasted. I still have no memory of it, but apparently I, uh, challenged a bunch of other skaters to dance-offs. There was a pole. Can we let it go now?” he pleaded.
Quickly, before Yuuri could stop him, Victor added “He won every contest!”
Yuuri slumped his head into his arms.
Victor and Yuuri saw them down the elevator and out the front door. Robin reflected that when she’d arrived, she hadn’t expected to touch or handle Olympic medals, or medals of any sort. He’d shyly brought a couple of them out when Makshi made a fuss about seeing them.
She also hadn’t expected Deon to get drunk with Yuuri’s husband and spend half the night rhapsodizing about Yuuri’s ass with him. Yuuri had locked himself in the bathroom until Deon promised to stop. (Victor made no such promise, but the next time he opened his mouth, a tipsy Amy kicked him lightly in the shin, and his drunken rambles turned to his horrific new injury.)
Yuuri had asked them to refrain from telling everyone in the department about his previous career. “You, um, don’t need to lie if anyone asks, but it’d be nice if I could keep trying to make actual friends without causing much fuss.” Makshi, who was as content to keep a secret as she was eager to learn one, assured him she’d nut anyone who blabbed. Yuuri just blinked at that and thanked her cautiously.
Before they walked - or staggered - back into the night, Robin turned and wrapped her arms around her famous friend. “Thanks for trusting us, Yuuri,” she murmured. “See you in class on Wednesday?”
He hugged her back. “Thanks for pushing me. See you Wednesday.”