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Looking for a rhythm like you

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Yuuri is suffering under the weight of the worst hangover of his life, after the worst day of his life, when he accidentally body-checks the person he admires most in the entire world.

Not lightly, either. Yuuri slams right into him, his shoulder landing solidly just under Victor Nikiforov’s breastbone, knocking the breath out of him.

It happens early, so early in the morning, the hotel cleaning crews still getting the halls ready for the new day. In his rush, Yuuri runs over an unplugged extension cord with his rolling suitcase, which immediately snags a wheel.

Yanking on the handle, Yuuri unsticks the wheel and stumbles forward, only to slam hard into a man coming out of the nearby hotel room.

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry,” Yuuri's already bowing and apologizing, racking his brain for the Russian word. “Prostite, izvinite!” and then he looks up and his heart stops.

The same blue eyes that stared down from a dozen posters on the walls of Yuuri's childhood bedroom. The famous swoop of silvery hair. The red and white jacket emblazoned with RUSSIA.

"Sorry," Yuuri says again weakly as figure skating living legend Victor Nikiforov rubs his sternum and coughs.

Once he's breathing again, "Don't worry about it," says Victor with a sudden, dazzling smile. "I was just coming to look for you, Yuuri!"

"Look for me?" Yesterday, Victor didn't even know who Yuuri was, didn't recognize him as a fellow competitor at all when Yuuri was standing five feet away from him. And somehow this morning Victor's looking for him?

"Yes. Are you in a hurry? Do you have some time?"

"I. Sure." Yuuri's supposed to meet his coach downstairs in forty minutes, but he'd worked himself into a fit of worry that he'd be late, so he was heading down early. He'd hoped to used the extra time to find food to settle his hungover stomach.

But screw all that, Victor Nikiforov knows his name.

"Great!" Victor keycards his door open again and guides Yuuri inside with a hand on his shoulder. Yuuri tries to remember when he last had this jacket cleaned, because obviously he's never washing it again.

Victor has a large corner room with huge wraparound windows and a spectacular 180 degree view. In addition to the bed, minibar and TV cabinet that are identical to the ones in Yuuri's room, this room has a sofa, cushy chairs, and a coffee table, as well as a small dining table circled with another set of chairs.

Yuuri's first unworthy thought is that the event planners don't even wait for Victor to win anymore, they just assume he'll get the gold and automatically give him the best room of the skaters' block.

Right on the heels of that, he realizes the Russian skating federation must have paid for an upgrade, and why wouldn't they? Victor had already claimed four Grand Prix Final gold medals for Russia before they ever booked his room. They have every reason to coddle him a little. And he repaid their support; he won his fifth GPF gold yesterday.

While Yuuri repaid his supporters with a miserable sixth place finish.

"Would you like anything?" Victor asks politely, with a nod toward the minibar.

"No! No, thank you." Yuuri shakes himself out of his misery. This is no time to beat himself up about his pathetic showing at the Final. It's a once-in-a-lifetime moment. He's in Victor Nikiforov's hotel room. At a directing wave from Victor, Yuuri sits in one of the armchairs around the coffee table.

"Some water, at least. After the party last night, I think we all need it," says Victor, passing him a chilled bottle of water with a Cyrillic logo, and opening one for himself.

"Thank you." Yuuri nervously wrings the bottle's neck without opening it until Victor looks at him curiously. Yuuri hastily cracks it open and drinks. "Thanks. And-- congratulations, of course."

"Thank you. So..." Victor's smile is still friendly and bright, but he seems less sure as he strums his fingertips along the textured plastic of his water bottle. "Things got a little wild at the banquet last night."

Yuuri wouldn't know; he spent the entire thing slurping champagne and drooping unhappily in the corner for a blurry eternity until his coach came to haul him back to the room and put him to bed. Yuuri barely remembers anything of the night beyond staggering out of the elevator and careening to his door, the hangover already setting in.

"I guess," he offers, trying to smile back.

"Everyone had a great time. Most fun I've had in ages."

Yuuri and his wallflower misery are not included in 'everyone,' of course, and that's a little painful. But even if Victor didn't recognize him yesterday or notice him lurking unhappily around the fringes of the banquet last night, Victor knows his name now, and Yuuri's admired him forever. He can say with complete sincerity, "I'm glad you enjoyed your celebration."

"More than any other," Victor says warmly. "But... things did get a little crazy, and there were photos... it wouldn't matter normally, but-- did you know Chris is getting married?"

Yuuri almost asks who Chris is before he realizes, of course, Christophe Giacometti; it would never in a million years occur to Yuuri to call him Chris, even though they've spoken a few times at competitions. But Victor can probably call anyone anything he wants.

"I didn't know that, no," Yuuri says.

"The wedding's not far off and they've both been getting jitters," says Victor blithely. Yuuri wonders if he'll ever get used to the way foreigners seem to pour out secrets like water to anyone who'll listen. "Chris is worried that the photos from last night could upset his fiancé, maybe even enough to call things off. Even though it was just for fun, it ended up looking risqué, and nerves are running high. It would calm things down a lot if Chris could tell him that the other guy in those photos isn't single."

"Okay..." So Chris and Victor took some cheeky photos together and now they regret it. That doesn't explain why Yuuri is here. He must have missed something.

Victor tosses his head to get his hair out of his eyes, and Yuuri feels a powerful moment of dissociation: he's seen that exact gesture in countless interviews, and now it's happening right in front of him. That's Victor Nikiforov. Five feet away, his smile dwindling to an enigmatic little curl of his lips.

"I know we only really met yesterday, and this may be skipping ahead a lot," says Victor, "but would it be all right if we told people we're dating?"

Yuuri's jaw drops. "Huh?"

"Just hear me out," Victor says. "I think this could be good for everyone."

"Why are you asking me?" Yuuri blurts. "Who'd even believe you're dating me?"

Victor touches a finger to his lips thoughtfully. "I guess it might seem like a stretch, since we hadn't really talked before this competition. But we can just tell everyone we hit it off really well during the GPF and let them fill in the rest."

"But wouldn't-- somebody else--?"

"Why someone else? Why not you and me?" Victor asks. "I'm single. You're not seeing anyone, are you?"

"No!" Yuuri nearly shouts. Though the certainty in Victor's tone stings a little. Does Yuuri have 'undateable' stamped on his forehead?

Victor breaks into a sunny smile. "Well, then."

"What about Crispino, or Cao Bin, or Leroy--?"

"Straight, in a long-term relationship, engaged," Victor counts them off on his fingers and shrugs.

"What about literally anyone else on earth?"

Victor drops his hands onto his knees. "Ah," is all he says, his mouth a straight line.

Yuuri, unaccountably, feels bad. "I'm not saying-- of course-- it's just," he gulps, "who's going to believe the five-time winner of the Final is dating the first-timer who bombed out and came in last?" He stares at his feet, trying to get his breathing under control.

"Most people don't base their relationships on figure skating scores, do they?"  Victor says reasonably. "And I realize this competition's been rough for you, but you did make it to the Final, and you were so good at Skate America!"

Yuuri's head snaps up. Ow. "When did you see...?"

"After the finalists were announced, I watched everyone's programs, of course."

"But yesterday you didn't know who I was."

"In the lobby, you mean? I didn't recognize you with your glasses on." Victor tilts his head. "Is that still bothering you? I do feel bad about it. If I'd just stopped to think for a second, I would have realized it was you. I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry," Yuuri says, chest tight, "I don't-- feel very well--"

"Oh! Champagne hangovers are the worst," says Victor. "Drink more water. Small sips! Have you taken anything? Would aspirin help? I'll get some. Do you think you could drink something with electrolytes or would that make you sicker? It always makes me nauseous after a night like that, but Chris swears by it..."

While Victor bustles around him, Yuuri gradually reins himself in, getting his breathing under control. He is not going to freak out in Victor Nikiforov's hotel room, not even in a dream, which this obviously is.

When Victor disappears briefly out of sight, Yuuri reaches over to the arty floor lamp nearby and switches it on and off. It lights up and flicks out obediently. And a few moments later, when Victor presses a packet of crackers into Yuuri's hands, the Cyrillic text is accompanied by "Tea Biscuits" in English, perfectly legible.

Supposedly you can't change the lights or read anything in dreams, but Yuuri's still not sure he can believe this.

He checks the time on his phone. Eighteen minutes ago, he had never found the courage to say a single word to Victor Nikiforov, hadn't even been able to bring himself to approach him to so much as shake his hand. But somehow, today... this.

Victor supplies him with aspirin, the tea biscuits, a sports drink, a cup of ice, and a cool damp washcloth, which he personally drapes over the back of Yuuri's neck.

"I find it helps," Victor shrugs, breezy and charming.

It does help. Maybe not the cool cloth, but the kindness definitely helps as Yuuri reminds himself that he's safe here. He's read and watched so many interviews with Victor, and he always seems gracious and good-natured. And here's proof that even if Yuuri completely loses it and nearly makes himself sick with worry, Victor will just try to smooth it over and make him feel better.

Anyway, what is Yuuri so afraid of? That he'll make a fool of himself in front of his idol? He already did that when he skated.

Yuuri nibbles a cracker, swallows the painkillers, sips the sports drink and gathers his courage. "If you... if you really think it might help," he says. "You can tell people whatever you want. About, uh. About you and me."

Victor lights up. "Yuuri! Are you sure?"

Absolutely not. "Yes."

"I really think it'll work out well for everyone," says Victor. "If we tell everyone we're dating, Chris's fiancé won't mind the photos. You'll have a new story for reporters to talk about. Something to change the subject. Same for me. Instead of hounding me about my plans for next year, they'll ask about us!"

"Us," Yuuri repeats, dazed.

"Us," Victor says. "Let me see your phone! I know your flight's soon. I suppose there's no way you can reschedule?"

"No, it's-- no."

"That's okay, we can keep in touch and coordinate everything by phone for now. Is it all right if I ask you questions? You can ask me anything. But if you don't want to talk about something, just say-- or you don't even have to say, you can send me emojis and I'll back off, I promise. I just want us to get to know each other better. And you may have heard this about me, but I don't know when to quit." He catches Yuuri's eye and winks, because this whole experience wasn't surreal enough already. "I'll stop whenever you want, though. No questions asked. Just let me know if it's too much."

"Okay," says Yuuri faintly. "How long, um...?"

Victor texts himself from Yuuri's phone and saves the number to his own contacts as Yuuri xoxo, which seems like a massive overcommitment to verisimilitude. Is he worried some reporter is going to check his contacts or something? Actually, Yuuri supposes that could happen to someone as famous as Victor. Phone hacking and all that.

"How long...?" Victor looks up, his expression growing thoughtful. "I'm not sure. It may be a while, maybe not even til Worlds. I know that's a lot to ask. But I can wait for you. Do you think you can wait for me?"

He seems oddly serious. But Yuuri supposes it would be embarrassing for Victor to pretend to date some dime-a-dozen skater, only for them to turn around and "cheat" on him.

"Of course," Yuuri promises.

"Great!" Victor smiles broadly. "Do you feel better?"

Yuuri nods. "Thank you for everything you gave me to help."

Waving that away, Victor stands. "I'll walk you down. That shoulder bag is only going to make your head worse, let me get that one."

Oh. They're starting now. Of course they're starting now. If the point is to try to reassure Chris's boyfriend that Victor doesn't have designs on Chris, no matter how racy the photos they took together might be, then of course Victor needs to establish his alibi as soon as possible.

They leave Victor's room together, walk down the hall together. Yuuri glances at Victor from the corner of his eye: tall, confident, so handsome he seems to glow with it.

Who in the world is going to believe he's dating Yuuri? When Yuuri used to fantasize about meeting Victor, he had to project some magical future version of himself, older, a better skater, more accomplished and self-assured, with better hair and broader shoulders. Otherwise the fantasy crumbled away because he couldn't believe Victor would waste his time.

Yuuri doesn't have to believe it. He shouldn't believe it, because it's not real. As long as he remembers that, it'll be fine. It'll be better than fine. He'll have a reason to talk to Victor Nikiforov. Maybe they'll even be friends after this. Friendly. Acquainted, at least. Maybe.

Yuuri follows Victor into the elevator; Victor's closer to the button panel, but he doesn't press anything. The doors slide shut, but they still don't move.

Victor turns to him. "Yuuri." His voice is low. "Can I kiss you?"

Yuuri's vision goes white around the edges. He's reminding himself as much as asking when he says, "In front of reporters?"

"Would that be okay? There are a lot of them around."

Sure. Right. Of course. "Yes," Yuuri says, slapping the button for the lobby.

Victor smiles. It's not the friendly public smile he gave Yuuri yesterday when he offered a photo to a fan. It's practically just a curl of the lips compared to that, small and secret.

Abruptly Yuuri reaches for the buttons again, looking for Stop-- but that button is bright red and also says Emergency, so instead, he presses all the buttons for every floor between them and the lobby. The lift pauses on the sixth floor, the doors opening.

"Actually. No," he says, keeping his eyes on the lighted buttons. "I don't feel right about doing that for cameras, I'm sorry, this is why-- I don't think I should be--"

"It's okay," Victor cuts in as the doors close and the elevator sinks. "We don't have to. Announcing it doesn't have to be a big deal. Someone will ask when they see us together, and we can tell them we're dating, and that's that."

The doors open to the fifth floor. Yuuri is simultaneously kicking himself for throwing away the only chance he's ever likely to have to kiss Victor Nikiforov, and glad he said no after all. This is a favor Victor is trying to do for Chris, it doesn't have anything to do with Yuuri. Victor should never have to kiss someone he doesn't want to touch.

The elevator descends another floor, opens to the fourth floor, holds, closes.

"Could I kiss you now?" Victor asks, quietly.

"Yes?" Yuuri can't stop himself from answering. He's only human.

The elevator glides to a halt on the third floor. Opens. Closes. Yuuri holds his breath.

Victor turns to Yuuri, his fingers cool along the angle of Yuuri's jaw, tracing over his chin, tipping Yuuri's face up as Victor leans down.

It's very light. Victor's mouth is warm against Yuuri's. He tilts his head, silver hair shifting, and his lips part just enough to send a thrill through Yuuri-- and then he holds right there, right on the edge of too much. The elevator slow and stops, and Victor eases back. The doors open to the second floor.

"You're too good at this," Yuuri says, dizzy.

Victor laughs softly. The doors close again and they descend.

"Okay," says Yuuri. There's a little smudge on his glasses where Victor's skin touched the lens. He's having these glasses encased in Lucite. "If it's like that. It's okay. In front of-- whoever. Wherever. It's fine. Sorry I keep changing my mind."

"No, I'm glad you said." Victor lets his hand fall to Yuuri's shoulder. "Always tell me things like that. I only want to do what you like, Yuuri."

I am going to die, Yuuri thinks very calmly as the doors open and close on the first floor. His face is so, so hot. He must be purple by now. "Okay," he croaks.

At last the doors open to the lobby. Victor's arm slides around Yuuri's shoulders, and he walks them out to face the world.

Chapter Text

"Get ready," Victor murmurs, guiding Yuuri out of the elevator. "Cameras in three, two--"

Flashes go off.

When Yuuri's vision clears, he sees Victor's now wearing the same heartthrob smile that Yuuri's seen in a thousand candid photos. "Oops. My count was a little off."

"I can't smile," Yuuri says, matching his quiet tone. "Sorry. I can't-- make my face go that way right now."

"That's all right," Victor laughs, his arm tightening briefly around Yuuri's shoulders. Someone with a microphone steps alongside them, but Victor shakes his head and they fall away.

Yuuri knows that he's not dreaming now, because in all the times he's imagined meeting Victor, he's never wanted anything to do with this part. Whenever he has to give an interview of his own, he feels like he's going to crumble inside his skin, and no one even watches those. He wants nothing to do with the kind of scrutiny Victor gets; he prefers crowds to stay safely on the other side of a rink barrier and several hundred feet away.

"Still okay?" Victor asks, disguising it as a brush of lips against Yuuri's hair.

"Great," says Yuuri. He does not sound great.

But even though the dimmed vision of oncoming panic, he can see Celestino's distinctive silhouette, the square shoulders and high ponytail. They're almost there, almost, almost, and then they're there and it doesn't actually make any difference: Yuuri's not sure what he expected Celestino to be able to do about any of this, all of this.

"I've got it," Victor's saying. Oh. He's talking about Yuuri's shoulder bag. Celestino looks unimpressed, but he takes one glance at Yuuri and his face shifts to grim sympathy. That's not good. Neither is the way he quickly guides them out to the car. At least two people with cameras slip out after them, and when Yuuri glances back, he's chilled by the number of phones being aimed in their direction.

Victor stows Yuuri's bag in the trunk and turns to him, framing his face with both hands, and everyone else drops out of Yuuri's attention completely. Victor has long hands, long fingers, Yuuri thinks irrelevantly. The backs of his fingers brush over Yuuri's cheeks. Yuuri should touch back, where can he touch, what's safe-- he settles his own hands at Victor's waist.

"Dosvidaniya. Travel safe," Victor says, and kisses Yuuri's forehead. He lingers long enough for all the nearby cameras to capture just how theatrically tender the gesture is.

"You too," Yuuri rasps out at least a full ten seconds late.

Ducking his head, Victor speaks low into his ear. "I'm so glad we're trying this, Yuuri. Thank you for giving it a chance." He backs off just enough to meet Yuuri's eyes, beaming at him. "Text me when you land, okay? Let me know when you're home."

"Okay," says Yuuri. Any moment now, Victor will let go and step away, but suddenly Yuuri thinks, no, wait, it's true: Yuuri is giving this crazy scheme a chance. He's doing Victor a favor. He knows he's going to collapse as soon as he lets himself think about what he's gotten himself into, and if he's going to panic anyway, at least this part should be good. And Victor already kissed him once.

Yuuri leans up on his toes and kisses Victor Nikiforov, quick and light. It's nothing, it must seem bizarrely immature, practically just a brush of lips. But Victor doesn't miss a step: he reacts so quickly, putting on a delighted expression, throwing his arms around Yuuri and hugging him.

"I can't wait to talk more," Victor says. "We'll work something out, all right? I'll see you soon."

Yuuri holds on. He used to dream that maybe if he worked his heart out and made the podium at the GPF or Worlds, he might get a fellow medalist's hug from Victor after the ceremony.

This feels like cheating. He hasn't earned this, he doesn't deserve it. He's chest-to-chest with Victor, he can feel Victor's shoulders flex as he tightens his arms and lifts Yuuri almost off his feet with a little laugh.

He doesn't deserve this, and he doesn't have it, he reminds himself. Not really.

"Your coach is going to tear you away from me if I don't let you go," Victor says, easing Yuuri back down. "Otherwise I'd drag you right back inside. I can't believe we hadn't talked before yesterday. I'm going to end up texting you before your car even leaves the lot. Tell me to back off if you need to, okay? I promise, I'd rather know if it's too much."

"I promise," says Yuuri, for lack of anything better to say. Wait, Victor said dosvidaniya, should Yuuri do that too? He adds, "Ki wo tsukete."

"That's goodbye? Not sayonara?" Victor asks.

"No... we don't really say that much? That's for-- when you don't expect to see someone for a long time," says Yuuri.

"Definitely not that, then," Victor smiles. If he keeps looking at Yuuri like that, Yuuri is going to lose his mind and kiss him again. No, he's not, he can't take advantage of this anymore, he should move away, get in the car.

But it feels impossible to move away while Victor's still standing there, gazing down at him. The early morning light glances brightly off his fair hair and eyelashes.

"The pictures they're taking right now must look amazing," Yuuri says, and then his brain catches up with his mouth and he feels his face go hot again.

"I never imagined I'd see you blush over anything after last night," says Victor gleefully. That sends a cold shock of horror through Yuuri's stomach-- he should have put more limits on what kind of lies Victor can tell about them. If anyone heard him say that, if they put that in an article or something, no no no...

"You're so cute, Yuuri," Victor's going on. "We should take a picture of our own! Race you to the camera app," he whips his phone out of his pocket, fingers dancing on the screen.

Yuuri, however, is a graduate of the Phichit Chulanont school of selfies, and he has his camera ready faster. And then he promptly wishes he had let Victor win, because when he holds up the phone, his hands are shaking.

Victor doesn't comment, just reaches up and steadies the phone while Yuuri takes photos. "One more," Victor says, and he kisses Yuuri's temple for this one. If Yuuri had been the only one holding the phone right then, he would have dropped it.

"Yuuri." Celestino says, startling Yuuri enough to make him jump. Victor squeezes him again. Yuuri looks toward his coach with dread as Celestino stands with the car door open. They took so long he got back out of the car. And after Yuuri did so badly here, wasted so much of his coach's time--

"I have to go," he says, ducking away from Victor, just barely stopping himself from an apologetic bow. That would probably look weird if they're supposed to be dating.

Victor blows him a kiss and grins. Despite himself, Yuuri is helpless to do anything but smile back. He waves a last goodbye, and hurriedly folds himself into the car.

"I had to step out at the banquet last night. It seems as though I missed a lot," Celestino says.

Yuuri shakes his head. "Is. Is everything okay? You usually stay."

"My god-daughter had her baby. We had a video chat so I could see them."

"Oh." Yuuri stares at his fists resting on his knees. "Everyone's well?"

"They're perfect. Beautiful." Celestino adds, "I mentioned why I was leaving to you, on my way out. If I hadn't been in such a hurry, I would have realized you weren't going to remember a thing I said."

"Sorry, Coach," says Yuuri automatically. "Sorry, is it all right-- I. I just need to," he waves his phone.

"Go ahead."

Hands still trembling, Yuuri refreshes the tab he already had open to #GrandPrixFinal on Twitter.

Skately fe  @nicecapades 1m
#VictorNikiforov standing in the parking lot waving after #YuuriKatsuki's car like Katsuki's going off to war #ExtraExtra

cut u @myknifeshoes  2m
OMG #VictorNikiforov walked #YuuriKatsuki 2 his ride, they kissed?! & they're still 2gether out there #GrandPrixFinal #plottwist

[Image]

slippery trigger @sexathelon  3m
@v-nikiforov scored a #GrandPrixFinal gold medal and a hot japanese boyfriend in the same weeknd? Dis bich

Skately fe  @nicecapades 3m
#YuuriKatsuki didn't medal at #GrandPrixFinal but looks like he still got silver #yeahIsaidit #VictorNikiforov

Medal Up @icyhaute 4m
#GrandPrixFinal no surprise: #VictorNikiforov gold #ChrisGiacometti silver. #GrandPrix surprise: #VictorNikiforov JUST KISSED #YuuriKatsuki

Medal Up @icyhaute 5m
#GrandPrixFinal wtf just saw @v-nikiforov with arm around #YuuriKatsuki walkng to car?! #VictorNikiforov

Yuuri's shivering all over now, but he manages to take a screenshot. Scrolling through his contacts, he stares: Victor saved his number in Yuuri's phone as "Vitya xx".

Shaking it off, Yuuri sends the screenshot and texts, Looks like it worked.

Victor texts back right away, Perfect!

"Perfect," Yuuri reads aloud, with an edge of hysteria, and curls in on himself, resting his forehead on his knees. It's not helping, his breath whooshing faster and faster.

He's so stupid. He let himself be talked into this dumb stunt because Victor remembered his name and acted nice to him. Now everyone will think Yuuri bombed at the GPF because he spent the whole event chasing after Victor. Or worse.

And now what? Yuuri's no actor, he's going to slip and blurt the truth and screw up Victor's plan, and Victor will be furious with him and Chris will get hurt and everyone in figure skating will think he's an idiot for even trying to convince people--

"Yuuri," his coach says.

"Hai," Yuuri chokes. He pushes himself upright. "Yes."

"Here. Drink. Slowly," Celestino presses his aluminum water bottle into Yuuri's hand. "Deep breaths."

People always say that, as if he just temporarily forgot how to breathe right and needs a reminder. Like it's as simple as that. Yuuri thumbs open the flip-top of the weird reusable bottle and sips. One sip, one breath. Another sip, another breath.

He swallows the next sip wrong when his phone buzzes, and Yuuri reads the texts that come in through a coughing fit.

 

Vitya xx: I'm saying no comment to everyone
Vitya xx: Except CBC, they asked are we dating, I said yes
Vitya xx: Anything else I should say/not say?

Yuuri scrambles for the chance of reprieve, at least from the worst of it.

 

Me: if anyone asks
Me: say nothing happened until after the competition ended

Vitya xx: Ok I will
Vitya xx: Do you have pr / publicist / agent
Vitya xx: Anyone who will want a say in this

Me: no but my federation has conduct guidelines
Me: so please no jokes / hints about |

He hangs his head. He can't even type it. Yuuri is supposed to pretend to be dating Victor Nikiforov and he can't even text the word 'sex' without wanting to sink through the floor. Reason number infinite that he shouldn't have agreed to do this. Finally he makes his thumbs move.

 

Me: so please no jokes / hints about anything sexual

There. Somehow that seems less loaded.

 

Vitya xx: Right ^_~
Vitya xx: There was absolutely no grinding groping or pole-dancing

Me: right DO NOT even joke about anything like that ever PLEASE

Vitya xx: I promise!
Vitya xx: I will be good
Vitya xx: I'm saving all my being bad for the next time I see you ^_~
Vitya xx: I won't say that where anyone can hear me either, don't worry!
Vitya xx: I'll stick to no comment until we can talk more

Me: good idea. thank you

Vitya xx: <3

Finally, one thing settled. Yuuri's breath leaves him again in a pathetic whine. He's sweating a little, just from freaking out; he wipes his eyes and goes to clean his glasses on his t-shirt, almost forgetting before he stops short and tilts them. There. That little smudge from Victor's cheek. He can't wipe that away.

"Yuuri," his coach says, suddenly serious. "Did something happen?"

He can't help it, Yuuri has to laugh a little at that. "Yes?"

More carefully, Celestino asks, "Did something happen that you didn't want?"

"--No! No," Yuuri gasps. "Everything is okay, Coach. I'm sorry."

"If something happened, you can tell me. I don't care if it was Victor Nikiforov or the Czar of Russia--"

"Coach, please. Victor was-- nice. We just talked. He asked me to, to date, that's all. That's it."

"You seem upset."

"I just didn't realize everything would happen so fast like that." Yuuri watches his fists bunch up and relax, bunch up and relax, nails biting into his palms. "And I know the attention is going to be hard. But it's okay! I want to do this."

And saying it aloud, it feels true. This is a stupid stunt and probably a bad idea, and it could go so wrong so easily in so many different ways. But...

Yuuri goes to his photo gallery. Right at the top are his photos with Victor, nothing like the commemorative photo that Victor offered him yesterday, his usual meet and greet. These photos commemorate the time that Yuuri agreed to do Victor a favor, and Victor was so grateful and glad that he grinned and impulsively kissed Yuuri's head.

Yuuri did that. That's his smile.

Worth it.

Chapter Text

Yuuri barely registers the rest of the car ride, too busy fielding messages to look up from his phone.


 

 

Vitya xx: This is fun
Vitya xx: Everyone wants to know how we got together!
Vitya xx: No one is asking me about next year, it's perfect
Vitya xx: What about this: «we talked after the competition ended, and we spent most of the banquet together. We agreed we want to see more of each other»
Vitya xx: That should be innocent enough for your federation?
Vitya xx: Not very romantic though. What do you think, can I say anything about dancing?

Me: if it's not specific? It should be ok
Me: just 「we danced at the banquet」 is ok
Me: keep it simple

Vitya xx: Ok!
Vitya xx: I want to say «we connected» but does that sound too much like hooked up?

Me: yes pls avoid that, it will definitely sound like a hookup

Vitya xx: «We talked after the competition ended, and at the banquet we danced and spent a lot of time together. When the party ended before we went our separate ways we agreed we want to see more of each other» what about that

Me: I think separate ways sounds like
Me: trying too hard. like something happened and you're denying it

Vitya xx: Ok... «We talked after the competition ended, and at the banquet we danced and spent a lot of time together. When the party ended, we agreed we want to see more of each other»
Vitya xx: And I'm sure I'll end up saying more but it'll just be about me: I'm trying to find time to visit and so on. The quote is all I'll say about us

Me: yes, ok. thank you

 


 

Phichit: yuuri
Phichit: YUURI
Phichit: YUURI WAHT
Phichit: H A P P E N E D
Phichit: ok i forgive ufor not telling me before now
Phichit: u were proly bzy
Phichit: hanging out with VICTOR NIKIFOROV
Phichit: but ur not with him now
Phichit: he waved ur car gbye I saw a clip on insta
Phichit: I ALSO SAW THE TWITPIX OF U KISSING HIM
Phichit: and since ur in the car now u can ANSWER YYUURI

Me: sorry! he's talking to me in another window!

Phichit: SCREEEEAM
Phichit: so happy4 u
Phichit: remember all those times u told me
Phichit: u didn't have a crush u just admried his skating soooo much
Phichit: HA


 

 

Vitya xx: Naturally while we decided what to say, they all gave up & scattered
Vitya xx: So I get to choose one to chase down & give the statement
Vitya xx: Do you care who?

Me: no, you decide

Vitya xx: Ok, going to Sportweek
Vitya xx: And I see the reporter you were talking to yesterday

Me: Morooka?

Vitya xx: Yes thanks I called him over too


 

 

Me: I didn't have a crush I do admire his skating that much
Me: Just because I liked him when I met him doesn't mean I had a crush before

Phichit: 9_9 ok sure yeah fine
Phichit: wait no 1st: there are other skaters u admire
Phichit: our walls aren't papered w posters of them
Phichit: not even 1 poster of 1 other skater
Phichit: all victor all the time

Me: because he's inspiring!

Phichit: inspiring in the pants!
Phichit: now that ur dating him its ok+++ you had a crush b4
Phichit: now that ur dating him itd be weird if you DIDNT have a crush b4 tbh


 

 

Vitya xx: Statement made!
Vitya xx: Morooka is intense
Vitya xx: He has a lot more questions
Vitya xx: I told him this statement is the only thing I've cleared w you
Vitya xx: So it's all I will say about us
Vitya xx: I think he approves of that
Vitya xx: But if he has your number I bet you'll hear from him

Me: he has coach's

Vitya xx: Sorry Yuuri's coach! Cialdini yy?

Me: y but he tells everyone to call him Celestino

Vitya xx: Coaches!
Vitya xx: Yakov is always complaining about how disrespectful we are
Vitya xx: But I think he would have a stroke if we called him Yakov Mikhailovich
Vitya xx: That's our Mr. Feltsman or I guess Feltsman-san?

Me: for a coach we'd say Feltsman-sensei

Vitya xx: Aha! I knew that word but not as a suffix. Cool!


 

 

Me: why would that be weird? meeting him is different

Phichit: ok u never had a crush
Phichit: u just met him... twitter says yesterday??

Me: y, we didn't really talk til after the competition

Phichit: so u
Phichit: katsuki 'let me think about it' yuuri
Phichit: talked to a guy for the first time yesterday
Phichit: & today ANNOUNCED TO THE WORLD that ur dating him

Me: ... ok that part was his idea

Phichit: whyyyy

Me: idk! mb he didnt want to sneak around to avoid the attn
Me: so he wanted to get it over with now
Me: mb hes sick of being asked about retiring
Me: so he wants to talk about something new

Phichit: r u ok w this?
Phichit: srsly. im kind of worried now
Phichit: this much attention isnt u

Me: it's ok! he asked me, I said ok
Me: once I'm out of RU I'm sure it will calm down

Phichit: ...

Me: I hope

Phichit: ok but like
Phichit: if u didnt already have a thing for him
Phichit: what happened yesterday
Phichit: to make you already sure u wanna date him

Me: he's really nice in person

Phichit: yuuri no
Phichit: really nice in person = u give them ur business card
Phichit: not DATING

Me: I don't have business cards

Phichit: I KNO

Me: ok he's not just nice
Me: it's hard to explain
Me: he didn't ask me why I bombed here
Me: or try to make me feel better about it
Me: he complimented my skate amerixa prgms
Me: asked if I needed anything
Me: he just seemed kind
Me: I thought I'd be intimidated but he made me feel
Me: idk safer? better. I still feel awful abt the gpf but
Me: last night it felt like everything was over
Me: today it doesn't feel that way anymore

Phichit: <3<3<3
Phichit: ok he sounds like a good guy
Phichit: u have my blessing
Phichit: but u have to tell me
Phichit: did u do the do

Me: PHICHIT CHULANONT I WILL TELL YOUR MAMA ON YOU

Phichit: MY MAMA PROLY WANTS TO KNOW 2
Phichit: u KISSED HIM IN PUBLIC ITS ALL OVER TWITTER

Me: kissing is all that happened

Phichit: ok how is kissing real Victor vs poster Victor

Me: I NEVER DID TAHT

Phichit: going to my photo gallery now

Me: drunk and on a dare does not count
Me: you promised to delete those

Phichit: i did >:D but that got u to admit it didnt it? :D

Me: you are the worst best friend

Phichit: (ノ^ヮ^)ノ*:・゚.✧`


 

 

Vitya xx: Mentioning Yakov was a mistake
Vitya xx: It summoned him
Vitya xx: He gave me a 10 minute lecture about embarrassing the motherland
Vitya xx: By making a spectacle of myself
Vitya xx: This is surprising?
Vitya xx: It is literally my job to make a spectacle of myself
Vitya xx: What about you? Has your coach said anything?

Me: Not much
Me: We're near the airport

Vitya xx: Ok. We have a lunch meeting w/ FFKK
Vitya xx: Which will probably be a politer version of the same lecture
Vitya xx: But other than that, free day, we fly out late tonight
Vitya xx: So hmu if you're bored at the airport / on the flight

Me: Ok... good luck at your meeting

Vitya xx: ^ε^


 

 

Me: help what does hmu mean

Phichit: hit me up

Me: ok ty

Phichit: wait why
Phichit: did victor say that????
Phichit: was he talking about sexting?????????

Me: NO

Phichit: yuuri all caps usually means im onto something

Me: 「Vitya xx: So hmu if you're bored at the airport / on the flight」
Me: THERE now you saw exactly what he said
Me: see, not about sexting

Phichit: yuuri he is totally talking about sexting!!

Me: hes not! Its not like that
Me: hes not asking me to sext on the FLIGHT that is crazy

Phichit: o shit he made a statement did u know

Me: y he ran it by me first in the other window

Phichit: its all over twitter
Phichit: he may be in nyc for nye? wtf

Me: what? we didnt talk about that

Phichit: "We talked after the competition ended, and at the banquet we danced and spent hours together. When the party ended, we agreed we want to see more of each other. We're both busy with the season but I'll find the time somehow. I've been invited to a New Year's event in NYC, so we'll see what happens!"
Phichit: his fans r going NUTS
Phichit: do u kno how long its been since he performed in the states
Phichit: wait of course u kno

Me: 3 YEARS, 4 MONTHS

Phichit: wow yuuri
Phichit: how did i ever get the idea u had a crush 9_9


 

 

Me: NYC??

Vitya xx: Maybe? )))
Vitya xx: Frank Siedlecka was supposed to appear

Me: but he had a skiing accident

Vitya xx: But he injured his knee wh-- ok you knew
Vitya xx: Imagine risking a leg on something as frivolous as skiing!
Vitya xx: Yakov won't even let me jog on pavement anymore
Vitya xx: Elliptical only (((

Me: New Year's though?

Vitya xx: Yes! With the US gold medalist out, they invited me
Vitya xx: I wasn't planning to be in the States so I turned it down
Vitya xx: But I told my agent to get back in touch
Vitya xx: If I'm that close we can visit!

Me: I don't think I can make it to NYC, things are tight already

Vitya xx: Isn't Detroit close? Asking Siri
Vitya xx: Oh not that close ((( It looks close on a map!!
Vitya xx: Anyway that's fine, I could come to you
Vitya xx: If I don't come to the States for this NYE thing
Vitya xx: I can come direct to Detroit

Me: What about practice??

Vitya xx: How booked up is your home rink? We could practice together )))

Me: Would your coach really be ok w that?

Vitya xx: Definitely not! But he'll get over it
Vitya xx: He knows by now that he has to let me do things my way

Me: I don't want to get you in trouble

Vitya xx: That's too bad ^_~
Vitya xx: Really though, don't worry about it
Vitya xx: It will be much easier to date if we're in the same hemisphere!
Vitya xx: Also Chris says hi! We're getting breakfast
Vitya xx: He congratulated me for putting you on lock in record time ^_~
Vitya xx: Now he and his fiance are arguing over whether on lock can mean dating or if it only means engaged
Vitya xx: They're so cute. Even when they argue they look cozy
Vitya xx: #relationshipgoals

Me: hi Chris, hi Chris's fiance
Me: we're at the terminal, bye for now

Vitya xx: <3!


 

By the time he and his coach are dragging their two rolling suitcases apiece into the international terminal at the Sochi airport, Yuuri feels as if his head is going to split open. Two hectic text conversations in the middle of a lingering hangover are two too many. It's so bad he takes off his glasses, because even that minor weight on his face hurts right now.

"This way," Celestino steers him, and soon Yuuri is plunked into a chair. "I'll be right back."

Yuuri sends a last message to Phichit about arriving at the airport and signing off, and puts his phone in airplane mode to shut down the temptation to keep texting or look at Twitter or anywhere else. It doesn't matter what anyone is saying, none of this is real anyway.

His coach returns with a macchiato and croissant for himself, water and a pirozhki for Yuuri. "Small bites. It will help," he says.

"How long do we have before our flight?"

"Plenty of time. Almost two and a half hours."

"Should we go through security first? It might take--"

"Yuuri." Celestino holds up a hand, or so Yuuri gathers from the blurry movement. "Let me worry about that. It's my job to take care of these things. Trust me to do my job."

Tearing the pirozhki into smaller pieces, Yuuri dips his head. "I'm sorry, coach." He crams a bite into his mouth, chewing pensively.

"You're more self-reliant than most other athletes I've worked with, and a lot of times I appreciate that," his coach says. "But at times like this, I wish you'd rely on me more."

"Sorry," he repeats, gulping some water, trying to delay and think of a calm way to discuss this. He fails, of course, and finds himself gracelessly bursting out with, "Coach, you know I can't afford your time now."

Skating in the Grand Prix Final should have improved Yuuri's prospects: when they planned it, Celestino assured Yuuri that even if he didn't medal, just appearing in the Final would be enough of a boost to attract more sponsors.

But that rested on the assumption that Yuuri wouldn't completely disgrace himself on the international stage. After his dismal performance, far from attracting more sponsors, he's likely to lose some of the support he already had.

"I'm so sorry for taking up all this time," Yuuri goes on, a little hoarse. "You should continue on from Tokyo and get back to your other students in Detroit. I'm going to be taking my winter term exams at Kino for the first five days anyway, and once that's done, I'll find someplace to rent ice time and practice on my own. I'll remember all your advice."

Celestino rests a hand briefly on his shoulder. "Eat," he says, and overrides Yuuri's attempt to respond. "No, no. You eat, I'll talk."

With some difficulty, Yuuri obeys.

"You're right that things are going to be harder than we hoped," his coach says. "We may lose sponsors. But no one is pulling out yet. It probably depends on how All-Japan goes. If you defend your gold there, I'm sure they'll stand by us."

"But--" Yuuri stops when Celestino gives him such a look that he can even see it without his glasses on.

"Let me say it. Sochi was expensive and funds are low now. The prize money from the Final didn't cover the costs, and with no guarantee of new sponsors, you can't afford to pay my expenses in Japan for ten days until the national competition."

Yuuri keeps his mouth shut this time, just shakes his head, eyes filling again. Amazing that he still has tears left in him after all this.

Celestino seems to be thinking the same thing, nudging the water bottle toward him. "Drink. I know I've said before that I am not a charity, and I expect bills to be paid and expenses reimbursed. And you've never let me down on that before. I'd say you've earned a little grace period. And I've earned a little vacation. I'm willing to pay my own way for a few days to be here for All-Japan. Now please stop shredding that poor pirozhki and eat the rest of it."

"Okay," Yuuri whispers, and eats and drinks, small bites, small sips, while Celestino drinks his macchiato and expounds.

"One thing you have let me handle without much question is the business side, the sponsorships and subsidies and funding. So now I wonder if you really understand your position. Yuuri, the JSF is behind you. I have no doubt that if they knew money was an issue, they'd find more funding for you. You're their only certified skater in men's singles. You've achieved world-class scores this season. You're photogenic, and if your media profile could stand some improvement, at least you've never done or said anything you've had to apologize for. A few sponsors may be spooked, but your Federation knows your track record and your potential, and they'll support you."

Yuuri knows this is meant to be reassuring, but he can't help shrinking in on himself, his shoulders winding up tight. He can only think about how badly he's disappointed the JSF's expectations-- how little he deserves the kind of support Celestino is talking about.

His coach sighs. "This isn't helping? All right, let me be even more blunt. If you dismiss me as your coach-- no, don't argue, if I did go back to Detroit, that is a dismissal, even if it's meant to be temporary-- the point is, if that happens, every men's figure skating coach who can afford to take the chance will be offering to coach you, for whatever fee the JSF can subsidize. You've already proved you're internationally competitive. The setback just makes a better story-- everyone is going to want to be the coach that puts you back on track."

"A better story," Yuuri repeats unhappily. He fumbles his glasses back on. "Do you mean-- because of, of-- this morning?"

"Probably you would have received offers like that anyway. But today's news is a factor," Celestino tells him frankly. "As of this morning, some coaches would see it as worthwhile to take you on for the publicity alone."

Yuuri plants his elbows on the table and holds his head; the hangover was ebbing, but he feels the blazing headache creeping back. "I didn't agree to this for my career."

"Of course not," his coach says. "But you must realize, Yuuri, of course it helps you to be linked to the current golden boy of the sport."

"Is it... is that why you're willing to stay?"

"I would have wanted to stay, regardless," Celestino says.

It's not quite a direct answer, which is an answer itself, probably. Yuuri finishes his water and brushes pirozhki crumbs off his jacket.

"I appreciate it, coach," he says. "I feel... I feel like I shouldn't accept."

Celestino chuckles, shaking his head. "I tell my other skaters to get more in touch with their feelings. I always end up thinking I should tell you to get in touch with them less." He waits til Yuuri meets his eyes-- it takes a few moments-- before he continues. "If it helps your conscience, I do have a condition."

"Yes?"

"If I stay with you for your nationals, I want you to agree to talk to a sports therapist."

"I'm not injured." Though he can't blame anyone for thinking so, with how badly he skated at the Final.

"I know. I want you to see her about your anxiety. No, listen. You told me it was just nerves at competitions. And managing the pressure and the nerves, that's a challenge for most athletes. But Yuuri... as long as I've known you, you've admired Victor Nikiforov. Now you've met him: he likes your skating, he likes you and made sure the whole world knows it. You were texting with him in the car, but you haven't smiled since we left the hotel. Shouldn't this make you happy instead of stressed? If even good things make you anxious, that tells me it's more serious than competition jitters."

"It's more complicated than that..."

Celestino narrows his eyes a little. "How?"

He'll be back to thinking something bad happened if Yuuri can't get ahold of himself. "I'm happy about what happened with Victor," he says quickly. "But it's already changing things, the attention, the press."

"It's natural to have concerns," his coach agrees. "It's troubling that the concerns are all you seem to be thinking about. You have to admit, it's a pattern. When we found out you qualified for the Final, you jumped straight to worrying about competing at this level instead of celebrating. The first time you won gold at All-Japan, you wanted to see the score breakdown in case they made a mistake! I should have insisted on this before, but when you resisted the idea, I didn't want to push. Now? I think I need to push."

Yuuri wilts under his words. "Coach... they're just going to try to give me pills."

"I want you to see a sports therapist, not a doctor. Keisha couldn't write you a prescription even if she wanted to. Yuuri... if you had a habit of rolling your feet out when you walked and it made your ankles weaker, I'd ask you to see a sports therapist to teach you better habits. That's all this is. She can teach you better habits to handle stress. I've talked to her myself and taken her advice. I'm asking you to do the same."

Taking a deep breath, Yuuri nods.

"So we have a deal? You'll talk to the therapist, I'll stay for All-Japan?"

"Are you sure, coach? Ten days. And I'll be taking my exams for half that time, I can't even play tour guide..."

"I can find my way around."

"I'll pay you back. If I don't medal it'll take some time, but I will," Yuuri promises. He bites his lip. "It still feels wrong to accept it at all."

"Put it this way. If I show up at the Big Hat in Nagano in time to prepare you for the competition, are you going to send me away?"

"Of course not!"

"Then that's what I'll do. If you still want me here as your coach, I'm still here for you, Yuuri." Celestino stands. "Ready?"

"I owe you so much," Yuuri says, close to overflowing again. As soon as he's on his feet, he bows, even though he knows it doesn't carry the kind of meaning for his coach that it does for Yuuri.

"Just do your best, and leave the rest to me," Celestino tells him.

"Sì, allenatore!"

His coach laughs, guiding him toward the line for security. "I'm glad you and Chulanont have better accents in English than you do in Italian. Do you need anything else before we queue up? Another drink, more painkillers?"

"I think I'll be okay now, coach, thank you," Yuuri says, relieved and grateful. "I feel a lot better."

Chapter Text

The first flight of the trip to Tokyo seems endless, and it's the shortest leg: Sochi to Moscow, two and a half hours. It's long enough to drag on and on, short enough that Yuuri's nerves won't let him sleep.

He can't focus on the in-flight movie, can't relax, can't just listen to music and zone out: he keeps thinking of Vicchan and tearing up again, and he can't cry in coach wedged between Celestino and a grandmotherly woman playing round after round of some slot machine game on her iPad. He just sits there with an aching throat waiting for his eyes to clear.

After nearly two hours of that, Yuuri starts up Fire Emblem on his phone, but the temptation to connect to the in-flight wifi service is too great.

 


Phichit: VICTOR IS TRENDING BC OF U 2
Phichit: mb u would be too but half the ppl tagging u r using #YuuriKatsuki
Phichit: and half #KatsukiYuuri
Phichit: this is what happens when u dont manage ur social media
Phichit: like your genius friend tried to tell u to
Phichit: STIL THO so cool

Phichit: TMZ ran phone pix of u 2 kissing

Phichit: uuuugg dont read the comments
Phichit: some of victors fans are kind of scary

Phichit: ok y kno what dont look at any of the tags ok?
Phichit: u hate this stuf anywya

Phichit: also i emailed mari abt everything
Phichit: and its all ok there
Phichit: but just in case
Phichit: mb put out a statement that ur not based in Hasetsu anymore

Phichit: im sorry yuuri im falling asleep here it's after 2
Phichit: just hang in there ok? its going to be fine <3



 "Oh no," Yuuri breathes aloud, paralyzed for long moments. He has no idea how to put out a statement about anything or what to say--

This was Victor's idea, he can deal with it, Yuuri decides grimly, and messages him.

 



Me: are your fans doxxing my family?

Vitya xx: I'm sorry! ((((
Vitya xx: I didn't realize your family had a business website w phone listed
Vitya xx: Until it started showing up on Twitter
Vitya xx: It's all being flagged & taken down
Vitya xx: I hired a social media team last night
Vitya xx: They're on it

Me: last night??? why???

Vitya xx: The GPF organizers cut up rough about the dancing, racy photos etc

Me: cut up rough?

Vitya xx: Made a fuss? Got upset

Me: right

Vitya xx: So I agreed to hire this social media team
Vitya xx: They've been taking down any publically posted banquet photos
Vitya xx: And now I have them scrubbing the phone #
Vitya xx: Chris told me you room w Phichit Chulanont so
Vitya xx: I've been DMing with him on Twitter and he's helping too

Me: that's not just a business phone
Me: my family lives there

Vitya xx: Phichit told me and I am so so sorry
Vitya xx: If I thought this would happen
Vitya xx: I never would have suggested announcing anything
Vitya xx: I promise I'll make it up to you

Me: it's not your fault
Me: but can you help me put something out to say I don't live in Hasetsu now?
Me: that I'm based in Michigan
Me: so there's no point calling the onsen

Vitya xx: On it


 

When Yuuri checks his inbox, he finds three emails from his sister Mari. The first, teasing and skeptical about the news that he's dating Victor.

The second, annoyed, telling him that the phone at the family business kept ringing with hang-ups, so they had to set it to go straight to voicemail, and the website went down from the sudden spike in traffic.

The third email says that Phichit got in touch and advised them to take down the website completely for now; they'll put it back up in a few days.

He'd better be worth all this, she's written.

Yuuri composes a reply, apologizing fervently to her and his mother and father for the trouble.

His fingers itch to add, If the hassle keeps up, I'll end this. He knows this stunt is a bad idea, he knew it from the start, and here's a perfect justification for calling it off.

But... but.

Those people bothering his family, they don't know the dating announcement is fake. They'd do this to anyone Victor dated for real. And that's horrible. Is Victor just never allowed to have a relationship, in the eyes of those fans?

If Yuuri backs down now, it'll only make it look like the harassment worked. Something stubborn at the heart of him can't stand that idea.

And if it works this time, then the next time Victor dates someone, a genuine relationship with someone Victor actually likes, the same thing will happen again. It's not right.

Yuuri taps out an admission that he can't know yet whether all this is worth it, but he's doing it anyway. He adds another apology and sends off the email.

Within minutes, Mari writes back: It turns out it was just 4 Russian numbers dialing over and over again. All from the same area too, so it might have been just one person. We blocked the numbers and now the phone is back on with no more problems. And Yuuri-- I was joking when I said "he better be worth all this," obviously! You're dating your poster boy who's been on your walls since you were twelve! I don't know whether to congratulate you or interrogate you on how you did it. I guess I'll save the interrogation for sometime when I can reach you, so for now, congratulations! Mom and Dad send their love and say to bring him with you next time you come home, and make it soon!

Yuuri translates the part about the redialing Russian numbers-- only that part, definitely none of the rest-- into English and texts it to Victor, who responds with a link to his Twitter.

 

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 14m
#KatsukiYuuri is based in the USA, so the Japan phone number going around isn't him! Stop calling, you're making skating fans look stupid

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 12m
Shocked that I have to say this: if I mention I'm dating someone, that means I respect and care about him. #KatsukiYuuri

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 10m
So if you try to insult or harass #KatsukiYuuri stop calling yourself a 'fan' of mine, & also just stop!

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 7m
This weekend was one of my happiest, but now I am so embarrassed that the Katsukis in Japan had to deal w this hassle

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 5m
So many skating fans are wonderful people and it is a joy & inspiration to meet them. I never,never expected problems

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 3m
Sincere thanks to skating fans who expressed their support. It means the world to me especially now! <3

 

Yuuri's first thought is that if he were really dating Victor, he would-- well, he would do nothing, because he would be catatonic with shock, or just screaming continuously into a pillow somewhere.

But if he were really dating Victor and capable of rational thought, he would cup Victor's ridiculous handsome face in both hands and softly yell "SSSSTOP" at him, and also maybe take away his phone. Just briefly. Just til he had time to think twice, or maybe three, four or five times. Enough to get all the bad ideas out of his system.

 


Me: "Stop calling, you're making skating fans look stupid" ???

Vitya xx: No good? ((((

Me: it sounds like you're picking a fight!

Vitya xx: They started it! I can't just let that go
Vitya xx: Ok I just realized that sounds very childish in English
Vitya xx: I thought it in Russian, and trust me, in Russian it sounds very tough

Me: ok

Vitya xx: Skeptical ok? I'm forgiven ok?

Me: just, ok. there's nothing to forgive?
Me: since it turns out it wasn't so bad & my family turned the phone back on already
Me: re twitter, just maybe think twice next time?
Me: count to 100 before you tweet, maybe

Vitya xx: Probably a good idea

Me: did your coach take your phone? I didn't expect you to agree

Vitya xx: Still me! Why wouldn't I agree that it's a good idea?

Me: ok but be honest, it's never going to happen

Vitya xx: Ok, probably not, but why say it if you think I won't do it

Me: I love lost causes

Vitya xx: A compromise:
Vitya xx: Next time I tweet about you, I will try to count to 100 first
Vitya xx: Or at least 50
Vitya xx: Definitely probably at least 10



"Finally, a smile," says Celestino.

Yuuri jumps. He forgot almost everything-- that he's crammed next to his coach, in coach, that Vicchan is gone, that he's flying away from his abject failure at the Grand Prix Final toward what's likely to be another abject failure at All-Japan.

No, he can't think like that. Celestino is fronting his own money to stay with Yuuri for this competition. This is his chance to come back from the rock bottom low point of the Grand Prix Final. Yuuri has to do well.

Oh, no. Yuuri has to do well. He has to redeem his awful GPF performance, he has to make staying worth his coach's time-- and more people will be paying attention to his performance, now that he's supposedly dating Victor.

 


Vitya xx: TMZ updated their story about us w my tweetstorm
Vitya xx: And Deadspin RTed
Vitya xx: They called it « typically outspoken and impulsive »
Vitya xx: ... fair
Vitya xx: TMZ said: «Nikiforov, adding fuel to the fire »
Vitya xx: >_<

Me: it's ok, fire is out

Vitya xx: <3

Me: we're landing in Moscow soon, going to airplane mode

Vitya xx: Ok! <3!


 

Yuuri shuffles off the plane feeling like a zombie that went through a meat grinder and somehow came out still shambling.

Ten lifetimes ago, he kissed Victor Nikiforov, twice. He's never going to forget a single detail of that kiss in the elevator, but it seems impossible that it happened just this morning.

It feels like he's been awake for a thousand million years, and he is so tired. He thanks Celestino half a dozen times for taking care of everything, for leading Yuuri through the maze of the Moscow airport, delivering him to a chair at their gate, plugging in his phone and putting his boarding pass in his hand.

Celestino steps away, and blinking after him, Yuuri sees a child cuddling a fuzzy brown puppy-- he blinks and blinks, and finally sees that it's a stuffed animal.

When his coach returns a minute later and gives him an unsweetened green tea he found somewhere, Yuuri bursts into tears again.

But it seems like a genuine crying spell, allowed to run its drippy, snotty course, is exactly what he needs, because after that, the last of Yuuri's headache finally breaks away. He still has the full-body feeling of fatigue that lingers after a rough hangover and a stressful morning, but even that's a little better after he drains the bottle of tea.

It doesn't go away completely. His arms feel weirdly taxed and used. He's a competitive athlete, he's used to feeling some variety of muscle fatigue, but his arms ache like he did weight training, when all he did was skate like shit and stand in a corner pouring way too many glasses of champagne into his dumb mouth.

He feels it in his thighs, too, even though his legs basically took a vacation on him during the free skate, dumping him out of almost every jump.

Yuuri's never really gotten drunk on champagne before. Maybe this is just what it does to you the next day.

Celestino sends him to the bathroom to wash his face and "get rid of some of that tea," and by the time Yuuri returns, their flight to Seoul is boarding. Filing into the narrow aisles and dry, stale air of another flight, he's grateful to see that at least he's next to the window.

Yuuri nestles into his seat, leans against the wall, and falls asleep before they even give the safety demonstration.


He dreams about a dance floor.

In the dream, Yuuri feels warm and loose and good. He arches backward, falls onto his hands and kicks his legs up; he swings down and uses the momentum to whirl around doing flares.

In the implicit way of dreams, he knows somewhere nearby Yuri Plisetsky is dancing too, and Christophe Giacometti is holding Yuuri's glasses.

Then, abruptly, he just knows that Plisetsky is gone and now Victor is on the floor, near him but not with him. Victor is mirroring Yuuri's moves; he comes closer when Yuuri does, closer, and then he's in Yuuri's arms and they're dancing. Yuuri leads, twirls Victor and dips him, and Victor moves with him perfectly and laughs with him, joyful and delighted.

Things shift, and Yuuri's hand is wrapped around a brass pole. He's trying to say in English that it feels a little thicker than the standard size for pole dancing, but he can't remember half the words, and anyway, once his pants are off and his thighs clamp around the metal, it feels fine.

The next thing he knows, Victor's holding him steady while the room spins. He hoists Yuuri closer to upright, but Yuuri melts against him, and everything feels incredible. If Victor would just kiss him now the way he did in the elevator, Yuuri would go off like a rocket this instant.

Just the idea makes him gasp, and he can't help rolling his hips against Victor, who looks startled, but hauls Yuuri even closer. Everything is bright and warm and hazy and shameless and wonderful, despite the fact that there must be fifty people in the room near them, at least a dozen of them clustered close while Yuuri drapes himself in Victor's arms.

It hits him that this really ought to be a nightmare. This situation ought to set off a panic attack: Yuuri is hanging all over Victor Nikiforov in public, he's half-undressed, sloppy, blatantly excited-- he actually has had nightmares like this before. It's completely bizarre that he feels so safe, and that realization is enough to startle him awake.

Yuuri freezes, heart in his throat, because the last thing he remembers from his dream is the electric thrill of arousal and if he has an actual erection right now, crammed in his window seat on the nine-hour flight from Moscow to Seoul, he is going to shatter the safety glass and jump out of the plane.

He's okay, though. His heart is galloping, but otherwise his body is in a normal state of sleepy lassitude, relaxed, even... there.

Just in case, Yuuri accepts the tiny pillow and blanket that the flight attendant offers him the next time she passes by. He arranges the pillow in his lap and drapes the thin polyester blanket over himself before he dozes off again.

If he has more dreams, he doesn't remember them.


In Seoul, they spend the entire 90-minute layover shuffling through an infinite customs line. Yuuri tries to convince himself he's still asleep on the plane, but if so, he's having a uniquely terrible nightmare, and he would really rather get back to the weird dream where he's dancing with Victor, instead.

He can almost remember the dream-sensation of his arm around Victor's waist, his hand catching up Victor's thigh when Yuuri dipped him.

Of course his mind can fill in those details convincingly now. His brain is trying to assimilate this new, unlikely information, the way it felt to kiss Victor, the scent of his cologne, the strength of Victor's arms around him, his shoulders flexing and the press of his chest when he lifted Yuuri off his feet.

The dream just pulled it all together: those fresh memories from this morning, the hungover soreness in his muscles, and maybe even Mari's comment about how Victor better be worth it. The dating thing is just a story, but that strange dizzy happy dream made up for all today's trouble and then some.

Yuuri's brain usually works overtime to sabotage him. For once, all that overactive mental whirring and tendency to fixate has given him something nice . He's not going to question it.

But now that he's thinking about today's trouble...

Hesitantly, Yuuri enables wifi and data again and checks his inbox and messages-- and sags in relief. Nothing new seems to have happened, other than Phichit waking up for his morning and confirming that the onsen phone harassment is cleared up.

There's also a message from Phichit that just says "WOW" with a link to Victor's Twitter. Yuuri assumes that's the tweetstorm Victor posted a few hours ago.

He clicks anyway, in case Victor added something else.

It's a completely different Twitter thread.

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 55m
A few ppl asked me to point to my favorite programs skated by #KatsukiYuuri. Hard to choose! But some links to standout faves:

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 51m
#KatsukiYuuri Lohengrin youtu.be/LRQJIXSRVVk Amazing stsq nicknamed the anklebreaker: any mistake would sprain something

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 47m
#KatsukiYuuri Tchaikovsky <3 Romeo & Juliet youtu.be/mOfb-YZYU5g Every spin more beautiful than the one before

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 44m
#KatsukiYuuri Tchaikovsky again <3 Sleeping Beauty Waltz youtu.be/2Sb8WCPjPDs Unique steps, <3 storytelling <3

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 40m
#KatsukiYuuri La Valse d'Amélie from Amélie, one of my fave movies! youtu.be/Dyo4tNwNIvQ So expressive, classic

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 37m
#KatsukiYuuri Dream Island Obsessional Park/Theme from Paranoia Agent youtu.be/dnEL76tqUeQ The energy! Incredible stsq & spins & perf 3A

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 34m
#KatsukiYuuri Isao Tomita Firebird youtu.be/P-ncv2j2A_U Great 4T-3T & look how he sweeps across the ice, his ballet bg really shows here

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 31m
#Katsuki Yuuri PUFFY「これが私の生きる道」 youtu.be/ixEL1CXwCP0 This one just makes me so happy to watch <3 & another perfect 3A

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 28m
#KatsukiYuuri This year's SP, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Rain youtu.be/dHIyKUHeixQ The deepest lines, cleanest edges & best footwork this season

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 26m
#KatsukiYuuri This year's FS, also Sakamoto, Taboo youtu.be/1oUcmForp_E Gorgeous, moving, my favorite performance by anyone this year <3

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 24m
--and yes, it was my favorite even before we were dating! #KatsukiYuuri

Medal Up @icyhaute 23m
@v-nikiforov Did u kno #KatsukiYuuri was ur fan before u met?

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 20m
@icyhaute Yes ^_^ his Biellmann w foot change, 3A-3F comb, lb Ina Bauer, all lovely & v familiar! #KatsukiYuuri

Medal Up @icyhaute 18m
@v-nikiforov Also #KatsukiYuuri mentions u in practically every interview

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 15m
@icyhaute I'll have to ask him about that ^_~ #KatsukiYuuri

 

After blinking at the thread for a while, Yuuri flips over to his text message exchanges with Victor. Scrolling back, he finds Victor saying "I promise I'll make it up to you."

This must be how Victor decided to make it up to him. By talking up his skating, pointing out career highlights to take the attention off Yuuri's GPF collapse.

That was one of the things Victor mentioned when he proposed the idea, after all-- that pretending to date Victor would help change the conversation for both of them, get people talking about something else, instead of dwelling on Yuuri's catastrophic performance at the Final or prodding Victor about next year.

He has no way of knowing what a dream come true it is for Yuuri, seeing Victor appreciate his skating. Or how disappointing it is to get this kind of recognition from Victor in such a forced, insincere way, because Victor wanted to apologize.

Yuuri inches forward when the endless line moves a few steps, and re-reads Victor's tweets. Even though Victor didn't mean all that, still, he took time to find good performances of those programs, and came up with plausible praise for them. That was generous.

 


Me: It was nice of you to compliment & link to my prgms. Thank you
Me: tho there's no way you counted to 100 before all those tweets

Vitya xx: You should have asked how fast I can count!

Me: You said on twitter you're going to ask me abt interviews so...

Vitya xx: Never mind. If you did mention me, yay ^_^
Vitya xx: If you didn't, I don't want to know! I'm enjoying the idea too much



There's no point trying to play it cool when Victor's Twitter followers are eager to document all Yuuri's embarrassing moments in Victor's mentions.


Me: I did
Me: a lot

Vitya xx: I imagine I'll be mentioning you a lot in interviews now
Vitya xx: Let me know when we're even ^_~

Me: You don't have to!

Vitya xx: I'd much rather talk about you than answer the same 5 questions as always
Vitya xx: You're a lot more interesting!

Me: not really! but if you do talk about me, please no wild stories
Me: if people ask me about things you've said, I don't want to have to lie

Vitya xx: Ok, no stories. I'll stick to your skating
Vitya xx: Btw I heard back about NYE, I will be in NYC for it!
Vitya xx: Then I have almost a month til Europeans
Vitya xx: Plenty of time to visit Detroit



Yuuri finds it hard to believe Victor's going to take the farce that far, even interrupting his season for it. On the other hand, Yuuri knows from reading too many profiles and interviews that Victor does tend to commit to things and stay focused on them past all logic and reason.


Me: no MNNT cup? no ice shows?

Vitya xx: No, I kept this season light
Vitya xx: Just GP series, Nationals, Europeans, Worlds
Vitya xx: And now a New Year's show ^_^
Vitya xx: I'll be doing my ex prog from 2 seasons ago
Vitya xx: And this year's FS

Me: I love your FS this year. I think it's my favorite

Vitya xx: Of the season, or of mine?

Me: ever. all time, by anyone

Vitya xx: ;_;! Thank you! <3
Vitya xx: Now I really want to hear your voice. Can I call?

Me: not a good time, I'm in line in Seoul about to board for Tokyo

Vitya xx: Ok. Next time!


Yuuri shakes his head. Victor had a free day today, plenty of time to waste on all this. Tonight he'll be traveling, and he might get another day off to recover from the trip. Maybe another day of pretending there's something between them. But then he'll go back to practicing and competing, and he'll forget about the PR stunt.

Yuuri seriously doubts there's going to be a "next time."

Chapter Text

The exhaustion that comes after travel is one of Yuuri's least favorite sensations. It seems unfair that he's so tired after just sitting all day. It's a cramped, twitchy kind of weariness that makes it hard to sleep even though his body craves real, horizontal, uninterrupted rest.

The lowtown Tokyo hotel Yuuri booked online looks crushed between the buildings around it, tight and narrow. His room has just enough space to walk past the bed to the little desk at the end.

But it has a private bathroom and the bed is better than an airplane seat, if only because it's flat. Good enough.

Yuuri showers, tucks himself into bed, completely fails to fall asleep, and almost immediately caves to the sick temptation to check online for more news about his hideous failure at the Grand Prix Final and probable retirement.

Except when he looks up his own name on Twitter, he just finds endless tweets about him and Victor, ranging from bewildering to inexplicable.

One of the most popular tweets says "when they run out of gold medals to give you" with a phone cam shot of Yuuri kissing Victor by the car. That doesn't even make any sense.

A few people have posted more phone cam shots of them, run through filters to add different lighting or put sparkles everywhere. To his horror, there are stills of his backside in various costumes, with Cyrillic captions. Yuuri just scrolls by those and tries not to think about it.

Among all that, there are maybe three people talking about his skating, and they all seem to have followed the highlight links that Victor put up. The only mentions of his GPF failure say things like "If I fuck up my FS like #KatsukiYuuri do I get a date w @v-nikiforov too? #goals".

Finally Yuuri finds something more like he expected. Someone's tweeted a gif that endlessly loops all his falls from the GPF. It has more likes than Yuuri ever imagined he'd see for anything connected to him. Of course.

Fatalistically clicking into it, he finds a reply from Victor with even more likes: it's a similar gif compiling some of Victor's falls, captioned "We match!"

It's another gracious gesture from him, though Yuuri only feels better for maybe three seconds before he notes that Victor's fall compilation spans two entire seasons and Yuuri's is from one single competition. Regardless of what Victor may say, those two gifs just emphasize how mismatched they really are, the living legend and the loser.

Something else nags at Yuuri at the sight of Victor's @v-nikiforov Twitter nick. Finally it clicks: Victor asked him to text when Yuuri reached his destination. And that was in private, not some made-up thing for reporters or Twitter, so it was probably a real request.

Yuuri thought they were probably done, but there'll be one more "next time," after all.

Me: hi again, you asked me to tell you when I arrived
Me: so... I'm here

Vitya xx: Great! ^_^ How was the rest of the trip?

Me: long. but it's over now
Me: are you still in Sochi?

Vitya xx: On the flight home!
Vitya xx: Are you in Nagano early, or home first?

Me: I'm in Tokyo
Me: I have things to do for school here

Vitya xx: You're still in school?

Me: Yes, year 5 ^_^; very slow I know

Vitya xx: Is it?
Vitya xx: How long does it usually take?

Me: 4 years

Vitya xx: I can't imagine doing anything else on top of competing
Vitya xx: What are you studying?

Me: kinesiology / pre-physical therapy

Vitya xx: Wow!
Vitya xx: Preventative? Rehab for injuries?

Me: I'd have to study more to specialize like that
Me: the BS only qualifies me as a physical therapy assistant

Vitya xx: BS?

Me: Bachelor of Science

Vitya xx: Impressive!

Me: not really
Me: tbh I chose it mostly because it gave me academic credit for spending time at the rink & the gym

Vitya xx: Clever
Vitya xx: If I'd known that was possible maybe I would have considered college
Vitya xx: Tho I guess you didn't get that credit for training

Me: no, I was shadowing the PT

Vitya xx: Idk what shadowing means as an action ^_^;

Me: sorry! shadowing is following, observing, sometimes helping

Vitya xx: I see!
Vitya xx: What are you doing for school in Tokyo?

Me: I take most classes thru distance learning at Kino U here
Me: I have to come in person to take final exams

Vitya xx: Am I keeping you from studying? Oops

Me: Not right now, it's after 2 am here, I'm in bed

Vitya xx: (๑°o°๑)

Me: ...

Vitya xx: ^_~ So you're 6 hrs ahead of me now
Vitya xx: Hope you got some sleep on the way

Me: I did, most of moscow-seoul, 8 hrs

Vitya xx: No wonder you're still up
Vitya xx: How's the room?

Me: tiny

Vitya xx: ! Are you in a coffin hotel?

Me: a what???

Vitya xx: Just a bed in a kind of pod?

Me: a capsule hotel. no I'm at a real hotel
Me: maybe just one step up from a capsule in size but, it's an actual room
Me: a capsule hotel is kind of disreputable

Vitya xx: Really?? I always wanted to try one for a night!
Vitya xx: But I've only been there for competitions
Vitya xx: No time to explore

Me: I guess there are probably ones for tourists that are ok

Vitya xx: You should take pics of your room so I can see!
Vitya xx: Your insta looks deserted
Vitya xx: You haven't posted this morning's pics either 。•́︿•̀。

Me: sorry! I will
Me: post this morning's pics I mean. the room, idk
Me: there really isn't anything to see
Me: if I stand at the foot of the bed I can almost touch the walls on either side

Vitya xx: That's something to see! I want to see that ^_^

Me: maybe I'll try to get a pic in the morning

Vitya xx: I guess I should let you sleep?
Vitya xx: What about tomorrow? Will you be studying?

Me: I should -_-;;

Vitya xx: Ok, I'll try not to msg too much
Vitya xx: Tho I have the entire day off
Vitya xx: Still! I can show restraint

Me: ¬_¬;

Vitya xx: !! Yuuri! You think I can't resist texting you?

Me: I'm sure you can!
Me: That's not what I meant!

Vitya xx: You'll see. Tomorrow I'll let you study
Vitya xx: I'll only text 3 times TOTAL all day
Vitya xx: Tho it doesn't count if I'm answering texts from you
Vitya xx: And Twitter doesn't count
Vitya xx: I can do it!

Me: I really don't doubt it
Me: That was just an automatic reaction to the idea of you + restraint

Vitya xx: I'm very restrained! I don't do 99% of the things I think about

Me: you must do a lot of thinking

Vitya xx: (*^◡^*)  . o O ( ✿❤★ )

Me: I believe that if ✿❤★ are all things that make the RU skating fed mad

Vitya xx: Evvverything makes them mad (ಠ_ಠ)

Me: how did your meeting go?

Vitya xx: As expected
Vitya xx: Victor Romanovich, you should be ashamed, dating a competitor
Vitya xx: This is the worst thing you've done since the last thing you did
Vitya xx: Why can't you be more like Georgi, etc
Vitya xx: Georgi is dating our rinkmate Anya - ice dancer
Vitya xx: She should watch out, everyone but her wants a condom break

Me: (⚆_⚆);;

Vitya xx: Tmi? I guess I shouldn't keep you up with rink gossip
Vitya xx: Since you have to study tomorrow
Vitya xx: Sweet dreams! Remember: pics on Instagram tomorrow!

Me: I will

Vitya xx: Goodnight Yuuri <3

Me: Good night ^_^

 

After that, Yuuri still doesn't sleep, of course. That would be too sensible.

Instead he goes back to the beginning of his chat log with Victor and reads through the whole thing, wincing at all the awkward things he wrote, his stilted attempts to be funny, the many times he was so dull that Victor out of sheer boredom asked questions to keep some kind of conversation going.

No wonder Victor jumped on the first excuse to stop texting him. Yuuri will get three more texts tomorrow and then he'll probably never hear from Victor again until their "breakup" announcement. And that will be Yuuri's place in figure skating history: the skater who flopped at the GPF and couldn't keep Victor Nikiforov's attention for more than a day, on or off the ice.

Scrolling back to the start again, Yuuri imagines Victor's reactions to every idiotic text Yuuri sent: Victor's very patient, but even he must have been yawning, rolling his eyes, and scoffing at all these dumb, pointless--

It's almost like a fever breaking, when his eyes brim. All at once it occurs to Yuuri that he doesn't have to do this. It's like he had to make himself cry to realize it.

Blinking his eyes clear, he quits out of the app. That was so stupid. If he needs to cry, he only has to think about Vicchan, still sleeping alone in Yuuri's old room every night after more than four years, until the day he died.

Vicchan used to whine when Yuuri cried. He'd wriggle his little body against Yuuri's ankles or his side until Yuuri picked him up. And then he would just pant with a doggy smile and little eager woofs, like Yuuri holding him solved everything. He was the sweetest, best puppy in the world. Yuuri can barely believe he'll never see him again.

He sobbed himself raw over Vicchan at the Final, the day before the free skate, when his family broke the news. He's sniffly again. But now, he remembers how happy Vicchan was. Yuuri was the one who begged for a poodle, but Vicchan became the family's dog, romping excitedly in the kitchen while Yuuri's mother cooked, trotting after Yuuri's father in the garden, patrolling the laundry room while Mari folded towels.

During video calls, Vicchan would go crazy jumping and barking when he heard Yuuri's voice. Even after four years and half a world away, Vicchan would sit when Yuuri gave the command, happy just to hear Yuuri say "Good boy!"

Yuuri swipes through the photo album of pictures Mari sent him sometimes, over his years away... Vicchan at the beach, Vicchan chasing a shadow, Vicchan laid out on the couch between Yuuri's parents, both absent-mindedly resting a hand on his brown curls. Vicchan had a good life. The whole family loved him.

Yuuri wipes his face again, plugs his phone in and starts some music: the playlist he always puts on to soothe himself, a collection of classical pieces that Victor has skated to.

Victor would probably be creeped out if he knew that. It doesn't matter, he'll never know. Three texts tomorrow, probably just wishing Yuuri luck on his exams and at All-Japan. That'll probably be the end of it, and that's okay, Yuuri tells himself. Nothing can take away what Victor's given him over the years, the inspiration, all the ways that Victor's skating makes him feel. If it weren't for Victor, Yuuri never would have had Vicchan at all.

The familiar, flowing strings of Tchaikovsky's Lilac Fairy lull him, finally, to sleep.


 


Yuuri wakes up the next morning, drags himself out of his skinny hotel bed and does his morning stretches as well as he can manage in his skinny hotel room. He brushes his teeth, washes his face, and when he puts his glasses back on, he finds his mood has rallied a little.

He should be more grateful. In his best-case-scenario wildest dreams for the Grand Prix Final, Yuuri hoped maybe he might make the podium with bronze or, if he was perfect and every other competitor had a bad day, maybe, maybe silver.

And in his totally unrealistic fantasies about that remote possibility, he'd imagined he might get to talk to Victor Nikiforov when Victor inevitably topped the podium. Yuuri thought maybe they'd congratulate each other. Maybe Victor might even compliment his skating.

Now, even though he failed so badly-- through random chance, he's had the chance to talk to Victor anyway. Yuuri has an entire chat log of texts with him. He regrets some of those texts, but he has them. If Yuuri never hears from Victor again, still: he's had more interaction with his idol than he ever expected to have, even if he medaled.

After that terrible encounter in the venue, when he thought Victor didn't even know him as a fellow competitor-- a moment that hurt so much he rubs the aching center of his chest now, just remembering it-- now Yuuri has an entire Twitter thread of Victor complimenting his skating. It's even possible he meant some of the nice things he said.

Bombing at the Grand Prix Final hurt; Yuuri can't think too closely about it right now, when he's won back a little tenuous perspective. But he has today and tomorrow to cram, and then a day for his final exams. Three days when he needs to focus on something else besides skating. He can think about his competitive career again after his tests are over.

He'll put off confronting his failure as a skater until he's left with just one week until the national competition--

"Yes," he tells his reflection out loud. "That's exactly what I'm going to do. Maybe three days off is what I need. Somehow."

The Yuuri in the mirror looks skeptical, but screw him.

Stepping back into the room, Yuuri perches on the bed and taps out an email to Celestino, Phichit, and Mari, letting them know he's muting notifications on his phone, but it'll still ring if they call. He wants to make sure they can get in touch with him if they really need him, especially his coach, who booked a room in a different hotel in a better neighborhood, and plans to explore Tokyo alone with his accented English and limited Japanese.

That done, Yuuri nods to himself, determined. He'll go out for a run, pick up enough food for the day, come back to the tiny room, and study. Future Yuuri can figure out his career. Present Yuuri just needs to get through the next three days.

Yuuri doesn't feel like he can manage much right now, but three days reviewing class material and postponing his other problems, he can handle.


 


Deep in his readings on the Meiji Restoration, Yuuri resists checking his phone until he takes a break at three in the afternoon.

The number of unread texts has him scrambling, sure something terrible has happened, for the five seconds it takes to get into the app and see they're all from Victor.

Vitya xx: YUURI
Vitya xx: DISASTER - ok not really a disaster but NOT GOOD
Vitya xx: I made a breakfast shake
Vitya xx: Threw in some strawberries
Vitya xx: But just a second too late
Vitya xx: I saw MOLD on a berry
Vitya xx: I pulled it back out
Vitya xx: I had already filled the blender with everything else
Vitya xx: And all my yogurt was in it
Vitya xx: No way to remake it w/o a grocery trip
Vitya xx: So... I threw the bad berry away and blended the shake
Vitya xx: Drank it, it seemed fine
Vitya xx: BUT
Vitya xx: Now I keep thinking
Vitya xx: Did I miss mold on other berries
Vitya xx: Did I drink a moldshake
Vitya xx: Are there mold seeds in my stomach now
Vitya xx: Tho I think seeds isn't the word when it's mold
Vitya xx: I can't remember the right word
Vitya xx: If you see this and think of it before I remember, tell me
Vitya xx: It's driving me crazy
Vitya xx: That question is the real point here
Vitya xx: That's right! Plot twist! There was a point the whole time!

Vitya xx: SPORES
Vitya xx: That's so much worse than seeds
Vitya xx: Why did I look that up
Vitya xx: Mold spores! I have to brush my teeth with salt and clean the kitchen

Vitya xx: Mouth & kitchen clean. And I just remembered
Vitya xx: I was only going to text three times today
Vitya xx: I forgot
Vitya xx: So let's agree the spore saga only counts as one!
Vitya xx: And these right now, these texts also only count as one
Vitya xx: Because I had to explain about forgetting
Vitya xx: Good luck with studying! Eat peppermints!
Vitya xx: Peppermints boost your memory
Vitya xx: That's the main thing I learned from a tutor I had
Vitya xx: He was trying to teach me literature
Vitya xx: But what I remembered is peppermints
Vitya xx: Gun battle!
Vitya xx: That's what autocorrect does with "Ganbatte!"
Vitya xx: I'm trying to say "Give it your best!" not "gun battle"
Vitya xx: Please avoid a gun battle
Vitya xx: Unless you took a gun class!
Vitya xx: And a gun battle is the final exam!
Vitya xx: What a dangerous test, Yuuri
Vitya xx: You are so brave
Vitya xx: Watch out for bullets!
Vitya xx: I'll be cheering for you!

Me: I'm not taking a gun class!

Vitya xx: Good! I would worry

Me: why would I take a gun class for a physical therapy degree??
Me: and even if I took a gun class the final wouldn't be a GUN BATTLE

Vitya xx: Ok now that you say that, it seems obvious
Vitya xx: But how would I know
Vitya xx: College in America is a mystery to me
Vitya xx: If you told me you have to lasso a cow for your final
Vitya xx: I'd believe you

Me: I do have to lasso a cow for my final
Me: to get kobe beef which I have to cook and serve
Me: for Nutrition Science 302

Vitya xx: Wow! Impressive!
Vitya xx: You have to admit
Vitya xx: That was an amazing guess on my part

Me: yes, very incredible

Vitya xx: Is that what you're studying right now? Nutrition science

Me: no... that's the last class I still need to take next semester to finish
Me: this term is early modern history of Japan, and English linguistics

Vitya xx: English should be easy for you, living in the US so long

Me: yes >_>;; I decided to give myself a break & use English for my language reqs

Vitya xx: Reqs?

Me: requirements

Vitya xx: Sometimes I think about going back to school eventually
Vitya xx: But then someone mentions things like requirements
Vitya xx: And I think... no

Me: reqs are for degrees
Me: if you're not trying to get a degree, you can take anything you want

Vitya xx: Really? Hm!

Me: what would you study?

Vitya xx: Nutrition science - I want to learn to lasso a cow!

Me: (ᗒᗜᗕ)
Me: my alarm just went off, my break is over
Me: I need to get back to work

Vitya xx: All right... any more breaks planned? I only have 1 text left!
Vitya xx: Since I said I would only text 3 times today

Me: ... I had 47 text notifications......
Me: if you were trying to prove your restraint
Me: consider it proved
Me: I'm convinced

Vitya xx: I sense sarcasm

Me: no, I believe you

Vitya xx: You'll see, just 1 more text today
Vitya xx: Tho again, answering you doesn't count

Me: Ok. Setting alarm to take another break in 4 hours

Vitya xx: Perfect, right at lunch for me
Vitya xx: Happy lassoing! <3

Me: Thanks ^_^


 


Victor is a lot more bored on his day off than Yuuri ever would have imagined. When Yuuri takes another break four hours later, Victor's "one more text" is a lengthy paragraph about his favorite outdoor cafe in St. Petersburg that cuts off mid-word, as if he hit the character limit. He did only send one, technically. It seems rude not to reply and give him the chance to finish his sentence.

So Yuuri answers, and they chat sort of randomly about coffee and tea in different places they've traveled, texting for Yuuri's entire dinner break.

Me: ppl put honey in tea, why not jam

Vitya xx: THANK YOU
Vitya xx: That's what I always want to say!
Vitya xx: I think ppl from other countries who act like it's this weird RU thing
Vitya xx: Are just jealous they didn't think of it

Me: on the other hand
Me: you could just drink tea that's good w/o sweetening

Vitya xx: Yuuri (╥︿╥)
Vitya xx: Why are we on the other hand
Vitya xx: I liked the first hand
Vitya xx: The hand where you were on my side
Vitya xx: Let's go back to the first hand, how do we get back there

Me: I'm still on your side
Me: just saying... genmaicha

Vitya xx: What if I put jam in that too? Still on my side?

Me: that's a terrible thing to do to genmaicha
Me: but put jam wherever you want
Me: I'm always on your side

Vitya xx: <3!

Me: ! I just remembered about updating instagram

Vitya xx: I wasn't going to say anything while you're studying
Vitya xx: But since you mention it: yes please update!!

Me: ok I just took a pic of the room but ( ノ﹏ \)
Me: obvious I've been shut in here all day, red eyes, bad hair /o\
Me: oh well. uploaded

Vitya xx: You're doing side splits in track pants
Vitya xx: No one is going to notice your hair
Vitya xx: Which is fine anyway! It looks cute all spiky like that

Me: I couldn't hold out my arms to show how small the room is & also take the pic so... splits

Vitya xx: Not complaining! Opposite of complaining!

Me: Uploaded yesterday's pics too

Vitya xx: Thanks! They look great! Saving & setting new lock screen <3

Me: should I do that too?

Vitya xx: If you want?

Me: ppl would probably think it's weird if I don't

Vitya xx: ?? It's no one else's business what you do w your phone

Me: made it my wallpaper

Vitya xx: <3

Me: and my break is over, I should go

Vitya xx: Will you have breaks at the same times tomorrow?

Me: probably, it seemed to work well today

Vitya xx: Great! Talk to you then

Me: don't you go back to practice tomorrow?

Vitya xx: Yes! But we get breaks too ^_^
Vitya xx: Yakov isn't THAT bad

Me: ok...
Me: have a good evening ^_^

Vitya xx: <3

 

After the welcome distraction of texting, Yuuri checks his email inbox. Celestino sent contact information for the sports therapist he wants Yuuri to talk to, and a list of rinks where Yuuri can get ice time to practice for nationals. Which puts kind of a dent in Yuuri's plan to just not think about skating for these three days.

But he made an agreement with his coach, so Yuuri emails the sports therapist. He has no idea what to say to introduce himself, so he keeps it simple: he's one of Celestino Cialdini's students, he's a men's singles figure skater, he has trouble with nerves and Celestino thinks therapy might help.

That's as much as Yuuri can bring himself to tell a stranger; he adds his contact information and time zone, and sends it off.

There's an email from Yuuko that begins with solemn sympathy about Vicchan and the Final, and quickly gets manic when she asks what happened after the competition-- she wants a detailed account of everything Yuuri and Victor have said and done since they met, especially how they ended up dating.

Yuuri droops, imagining how disappointed his oldest friend would be if he told her about the mercenary way that Victor laid out the PR benefits of pretending to date until Worlds.

At least he can honestly tell her Victor is nice in person. Actually... Yuuri goes back to his text conversation with Victor, scrolls back, back, back through the log and takes a screenshot of Victor confirming he'll perform in New York on New Year's Eve.

Yuuri's not sure if that's been publicly confirmed yet. Even if it has, the specific programs surely wouldn't have been announced, and anyway, seeing it straight from Victor is special. He attaches that to his reply to Yuuko, and takes another screenshot from the part where they talked about tea and adds that too.

He really should count his blessings. Yuuko is going to be so excited just to see a few texts from Victor. Yuuri's lucky to have this.

When Yuuri thinks of all the time he and Yuuko spent together as kids watching Victor skate, imitating his style, poring over his interviews, sorting and ranking Yuuri's poster collection to choose the very best images of Victor to cover his walls...

If Victor had any idea, he'd block Yuuri's number and run screaming. After all the texting they've done, Yuuri might feel guilty about that, but he's been over this already in his head. Victor asked for his help and Yuuri agreed, and since then, Yuuri's been careful not to initiate contact unnecessarily.

Even looking back over their text conversations with the most critical eye, Yuuri can say that much for himself: he's been awkward and dull, but he hasn't been forward. He's only taken advantage of the situation once, for that one quick kiss before they separated in Sochi.

I promise I'll share details later, he writes to Yuuko, after I finish my exams... and it may have to wait until after All-Japan. For now, I can just tell you that Victor is nice like everyone always says. He's thoughtful and positive and a good person, and fun. That might be the most surprising thing, how light and fun he can be. Under the circumstances it's probably weird to say I really like him, since... obviously. But even if he weren't Living Legend Victor Nikiforov, I'd like him. I think you would too.

Yuuri sends the email to Yuuko, and moves on to the worst, most embarrassing email in his inbox.

It's a heavy, solemn letter from the JSF about the code of conduct he agreed to uphold and his responsibilities as a representative of Japan when he competes internationally. By the time Yuuri gets to the end of it, his back itches to bow in apology to JSF officials who aren't even here.

The email stops short of addressing his "relationship" with Victor-- it's like the JSF can't believe it either, Yuuri thinks with bare amusement-- but there's a lot of emphasis on the code's prohibition of licentious and reckless public behavior, as well as public intoxication. Someone must have told them Yuuri drank himself into a stupor at the banquet: it must have been obvious, even if he was tucked into his lonely corner all night.

Or maybe they heard about the "racy photos" Victor mentioned, and assumed Yuuri was part of all that, since Victor's been peddling this story that they danced and talked at the banquet.

Yuuri replies to the JSF with the most formal apology he can compose, promising to be on his very best behavior from now until the end of time. The nanosecond he hits Send, he shuts down his email and goes back to avoiding his entire skating career.

He tries, at least. But the code of conduct scolding stays with him, and he's so tempted to go out, find a ramen stall and stuff noodles into his face until he hazes out on simple carbohydrates.

But Yuuri didn't finish the conbini salad and nikuman he picked up for dinner-- he was too busy texting with Victor and updating his Instagram. He devours the rest of that instead, and the nikuman is just greasy and doughy enough to put the cravings to rest. Close call. He can just imagine the shame spiral he'd fall into, if he broke his diet with a full-out binge right now.

It's true, what he told Phichit-- was that really just yesterday morning? Yuuri still feels terrible about Vicchan, about the GPF. About the censure from the JSF. He feels awful about himself in so many ways.

But talking to Victor, he feels a little safer, a little better. It feels like nothing is over. Like he's not finished yet.

It fades so fast; doubt creeps back in so quickly. But if Yuuri can keep that feeling alive for the next ten days, long enough to get through All-Japan...

Yuuri has gotten so much from Victor over the years, inspiration, wonder, excitement; an example, a goal, a purpose. And now: hope. If Yuuri can just hold onto it.

Chapter Text

Yuuri's second day of avoidance and study starts with another round of texts from Victor. He reads them in the morning before he even gets out of bed.

Vitya xx: World clock says it's tomorrow where you are!
Vitya xx: 3-text limit over!
Vitya xx: I don't know how I survived following such a strict rule
Vitya xx: Anyway, nothing has actually happened since we talked earlier
Vitya xx: And you're asleep now (((
Vitya xx: But look, wild animals jumping on trampolines! ^_^


Nonplussed, Yuuri clicks the link. Foxes, goats, an elk, a bear. On trampolines.

He's a little confused, and then not sure why he's confused. It's just weird to think of Victor doing something as ordinary as watching cute animal videos, maybe.

It's the kind of thing Phichit loves, so Yuuri passes the link on to him. It's from a .ru site, so there's even a tiny chance Phichit hasn't already seen it.

Victor also sent a link to what he bills as his favorite hotel room workout, and just before he said he was turning in for the night-- Yuuri checks the timestamps and boggles, because it looks like Victor goes to bed at nine? He must read in bed. Yuuri needs to immediately stop thinking about what Victor does in bed --  Victor made a strangely tentative offer to share photos of Makkachin.

Now that he mentions it, Yuuri is surprised he hasn't already seen photos or heard anything about Makkachin. Victor can hardly get through an interview longer than five minutes without talking about his beloved dog.

Yuuri replies thanking him for the links and, after some hesitation, accepting the photo offer.

It's going to hurt, seeing Victor's dog who looks so much like Vicchan-- or, well, Vicchan looked like a pocket-sized version of Makkachin. But seeing a healthy Makkachin might be the good kind of hurt, a healing ache.

He has plenty of time to adjust to the idea, with Victor six hours behind him. Meanwhile, there's a questionnaire from the therapist in his email inbox that Yuuri is eager to ignore, so he pulls on sweats and goes for a run.

After a quick shower in the tiny bathroom-- he could cram himself into a bullet train and get more personal space-- Yuuri goes back out for another round of conbini shopping. He resists all the noodles and breads and chips and candy and onigiri, but succumbs to fried chicken along with his two low-fat low-salt bentos and handful of fruit.

At least it's protein! he tells himself, standing in front of the conbini and cramming oily crisp chicken into his mouth until he feels like a hideous grease demon. All the real people walking by in their actual adult professional clothes ignore him, fortunately, with his slimy hands and slumpy workout gear.

They probably think he's just another NEET idling around the city. They're not that far off. He'll graduate at the end of this year unless he has a GPF-level academic catastrophe, and he doesn't have any idea what he'll do after that. Come back to Japan? It's been so long since Yuuri lived here, he doesn't even know if people say NEET anymore.

Anyway, whatever post-school out-of-work people are called now, he's not one yet, since he is in both education and training. "I'm a competitive athlete," he mumbles around a chicken bone. It doesn't sound convincing.

He gets a call from a disoriented Celestino before he's even fully wiped off his fingers, and leaves disgusting streaks on the face of his phone as he tries to help his coach navigate Akihabara.

(Yuuri almost asks him why he's even there-- he's never seen Celestino show any interest in gadgets or geeky things-- but he decides he doesn't want to know if his coach is going to a maid cafe.)

"Please take a photo of the street signs?" he asks after failing to help Celestino find his way for three straight intersections. Yuuri should have asked for that to begin with, but he didn't want to insult his coach's navigation skills. It's becoming clear, though, that Celestino can't tell east from up.

Once he can see what Celestino is dealing with, Yuuri successfully guides him back to Chuo Dori street.

"Ah! I can see the restaurant from here. Thank you," Celestino tells him. "How are you doing? Getting enough sleep? Are you eating well?"

"Um," says Yuuri, crumpling immediately. He reads off the calorie count on the fried chicken to Celestino, who demands photos of it and the bentos he bought.

"You can keep the breast piece, since it's small, but throw the rest of the chicken away. And skip the rice in one of the bentos," his coach commands.

Yuuri clutches the chicken mournfully. "That's so wasteful, coach."

"More wasteful to sabotage ten years of hard work and talent with poor eating right before a competition. Bin it."

"Si, allenatore," Yuuri sighs, and sadly obeys. "Uh... Victor sent me a hotel room workout I thought I'd try, should I run it by you?"

"Send it." Celestino makes exaggerated thinking noises once he gets the link. "Don't do the luggage weight lifts, if something unbalances in the suitcase you could pull something. The rest looks good. I suppose Nikiforov must be doing something right."

"Yes," Yuuri laughs nervously, trying not to think about those shirtless photos of Victor in Shape magazine's feature on the hottest men in sports. Now that Victor is, somehow, a person Yuuri has texted with, a person who shares cute animal videos with him-- how!?-- it's so wrong to think about him posing wet and shirtless with water beading on his shoulders and chest and in his hair...

If only the human mind had some option to just turn certain thoughts off. Yuuri would use it constantly. He'd never think at all.

"I can make my way from here," his coach says, "and you have a lot to do today. I want you to set something up with your new therapist, you need to review for your exams, and that workout doesn't give you any cardio, so go for a run too, if you haven't yet. Did you book any ice time?"

"Not today. Tomorrow after my exams," Yuuri promises. He hasn't actually booked anything. He'll have to do it today and beg for a last-minute spot. He's already dreading it. "Call if you need any more help, coach," Yuuri says. "We used to call you all the time to get around Detroit."

"Phichit used to call me all the time," says Celestino. "You called me twice and both times it was only because you'd been lost for over two hours."

"Well," says Yuuri awkwardly, "don't do that."

Celestino chuckles. "I won't. Thank you, Yuuri."

Yuuri returns to the tiny, tiny hotel room and opens his textbook PDFs. The exams are tomorrow; studying takes precedent over the therapist, or calling around to the rinks Celestino found.

The guilt over putting the other things off only distracts him every five minutes or so. Just enough to make studying useless. He can't remember anything he's read so far. He's going to fail his exams. Somehow he's even going to fail English despite speaking, reading and writing English every single day for the past four years.

It's not even noon yet when he breaks for lunch and eats one of the bentos. Including the rice, even though his coach told him not to eat the rice. He's not going to feel guilty about that.

...He feels guilty about that. And the room is so small. He needs fresh air, that's the problem.

Yuuri goes for another run, just a brisk fifteen minutes this time, but it quiets some of the buzzing in his head.

Back in the room, he checks his phone: Victor is up now, and he's texted several photos of Makkachin-- images he can't post online, Yuuri realizes, because details of his building are visible and obvious, including his apartment number in some shots.

Me: what a good girl!
Me: she's adorable
Me: looks so happy

Vitya xx: The very best girl!
Vitya xx: My leg was dead this morning bc she slept on it
Vitya xx: #blessed
Vitya xx: best morning ever

Me: so no mold for breakfast today?

Vitya xx: No! Uggg :X
Vitya xx: I checked everything ten times

Me: how was your tea

Vitya xx: Jam packed!!
Vitya xx: Et vous? How was your morning?

Me: ok
Me: little tired of the tiny room

Vitya xx: :/
Vitya xx: Is there a window?

Me: y, small, doesn't open

Vitya xx: ((((
Vitya xx: Time to move to a park or cafe?

Me: I've been trying not to spend money, but I'm thinking about it

While his post-run mood is still steady and he has Victor's company via text, Yuuri opens the email he got back from the sports therapist and starts answering her questionnaire.

No, he's never been in therapy before, no, he's never had a formal diagnosis. He's had anxious spells for as long as he can remember. He had a happy home life, his parents are together, he has a sister who's seven years older than him. His "support system" is basically his coach, Phichit, his family, Minako, and Yuuko. After arguing with himself a little, he answers "yes" to the question about whether he has any romantic relationships. Trying to be honest, he adds (not serious).

The "Current stressors?" question has him answering frankly, "This question. The idea of therapy. The upcoming Japanese national figure skating competition. The Grand Prix Final competition I just bombed. The possibility that sponsors may drop me because of my failure at the GPF. The future of my competitive figure skating career. My future after I can't figure skate competitively anymore. Final exams for the semester tomorrow. New relationship. With someone I've admired for a long time, who is much more successful, and famous even outside of figure skating, partly because he is so, so unbelievably gorgeous, and I'm trying not to get overinvested but it's inevitable that this means much more to me than it ever could to him, so everything about this situation makes me feel inadequate, except for some reason when I'm actually talking to him, I mostly feel okay."

He deletes everything after "New relationship."

Yuuri hesitates over the next question on the list, about his preferred forms of contact. He doesn't really want her to text him-- he doesn't want to dread opening his text app. So he says he'd prefer no texts, but email is fine, and Skype appointments... he gives that a maybe.

He hits Send before he can start second-guessing himself, or his reply will languish in his Drafts folder forever.

Vitya xx: The last time studied anything it was lines for a CK advert
Vitya xx: I recited them to Makka til I had them down
Vitya xx: So if that would help you, I volunteer to listen
Vitya xx: I'm sure I can listen at least as well as Makkachin

Me: it's in japanese tho?
Me: you wouldn't understand much/any of it

Vitya xx: No, none! I might know 10-20 words max
Vitya xx: But I don't think Makka understood mine either ^_~
Vitya xx: Still helped

Me: I have to remember more than I could review aloud, but thanks
Me: the idea of you reciting "fragrances for men and women" to Makkachin
Me: is very helpful

Vitya xx: ^_^

Yuuri goes to YouTube and does a quick search for that Calvin Klein ad, because he is weak. He's seen it before, of course. A few times. A few dozen times.

It starts with Victor stretched out on a divan in a skin-tight v-neck tee and painted-on jeans. The light traces every dip and curve of muscle in his perfectly sculpted torso.

A shadow passes over him; Victor rises and follows the shadow into a hallway full of flashing lights and dancing people. Caught up in dances with one beautiful person after another, he echoes the lyrics of the song that's playing, speaking the words in his low, lightly accented English. "Love the way you make me feel, I want it all the time. Hate the way you make me feel, you're all that's on my mind. Losing track and losing time, I forget to breathe... should've seen the water rising, now I'm in too deep."

It ends with Victor moving into an unseen embrace and tilting his head for a kiss with the shadowed figure, then waking up with a gasp on the divan. "Euphoria, by Calvin Klein," he adds in a voiceover, as onscreen Victor sits up to look around the room, artfully disheveled with a faint glow lighting his blue eyes, his silvery hair, his flawless profile and sensuously parted lips. "Fragrances for men and women."

Yuuri still feels a little tacky with sweat from his second run. He's oozing fried chicken grease from every pore and his glasses are slipping down his gross oily nose. "I kissed him," he says aloud, and then he has to hyperventilate into the flat, weird-chemical-smelling hotel pillow for a while. He's probably giving himself cancer with every breath.

Eventually he gets over it, mostly, by imagining Victor reciting "You're all that's on my mind" to a cheerfully woofing Makkachin. The idea of Victor is still intimidating, but somehow "Vitya xx" is becoming someone Yuuri can cope with, someone Yuuri genuinely likes.

Vitya xx: I'm at the rink, gtg -_-
Vitya xx: Break in 4 hrs? Talk then?

Me: yes ^_^

Vitya xx: <3

Imagining Victor at the rink, Victor on the ice, Victor looping and soaring through warm-ups, launching himself gracefully into his choreography, whipping into a jump-- Yuuri can almost breathe in the cold himself, feel the slide of metal over ice.

After what happened at the Final, he expects it to hurt to think about it, but now it feels like a promise again. The same ice as Victor.

He quickly calls the closest rink on Celestino's list and books ice time for tomorrow evening after his exams.

It's easier to study after that.


 


Vitya xx: How did it go?

Me: /o\ I should have studied more for English

Vitya xx: (。•́︿•̀。)?

Me: I know I got 1 word wrong
Me: so there were proly 20 other words I got wrong w/o knowing

Vitya xx: What was the word?

Me: draconian

Vitya xx: (-︿-) Idk that one either

Me: (;╭╮;)

Vitya xx: Oh no! Don't cry!
Vitya xx: If that's the only one you remember getting wrong
Vitya xx: Maybe you got all the others right!

Me: doubt it -_-;
Me: but I think I did ok in history
Me: after u said u read aloud to Makkachin
Me: I read aloud things I wasn't sure about, to help memorize
Me: felt like it helped
Me: so ty

Vitya xx: Good!
Vitya xx: Makka and I are very happy to hear it
Vitya xx: Where to now? Nagano?

Me: not yet... 1-2 more days here
Me: the JSF booked my room there w/ check-in day after tomorrow
Me: just need to wait it out til the room's available
Me: coach is working on it, mb we leave tomorrow mb day after
Me: ukno boring travel stuff

Vitya xx: I feel like I can tell now when you've been talking to Phichit ^_^

Me: he is contagious!
Me: he's done w most of his finals now too, so we caught up today
Me: when are you going to Yekaterinburg?

Vitya xx: In 2 days

Me: you'll be competing on your birthday

Vitya xx: I always perform on the 25th
Vitya xx: Either nationals are happening, or there's a show
Vitya xx: It's ok, it's just another day ^_^

 



Me: arrived in Nagano!

Vitya xx: Trip ok?

Me: not bad
Me: how's packing

Vitya xx: ... >_>;;

Me: what time are you leaving tomorrow??

Vitya xx: .................... >_>;;;;;;

Me: did you even start yet?

Vitya xx: You don't understand Makka was being VERY cute ALL DAY
Vitya xx: It's fine
Vitya xx: I have 12 hrs

Me: you haven't started packing & you need to be at the airport in 12 hrs???

Vitya xx: Well
Vitya xx: Yes
Vitya xx: Since the flight leaves in 12 hrs

Me: (⊙︿⊙)

Vitya xx: Nooo not sad faces!

Me: crying faces in 10... 9... 8

Vitya xx: Ok ok I'm packing!!!

 


 

 

Me: got my exam results
Me: I actually did ok on both (^ᴗ^)و ̑̑

Vitya xx: Congratulations!!
Vitya xx: Sorry it took a while to answer
Vitya xx: Press -_-;;

Me: already? you just got there

Vitya xx: I wanted to get it out of the way
Vitya xx: So I scheduled 2 hrs today
Vitya xx: Maybe a mistake >_>;

Me: just the idea of 2 hrs of press in 1 day
Me: ε=ε=(っ;□;)っ

Vitya xx: Is that supposed to look extremely rude or ??
Vitya xx: Ohhh he's running away!!

Me: what did you think-- ohh no no ( ノ﹏ \)

Vitya xx: <3! Shy face is my 2nd favorite, after smiling

Me: ^_^

Vitya xx: ( ღ*ᴗ*ღ )


 


Me: do you do breathing exercises or anything like that at competitions?

Vitya xx: ?? During warmups & workouts we do breathing patterns

Me: no I mean
Me: I guess I mean what do you do for stress

Vitya xx: I don't think I'm any help there, sorry
Vitya xx: I try to hype myself up MORE for competitions

Me: ⊙_⊙
Me: your coach is ok with that?

Vitya xx: More than ok, he looks for it
Vitya xx: I think he deliberately recruits weirdos who thrive on tension
Vitya xx: We're all pretty high-strung at our rink
Vitya xx: On days we're competing we can have any snack even candy
Vitya xx: It's the one time Yakov is ok w it
Vitya xx: Bc he expects us to burn it off w/ adrenaline

Me: sugar before competing just makes me feel sick -_-;;

Vitya xx: ://

Me: Coach has me talking to a former gymnast
Me: we had a skype call, she taught me some exercises
Me: just... not sure how much it's really helping

Vitya xx: (((
Vitya xx: I wish I could help
Vitya xx: Not that you'll need it
Vitya xx: I know you're going to be great tomorrow <3

Me: ^_^;;;

 


 

 

Vitya xx: Good luck today! <3 <3 <3!!!

Me: thank you ^_^

Vitya xx: Oops did I wake you up?

Me: no!
Me: I was up

Vitya xx: It's so late there
Vitya xx: Or so early
Vitya xx: Trouble sleeping? ((

Me: a little
Me: it's ok

Vitya xx: I think we can do a little better than ok
Vitya xx: Would company help?
Vitya xx: We could do a skype call

Me: it's ok! I don't want to take up your time, you're skating tomorrow too

Vitya xx: I want you to take up my time!
Vitya xx: And you're 6 hours ahead, remember
Vitya xx: Plus I have hours to sleep in tomorrow before anything starts
Vitya xx: And I'm going last
Vitya xx: Tomorrow will be so much waiting
Vitya xx: I could use some company too

Me: you can't be worried
Me: you finished first by 20+ pts in every competition this year
Me: you've won your nationals seven times

Vitya xx: Just means I'm overdue for an upset
Vitya xx: Georgi has been telling me all season that he'll win bc he's in love
Vitya xx: And he has been working very hard to peak here

Me: Georgi is excellent but
Me: your programs this year are amazing

Vitya xx: <3
Vitya xx: Anything can happen but I'm optimistic
Vitya xx: For you too!
Vitya xx: You were great at Trophée de France
Vitya xx: You were outstanding at Skate America
Vitya xx: And you've won All-Japan twice before
Vitya xx: I looked at the sports news there
Vitya xx: They want you to win

Me: they want me to redeem myself after the embarrassment of the gpf

Vitya xx: They want you to win because they know how good you are
Vitya xx: Right now by the numbers you are #9 in the world
Vitya xx: And we both know you can do even better
Vitya xx: Because you proved it at GP qualifiers
Vitya xx: Forget the GPF
Vitya xx: Anyone can have a bad night
Vitya xx: I couldn't land my 4Lz today
Vitya xx: But you still believe in me for tomorrow - yes?

Me: of course!!

Vitya xx: I believe in you too <3
Vitya xx: I'll be up at least 4 more hrs
Vitya xx: But I shouldn't keep you awake staring at the screen
Vitya xx: We could talk?
Vitya xx: Skype? Facetime? Or bedtime?

Me: skype

As soon as Skype rings, Yuuri accepts the call, and shyness hits, even though they were just texting. Even though they've been texting several times a day for a week, and Victor has been nothing but relentlessly nice to him.

All he can say is a hesitant, "Hi," newly self-conscious of the fact that he's alone in another antiseptic, anonymous hotel room, curled up in another bleached and empty bed, disconnected and adrift. He is profoundly, sickeningly awake.

"Hello! How's your room? How was practice?"

Oh. Victor's voice. Somehow, Yuuri's gotten used to texting with 'Vitya xx.' But hearing Victor speak reminds him of the perfect glossy beautiful star in the CK ad he rewatched the other day. The confident figure in a thousand interviews, tossing a wink at the camera. The incredible handsome man in Sochi who said they should pretend to date because it'd be good for everyone's public image.

"Practice was. Fine. Normal. The room is... also normal." Yuuri pushes up his glasses to massage the bridge of his nose, exasperated with himself. He is the most boring person alive.

"Well, normal is better than bad! Unless bad makes for a good story."

"No stories,"  Yuuri says leadenly. For years he worked so hard, driven by the hope that someday, he'd skate on the same ice as Victor, show Victor how inspiring his skating has been for Yuuri.

Now through this weird cosmic fluke, Yuuri has Victor's attention-- and nothing worthwhile to show him or say to him at all. He's embarrassed all over again about all the dumb texts he's sent and every stupid thing he's said. It's painfully clear what a pointless fantasy it was, all this time.

"No stories here either," Victor says. "Oh, but I watched the movie that your free program music is from. Gohatto? Am I saying that right? I liked it a lot."

"Oh. Really?"

"I wanted to ask you about it. Because I feel like the story in your program is different from the plot of the film, isn't it?"

"Yes-- I, uh..." Yuuri can hardly be surprised Victor picked up on that, when Victor's own storytelling is always sublime. "Yes. That's right."

"Are you thinking about something completely different for your program, or is it still the movie? Maybe you rewrote the ending?"

"Not exactly. It's still the movie, but-- it's sad, the film. And the music is sad too, but I wanted the program to feel more hopeful," he explains, stumbling. "So... for the program, the story is just a little part of the movie. There's Kano, the very beautiful swordsman who disrupts the samurai. And Tashiro, the other new recruit."

"Tashiro is the one who hits on Kano and gets a knife held to his throat, right? But it seemed like they got together later on. Though the movie never really showed it."

"Yes, that's him. I wanted the program to be Tashiro's story. They're all part of the Shinsengumi, so not just samurai, but-- I'm not sure how to explain it. Very elite, very traditional, almost like soldiers or police, keeping order-- the best, and the most dedicated to their code of honor. Which says they shouldn't be together."

Yuuri rolls onto his back, shouldering the pillow into a better position under his head. "But it's because they're both Shinsengumi that Tashiro wants Kano. It's not just the way he looks, it's his skill and his zanshin, um, poise? Or more like, his readiness for battle. I'm sorry, I'm not explaining this very well."

"I think I get it," Victor's voice comes softly. "They have a connection because they're equals in battle, and they believe in the same ideals. But the things they care about also keep them apart."

"Yes! And Kano... it's hard to tell if Kano is guarding his heart or if he just doesn't care, but Tashiro knows that Kano doesn't feel the same way that Tashiro feels about him. So I thought the program could be about his conflicts. It seems more hopeful to me, because no matter what happens between them, or the violence that comes later, I think Tashiro still feels like it was worth it to him. That's-- what I thought about, while I worked on it."

"It's beautiful. It's my favorite program you've done. My favorite program anyone's done this season," says Victor, and this isn't some line for Twitter or a TV camera, he doesn't have to say anything nice about Yuuri right now for any other reason but to say it. Yuuri's throat feels thick. Victor's quiet voice goes on, "It reminds me of a story here. Can I tell it to you?"

"Of course! Please."

"All right. It's a folk tale about two brothers. One was rich and lucky. The other was poor, and his hard work never helped him. His children were hungry, so the poor brother went to his rich brother for help. The rich brother told him there was plenty of money and plenty of work. So the poor brother chopped wood and hauled stones. He built a fence and he dug a well. He worked hard for two weeks and the rich brother gave him twenty-- twenty yen."

Yuuri tuts at him, smothering a yawn. "It wasn't yen. What was it?"

"Twenty kopeks. Very little. A ruble is a hundred kopeks, and last time I was there, the ruble was two yen."

"We used to have that. A yen was a hundred sen."

"Then his brother gave him forty sen, and a loaf of bread. The poor brother thanked him, though he knew he'd been cheated. He even sang a tune as he walked away, so no one would know how unhappy he was.

"On the road home as he sang, he heard another voice join in. 'Who's there,' he shouted, and a creature appeared, all skin and bones. 'I am Woe Bogotir, Bitter Woe, a great Russian hero,' the creature said. 'I'll keep you company as we ride home.' The poor man asked him, 'What will we ride?' and Woe answered, 'I don't know what you will ride, but I will ride you,' and he hopped on the poor man's shoulders. 'I'll teach you another song,' said Woe.

"This part doesn't translate so well, but it goes like this," and Victor's voice drops into a sing-song chant in Russian.

"That's so nice," Yuuri says, or maybe he only thinks it, because he wakes up to the alarm late in the morning with no memory of the story after that.

Chapter Text

Yuuri blinks up at the blurry ceiling in the morning, patting blindly for his phone to shut off the alarm.

He actually slept . Last night, that felt impossible. Last night-- last night Victor talked to him and Yuuri fell asleep.

He scrambles to check Skype. According to the timestamp, his call with Victor ended just after two in the morning here, and there are some messages in the Skype chat window:

 

v-nikiforov: It sounds like you drifted off
v-nikiforov: Tbh I just told the first story I could remember
v-nikiforov: So you didn't really miss anything ^_~
v-nikiforov: I hope you have good dreams <3

katsuki.yuuri: I slept really well. ^_^; Thank you

He has new email from Victor, too, with the subject line "Break Glass In Case Of Boredom." It reads, "Our rinkmate Mila linked me and Georgi to this list of things to ask someone you're dating. She was making fun of us, but I actually thought it looked fun. Though I can't come up with answers for half of them! What do you think?"

It's a terribly American list, to Yuuri's eyes. "What has been your biggest adrenaline rush? What's on your bucket list? What's the wildest thing you've ever done... and would you do it again?"

But some of the questions aren't bad. "Have you ever wanted to do something different than what you're doing now? What makes you feel accomplished? Did you ever keep a journal? If you're in a bad mood, would you rather be left alone or have someone to cheer you up?"

Victor wrote that he couldn't think of answers for half of these, but that means he could answer half of them, and Yuuri can't help being curious. (As evidenced by his disturbingly comprehensive collection of Victor's interviews.) Nothing in the email directly suggests that Yuuri needs to respond to see Victor's answers, but he feels it's sort of implied.

Yuuri goes through stretches and warm-up exercises with his laptop open, stopping occasionally to type part of a response. A lot of them are easy. He's never smoked or kept a journal or dated anyone before or lost someone close to him. And of course he skips the ones about what inspires him or who his heroes are or whether he's ever had a celebrity crush.

He's trying to remember the last book he read that wasn't for school when Celestino knocks on the door. It's already time for his practice runthrough. Yuuri's heart jumps in his chest and starts to hammer heavily. He honestly almost forgot he's competing today.

He expects his coach to scold him for his distraction, but instead Celestino tells him, "You look good this morning. Well-rested. Calmer. You're doing your breathing exercises?"

Yuuri nods. He's definitely doing them now that his throat feels like it's closing over.

The exercises help, but practice doesn't; he falls on his quad Sal, lands it two-footed, falls again when he redoubles his effort to get it right. People will watch this competition to see the person Victor says he's dating, and they'll see Yuuri fall and fail again like he did at the Grand Prix Final, and it'll be even worse, because his poor performance will reflect on Victor and put lie to the nice things he said about Yuuri's skating. It's going to be a disaster. Another disaster.

After, Celestino makes him sit down and try to eat lunch. Yuuri picks at the food, but he feels overheated and nauseated and swallowing feels impossible. When his phone buzzes, he almost doesn't want to look.

 

Vitya xx: Good morning! Or afternoon for you by now
Vitya xx: I can't wait to see your SP today!
Vitya xx: I have the live feed all cued up

Me: if i asked you not to watch would you?

Vitya xx: If you don't want me to watch I won't but I'd hate to miss it :(
Vitya xx: Can I ask why not? :(

Me: just a bad feeling

When he looks up, Celestino's giving him a questioning look.

"It's, um. Victor."

"Do I have him to thank that you actually got some sleep last night?" his coach asks, good-humored.

"A little?" Yuuri just barely stops himself from babbling on and telling his coach that Victor Nikiforov sang him to sleep last night, which is crazy in so many ways. Though Victor didn't really sing, it was more of a chant. Can you chant someone to sleep?

"I'll give you some time." Celestino looks at his watch. "Half an hour. I'll be back. Don't get too wrapped up."

"Okay?" Yuuri answers, confused, but his phone has been buzzing, so as soon as Celestino leaves, he checks again.

 

Vitya xx: Yakov always says, "Whatever you're feeling, take it off and leave it here with your skate guards"
Vitya xx: "As soon as you step onto the ice you should only think of your program"
Vitya xx: It absolutely NEVER works, I don't know why he still says it
Vitya xx: Can I call?

Me: ok

Yuuri feels guilty saying yes, of course, but it's early in Yekaterinburg, and Victor said last night that he has a lot of time to kill today. When the phone rings, he accepts the call right away.

"Yuuri," says Victor, "I have a very important question for you."

"Um. What?"

"Whose stupid idea was it to schedule Japan and Russia's nationals for the same weekend?"

Yuuri hangs his head, a smile creeping over his face somehow. "Not mine."

"Mine either! I would really like to be there right now."

"I would definitely rather be there instead of here."

"But if we switched places, neither of us would get to see the other skate."

"Also it's impossible."

"Also that," says Victor, making it sound like a gracious concession.

"I couldn't land my quad Sal," Yuuri blurts. "I keep-- I just keep blowing it."

"Are you getting enough rotations in?"

"Yes, but I can't land it."

"You can land it. You can land it beautifully. I've seen it," says Victor. "But even if the landing isn't perfect-- Yuuri, only two of your competitors even have the quad toe loop in their roster. No one else there has a quad Sal to begin with, none of them have done that jump all season. If you're not popping it, you're so far ahead already."

"I just want to get it right." Yuuri is horrified to feel his eyes filling.

"You can get it right." A few moments of silence, and Victor's voice is lower when he speaks again. "I really wish I was there. I don't think I'm getting it right. I'm not saying the right things."

Yuuri swallows. "There probably isn't a right thing to say, to be honest. Anyway. You don't have to say anything."

"If I was there, I'd offer you a hug. That helps me. But since I'm so far away right now, all I can really do is say things. What were you thinking about when you did this program at Skate America? It was gorgeous there."

He was thinking: I have to skate on the same ice as Victor; this has to be the year. Yuuri breathes like the therapist told him to, and answers, "I was thinking about making it to the Final."

"Then maybe now, think about making it to Worlds? I've been thinking about seeing you there. Now that I know the story of your free skate, I can't wait to see it again in person."

"You already saw it in person," Yuuri's voice wobbles, "when I screwed it up at the Final." What is he doing? Yuuri's talking to the best skater alive, his inspiration, a living legend, and he's just whining at him.

Performing badly when he finally had a chance to skate on the same ice as Victor, that was mortifying-- but now he's voluntarily choosing to humiliate himself, over and over again.

"Would it help to talk about what happened at the Final? What would help?"

"I don't know. If I knew what would help, I'd do it." He bites his lip; that came out sounding so much sharper than he meant it, but before he can apologize, Victor's already answering:

"Unless it's something you can't do alone."

"But I am alone." Yuuri feels worse as soon as he says it, though, hurriedly babbling, "Sorry, that was stupid, of course my coach is here-- he's giving me so much of his time, he's being incredibly generous-- and my family supports me, they always have, and it was really nice of you to talk to me last night. Sorry."

"You don't have to apologize for how you feel, Yuuri."

"I don't want to be ungrateful. So many people have helped me get here."

"You can be grateful for that and still feel alone now. Trust me, I understand. So if there's anything I can do, I want to." His tone changes, wheedling and teasing. "Help me out here, Yuuri, I have hours and hours to fill today."

"What do you usually do before a competition?" Yuuri sighs at himself as soon as the words are out. He sounds like a journalist; Victor has been asked that question a thousand times in interviews. Yuuri should know, he's read them all.

"Sleep in," says Victor, just like in those interviews. "Though I'm trying this new thing where I call cute guys so we can keep each other company. One cute guy, anyway."

Victor's publicity-friendly charm is relentless. Or maybe it's Yuuri's fault for asking him a typical interview question. He doesn't mean to be cynical, but it slips out anyway: "You just can't help yourself, can you?"

"I really can't," Victor agrees cheerfully. "I loved hearing about your free program story last night. Maybe you could tell me the story of your short program?"

"It's barely a story," Yuuri says. "More of a memory."

"Then I'm even more curious. What's the memory?"

"Um... the first year I was in Detroit, on the way from my dorm to the rink, I walked by a park," Yuuri says. "One day it snowed, and when I walked by that day, I got to see a group of kids come to the park, the first ones there after the snow stopped falling. I was helping one of their mothers clear off the bench so she could sit down, and we watched the kids-- just screaming and happy, knocking the snow off the swings and the slide and the merry-go-round. The song is called 'Rain,' but I think about that day. Kids coming to a snowed-over playground and uncovering everything so they can play."

Victor sighs deeply and theatrically into the phone. "That may be the cutest thing I've ever heard, Yuuri."

"It can't be the cutest thing you've ever heard, there weren't any dogs in it."

"I just assume that when you perform it, you picture dogs in the playground too!"

Yuuri feels a little wobbly at that, and he's not sure for a minute-- his chest goes tight-- but that eases, and he can actually picture Vicchan and Makkachin digging in the snow without feeling lost or weepy.

"I do now," he says.

"You know what else I really like about your SP? The music is staccato, with all those short separated notes. And the choreography follows that. It'd be easy for the movements to look disconnected, one short note after another, but when you perform it, even though you're keeping time with those short notes, the movements are long and flowing and beautiful. I'm not even sure how that fits it so well, but it's perfect."

"--Thank you," Yuuri gets out. His face is burning. "That's. Thanks."

"What made you decide to skate it that way?"

"Uh..." Yuuri swallows. "When-- when my coach suggested the music, I listened to a lot of different versions of the song. There's one that Sakamoto-sensei conducted with the Tohoku Youth Orchestra. I found it on YouTube, and the video showed Sakamoto-sensei stopping the musicians to have the different sections play their parts separately. So you can hear the underlying-- I forget the word, the motif? The part the brass instruments are playing, and that part is more-- continuous. I listen more to that." He hears the music faintly through the phone. "Oh, you found it."

"Yes! This is interesting. It looks like they filmed the rehearsal."

"Yes... in the video you can see him gesturing about how he wants them to play the melody, and he makes these pushing motions-- each of those short notes pushes into the next. Every note swells like a raindrop. That's rain, right? It's separate but it's all one thing."

"I love this song," Victor says. "I looked for more of Sakamoto's music last night, since I like the pieces you're using. I love his soundtrack for The Last Emperor. And some of those older songs with all the synthesizers-- and the Michael Jackson cover! Oh, hold on a minute."

On Victor's end, two other voices filter through to Yuuri. They're speaking Russian, of course, but then one breaks into English and Yuuri catches, "--that loser again? How many pep talks does one person need? Give it up, you can't talk someone into landing their jumps."

Whatever Victor replies in Russian, short and sharp, it's answered with a growl and stomping footsteps retreating.

"Sorry, that was Yura. Yuri Plisetsky."

"Ah. Right." Yuuri isn't sure what to say now. Did Plisetsky tell Victor about their confrontation after the Grand Prix Final, when Plisetsky found him in the men's room and shouted at him to retire? Of all the terrible things that happened that day, that incident mostly fell by the wayside, for Yuuri; he was more baffled than hurt, having some tiny teenager he'd never met start yelling at him out of nowhere. Still, it's embarrassing to imagine Victor hearing about it.

Yuuri settles on, "We met."

"There's an understatement!" Victor laughs-- really hard, for some reason. "Oh, God, I'm going to tell him you said that."

So, Plisetsky did tell Victor about haranguing Yuuri at the GPF. Great. Perfect.

Yuuri folds down to the carpet, positioning his legs straight and wide apart for ballet stretches. He leans steeply forward until his hamstrings feel the pull and his back aligns, shoulders settling. Holding the phone away from his mouth a little, he tries the new breathing exercises the therapist taught him. That's better.

"Anyway, ignore him," says Victor, still chuckling. "Last season he begged me to introduce him to Stéphane Lambiel--"

"I BEGGED YOU FOR NOTHING, YOU HAS-BEEN," comes a distant screech.

"--and then when he met him, Yura panicked and told him he was overrated. I'm convinced he's acted like a terror ever since then because he'd rather be seen as a little asshole," Victor is raising his voice, clearly aiming this at Plisetsky, "rather than admit he lost his shit in front of one of his heroes."

Plisetsky is clamoring in the background again, back to Russian, presumably to have the full expressive power of his native language at his command while he rails at Victor. Much closer to the phone, Victor is barely managing not to giggle aloud; Yuuri can hear it bubbling in his throat.

All that, and Yuuri responds, "I've never heard you curse before, not in all those interviews."

Wonderful. He could probably sound more like a stalker if he tried very hard, but he's not sure how.

"Does it bother you? If you understood what Yura's saying in Russian-- well. Vulgarity is Yura's true mother tongue." Whatever Plisetsky is saying in his continuing rant, Victor is still just barely suppressing his laughter.

"Just surprised. It doesn't bother me," Yuuri says. Phichit thinks English curse words are hilarious, and went through a phase of putting "fuck" in every possible form into everything he said.

"Are you sure? I don't mind watching my mouth around you," Victor says. "Unless you'd rather watch it for me."

Yuuri freezes up a little. But it's nothing. Of course it's nothing. Victor's famous for flirting with anyone and anything, blowing kisses to judges, winking at cameras.

"Yuuri? Still there?" Victor asks. It's quieter on his end now, no more Plisetsky or other voices.

"Still here," says Yuuri. "I just thought maybe I misunderstood you. I mean... that sounded cute but I'm not sure it makes much sense?"

"So cold, Yuuri!" Victor says, but he's laughing again.

Eager to gloss past that, Yuuri says, "It seems a little silly to ask how you feel about your short program or wish you luck when you've been performing it perfectly all season. But. Good luck anyway. How do you feel?"

"Ah... I'm usually a little tired of my programs by this point. As soon as I have a piece solid enough to compete with it, I always want to move on to something new."

"Even your free skate? It's so beautiful."

"No, not that one, not yet. I hope I never get tired of Stammi Vicino." The sounds around Victor change; light wind, distant traffic. He must have gone outdoors or opened a window. "Can I ask you-- what do you think of my SP? Not the performances, but as a program. If you were going to skate it, how would you approach it?"

"Fearfully!" Yuuri admits. "It's so complicated!"

"You could do it. You'd murder the footwork."

"No, I wouldn't, because I'd be limping across the ice after I fell just thinking about trying to pull off the quad Sal combination."

"I'm probably changing that to a flip tonight."

"I don't have a quad flip, either!"

"Not yet, maybe. But-- forget the jumps. I love the stories you create for your programs. Do you see a story in that program?"

Victor's short program music this year is a jazz medley of The Nutcracker Suite, and the routine is fiendishly difficult in a way few people outside figure skating could appreciate.

The music itself is challenging: it syncopates and changes up the familiar Tchaikovsky melodies that every dance and skating student has heard a million times. It almost sounds like it's deliberately composed to wrong-foot anyone trying to perform to it. Since Victor commissions his own music, he must have asked the composer to create that dizzying effect.

The program's first jump, a quad Salchow, comes very early in the choreography. It's hard to imagine another skater landing a quad that fast; the timing relies on Victor's strength and speed and confidence. No one else could launch themselves across the ice that quickly off the mark and still look deliberate and graceful.

Victor's first combination is a triple toe-quad toe combination with the triple first, unlike most combinations now. It's more difficult to go from the easier jump to the harder jump in combination, since the first jump eats up so much of the momentum needed for the second jump.

Under the old scoring system, a skater would get more points for putting the harder jump second, but the current scoring doesn't take the order of the jumps into account, so now almost everyone does the harder jump first in their combinations.

Some commentators see Victor's choreography as a statement on the need to reform the current scoring of combinations. Others claim that Victor's simply showing off, extravagantly skating a more difficult move even if it doesn't gain him points. In the course of his career, Victor has definitely done both of those things before.

His spin combination unmistakably quotes from Yulia Spiridonov's Nutcracker program, and commentators noticed that Victor's transitions echo the Petrova-Szolkowy Nutcracker pair skate. His arm position during his triple axel and the placement of the axel in the program nod to Aliona Tikhonov's, from a Nutcracker routine that won an Olympic bronze.

But none of those things add up to a story.

"I guess I see a story that's more-- a history," Yuuri thinks out loud. "The homages to other skaters, even the combination that would have been scored higher under the 6.0 system... it's a story about where the sport's been and where it could go, making something new that honors the past. A story about what goes into creating a story." He sounds ridiculous, and Victor asked for a story, not a bunch of blather about the program components, he knows the program, he created it--

"I knew if anything could make me like this program again," Victor says, "you could."

"I. How?" Yuuri actually covers his mouth to stop himself from talking after that gem.

"You have a different perspective," Victor answers. "A history is also a story. I hadn't thought of it that way."

He uncovers his mouth. "What were you thinking about, when you made it?"

"Nothing I really want to talk about right now," says Victor. "Another time. Can I watch tonight? I wish I could be there in person, but since I can't, I'd like to at least cheer you on from here."

Yuuri chews his lip. The feeling of doom has ebbed. He's not confident about skating tonight, but it doesn't feel like an inevitable failure anymore, which is probably as good as it's likely to get, after what happened at the Final.

"If you want," he says finally. "Thank you. For asking, and-- for all of this. For last night, and talking so much today when you have your own competition going on..."

"This is helping me too, you know," says Victor, improbably.

"You don't need any help!"

A few beats of silence pass. "I guess it's fair to say I don't need help with competing," Victor finally answers.

Yuuri's squeezing his phone so hard the case creaks in his hand. "Yeah. But-- if this is helping you too, somehow... then, I'm glad."

"It is," Victor says firmly.

There's a tap at the door, and Celestino pokes his head in, spins his finger in a 'wrap it up' gesture.

"My coach is here, I need to go," Yuuri says. "Can I, when-- what time--"

"I'll text you when I'm doing my runthrough," Victor cuts in. "And when I'm done. Other than that I'm all yours til I go on, which is probably going to be past one in the morning, your time. So call whenever you want, okay?"

"Are you sure?" Yuuri asks. "This seems like a lot."

"Like I said, it's good for me too. So I'm sure. I want you to call."

"Okay. Thank you. Good luck."

"Good luck, Yuuri."

Hazily, Yuuri wonders if he could get a recording of Victor saying that, and just play it nonstop for the rest of his life.


 

Inspecting Yuuri's costume, Celestino says, "I don't suppose you'll listen if I tell you to downgrade the Salchow. You don't need the quad in the short, Yuuri."

Of course he doesn't think so, he didn't put it in the original choreography. It was Yuuri who insisted on adding the quad Sal to both programs as soon as he had it consistent in practice. So far, that consistency has disintegrated the second he's in front of judges. He only nailed them both at Skate America.

"I'll change it to the toe loop," Yuuri says, lacing his skates. It's disappointing, but Victor had a point. No one else at this competition has a quad Sal. None of them are landing the 4T as often as Yuuri.

Putting the 4S in his short program for the Grand Prix qualifiers was Yuuri's way of signalling that he was out for blood-- to break through the assumption that he's not a top contender and show the judges he's someone to take seriously as an athlete, not just as an "artistic" skater.

He doesn't have to prove that to the judges here. And his peace of mind is so fragile... if he misses the quad Sal in his short, he'll fall apart.

"Good. That's good," Celestino tells him. He knows Yuuri isn't touchy; the hand on Yuuri's shoulder, squeezing briefly, stands in for the usual coachly hug.

But Yuuri thinks of Victor saying he'd offer a hug because that helps him. And maybe-- maybe it would be comforting--

He feels clumsy when he leans in, throwing his arms around Celestino, but it's important to him suddenly to do this, to say, "Thank you, Coach. Thank you for being here."

Celestino takes it in stride, bear-hugging him back. "Thank me with a clean skate."

"Si, allenatore."

He's grateful when the competition opens and the crowd noise surges, and his coach puts a hand on Yuuri's back, reminding him not to stiffen up. He's grateful when his coach hands him an onigiri and a thermos with warm tea.

He's very grateful when he fidgets and fidgets with his phone, and his coach says, "Yuuri. Call." He has to, after that, right? Coach's orders.

Victor picks up before the first ring even ends. "Yuuri!"

"It's starting."

"I thought it was time, but the live feed isn't showing anything! Just a second--"

"Um, sometimes if you refresh it'll pick it up."

"You're right! That worked. Now I see-- oh, this is sweet, they're introducing the flower retrievers! They're so adorable. And now a crowd shot. I see so many signs for you, Yuuri."

"Don't exaggerate," Yuuri says. "How would you know they're for me?"

"Some are in English! And okay, true enough, I can't read anything else at all in kanji, but I do know the characters for your name. Your fans look so excited, they can't wait to see you."

The noise Yuuri makes into the phone is wordless, but expressive.

"No? Well... forget that. I'm so excited and I can't wait to see you, how's that?"

"Better," Yuuri admits.

"Good. That's good. If you need to," Victor tells him, "just pretend that no one is watching but me, and I am very loud."

"So loud you sound like a thousand people?"

"Yes, that's all me. It's the acoustics."

They're both quiet for a few moments. Yuuri can hear the crowd noise from the live feed Victor's watching. The sound of the people in the arena, travelling all that way to Victor and then all the way back to Yuuri's phone, a few hundred feet from the origin of the sound.

"I'm afraid I'm going to let everybody down again," Yuuri whispers.

"You won't."

"You can't know that. And you said-- anybody can have a bad night, and you're right, but two bad nights and it's a decline, three bad nights and it's over."

"That's not true," Victor says. He sounds so sure. "Yuuri. You're an amazing skater. What happened at the Final didn't change that. What happens tonight doesn't change that. You're amazing. I know it. All those people out there with signs for you know it. If you can't believe in yourself, believe in us."

"Us," Yuuri repeats, blinking.

"We're very smart, me and those people with the signs."

Yuuri laughs, shaky but real. "Okay," he says, his voice worn down with nerves. "Okay."

"Now you say it."

"Say--?"

"You're amazing."

"I'm." Yuuri feels throttled. "I can't."

"Yuuri. Let me remind you again how smart I am. And those people with the signs? Probably all geniuses. I bet they're all doctors and lawyers and scientists. Are you really going to argue with us? No, of course not, so just say it. 'I'm amazing,' just like that."

"I'm," Yuuri's throat clicks, and he swallows. "I'm amazing."

"Good. Now you know it too. You don't have to say anything else if you don't want to. But keep me with you, all right? Until you're ready to go."

"I will."

In the end, Yuuri doesn't let the phone go until nearly the last minute; he hands it off to Celestino with his glasses.

"Victor," he says just before ending the call, and that's all he can say.

"You're going to be so fantastic," Victor says. "Show me the snow."

"Okay," Yuuri says. His coach takes his glasses and the phone. The noise is deafening when they go into the arena. Yuuri does his breathing exercises, listens to the thud of his heartbeat, too fast, too fast, but slowing as he pulls in long breaths. He hadn't realized how much his head was spinning until the feeling goes away.

"I'm okay," he mutters. "I'm going to be okay." The therapist tried to teach him "positive self-talk" along with the breathing, but Yuuri hadn't been able to take it seriously, hasn't practiced it. He couldn't imagine saying nice things to himself like that, it seemed childish and conceited.

But-- but. Victor. "I'm amazing," Yuuri says under his breath. "I'm going to be so fantastic." When he takes off his skate guards, Yuuri remembers Victor saying that Yakov's advice to leave his feelings with the skate guards never worked, and it makes him smile.

His name is announced, and Yuuri steps onto the ice.

Chapter Text

Vitya xx: CONGRATULATIONS!!!

Me: thank you

Vitya xx: That was stunning <3
Vitya xx: How do you feel?

Me: relieved
Me: disappointed
Me: the last spin wound down too soon
Me: I downgraded the 4S to a 4T and still wobbled the landing -_-;;

Vitya xx: A little shaky here and there, y
Vitya xx: But a fantastic performance!
Vitya xx: I saw snow ^_^
Vitya xx: You'll have the rest for 4CC

Me: press soon
Me: anything I should say? or avoid saying

Vitya xx: Whatever you want!
Vitya xx: Tho if anyone is obnoxious enough to ask if I'm retiring
Vitya xx: Tell them we've had better things to talk about ^_~

Me: ... I'll tell them I don't know

Vitya xx: ^_^ Not as fun, but ok

Me: "fun" is a little beyond me
Me: just trying not to make a fool of myself
Me: I hate interviews, I'm here to skate not talk

Vitya xx: My 1st juniors coach taught me to look at the camera
Vitya xx: Not into the lens but to one side of it
Vitya xx: And talk like it's a video call with a friend
Vitya xx: Someone you're comfortable with. Maybe Phichit?

Me: yes

Vitya xx: The reporter is just there to remind you what to talk about
Vitya xx: In the conversation you're having with your friend

Me: my friend the camera

Vitya xx: You're the one who just turned a skate to a song called "Rain"
Vitya xx: Into a snowy playground full of happy kids
Vitya xx: Beautifully, btw
Vitya xx: So... use your imagination

Me: ^_^;
Me: do you want me to call when we're done here?
Me: for you, I mean. I'm ok now
Me: but you said talking is helping you too, so, if it would help

Vitya xx: Yes!
Vitya xx: Talk to you then <3

 




Victor's advice for interviews actually does help Yuuri get through the press with less agony than usual, at first. When looking at the reporter makes him nervous, he looks at the camera and tries to imagine he's telling Phichit about how the short program went.

It's still hard. Inevitably, Yuuri's asked about the fiasco of his Grand Prix Final performance, and he can't look at the reporter or the camera or anyone, just drops his eyes and apologizes for representing the nation so poorly in international competition.

The journalist asks how he feels that he's only ahead by two points after the short program. How is he supposed to feel about that? It doesn't feel good. He knows that even after all the extra help he's had, from his coach, the therapist, Victor's pep talks, he was still too unnerved to skate his best.

He looks toward the camera. "I watched the qualifiers when preparing for All-Japan and I knew there would be tough competition here. I'm disappointed that I haven't given them more of a fight. I hope I'll be able to do better in the free skate."

"You've attracted a lot of new attention recently with the announcement that you're dating your Russian competitor, Victor Nikiforov."

The description of Victor as his competitor, as if Yuuri could ever be real competition for Victor, surprises him, and he laughs a little-- and then he freezes, realizing it looks like he just giggled at the mere mention of Victor's name. He feels his face heat. And now it'll look like he giggled and blushed at Victor's name. How is Yuuri so, so bad at this? Yuuri keeps his eyes on the camera, certain the reporter must be looking at him with reproach.

"Do you think the media coverage of your relationship has affected your skating?"

"I'm responsible for the flaws in my programs, here and at the Grand Prix Final. The only thing that my-- relationship has changed is that now I know another person who understands the sport and cares about the same things," Yuuri barely, barely stops himself from adding, and who happens to be the best skater in the world. He only means that talking with a better skater really ought to help him, if anything, but it would sound like bragging.

It all probably sounds like bragging anyway. As if Yuuri has anything to boast about. He feels a little sick. He looks at the camera and tries to think of what he'd say to Phichit. "Victor's given me nothing but support. He's always inspired me," he babbles, and finally shuts himself up.

"Is it hard to be apart for this competition? Victor Nikiforov is competing in the Russian national championship this weekend."

"Yes," Yuuri tries to smile at the camera, though it feels like a weak attempt. "Good luck, Victor." Not that Victor needs it, but it seems like the thing to say.

"There's been speculation that starting a new relationship in such a public way might signal Nikiforov's intention to retire after this season. Can you speak to that?"

"No. We've had better things to talk about," Yuuri answers, and snaps his mouth shut so hard his jaw pangs. No, no no no no. Why did Victor put that terrible phrase in his head? Why did he say it?

"And that's Katsuki Yuuri, two-time national champion, currently in the lead by two points after the short program here at the All-Japan Figure Skating Championship."

That's not even the last one. Yuuri drinks some water to stall, but there's no avoiding it. Eventually he has to straighten and do it all over again.


 


Back in the hotel room with his costume hung up and his hair wet from a shower, Yuuri gets a text from Victor: six hours behind in Yekaterinburg, it's still afternoon for him, and he's done with his practice runthrough. Yuuri calls, and has to try not to blush or tear up or fall apart when Victor praises his performance again, in terms too kind and effusive to take to heart.

At the soonest opportunity, Yuuri breaks in with, "How did your practice go?"

"It could've been better. Restarting a music cue must be the hardest thing in the world, according to the techs here. But we got through it."

For no particular reason, Yuuri is seized with shyness again and it's a little hard to say, "I'll be cheering you on tonight."

"Thanks. But it's okay if you don't stay up to watch. It's late for you, and you're skating tomorrow."

"I was up later than that last night. I probably wouldn't have slept at all if it weren't for you. And--" he probably shouldn't say this. He's saying it. "And I've hardly ever missed any of your performances for-- a long time. I'm not going to start now."

After a moment, Victor's voice comes quiet and low. "You're sweet, Yuuri."

That feels a little dismissive, but really, if Yuuri reveals himself as just another fanboy like that, Victor has every reason not to take him seriously.

"I'd like to say I'll give you something worth staying up for tonight, but this program..." Victor makes a disdainful noise, or possibly that was a word in Russian. "Talking to you about it helped, but the rest is on me, so we'll see. Now, the free skate. Stay up late for that one. That one I'll dedicate to you."

"You don't need to do that!" Though in a way, Yuuri realizes, Victor does need to, if he wants to carry off this dating act. He's known for big gestures-- after his first year sweeping gold in the major international competitions, Victor bought his coach a car, tossing him the keys at the press conference after Worlds. He's given public shout-outs and arranged parties and gifts for the composers who supply his music, the designers who make his costumes. Dedicating a skate to someone he's dating is the least that people would expect of him.

"I want to," Victor says.

"Then... that would be-- nice," Yuuri's already wincing at his own understatement, but it feels stupid to be moved by any public gestures Victor makes: those are for the media, the fans, the pretense of dating, not really for him.

He tries to put that out of his mind. "I know I told you already that it's my favorite program, but. I want to tell you again. It's so beautiful. I love it."

"Thank you," Victor says, soft. "That means a lot to me."

And that's real, isn't it? Nothing that happens in public means anything, but Victor didn't have to say that. He didn't have to stay in touch with Yuuri and text with him and talk to him.

Victor might say things he doesn't mean just to be nice, but the fact that he's doing it at all means that he thinks Yuuri isn't a complete waste of time. That's more than Yuuri thinks, some days.

He clears his throat. "Did you ever get any sleep? I kept you up all day, I'm sorry."

"It's fine. This was a better way to spend the time. And I did sleep a little after you skated. I stayed with the live feed to see your interviews, but since I couldn't understand anything, I dozed off. But listen to this: by the time I woke up, someone had already translated your answers and posted a compilation of everything you said about us and tweeted the link to me, and someone else made a clip of you wishing me luck! Isn't that amazing?"

"Amazing," Yuuri repeats, though he thinks terrifying is a better word for it.

Of course he already knew the extent of Victor's celebrity and the size of his fanbase. Yuuri's perfectly aware that Victor's fans are legion and eager enough to jump on any mention of him and get it translated and posted in a matter of hours. Yuuri used to benefit from that obsessive speed himself, and appreciated it when it meant he could read fan translations of interviews that Victor gave in Russian or French. He's just aghast at the idea that he's on the other side of it now.

"So sweet of them. And sweet of you! It was a nice surprise to wake up to."

"That's good!" Yuuri flails for a change of topic. "Um! You still have a few hours if you wanted to take another nap, you don't have to stay on the phone with me."

"I like staying on the phone with you. But if you wanted to return the favor and tell me a bedtime story, I wouldn't say no."

Yuuri tries to think of a story. Of course, his mind goes utterly blank, empty white from wall to wall. His brain is a lump of gummy mochi. Stalling, he says, "Actually, you only told me half a bedtime story."

"True. If I tell you the rest, do I get one from you?"

"Yes," Yuuri says, because even if his brain keeps seizing up like this, he could probably recite Momotaro in his sleep. "What happened to the poor man with Woe on his back?"

"Ah, yes, the poor brother with his... forty sen, was that it? And Bitter Woe sitting on his shoulders. And Woe sang a song on the way home from the party, that's where we left off. After that, Woe kicked the poor man for miles, and finally steered him to a bar and told him to buy wine. So the poor brother spent all he had on wine, and came home to his wife and children with nothing but Woe."

Yuuri is a little punchy from performing and running the gauntlet of sports journalists. That must be why he puts in, "I'm starting to think Woe might be a metaphor for something."

"Don't be silly, this story is completely literal and very serious. So the next day Woe complained: 'I have a hangover. Sell your plow and get more wine!' and the brother obeyed. Then 'Sell your wagon!' and he did. Then the poor brother had nothing left to sell, so Woe told him to sell himself."

"Whoa, what time is it?" Yuuri says without thinking, realizing too late that it won't make any sense to Victor, who, sure enough, asks,

"Here? Or there?"

"Neither, sorry-- Phichit and I make this dumb joke a lot. In the States someone told us that they can't show racy stuff on TV until after ten, so any time someone says anything that sounds like it could be-- uh, adults-only-- we ask each other what time it is."

"Not that kind of selling himself! What a dirty mind, Yuuri!"

Yuuri groans. "It was a joke-- it wasn't even a joke, it was a reflex."

"I'm not sure having dirty reflexes is really better. Though I guess from a certain perspective, it's a lot better..."

"I didn't mean to interrupt you. What happens to the poor brother? Does he sell himself?"

"Interrupt all you like. The poor brother didn't sell himself-- he finally understood the trouble he was in. So he said to Woe, 'I heard of a treasure in the forest near here, buried under a stone too heavy for a man to lift. If we could lift the stone together and get the treasure, we could drink forever.'"

Yuuri imitates the gravelly voice Victor's been doing for Woe. "Okay... that sounds fake, but okay."

"No, Russia is full of buried treasure! You'll see," Victor says. "Anyway. Woe said, 'I can lift any stone!' So they went to the forest, and they rolled the huge stone aside. Underneath was a pit, and deep in the pit they saw the glitter of gold. Because the brother was telling the truth, Yuuri! How could you doubt him?"

"Okay, okay. Sorry!"

"All right. Woe jumped down, and said, 'There must be a hundred pots of gold here! We'll have all the wine we can drink!' Woe threw a pot of gold up to the poor brother, and as soon as the poor brother had it, he rolled the stone back over the pit, and said, 'That's where he belongs. With a friend like Woe, even gold would taste bitter.'"

"Wait, it would taste bitter? Do you eat gold in Russia?" Yuuri teases, just a little.

"Yes," says Victor, "it's delicious."

"Do you eat your medals, then?"

"Of course."

"How do you cook them?"

"Boil them," Victor says. "The ribbons are like noodles."

It's hard not to laugh, but Yuuri is determined to get Victor to break first. "What about the medals, what do they taste like?"

"Hm, they're like... no comparison. There's nothing else like gold! But that wasn't the end of the story, you know."

"I thought that was it!"

"You think a Russian story is going to end with getting rid of Woe for good? No, no, there's more. The poor brother started a business with his gold, and he made a lot of money. He invited the rich brother to a feast. The rich brother laughed at him, but he came, because he'd lost his fortune, and he thought he could comfort himself that at least he was better than the poor brother.

"But when he came to visit the poor brother, he found a beautiful izba-- errr, cabin, I think? Farmhouse? A beautiful home, and the poor brother served a huge feast. The rich brother encouraged the poor one to drink, and soon he heard the story of Bitter Woe. And the rich brother thought, what an idiot my poor brother is! He only took one pot of gold when he could have had a hundred! If you have gold, even Woe isn't bad."

"Sounds like someone's about to become the moral of this story," Yuuri says.

"Well, let's see. When the feast ended, instead of going home, the rich brother went to the forest, and rolled the stone off the pit. Woe jumped out of the pit and onto his shoulders, and said, 'From now on, we'll always be together!'

"After that, it didn't matter how much gold the rich brother had. Woe was always with him, riding him to misery, so he was worse off than if he had nothing. But the poor brother and his family were happy forever. There! Now it's the end. You can tell, because someone is suffering."

"That's how all Russian stories end?"

"All the ones I can think of! And right now I can think of two."

"I thought of three," Yuuri says. "You could tell me what you want to hear? One is an adventure, it's cheerful. One is like yours, with kind of a moral. And the third one is a grim bloody revenge story."

"Hard to choose! Grim and bloody is tempting but not very restful. Same for the adventure, really. Maybe the middle one? But hold on a second. Yakov's at the door. Hear that? No one else pounds like that. Yura tries, but his little baby knuckles can't make that much noise."

Victor takes the phone with him, and Yuuri can clearly hear the conversation he has with his coach, though since it's in speedy Russian, he has no idea what they're saying.

He can hear the tones, though. Victor sounds like he's complaining, while Yakov is exasperated. Yuuri's not surprised when Victor heaves a huge dramatic sigh, and returns with, "I'm sorry, Yuuri, I'm being called away. Yakov says I have to meet someone."

"It's okay."

"It's not okay. He won't even say who it is-- that's his way of telling me to just come and smile and keep my mouth shut. After all, why should I get any time to myself before the competition, when I could be dragged out to stand around like a mannequin? I should hire a double to send out to things like this in my place."

"That would never work," says Yuuri. "No one else looks like you." A Russian fashion magazine once held a competition for a Victor Nikiforov look-a-like. There were a couple of androgynous teenagers who resembled Victor at sixteen, but the closest person they found to mid-twenties Victor didn't really look like him at all.

"A cardboard cutout, then," Victor grumbles. "I doubt they'd notice." Yakov Feltsman's voice is sharp and impatient nearby. "I really have to go. Good night, Yuuri."

"Good night," Yuuri says. "I'll be watching you skate, so... gun battle!"

Victor laughs-- really, more accurately, he giggles. All those interviews, and Yuuri had no idea Victor could sound like that. "Thanks!"


 


In the wait for Victor's Nationals performance, Yuuri looks up his rendition of the Nutcracker Swing program from the Grand Prix Final.

If pressed, he'd have to admit this piece isn't a favorite of his, or even ranked in his top ten of Victor's short programs. Yuuri can recognize how technically dazzling it is, but other than that, he doesn't love it. Before, he chalked that up to taste, and even wondered if maybe he just wasn't sophisticated enough to pick up on what Victor was doing with this routine.

Now, knowing that Victor is dissatisfied with it too, Yuuri studies the GPF performance. A minute into it, he realizes he's mostly focusing on the way Victor's hair flutters in his wake. Yuuri shakes himself and restarts the video.

His attention starts to drift a little this time, too. After that striking first jump, the routine just seems a little rote. There's always so much to see in a Nikiforov performance: Victor emotes with his whole body from toes to fingertips, his face reflecting the feelings expressed in the music and choreography.

This program's no different, and Victor's expressions are cheerful, a little mischievous, challenging. He renders every step, transition, spin and jump perfectly. Something is happening every second.

But Yuuri still gets caught up in irrelevancies again, the way the costume fits across Victor's chest and shoulders, the swish of his hair during the curve of a spread eagle. He doesn't think it's just his own shallowness that's to blame. Victor's cheeky smile is a little too fixed, and while he could never be stiff or anything but easy and skillful on the ice, there's usually more life and nuance in his choreography. Yuuri would have trouble pointing out specific shortcomings, but it feels like the little grace notes that distinguish Victor's best work are missing here.

It turns out that he doesn't need to analyze what's missing from the GPF performance; it's obvious, once he loads up the live feed and sees how Victor skates the Nutcracker Swing at Russian Nationals.

Nothing could distract Yuuri from this performance. Victor cuts across the ice with a swing of his hips, his arms wheeling out as he pivots through steps into a spin. Every motion is expansive, almost too broad, but it works with the exuberant music: it looks as though Victor is having too much fun dancing to hold back. He doesn't smile throughout the whole program this time, but he flashes a brilliant grin when he lands his combination, and coming out of the step sequence, he looks almost as though he might start laughing.

His score surges close to his personal best, well above his rinkmate Georgi's impressive second place.


Me: CONGRATULATIONS!
Me: that was wonderful!
Me: even better than GPF!

Vitya xx: Thank you! Glad to hear it
Vitya xx: I wasn't happy with it at GPF
Vitya xx: Talking about it with you helped ^_^

Me: I still don't know how but I'm glad

Vitya xx: Fresh perspective!
Vitya xx: Press time for me, bedtime for you, y?

Me: y

Vitya xx: Sweet dreams! See you tomorrow! <3

Me: Good night <3


Yuuri tells himself he added the heart in case anyone was creeping on Victor's texts. On the live feed, he can see people leaning past the barriers to look at Victor as he lingers just outside the kiss & cry texting, and there are reporters pressing in, only Yakov's forbidding looks holding them back.

Yuuri wouldn't want anyone to see Victor's texts and think he's fake dating someone who doesn't fake adore him.

As always, Victor effortlessly exceeds him. On the screen, he puts his phone away, finds the camera and gazes into it, mouthing 'Good night' and blowing a kiss. The pitch of the cheering around him rises toward a collective scream.

Yuuri turns down the volume and sets his screen to black, but he leaves the live feed open, and for the second night in a row, he falls asleep to the sound of Victor speaking Russian, his voice low and easy and sure.

Chapter Text

The day of the free skate feels like an even more intense repeat of the day before. Yuuri tries to sleep late and eat well and distract himself with more questions from the email Victor sent him, but he's twitchy and wired all morning.

In practice he falls on both quads every time, and there's no breathing exercise Yuuri can do to fix that. Celestino tries half a dozen ways to calm Yuuri down, but Yuuri can't stop running hypothetical scores, working out just how bad this could get.

By the numbers, if everyone else does as well as they did in their qualifiers and Yuuri flubs the free skate here as badly as he did at the Grand Prix Final, he'll end up somewhere around tenth place.

If he falls that far he won't even be seeded next year; everything he's earned will vanish, just like that. And impossible as it seems, he could actually bomb the free skate worse somehow. He's so jittery over lunch that he nearly knocks his drink over twice and his coach resorts to holding it for him.

"We're going for a walk," Celestino declares, and marches Yuuri to the courtyard behind the hotel. The snows haven't started yet in Nagano, but the air is brisk, and when his coach jogs him around and makes him do his breathing exercises again, Yuuri feels the chill go through him with every inhale and exhale.

Celestino unrolls a yoga mat on the grass in a patch of sunlight, and orders Yuuri to lie down. Celestino never travels without the mat, and today he pulls a fleece blanket out of his gear bag, too, and throws it over Yuuri, who's already bundled in his puffy coat over sweats.

"I know Keisha taught you a little about mindfulness and self-talk too," his coach tells him, confiscating Yuuri's phone. "I want you to try that. At least give it an honest effort."

"Why out here?" Yuuri asks.

"Change of scenery. Tell me if you get cold. It's fine if you fall asleep, I'll get you up in half an hour."

Yuuri stares up at the blurry overcast sky, running through the mindfulness exercise he learned-- it's unappealing, but he's doing his best to obey his coach. It does feel nice to be outdoors, snug in his coat and blanket in the cool air. It's novel, but comfortable and protected, and it makes something in his shoulders relax.

When it comes to self-talk, though, he only gets frustrated: it feels weird and artificial and childish to him, like a kid scared in bed at night, chanting to himself that ghosts aren't real. He's supposed to tell himself things like 'My doubts are only feelings, they're not reality. I can overcome my feelings. I can be calm and positive.'

But he doesn't believe it, so how can it help? Why would Yuuri ever want to listen to "self-talk" anyway? His self is the problem.

The one thing like this he found helpful before was repeating what Victor told him. He tries that again, running through all the things Victor's said to him, encouraging words that Yuuri can't help hoarding, even if it makes him feel guilty to take them seriously.

Gorgeous, moving, my favorite performance by anyone this year.

You can land it. You can land it beautifully. I've seen it.

I love the stories you create for your programs.

You're an amazing skater. What happened at the Final didn't change that. What happens tonight doesn't change that. You're amazing. I know it.

You're going to be so fantastic.

He hears his phone ring and bolts upright, fumbling to shove his glasses back on as Celestino brings it over. It's Victor-- and how strange is it that Yuuri isn't even surprised, that he was expecting it?

He can't do that. He can't get used to this.

"Yuuri! I slept later than I meant to! I knocked a pillow on top of my phone and didn't hear the alarm." Victor yawns. "Mm, sorry. How has your day been so far?"

Victor already knows what a mess he is, and right now Yuuri couldn't possibly hide it anyway. "Not good."

"Ohhh. Like yesterday?"

Shame floods through Yuuri. Victor sounds sympathetic, for now, but Yuuri can only imagine how quickly it'll turn to annoyance now that Yuuri's struggling with nerves again, that he worked himself into this state again-- that after sponging so much of Victor's time yesterday, he needs another two hours of distraction and pep talks just to achieve mediocrity instead of catastrophe. Again.

"I have to go. Sorry. My coach--" he can't even come up with an excuse. "I've got to go." Yuuri ends the call and mutes his phone. "Coach, I need to go in."

He starts to fold the blanket, but Celestino takes it from him. "Go ahead. Talking to Victor seemed to do you good yesterday. I'll pack up here and come get you when it's time for warmups."

Yuuri nods, gulping everything down; he rushes back into the hotel and takes the stairs up to his floor, hearing his own wet ragged breathing echo in the stairwell. By the time he's jamming his keycard into the lock, he's choking on everything he's holding in.

Once the door is safely shut behind him, he doesn't even make it to the bed, doesn't take off his coat, just slides down to sit with his knees against his chest and cries and cries and cries.

He keeps telling himself how lucky he is to have a share of Victor's attention like this, and it's true, but. But. What Yuuri wanted was to skate the same ice as Victor. To skate his best in competition with Victor. To earn his recognition as a skater.

And then leave. Go back to reading interviews and admiring photos and studying Victor's performances and aspiring to be good enough to lose to him again. He never intended to drag it out. He never never meant to get to know Victor now, as the Yuuri he is today, the anxious, weepy, raw failure he is right now. He only ever wanted to show his best side to Victor: who he could be on the ice.

Instead, this. Victor knows what a mess he is. That was never supposed to happen.

When his stupid useless sobbing finally dies down to sniffling, Yuuri peels out of his coat and fishes out his phone.

He's stressed and scared and tonight he's going to blow this competition too and lose everything. But he is at least going to do it quietly.

There are a few texts from Victor waiting. He'll just reply and say he can't talk today. That he'll be on the phone with his family, maybe. Then tonight he'll go out and fall all over the rink like an idiot and flush his entire career down the drain, and Victor will message him to say that since Yuuri won't be at Worlds, his fake dating services will no longer be required.

Yuuri opens the texting app, and sees-- flowers. Clusters of small blue and purple blooms surrounding wide-open white lilies in a square glass vase. Victor sent him a photo.


Vitya xx: Are these from you? <3 <3 <3
Vitya xx: They're beautiful!
Vitya xx: And they smell amazing!
Vitya xx: Thank you so much <3 <3 <3 <3 <3
Vitya xx: The note is a little confusing
Vitya xx: I think someone at the florist tried to translate it for you
Vitya xx: That is, if they're from you, I'm sure that's what happened
Vitya xx: Unless you secretly know Russian?
Vitya xx: Enough to write a note but not enough to write your name? ^_^
Vitya xx: But I'm guessing you called and spoke in English
Vitya xx: I think they misheard Yuuri as "your... something they couldn't make out"
Vitya xx: And thought they could just translate that as "your... whatever"
Vitya xx: It's signed Ваш Лучик... vash luchik, your sunbeam
Vitya xx: I doubt you said sunbeam ^_^
Vitya xx: It doesn't seem like your style
Vitya xx: For future ref I think Сахарок suits you. Зайчонок, or порося
Vitya xx: Or Дракончик?
Vitya xx: Maybe when we know each other a little better ^_~
Vitya xx: They got "happy birthday" right!
Vitya xx: I assume that's what you said
Vitya xx: What else could it have been that sounds the same
Vitya xx: "Daffy Smurf's gay!"
Vitya xx: Is there a Daffy Smurf?
Vitya xx: Remind me to tell you the story of the flight
Vitya xx: With a little girl whose father was asleep
Vitya xx: She kept turning up the sound on her tablet a little at a time
Vitya xx: So it didn't wake him, but it slowly got very VERY LOUD
Vitya xx: By the end the entire section heard a radio play version
Vitya xx: Of a Smurfs movie
Vitya xx: Nvm don't remind me to tell you that story, that was it
Vitya xx: I hope I'm right and the flowers are from you
Vitya xx: Or these texts are going to be confusing

Me: they're from me
Me: happy birthday (ノ^‿^)ノ*:・゚.✧`
Me: I know everyone's always drowning in flowers at competitions
Me: but it's hard to send things from several thousand miles + a language barrier away
Me: except for some reason... flowers
Me: they let me start the order online and confirm on the phone
Me: anyway. I hope you're not too overrun

Vitya xx: It wouldn't matter if I had a million flowers
Vitya xx: These would still be my favorites <3!!!
Vitya xx: Skype?

Yuuri hesitates. He ordered the flowers days ago, before leaving Tokyo. In their texts, then, Victor said his birthday was just another day, but Yuuri thought there should be something to mark the occasion.

The price was steep and the ordering process was intimidating, and he's not surprised that the note didn't turn out well, considering how difficult it was to communicate with the florist at all. But he decided that, if nothing else, the fake dating ruse justified it. If he were really dating Victor, Yuuri would give him something on his birthday. Even if Victor thinks of it as just another day, Yuuri doesn't.

As it is, Yuuri's been so wrapped up in his own worries that he forgot it was the 25th until he saw Victor's texts. It's a good thing they're only fake dating. Yuuri would make a lousy boyfriend for anyone, let alone Victor Nikiforov.

Me: give me a few minutes

Vitya xx: Sure ^_^

Yuuri washes his face, blows his nose, drinks a full glass of water, takes two aspirin and drinks another glass, enough to make his stomach slosh. The last thing he needs is to get dehydrated from crying over nothing. While he's stalling, he opens Google Translate and runs Victor's Russian through it.


Me: having second thoughts about talking to you after Google translating what you said "suits me"
Me: "Saharok, Haremonger, Pig, Dragon" ? (⊙﹏⊙);

Vitya xx: Google can't translate Сахарок?? That's crazy!!!
Vitya xx: Haremonger??? What (≧▽≦)ノシ
Vitya xx: Зайчонок is bunny!

Me: ...not sure if better

Vitya xx: I take it back then
Vitya xx: I'll just use Сахарок
Vitya xx: You can't complain since you don't know what it means (•̀⌄•́)
Vitya xx: So weird tho! It's not hard!

Me: found it in another dictionary w a search
Me: sugars?

Vitya xx: See? Not hard!

Me: are you sure you have time to talk today?

Vitya xx: Are you kidding I AM SO BORED SAVE ME

Me: if you're bored while we're chatting you'll be comatose from a call

Vitya xx: Yuuri! You know that's not what I mean! ԅ(ಠ෴ಠ)ง


Yuuri clears his throat, and calls Victor through Skype.

"Hello, saharok! Thank you again, I love the flowers."

"Happy birthday, Victor." Yuuri says. "But if you're going to call me something off that list, I'd choose haremonger. At least that'd confuse people, that could be fun."

"More likely they'd just think I'm implying you do kinky things with my hair," Victor says blithely, while Yuuri tries not to cough himself into an aneurysm. It only gets worse: "Wait, do you want to do kinky things with my hair, and this is your way of bringing it up? Because we can discuss it."

"Very funny," Yuuri sighs when he recovers, and listens to Victor laugh.

"You never know," he says. "I'm open to trying new things! I'm adventurous!"

"Then why are you so bored?"

"Ah, well, there's nothing new for me here," Victor says, some of the humor dropping out of his tone.

"There must be a million people who want to talk to you."

"Maybe. But there aren't a million people I want to talk to. There aren't even ten. There aren't even two."

"Aren't your rinkmates there? Your coach?"

Victor hums dismissively. "We see enough of each other. And they're all younger. Except Georgi, but he's impossible when he's in a relationship. Or when he's had a breakup... or when he's single. What about you? You train in America, do you know many people at All-Japan?"

"Not really. I don't know many people anywhere," Yuuri confesses.

"You know Chris. You know Phichit. You know me!"

"Right." Yuuri can't help smiling a little at that. It's nice to imagine that when all this is over, he'll be able to say hello to Victor at competitions. If Yuuri ever makes it to another competition with Victor.

Oh, no. He started to feel a little better after getting the sobbing out of his system, and then the distraction of the flowers, and Victor's birthday. Now it's starting all over again.

Victor doesn't help by saying, "I can't wait til we're all at Worlds together. We're going to have such a good time."

Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut hard. He's not going to waste Victor's time with this again, he's not.

"Are you okay, zaichonok?"

Yuuri dodges with, "I said you could use haremonger, not-- whatever that is."

"Zaichonok is haremonger, according to Google Translate, so I get to use this one. Take it up with Google!"

"Bunny," Yuuri says flatly.

"Not according to the internet. Though," Victor's voice grows more serious, "speaking of the internet. I have a really annoying favor to ask, and it's fine if you tell me no, because I'm reconsidering already--"

"No, ask," says Yuuri. "It's your birthday!"

"The battery died in my Air, and I grabbed the wrong power cord when I packed."

"Could that be because you waited until twelve hours before the flight to start packing?"

"Yuuri! So savage. And on my birthday!"

"Oh, now you celebrate it. Never mind, what do you need?"

"It's these clever, clever people on Twitter who keep atting me with their hilarious links to articles about the 27 Club. I need to pick someone who doesn't look terrible and retweet the link from them so other people know I've seen it and stop tweeting at me with it."

"The 27 Club?"

Victor gives a distracting little growl that's probably going to haunt (and heat up) Yuuri's dreams. "Some superstition that artists die at 27 more than any other age. Like Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse."

"People are sending that to you? That's horrible." Yuuri really can't fathom why anyone would want to be famous. Or be on social media.

"My own fault for turning twenty-seven," Victor says dryly. "It's hard to look at all these accounts with just my phone. Would you mind checking them out, choose someone who doesn't look awful and retweet it for me? My password's--"

"STOP!" Yuuri shouts, clutching his own hair in sheer horror. "Victor! Don't say your password on a mobile phone line! People can tune cellphones in on police scanners! People hear them in the fillings in their teeth!"

"...You made that up."

"I may be wrong about the fillings, that might be radio signals. But mobile phones definitely aren't secure! Anyway, I don't see why you need to retweet the link from anyone. Just tweet the link yourself with 'thanks for your concern but I won't be joining the 27 Club,' and maybe add some kind of unimpressed-looking reaction gif. That should stop it."

A pause, and Victor says, "I can't believe I didn't think of that."

"You chat with your fans sometimes on Twitter, right? That's how you're used to doing it, checking into accounts to make sure they're legit, and answering them. But you don't need to do that this time."

"You know a lot about this, considering you never use your accounts."

"Phichit always talks about it."

"--There, tweeted. You're a good friend, Yuuri."

"Why...?"

"To be that familiar with something you don't do yourself? You must listen pretty closely when Phichit talks about it."

"It's easy when you only have one friend."

"Yuuri! If Chris knew you said that, he'd be so sad! You know, I am too a little."

That feels like a clear sign for Yuuri to end the call. It's not going to get any better than Victor implying they're sort of friends now. And they're not going to stay sort-of-friends if Yuuri taxes his patience with another marathon session of panic and whining.

Only, before he can make an excuse and hang up, Victor says, "And on my birthday, too! I think for that, you should tell me the story you owe me."

"For someone who said he doesn't celebrate it, you really got all the way on board with this birthday thing fast," Yuuri can't help prodding a little.

"Whatever works! Now, you said there were three stories. Last night I thought I'd pick the calm one, but today, I think I want the adventure."

"Okay," Yuuri says. The story, and then he'll end the call.


 


Somehow Yuuri ends up telling Victor all three stories.

He tries to say goodbye after Momotaro, but Victor keeps asking him questions, and Yuuri trips himself up while he's answering and mentions that he doesn't talk to his family when he's competing. They know how he gets, so he feels like he has to reassure them that he'll be all right, and he feels so unconvincing; every supportive thing they say just makes him self-conscious that they know he's not okay. It makes him more nervous, they try harder to soothe him, it turns into a vicious circle that leaves him worse off.

Of all the terrible things his brain does to him, that's one of the very worst.

And when he mentions Phichit, he discovers Victor follows his friend on Twitter and Instagram, and saw Phichit's tweets about traveling home to Bangkok over the winter break: Phichit's in the air right now.

Yuuri already admitted he only has one friend, so he's out of excuses, and Victor says, "If you don't mind, I might try to get a little more sleep in before lunch. Maybe I could hear the calmer story now?"

"I only owed you one. Let me guess: you want this one for your birthday."

"Thank you, Yuuri! What a thoughtful gift! So sweet of you. Here, I'll put you on speaker."

So Yuuri tells him another story, trying to keep his voice low and lulling. He thinks it might be working-- Victor hasn't spoken for a while-- but then he hears the heavy pounding on the door that must be Yakov Feltsman, and Victor's drowsy voice grouching in Russian.

"If he tries to make me go meet some durak again, I'm staging a revolt," Victor mutters into the phone. "I'm bringing you for moral support, Yuuri, you'll back me up, yes?"

Going by everything Yuuri's read about Victor, he's perfectly comfortable defying his coach, his federation and anyone else he pleases without any help, but there's no chance to say so. Yakov's gruff voice sounds quieter today, and Victor doesn't argue with him at all, in the end.

The door closes. "He brought me rugelach," Victor says.

"Rugelach?"

"Um. Schnecken? No? It's a sort of sweet roll." Victor sounds subdued. "These are cinnamon, I think." A pause. "Even for a competition day, he gave me a lot."

Yuuri asks tentatively, "Are you okay?"

"Still waking up. And hungry. Can you tell me the last story while I eat?"

It feels selfish to say no, and there's really no good reason. And it does seem to perk Victor up again-- he actually gives a little shriek when the villain of the story is set on fire.

"So vicious, Yuuri!" he says, when the story ends with the villain's gruesome death. "To think you've been going around with that in your head all this time."

"I don't think about it all the time!" Yuuri protests. "Do you think of that story you told me all the time?"

"Not all the time."

"Only when you're eating gold?" Yuuri jokes.

A little chuckle. "Only when it's bitter. Now, your gold, the gold you're going to win tonight-- how will that taste?"

"I'm not going to win tonight," Yuuri says. Not again-- now he really has to end the call. "I have to go, my coach is--"

"Of course you're going to win," Victor barrels right over him. "Yesterday you had doubts, and then you gave a beautiful performance."

"You don't have to keep saying nice things about it, I know it wasn't anything special." No, no, why is he like this, why does he ever talk--

"How can you say that? Yuuri--"

He can't keep it in. "How can you say that? Your score last night was twenty points ahead of mine!"

"What do the scores have to do with it? And please don't tell me you're taking the scores I get here seriously."

"What?" Yuuri asks, thrown.

"I tore up the ice last night-- it was a mess," Victor says plainly. "Sloppy edges, ice spray on every curve, and I changed the steps a little-- Yakov said what I ended up with was level three at best. I needed to loosen up the program and I sacrificed some precision. They should have marked me down for it. That score's probably six points over what it should be."

Baffled, Yuuri finds himself saying sarcastically, "Only six?"

"I'm not modest, Yuuri. I did nail everything else, and that's the best performance I've done with this program all season." Victor makes some inarticulate noise that sounds like the spoken equivalent of a shrug. "But there's a reason national competition scores don't make the ISU leaderboards."

"The judges here have just as much reason to overscore me." For now, Yuuri is the only male singles skater in Japan certified for international competition. It's possible they'd want to give him a boost after his Grand Prix failure.

"Not quite. Unless I missed something, you weren't one of the few winter sports athletes in your country left standing after an Olympic doping scandal."

"...Oh." Yuuri blinks. "Uh. Remember what I said about mobile phone signals? Should we be talking about this?"

"No," Victor answers, and then, brightly, "but haven't you heard? I never do what I'm supposed to. Let's say a few more awkward things about judging!"

"Victor..."

"I think you're usually underscored in international competitions. Like I was, when judges thought of me as an artistic skater."

"You don't have to make excuses for me," Yuuri says. "It's still a sport."

Victor tuts. "If it was just a sport, they'd have us in uniforms, skating the same elements in the same order. The ISU lost any high ground they had for judging it purely as a sport when they took out compulsory figures. They want us to put on a show, because that's why figure skating draws more crowds than curling. Then the judges underrate skaters who focus on the art and performance. It's especially unfair for a skater like you, because you are a strong athlete. No one has a better triple axel, or better edge control. Your step sequences are always level four. When it comes to the best skating skills and footwork, it's you, me, Cao Bin and Chris."

"Okay, stop, just... stop. Please."

"Why?"

"Because I don't believe you!"

...He really didn't mean to say that.

"Start believing me," Victor tells him, flat and demanding. "It's nothing I haven't said before. It doesn't stop being true because I'm saying it about you."

Yuuri does know, that's part of makes this hard to hear. Victor's notorious for speaking his mind even when it seems antagonistic or hypocritical-- he's the champion who mastered five different quads while claiming that jumps are overemphasized in the sport.

"Judges are only human," Victor says. "They know if someone with level four spins and steps misses a jump, and then outscores someone who skates like a walrus and lands the jumps on wrong edges-- but lands them-- half the audience that doesn't know one edge from the other is going to scream on Twitter about the injustice. If the jumping beans get the win, the judges only have to worry about the real enthusiasts arguing over it, and those fans keep each other busy arguing whether the foot change came at just the right emotional beat."

Another of those Cyrillic scoffing sounds that might be a muttered Russian word, and: "Not that they do it on purpose, but enough of the scoring is subjective that bias can change the numbers a little. A little, but enough. You know all this. That's why you added the quad Salchow to both programs, right? To make the judges see you differently."

"Yes," Yuuri admits. "But that's-- I don't feel like I've been judged unfairly."

"Okay. But I do."

Yuuri bites his lip, uncomfortable. It comes to him again how nice Victor's been to him on all these phone calls, the way Victor's reputed to be with his fans. Yuuri sort of let himself forget that Victor's also got a reputation for being blunt and vocal, even confrontational, with the media and the Russian skating federation, and anyone else he disagrees with.

A sigh from the other end of the phone. "That was too much, wasn't it."

"No! I mean. Are you all right?"

"Of course."

At a loss, Yuuri says, "It's fine. You're right, I mostly knew you felt that way, it shouldn't surprise me. And-- I did a lot of talking earlier, telling all those stories. It was your turn."

"Do I owe you two more rants, then?"

"No," Yuuri assures him hastily, "I owed you one story, and one was for your birthday, so you only owed me for the last one. We're even now."

"Just in time to trade two more. Your Gohatto for my Stammi Vicino."

"Not really a fair trade," Yuuri mutters.

"Maybe not, but I'll do my best."

"You know that's not what I mean."

"You can keep putting yourself down and doubting yourself, Yuuri. And I'll just keep telling you that you're fantastic and I believe in you. I've seen how incredible you can make this program, and I've heard how much you've put into the story behind it. I know it'll be beautiful."

It's crazy how warm that makes Yuuri feel, how much stronger. It reminds him just how much work he's done to get here. He knows this program backward and forward. He knows the story he wants to tell, the significance of every turn and gesture. It was good at Skate America.

He shakes his head-- Victor's just being gracious and trying to give him a boost. Yuuri knows Victor never noticed him before this fake dating scheme, because Yuuri never did anything to earn that attention, and he still hasn't.

Yuuri could change that now, though. He knows for a fact that Victor is watching this competition. If Yuuri could make this skate special, make it surprising--

Right. He'll be lucky just to get through it without falling on his face. "Don't get your expectations up," Yuuri says, as much to himself as to Victor. "I'm getting worse. I couldn't land either of my quads in practice."

"I haven't landed a quad Lutz since the Final. And it's my first jump tonight."

"You haven't missed it in competition all season. Or even in public practice."

"So far."

Yuuri clutches his phone. "You're not worried."

"The first version of the choreography didn't have the quad Lutz. If I'm still not landing it for the run-through, maybe I'll go back to that. Or maybe I'll just fall on my first jump! It fits with the theme."

"There's another version?" Yuuri asks. "I mean, if you had an easier version I would have expected you to do it at the qualifiers."

"That's it, though. I knew people would expect me to start the season slow and ramp up for the major competitions. So instead, I did the hardest program I've ever done, right from the first performance." A little huff. "Not that anyone seemed particularly surprised."

"I'd like to see the other version," Yuuri says.

"You want me to change up my free program? I thought it was your favorite."

"It's not my favorite for the jump schedule. It's the art and performance that matter, right?"

"Yuuuuuri," Victor draws out his name. It sounds like he's smiling. "I feel a little called out!"

"I'm just saying, you gave that whole rant about emphasizing art and expression over technical elements, and now you're telling me you have a version of this program that has less emphasis on the technical elements, so...?"

"I'm planning to do the lighter version for the New Year's Eve show, you'll see it then."

"But you won't be scored on it then. And you must have thought you could win with the lighter version, right? Just on the PCS?"

"It would have to be almost perfect," says Victor, but he sounds intrigued.

"So skate it perfectly," Yuuri says. "Win on the performance. If that's what you think is more important, show it."

"Is this some long-term hustle?" Victor laughs. "If I do this version at Worlds, a perfect Gohatto could beat me."

"That's the last thing on my mind," says Yuuri. He can't explain what he is thinking, though, even to himself. Only that he heard interest rise in Victor's voice, and he feels compelled to keep chasing it, and provoke more of it.

"I'll think about it," Victor says. "I guess you'll know what I decided when--"

"I already know," Yuuri interrupts, because he does-- he knows Victor can't resist the challenge.

"Wow, Yuuri! So bold! I can't wait to see you skate tonight in this mood."

"I'm just as likely to miss jumps in this mood as any other." Yuuri goes to the window; the sun is sinking behind the skyline. If he leans at just the right angle, he can see the low dome of the Big Hat from here. The parking lot's already filling up with cars.

"I just want to see you tell that story," Victor says. "Even if you fall, well, Tashiro fell too. And-- I probably shouldn't say this, but I like that you don't usually downgrade jumps or pop them. You commit to your programs. Though I honestly wouldn't be surprised if your coach and mine both popped out of thin air just to beat me up for saying that. If your coach is anything like mine, he'd be shouting, falls are dangerous! You should downgrade jumps to avoid falling!"

"For me, it feels like when a fall is coming, it's coming no matter how easy or how hard the jump is." Yuuri slides the window open, just enough to feel the frigid air creep in. "And if I'm going to fall, I want to make it worth it. So I want to at least get the rotations in, no matter what. Maybe that sounds crazy."

"No. Reckless, maybe. Not crazy. At least, not any crazier than flying across the ice on knives and jumping is, in the first place . There's more evidence that it's not just a sport, too. If it was just about the athletics, we'd have protective gear."

"Nothing's stopping you from strapping on kneepads and a helmet before you go out. That could be an innovative costume."

"I don't think so," Victor laughs. "I'm already taking you up on one dare, that's the limit. On the ice, anyway. Anywhere else... like I said. I'm adventurous. I'll try new things."

"So, protective gear off the ice, then. Just wear them as accessories," Yuuri kids. "Maybe you'll start a trend."

"It could be handy to have kneepads on all the time," Victor says, mock sultry.

Yuuri plays along. "It'd be nice when you're visiting. You'd always be ready to kneel down and-- tie my skates for me."

"Gladly. Any time." Victor practically purrs, "Always happy to tighten your laces. Sharpen your blades. Polish your uppers--"

They both lose it in a fit of laughter at that, Yuuri gasping, "Not even you can make 'polish your uppers' sound sexy."

Unreal. It wasn't even two weeks ago that he couldn't bring himself to text the word 'sexy' to Victor and now... now.

"Maybe you'll feel differently once you see me at it," says Victor. "We'll see, when I get to Detroit."

A thrill runs through Yuuri. Not at the innuendo, he knows that's a joke, but at the casual way Victor mentions his trip to Detroit. It's not the first time he's said it, but it's the first time Yuuri believes it's really going to happen.

He's going to see Victor again. He kept telling himself this would end any minute, but it isn't over. If he skates well tonight, enough to go on to Worlds, they might keep this up all the way through the end of March.

And he can do it. He can.

"It'll be good to see you again," Yuuri says. "Whether you're wearing kneepads or not."

"I think Chanel's making them in pink and silver this season," Victor says, playful. His voice goes quieter. "It'll be good to see you too."

The alarm Yuuri set on his phone goes off right in his ear-- he's so startled he drops it, and scrambles to grab it again and end the annoying jangle that's probably blaring at Victor too. "Sorry!"

"It's fine. Does that mean you need to go?"

"Yeah, yes," Yuuri says, "I have to get my stuff together to go over to the venue."

"Okay. Like last night, just... call me if you need me, okay? Or if you just want to. I'm here."

"I think I'll be okay tonight, actually," Yuuri says. "You'll be watching?"

"Of course! Every second. Gambatte! Good luck!"

"Thank you, Victor," Yuuri says, and ends the call.


 


Later, armored in skates, costume and makeup, Yuuri curls his hands tight into fists and releases them. "Coach. I'm going to bump up the last combination," he says. "I can do it. I know I can do it."

Celestino rests his hands on Yuuri's shoulders and gives him a long look, and Yuuri can see the questions he's not asking, the concerns he's not voicing.

But finally, he smiles. "Okay," he says. "Then do it."

"Hai, sensei."

Yuuri knows, when he steps out onto the ice. He knows when he assumes his starting pose, hands together in front of him, as if he just caught an oncoming sword between them. His bright blue costume fading to white at the end of the sleeves is meant to echo the blue haori jacket of the shinsengumi.

It's everything Tashiro aspires to, everything he's worked years to earn. This is all he wants. Until he sees Kano, and learns how much more there is to desire.

The music starts, and Yuuri flies.

The strings surge and fall like tides while he dances to the soaring flute: the beauty that catches Tashiro's eye. Triple Lutz, triple toe: Kano's skill and strength, captivating not just Tashiro's eye, but his admiration. Attraction pulls him into a spin that whirls him madly before it winds down, achingly slow.

The flute calls out high like a gull, a summons or a warning just before a drum rush brings in the change of tone, bass notes jostling and struggling. Yuuri throws himself into his step sequence as if it's a swordfight, the simmering threat breaking into violence, a brutal pleasure that Tashiro and Kano share. His transition carries him into his quad Salchow, fast enough, high enough-- he lands sure and certain.

Of course he does. Tashiro's skill is amazing: his only rival is Kano, and he proves it with the triple axel, half loop, triple flip combination. The dark notes yield to a gentler tone, and Yuuri's choreographic sequence turns the battle into swordplay, the joy of matching blades, testing each other's skills, delighting in each other's mastery. Triple axel. A curve to gather speed, and: quad toe loop. Flying camel spin. And gliding out, breathless: I know it doesn't mean the same thing to him as it does to me. But I have no regrets.

A layback Ina Bauer shows Tashiro's final surrender to his feelings, even as the minor-key resentments rise up in the strings, subversion and betrayal in the ranks, even more deadly than the open violence of before. He knows neither of them will come out of this unscathed, but he's ready to pay the price, even if it costs his life.

But not without a fight. He upgrades the last combination: quad toe, triple toe, landing them solidly despite the fatigue. The last jump feels just as satisfying, a triple flip. He goes down in a combination spin as the music dwindles, and finally, he slowly rises, reaching up, reaching out, the hands that began poised in defense now open in acceptance.

His entire body is on fire; everything hurts, a crawl of raw awful sensation over every inch of his skin. He wants to tear his costume off and just lie down bare on the ice and forget that someone's actually going to score him on that.

Muscle memory saves him. Yuuri pulls himself in, pulls it together, takes his bows, skates a lap and picks up the plushes he can see through wet blurry eyes. His blood is roaring in his ears; he can't even really hear the audience, and when he comes off, he only sees his coach's mouth moving, he can't make out a single word.

Celestino has to physically haul him around to face the crowd and bow again, so that people finally sit down from the standing ovation.

In the kiss & cry, Yuuri puts on his glasses, which instantly fog over. It feels like it takes forever to make out the numbers through the cloudy lenses.

"Are you hearing the announcers?" Celestino's voice finally breaks through the static in Yuuri's ears. "If national competition scores counted in the ISU standings, you'd hold the eighth highest free skate score in the world. If you can do it like this again at Four Continents--"

"Again?" And Yuuri, of course, bursts into tears.

Chapter Text

Vitya xx: Speechless. I don't know what to say
Vitya xx: That was incredible <3
Vitya xx: The way you express the story and emotions through your body
Vitya xx: It's like you're making the music, not just performing to it
Vitya xx: Even with as many times as I've listened to it now
Vitya xx: It's like I never really heard the song until I saw that performance
Vitya xx: I'm only sad I didn't get to see it in person
Vitya xx: Soon!
Vitya xx: And now the scores are totaled and it's official
Vitya xx: Congratulations on your third national championship win!

Me: thank you
Me: I've said it before but
Me: I don't think I could have done my best if we hadn't talked about it
Me: coach wants me to talk to some people
Me: but text me when you do your run thru
Me: do you want me to call you later?

Vitya xx: If you're busy or tired don't worry about it

Me: but do you want me to

Vitya xx: Yes

Me: ok ^_^
Me: then I'll talk to you soon


 


Phichit: all set up to watch ur fs
Phichit: strong start! u look great out there
Phichit: NAILED THE 4S GO YUURI
Phichit: both 3-3 combs perf!
Phichit: solid 4T, awesome spin
Phichit: WOW WTF
Phichit: when did u up the last combo??! omg
Phichit: OMG YUURI 1000% CLEAN SKATE
Phichit: SO SOSOSO GOOD
Phichit: CONGRATULATIONS 3 TIME NATIONAL CHAMPION KATSUKI YUURI

Me: ty /;_;\

Phichit: dont cry! omg ive never seen u do it bettr! that was FAB!!!

Me: ukno me, it's ;_; win or lose

Phichit: o bby ok just be proud ok?

Me: i am but

Phichit: why but?? no but!

Me: whywhy couldnt i do it like that at the gpf ;_;

Phichit: ok legit, more ฿¥€$ more expo there. sure. I getit. BUT
Phichit: u did it! (ノ^ヮ^)ノ*:・゚.✧`
Phichit: + now Victor will tweet a link when it goes up
Phichit: so every1 in skating will see it

Me: (⊙﹏⊙)

Phichit: lol didnt u see? yesterday he tweetd ur sp gushing abt it
Phichit: lmao look at twitter he's already tweeting


 

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 4m
#KatsukiYuuri Gohatto FS #AllJapan I want everyone to see that performance to understand what skating can be

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 7m
#KatsukiYuuri Gohatto FS #AllJapan Aaaah someone hurry up and post a video so I can show you all that incredible program

Victor Nikiforov @v-nikiforov 11m
#KatsukiYuuri Gohatto free skate at #AllJapan tonight WAS AMAZING there are no words



Me: ( '□' ) i cant ( ノ﹏ \)

Phichit: lol u gotta expect this nao
Phichit: he's ur boyfriend! of course he links you

Me: hes not my boyfriend we're dating
Me: theres... a lot of steps between those

Phichit: yeh iguess u need tob e in the same place for more than 4 days to be boyfriends lol
Phichit: btw whens he visiting? wheres he staying

Me: I dont know we havent been talking about it bc nationals

Phichit: rite
Phichit: its just, r we gonna try to get some1 in the other room?
Phichit: how do u screen for 'must not freak out over celeb athlete visits'

Me: I cant deal w another roommate search can you?

Phichit: noooo

Me: plus idk who would take a room that small
Me: we lucked out ?!?? w brenden

Phichit: y i felt so lucky ev time i got a 2nd hand buzz frm standing nxt 2him

Me:  >_<;;;

Phichit: $ was nice tho

Me: y
Me: we'll be ok w/o xtra roomate
Me: it wouldve been tight if i didnt place here but shld be ok now (ლ 。-)=3
Me: we can probably even afford to fix the shower or the disposal
Me: pick 1

Phichit: shower shower shower
Phichit: eff the disposal

Me: ok agreed

Phichit: (ノ^ヮ^)ノ*:・゚.✧`

Me: I need to call home

Phichit: say hi for me! tell them i said thx for hte kitkats

Me: o do u mean the kitkats you stole from me

Phichit: hey i threw myself on a sugar grenade for u
Phichit: UR WELCOME

Me: thx -_-;;
Me: I'll tell them my thieving roomie says hi

Phichit: tell them u didnt even get to taste the sake ones
Phichit: so theyll send u more and i can STRIKE AGAIN

Me: omg you SCHEMER

Phichit: muhahahaa
Phichit: ok go call. ttyl! congrats again!

Me: ^_^!


 


Celestino taps at the door and calls, "Are you dressed?"

"Yes," Yuuri says, struggling with his tie. When he first started with his coach, Celestino used to just walk right in, and Yuuri was too nervous to object-- it took months to get comfortable enough to ask for some warning.

Now, Celestino comes in after knocking, takes one look at his shaky hands fumbling with the knot, and hands him a granola bar and a sports drink. "Slowly," he says. "And you don't need the tie tonight, the dress shirt and jacket are fine. You're done with your phone calls?" At Yuuri's nod he asks, "How's your family?"

"Good. Still sad, but mostly good. Um. They said more people came to this viewing party even than the last one? Back home I guess more people care about All-Japan than the Grand Prix Final." Yuuri fidgets with the cap of his drink. "I'm glad I didn't know that before I went on."

His coach pats his shoulder. "It's good that so many people from your hometown saw you at your best. That was something special tonight, Yuuri. I knew you could do it."

"Thanks," Yuuri mumbles, and crams the granola bar into his mouth for lack of anything worthwhile to say.

"We're just going to chat with a couple of the major supporters now, make them feel special. And I want you to talk to the kid who placed seventh."

Yuuri swallows a bite. "Seventh? Why...?"

Celestino holds up his phone, showing him a teenager with dyed blonde and red hair holding a massive GO KATSUKI YUURI banner. "Minami Kenjirou. He's a long-time fan of yours. His coach told me a word from you would mean the world to him."

"Coach, I don't-- I'm really bad with-- what word?! What would I even say?"

"I'd tell you to imagine what you'd like your hero to say to you," his coach says, bemused, "but since you're dating him now, maybe not that."

Yuuri feels his face heat and ducks his head.

"Here," Celestino hands him his phone with a video of Minami already cued up. "The kid has solid triples and good presentation style. A little flashy but it suits him. Take a look, finish your drink, get your blood sugar up, and we'll go out. Yuuri," he adds, voice serious, commanding Yuuri's attention. "I know it's not your favorite thing, but let him make a fuss over you. It's good to remind people that you're an inspiration to skaters all over Japan. You made a great recovery with two of your best competition performances yet. Let's make the most of it."

Taking a deep breath, Yuuri nods.

"Good. And if anyone asks you about Nikiforov, be polite, but don't let them sidetrack you. Tonight is about what you've achieved. You have a lot to be proud of, Yuuri."

"It wouldn't have gone this way if you hadn't taken a chance to be here for me, Coach," Yuuri says. "Thank you."

"I said you could thank me with a clean skate, didn't I?" Celestino smiles at him. "And you did."


 


Victor's run-through is later than the day before. Yuuri's just escaped into the elevator when he gets the text that Victor's going out on the ice.

Yuuri thought he'd be tired by now-- the crash after his performance was massive-- but it feels like the backwash of adrenaline is still with him, leaving him wired and antsy even though his body's exhausted. That charged-up sensation stays with him through a shower and change of clothes. He's still twitchy when he gets the text that Victor's done with his run-through.

Earlier, flush with the success of his free skate, Yuuri pushed Victor to say he wants Yuuri to call. Scrolling back through the log now, Yuuri's not so sure. Some mean sneering voice in his head tells him that of course, when Yuuri harped on it, Victor asked for a call even though he doesn't really care or want to hear from him.

But-- Yuuri keeps looking at the actual words they both texted, and he can't quite believe that. He stretches out on the neatly made bed and props himself on a pillow, churning up the crisp quilted blankets... waits fifteen minutes, twenty, and calls.

"Yuuri," Victor says, not even hello, just his name. "You were amazing tonight. I don't even know what to say. It was breathtaking."

It still makes him feel a little embarrassed, but for once, Yuuri can accept the compliments without second-guessing them. "Thank you. For the texts, too. And all the time on the phone. It helped a lot."

"Good. How do you feel?"

"Okay," he answers. "Just... coming down slowly, maybe, but okay. How are you? How did it go?"

"One of the lighting technicians acted like I was just being difficult when I told him there's a difference between pink and red. But I finally convinced him I don't need a bright red spotlight making me look demonic in the final pose."

"Doesn't your coach deal with that kind of thing?" Yuuri's grateful all over again for Celestino, who handles all the tech setup for him.

"He would. He used to. But then I started sticking my nose in, and now he just leaves it to me. Anyway, he has his hands full with Gosha and Yura."

"Gosha?"

"Georgi."

"Oh, right. Sorry."

"No reason you'd know. You apologize for the strangest things," Victor says.

"Oh? What should I apologize for?"

"Nothing at all."

"I do sometimes get things wrong now and then," Yuuri says, and then worries the sarcasm in his voice didn't come across over the phone. He nestles his chin down into the pillow and adds, "Actually. About that."

"Hm?"

This is dumb; it's dumb and Yuuri is going to regret bringing it up, but too late, he's explaining it, haltingly. "My coach, tonight. He wanted me to talk to one of the other skaters. He's-- sixteen, I think? And really. Enthusiastic. I mean, we competed against each other here but he had his family bring a banner for me along with their one for him."

"Wow!"

"Yeah. He was talking about old programs of mine that it's kind of embarrassing to think about now, and he showed me the design for one of his costumes for next year-- it's modeled on one of my old ones. And I know I'm supposed to be flattered and I should be happy. But he was talking about how thrilled he was to have the chance to compete against me here and I just kept thinking, I mean, I almost wanted to say-- if I did as badly here as I did at the Final, he'd have been ahead of me. I don't even recognize the Katsuki-senshu he's so excited about. But somehow I'm supposed to speak for him. As him. This person I'm not."

"Yuuri," Victor says, sympathy in his voice, quiet enough that it doesn't feel intrusive, the way pity always does. "So what happened?"

"Nothing bad. Coach told me what to expect, so-- I thanked him, and I told him he has the skills he needs to succeed in competitive skating, so just keep doing his best. And that's true. He's good. I meant it. But I felt like a fake anyway, because I left him thinking that I'm someone else."

Victor hums, goes silent for a few moments. "When you perform, you're sharing one part of yourself, and it's a part that you've built up and honed and polished for months. Years. And that's what people see and what they react to, that one facet you've worked hard to perfect. If they see something in it that inspires them or makes them happy, even if it's not exactly what you intended, even if it's not you-- it's not fake, either."

"How can it not be, though?"

"Because it's real to them," Victor says. "So whether you meant to put it out there or not, it's there now."

"I guess..." Yuuri struggles to put thoughts into words. "That's true when it comes to performing. But this wasn't about my skating, it was his idea of me . It was like-- he imagined the kind of skater he wanted to be, and then he decided that I was that person."

"Ah. That's hard," Victor says.

"It is. And." Yuuri gnaws his lip and stumbles on. "And it feels to me like, when people think they see you, but they only see their idea of you-- they're reaching out, but it's to this mirage-- that's-- it's lonely. It's lonelier than just being alone."

A few endless seconds of silence, and then Victor simply says, "Yes. I know what you mean."

Holding the phone away briefly, Yuuri inhales, exhales, deep and slow. Almost there. He brings it close again. "I know people told you, on Twitter and probably everywhere, that I was a fan... I admired you. For a long time. I talked a lot about how you inspired me to compete. I did all the usual-- you know-- read interviews and news and that kind of--" he falters, takes another breath. "So I know I probably have illusions too. And I just, I wanted to say, if I ever made you feel that way. I'm sorry."

"You never have," Victor says.

...Well, that's a little anticlimactic, Yuuri thinks, winded. At least Victor sounds-- okay, even pleased, maybe.

"I appreciate the thought, though. And I hope I haven't made you feel that way either."

"Of course not," says Yuuri, confused. It's not as though Victor could have had illusions about him when he didn't know Yuuri from a random pebble on the ground until the Grand Prix Final, where the random pebble probably would have skated better.

Since then, they've been talking in the aftermath of the worst days of Yuuri's life, days that tore him to pieces, and it feels like Victor's seen every ragged seam and trailing thread while Yuuri's tried to slowly pull himself together. It's not what Yuuri ever would have wanted, but there's no point in pretending it didn't happen.

"Good," Victor says. "I'm looking at the calendar. It's a week and a half til I can be in Detroit. Not soon enough. But that's the soonest I can get there."

And that doesn't seem to follow at all from anything, but Yuuri tries to roll with it, visualizing the calendar. "January fourth? A week from Wednesday?"

"Fourth or fifth, I'll let you know. When the announcement went out that I'd be in the States, everyone I usually deal with in videoconferences came after me wanting face-to-face meetings. I'm blowing most of them off, but I should probably humor the ones who pay me. So that'll take up the second and the third. I'm trying to hold the line there. If anyone else wants to talk to me, they can chase me to Detroit."

Yuuri can hear sliding and clacking noises on Victor's end of the call. "Are you getting ready? We can end the call if you need to go."

"I thought I'd just put you on speaker," Victor says. "Still planning to stay up? I'm going on even later tonight."

"Yes! There's no way I'd miss it."

"Then, if you're going to be up anyway, I thought I might just keep the line open til it's time to go out. Not that we have to talk that whole time, but not much point hanging up, is there? I'll just be going through my pre-show routine, and you'll be waiting for the free skates to start. If you want to stay up, I wouldn't want you to fall asleep and miss it."

Yuuri feels like telling Victor that he really doesn't have to convince him-- that Yuuri's spent half his life wishing he could occupy the other side of Victor's phone calls. But that would be creepy. Yuuri settles for, "Sure. Yes. I'm happy to stay on the line, whatever you want."

Then he proceeds to be the worst phone conversationalist of all time by staying silent for minutes on end, just listening to all the sounds from Victor's side: the faint slosh of liquid in bottles, the tiny clicks of caps, the occasional hiss of spray.

"We should have saved one of those stories for tonight," Yuuri says inanely, at last. "I can't think of any others I know well enough to tell."

"But I liked hearing them when I did! Maybe some non-fiction, tonight. You could tell me more about your parents' hot springs resort. You grew up there?"

"Uh, yes," Yuuri furrows his brow. They've had enough conversations now that he doesn't remember everything they've talked about-- and he has to give that startling realization a moment to sink in. But he's almost positive he never mentioned the onsen.

It catches up with him a moment later: Victor heard about the onsen during the phone harassment mess, after the dating announcement went out. He said then that he was in touch with Phichit about it, and Phichit at least told him that Yuuri's family both works and lives there.

Telling Victor about the onsen leads to describing Hasetsu to him. Yuuri can't really explain much about his family's business without the context of the sleepy seaside town and its slow, uncertain decline.

"It sounds beautiful, though," says Victor. "Are you going to visit home once All-Japan wraps up?"

"No," Yuuri answers, picking at a hangnail. "I know it might seem weird to come all this way and not make a side trip home, but it's not as close as it might look. Hasetsu's on the southern island, Kyushu... it's actually closer to Korea than it is to here."

"Do you miss it?"

"I miss home," Yuuri says. "I miss my family. Some of the people I grew up with. I don't miss feeling like my opportunities for the future were closing off, every time another business closed or someone else moved away."

"Oh," Victor murmurs. "That does sound-- sad."

"When I was in high school, and the other onsens in town were shutting down-- after each of the others closed, our business would pick up when all their customers came to us. But then it just seemed to go down again, because the town was less of a draw. If you hear a place has six onsens, you think: the waters there must be great! And those six places will all be competing for tourists so they'll all have something special to offer. If there's just one, it's not really a destination anymore. It's just a town that has a hot spring, and there are plenty of those."

From Victor's side there's only an encouraging hum and more sloshing and clicking noises. Yuuri stands and paces over to the shelf built into the wall that holds the TV, with a chest of drawers underneath on one side, and a task chair and desk space on the other.

It's a little low, but Yuuri holds the edge of the shelf to use it as a barre, and lets his body fall into the familiar rhythm of basic barre exercises. "My family's onsen used to be a ryokan too, that's a sort of old-fashioned style inn? They had to shut that side of the business down. Maintaining the building wasn't worth it anymore. Even people who come to a small-town onsen for a traditional experience would mostly rather stay in hotels where they have wi-fi and TV and an en suite."

"They don't have wi-fi?" Victor sounds a little distraught at the idea.

Yuuri laughs silently. "They do now." When he swings out his leg he can almost hear Minako-sensei: jete, jete, jete, dégagé! "Okasan-- my mother says mobile phones let everyone carry their whole lives everywhere with them, like a snail and its shell. She says traveling, especially traveling to see natural beauty like the seashore and the hot springs... that used to be a way to step out of your normal life and get some perspective on it. But now your whole life comes with you, no matter where you go. So maybe that's why less people go out to the country."

"Your mother sounds wonderful," says Victor. "Very wise."

"She is wonderful. But wise... well, Mari-- that's my sister-- Mari teased her that she must be getting old if she was blaming the slowdown on kids today and their smartphones."

Victor chuckles; it's low and breathy and right in Yuuri's ear and Yuuri freezes, suddenly self-conscious.

"Is that why you don't use social media much?" Victor asks. "Trying to avoid the snail shell?"

"No. I'm just kind of horrible at it," Yuuri confesses. "I obsess over stupid things, like-- if I put something up, I can't concentrate on anything else until it has likes on it or someone's responded."

"That's not horrible, it's human."

"I bet you don't do that. You can't, can you? As much as you tweet."

"Not so much anymore, but that's because my publicist also does social media management," Victor says, "so they moderate my accounts and ban and flag all the trolls and pornbots, and every month I get an email that shows me which posts were popular and which ones weren't, so I do all my horrible obsessing over that. They even do analysis, in case I needed someone to tell me that photos of Makkachin are more popular than snaps of lunch."

"Oh. Um. What else do they say?"

"More fashion, more hair care, more fitness tips," Victor recites. "Less random dogs, less St. Petersburg scenery..." And there's his distinctive scoffing sound again.

"Less figure skating?" Yuuri guesses. Victor's popularity goes beyond figure skating fans-- living in Detroit, Yuuri's found that plenty of people there recognize Victor Nikiforov because he was on TV a lot during the last three Winter Olympics games, and because he's appeared on some talk shows, and some of his international ads run in the States. Not many had seen more than clips of his skating, and some didn't know he was a figure skater at all.

"They might think it, but they know better than to say so to me," Victor answers. "A couple of years ago, there was a guy who kept trying to schedule other things during the season, all-day photoshoots or appearances just a couple of days before competitions. I had him taken off my account."

"Did he just-- not realize, somehow?"

"That would be reason enough to fire him. If he's working for me, he should know my schedule. But he did know. Actually, he said in a phone conference, 'You only do ten minutes of material in a season. How much can you practice ten minutes?'"

"No!"

"I wish I could say I had a good comeback, but it was my account manager Alya who told him: enough to make them the best ten minutes in the world. Which is why she's my account manager. She always makes me sound good. I think I'm done! Here, take a look."

Yuuri hears the phone shuffle and the camera app click a few times. A little more shuffling and tapping, and Yuuri's phone buzzes with his texting ringtone for Victor. Yuuri switches to the app and stares.

Victor's selfies on social media are always perfectly posed and cropped and filtered, but this could be anyone's bathroom mirror selfie, complete with a wreck of bottles and cosmetics and smeared foam wedges on the counter.

Except that it's Victor. And he looks perfect. His princely Stammi Vicino costume, his flawless stage makeup, the artful wave of his pale hair over his bright blue eyes. Every time Yuuri starts to get used to this, he's reminded all over again how unreal it is that he gets to talk to Victor at all.

"What do you think?"

"You look incredible." His voice is thick, obviously overcome. Yuuri already admitted to his sad fanboy status earlier, but it's still embarrassing.

"Do you think the eyes are too much? I'm mostly going for a clean look-- here, I'm going to send another from earlier, see if you think the eyes are better? I have time to redo them."

Another chime, and Yuuri looks at the second selfie. In this one, Victor's halfway through his makeup with a headband holding back his hair and a towel pinned over the costume. His lips are just sketched in, a plush outline drawn over his real mouth, and there's a hard glittery shimmer on his cheekbones that's played down to a faint highlight in the other photo. His eyeliner and shadow are lighter, eyes defined but not nearly as emphasized as the final, smokier look.

"Um. I like it now?" Yuuri offers. His voice is going to break like a teenager's any second. At this rate he's going to have his third psychosexual awakening over Victor while Victor is on the phone with him. No. Not happening.

With an effort, Yuuri sets his shoulders, counts to three, and says, "I see what you mean when I compare them, and what you did before looked good too. But when I first saw the whole look, the eyes didn't seem too dark to me. It's dramatic but it fits."

"Oh, good. It's the usual thing, you know, I want it to read from a distance for the audience but it still needs to look right up close for the cameras, too. It's hard! Back when Lilia Danilovna first taught me stage makeup, we just layered it on, no contouring, barely any blending. Ballet makeup in her day was just raccoon eyes and lipstick. The first time I sat for a real makeup artist I couldn't imagine what was taking so long! Then I saw how it turned out, and I knew I had to learn that."

"My ballet teacher was the one who taught me stage makeup too." Yuuri still does it the way Minako-sensei taught him, mostly. Sometimes Phichit tries to convince him to try different things, but Yuuri would feel ridiculous, like he's trying to fool people that his face is worth looking at. Anyway, he wants people to watch how he moves and performs, not his face.

"I'm packing up some of my kit for touch-ups, and... ready to go! Still up for keeping the line open?"

As if it's in question. "Of course!"


 
Keeping the call going means that for long minutes, Victor is occupied with meeting up with his coach and rinkmates and getting to the arena. Yuuri hears long stretches of jostling and quick conversational Russian he has no hope of deciphering, traffic, an engine, Yakov Feltsman's voice, Victor's replies.

The fanboy in Yuuri is perfectly happy to soak it all up, reminded of all the Russian and French interviews with Victor that he used to track down, happy just to hear Victor's voice and try to parse the few words he could pick out.

"Still with me?" Victor asks more than once, low and close like a secret.

Always, Yuuri thinks, but fortunately he keeps it together enough to just say, "Yes."

After several exchanges between Victor and unfamiliar voices, Yuuri recognizes Yuri Plisetsky, sounding bad-tempered, of course. Victor must say something to bait him-- his tone is airy, and Plisetsky snarls his response. Then a sharp phrase, and suddenly, English: "Is that Katsuki again?"

"Yes! Here," says Victor, "congratulate him on winning Japan's national championship for the third year in a row."

"Ffff, that just means he's going to suck at Four Continents," Plisetsky dismisses. Seconds later he shrills, "What is that face, not that kind of sucking, you pervert, gross! Hey, Katsuki!" The phone is suddenly much closer to his growling. "You may be a loser but I hope you know you can do better than this dirty old man, he's disgusting."

"You are projecting," Victor declaims in regal tones.

Yuuri feels disloyal for thinking it, but he almost understands why Plisetsky is so vicious to Victor, with how obnoxious Victor seems to be to Plisetsky. Older rinkmates can behave a lot like older siblings, and when he talks to the Russian Yuri, Victor sounds like Mari at her teasing worst.

"You are slobbering over an idiot who made a giant fool of himself drunk and sober at Sochi," Plisetsky says. "It's pathetic."

Then again, it doesn't seem like Plisetsky really needs a reason to be vicious. His hostility now isn't so surprising-- Yuuri can't imagine many Russians are pleased that Victor's supposedly dating a dime-a-dozen foreign skater. But Yuuri never did a thing to provoke him before Plisetsky ambushed him at the GPF.

"I am slobbering over Japan's Ace, three-time national champion and at least two-time dance-off champion Yuuri Katsuki," says Victor.

Dance-off?

Yuuri rests his head in his hand with a little groan. Victor was private messaging with Phichit. Phichit, who knows just how pitifully infatuated Yuuri has been with Victor...'s career for years. Phichit, who is definitely the kind of worst best friend who'd talk Yuuri up to his idol through Twitter DMs. Though it's a mystery why Phichit thought anyone would care about Yuuri's non-accomplishments like winning informal dance-offs with other students at the dance studio and at-- oh, no-- at pole-dancing class.

Phichit has to know Yuuri wouldn't want him to mention their pole-dancing class to Victor. Unfortunately, there's no chance that would stop him.

Meanwhile Victor's continuing with, "And you need to work on your English-- that's not pathetic. Pathetic is more like, insulting someone to his face when you have a folder full of pictures of him and a Google Alert set up for his name."

That makes Yuuri smile a little. Of course the Russian Yuri is a Victor Nikiforov fan, even if he doesn't get along with Victor personally. No one can resist Victor's skating.

"I can't wait til I'm in Seniors next year so I can crush you both," says Plisetsky.

"But Yura, you already have a crush--"

Yakov Feltsman issues a sharp rebuke in Russian, and both skaters huff and subside. Yuuri can't be sure, but he hears some scuffling that could be a surreptitious slap fight. He's beginning to understand what Victor meant when he mentioned that Feltsman's students all tend to be high-strung and thrive on tension.

Also, if that last bit of taunting is how Victor treats people who have crushes on him, Yuuri is going to have to be a lot more careful. There was never any hope Yuuri could conceal that he's a long-time fan, but there's some small chance he can convince Victor that his admiration is strictly professional.

It's true that when Yuuri was twelve and first saw Victor skate, he thought Victor was the most beautiful, graceful person he'd ever seen; it was the first time he ever felt attracted to someone on sight. And a few years later, watching Victor take the ice at the Vancouver Winter Olympics with his new shorter hair and a costume with a more masculine cut that set off his broader shoulders and chest, Yuuri realized then that whatever had drawn him to Victor before-- precocity, androgyny, bishounen prettiness-- in Victor's new incarnation, Yuuri was definitely attracted to him as a man.

And true, those were important moments to Yuuri. But he got over it. A celebrity crush was fine for a teenager, but when Yuuri moved overseas for training and started college, he told himself he was leaving that silliness behind. There was no point in lusting after someone so completely beyond his reach and out of his league, and a dumb crush would only drag him down and distract him when he needs to focus and perform.

Yuuri's goal has always been to skate on the same ice as Victor, to do his best competing against Victor and finally feel he's achieved something worthwhile as a competitive skater. He looks to Victor for career inspiration and respects his work-- his choreography and skating, his extraordinary athleticism and artistry.

He can acknowledge that Victor is handsome and charming, that doesn't mean he has a crush. He can admit he thinks Victor is attractive, that's not a crush. Spending hours talking to him and only craving more conversation, wanting to be near him-- that's just a normal reaction to being around someone wonderful, it's not a crush.

"We're here!" Victor says.

Plisetsky mutters, "Fucking finally."


 
After arriving at the venue, Victor has things to do, of course, warmups and touch-ups and last-minute reminders from his coach. But even when those things are sorted out and Victor is back on the line with Yuuri, he's mostly quiet. Yuuri gets his laptop set up to watch the live feed, listening to Victor hum his free skate music to himself.

"Are you watching the other skaters?" Victor asks eventually.

"Should I? I wasn't planning to."

"That's fine, I just wondered." In a flirtier tone, he says, "It's sweet of you to stay up so late just for me."

It's funny: a couple of weeks now of pretending to date, and that's the first time Yuuri's thought that Victor sounded fake.

"I wouldn't miss it," Yuuri says. "I remember watching some of your first performances in Seniors... sometimes you were on the phone right up until the last minute then, too. I used to wonder who you were talking to."

Victor breathes a voiceless little laugh. "No one."

"Ah, I didn't mean to pry--"

"No, I'm saying... really. No one. I used to have trouble getting focused right before I went on, especially when people would talk to me, and that seemed to happen a lot then, even when I wore headphones. But if I held a phone to my ear and said yes and no sometimes like I was listening to someone, people left me alone."

"Oh. That's... clever."

"Later, it got easier for me to get into the right mindset, so I dropped that trick. Anyway, these days it seems like no one really tries to talk to me backstage anymore."

Yuuri certainly never would have dared.

"So!" Victor sounds more cheerful, suddenly. "It's nice to really have someone on the phone, now."

"Any time," Yuuri says idiotically.

"Hm, what's the time difference between Stockholm and Detroit?"

"--Sorry?"

"Europeans is in Stockholm this year." A few words in Russian away from the phone, and then back. "Six hours! Must be fate."

"Must it?" Yuuri asks weakly, not sure what they're talking about now.

"We've spent most of our lives six hours apart, if you think about it. St. Petersburg and Hasetsu are six hours apart. Though Detroit and St. Petersburg-- oh, almost. Seven."

Still lost, Yuuri ventures, "Is there a belief about that there? Six or seven, are they lucky?"

"About the numbers? Not really. Odd is better than even. Seven is lucky there, isn't it? And something's unlucky because of how the word sounds, but I'm forgetting what. Four?"

"Four," Yuuri confirms. "And nine, but four's worse. You can read it as shi; that also means death." He's not usually superstitious, but he did come in 9th at Worlds the year before. And at the Grand Prix Final, he was in 4th place after the short program. He should've known it would go bad.

"I wonder how that happened. 'I have some things here, it's more than three but we don't have a word for the amount. What should we call this many things? I know, let's use the word for death!'"

"Maybe they were counting four dead bodies." Morbid, horrible, and unlucky-- Yuuri's mouth is even worse than usual tonight.

Victor laughs, though. "Somehow that's ridiculous and logical."

"That's me."

A quieter chuckle, and then nothing more from Victor, so the background noise begins to filter through again: Russian conversation somewhere sounding echoey nearby, the rise and fall of distant cheering.

"How do you feel?" Yuuri asks.

"Excited." A beat. "Excited about performing, a little concerned about the reaction. I don't see this version as less difficult, but some people will. I don't want the audience or the other skaters here to think I scaled back the jumps because I'm assuming I can win without them."

"Is that why you've done it the same way all season?" Yuuri knows from a thousand interviews how much Victor likes to surprise audiences. In past seasons, he'd often make changes to his programs to give the fans something new to see at different competitions. Not this season, til now.

"It's one reason. What should I say when I dedicate this skate to you?"

This time Yuuri knows he didn't miss something-- that was abrupt. Maybe Victor doesn't want to talk more about his reasons or maybe he's just getting jumpy before performing. Strange to imagine, but possible. "I don't know, I've never really dedicated anything."

"I'll think of something. I'm almost up, we're going out!" The background noise grows to a roar, and on the live feed, Yuuri can see Victor emerge from backstage, phone to his ear. The previous skater is still in the kiss and cry, but the crowd begins chanting Victor's name. Victor waves broadly and the chanting only intensifies. "Yuuri. Wish me a good gun battle?"

"Gambatte, Victor."

On the screen, Yuuri can see Victor's holding the phone to his chest, no longer listening or talking, but even now the line's still open. He only hands off the phone to his coach right before taking to the ice, and Yuuri has the odd experience of hearing the disconnecting click, and then, a few seconds later, watching the onscreen figure of Yakov Feltsman shake his head at the phone and press the button to end the call.


 
Victor moves into his opening position, and the screaming applause and chanting of his name all dwindles to near silence as the music begins.

Every time Yuuri sees this program, he gets chills, right from the opening movements, as Victor lifts his face, sweeps one hand over his head and turns in place, hugging his arms to his chest.

Victor inscribes an aimless circle on the ice and drops to a knee, rising again with another curve that seems destined to go nowhere, even as his footwork propels him into a wider circle, building up enough speed for the first jump. All this season, Victor's done a quad Lutz here, but tonight, he flies into a triple Lutz instead. The shower of applause is as loud as ever-- louder, as the Russian fans hail their living legend.

So much of the choreography in this piece has Victor turning and returning in tight circles and spirals, suggesting loss and confusion. After the first jump, Victor comes back to where he began, then curves out at speed, lofting high into his quad flip, immediately returning to center ice again.

He mirrors that in the other direction, but this time he hurtles through a combination-- triple axel, half loop, triple flip.

Yuuri clutches his shirt, his heart thumping. He did that combination tonight in Gohatto-- he included it in his free skate in homage to Victor, who originated it.

That 3A-3F wasn't in the TES-heavy version of Victor's program, and Yuuri's instincts tell him it wasn't originally in this version either-- it sends Victor over the ice just a little too far. He lands the triple flip with a deep bend of his knee, leaning into a steep curve to rejoin the same path he's been tracing on each pass, bringing him back to center ice for a combination spin.

Yuuri will have to consider what that might mean later. He can't focus on anything else as Victor comes out of the spin into a choreographic sequence. There's an air of nostalgia in his dancing, as if he's trying to recapture memories of a happier time-- broken when Victor throws himself almost violently into his flying sit spin, as if he's just recognized that reminiscing isn't taking him anywhere.

The slow turn that comes next always feels like the saddest moment of the program to Yuuri: Victor pivots in place, halts, and spends a beat simply standing there, hanging his head. He looks up, moves forward and reaches out-- snatches his hand back and turns away, into a beautiful step sequence.

The layout of the story takes a more definite form: Victor's skating suggests a presence to the judges' right, something or someone that he's reaching out to, yet resisting. Even when his choreography takes him inevitably in the other direction, Victor constantly looks back to stage right. When the cameras are close enough to capture his face, his expression looks torn.

His next jump sends him soaring toward the presence, only to immediately skate away-- moments later, he faces right again, his arms gracefully folding into a clutch that seems to collapse in on itself, uncertain.

Victor's second jump combination sends him flying away in a series of three triples, and the elements come faster now in a flurry of indecision. A triple loop takes him toward the right, but a triple flip carries him away again.

On the next pass, he pushes himself out of his pattern and approaches the judges with arms out as if he's imploring them for guidance, in time to a crescendo in the music. Still facing them, Victor withdraws to center ice with a grateful gesture and a more hopeful expression, turning away.

At last, Victor moves with clear determination, and performs his final combination, quad toe, triple toe, double loop-- moving stage left to stage right. He skates backward still facing right as he returns to center ice, arms out, as if he's coaxing the unseen other presence with him, drawing them close in a whirl. He comes out of the last combination spin facing right again, his arms raised and joined to suggest an embrace, smiling faintly, eyes blissfully closed.

Yuuri can't imagine how anyone could possibly care that this version doesn't have the other two quads. It couldn't have been more expressive or more captivating.

And this version has so much more emotional range. When Yuuri saw Victor perform it before, the program seemed sadder. Even the decisive turn toward the end struck Yuuri as desperate rather than hopeful.

This rendition grew so much brighter in the last part, every motion like a call and a welcome. Knowing this version exists makes Yuuri love both versions even more. And this time, he can actually do something with the heart-full feeling this program leaves him with.

Me: I LOVED IT
Me: I loved it so much
Me: I got chills, my heart was pounding
Me: both versions are incredible, they're both my favorite now
Me: I couldn't pick one over the other
Me: it would be like choosing between children
Me: and here's the score...
Me: congratulations!
Me: eight-time national champion ^_^

Vitya xx: Thank you!
Vitya xx: It felt good
Vitya xx: You were right, I'm glad I did it this way in competition
Vitya xx: And here, for a stadium with so many fans <3
Vitya xx: If I'd done it this way at NYE only
Vitya xx: I would have missed out on this reaction
Vitya xx: They went wild even before the score ^_^
Vitya xx: Like they wouldn't mind even if I didn't win

Me: who could mind? It's like you said before
Me: there are some things scores can't capture
Me: that was way beyond any number they could hand out
Me: I'm happy when you win bc I want people to recognize
Me: that you're doing something special
Me: and winning makes it easier for you to keep skating your best
Me: but that's it, otherwise I never thought it mattered if you won
Me: your skating is always gold to me
Me: aaaa don't listen to me I'm still strung out on adrenaline
Me: what am I "that's it" like... dismissive, that's so wrong
Me: you earn those high scores, you deserve to be the most decorated skater
Me: I'm sorry!
Me: of course it's important and you should be proud

Vitya xx: Don't apologize for that!
Vitya xx: "Your skating is always gold to me" how could that ever be dismissive
Vitya xx: It's the best compliment!
Vitya xx: Thank you <3


 


Yuuri wakes up on top of the covers with his laptop still open and his glasses on.

Rolling onto his back, Yuuri sighs up at the ceiling. Today he has his exhibition skate, the medal ceremony, and the banquet. His coach didn't schedule anything for tomorrow, betting that the JSF would want to meet with him, and the day after, they fly back to Detroit.

Groping for his phone, Yuuri checks the calendar. The end of this week will be the New Year's Eve show. By the middle of next week, Victor could be in Detroit.

In the meantime, he has texts from Phichit advising him to avoid looking at Twitter hashtags for his name and Victor's-- the free skate dedication irritated some of Victor's fans.

It doesn't matter. It's not real. Yuuri's inbox is stuffed full of congratulations, from Minako, from Mari and his parents, from Yuuko and Takeshi; they let their triplets send their own email, too. Even a couple of his rinkmates in Detroit sent notes. That's real.

From long experience, Yuuri knows that the relief and triumph of winning All-Japan will only be with him for a day or two. Soon he'll go back to second-guessing and dismissing every good thing that comes his way.

Today, then, while he can enjoy it, he looks at last night's text conversation with Victor. The dedication was public and doesn't mean anything, but You were right, I'm glad I did it this way in competition... Don't apologize for that! It's the best compliment! Thank you <3

That's private. There's no reason to doubt it. Victor kept Yuuri on the phone with him right up until the last minute before his performance; Victor's confided in him a little, and every time Yuuri trusts him enough to take a risk, Victor accepts him. Dating is just a story, but there's something real there, maybe even the start of a friendship.

For today, while he can, Yuuri lets himself believe it.

Chapter Text

Vitya xx: You looked like you were having fun with your exhibition! <3

Me: exhibitions are always fun ^_^

Vitya xx: Sometimes I think I do better with more structure
Vitya xx: It took forever to come up with my ex this year

Me: I like it

Vitya xx: It's too much like my FS
Vitya xx: It actually started from some choreography I cut from Stammi >_>;;
Vitya xx: Oh well. I needed another piece and that was what I had

Me I see some similarities but
Me: it has a different feel! it's mysterious
Me: I'm looking forward to seeing it tonight

Vitya xx: I do like that music
Vitya xx: It's very strong for setting a mood

Me: yes

Vitya xx: I watched some of the other exhibitions there too
Vitya xx: I think I saw the kid you mentioned
Vitya xx: Minami? I could definitely tell he's your fan ))))))
Vitya xx: He was trying to do steps like yours
Vitya xx: Points for effort!

Me: I thought he did very well

Vitya xx: He did! He'd do better with a lighter stsq
Vitya xx: Instead of trying to break his feet on something like your Lohengrin

Me: ( ノ﹏ \) he did mention that prgm to me

Vitya xx: I knew it ╮(^▽~)╭

 


 

Vitya xx: How did things go with the JSF?

Me: /(☉﹏☉)\

Vitya xx: (•́ 益 •̀)?

Me: low key scolding for banquet rumors (つ﹏<)
Me: a lot of expectations for 4cc & worlds

Vitya xx: Ugh plane wifi is awful, so slooow so much lag

Me: I know it's their job to be positive about Japan's chances
Me: but ( ノ﹏ \)

Vitya xx: Sorry they gave you trouble about the banquet
Vitya xx: I tried to tone down talking about it...

Me: it's fine

Vitya xx: Not my forte (・ิ¬・ิ);

Me: I did drink too much
Me: so I guess I earned some trouble

Vitya xx: Nooo

Me: anyway that part was nothing compared to
Me: bring home gold for Japan! we know you can do it this year! -_-;;;
Me: I've never even medaled at an international competition so it's just /(-_-)\

Vitya xx: If anything you should be congratulated
Vitya xx: You took 1st at Skate America!

Me: that's just a qualifier

Vitya xx: Still an international competition!

Me: ok never at an intl championship then

Vitya xx: Junior Worlds

Me: juniors doesn't count

Vitya xx: I count my Juniors wins ^_^ I shouldn't?

Me: of course you should! you were incredible!
Me: you broke every record, short, free, combined

Vitya xx: I did, I was very proud. It was years before anyone came close to those scores
Vitya xx: 4 years, wasn't it? The first person who got close, hm
Vitya xx: Who was it
Vitya xx: Oh! I remember
Vitya xx: Katsuki Yuuri, 0.12 juuuust under my junior FS record

Me: -_-; 0.12 might as well be 120, I didn't break it
Me: I didn't even win

Vitya xx: Strange, they list you on Wikipedia as the silver medalist

Me: I didn't break the record and I didn't win gold

Vitya xx: You know this very sweet guy told me
Vitya xx: "I never thought it mattered if you won"
Vitya xx: And that was so nice to hear
Vitya xx: But I'm starting to wonder if he meant it

Me: of course I meant it!

Vitya xx: (。•ˇ_ˇ•。)
Vitya xx: It doesn't sound like you really feel that way
Vitya xx: When you talk about your career like it only matters if you won

Me: that's different
Me: I have to keep aiming higher if I'm going to get better

Vitya xx: Sure! But you have to give yourself credit too
Vitya xx: And enjoy your wins and your progress
Vitya xx: If competing doesn't make you feel good how can you do your best in competition?

Me: maybe

Vitya xx: (。•˘ل͜ ˘•。);;
Vitya xx: Too preachy?

Me: it's ok

Vitya xx: (◕へ◕)?

Me: really (•ᴗ•)

Vitya xx: Ok ))))

 


 

Vitya xx: Packing now
Vitya xx: I'm excited! But also aaaaa (((( Makkachin
Vitya xx: Why can't I just buy a plane ticket for Makka?
Vitya xx: This trip would be perfect if she could come
Vitya xx: You would love her! She would love you!
Vitya xx: But flying cargo back and forth so far in a few weeks would be too hard on her

Me: poor puppy
Me: I'm sorry she can't come

Vitya xx: When I travel she stays with the family on the next floor down
Vitya xx: They have kids who fuss over her, she loves it ʃ(◕ᴥ◕)ʅ
Vitya xx: They start to lose interest after a while but I'm usually back by then!
Vitya xx: I thought maybe two weeks there? Fly back the 18th?

Me: Will that be okay? Does that leave enough time before Euros?

Vitya xx: I can practice there, right? So it'll be fine

Me: obv you can share our rink time
Me: Sun-Wed 10am-noon Thurs&Fri 1-3pm
Me: and I think another hour is usually free after us
Me: that you could book solo
Me: tho the hockey team shows up during our time on Thurs & Fri a lot
Me: not sure if they're trying to cheat a little extra ice time or get a date with Phichit

Vitya xx: Or you

Me: ha ha no

Vitya xx: Not a hockey fan? ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

Me: not really

Vitya xx: (•̀ᴗ•́)و ̑̑

Me: so you can use the rink
Me: and first month trial membership at our gym is cheap
Me: but there's not really anything special to do around here, jsyk

Vitya xx: Jsyk?

Me: Just So You Know

Vitya xx: Ohh! Ok

Me: anyway. Detroit doesn't have a lot to see
Me: I like it here and it has museums and a zoo and an island w a huge greenhouse
Me: & Ontario in Canada is just across the water
Me: a lot of casinos? lots of jazz bars, a dance music scene, clubs
Me: but nothing must-see
Me: and tbh at this point in the season
Me: To Be Honest*
Me: we don't have a lot of time/cash to go places sorry /o\

Vitya xx: That's ok! All I need is a rink
Vitya xx: And you ^_~

Me: (๑•̌.•̑๑)

Vitya xx: And I'm looking forward to meeting Phichit!

Me: you'll like him, everyone does
Me: if you're sure about two weeks then 4th - 18th works

Vitya xx: ᕕ(ᐛ)ᕗ!!

 


 

"Hello from New York!"

"Hi," Yuuri swallows hard against a flare of nerves. Since he returned to Detroit, their time difference has been reversed, and with Yuuri sleeping in late during the last of the winter break, and Victor seven hours ahead of him in Saint Petersburg, they've been out of sync and mostly just texting for a few days. He has to get used to Victor's voice all over again. "Um. Everything go all right?"

"It was fine. I was next to a twelve-year-old traveling alone on the plane. He spent almost the entire flight trying to jailbreak the in-flight entertainment system so he could watch an R-rated horror movie. I thought kids just pirated things like that now!"

"Maybe he was just. Enjoying the challenge."

"You're probably right..." Victor yawns. "Ah, sorry. I'll need to sleep soon, we're going out to the rink early tomorrow so I can size it up."

"Size it up? Is it NHL?" Yuuri can't believe he didn't even think to look up the New Year's venue; he flips open his laptop. "Bryant Park, right?"

"Right. It's a little off from regulation sizes— more square, I think."

"Victor, it's only 170 feet!" Yuuri double-checks with another source to verify— it's a considerably smaller rink than Olympic or NHL regulation sizes.

"What's that in real numbers?"

"Fifty-one by thirty meters. You're going to do your Redeemer exhibition program on a fifty by thirty rink?"

"I can adapt it. A smaller rink might be better for all those fast outside laps on that one!"

"Yeah, but when you skate backward into the boards, will you have enough time to slow down?"

"That's why we're going out early tomorrow, I guess! I'll find out!"

Yuuri holds his head. "Do you have a backup plan if you can't make it fit?"

"I can make it fit. Don't you have faith in me, Yuuri?"

"Of course I do!" Yuuri's voice lifts— he's almost offended by the question, even coming from Victor. "I think you're a genius and you can probably do just about anything that can be done on skates—" he talks through the pleased sound Victor makes, intent: "but you also only have one day to adapt two programs to the space and practice them before you're performing them on live TV the day after tomorrow! That's crazy!"

"You think that's bad... originally they wanted me to skate at Rockefeller Center."

Another quick search, and: "Thirty-seven by seventeen meters? Seventeen? I'd fly to New York to stop you myself!" Wait, what? Shut up shut up shut up—

Victor laughs. "You're sweet, zaichik. And that would mean I'd get to see you even sooner— have you ever been here?"

"Not really... just the airport," Yuuri mutters, fighting down the heat in his face from raving like that. If he could get through one single conversation with Victor without completely embarrassing himself, that would be nice.

"Maybe after the season. Anyway, I promise I won't do anything reckless. I've done the Redeemer program in all kinds of spaces for ice shows, I know I can make it work. And I think Stammi will adapt pretty easily— it has all those little loops. I'll cut down the combinations just to be safe, that should do it."

"You're right, of course you're right. I don't know— sorry."

"Don't apologize for caring! I'm not complaining. It's nice." From Victor's side of the call, Yuuri hears a bag landing somewhere, and water running: the sound quality changes to the echo of speaker mode. "Is there anything you want from New York? I'll have some time to shop Monday."

"Um. Like what?"

"I don't know. What does New York have that you can't get anywhere else? Besides floppy pizza."

"I don't think there's anything you can only get there," Yuuri says. "Even souvenir stuff ends up on Amazon."

"Well, if you think of anything— and ask Phichit too? I have room in my luggage. I tried to pack light. The ruble's strong against the dollar right now, so I thought I'd just buy things here. And they said we'd get gifts for the New Year's show..." A paper rustle. "Looks like it's mostly soaps and lotions, spa stuff, but there's some yoga clothes, that's nice. I can use those for pajamas..." He muffles another yawn.

It makes Yuuri smile, despite himself. "You should probably change into them now, you sound sleepy."

"Oh, I won't be wearing them here. I don't wear anything to sleep when I'm alone. Pajamas are for sleepovers! I thought if you have room, maybe I could stay over with you two for a movie night or something, and of course you're welcome to stay with me at the hotel. Did I forward you my reservation? That's what I forgot, I knew there was something. It's the Marriott off highway... is it one seventy-five? I-75?"

"I-75," Yuuri confirms, blinking. He's not sure why the casual invitation to the hotel surprises him— maybe because he assumed no one in Detroit would notice whether they kept up the façade or not. But Victor must be used to getting noticed everywhere he goes.

"The map says it's twenty minutes from you. Does that sound right?"

"I guess? I've never been there, but it doesn't look like it's far."

"Good! All right, I'd better sleep, tomorrow's going to be a long day. I'll text you when we break for lunch— and we're finally in the same time zone! You'll be free around noon?"

"Yes, sure, I will."

"Okay! Talk to you then! Good night!"

"Good night," Yuuri says. But for a few seconds, neither of them disconnects, both silent.

Victor breathes out a soft little laugh. "See you soon, Yuuri," he says, and finally ends the call.

Dropping the phone at last, Yuuri wonders if he should still feel like he's been hit by a truck after talking to Victor.

Yes, he decides. He should. What's weird is that he ever got used to it at all.

 


 

The night of New Year's Eve, Yuuri is so wound up that when there's a knock at the door, at first he thinks Phichit locked himself out somehow, even though Phichit won't be back for days— he's due to return the day before Victor arrives.

When Yuuri peers out, though, he finds one of the guys from the next apartment over. Phichit made Yuuri learn their names, so he knows one is Zach and the other is Tyler, but he doesn't remember which one is which. This guy's the one with blondish streaks in his hair and constant stubble, but that's not helping Yuuri pull his name.

"Um, hi," he says.

Zach or maybe Tyler grins. "Hi! You guys have plans tonight?"

"Yes?" Yuuri answers, though it comes out sounding like a question.

"Cool, cool. You going out, or doing something here?"

"Here."

"Nice! Well, we're having a little party at our place, you know, just a few people who're still around during the break, a keg, couple of growlers, some chips and stuff. So if you guys want to drop by, come on over!"

Yuuri fidgets with the doorknob. "Thanks. Phichit's out, actually, so." He shrugs.

"Ah, too bad. But you should definitely come over, then! Can't ring in the New Year alone, right?"

"Thanks," Yuuri says again. "Um, a skater we know is performing tonight, though, so... I'm going to. Watch that."

"You can watch that with us!"

Wrinkling his nose, Yuuri says, "You guys... want to watch figure skating? At your New Year's Eve party?"

"I mean. We wouldn't mind to have it on."

"I— I don't think so. It's kind of important to me? He's— a friend, so—" Yuuri can feel the blush spill over his face. A friend. He's such a fraud. Maybe a friend, if he's lucky and he doesn't screw it up.

"Well... skating's not gonna last all night, right? If you feel like swinging by, you're welcome any time. We've got way too much of everything and Tyler bought a giant fuckin' sheet cake for some reason, so like, the more the merrier."

Yuuri summons up a smile. At least now he knows this guy's name— maybe? Was it Zach? Or Zeke? "Thanks, Zach," he says. If he got it wrong, hopefully Zach or Zeke will assume it's just his accent.

"Anytime, man. If Phichit comes back he's invited too."

"Sure," Yuuri says, rather than getting bogged down explaining that Phichit's still in Bangkok. "Happy New Year!"

"Hey, you too."

When he goes back to his phone, Yuuri finds it buzzing with text notifications.

 


 

Vitya xx: Wow! Have you loaded the live feed yet?
Vitya xx: NYE is always packed, no surprise, but look at all the signs
Vitya xx: I know I haven't been here in a while but it was short notice
Vitya xx: So I didn't expect this much fan turnout
Vitya xx: There are signs in kanji! Are those for us?

Me: loading it now
Me: so many people O_O

Vitya xx: Yes! See the glass building? It's packed too
Vitya xx: I guess that's a restaurant... and sponsor maybe?
Vitya xx: They sent over some food and a bottle of champagne
Vitya xx: Should I save it to bring there? ^_~

Me: you can't take liquids in carry-on luggage
Me: and it might break in cargo

Vitya xx: That's right the 100 mL thing
Vitya xx: ლ(>益<ლ)

Me: so it's all yours! though you probably shouldn't drink it all yourself

Vitya xx: Probably not
Vitya xx: I don't even know how to breakdance ^_~

Me: looks like lots of ppl there to share with

Vitya xx: They can have some champagne
Vitya xx: But I'm eating all the tiny tacos
Vitya xx: https://www.instagr.am/p/DXdBpOTINMC/?taken-by=v-nikiforov

Me: Those look good

Vitya xx: They're amazing!

Me: you asked about the signs

Vitya xx: Yes!

Me: one says Katsuki Fans For Victor

Vitya xx: Nice!

Me: the other
Me: /o\

Vitya xx: (。*ɜ*)???

Me: "Welcome Victor Katsuki-Nikiforov" Orz

Vitya xx: orz?

Me: that's not part of the sign that's just
Me: emoji for on the ground, Orz

Vitya xx: Dogeza?

Me: yes

Vitya xx: I see it now
Vitya xx: But why? The sign is cute!
Vitya xx: Even if it wasn't, it's not your sign!

Me: it's embarrassing

Vitya xx: Aww
Vitya xx: It's adorable though
Vitya xx: And I agree that Katsuki-Nikiforov sounds better than Nikiforov-Katsuki ^_~

Me: ( ノ﹏ \)

Vitya xx: I need to warm up & let the TV makeup artist touch me up
Vitya xx: She has some amazing things
Vitya xx: Have you ever seen cushion compacts for foundation?

Me: no?

Vitya xx: So nice! So handy! I have to get one

Me: on the feed they just mentioned you'll be up after the US women's champion? soon!
Me: Ganba!

Vitya xx: Thank you! <3

 


 

Edwina Wagner wraps up her program to deafening applause, and she and two flower retrievers sweep up a few gifts tossed onto the ice— not many, not like at a competition, but a few people brought flowers and plushes to throw. Yuuri's relieved to see an adult come out to do a couple of laps and make sure the teenage retrievers didn't miss anything.

In a few minutes, Victor will skate one of his most challenging programs on this non-regulation rink with its weird size and unknown ice quality. It has Yuuri folding both hands over his mouth, heart in his throat. In some places, the crowds are right up against the boards, and they're probably not all skating fans, with so many people in the park just to party and drink for New Year's Eve. What if someone acts out? Or tosses something onto the ice mid-performance? Or—

"Please welcome two-time Olympic gold medalist, four-time men's figure skating World Champion, Victor Nikiforov!"

The full-throated screaming for Victor rises with his name, and hits an even higher pitch as he appears, waving, and steps out onto the ice.

Victor does a couple of laps reaching out to the fans hanging over the boards, slapping palms with everyone who stretches out a hand to him. Yuuri can tell that wasn't planned; the announcer comes back to fill in with, "Since his first Olympic medal at seventeen, Victor Nikiforov has consistently ranked among the top male singles skaters in the world, and for the past four years, he has dominated every major competition to win a record-breaking eighteen international gold medals at the Olympics, the European and World Championships and the Grand Prix. He's appeared with Stars on Ice and Cirque du Soleil, and now, for his first US performance in three years—"

On the live feed the voiceover is drowned out by the cheering as Victor assumes his opening position, off-center and standing as if pressing his back to a wall. Even people who don't know figure skating might recognize that starting posture and Victor's costume; clips from this program were everywhere during the last Winter Olympics, and a video that cut together two performances of the program went viral, thanks to action-film style editing to match the theme.

The Redeemer costume looks like a weathered white tank top, with leatherette straps that suggest a shoulder holster, along with belted trousers, shooting gloves, and a "badge" hanging crooked around Victor's neck— it's actually sewed on that way, and its gleam of gold comes from one of his junior gold medals. The nude-fabric sleeves look like bare arms marked with dirt and blood, the same effect carried over to his neck and face with makeup, and for once, his hair isn't perfect, looking damp and falling haphazardly over his face.

The slender teenage skater Yuuri first fell for all those years ago never could have carried off this look, but mid-twenties Victor has broad shoulders and enough cut, defined muscle to pass for an action hero. In interviews at the time he debuted it, Victor talked about cross-training with a retired Russian MMA star to help create the Redeemer program— a long way to go for an exhibition piece, but it definitely paid off. To the wider world outside of figure skating, it's probably the best-known program he's ever done.

The urgent, driving music begins, and Victor lunges into motion, somehow making his circuit around the ice look like a climb up a spiral staircase. When he hits the "top," the lights change, long spotlights across the ice suggesting a central corridor branching off into smaller halls.

Yuuri has watched this program a hundred times and he still can't really define how Victor combines choreography and performance to make familiar figure skating elements look like a fight scene, without ever doing anything as cheesy as shadowboxing invisible enemies or pretending to fire a gun.

The propulsive music sets the scene, along with the lighting design that changes the layout of the "hallways" each time Victor completes another lap that looks like a frantic climb up the stairs to the next floor.

Somehow every jump looks like a narrow escape from danger; every spin feels like a defense against surrounding attacks. A spread eagle becomes a quick turn around a corner for cover. A choreographic sequence has him crouching and skidding at high speed across the ice as if he's evading obstacles and bowling over enemies.

After the fourth lap, Victor starts to fly down the hallway, then abruptly sends himself reeling backward into the boards, reacting to an imagined impact. Yuuri folds his fists against his chest, tense. Normally Victor would perform this piece on a rink a full ten meters longer than this one, and the audience is thick there, dozens of hands out toward Victor—

Oh. He must have planned that, Yuuri realizes, as all those hands stay in place. When Victor did those opening laps greeting the audience, he must have seen this group of sign-waving fans with their Victor shirts and merch, all pressed up against the boards there. They're skating fans who'd never in a million years do anything to interrupt the performance. No one reaches or grabs— if anything, their hands just insure he doesn't hit too hard against the rail during this stunt.

Victor launches across the ice again, moving like he's favoring his right side, dragging his leg to throw up an ice spray that makes it look as if he's just been narrowly missed by a hail of bullets. He ducks, skidding forward on his right knee, and scoops himself up into a last ferocious spin. He brings the spin to blinding speed in time to the music's hectic, escalating pitch, and unwinds from it with one last skidding turn. The final rumbling bass notes ebb out as Victor drops to his knees and spills forward like dead weight on the ice.

When he comes to his feet again for a bow, the crowd clamors so loudly that the sound on the live feed cuts out.

 


 

Me: incredible... no matter how many times I see it
Me: I can't figure out how you make the same jumps and elements we all do
Me: look so different and violent
Me: I've seen at least 3 other programs try to do it since then and no one comes close

Vitya xx: ヽ( ˘_˘ )ゝ <(_ _)>

Me: (ノ^ヮ^)ノ*:・゚.✧`

Vitya xx: That's a new one! I like it!

Me: It's Phichit's favorite

Vitya xx: When they asked me for this program
Vitya xx: I almost said no bc I've done it at so many shows back home
Vitya xx: But I've never done it in the States, or knowing you were watching
Vitya xx: So that made it exciting again ^_^ it was fun!
Vitya xx: Need to clean up & change for Stammi
Vitya xx: I'll close out the show w/ it in about 40 min
Vitya xx: Then I'll go thank the fans who caught me when I hit the boards
Vitya xx: Do some signing and selfies, Edwina's doing it too
Vitya xx: So I'll be off for a while

Me: is that safe with those huge crowds? O_o

Vitya xx: So many ppl are here for NYE not the show
Vitya xx: I doubt anyone but the fans will notice me!

Me: still... tell security?

Vitya xx: Ok!
Vitya xx: I'll call you at midnight ^_^

Me: Ganbatte!

 


 

When Victor's performance of Stammi Vicino wraps up, it isn't even ten PM yet.

It was spectacular, of course. He changed the combinations to shorter versions and put the quad loop back in, but this performance retained the new range and energy of the version he did at Russian Nationals, the way it brightens and grows hopeful toward the end. The only thing Yuuri loves more than the original program is seeing Victor add variations to it.

On the live feed, after all the skaters come out for a last few laps and a group bow, Yuuri sees Victor vanish briefly and reappear in sneakers, otherwise still in costume, wading out to that knot of very visible Nikiforov fans. A security guy accompanies him, to Yuuri's relief, and two more are nearby following Edwina Wagner, who's also come out to greet her fans. Between the two of them, the crowd gets thick at that end of the rink, but it all looks friendly and orderly, with people waiting for their turn to get an autograph or a selfie with the skaters.

Yuuri thought he was tense about Victor's plan to go out into the crowd. But even after he's reassured that it's going fine, he still feels anxious. It comes over him like that sometimes. The only thing to do is go over every possible problem and make sure he's on top of all of them.

Over the last few days, he caught up on all his emails, responding to the congratulations. The rink and the dance studio are closed this week, but he's put in extra time at morning runs and the gym. He hasn't kept perfectly to his diet, but he hasn't binged or anything.

He has four days before Victor will be here, and Yuuri's already done the important chores. The kitchen, living room and bathroom are the cleanest they've ever been. Yuuri even resisted the temptation to dump things in Brenden's old room, because what if Victor really does stay over one night? So the tiny second bedroom is completely empty, the bed neatly made.

Most crucial, Yuuri took down his poster of Victor. Just one: fortunately, he's been more restrained here than he ever was back home. His room in Hasetsu is still wallpapered with at least a dozen Victor posters.

Yuuri wonders if Victor has caught on yet that he picked the exact worst person for this fake dating sham.

Well. Yuuri tried to warn him.

Not that hard, but he tried.

Oh, no. That's what this is.

Of course he's anxious. He's followed Victor's skating for over a decade, idolized him, even obsessed over him. Yuuri's own career has been a steady climb toward the goal of being able to compete with Victor.

It's true that Victor isn't just a legendary skater and Yuuri's career inspiration. He's been so incredibly patient and kind to Yuuri, and he's been easy to talk to, on the phone.

But he's going to be here in four days.

Somehow Yuuri is going to have to pretend to date Victor just enough to be convincing, but not so much that he creeps Victor out. He'll need to behave like he's in an actual relationship with Victor Nikiforov in front of other people. Including Phichit, because Yuuri loves his roommate, but Phichit is awful at keeping secrets, and it's not fair to ask him to try to keep this one.

Yuuri needs to somehow act like he's dating Victor every day for two weeks without ever letting it slip that he used to have a hundred fantasies about exactly that. And definitely without ever ever ever giving Victor the idea that he wants anything to actually happen, because just imagining Victor's reaction makes Yuuri feel like he's going to be sick—

The panic attack that follows isn't the worst that Yuuri's ever had, but it's rough. Most often, he has gasping, aching fits of crying, but sometimes they're more like this: his breath whistles in and out but he can't seem to get any air, his heartbeat thuds faster and faster, his chest goes tight, his ears buzz, and it feels like it's never going to end, right up until it finally does.

Washing his face afterward, Yuuri braces himself against the sink and just breathes, listening to the water splash.

It's going to be okay. He just needs to keep reminding himself, it's not on him. Victor came up with this idea, it's his plan, he knows what he's doing. No one in figure skating has done more to play on their public persona than Victor, who's managed to extend his image beyond the sport, more than anyone else before him.

And after all those phone calls during Nationals, Victor has to know by now that Yuuri is mentally weak. He has to understand he'll have to be the one to keep the fiction going.

Yuuri will just— do his best to follow Victor's lead, around other people, and drop it whenever they're alone, to make it clear he knows it isn't real.

"What a romantic date, Victor," Yuuri mutters into the basin. "Haha, kidding. Obviously I know it didn't really mean anything! That would be crazy."

He can do it. He doesn't even know why he's crying, really.

Thumping bass rises from next door. There's been a subliminal pulse of music from Zach and Tyler's place for a while now, but it sounds like things are kicking off over there.

Yuuri straightens. He is one wall away from a party full of junk food and beer.

Obviously, going over there would be a giant mistake.

But Yuuri is weak, so it's no surprise he's going to do it anyway.

 


 

Two beers and half a bag of chips later, Yuuri is floating on a carbohydrate high. Everything is empty calories and nothing hurts.

It's not actually a bad party by his standards. No one's really tried to talk to him, but they've been friendly, greeting him, accepting the bottle of soju he scrounged up to bring over, and offering him drinks. The music isn't too loud. It's just Zach, Tyler and a few other people, maybe seven or eight, wandering between the living room and kitchen, drinking and chatting, with a few of them shut in the bedroom smoking up. The next potential chance of a drug test is weeks off, but Yuuri avoids walking near the door out of habit, anyway.

"Hey, is that your friend?" Zach asks, pointing at the screen. They have cable and a gigantic TV at their place, and Yuuri leans forward, pushing his glasses up. As great as it was to watch this on the live feed, it's even more stunning to see the glossy HD highlights from the Redeemer program that they're airing now on the big screen: the opening pose, a jump, a spin, the first dodging and weaving step sequence, and the last thirty seconds or so from the moment when Victor flies backward into the boards until his "collapse" at the end.

"That's actually pretty badass," says one of their friends. "I thought that stuff was all, you know. Jumps and dancing and shit." Tyler elbows the guy and mutters, probably telling him that Yuuri's a skater too.

But it's fine. Everything's fine now. "That was dancing," Yuuri says. "Dancing can look like a fight if you're that good at it."

"Can you do that?" Zach asks.

"Noooo, no, no no," Yuuri shakes his head. "I wish! Nobody's as good as Victor."

They show highlights from the US junior champion next, and Edwina Wagner, then back to Victor for Stammi Vicino. When they cut after the opening jump, Yuuri can't keep back an indignant noise.

"How can anyone cut out any of this program?" he complains, waving his beer at the TV. "This is the hardest, most beautiful free skate anyone's ever done!"

"I don't know figure skating," says Tyler, dropping onto the couch next to him. "But we looked up some of your stuff on YouTube after we met you guys, and I'd rather watch you and Phichit any day. This opera stuff ain't doin' it for me."

"But look at him," Yuuri breathes, as Victor executes the last combination— even shortened, it's such a weightless, perfect quad toe-triple toe, and he opens his arms invitingly as he glides into the final spin. "This song, it means 'stay close to me,' and— look how he expresses it. Look at his face."

"You know him?" Tyler asks. "You guys compete or something?"

Yuuri swills a deep drink from his third beer. Everything he's ever been any good at, he's achieved because of practice. Endless, repetitive, grinding practice. If he's going to pretend he's seeing Victor, he needs to practice that, too.

"We're dating," says Yuuri. "He'll be here Wednesday night."

"No shit?" Tyler looks at the TV, now showing Victor and Edwina after the performance, taking selfies with their fans. "Damn. Go you, I guess. How long've you been seeing him?"

"We competed last month," Yuuri says. "I sucked. I got nervous, and, and some family stuff happened..." He won't bring Vicchan's name into this fairy tale, it wouldn't be right. "I screwed up. Dead last. I think he felt bad for me." There: that's a story people might believe, a story that probably even has some truth to it. Yuuri drains the last of his beer. "It's a weird way to start off, so it probably won't last. But he's a really great guy."

"If he's so great, he shouldn't make you feel like he's going to dump you any second," says Zach.

"I'm just being realistic," Yuuri says. "I mean. You saw him."

"Eh."

"Eh?!" Yuuri knows people outside figure skating don't always understand how difficult Victor's programs are, or the reasons he's legendary in the sport. But this at least has always been universal: you don't have to know skating to see that he's gorgeous. "He's been on People's fifty most beautiful people list, twice!" Once with long hair, circa the Turin Olympics, and once with short hair, after Vancouver, right at the start of his winning streak.

"Not my type," Zach says with weird emphasis, shrugging.

Yuuri looks at the TV again, but it's moved on to shots of musical acts, lots of flashing lights and synchronized dancing, and then it cuts to the ball in Times Square.

"Is it starting? Is it that late?" Yuuri digs for his phone.

"Nah, they're just showing the crowd," says Tyler. "They're doing highlights and then Maroon 5 is going to play. Then the ball drop."

"He said he'd call after he spends some time with his fans," says Yuuri. Zach makes kind of a weird coughing noise, maybe shotgunning his beer too fast. Yuuri stands up with only a little swaying and says, "I should go back to our place to take the call. Thanks for inviting me over. Next time I'll bring a bottle of something better to pay back for all the beer and snacks and everything."

"Don't worry about it. You don't need to pay anything back," Zach says, following him to the door. "Anytime we have a party you can come on over, all you need to bring is yourself."

Yuuri is tipsy enough to give Zach's arm a clumsy, grateful pat. "You're too nice!"

"Yeah, but am I a really great guy?" Zach asks, with a funny twist to his mouth.

"Tonight you are," Yuuri smiles. "Happy New Year!"

It's a good thing he left when he did. He's only had time to make tea and sit down with the cup when his phone starts buzzing.

 


 

Vitya xx: Almost midnight!

Me: are you watching the ball drop?

Vitya xx: No, I'm at Celsius now— bar in the glass building next to the rink
Vitya xx: You? Did you go out?

Me: no. I dropped in on the neighbors' party next door for a little while
Me: that's more than enough partying for me

Vitya xx: I want to call but it's SO LOUD here
Vitya xx: I don't see any way to get to somewhere quieter
Vitya xx: Everywhere I can see is packed

Me: are you ok?

Vitya xx: Fine! They found a nice window seat for me and I have my champagne ^_^
Vitya xx: After we wrapped up w/ fans
Vitya xx: Edwina asked for a selfie & signing... surprised me

Me: not me!
Me: it's been so long since you performed here and who knows when you'll be back

Vitya xx: No one at home seems to like it when I come here
Vitya xx: Maybe they worry I'll run away and join the circus
Vitya xx: Again

Me: is it really joining the circus when it's a guest appearance at Cirque du Soleil?

Vitya xx: It is when it's in Vegas ^_^
Vitya xx: I was going to invite Edwina when I came over here but then I realized
Vitya xx: She isn't 21 (-_-);

Me: (-_-);; Phichit won't be 20 til the end of April

Vitya xx: ( ˃̣̣̥_˂̣̣̥ )
Vitya xx: And here goes another year, in a minute
Vitya xx: I want to call you for the countdown! Ok?

Me: sure ^_^

 


 

The phone rings a few seconds later. "Hear that?" Victor shouts unnecessarily, as if Yuuri could somehow miss the massive clamor on his end. Even compressed by distance and technology, it's still a monstrous wave of noise. Being in the middle of a crowd that huge and boisterous would be a nightmare for Yuuri, but he can hear Victor laughing near the phone.


"Here we go!" Victor calls, and counts down, his voice blending with the others until he switches to Russian: "Ten, nine, eight— sem, shest, pyat, chetyre, tri, dva, raz—"

Yuuri has to hold the phone away from his ear. Victor's saying something, but he must realize he can't be heard over the din.

 


  

Vitya xx: Happy new year!
Vitya xx: (˘ ³˘)?

Me: happy new year!

Vitya xx: No kiss? ((( Isn't that the tradition?
Vitya xx: Everyone here is kissing...

Me: it's just an emoji?
Me: but sure...
Me: (ˇᵋ ˇ)

Vitya xx: (っ^з(˘◡˘ )

Me: (•ᴗ•)

 


 

There's still so much noise on Victor's side that there isn't much use talking, so soon they say good night and end the call.

Yuuri should sleep; the sooner he starts working toward a better schedule for going to bed and waking up, the less painful it will be when full training starts up again in a few days.

Instead, he opens his laptop, and visits one of the most active Victor Nikiforov fan forums.

First, shamefully, he rewatches the free skate dedication for the hundredth time. It's in Russian, of course, but Victor is such a natural performer, showing a soft, warm smile like nothing a camera's ever captured from him before.

"Nikifanov" translated it as:

I want to dedicate this program to Yuuri Katsuki. I feel he gave me a new perspective on this and all my work, and I'm grateful.

 

There's a new thread, too, just created tonight. The first post asks, "Did anyone else laugh at the shitty intro they gave poor Niki before Redeemer?"

(Sadly, Yuuri knows firsthand why many English-speaking fans call him "Niki"— there were so many raging arguments about whether to romanize his name as Victor or Viktor that eventually the forum mods decreed that no more fights on the topic would be permitted on the site, and suggested using "Niki" instead, since no one seemed to disagree on the spelling for that part of his name.)

"Don't people have some kind of bio to read from, instead of obviously improvising from his Wikipedia page?" the post continues. "If you were going to write a bio for Niki to hand out to announcers, what would it say?"

The thread contains several fans' attempts at Victor Nikiforov bios, but a number of people say that his career is too storied to easily sum up, and Yuuri agrees with them. He knows every beat of Victor's biography, from the first time Yuuri saw him skate, when Victor was fifteen. Yuuri couldn't hope to condense it all down to a bite-sized summary. There's just too much.

At fifteen, Victor won the Junior Grand Prix and Junior World Championship, breaking every junior record and attaining the highest score ever for that level. His senior debut coincided with the Turin Olympics, where he became the first skater to land a quad-triple-triple combination, taking a surprise Olympic bronze at seventeen. He went on to win silver at Worlds with the highest score any skater ever received in their debut year.

The next year, Victor aimed to be the first European to land three quads in one program for his free skate, but he could never seem to hit the last one. He still took gold at Russia's Nationals and Europeans, and bronze or silver in every other competition he was in, including the GPF and Worlds.

When he was nineteen, Victor suffered an awful fall in practice. An undetected labral tear had weakened the cartilage of his hip even before the accident, and he landed so badly he dislocated his leg and fractured two fingers. Yuuri remembers hearing about it from Yuuko and bursting into tears in the middle of class. The rest of that season was eaten up by surgery and rehab.

Victor returned the next year with one quad in his free skate and none in the short program, both of which he'd choreographed to original music he'd commissioned himself; he'd always chosen his music and contributed to his choreography, but this was the first time in his career he did it all. Commentators and sports journalists lamented that the accident had ruined his athleticism, when his artistry was stronger than ever. From then on, he always used original music and his own choreography.

He won silver at Russian Nationals that year and just missed qualifying for the GPF. Going into the Vancouver Olympics, no one expected Victor to place.

At Vancouver, Victor became the first skater to land two quads in a short program, a toe loop and a Salchow. His free skate choreography listed the same quads plus two triple flips, one in combination with a double toe-loop and one on its own.

Victor skated out with his new shorter hair, smiled at the judges, and upgraded the listed triple to land the first successful quad flip in competitive figure skating. Thirty seconds later, he did it again. His free skate score set a world record so high that no one, not even Victor, has been able to beat it since.

With his second surprise Olympic medal, an Olympic gold, and the first quad flip, Victor's place in history was assured. And on top of his other records and achievements, performing the first and second-ever quad flips both in the same program had the word "legend" crossing some lips.

And after that, Victor just kept winning. Despite countless attempts, no other skater has landed a clean quad flip in competition. Cao Bin achieved the first quad Lutz and used it to edge Victor out of gold at the Cup of China two years ago, but Victor added the 4Lz to his roster in plenty of time to win every championship gold again, as well as earning another gold at the Sochi Olympics. He was one of the few Russian athletes unaffected by the doping scandal there, and became the main face of that year's Winter Olympics.

Victor had always been a popular media figure in Russia. As he continued to rack up wins, he began doing more international appearances in the off-season. Russia sent him to Eurovision to skate alongside their musical act. He had a special two-week engagement performing with Cirque du Soleil and began producing and starring in his own ice shows. He had cameos in a Taylor Swift music video and in a few movies—  Avantyuristy in Russian, L'écume des jours in France, Trainwreck in America, and a voice in Savva, a Russian animated movie.

To promote the shows and films, Victor appeared on television shows and streaming series in three languages. Countless chat shows in Russia, Graham Norton in the UK, Le Grand Journal and Quotidien in France, a brief appearance in a Saturday Night Live sketch with Amy Schumer. He's been on more magazine covers and done more modeling in ads and editorials than Yuuri can count— and Yuuri has collected at least scans, if not hard copies, of them all.

This season, Victor won his fifth Grand Prix Final at Sochi and his eighth Russian National title.

And now he is coming to Detroit to pretend to be Yuuri's boyfriend.

Chapter Text

"Yuuri!"

As soon as he hears his roommate's voice, Yuuri runs, course-correcting along the way when he finally sees him hopping and waving behind a big family group. "Phichit!"

Finally the family herds all their kids with their cute child-sized carry-ons through the exit, and Yuuri comes to greet Phichit just outside the door. Phichit claps both hands on Yuuri's shoulders and jumps up and down.

"Congratulations! Aaaaahhh!"

Yuuri can't help smiling, pressing his own hands over Phichit's on his shoulders. "Thanks. How was the wedding?"

Phichit uses the same grip to give him a playful little shake. "The wedding I documented on three different social media platforms? For all the world and you to see? That wedding?"

"...sorry..."

His roommate is the most good-natured person Yuuri has ever met; he shrugs off his annoyance right away. "It's fine, it's on Storify. I'll walk you through it when we get home. Right now I'm starving and they hadn't even started unloading the cargo on my plane when we got off, so it'll be at least half an hour before my stuff shows up in the baggage claim."

Yuuri nods; by now they're nearly as familiar with the rhythms of DTW as the people who work here. "What do you want?"

"I had nothing but good food the whole time I was home," says Phichit. "I need to retox. Where's the best place near here to get a trash salad?"

"Chili's," Yuuri answers right away, embarrassingly familiar with all the terrible food choices available in the airport.

"Ugh, perfect. Let's go."

The server at Chili's leads them to seats with a scenic view of Hudson News and Brookstone. The fake wood surface of the table is slightly tacky with whatever was used to not-quite-clean it. Yuuri's mother would be appalled.

The prices are obscene, but when their treasured son left to train in a foreign country, Phichit's parents gave him a bank card that he's only supposed to use for food— but as long as it's food, they don't care about the prices or amounts, which is why Phichit's main contribution to the apartment budget is doing all the grocery shopping. Phichit is careful of the rest of his expenses and tracks his spending faithfully, but his mother grew up hungry and she will allow no limits on his food budget.

Phichit and Yuuri have made some very stupid restaurant choices because of that card.

(Yuuri isn't sure exactly what Phichit's family's situation is, and he would never ask in a million years. But the family wedding Phichit just returned from was attended by Thai royalty, so Yuuri gathers that the Chulanonts enjoy good fortune.)

Phichit skims through the laminated Chili's menu and asks for something called a Quesadilla Explosion Salad for the name alone, cackling gleefully over the deep-fried, sauce-drizzled mess in the photo. Yuuri orders baby back ribs and immediately feels like a monster, flopping face-down on the table and groaning the second the server leaves.

"What? One garbage dinner isn't going to hurt us," Phichit says.

Yuuri rolls his head to the side and stares balefully up at his friend.

"Or, okay, a couple of... days? of bad eating? still, that's— we have two months til Four Continents, it'll be fine!"

"I had beer and chips on New Year's Eve and just kept going," Yuuri confesses. "I had donuts this morning. All cheating all the time, all day every day, worse and worse. I want to eat everything on this menu and then I want to eat the menu, with all of this ketchup," Yuuri snags the condiment rack and hoards it against his chest, "and all this A1 sauce and a pitcher of watermelon margaritas. No. Two."

"We're not having margaritas, though. So hey, not so bad! Anyway, if you started at New Year's then it's only been three days," Phichit says. "Three days off to celebrate winning All-Japan, that's fair."

Yuuri grimaces. "It doesn't really feel like a win. I took the quad Salchow out of my short program and even without that, Victor said it was shaky—"

"I thought you kept saying he was so nice!"

"He is! He said nice stuff too. But it's like you said. While we're dating, he kind of has to say nice things and link my programs and all that. He's not going to say what he really thinks."

Phichit shakes his head. "You're the one who's read every profile and interview with him ever, I thought everyone complains he's always saying what he thinks even when it pisses people off."

"It doesn't really matter what he said or didn't say." Yuuri picks at the label on the ketchup bottle. "I know I shouldn't have downgraded anything. After blowing the Grand Prix, I should've been trying harder, not making my programs easier. It just proves I can't cut it at a higher level. I can't screw up like that at Four Continents. I have to land the Salchow in both programs. Seung-Gil Lee has a quad loop. J.J. Leroy's landing the quad Lutz!"

"Not in competition yet, either of them. Christophe Giacometti has a video posted of a solid quad Lutz he did in practice, but he hasn't landed it clean in competition yet either," Phichit ticks off on his fingers, "and Victor took it out of his free skate at Nationals, for whatever reason—"

"I told him to," Yuuri answers absently, still stuck on his regrets for All-Japan.

"Whoa! Seriously?" Phichit's eyes go saucer-shaped, fingers twitching toward his phone.

"No! I mean— not like that, I didn't tell him to, we were just talking and he said he had another version of the choreography without it, and I said I wanted to see it."

"So he just gave you a command performance," Phichit says. "Victor. Nikiforov."

Yuuri smothers his face against the table again. This time the noise that escapes him is more plaintive and high-pitched.

"You know this is the best thing ever to watch, right?" says Phichit. "Knowing that a few weeks ago, if you'd known this was coming, you would have lost your mind."

"Please stop!" Yuuri begs the table, slightly muffled, his glasses mashed into his face.

"How did it happen, anyway? I mean, you kind of told me? But not really."

"I don't know." Yuuri finally pushes himself to sit up again. He's resolved to lie to Phichit as little as possible, aside from the basic fiction that he and Victor are dating. So: "It was surprising. I guess it would be? That's his whole thing? He just came out and asked. I'm not sure what made him decide to try long-distance dating. But what was I going to say? 'I look up to you as a skater, and I like talking to you, and I think you're maybe the most beautiful person alive, but let's not date'? So I said yes."

Phichit tears the end off the wrapper of his straw and blows the paper tube across the table toward Yuuri; it falls short and lands in the condiment hutch. "I gotta say, I watched a couple of his interviews where they asked him, and it sounds way more romantic when he tells it." He lays a hand over his heart dramatically and does the universal Victor Nikiforov impression: hair toss, flirty smile, playful wink. His attempt at a Russian accent sounds like Despicable Me times a thousand: "We danced and I just knew."

All right, invention time. "Right, the— the banquet. I— um, I drank too much at first. But Christophe got everybody dancing," that seems likely, "and. Yeah. We danced. After that, I didn't feel great, and Victor was really nice about it, and we ended up talking. And then in the morning he came and found me and asked about dating."

"Must have been some talk! Or some dance," Phichit waggles his eyebrows. "Was there a pole involved?"

Yuuri has a disoriented moment, remembering his dream on the plane from Moscow: testing and trying out a pole in the ballroom. He shakes it off. "Why would there be a pole at a banquet?"

"That's not a no!"

Luckily their food arrives, and Phichit is thoroughly distracted with documenting his exploded salad for Instagram.

Yuuri feels intensely guilty about the ribs, about his blown diet in general, but it doesn't stop him for even a second before he dives into a sea of barbecue sauce and pork.

He won't be able to eat anything this messy in front of Victor— he's going to try to avoid eating around him at all. Or saying anything stupid, or blowing any jumps, or wearing anything tight or laughing weird or breathing funny. He'll be the best, fakest version of himself. For two weeks. No problem.

Still fiddling with his phone, Phichit says, "Everything else that happened, though. I mean, there's been a lot since I saw you last. Is there anything I can do?"

Yuuri swallows gratefully. No overt sympathy, Phichit knows better; he doesn't even look up. "Not really. It's okay. Thanks."

"Sure. Which filter looks better? This one, or— this one?"

"First one," Yuuri says, and steals a quesadilla strip off Phichit's plate now that he's photographed it.

"Hey!"

"I brought back more sake Kit-Kats," Yuuri says.

Phichit pushes his plate to the middle of the table. "What's mine is yours! And what's yours is mine. Do you have them with you?"

 


 

Vitya xx: ONE MORE DAY!
Vitya xx: Oh no, now that Les Miserables song is stuck in my head
Vitya xx: I loved that musical as a teenager
Vitya xx: In French! In English... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Vitya xx: Of course everyone skates to the English version -_-
Vitya xx: I didn't skate to it myself because I didn't want to get sick of the songs
Vitya xx: But then it happened anyway -_-;;
Vitya xx: Do you do that? Choose music you won't mind getting sick of
Vitya xx: After hearing it 10.000x
Vitya xx: Though it's hard to know ahead of time
Vitya xx: What can stand up to 10,000 listens vs. ...not
Vitya xx: I just remembered Phichit got back today!
Vitya xx: Hi Phichit! ^_^

Me: yes we just left the airport
Me: his flight was late bc of high winds
Me: and it's supposed to get worse
Me: so plan for that tomorrow maybe
Me: Phichit says hi ^_^
Me: music: my coach usually chooses
Me: since they're choreographing the programs it just makes sense
Me: Celestino gives me options to choose from
Me: I think more about whether I can connect to the music
Me: than about whether I'll get sick of it
Me: >_< that sounds pretentious

Vitya xx: No! Not at all
Vitya xx: I've been commissioning music to make sure it works for me
Vitya xx: So if anyone's pretentious... ^_^!
Vitya xx: Gosha always talks about connecting to the music too
Vitya xx: Yakov said once that if I had Gosha's feeling and he had my technique
Vitya xx: We'd add up to one good skater ^_^;
Vitya xx: It's one of the reasons he wanted us to train together under him
Vitya xx: Didn't quite work out that way

Me: no? but you both have excellent technique and you both skate with feeling

Vitya xx: Gosha's technique breaks down when he gets emotional
Vitya xx: As for me
Vitya xx: Eventually Yakov stopped shouting at me to FEEL THE MUSIC VITYA
Vitya xx: He said, we will work with the skater you are, not the skater you could be
Vitya xx: And maybe that worked! That year was Vancouver ^_^
Vitya xx: After that he said, now there will be no teaching you!
Vitya xx: And there wasn't ^_^ oh well!

Me: no teaching you what?

Vitya xx: Performing with emotion? Idk
Vitya xx: Not sure why he ever thought that could be taught

Me: but you're so expressive, how is that not emotional?

Vitya xx: I guess if I knew the difference, maybe I could do what he wanted!
Vitya xx: Maybe it's just that I don't relate to Gosha's kind of emotion
Vitya xx: I understand it better when I watch you
Vitya xx: Your Gohatto at nationals was so passionate <3
Vitya xx: So immediate. I never felt aware of the performance as a performance
Vitya xx: I just saw the story. Does that make sense?

Me: I think so?

Vitya xx: It's hard to find the right words for it in any language
Vitya xx: Let alone ramshackle English
Vitya xx: How did Nabokov do it!
Vitya xx: I'll think about it more
Vitya xx: For now, one more shopping trip
Vitya xx: I'll call you later! <3

Me: ok, talk to you then ^_^

 


 

"Wow," Phichit says when they get back to the apartment, "are you sure this is our place? I don't think it was this clean when we moved in."

"Probably not," Yuuri says grimly, leaving one of Phichit's rolling suitcases just inside the bedroom door. "I ran out of soap and bleach and baking soda, I had to go get more. Last night I cleaned inside all the cabinets and scrubbed the floor under the refrigerator."

"Uh. Why...?" Phichit asks, hefting the other suitcase onto his bed and rushing to the hamster cage to coo and make kissy faces at them.

"It was late, the rink was closed, it was too cold to go out and run, so..." Yuuri shrugs.

"So cleaning got way out of hand?"

"Out of hand would be repainting the walls," Yuuri says. "I thought about it, but I'd probably drip everywhere no matter how many tarps I put down, and it would smell weird. Plus we might not get our damage deposit back. It's just... I don't know exactly what he's used to, but it's probably not this."

Phichit looks around at their low-end student housing: chipped baseboards, beige walls, brown carpet that looks dirty no matter what they do to it. "Guess not. But how much time are you really going to spend here, anyway? Aren't you guys mostly going to hang out at his hotel?"

"I'm not!"

"I don't mean staying the night, it's none of my business if you do or you don't—"

"What? It was practically the first thing you asked me—"

"But he's coming all this way to spend time with you. Probably not to hang out with you and your roommate and your roommate's adorable hamsters, hi babies! Come on out! Yes! I missed you too! Did you give them any time out since you got back? Where are the other hamster balls?"

"They've been out a few times. I put their balls away in the closet."

"Did you clean these too? Nice! Wait, did you put bleach in them?"

"No, it was all pet-safe stuff, I checked."

"Yuuri! Thanks," Phichit starts to reach for a hug, and stops short. "Sorry, sorry. At the wedding it was a nonstop hugfest, I got back in the habit." He gives Yuuri's shoulder two deliberate pats instead, and goes back to fussing over his hamsters. "Hey, did you see Zach? I asked him and Tyler to come look in on them while we were gone. I kind of implied I didn't know exactly when you'd be back, so I bet Zach was hanging around a lot and taking really good care of these kids, in case you showed up."

"I didn't see him here. He invited me next door for New Year's Eve."

"Did you break it to him about Victor?"

"What do you mean, break it to him, why would he care?" At Phichit's elaborate eye-roll, Yuuri shrugs, "It came up. They were showing highlights of Victor's performance on TV."

"You went? Wowwww. Did you at least give him a little kiss at midnight?"

"No! I left before then."

"Aw, poor Zach."

It's Yuuri's turn to roll his eyes. "Will you stop? I don't think he even likes guys! He said he didn't think Victor is hot."

"I like guys and I don't think Victor is hot. Hey, put that glare away! I know he's good-looking, I'm just not into the whole tall, Russian, weird hair thing. Here, come look," Phichit bounces onto his bed and beckons Yuuri over. "Your love life's all sorted out now, so let's do mine. You can help me pick. See, I'm trying to decide between these two."

"Just two?" Yuuri joins him.

Phichit calls up his gallery. "This is Taito, and that's Jun-yeong. I met Jun-yeong in English class. Taito's friends with Malaki— from the hockey team? It's hard to choose! Jun-yeong is really gorgeous. Look, I have so many good shots of him! But I think maybe Taito and I look cuter together? What do you think?"

"I think maybe you shouldn't pick a guy based on whether he's going to look good on your Instagram posts?"

Phichit sighs at him. "Yuuri. These guys are my two finalists out of, like... fifteen guys. They're both smart and cool and funny and nice and have their shit together. So, you know..." he waves his phone. "Tie-breaker."

"Taito," Yuuri says. "If you think you look cute together, pick him. Cute together is better than gorgeous alone."

"Good call. Good philosophy," Phichit says. "Is that how you decided to go out with Victor? You did look cute together in those parking lot photos. Though I know you also think he's gorgeous alone, since— wait, where's all your posters? You know, when you start dating someone, you're supposed to put pictures of them up, not take them down!"

"I only had one poster," Yuuri says, choosing his battles.

"And a calendar."

"Last year. I didn't put one up for this year!" He did buy this year's calendar, of course, back in November, but he never hung it up.

And he won't be able to after all this is over, will he? Everyone will think Victor is his ex, so that would make it weird. He'll have to hide his entire Victor Nikiforov collection, down to his skate guard bag and coffee cup. That sucks.

Yuuri's not sure what it says about him that this, out of everything, makes him most regret his agreement with Victor.

Nothing good, definitely.

 


 

"I am done with New York!" Victor announces when he calls, early in the evening.

"That's good," says Yuuri, "since you fly out tomorrow."

Phichit mouths Victor? and Yuuri nods. He's not really surprised that Phichit found this year's Victor calendar— Yuuri couldn't bring himself to throw it out, and with all his cleaning lately, he moved it a lot, and didn't hide it very well. He's even less surprised when Phichit theatrically thumbs through it, angling it so Yuuri can't help seeing the photos.

There's Victor in the Redeemer costume, mussed and glowing right after a performance; there's Victor with long hair in shining white and silver, from his last year in Juniors; there he is at the Sochi Olympics, shrugging off his red and white jacket to reveal his glittering sea blue costume with Jean-Paul Gaultier-inspired laces stitching up the sleeves and across the chest.

Meanwhile on the phone, Victor is saying, "Everyone here is complaining nonstop about the so-called cold. It's ridiculous! It's three degrees, that's barely chilly."

"I get cold when it's below six."

"—Oh," says Victor. "Well. Hm." Yuuri can't remember hearing him so thoroughly thrown off, not in all their phone calls, not in years of interviews.

Yuuri relents. "It's been around three here too, and it's really windy. Phichit's flight was delayed, and the wind's still high, so if there are delays tomorrow, that's probably why. Your flight might run late, too."

"Oh, I hope not. We've waited so long already!"

He sounds so earnest that Yuuri wonders if someone's with him and he feels he has to put on a show of enthusiasm for his audience. Yuuri wouldn't dream of asking who else is there, so he just changes the subject. "How did your shopping trip go?"

"Great! I had the hardest time coming up with gifts for you two. Host gifts are usually food or drinks, aren't they? Only I wasn't sure what you'd like, or what you could fit into your diet plans. But I had another idea, and today I found what I was looking for!"

"You don't have to get us anything, Victor," says Yuuri, a little alarmed. "I mean, we didn't get anything for you—"

"You got me flowers!"

"Those were for your birthday!"

"All right, then so are these. A late birthday present for you and an early one for Phichit."

This is probably a lost cause, but Yuuri at least has to ask, "It's not expensive, is it?"

"Oh, no, it's nothing really. I just hate to come empty-handed. But you know," Victor says, "if you want to give me something..."

Even knowing the insinuating tone doesn't really mean anything, Yuuri's ears go hot. It doesn't help that Phichit opened the calendar to Yuuri's favorite picture— Victor in a layback Ina Bauer, his body arched and taut, expression blissed and rapturous— and is now tacking it up on the wall. "Um. Yes?"

"Everything's been so busy, I forgot about that dating questionnaire thing I sent you! You could give me that!"

"Oh, sorry, I forgot about it too," Yuuri lies. Actually, for the last several days while cleaning, he's been hosting an infuriating internal debate about that questionnaire, telling himself that he should pick it up again and finish answering it, then telling himself that Victor has most likely forgotten all about it and probably didn't care about the answers in the first place, and it would be awkward to suddenly resurrect it. "Sure, I can— I can do that."

"I'm going to read it again on the plane and maybe answer a few. I think I do better talking than writing things down, though. We can go through it when I'm there. It'll be fun!"

"Yes," Yuuri agrees sincerely. He can't count how many interviews with Victor he's chased down and eagerly read over the years, and Victor's never really talked about some things on that list of questions.

There's a chime on Victor's side of the call, and a muttered "Yebat kopat." And more normally, "I just had a text from the hotel. They left me voicemail yesterday, I had to call to confirm my reservation, or they said they'd give the room to someone else. Now I have to confirm again? Is something going on there?"

"I don't know. Maybe?" Yuuri relays the question to Phichit, who's always so much more tuned into everything than Yuuri is.

"Lions versus Packers!" says Phichit. At Yuuri's no doubt blank look in response, he scoffs, "How long have you lived here now? Football! There's a big football game this weekend."

"Big football game," Yuuri reports back to Victor.

"Is football popular there?"

"I guess? I don't really know."

"Will you just put him on speaker?" Phichit chides him. "Hearing your half of this is driving me crazy. Whatever he's asking about, I bet I know."

"I heard that," says Victor. "Go ahead, put me on speaker." Once Yuuri does, Victor says, "So Phichit, you have the answers?"

"Go for it," says Phichit.

Smirk audible in his voice, Victor says, "Will Yuuri come stay with me at the hotel while I'm visiting?"

"Never mind! I'm out!" Phichit grabs his own phone and disappears into the living room.

Somewhere in New York, Victor Nikiforov is snickering to himself. Yuuri chews his lip.

"Do you really think..." he trails off, not sure how to put it. Do they really need to go that far? How involved is this going to get?

Yuuri isn't sure he wants to corner Victor into thinking it through. If he really thought about it, Victor probably wouldn't come to Detroit at all.

"I'm just giving him a hard time. If you do come to the hotel, I booked a suite, it has two rooms. I'm not pushing for anything, this is just about spending time together."

"I know that," Yuuri replies, nettled. He's not an idiot. He doesn't need Victor to remind him this isn't real. As if Yuuri would ever, ever let himself forget.

"We only really had one weekend in person together so far! I'm not planning to do anything we can't put on Instagram."

"Right." Yuuri looks at the calendar again, at Victor's perfect body curving gracefully back, Victor's flawless profile, the pure sculptural beauty of him. Yuuri knows better than to imagine he'll ever lay his greasy porky fingers on all that.

"Did you have other ideas?" Victor asks, voice sinking to a playful purr. "I did promise to be adventurous. I can still bring kneepads."

Is he joking? Is he offering—? He has to be kidding, but the possibility that he might throw Yuuri a pity fuck is completely horrifying. "No! No, you—" Yuuri gathers himself. "Nothing you can't put on Instagram. That... sounds right."

"Okay, zaichik. Whatever you want."

"My phone's dying," Yuuri invents, "I need to shut down and plug in. See you tomorrow?"

"See you then. Good night, Yuuri."

"Good night."

 


 

 

After a much-needed shower to recover from his phone call with Victor, Yuuri goes to check on his phone— it really was getting low— so at least he has it in hand when the battery icon goes dark, along with every other light and sound in the apartment.

"Whoa!" Phichit's voice comes from the front room.

"What did you plug in?"

"Nothing!"

"Or turn on?"

"Nothing, I was on my phone, I'm nowhere near an outlet!"

Yuuri activates his flashlight app and goes to poke at the fuse box and reset the circuit breakers, but none of them are off.

"Streetlights are out too," Phichit says. "It's really quiet. I think it's the whole neighborhood."

Yuuri digs out the emergency candle to save their phone batteries for communication rather than light. It smells like fake pine, because he picked it up during an after-Christmas sale, but it has three wicks and brightens the room while they ponder what to do next.

After twenty minutes of increasingly quick and sparing glances at their phones, they learn from Twitter that their entire area is in a blackout.

"Gale force winds," Phichit reads. "What does that mean?"

"It means over a thousand downed power lines have been reported to the power company," Yuuri reads from DTE on Facebook. "The wind blew a lot of trees over, I guess."

"Shouldn't those things be treeproofed?"

"How would they do that?"

"I don't know, but somebody should have figured it out. I'm down to 30% battery and it's getting cold in here."

In the end, they shut themselves and the hamster cage and all their blankets into what used to be Brenden's room, and bundle up together on the massive bed that takes up almost the entire floor space.

With the dregs of his dwindling battery, Yuuri texts Victor.

 


Me: power is out here bc of windstorm

Vitya xx: !!! Are you ok?

Me: fine
Me: a lot of Detroit lost power tho
Me: might affect your flight

Vitya xx: I'll let you know if it's delayed
Vitya xx: Will your phone last that long? Do you know how long til it's fixed?

Me: we don't know and my phone will die in about... 30 min

Vitya xx: ((((((

Me: Phichit has a battery boost thing so his might still be alive
Me: but if power is still out tomorrow
Me: he'll probably turn phone off to save batt
Me: only turn on to check in
Me: so we won't see things right away

Vitya xx: Ok ((((

Me: it's inconvenient but we're ok
Me: and maybe it'll be back on soon
Me: just wanted to let you know in case it affects flights
Me: shutting down now to save battery

Vitya xx: Ok! Let me know if there's anything I can do
Vitya xx: Take care of yourselves! <3

Me: ty seeyou


Me: good morning
Me: power still out

Vitya xx: ((((((

Me: our place is v cold so we're at the airport already
Me: keeping warm, charging up all our stuff

Vitya xx: Good plan!
Vitya xx: I'm all packed, leaving for JFK in an hour
Vitya xx: Since you're plugged in now we could do Skype or phone call?
Vitya xx: If you want me to keep you company ^_^

Me: too loud /o\
Me: we weren't the only ones w this idea, it's crowded /o\

Vitya xx: (((( Ok

Me: anyway you'll be here soon

Vitya xx: Yes! (•ᴗ•)


Vitya xx: Problem
Vitya xx: Hotel just called again
Vitya xx: This time no confirmation will help, they're giving away the room
Vitya xx: Reservation canceled bc emergency conditions
Vitya xx: Is it really that bad there?

Me: I guess in some places maybe?

Vitya xx: I offered to take something smaller but they're completely booked

Me: I'm looking at the local news and yeah
Me: earliest estimate to get full power back is Friday
Me: so szome places may not have power for 2 more days
Me: ppl are getting hotel rooms to have heat

Vitya xx: My flight is boarding in— actually just started
Vitya xx: Are there other hotels I can try?

Me: I'll call around and see if I can get you something

Vitya xx: Do you need anything for that? Credit card?

Me: !!! DO NOT TEXT YOUR CREDIT CARD NUMBER !!!
Me: HOW ARE YOU STILL ALIVE

Vitya xx: Just lucky I guess ^_^;;;
Vitya xx: Ok off til they say we can use phones again! <3


Vitya xx: Finally! Wifi! Any news?

Me: not yet. so far hotels all sold out
Me: bc football + some business convention + power outage
Me: a lot of ppl are trying to find rooms
Me: there's a news crew here interviewing ppl stranded at the airport

Vitya xx: >_<!
Vitya xx: Jsyk I would rather sleep on your floor than the airport
Vitya xx: I don't care how supposedly cold it is

Me: we wouldn't put you on the floor!
Me: we have a 2nd bedroom it's just very small

Vitya xx: I promise I won't complain!
Vitya xx: Maybe I'm spoiled but
Vitya xx: I've spent too many hours camping out in airports
Vitya xx: The idea of sleeping there... (。•́︿•̀。)

Me: that won't happen don't worry
Me: I'll keep looking but if there's no hotel rooms
Me: you can stay w us

Vitya xx: <3!


 

In a way, the hotel room crisis makes things easier for Yuuri. He can't work himself into a panic again over Victor's impending arrival when he's completely occupied with trying to find a room for him.

Of course, calling two dozen hotels and getting a "no" every single time is its own stress nightmare, and a few times Yuuri gets so frustrated that he has to leave Phichit with their stuff and go jog up and down stairs to burn off excess emotion. But he doesn't really believe it's a lost cause until he realizes he's calling hotels so far away that the phone numbers have a different area code— and they don't have any vacancies either.

"Umm," Yuuri says finally, and passes his phone to Phichit to show him the last text conversation with Victor.

"Vitya?" Phichit asks, confused.

"It's like a nickname."

"I don't know how you get Vitya from Victor. Vic, that's a nickname."

"It's a whole thing in Russia, they have different versions of everyone's names depending on the relationship you have with them," says Yuuri, struggling to explain without also betraying how much time he spent as a teenager studying Russian etiquette and memorizing all the variations on Victor's name, as if he would ever in a million years be invited to call him Vitenka.

"Oooh! So what kind of relationship uses Vitya?"

"Just any kind of friendly— I think you're missing the point, did you read what we said?"

"Sure. He's crashing with us?"

"Is that okay? I kind of... didn't ask you first."

Phichit scowls comically at him. "He was worried we'd leave him at the airport! Of course you had to tell him he could come to our place! It's fine. When you said you weren't going to his hotel, I expected him to be at our place all the time for the next two weeks. He's your boyfriend!"

"He's not—"

"Okay, okay, not boyfriend. Your dating partner. Prospective boyfriend."

Yuuri makes the mistake of checking the arrival board, and his breath leaves him in a wheeze. "He'll be here in forty minutes."

"I know! I'm so excited for you!"

"Why did I agree to this," Yuuri whimpers, because he is a complete failure in all things. It's sheer luck that Phichit assumes he means the visit and doesn't question what Yuuri actually agreed to.

"It's going to be fine," says Phichit. "It's going to be great! Even the power outage could kind of work out for you, it's a great excuse to snuggle up."

Yuuri gurgles in distress, curls up into the smallest ball he can manage and earnestly attempts to disappear.

When that doesn't work, he races for the bathroom to change out of his slumpy comfortable clothes and into the jeans and sweater he brought, the nicest he has, though that only means they're from Target instead of Marshalls. Why didn't Yuuri go shopping? He had time. He has... some money. Not a lot.

He added his prize from All-Japan into his budget, and thanks to that, he can cover his expenses through the end of the semester, with some breathing room. He tried to send a little home, but his parents wouldn't take it. Buy yourself something nice, they said, or keep it in case of an emergency. He could have invested it in some better clothes.

But dressing well for Victor's visit isn't an emergency, even if it feels that way right now. It's not like Victor is actually going to care what Yuuri wears or what he looks like, anyway. It doesn't matter that his hair's sticking up all over the place, that his nicest sweater probably cost less than Victor's shoelaces. Yuuri makes a token attempt to style his hair and cleans his glasses and wishes for the thousandth time that contacts didn't feel like suction cups attached to his eyeballs. He takes his glasses off again to wash his face and ends up pink and blotchy and worse somehow.

Yuuri gives up and goes to collect Phichit and all their stuff, and they move to wait near Victor's gate. The traffic coming through the doors increases as new arrivals leave their plane.

"This isn't really happening, is it?" he asks Phichit dizzily. "We're not really here to pick up Victor Nikiforov. We're just here to charge our phones."

"You are here to pick up your date, Victor Nikiforov," says Phichit. "I'm just here for my phone."

Yuuri has no chance to wheeze or ball up again. Victor's nearly six feet tall with unique silvery-blond hair, easy to spot right away when he turns a corner and heads toward them.

His eyes lock onto Yuuri's through the glass doors, and he smiles, huge and immediate. Yuuri has no choice but to grin helplessly back and raise a hand to greet him.

Victor waves back, sweeping his entire arm through the air and bouncing on his toes. His other arm cradles an enormous bouquet of roses.

A wave of people crashes through the doors and breaks apart on the rocks of the waiting crowd. Just behind them, Victor walks through, and Yuuri takes a few thoughtless steps toward him like he's literally magnetized.

Once he clears the doors, Victor marches straight to Yuuri and hugs him, the flowers half-crushed between them in a sudden burst of fragrance. He's here. He's real. Yuuri hugs him back gingerly, trying so hard not to be weird about it, even while he can't help screaming internally: that's his shoulder blade! That's his waist! It's really him!

"Yuuri! It's so good to see you again. Finally!" Victor says, leaning back a little to look at him. His eyes looked bright blue from a distance, but up close it's a softer color. He smells faintly spicy, but also a little minty, and he's so impossibly beautiful. "These are for you, of course. I hope you're not sick of flowers."

"No... they're pretty, thank you," Yuuri answers, as Victor offloads the bouquet onto him. Several blue roses are nestled in the center, surrounded by more roses shading from dark velvety red and deep orange and gold near the middle to delicate pink and yellow and white along the outside.

"They were all going to be blue, but just because those are my favorites doesn't mean they're yours." Victor adjusts a bowed bloom. "So I asked for two of every other color they had, too."

"Um. Why two?" It's really kind of an unreasonably large bouquet.

"I didn't want any of them to be lonely," says Victor. "And Phichit! Hello! Good to meet you in person! I watched your short program from the SEA Figure Skating Challenge this week, you were great! I love how you connected with the crowd. I remember that from your programs at Skate Canada too-- great showmanship."

"Thank you!" Phichit says, so much more self-possessed than Yuuri would be in the face of praise like that. Yuuri would also immediately start worrying that his free skate must have been awful for Victor to only mention his SP, but Phichit seems untroubled. "How was New York?"

"Hectic. I'm so glad to be here. Sorry about all these last-minute changes, I know this isn't what we planned."

"It's fine," Yuuri assures him. He's trying not to wind himself up even more, but it's so different to have Victor here— it's shocking. Yuuri isn't short, but Victor is several inches taller, and broad-shouldered, and perfect, and Yuuri kind of wants to duck behind a pillar and watch him from a safe distance. Ugh, that's so creepy. Yuuri is a creep and Victor can never know it.

Victor looks around with a dancy little spin. "Which way to the baggage claim?"

"How tired are you?" Phichit asks seriously. "There's a tunnel with a light show."

Equally serious, Victor asks, "Is it cool?"

"Yes!"

"Then let's see it!"

Yuuri expects Victor to be tolerant at best of the impromptu tour Phichit gives him, since there are exactly two things in the airport questionably worth looking at: the huge fountain, with its spears of water arcing over black stone, and the tunnel, lined with LEDs that pulse in different colors in time with knockoff club music.

But Victor exclaims over the fountain— "Oh, it's like a flight map, that's so cool!" And he loves the light show, joining Phichit for what feels like thousands of selfies and a couple of short videos in the tunnel. Both of them drag Yuuri into most of the pictures. Fortunately he has the huge bouquet to mostly hide behind.

When he refuses to dance with them for a video, Victor actually sticks out his lower lip and pouts.

"You're twenty-seven," Yuuri says, stupid, automatic.

Victor pouts more and gives him huge waifish sad eyes.

When he looks like that, he seems less like Living Legend Victor Nikiforov Who Has Papered Yuuri's Walls For Mumble-Mumble Years and more like Vitya xx, Yuuri's silly, excitable texting friend.

That's the only explanation for why Yuuri feels remotely capable of raising his voice over the tinny oom-cha-oom-cha of the music to nearly shout, "Twenty-seven! When you said your birthday was just another day I didn't realize that means you don't even acknowledge you got any older!"

"What does being twenty-seven have to do with anything?" Victor asks.

"That face!" He brandishes the bouquet accusingly. "You can't pout like that. You're an adult. You pay taxes!"

"So?" Victor brushes the roses aside. "Everyone pays taxes. You pay taxes."

"No, you pay taxes," Yuuri shakes the flowers at him.

"No, you pay taxes!" Victor laughs, pushing the roses back toward him.

Phichit, who is inevitably recording the whole thing with his phone, says, "And this is an argument about who's more grown-up?"

A significant part of Yuuri's brain is seizing up at the impossibility of this even as it's happening, but the rest of him is busy returning Victor's grin and saying in unison with him, "He is," as they point at each other.

Starry-eyed, Phichit ends the video and clutches his phone to his chest. "You two are going to be trending tomorrow from my Insta."

"I don't know," Victor says, tapping his finger against his chin. "Should we make sure, Yuuri?" He steps closer, resting his hands over Yuuri's around the bouquet, and his voice drops. "Can I steal a kiss?"

"You don't have to," Yuuri says. They don't need to document a kiss for Instagram to keep the dating fiction going, not when Victor's already taking time out of his season just to come here, with a hundred photos already to prove it.

"Good," Victor murmurs, leaning toward him. Yuuri freezes; Victor seems to notice, hesitating where he is, close, meeting Yuuri's eyes. "I wouldn't want to be a kiss thief," he says solemnly.

Just as quietly, Yuuri answers, "Do you think you're making sense when you say things like that? Or do you just open your mouth and words fall out?"

"Maybe it's a language thing. Lost in translation," Victor says. Every word is a breath of heat just half an inch from Yuuri's lips and it's maddening. "We'll work on it—"

Yuuri kisses him. His mind starts screaming at him in red alert instantly, because he has no idea what he's doing.

Their kiss in the elevator a few weeks ago wasn't just memorable because it was Victor Nikiforov. It was also the first kiss Yuuri's ever had that felt the way kisses are supposed to feel, or at least how songs and movies make it seem like kisses should feel: breathtaking, overwhelming. Yuuri doesn't know how to kiss like that.

It doesn't matter. Victor's hands tighten over his on the bouquet, and while Yuuri is still coping with what that does to him, Victor tilts his head to some mysterious precise angle that fits their lips together perfectly, and the kiss goes from awkward to gentle and tingly, just like that. Victor doesn't push it further, and Yuuri has used up all his dumb courage for the day, so that's as far as it goes: the feeling of Victor's mouth warm against his, and Victor's tiny pleased hum, because Victor is not fair at all.

He proves it again a few seconds later when he breaks the kiss, and reaches up to resettle Yuuri's glasses on his nose. "I don't know why you're looking at me like that," he smiles. "You kissed me."

"You made me!" Yuuri says.

"How? Mind control?"

"You breathed on me," Yuuri hisses, fully aware he's being ridiculous.

"Do you kiss everyone who breathes on you?" Victor asks innocently. "I'll have to warn everybody off while I'm here, then, so they don't get too close. We don't want them wandering into breathing and kissing range."

Keeping his voice down, Yuuri says, "Can we not-- do a jealousy thing too? That's just... it'd be weird."

Victor straightens, pushing his hair back, though when he lets it go, it falls right back into place. "Sure, okay," he offers a smile.

"Thanks."

Looking over to Phichit, Victor asks, "Did you get that?"

Phichit flashes a thumbs-up. Yuuri stifles a groan. There's no point complaining that they're going to put it out in public view. This is exactly what Yuuri agreed to, back in Sochi.

 


 

They meander in the general direction of baggage claim, with plenty of detours. Victor pokes around with enthusiasm, looking into the shops that are the same shops in every airport around the world, Swarovski, Estée Lauder, The Body Shop, L'Occitane, the duty free. He even stops in the cheesy DETROIT! shop with local souvenirs.

"Sorry if it's boring," Yuuri says. He's trying not to stare, so he ends up pinning his gaze on Victor's gloves, or his scarf, anything to stop himself from mooning over the sight of him like a creeper. "We're killing time, a little, hoping the power comes back on. It's pretty cold at the apartment."

"Is there anything we can do about that?"

"Not really. We insulated the windows in your room so it shouldn't be too bad in there. The water heater is on the other side of the guest room wall, and it's gas-powered, so there's some heat from that."

Victor frowns a little. "Yuuri, I'm not taking the only warm room in your apartment."

"You're the guest, you get the guest room," says Yuuri. "Any other time, you wouldn't thank us for it. It's tiny."

"As small as your Tokyo hotel room?"

"Smaller."

"I don't know if I believe that," Victor grins, sliding his arm around Yuuri's waist, hand on his hip. "You'll have to do the splits in this room too, so I can compare it to the photo. Do you have those track pants handy?"

And then he tugs on the belt loop of Yuuri's jeans. It's by far the most casually sexy thing that's ever happened to Yuuri.

Yuuri's body goes glacial without his conscious intervention. He freezes so fast and so completely that Victor looks taken aback.

"No?" he asks, easing away an inch or two.

"A little close," Yuuri croaks.

Victor moves a little further away and moves his hand from Yuuri's waist to his shoulder. "Better?"

"That's, sure. Yes. Good," says Yuuri.

"I think Brookstone marked up their hand-crank emergency lights even more, those dicks," Phichit says, rejoining them. "We should just stop at Bed Bath and Beyond on the way back, I think they have them there."

"We have the candle," Yuuri says.

"We have one candle for three people who probably aren't going to want to spend every second all in the same place until whenever we get power again. We need at least one other light."

"Sorry," Yuuri apologizes to Victor again, "that'll be dull too."

"Not to me. It's been years since I've been here and I never really got to look around," Victor says. "I know it's familiar to you by now, but I've never seen any of this stuff like," he sweeps a gesture around at the DETROIT! store and plucks a package from the nearest shelf, "—Michigan Moose Poop. Am I reading that right? Oh, it's chocolate."

"Okay, okay," says Yuuri from behind his hands, "just... put that down, please."

"I am actually a little hungry, though," says Victor, weighing it in his hand. "Oh, but American chocolate really is shit, isn't it? I remember that much." He puts the package back. "If we're killing time, we should have dinner here! I've always seen these crazy restaurants and I could never go in! One cheat night isn't going to hurt us, right?"

"Um. Right," says Yuuri.

 


 

They pick up Victor's luggage first, and roll it to the SkyTeam hub— Victor advertises for them in Russia, so of course he has a gold membership. They each get a large suitcase, and Yuuri asks, "I thought you packed light...?"

"I did," says Victor. "That one's half-empty."

They drop off his bags and Yuuri's bouquet, and after going over the list of restaurants with him, they take Victor to TGI Friday's.

He loves it. He loves the stupid name when they explain it to him. He loves the red and white awnings, the loud interior, the fake memorabilia crusted all over the walls.

"This is exactly what everyone back home thinks America looks like everywhere," he says happily, snapping photos. "Wow, is it really a thousand calories just for chicken tenders? What do they do to them? Let's get hot wings, I've never had them! Does everything here have Jack Daniels in it? Do they do that at other restaurants?"

"I think this place has a deal with Jack Daniels to put it in everything," Phichit says. "What else is new to you?"

It turns out Victor has never had: nachos, quesadillas, margaritas, daiquiris, barbecue ribs, anything Cajun, or anything buffalo flavored— and the term "buffalo flavor" confuses him and makes them realize they don't know what it means either.

"It was invented in a city named Buffalo," Phichit reads from his phone.

"Oh, is that all? I was hoping they used to use that sauce on buffalo meat," Victor says. "Let's get some anyway, I want to try it. For all I know I could get them in St. Petersburg, but I don't go to many restaurants."

"Oh?" Yuuri asks, trying not to sound too interested, but part of him still craves every little bit of insight into Victor's life.

"I have a few nice places I like to take people when they're in town," he says, "you know, the composers and designers I work with, my agent, sponsors... but it's just easier to stick to my diet plan at home. My nutritionist recommended this app to track what I eat, and restaurant food is hard to put into it since they don't always say what's in it."

"Can I see the app?" Phichit bounces a little, and eagerly receives Victor's phone.

Victor goes back to the menu. "Should we just get a lot of things to try, and take leftovers home?"

"Our refrigerator's not running," Yuuri reminds him.

"Yeah, but our stove is electric too, so we can't cook anything," Phichit says. "Leftovers should still be okay tomorrow even if they're not refrigerated."

Yuuri surrenders to the inevitable, and Victor and Phichit order buffalo wings, mozzarella sticks, sliders, nachos, a Jack Daniels sampler with barbecue ribs, chicken, and shrimp, plus a margarita and a daiquiri. Yuuri can feel himself packing on pounds just listening to them recite everything to the server.

"We're going to need the calories if there's no heat tonight," Victor says. "Your body uses a lot of energy to stay warm."

"Really?" Yuuri asks.

"That's what I plan to say if anyone catches me," Victor smiles at him. "I wouldn't even look at this stuff if there weren't an ocean between me and my coach and my nutritionist." He shakes his head. "That's such a weird relationship, isn't it? I mean, I pay them to tell me not to eat these things, and then I sneak off and do it behind their backs, as if it wasn't my idea in the first place."

"Oh," Yuuri says, struck. "That's true."

When the food comes, he tries to find some tidy way to help eat ten pounds of fried finger foods, but he's too nervous to do more than nibble, and there's no way he's touching the alcohol.

Victor, meanwhile, digs in with gusto and quickly ends up with a face full of buffalo sauce and barbecue glaze. "Vkusno!" he beams, still chewing. He slurps swallows of margarita when the buffalo sauce stings his mouth. It's disconcerting, but also strangely a little cute.

He's addressing the sauce situation with wet wipes when he notices Yuuri's plate of anxiously deconstructed mozzarella sticks. "You're so responsible, Yuuri," he says.

"Oh, um. Not... really." Yuuri avoids looking at Phichit.

"You are!" Victor drops his voice, confiding. "I'm not usually like this, you know. This is the first time I've gone off my approved foods list in— at least a year, I think, maybe longer."

"Really?"

"And I'll have to stick to it for the rest of the visit, with Europeans in a month— a little less, now. But... I don't know." His smile goes softer. "You make me want to live a little more."

"Oh em gee," Phichit mutters, fingers flying over his phone.

"—Are you live-tweeting dinner?" Yuuri asks.

"Snapchat," Phichit answers, and takes a photo.

 


 

 

Victor and Phichit briefly duel with their credit cards when the bill comes, but Phichit doesn't really try that hard, and Victor pays, refusing the cash they try to give him: "You're saving me from paying for a hotel! It's the least I can do." Phichit takes their wrapped-up leftovers and goes to charge their phones up to 100% again near the taxi stand; Yuuri and Victor head back to SkyTeam and pick up their things before they follow and meet him there.

"Are you sure it's all right for me to stay with you?" Victor asks as they navigate the crowds. "I know I said I didn't want to stay at the airport, but I forgot there's a SkyTeam hub here. They can probably find something for me."

"It's okay. Like I said, we have a room you can use. You won't want to stay there any longer than you have to, but it should be okay for a night or two." There, he said that mostly like a normal person.

"I did say I thought a sleepover would be fun," Victor smiles. "Though... the downside is that the first few dates are supposed to have a little more mystery, aren't they? If we're starting out in the same place, it cuts down on some of the surprise. There's meant to be anticipation and butterflies... dressing up, going out, making a special occasion out of it."

"If I made a list of why I hate the idea of dating," Yuuri says, "all those things would be at the top."

Victor looks at him, wide-eyed. "Really?"

Yuuri fixes his gaze straight ahead. Victor already knows what a mess he is; the damage is done. And it doesn't matter anyway. "Anticipation just gives me more time to get stressed out and nervous. I don't get 'butterflies,' I get queasy. And turning it into a big deal occasion... I'd worry the whole time that I was going to ruin it somehow."

"Wow."

"You already knew from our phone calls during Nationals that I'm not great with tension."

"You don't have to be tense with me," Victor says, running his fingers down Yuuri's sleeve and gathering Yuuri's hand in his.

"I guess," Yuuri mutters. It's not real, so he shouldn't get worked up about it. In any sense. "You're still you, though."

He looks adorably puzzled. "I don't follow?"

"It doesn't matter if this isn't—" Yuuri jumps as a motorized cart beeps its horn just ahead of them. "Um. It doesn't—" The open cart growls loudly as it approaches, carrying passengers down the concourse. Foot traffic has to move out of its way, so Yuuri and Victor end up in a tight crowd along the sides as the cart passes by. To be heard over the noise, he'd have to raise his voice and shout about their fake dating arrangement in the middle of all these people, which misses the point in a rather spectacular way.

He shuts his eyes, shaking his head. "Never mind."

Victor smiles, nonplussed, and leads them gracefully through the throngs of people, still holding Yuuri's hand.

 

Chapter Text

Yuuri is so very, very ready to leave the airport. Not only because he and Phichit have spent hours here already, but because he vividly recalls Victor's texts saying that he's spent too much time stuck in airports in the course of his career. He hates the idea of keeping Victor somewhere he doesn't want to be.

"Can we please just wait five more minutes?" Phichit asks. "I've almost got my battery booster up to 100%."

"We've been here all day!" Yuuri says around his double armful of roses, reluctant to put down the bouquet now that he has it back. "How is it still not charged?"

"I kind of bought another one."

"Oh, I should have done that," says Victor.

"Got you covered!" says Phichit with satisfaction. "When I say I bought another one I mean I bought three. Don't give me that look, Yuuri, this is an emergency!"

"Five minutes," Yuuri gives in with a sigh, and then he worries that he sounds petulant in front of Victor, on top of his worry that Victor is bored and wishing he'd never come here.

"I know what we can do while we wait! I should give you these gifts while we can see them," says Victor, rummaging in his carry-on. "The power cut sort of makes them pointless for now, but I hope you like them anyway."

The package he hands Yuuri is so pretty that Yuuri doesn't even want to open it. The wrapping paper looks burnished and expensive, with a fabric ribbon pinned by a gold rosette. He tries to pry up the tape with his stubby fingernails without dropping his flowers.

Phichit, meanwhile, just rips into his to uncover a book in Thai. "Oh, hey! I heard good things about this," he smirks at Yuuri.

"Great!" says Victor, with a pleased little bounce on his toes. "It's one of my favorite books, and when I found out it's been translated into Japanese and Thai, I thought maybe that was a sign it would make a good gift."

Yuuri finally peels apart the ribbon and paper on his own book; it's the Japanese translation of The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. That explains Phichit's mischievous look. Yuuri already has a creased and beaten copy in English. He bought it years ago when Victor mentioned in an interview that he liked it.

"Thank you," he says, clutching it to his chest alongside the roses. "You really didn't have to. It's thoughtful of you." Part of him wants to ask Victor to sign it. He's got to stop being weird.

"Oh, good," says Victor. "I brought a couple of bottles of Żubrówka in my checked luggage, too, in case the books didn't go over." He winks at Yuuri. "Don't tell Stolichnaya."

Yuuri tries not to think about it, but, no, of course his mind blares the memory at him in full color with surround sound: Victor's ad for Stolichnaya vodka, which begins with him saying in sultry tones to the camera, "Here's one Russian you can get your hands on tonight," then offering a bottle of Stoli with some lines about pride and authenticity that Yuuri never really hears because he's still reeling from the bedroom eyes and low, sexy voice.

He busies himself rolling the wrapping paper into a tube and tying it with the ribbon. When he looks up, Victor's studying him.

It's probably just his beet-red blush attracting that look, but a little surge of panic has him bringing a hand to his mouth. "Do I have something on my face?" If he does, it's been there since dinner, disgusting—

"No." Victor laughs a little and lifts a hand toward Yuuri's hair, then blinks when Yuuri shifts away slightly. He doesn't even mean to, it's just that he hates it when people smooth down his hair or try to fix it; it'll just bristle into a mess again.

They're in sight of so many crowds, though, and while people here might not know a thing about figure skating, someone has probably seen the same Stoli ad that Yuuri was blushing over. Or the Calvin Klein cologne ad, or the Propel sports drink ad, or the print ad for Omega watches, or the SNL appearance. Victor could be recognized any time. Yuuri can't lean away from him in public, that's not what he agreed to do.

Yuuri takes Victor's hand in his instead, and shuffles a little closer to him, lacing their fingers together with a conspiratorial little squeeze. There, now Victor's smiling again, because Yuuri's playing his part.

"Sorry," Yuuri says quietly, "it's just, I know my hair's awful, but that wouldn't help."

"Your hair looks great," Victor says. "And nothing's on your face!" he adds with a laugh when Yuuri scrubs at his mouth, awkwardly, around the bouquet. Victor squeezes his hand back. "I'm just happy to see you again. You look amazing."

"I. You." Yuuri should return the compliment. Or should he? Victor's an international heartthrob who's been modeling professionally for over a decade, he has to already know he looks incredible. His own good looks probably bore him. "Do you ever get tired of people telling you that you're hot?"

Victor laughs. "I wondered about that. Do you even need glasses?"

Yuuri struggles to parse that. Maybe Victor was right, earlier, about things getting lost in translation, because it's confusing, but Yuuri can almost make sense of it— Yuuri's vision must be good if he can see that Victor's tired of being told he's hot? Something like that? But he's not sure.

It probably makes him look a little stupid, but he settles for taking it literally, pushing up his glasses. "I do need them. And I can't wear contacts, they hurt my eyes."

"They're cute on you." Victor sounds quiet and fond, and no one else could possibly hear him. It's stupid to take his compliments seriously, but Yuuri decides he's allowed to believe that one.

"Thanks."

Victor leans toward him a little, and when Yuuri risks a glance, he can see Victor watching him closely. He feels a blush creep over his face again and drops his eyes, so he doesn't see the kiss on the cheek coming— it makes him jump a little.

He's the worst fake date ever. "Sorry!" he whispers.

"It's okay," Victor whispers back.

"Seven hundred percent!" Phichit calls to them, holding up fistfuls of electronics. "Three phones, four boosters, all fully charged! You're welcome! Now we just need lights."

 


 

"This could take a while," Yuuri tells Victor uncomfortably as they watch Phichit barrel down the aisle ahead of them. "I don't know what it is about this place, but Phichit can spend forever here."

"It is enormous," Victor says, looking around Bed Bath & Beyond with much more interest than it deserves. "Wait, the sign said it's bed, bath, and beyond. Why is the first section all kitchen things?" He gives Yuuri a theatrical wide-eyed look. "They're starting us in the beyond! We're going backward!"

Yuuri's stifled laugh seems to encourage him, and he actually walks backward in front of Yuuri for several steps, of course managing to navigate gracefully without knocking into anything or anyone. It's sort of compelling to watch— but then, Yuuri would probably be captivated watching Victor do anything.

They're attracting glances, though, so Yuuri beckons Victor back. At his sly raised eyebrows, Yuuri points next to himself and, flustered, just says, "Here."

"So commanding, Yuuri." Victor returns to walk next to him with a smile, latching their hands together again.

Normal, normal. Yuuri can be normal. If they were on the phone he'd have an answer. Something pert like, "I'm surprised that worked. You never do what you're supposed to."

"Maybe I just need the right incentive," Victor smirks, squeezing his hand.

Yuuri's stomach shivers. This isn't like texting or talking on the phone. Victor's here, gorgeous in his Burberry coat and soft-looking grey tasseled scarf, his pale hair falling across his brow. His fingers are cold.

Yuuri has spent more than a decade reminding himself that Victor Nikiforov is a real person: a talented, skilled and uncommonly beautiful person, but ultimately still just a human being who exists in the world, subject to the same physical laws as everyone else, and whatever he's capable of doing on skates— if Yuuri trains hard and puts it all out there on the ice, he should be able to do it too.

He's not sure he ever really believed any of it, though, when it's such a shock to have Victor actually here, standing beside him, taking up space and— holding up a double-bladed watermelon slicer with a little frown.

"I know you're probably tired from the flight and bored with all this, I'm sorry," Yuuri says.

"The flight was nothing," Victor says with a wave of the slicer. "And I keep telling you! Maybe this is boring to you, since you're used to these things, but I'm just a simple Russian boy—"

"You modeled for Cartier," Yuuri says dumbly. "And Louis Vuitton."

Another careless wave. "A down-to-earth, small-town Russian boy—"

"You're from St. Petersburg!"

"A humble Peterburzhec boy from a quiet little neighborhood," Victor says, perfectly blithe. "My point is, I have never seen a knife made just to cut watermelon. Or an advert for a knife that explains how to use the knife, playing right next to the knife display, over and over, forever, like some mad capitalist nightmare. It's all new and exciting to me!"

Yuuri narrows his eyes at him, and tows him to the As Seen On TV section. If he's being sincere, he'll love it, and if he's being sarcastic, he deserves it.

 


 

Victor loves the As Seen On TV section. He loves the home gadget section. He loves the scented candle section. He keeps sticking jars under Yuuri's nose and asking, "Does this smell like woodsmoke to you?" Or chai, or beach grass, or mistletoe.

"No?" Yuuri says each time.

"I don't think so either. I don't even know what mistletoe smells like, but I doubt it smells like that."

For the first time ever in their friendship, Phichit finishes looking around first and has to come find Yuuri.

"Hi, Phichit!" Victor says. "Question. What do you think pink sand smells like?"

Phichit shoots Yuuri a confused look; Yuuri just shakes his head.

"No idea," Phichit says. "I have searched this entire place and I can't find those little hockey puck lights with LEDs in them that you can stick to things. I know I saw them here!"

"Are they silver?" Victor asks.

"Yeah..."

"Are they called Stick-N-Clicks?"

"Did you see them?"

"I'm looking at them," Victor says. "They're back here behind the candles."

"Well, I feel dumb," Phichit says cheerfully, and sweeps over to drop light pucks into his basket. "When we get power back, we'll still be able to use these in the closets and stuff. I got batteries and some little flashlights, plus a couple of the emergency hand-crank kind too. Are you guys getting more candles? Looking for some mood lighting?"

"Oh, good idea," Victor says, and adds a giant candle to the basket. "Here, this one's jasmine, it's nice. Really, just stick to flowers," he appears to be addressing the candle section as a whole. "Flowers, you can handle."

Phichit hums happily, his phone appearing in his hand like magic to start recording. "Is this your first time here, Victor? What do you like?"

"I'm enjoying how they play commercials at you right in the shop," says Victor, his smile changing to something glossy and dazzling, the expression he wears when he's being interviewed about yet another triumph. "It's like disabling adblock, but in real life."

"Okay, then what don't you like?"

"They probably shouldn't hide their LED lights behind the candles, it seems to make them very hard to find!"

"That's aimed at me," Phichit explains to his camera. "I thought they'd be with the electronics! Come on, let's do a little recap. Did you try the massage chairs?"

Yuuri ends up hauling the basket around after them while Phichit takes little videos. Part of him wants to interrupt— Victor isn't here to decorate anyone's Instagram feed— but he stops himself. For all he knows, that's exactly why Victor is here, to document their fake relationship on social media, or maybe for even more oblique and mysterious reasons of his own.

Anyway, it's not like Yuuri can protest treating Victor like a tourist attraction when Yuuri himself is continually tempted to drop back and admire him from a distance. When Yuuri's dumb brain is constantly making inane observations as if he's composing imaginary posts for Victor Nikiforov fan forums: I saw Victor Nikiforov in person and he was tapping his fingers along with the in-store music! I saw Victor Nikiforov in person and he likes jasmine candles!

For his part, Victor poses before Phichit's lens with ease. He repeats what he said about the watermelon knife, rates the punchability of several pillows, and shakes his head sadly at some ugly drapes. He chooses a large translucent vase he says will be perfect for Yuuri's rose bouquet, narrating his reasoning to the camera. The electric massage mat, he proclaims, "Feels like being rubbed with rocks by someone who's heard of massages but has never had one."

"Sorry, was that rubbed with rocks?" says Phichit.

"Hey!" Victor laughs. "My boyfriend is here!"

Phichit swings around to capture what has to be a dumbstruck look on Yuuri's face.

It's fine. It's okay, it's fine. He's been upgraded from fake date to fake boyfriend, that's all. Not a big deal. None of this is a big deal, none of it is real, none of it matters. The fist of nerves around Yuuri's throat slowly goes slack.

"Is it getting late?" Victor stands, smoothing his scarf and running a hand through his hair. "It feels late, and you two spent all day in the airport, you must be tired. Should we go to yours?

"I'm not tired," Yuuri says, stubbornness taking root. "There's nothing to do at our place but freeze. We might as well stay out."

"Well, I'm tired, sorry," says Victor. "And I was hoping to shower that après-plane feeling off before sleeping, if that's okay."

Yuuri's relieved to see this conversation is boring enough that Phichit has put away his phone. "Of course. The water heater's still working, so you can, um, take a shower."

The full implication of inviting Victor to stay with them is only just now hitting him. Victor's going to shower in their bathroom. Eat in their kitchen! Sit on their couch!

Sure, Yuuri cleaned the entire place up to Yu-topia standards and it's spotless, but they haven't fixed their leaky showerhead yet and their couch is a lumpy secondhand nightmare and there won't even be room for Victor's suitcases in the tiny second bedroom.

"Our place," he tries to explain as they head for the checkout, "it's, you know. Student housing. It's not much. It's kind of. Bad."

"I lived in a boarding school dorm for years," Victor shrugs. "If the room has a door that shuts, that's all I need."

This time, Phichit winces along with Yuuri.

 


 

"I mean, it's kind of a door?" Phichit offers.

"When we moved in the landlord said this was supposed to be a breakfast nook," says Yuuri, twisting his fingers together. "So it was usually left open."

Victor tugs the sliding doors from their recesses in the wall, and brings them together. "That seems fine," he says, releasing the doors. They immediately roll apart again.

The three of them just look at the gaping doorway for a second, the glare of their flashlights illuminating their failure. The apartment is so dark and so cold; Yuuri would be embarrassed to bring anyone here to stay when it's so inhospitable.

Bringing Victor here under these conditions is agonizing.

They're all still in their coats. It's weirdly quiet as well as shadowed and dark. And the second bedroom's doors are practically worthless. He should have just let Victor throw himself on the mercy of SkyTeam.

"There's a latch inside to hold the doors shut," Yuuri says miserably, "but it's not great."

"We meant to fix it but our roommate last semester was a stoner so he really didn't care much about, uh, anything," says Phichit.

"Wait, he smoked? In here?" Victor asks, quickly stepping away from the room.

"No, no no, he never smoked. We told him we'd kick him out and keep his rent money if he ever lit up in here," says Phichit. "He ate it. You know pot brownies?"

"I guess I know the theory."

"He just had somebody come and drop off a tupperware full of—"

"A tup— a what?"

"A plastic container. They'd drop off a container full of brownies or cookies or whatever, he'd just eat them and play MMOs on his laptop all the time. I think he might've failed all his classes since he never seemed to go anywhere. All we know is that he went home for Thanksgiving break and didn't come back."

"It's been cleaned really well since then," Yuuri puts in, as if that matters.

Victor goes into the room, tugs the doors together and latches them. They sag apart almost a centimeter; Victor's blue eye appears in the gap. He pops the latch open and lets the panels roll apart again, and smiles. "It's fine," he says. "This will work, no problems."

Improbably, they even manage to tuck Victor's large, heavy suitcases under the bed, since Brenden built a fairly high platform frame for his futon. When they were struggling to get the luggage up the stairs, wrestling with the wheels in the freezing cold, Yuuri would have sworn those suitcases were too massive to fit through the apartment door, let alone under the bed.

"They're just like under-bed drawers like this," Victor says. "Very handy."

It's the only good thing that can be said about the room. The frame for the huge bed takes up almost all the space, only just enough left for a nightstand with a couple of drawers, crammed into the corner. Victor won't even be able to pull his suitcases clear of the bed to get into them unless he has the doors open.

Phichit sticks up a couple of the lights he bought, filling the space with a clinical blue-white shine that only makes it look even smaller and more bare.

Paying no attention to any of this, Victor leaves his suitcases there and says, "Where's your room, Yuuri? Can I see it?"

"We, um— we share," Yuuri says. "It's nothing special."

"Oh? So for you two, it's always like a sleepover! That sounds fun!"

Victor just continues to look peppy and expectant until Yuuri says, "This way," and walks him down the hall. "This is our door. But, you know, it's also Phichit's room, so..."

"So come right in," says Phichit, ushering them both in.

There is, at least, nothing incriminating in their small shared room, just their twin beds on either side, their lidded clothes hampers, the hamster habitat against the wall. This year's Victor Nikiforov calendar is well-hidden now— Yuuri tucked it under the cookie sheet in the kitchen to make sure Phichit wouldn't hang it up again.

The lack of power means Yuuri knows exactly what Victor's looking at as he trains his flashlight around the room and plays it over the walls to find nothing interesting; Yuuri's finally able to relax for all of one second.

"What happened to the poster?" Victor sounds disappointed.

And that ends all hope of relaxation forever.

Yuuri is ready to turn on Phichit and accuse him of betrayal, and then maybe flee the country, but Victor goes on, "Your Instagram has a photo of your room, it said it was taken when you moved in, and it had one of my posters in it— I thought that was so cute."

"Cute?" This is Yuuri's punishment for neglecting his social media accounts: he forgot to check them for evidence of past sins, and now look.

"Sure. There are some fun things about dating someone with merchandise, right? Look what I have," Victor takes something out of his inner coat pocket, holds it out and shines the light on it.

Yuuri tries not to gasp aloud like an idiot, but he probably does— fortunately it's camouflaged by Phichit's delighted little whoop.

It's Yuuri in last year's free skate costume, an image from the photo shoot the JSF set up for him after his second win at Nationals. He's skating backward with the wind in his hair and what Yuuri privately thinks is a dopey expression.

"I love this shot of you," Victor says.

"Where did you get— what is that?"

"Passport cover!" Victor flips it open, showing off stamped page after stamped page, and his ID photo: flawless, of course. Then he shuts it and it's Yuuri's placid smile again. "I got it from Yarmarka Masterov. It's mostly artists selling handmade things, but it also has some imports and antiques, things that are hard to find in shops."

"Sounds like Russian Etsy," says Phichit.

"Could be," Victor shrugs. "I was so excited to find one of my favorite pictures on a passport cover. Since I'm always using it, I'll get to see it a lot! I have a poster of another one from this photo session, too. I put that up in the lounge in my flat so I see it right when I come in. And a deck of postcards, since I can take those anywhere. They're in my suitcase."

"I have postcards?" Yuuri asks, shrill.

"Don't you? Maybe they weren't officially licensed. Who handles your merchandising? Have them look into it."

"No! It's fine, it's— they might be official, I don't keep track."

Victor tucks his passport into his coat pocket again. "You have to pay attention to who's using your image to sell things, Yuuri."

"I would just really rather not think about it."

"Yuuri likes to pretend he only has ten fans outside his family and they all love him solely for his step sequences," says Phichit, thumb swiping busily across the screen of his phone.

Victor tilts his head, looking at Yuuri curiously, and smiles. "Count me as number eleven, then." He paints his flashlight across the walls again. "What happened here, though? I suppose that photo was over a year old. Did I let you down this season?"

"No! Of course not!" Yuuri says hotly. "I— When I got back, it was just— weird," but Victor's mouth twitches down a little at that, and Yuuri adds, "I guess— I took it down because I—" Yuuri looks him in the eye, resolved. "Because I have photos of you, of us, on my phone now. And that's just for me. So I like it better."

Victor's expression goes warm and soft. "Wow."

Yuuri has no idea where that came from, and he's embarrassed by how true it feels, once he's said it.

Looking for distraction, he finds it in Phichit's gleeful little smile and darting fingers. "If you're live-tweeting that, or Snapchatting it, or Instagramming it, I am going to flush your phone."

Phichit clutches the phone protectively. "I wasn't!" He shoves it down his pants and adds, "I was just telling it to the rink group chat. That's not public! You can't flush Apinya! She's innocent! Take me instead!"

"Please don't flush anyone," says Victor. "That sounds like it'd get in the way of my shower."

 


 

"I can't believe you're voluntarily getting wet when it's this cold in here," Phichit says.

Yuuri's threat made an impression, even if they all know he was anything but serious. Phichit's phone has been pocketed for entire minutes now, despite the fact that Victor Nikiforov is currently getting undressed.

For some reason this is happening outside the bathroom.

"It's not that bad. Are you really that cold? So much shivering!" says Victor. He's down to just jeans and an undershirt, and fortunately he stops stripping there in favor of getting out his nightclothes and toiletry bag— more of a toiletry cart. It has a handle and real weight to it. "Do you have— you know, I thought I was fluent in English, but now I'm not so sure! Do you have a thing to put hot water in, they're rubber, usually...?"

"A hot water bottle," Phichit says.

"It's not a bottle, though. It's," he waves his hand demonstratively, "wiggly."

"No, I know, but that's what it's called. We don't have any, but we have ice packs made of the same stuff."

"If you're sure they won't leak, bring me those, we can fill them with hot water and you can put them in the sheets. It helps."

They do that while Victor starts his shower, and then cling to each other, quaking with cold. Yuuri's not sure if it's getting worse in here or if it's just a delayed reaction. At first it felt good to be out of the frigid wind, but it's really not much better indoors.

Phichit breaks within minutes. "I'm leaning against the bathroom door."

"The door isn't going to be warm!"

"I'll stick my fingers in the crack under the door, then. I can't live like this!"

He doesn't actually do it, of course, just leans against the door and makes mournful faces when he realizes Yuuri was right and he can't leech any heat that way.

The water shuts off inside. Some shuffling movement, and then, "Is there another towel I could use?"

Yuuri applies his palm to his face, because of course, when he got the apartment ready for what he thought would be just a brief visit or two from Victor while he was in town, he only put their nice hand towels on the rack, and not their cheap, unraveling bath towels.

"Just a second," he says, digging in the closet, where it's somehow even colder. He passes a couple of towels through a gap in the door to Victor's damp hand, very careful not to peer inside and catch a glimpse of anything he shouldn't see.

All for nothing, because ten seconds later, Victor flings open the door. He's standing in Yuuri and Phichit's bathroom, in front of their bathroom mirror: Victor Nikiforov in the actual flesh, exposed, a lot of it. He's covered with just one (1) thin towel knotted low around his waist, with the other hung over his shoulders.

“It’s steamy in here!” he says. “There’s no fan?”

“No, we just have to open the window– but don’t! It’s freezing,” says Phichit.

Victor makes the expected scoffing noise at the suggestion that anything outside of Russia could possibly be considered cold, and starts drying his hair with the other towel. The towel other than the one he’s wearing. Which is the only thing he is wearing.

How can anyone be that built and that slender at the same time? Compared to the strength of his shoulders and chest, Victor's waist looks like he's never eaten a bite of solid food in his life. Every bit of flesh on him is sculpted muscle.

“Okay, I have to ask: abs,” Phichit begins, and if Yuuri weren’t vacuum-sealed in place with terror by Victor Nikiforov two feet away in just a towel, he would elbow Phichit so hard, “do you just do a billion crunches or what?”

Emerging from the towel with a million-dollar grin, Victor tenses his abs and slaps his stomach. Yuuri’s heart stutters. Victor says, “Zero crunches, they’re bad for the back. A billion reverse crunches. And, hm,” he mimes a chin-up. “Those. And planks? But different, I don’t know the English for it. I can show you at the gym.”

“Chin-ups for abs?” Phichit does the same chin-up mime when Victor looks puzzled.

“If you do them right!” Victor wipes down the mirror and starts doing something with a tube of something, Yuuri can’t focus because of all the flexing. His skin is flushed pink from the hot water, and starting to go prickly with goosepimples from the cold; his nipples are tight. This is not something Yuuri ever, ever imagined he'd see in person.

“All that,” says Victor, “and still, at photoshoots they use makeup to make them look more— eh. More. Because I refuse to dehydrate myself for a day before shooting.”

“Is that a trick?” Phichit asks.

“Yes! All those muscle models do it, that’s how you get the skin so tight over the muscle, everything stands out more,” says Victor, dragging oiled fingers through his hair. Why. Why is he doing these things. And talking. It’s not fair. “I tell them I won’t abuse myself like that. I’m not a model, I actually use my body.”

Phichit darts a delighted look at Yuuri and opens his mouth, already beaming, but Yuuri finally unseals himself and grabs his arm. “Speaking of! Planes are so dry! We’ll get you something to drink!” he shouts, his voice just shy of cracking.

“What, both of you?” Victor asks, but Yuuri is already steering Phichit into the kitchen.

“Yes, let’s get Victor hydrated,” says Phichit too loudly, “so he can use his body.”

Any faint hope that Victor didn’t hear that dies horribly, along with Yuuri himself, when Victor’s laugh rings down the hall.

"Breathe," Phichit says, as if he didn't help provoke Yuuri's wheezing in the first place. "Though I guess I get it. Wow, Yuuri."

"I thought he wasn't your type!" Yuuri whispers.

Phichit drops his voice too. "He's not. All yours. But sue me, I'm impressed! I guess he does get Photoshopped a little, but— not that much, huh? Here, can you reach up there and put up another light? And maybe over here, too."

Yuuri sticks the lights high up on the wall. "Could we just," he asks, still quiet, too serious, "could we act normal? Like he's just a normal date, an ordinary guest?"

"What would that normal look like?" Phichit asks. "You've never brought home a date or a guest."

"I don't know. Just... not like the celebrity whose poster was on the wall."

"And now he has your poster on his wall."

Yuuri just looks at Phichit, and as always, when he really means it, Phichit understands.

"Okay. Normal date. Normal guest. I'll try," he says.

"Thank you." Yuuri turns on the tap and lets the water run until it steams, filling the teapot to make herbal mint tea. The fact that they can make tea straight from the tap probably means their water heater is turned up too high, but both of them enjoy scorching showers too much to fix it, and it's a blessing right now, when their electric kettle is dead.

Phichit accepts a mug of tea gratefully, all but diving nose-first into the heat. "Okay, so, I'd say this even if he was just some rando you were dating," He takes a sip. "—I am going to kill him and steal his personal trainer. There's no way he doesn't do one-on-one weight training. Nobody's serratus muscles just look like that."

"Thank you!" says Victor, barging in. "You're right, I do have a personal trainer. I'll let her know that her labors are appreciated."

"Uh. Tea," Yuuri says, holding out another mug and trying not to stare. Victor's wearing what must be the yoga clothes he got in New York. The pants look like normal leggings, but the top is some kind of crepey material, almost transparently thin and clingy. It somehow looks more provocative than when he was shirtless.

"Oh, this is nice, thanks. So! Sleeping arrangements," says Victor. "Who's sleeping where?"

"We just put your suitcases in your room...?"

"But you also told me that's the only room that has any heat right now," Victor says.

"Yeah, by the way, the hamsters need to be in there with you," says Phichit. "We put them in their cage and draped towels on it to trap the heat in, but I'm still afraid their little feets will freeze off. Your room has the best insulation."

"If hamsters can't be left out in this cold, you two shouldn't be either!" Victor slides his arm around Yuuri's shoulders; Yuuri does his best not to tense up, this time, a feat that becomes nearly impossible as Victor continues, "We could all share. It's a big bed, lots of room. It'll be just like a slumber party."

Yuuri's knee-jerk reaction is to wail Nooo, but that would probably tip Phichit off that this isn't quite all they're claiming it to be.

"But it's fine if that's too much. You two can sleep in there and I'll sleep in your room."

"But you're our guest," Yuuri says.

"As your guest, I'm asking— I'd never be able to sleep, thinking that the two of you were out here and cold because of me."

Yuuri tries giving Phichit a save-me look, but Phichit says, "I say we all share. The more body heat the better. I call wall! It's almost kind of warm-ish right where the water heater is."

Victor murmurs into Yuuri's ear, "Is that okay? Nothing we can't put on Instagram, promise. We'll even have a chaperone."

On one hand, the prospect of sharing a bed with Victor is terrifying. On the other hand, Yuuri hadn't realized just how cold he was before Victor wrapped an arm around him. Now that the icy fingers of death are no longer sneaking down the nape of his neck, he can't go back.

"Okay," Yuuri sighs.

 


 

"Thang, Nguyen, Brxns," Phichit points to each hamster in turn. "Babies, this is Victor."

"Cute!" Victor bends to look closer, his face registering exactly when he gets a whiff of the cage. "Oof. Smelly, but cute. How long do they live?"

He straightens again and takes in Phichit and Yuuri's exchange of looks.

"Ah. That was rude," says Victor. It's almost a question.

"You think?" says Phichit. When Victor tries to offer his charming-interviewee smile, Phichit counters with, "How long do poodles live?"

Victor immediately looks a little bleak. "Sorry," he says, and then it's his turn to exchange a meaningful look with Phichit. They both turn to Yuuri with identical expressions of woe that Yuuri memorizes even as they go a little blurry.

"Sorry!" both of them exclaim out of sync, and Phichit pats his shoulder while Victor's arm wraps around him again.

"That was almost worth it for the looks on your faces," Yuuri sniffles, tugging his glasses off to wipe his eyes and waving away the continuing flood of apologies.

"Here," Victor ruffles through his coat, and presses a handkerchief on him. Yuuri rubs his thumb over the Cyrillic monogram.

They've thrown everything onto the bed, not just all the blankets, but their spread-open coats and jackets and a couple of hoodies, layered in among the bedclothes like lasagna noodles. Lasagna sounds so good right now. Yuuri wishes he'd ordered a salad or something at the restaurant earlier, he's hungry.

Phichit lifts the cover from the cage again. "I think the kids deserve an apology too."

"Sorry hamsters!" Victor wiggles his fingers toward them. "So the cage is staying in here with us? Do they make those scratchy noises all the time?"

"Yes and yes," Phichit glares.

"Just asking!"

Phichit catches Yuuri's eyes the moment his glasses are back on, indicates Victor with a jerk of his chin, and says definitively, "All yours."

"Uh, yes," says Victor, "excuse me, was that in question?"

"Not by me!" says Phichit. "Talk to your man."

Victor leans down a bit toward Yuuri and says quietly, "I thought we weren't doing a jealousy thing." He flashes a little smirk.

"We're not," Yuuri mutters back.

"Too bad," Victor says inexplicably. He flicks one of the points of Yuuri's knit cap. "This is cute!"

"...Thanks." Victor Nikiforov complimented my cap! Ugh. He asked Phichit not to treat Victor like a celebrity pin-up, but he's not making much progress there himself.

The hamster cage takes up the top of the nightstand, so they open the top drawer to have someplace for everyone's phones and Yuuri's glasses. Phichit pulls his toque down over his ears and cuddles up to the wall. He and Yuuri changed into sweats, and just the brief exposure of changing clothes made Yuuri ache with cold.

There's nothing to do but slip into bed alongside Phichit. The sheets are freezing, with little warm spots where the hot water bottles were resting. Victor refills them with new hot water and tucks them down by their feet, and then he's climbing into bed with them.

"Yuuri, get over here. Victor keeps saying he can handle the cold, I can't! Sorry, Victor, roommate cuddling privileges." If Phichit weren't already Yuuri's best friend, that alone would do it; Yuuri settles closer to him, grateful for the excuse to put more space between him and Victor.

Victor has a tan knit beanie too, covering his hair, the long bangs pushed to the side and just barely poking out. "Spokoynoy nochi," he says.

"Ratri sawat khrap," says Phichit, tucking against Yuuri's back.

"Oyasumi."

Looking past Yuuri, Victor brings his finger to his mouth in a shushing gesture. He kisses his fingertip and touches it to Yuuri's mouth with a barely voiced, "Good night."

Phichit must have been watching. With Phichit here, and not in on the farce, they're going to have to take the pretense further than Yuuri ever expected. But he can't tell Phichit the truth. Not just because Phichit can't keep secrets, but because he'd worry.

He'd be right to worry. Victor turns to face away with a polite six inches between them, and clicks off the last light. Yuuri gazes at his silhouette and wishes he could be closer, for reasons that don't have enough to do with the cold.

 


 

The night he spends in bed with Victor is the worst night's sleep Yuuri's ever had.

He's tired, but twitchy and restless because he didn't get to move enough or skate all day. Even with his hat and sweats and blankets and Phichit snuggled up against him, it is so cold. He's sure if he lets himself drop his guard and sleep, he'll end up barnacled onto Victor's warmth.

At least Victor drops off quickly, and he's a fairly quiet and contained sleeper, only stirring occasionally, making no big moves. Phichit tends to roll around, though tonight the freezing temperature has him less mobile, especially once he burrows himself into a lump under the blankets.

Yuuri can feel fatigue and cold eating away at him, but he couldn't sleep even if he were willing to risk it. Every time his eyes slide shut, a burst of panic jumpstarts his heart and has him wide awake and tense again.

His empty stomach isn't helping. Victor must have been right about burning energy to stay warm. Yuuri mostly kept to his prescribed diet today, so he should have plenty of protein and slow carbs to fuel him. And he didn't resist all the restaurant food. Not to mention the days of overeating before that. But hunger gnaws in him.

He also has to pee— had to from the moment the light went out— and he can only lie there agonizing as it gets steadily worse. There's just no way on earth he'll climb over Victor to get out to the bathroom, so he just has to wait and hope that maybe eventually Victor will draw his legs up enough that Yuuri could sneak out around him somehow.

After what feels like days of this, Victor does shift, and Yuuri goes up on his elbow to see if there's space for him to escape. But Victor's only tugged the pillow under his head so that it's now mostly beside him, his arms wrapped around it.

So... Victor's used to holding on to someone. Maybe he's in a relationship with them, back in St. Petersburg. If he wants to keep them out of the spotlight, that's another reason for him to pursue this stupid fake dating scheme. This is a long way for Victor to go out of his way just to help Chris and avoid talking about next season.

He hasn't mentioned anything to Yuuri about it, but why would he? They're barely texting friends. He hasn't said much about his personal life at all, it's all practice, performances, Yakov, Makkachin. It's none of Yuuri's business.

Yuuri forgets to not be a creep, so he's still watching a minute or two later when Victor mumbles something under his breath. One hand makes a little scritching motion on the pillow, then a clumsy pat-pat-pat. Another mumble. Yuuri can't make out words, but the tone is distinctly good girl, good dog.

In interviews, Victor often says that Makkachin sleeps with him. Yuuri's always imagined the poodle curled up at his feet, leaving room beside him for whatever glamorous lover's lucky enough to share his bed. Maybe Makka stretches out on nights when no one else sleeps alongside Victor.

Easing himself back down, Yuuri stares at the back of Victor's head for a while. His eyes are beginning to ache when suddenly Victor sits up, and Yuuri startles so hard his ears ring with his hammering pulse.

Victor feels around, finds one of the little flashlights, and clicks it on, mostly smothering the light against his hand. He finds his coat and shrugs into it, stands and slips out of the little room. In the hall, the bathroom door opens and closes.

It's not much of a debate. Yuuri takes the chance to get up too, wrapping himself in his jacket, shoving on his glasses and carefully easing out of bed. In the silence of the night, with no electronics on for miles, every little human sound rings out, crystalline and distinct. Splashing, the damp honk of a blown nose, toilet flush, water trickling in the sink. The door opens, and Victor still holds the flashlight against his hand, so Yuuri barely has to squint at the faint light.

"Oh, sorry," Victor whispers, "I didn't mean to wake you." His hair lies skewed and flat, his cheek printed with pillowcase seams, and his eyes are middle-of-the-night bleary; he rubs at them to get the crumbs out and yawns.

The intrusive running commentary at the back of Yuuri's mind finally dies away. He doesn't want to tell anyone about Victor Nikiforov's bedhead or the humming-sighing sound of his yawns, or the feeling of kinship that comes from being the only two people awake together, sometime between midnight and dawn.

"I needed to get up anyway," Yuuri whispers back, and they pivot past each other, switching places.

When Yuuri comes out, Victor's still there waiting for him, hugging himself in his coat, hat back on, head leaned against the wall, eyes closed. Yuuri pats his sleeve and hears him sigh, sees him give a little shudder.

"I thought you didn't feel the cold," Yuuri says, still half a whisper.

"Just between you and me," Victor answers quietly, "indoors, I'm used to the heat being set at twenty-three."

"Seriously?!"

Victor assumes a look of injured dignity. "I can spend all day in -20 weather with no problems if my coat is good, but inside, it's nice to be comfortable!"

"Will you be okay?"

"I'll be fine once we're back under the covers."

On the way back Victor yawns again and shoulder-checks the door jamb, muttering apologetically toward it in Russian. Seeing him this sleepy does something to soothe Yuuri's nerves. Victor might not even remember any of this in the morning. Probably not realistic to hope he'll forget, but it eases Yuuri's mind anyway.

He clambers back into bed and holds up the blankets while Victor slides in after him. The moment Yuuri's settled, the covered lump of Phichit rolls close and huddles against his back.

"I guess you're better than the water heater," Victor murmurs with a little smile. He's lying on his other side now, facing Yuuri. The cold has the tip of his nose so pink that Yuuri can see it in the dimness of moonlight filtering into the room.

It's a surreal, exhausted hour of the night, hushed and hidden, and maybe that's why Yuuri doesn't think, just touches his finger to the chilly tip of Victor's nose.

Victor doesn't protest— he almost seems to smile a little wider— but Yuuri still snatches his hand back the moment he realizes and whispers, "Sorry!"

"Don't be," Victor answers. He reaches for the hand Yuuri pulled back, and slides his fingers between Yuuri's, interlacing them. "I'm glad I'm here," he whispers.

"I'm glad you're here too." Even if it can't possibly be for the same reasons.

Yuuri isn't even sure if he knows his own reasons. Before they met, he never would have wanted to invite Victor Nikiforov to his ordinary metro Detroit neighborhood. In his stray fantasies of meeting his favorite skater, he imagined taking him to some exquisite little restaurant that Yuuri would magically know about. They'd both be dressed like a fashion spread and somehow Yuuri wouldn't need his glasses and his hair would actually behave. He'd order for Victor and watch his eyes fall closed in enjoyment as the unagi nigiri melted in his mouth, perfect buttery eel and tender rice—

Yuuri is so stupidly hungry. He takes a shaky breath.

"You're still cold," Victor says, inching closer. They're not touching aside from their hands, but the space between them now is negligible. Victor slides his feet under Yuuri's, as if he's going to dance him around with Yuuri standing on his insteps. "Your poor feet!" he says. "Your poor toes. I should have refilled the hot water bottles."

"This is fine," Yuuri says, and then wishes he hadn't— except Victor smiles, big and sunny and pretty, like he did when he first saw Yuuri at the airport. The pronounced bow of his upper lip gives his biggest smiles a heart shape. Cameras don't often capture it. There's a thread on the biggest Nikiforov fan forum devoted solely to rare photos of that smile.

"I missed you," Victor's voice is hushed. "All the texting and talking on the phone is great, but it's not the same."

"I guess not... but..." Yuuri blinks, uncertain and exhausted from all the shuddering and stress. "Did we even spend an hour in person together, before?"

His vision's going indistinct, or he'd almost think Victor looks a little shy. "It did seem like time flew by, didn't it."

And then it seems like he leans in a little and presses his lips to the back of Yuuri's hand, so by that point, Yuuri is definitely dreaming.

Chapter Text

The click and flash of a phone camera wakes Yuuri up.

"Seriously?" he asks without opening his eyes. It's not the first time Phichit's ambushed him with stealth photography first thing in the morning.

"Yuuri, I have to document this," Phichit says seriously. "Future historians are going to wonder how you pulled this off, and I'm the only one who can reach out across time to show them that step one was looking super cute in your sleep."

"Every single word of that is the craziest word you've ever said," Yuuri tells him, eyes still shut in denial of mornings.

"Step two is, you're still holding hands. It's adorable. When you're fully conscious you'll be thanking me for recording it."

Yuuri's eyes fly open. Victor is lying right there within arm's length, his fair hair draped in seaweed tangles across his face, perfect lips slightly parted, just enough to slide a coin inside. The cut-glass angles of his nose and cheekbones are eased and rounded by the peace of sleep.

The last Yuuri remembers, their fingers were interlaced, but that came undone overnight; now Victor's hand is cupped loosely over Yuuri's, nearly hugging it to his chest.

If it's possible to silently shriek in dismay, that's what Yuuri does. Only a sad whistle of noise escapes him. He tries to ease away a little and gently repossess his hand, but at the lightest tug, Victor tilts from lying on his side to sprawling half on his stomach with Yuuri's elbow slotted between his chin and his shoulder, against the warm curve of his neck. Yuuri can feel the sandy grit of stubble on Victor's jaw.

"No no no," Yuuri mouths, still striving for silence. He tries to gently withdraw, but Victor wrinkles his nose in his sleep and Yuuri stops, trapped.

Not really trapped. He could move, and risk waking Victor up. But it feels like he shouldn't disturb him. It's like having a cat on his lap.

Only scarier, since waking Victor up would mean untangling from him with all the awkwardness of a morning-after, without the benefit of sex the night before.

That train of thought needs to stop immediately.

"That's my cue to leave," Phichit says, carefully climbing over the blanket ridges of Yuuri's feet and Victor's. "Though, uh, pro tip," he leans up toward Victor's ear, "you breathe faster than that when you're actually asleep." There's no response, and he rolls his eyes, collects the hamster cage, and leaves the room, sliding the doors shut behind him. Though with no way to latch them from the outside, the doors sag partly open again right away.

For several minutes, Yuuri lies there in agony. First comes simple paralyzing self-consciousness. His morning breath is probably horrible. His face feels as greasy as a cheek-smudged phone screen. He's a repulsive pile of skin flakes and oily pores and bedhead and Victor is going to wake up, take one look and...

And Yuuri's racing mind hits a wall, because going by everything Yuuri's heard from a million articles and interviews, not to mention the direct evidence of their text and phone conversations, Victor would be nice about it. Make a tactful escape without mentioning it. Laugh it off. Maybe urge Yuuri to borrow his toner.

Next Yuuri's brain circles around the terror that he might actively humiliate himself— belch or fart or suffer an obvious erection or say something stupid as soon as Victor opens his eyes. But nothing happens, even though his guts are wringing themselves. Eventually those worries ebb away for lack of anything to feed on, and Yuuri's insides stop tying themselves in knots.

Then the deluge of inappropriate sexual thoughts. Not that Yuuri is excited; how could he be, in this bizarre situation? Except fine, maybe a little, in a weird, fraught, stomach-shivering way. He is lying one elbow away from the person he basically imprinted on at age twelve, the person who helped shape Yuuri's definition of beauty and set his standard for attraction.

Yuuri's feelings are Yuuri's problem, though. Back at the rink in Hasetsu, when Yuuri was friends and skating partners with Yuuko, he saw a lot of boys get angry at Yuuko if she didn't notice them. Like they thought that just because she attracted their attention, she owed them her attention in return. It was one of the reasons Yuuri kept his own crush on Yuuko a secret, even though she was as important as Victor in forging Yuuri's notion of what is appealing and desirable in a person.

He couldn't see any way to fully express how important she was to him without implying that he expected something from her, like the others did. So he stayed quiet.

If his nervous weakness is good for anything, it's taught Yuuri that he can keep his thoughts and feelings safely caged inside his head and no one else ever has to know about them.

The churn and fury in his head right now, for example. Yuuri keeps it contained and waits it out, lets his pulse crash frantic in his ears and the shame and dread wash through him, and gradually, it all fades to an echo.

It helps that he has the ultimate distraction of studying Victor— from much closer than he's ever imagined seeing him. He looks so peaceful. Phichit joked that he's only faking sleep, but Victor has no reason to pretend in order to stay close. Being close is the pretense.

Anyway, he looks asleep; his breathing is deep and even, the tip of his nose mashed against the pillow. This close, even without his glasses Yuuri can see a scatter of freckles across the bridge of Victor's nose and high on his cheeks. Those hardly ever show up in photos.

Victor isn't literally perfect, Yuuri knows that. He has the kind of cheekbones and jawline that frame him as handsome at first glance. But the contrast between his sharp angles versus the softness of his mouth and his rounded brow, that's striking because it's not perfect. It's more interesting than mere perfection.

Even beyond that... Victor's eyebrows aren't symmetrical unless they're penciled in just so; even some of his fans think that's why he wears his hair long enough to almost cover his left eye. A few locks of his silvery hair tend to stick up whenever it's tousled. His nose is a bit narrow and pointy, and his lower eyelids are pronounced, putting little hollows under his eyes. His high hairline is the reason one of the first English slang words Yuuri ever learned was "fivehead."

All those little quirks are even more obvious, up close like this. He's still the most beautiful person Yuuri can imagine. Somehow it hurts a little to be so close to him, a bittersweet ache. Yuuri wouldn't trade this for anything, though. Almost anything.

Yuuri matches Victor's slow, even breaths, and after too many long dragging minutes, the gallop of his heart eases to a normal pace. It's become sort of a downbeat but soothing mantra, at this point: none of this is real so it doesn't matter. Victor's asleep, he'll move when he wakes up, and in the meantime Yuuri's pinned elbow is the only place they're touching, so he can't be accused of taking advantage of the situation.

Not that he thinks Victor would accuse him, exactly. Maybe he'd give a quiet reminder that they're only putting on a show in public, and that doesn't give Yuuri license to, say, comb his fingers through Victor's hair and tuck it behind his ear, when no one else is around to see it.

Yuuri snatches back his hand before he can make that mistake, and concentrates on staying still and pacing Victor's breathing. It's still bitterly cold in the apartment but the bed is warm with the body heat of two people, and even though his nerves spike and wake him several times when his eyes sink shut... slowly, despite himself, Yuuri can feel himself unspooling into sleep.


"...no! ... didn't ... that part..."

"...the way he moves... look away... rest ... bonus, but what a bonus."

"...told him pole dancing lessons would get him a boyfriend but ..."

"... hooked long before that... believe my luck..."

Yuuri all but catapults upright. He's alone in the spare room— not even the hamsters are still here. No, that's right, Phichit took them with him earlier, and left Yuuri and Victor in bed together— and how is that a thing that happened in actual reality?

Then Yuuri fell asleep again, and there's no way to know what happened when Victor woke up. Why did he let himself sleep? He wanted to escape the awkward morning conversation, but instead he has a terrifying blank spot. Anything could have happened.

And now he can hear Victor and Phichit talking, and Phichit mentioned their pole dancing classes, so some variety of disaster is underway. At least Yuuri's already wearing sweats, so he can go out and intervene right away.

Just in time. When he stumbles into the kitchen, Victor's saying, "Chris told me not to keep any of the, let's say, controversial pictures on my phone, just in case, so those are on a memory card in my luggage. But I have a few here—" as he thumbs the screen.

"Victor," Yuuri interrupts. "Could you come here for a minute?"

"Sure!" he says cheerfully, standing. "I was just showing Phichit—"

"I heard," Yuuri interrupts, and even to his own ears he sounds stiff and unhappy. Victor tucks his phone into his pocket with a furrowed brow, and follows Yuuri back into the spare room.

Yuuri shuts and latches the doors. His stomach jumps at the idea of chiding Victor, but it would feel worse to let Victor go on telling Phichit the entire fable he invented about how he and Yuuri met and danced at the GPF banquet.

He squares up and faces Victor. "Please don't tell that story to Phichit," he says quietly. "I know things are complicated, and I know I haven't made it easier by changing my mind sometimes about what's okay to say. But he's my closest friend. I don't want to lie to him more than I have to. I know we have this whole public story, but with the people close to me, I just want to keep it simple."

Victor touches his finger to his lip, frowning a little. "Oh... right. We don't want anyone to talk in public about any of the things that make your federation mad. If we tell everyone everything, they might forget what parts are okay to talk about, and mention something they shouldn't."

"That too. Yes," says Yuuri, relieved. "I'm glad you understand."

"Okay," Victor says, offering his hand. When Yuuri takes it, a little confused, Victor laces their fingers, pressing their palms together. "I didn't think about that. I should have."

"It's all right," Yuuri says. The moment Victor's grip eases, he lets his hand drop away to make sure he doesn't cling. "You can't think of everything."

"What about you?" Victor produces his phone again. "You're not curious about how any of the pictures came out?"

"No." Yuuri drags his fingers through his hair. He hasn't even combed it, or washed his oily face or brushed his sour teeth. The last thing he wants to see is photos of Victor and Chris looking glamorous and scandalous together. "I don't really want to think about the GPF. I'm glad you had a good time, you deserve it, but I'd rather just put it behind me."

"Oh." Victor looks surprised— more than surprised. He catches Yuuri's gaze and his expression smooths into something more neutral. "I did have a good time. The best time. I don't— I wish it was a better memory for you."

It's a struggle to be honest, to be so obvious, but Yuuri has to try. "Meeting you the morning after, that's the only part... that's the one thing I want to hold on to."

"Oh," Victor says again, much brighter. He lifts his arms, and hesitates. "Can I hug you?"

Yuuri takes an automatic step back. "I just woke up! I'm a mess! I—" He's an idiot, passing up a chance to be close to Victor. He won't take advantage of the situation, but it's— it's ungrateful, it's wasteful, to shy away from this.

He moves in again and throws his arms around Victor before he can second-guess the impulse.

Normally Yuuri avoids hugs; they make him feel claustrophobic and self-conscious. Victor squeezes him tight, and that should definitely have the same effect, shouldn't it? He should be uncomfortable.

But that firm hold leaves no room to doubt that Victor wants Yuuri there, right where he is, and somehow that disarms the usual antsy feeling he gets from an embrace. Or maybe it's just because it's Victor.

"Good morning, Yuuri," Victor says, quiet and close.

"Oh... yeah, we kind of skipped that," Yuuri says, pointless, foolish, happy anyway. "Um. Good morning."


Victor doesn't have a subtle bone in his body. He sails back into the kitchen, announcing, "Sorry, I forgot that we're not telling that story yet! Some of it needs to stay quiet until things die down a little with the JSF. You'll hear all about it later, I'm sure."

Phichit drops his jaw in exaggerated outrage, giving Yuuri a wounded look.

"Is there anyone in this entire building who doesn't know about your hamsters?" Yuuri challenges.

"No..."

"And when we moved in, what did I say was the only condition for having hamsters here?"

"...Not telling anyone about them. Okay, fine," Phichit shrugs. "Don't tell me. I forgive you, because I added so many Instagram followers already, just from what I posted yesterday! Probably most of the Russian followers will unfollow the second Victor's gone, but I bet I can keep a bunch of the figure skating fans around."

"If anything can hook them, your selfie skills should do it," Victor says, fiddling with his own phone. "Remind me, what was the restaurant from last night? I need to put all that into my diet app. Though I'm a little worried that it's going to call Yakov and tell on me. Can it do that?"

"Does it have access to your contact list?" Phichit asks, interested.

"I think it does, actually. That's strange, isn't it? Why does a diet app need access to my contacts?"

Phichit beckons for his phone. In the time it takes Yuuri to assemble ingredients for their breakfast smoothies, Phichit's verified that Victor's diet app texts his nutritionist regularly.

"I thought I was joking!" Victor says, aghast. "She always seems to know a lot about what I've been eating but I thought she was getting it from all those blood tests I have to take."

"Never underestimate technology," says Phichit, and goes into the bedroom to fuss over the hamsters' habitat. It's spacious and airy, which is normally good for them, but it's a problem when the apartment is as cold as it is right now.

"I really am going to have to account for last night," Victor frowns. "Please tell me we're having something healthy for breakfast. Maybe if I put it all in at once, it'll balance out."

Without really thinking about it, Yuuri hands him the post-it note with their smoothie recipe. Victor perks up. "This is just like mine, but with tofu instead of yogurt. Tofu? Really? Doesn't that make it a bit thick?"

"Um. No, we use kinugoshi tofu— silk tofu. It's about the same as Greek yogurt," says Yuuri, belatedly remembering that he got his smoothie recipe from one of Victor's interviews. A fresh crop of worries sprouts up: just how much of Yuuri's daily routine comes from Victor's interviews and social media posts? How obvious will it be that he's a creepy fanboy?

Morning jogs are normal enough, there's no reason Victor would suspect that Yuuri used to run in the evenings, before Victor's schedule was detailed in a fitness magazine and Yuuri changed his habits to match. Same for cross-training at the gym. If Yuuri's sequence of exercises happens to strike Victor as familiar, hopefully he'll chalk it up to chance.

Victor's on another topic altogether, standing alongside Yuuri at the kitchen counter. Crowding him, a little. "Silk tofu?"

Yuuri retrieves a package from the fridge and opens it to show him. He only meant to stir the spoon around to show how soft it is, but Victor scoops up a bite and pops the spoon into his mouth.

"Oh, it's almost like pudding! I've never seen that kind before, the tofu I tried was more solid." He checks the nutrition information. "This is probably even better than yogurt, really. My nutritionist doesn't approve of dairy, but I wouldn't give it up... she'll be happy I tried something else. Maybe she won't even notice I had ribs and hot wings."

"That's... optimistic," says Yuuri, instead of 'deluded.' He's a little overwhelmed, honestly. Not just because Victor is Victor: he's so energetic.

"Are you doing all this by hand? Wait, you have to, of course, there's still no power. I can't believe I forgot. Let me help! What can I use to mix this?"

Yuuri hands him the whisk. "I need clothes. Be right back," he says, and escapes into the bedroom, closing the door with a sigh.

"Yeah, same," says Phichit, even though Yuuri didn't actually say a word. "Never thought you'd date a morning person."

"Or any person," Yuuri mutters, coming over to the habitat. "Are they going to be okay?"

"I'm making sure their domes are insulated with hay so they can hide in there when their little toes get cold." Phichit elbows him. "And come on, I knew you'd find someone if you really wanted to. I figured you were just holding out for someone special. I didn't know how special, but you made it happen. You should have heard him before you got up."

"He's... enthusiastic," Yuuri says. He remembers Victor the night before, saying Your poor feet, your poor toes, slipping his own feet under Yuuri's to warm them.

He's enthusiastic and kind and a remarkable performer, on and off the ice. He's so convincing, it almost seems possible that it could have happened the way he describes it— an infatuation out of nowhere during a night of dancing, an impulsive proposal to date, all those text and phone conversations cementing the attraction, creating a foundation strong enough to bring Victor here to build on it.

Yuuri has to keep it all in perspective. He agreed to pretend they're together for the season. It'll end after Worlds, if they even keep it going that long. Maybe at the end of this visit they'll stage a breakup.

"He's hooked," says Phichit. "Direct quote. According to him, he already liked your skating, and the dancing at the banquet really did it for him, and the fact that you're a knockout is just, like, a bonus on top of that. Also a direct quote."

"Ugh," Yuuri says, because there's pretending and then there's this.

Phichit laughs. "Yeah, I told him he should probably tone it down a little if he doesn't want to scare you off. According to him, you can handle it. So... good luck with that. Oh, and you're going to want to get up earlier tomorrow. You know what he did first thing? Facetimed his dog."

He laughs when Yuuri clutches his heart, but really, what did he expect?

"Smoothies are done!" Victor calls from the kitchen.

"If you'd told me a month ago that my breakfast would be made by Victor Nikiforov's own two gold-medalist hands..." Phichit shakes his head. "Thanks for my life, Yuuri."

"I didn't do it for you," Yuuri jokes weakly. He didn't do it at all.

Phichit just laughs again and goes, kindly shutting the door again behind him. Yuuri debates internally for a second, but he's already turning to the closet and digging out his perfect jeans.

Not to wear, of course. Yuuri's perfect jeans aren't perfect because they look good on him. They're perfect because they only fit when Yuuri is in perfect shape. They fit, just barely, when Yuuri bought them at the peak of last season. They fit right before Skate America when Yuuri qualified for the Grand Prix Final.

Every other time Yuuri has put them on, they remind how badly he's screwing himself up with his stress-eating. Nothing brings him down to earth quite like failing to button these jeans.

And after three days blowing his diet, when he was already in poor shape? He'll be shocked if he doesn't split the seams. Yuuri crams his calves and thighs down the narrow legs and sucks in his stomach and tugs, eking the denim up his hips.

To his surprise, he can do up the fly. He feels like an overstuffed sausage, straining his casing, but it's... maybe not as bad as he thought, somehow.

He did spend those three diet-cheating days moving every piece of furniture in the apartment during his cleaning frenzy. As well as the usual jogging and gym time. And he spent two nights in a frigid apartment. Maybe all the shivering really did burn some calories.

When he left, Phichit thoughtfully shut the door, but he didn't pull it completely closed. Something Yuuri only realizes when Victor taps at the door and it swings open at the touch, and Yuuri jumps high enough to make any quad on the roster.

"Sorry!" Victor says, but he seems to think that since Yuuri is dressed, there's no need to shut it again. "Phichit's on the phone with your coach. The rink called, they have power back. They're still getting the ice back in shape, but they'll let us have it from noon to three. What do you think?"

"Yes. Yeah. We can do that."

"You're not wearing those jeans to jog, are you?" Victor asks, looking him over much too closely. "That can't be comfortable."

Yuuri feels his face light up. "No. I— no."

"Save those for date night," Victor suggests with a wink. He pulls the door shut when he goes— Yuuri hears the click this time— but Yuuri still rushes over and shoves it again and locks it just in case, because. There's really no other word he can think of: fuck.


"What's the noise like on the route we're taking?" Victor asks as they set out. Even in a tracksuit and knit cap, he still looks like a model.

When Yuuri doesn't answer, too self-conscious about huffing his way through the first few blocks, Phichit jumps in. "We usually go toward campus when it's cold. There's not a lot of traffic on this side. So... medium quiet. There's still cars, but not that many, this time of day."

"Great! I thought, so we don't get bored, we could talk through some of our questions!"

"Questions?" Phichit asks.

"One of my rinkmates sent me a dating questionnaire as a joke because I wouldn't shut up about Yuuri," Victor explains. "But I thought some of the questions were interesting, so I sent it to him."

"Okay... should I put in my headphones?"

"No! That's no fun. They're just getting-to-know-you questions, you should join in. You two are good friends, I should get to know you too, don't you think? And it'll be good practice for interviews. Going by your progress this year, you'll probably be doing a lot of them next season."

"But not this season?" Phichit asks craftily.

"You tell me," says Victor. "You need to add fifteen points to your base scores to be competitive at Four Continents. Do you have it?"

"Are you hearing this?" Phichit directs to Yuuri. "Your boyfriend is giving me a hard time about my base scores! Next he'll be making fun of my one lonely quad."

"No, he won't," Yuuri says. Warmed up and settled into it now, he finally has a good rhythm going and steady breath.

"Of course I won't! I'm not making fun of you at all. Plenty of skaters up the difficulty of their programs for bigger competitions. You could do it."

"I don't have fifteen points to pull out of my ass in time for Four Continents," Phichit shrugs. "I have maybe eight or nine."

"Hmm. Your PCS is usually good. Celestino must have a knack, or an eye for it, or something. You're both really strong there."

"Yep, we're awesome," says Phichit with finality. "Ask a question."

"Right... I had it open on my phone..." Victor swipes at it with rapid glances between the screen and the pavement ahead. "Here! First question. Given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you want as a dinner guest?"

Before all this happened, Yuuri's answer might have been Victor himself. Fortunately, he already saw the questions and wrote down answers to many of them, so he's prepared. "My parents and my sister, and my ballet teacher from my hometown. If I have to pick just one, I guess... my mother. The dinner part doesn't really matter. I'd just like to see them again."

"That's so sweet! Much better answer than mine," says Victor. "I put down Anthony Bourdain because he would know the best restaurants."

"I'd pick Gordon Ramsey because even if the food was bad, you'd at least get to watch him yell at people," Phichit says.

"Oh, that's funny. Okay. You two win that question."

"You can't win or lose at a questionnaire," Yuuri says.

"You can win or lose at anything," Victor says. "Next question! If you could wake up tomorrow having magically gained one quality or ability, what would it be?"

"Quad axel," Phichit says.

Yuuri admits, "Handling nerves."

"I wrote that I'd like to be able to understand dog language. Or read their minds!"

"You win that one," Yuuri tells him, "since your answer could only happen magically like that. Probably."

Victor beams at him, and goes back to his phone. "Next one... before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you're going to say? And if so why?"

Phichit says, "No," sounding nonplussed.

"Always," Yuuri admits. "I don't want to waste anyone's time."

"I never have," Victor says. "I couldn't imagine why anyone would, but that's so considerate, Yuuri. You win that one. Oh, look!" He sticks his arm out and points, rudely and conspicuously, at a woman crossing the street ahead of them, walking her dog. "Puppy! Hello puppy! Is that a golden retriever?"

"I think it's just a blond mutt," Phichit says. "Dude, no, we're going the other way and if you run up to that lady, she'll probably mace you."

Victor pouts a little as Yuuri and Phichit both herd him in the other direction. "Everyone lets me say hi to their dogs in St. Petersburg," he says, faintly sulky. "It's the best thing about being recognized."

"Another question," Yuuri suggests.

Victor casts one last longing look over his shoulder before he goes back to his phone again. "Okay... this one's not so good, though. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?"

Yuuri shakes his head. "I wouldn't want to know anything about the future."

"Same! Silly question, I think."

"You're both crazy," says Phichit. "It'll tell you the truth about anything. You could ask it how to make the most efficient battery in the universe or how to make world peace happen! You gotta!"

"I notice that making your phone last longer comes before world peace," Yuuri says.

"Obviously."

"Phichit wins that one for realizing the possibilities better," Victor decides. "Oh, I like this next one. If you had to do something different than what you're doing now, what would it be?"

"I started with ballet, so... maybe I'd be a dancer," Yuuri says. "I'd be trying, anyway."

"I thought so!" Victor says. "Though I don't know why you think you'd be trying, you're an amazing dancer now!"

Yuuri holds back a knee-jerk how would you know, and clears his throat. "You may be biased."

"I'm not. For my answer, it would depend on why I wasn't skating. If I could still do something athletic, I think being an acrobat with Cirque du Soleil looks incredible. When I performed with them, I was really hoping I'd get a chance to try out the aerial silks, but there wasn't time. If I couldn't do something physical, then maybe a makeup artist."

"Not a model?" Phichit asks.

"No, modeling is awful! And it's hard. You have to spend so much time waiting around, holding a pose, keeping the same expression... it's like a performance you have to do in slow, slow, slow motion. If that was all I did, I'd lose my mind."

"If I couldn't do sports, I'd be an event planner," Phichit says. "Or if I'm still an athlete, maybe I'd play takraw. That was my main cross-training back home." Victor looks puzzled, so Phichit adds, "It's kind of like... kick volleyball. There's a net like volleyball, but you play with soccer rules. No touching the ball with your hands. I liked it, I was good at it, but then again, team sports are complicated. I don't think I'd be dedicated enough to go pro. Never mind, event planner either way. Yuuri skimped on this one! You didn't say a second choice."

"Physical therapist," Yuuri says. "Since that's what I'm studying anyway?"

"Oh, duh. Right." To Victor, Phichit says, "I can't believe yours is makeup artist."

"Why? You're usually part of a production team for a performance, so you're working with creative people," Victor counts off. "You get to meet a lot of performers and talk while you're working. If you're good, you get to design looks, and if you need more challenge you can learn to do prosthetics. It looks like a lot of fun. Makeup's fun! That reminds me— I was going to ask you if you'll show me how you wing your eyeliner. I never get it that sharp."

"Sure," Phichit says. "But you'd really pick makeup artist over dog trainer?"

Victor gasps. "It's been so long since Makka needed that, I forgot it's a job! Never mind, new answer. Dog trainer."

"You super lost that one," Phichit snickers.

"Yuuri won that question, because he's already doing both things he would've done," Victor says. "So impressive. Is this the school? I've never really looked around a college campus. Are we going to the quad?"

Yuuri drops back half a step and lets Phichit give Victor a hand-waved, half-assed tour of campus, since he actually knows what some of the buildings are. Phichit takes occasional classes here and uses the pool sometimes, and it's the center of his abbreviated but busy social life, during the very little free time left over after training and school.

Yuuri's own English classes here were held at night in a weird dim building on the very edge of campus. Aside from that, he's only been in the library, and that was only because the computers there can access JSTOR for free.

"—and that's the dining hall, and there's the douchey guy who's always doing some stunt here because usually there's a bunch of foot traffic. He had a unicycle for a while. He juggles. It's two degrees out and there he is throwing around his devil sticks. I guess I don't have room to talk since I love getting in front of a crowd, but on the other hand, I don't come out here with my choreography and stomp all over the grass with it."

"Maybe he just wants to meet people. It could be a way to start conversations," Victor says.

"Uh huh. 'Hey, is that a unicycle?' 'Yes.' 'Okay... cool. See ya.' Real fertile ground for conversation."

"How long have you been practicing on a unicycle? What's the longest you've ever stayed on it? What's the hardest part of riding it?" Victor lists off. "Where do you even buy one? Do they have starter unicycles with handlebars?"

Phichit says, "I'm pretty sure a starter unicycle is a bike."

Victor laughs. He glances over his shoulder, and falls back a little to run alongside Yuuri. "Is everything okay?"

Great, now Victor thinks Yuuri can't even get through a jog. "Fine," Yuuri says, "I just don't have much to say. I haven't spent a lot of time here. Almost all my college has been distance learning."

"You don't come here to hang out? Go to frat parties?"

Yuuri chokes on nothing. "What could have possibly made you think I'm the kind of person who'd go to frat parties?"

"I didn't know you had to be any special kind of person for that," Victor says. "I've never been to college! How would I know?"

Phichit is kindly maintaining his position a step ahead of them, but he isn't doing a very good job of hiding his amusement when he glances back.

"Frat parties are just excuses to get really drunk as fast as possible," Yuuri says.

"I see," Victor says. "And you'd never do that."

Right. Even if Victor was too busy partying with Chris to notice Yuuri hugging the wall throughout the banquet, if nothing else he knows from the JPF's censure that Yuuri drank too much that night. Wincing a little, Yuuri says, "Not... normally. No."

Victor touches his shoulder briefly, with an apologetic look and a little squeeze; he only lets go when they have to make way for another person passing on the sidewalk. Clearing his throat, Victor asks, "What do you normally do, then?"

"Well, things are all switched around today because of the power outage. Normally dance class is next in the morning, but it's canceled. So we're doing yoga, they still take drop-ins, right? —Right," he says as Phichit glances back nodding. "Then a break for lunch, then ice time, then the gym—" Yuuri can see Phichit shaking his head, looking back again. "What?"

"I think he meant, what do you do for fun."

"I'm interested in all of it!" Victor says.

"Oh. I guess we... watch TV, and sometimes I play games..."

He sounds so dull and juvenile. Victor shows up sometimes on Twitter and Instagram and Russian entertainment news, sighted at the ballet or the symphony, or occasionally at movie premieres, stunning in his designer suits, often with a model on his arm. He's cultured and sophisticated; Yuuri is Netflix and chill, minus the chill.

The problem is that Yuuri keeps lapsing into trying to make a good impression on Victor, which is impossible. Victor has already seen him skate his worst, and knows he drank himself into a stupor at the banquet, and heard him break down on the phone. He knows too many of the worst things about Yuuri already. There's no changing that.

And it doesn't matter anyway. Even if Yuuri did somehow impress Victor now, what difference would it make? Victor's never going to see him as anything but the dime-a-dozen skater who agreed to pretend to date him. The only one who was available to pretend, because he was the only one who was single.

So many years of hard work, all with the ultimate goal of meeting Victor on the same level. Whenever his motivation ebbed, Yuuri always had fantasies of reaching Victor to fall back on— daydreams about meeting him at last, skating his best in competition with Victor, sharing the podium with him.

None of it happened the way he hoped, and it hurts to lose that dream. No wonder he keeps fooling himself that he can rewind somehow and make a new first impression on Victor. But Yuuri blew his only chance; it's not coming back.

"When we're this deep in the season, Yuuri always forgets how much we hit the clubs all summer," Phichit says, running alongside them again now. "Our favorite bartender at Menlo's was threatening to name a drink after us."

"Oooh. What was the drink?"

"Like a mojito, but with sake and plum wine. The bars here don't have mekhong so I just got to be the lime. I guess that's fair since I wasn't supposed to be there in the first place..."

"And you definitely weren't supposed to be drinking alcohol, so it'd be weird if whiskey was your part," Yuuri says, glad for the distraction.

"He was calling it a Heartache," Phichit says. "Only because there's already a different drink called the Heartbreaker."

"I have to try one," says Victor.

"We'll take you there!"

"Phichit... let's not—" Yuuri gives up when he sees Victor's pleased excitement. Right. He has to stop worrying about what Victor thinks of him, and just... let this happen, let Victor get whatever he wants out of this visit, and at least try to show him a good time. "Sure. We'll take you there."

"Yuuri!" Victor sings, with a mid-jog sidehug. It's awkward and they're both sweaty by now, but Yuuri lets himself lean into it anyway.


Ordinarily, Yuuri ends his jog at the dance studio while Phichit goes to yoga. Phichit has a lot of dance training too, but Thai dance is its own intricate discipline; he finds Western-style ballet alienating. They've taken ballroom and contemporary classes together, but for ballet, Yuuri's on his own.

With the dance studio closed, they all head to Phichit's yoga class. "Do you do yoga?" Phichit asks Victor.

"My trainer has me do some stretching that I think comes from yoga, but I've never taken a class. This will be fun!"

Fun might be overstating a little. Or maybe Yuuri just thinks so because so many people recommend yoga to him for his nerves, and yet, yoga is so much worse for him than dance. When he's moving, it's like he can outrace his weakness. The stillness of yoga gives him too much time to obsess.

For three rounds of sun salutations, Yuuri's anxiety winds him up about the possibility that he'll screw up somehow and everyone will figure out that the whole dating story is fake, humiliating Victor as well as himself.

By the end of the class, Yuuri's stomach hurts from every catastrophic thought chasing its tail in his head, and he's composed an entire mental press release explaining how pretending to date was Victor's attempt to do Yuuri a kindness after Yuuri shamed himself with his failure at the Final.

Then, after he abases himself to restore Victor's reputation, Yuuri will change his name, move elsewhere in the States to find a job in physical therapy, and stay away from home for another five years until the whole thing's forgotten. Maybe he could get away with three years. California is supposed to be nice. There. Solid plan.

"What do you think?" Phichit asks as they leave.

"It's nice!" Victor says. "It really is relaxing, isn't it? What about you, Yuuri?"

"...It was harder than I expected."

"Oh, me too," says Victor. "Of course I know holding a position can be just as active as moving, but it's something else to feel it after an hour of nothing but posing."

"Maybe if you did more yoga, modeling would be easier," Phichit suggests idly, flicking through notifications on his phone.

"You may be right. I'll think about that." Victor claps his hands together briskly. "So! Lunch?"

"Is pho okay?" Yuuri asks.

"Sure!"

That was a suspiciously quick answer. "Have you ever had it?"

"Maybe?" Victor touches a finger to his lip. Yuuri has another of those head-spinning moments of double vision, remembering how many interviews he's seen with that same gesture. Dropping his hand, Victor shrugs. "Whenever I travel, I always try to eat something new. But a lot of those times, I also try to drink something new, too, so..."

"Well... we won't have that problem today," Yuuri says awkwardly.

"Speak for yourself, I'm buying him sake," says Phichit.

"You know that's not sake at the pho place. Isn't it sato?"

"How could it be sato when it's cloudy like sake?"

"I keep telling you that's only some kinds. And they don't taste the same."

"These are... rice wines?" Victor asks, so many steps behind.

"Yeah," Phichit says, "the pho place has ruou nep. Tastes just like sake."

Yuuri shakes his head and mouths it doesn't behind Phichit's turned head. He's unreasonably pleased that it makes Victor laugh.


Most of lunch actually consists of lotus root salads, but they make sure Victor gets a memorable helping of pho, faithfully noted in his diet app. Then it's back to the still-frigid apartment for their gear, with a little time to kill. Victor disappears for most of it.

Yuuri tries to catch up on his Nutrition Science 302 reading, but mostly he just stares at the PDF and wonders why Victor keeps running water in the bathroom sink for minutes at a time.

It's clearer when they get ready to go. Even in his workout clothes, Victor looks polished. His hair had wilted a bit during the yoga class, but now it's gleaming and styled again. Though that mostly just means it falls over his left eye in a slightly more deliberate way than it did before.

"Where's Phichit?" he asks, shouldering into his coat.

"Warming up the car," Yuuri says. He never took his own coat off, or his hat; his nose is still cold. "For the past twenty minutes. Probably with the heat on full blast. Does that run the battery down?"

"I have no idea."

"If you're ready, we should go. We'll be really early, but at least there, it's cold for a good reason."

Yuuri's locking the door behind them when Zach dashes up the stairs toward his own apartment, spots them, and stops, a plastic grocery bag swinging from his fingers. "Oh, hey, Yuuri!"

"Hi." Yuuri's not sure if he should bother with introductions or not. He's leaning towards not.

Zach makes the decision for him, though. "Hi," he says to Victor, and to Yuuri, he asks, "Is this the really great guy you were telling us about at New Year's?"

Yuuri feels his face flare. Victor's grin could not be more huge and heart-shaped as he turns to him. "Yuuri! Am I?"

"Um. Yeah..." The earth doesn't open up and swallow him, so Yuuri just has to bear down and keep going. "Zach, this is Victor. This is our next door neighbor, Zach."

"Hello!" Victor gives a little wave, still smiling hugely.

"Hm," Zach nods an acknowledgment, eyeing Victor up and down. Yuuri assumes Zach is probably having that same reaction Phichit did: whether or not Victor is their type, he's the kind of gorgeous that demands attention.

"You're a student too?" Victor asks, peppy.

"Yeah." Zach might be hungover or something. Yuuri's never seen him this dour.

"If I understand it right from American movies and TV," Victor says, "I'm supposed to ask, what's your major?"

That gets a baffled look from Zach. Yuuri explains halfheartedly, "Victor's, um. Russian."

"Civil engineering," Zach says. He correctly interprets Victor's blank expression and continues, "That's designing roads, bridges, water systems, that kind of thing."

This is news to Yuuri, and he feels a little bad. Even if Victor asked in an odd way, he found out more about Zach than Yuuri has after a year of living next door to him.

"Wow," says Victor. "Do you specialize in one part of that, or does that come later?"

"Specializing mostly comes later, yeah."

"Sounds important!"

"It's no world championship," Zach says, "but it keeps the lights on."

"Unless it doesn't," Victor says. Zach's expression doesn't change. Victor adds, "Since... there aren't any lights, or power, right now...?"

"Uh-huh." Zach looks annoyed. He squints at Victor. "Dude, are you wearing makeup?"

"Oh... aren't you?" Victor asks, his tone brightly concerned. He smiles and waves a dismissive hand. "Never mind, it's okay. It's still early!"

"We need to get to practice," Yuuri says, taking Victor's elbow and preparing to drag him out.

He doesn't have to. "Bye!" Victor chirps, and marches out at Yuuri's side.

Yuuri drops his grip on Victor's arm as soon as they're outside. "Sorry. I don't know what that was about."

"I do," Victor says, amused. "You said you didn't want to do a jealousy thing— I tried! That was all him."

"Wh— Zach!? He's not jealous, why— we've talked maybe five times, ever! I don't even know his last name!"

"I bet he knows yours," Victor grins.

Yuuri looks askance at him. He noticed that Victor looks more composed now, but he didn't realize it was makeup, til now: those freckles he saw this morning are almost invisible, and Victor's eyes are set off a little. His naturally pale eyelashes are darker, definitely.

Victor catches him looking. "It's tinted moisturizer. And it has sunscreen!"

"Okay... and your eyes?"

"Phichit hasn't taught me his eyeliner technique yet, so I went for something subtle," Victor smiles, completely unembarrassed.

Yuuri's glad to see it. Victor should be Victor, and Yuuri has no time for anyone who tries to make him feel self-conscious about that.

"It looks great," Yuuri says. "Though you don't need to look your best, you know, we're just going to practice."

Victor smirks. "Yuuri, I know you've seen enough of my photoshoots to be well aware: this is nowhere near my best."

"You always look your best. Just different kinds of best."

He must be getting used to pretending; Yuuri only jumps a little when Victor's arm wraps around his shoulders, and Victor's voice comes close again, practically purring his name.

"Yuuri... thank you. That's good, then! You don't want to introduce me to your friends when I'm not in top condition."

It's stupid for Yuuri's fanboy tendencies to flare up now, while talking to Victor, but it's a reflex, born of all the times he's pounded out tweets and forum replies, blasting people who insult Victor or even just fail to give him his due.

Online, he always deletes those rants without posting them (not under his own name, anyway). But in person, there's no backspace key.

"I'd be proud to introduce you to anyone if you were wearing a paper sack and a— a mud mask. You're the best skater in the world, and—" Yuuri's mind finally catches up with his mouth and he cuts himself off, appalled. Quickly he adds, "I don't know who you think I'd be trying to impress anyway, I told you I'm not really friends with anyone but Phichit." Not much hope that'll change the subject, but maybe if he's lucky...

Of course he isn't lucky. "And?" Victor prompts, the arm around Yuuri's shoulders jostling him a little. "Go on, there was something else! The best skater, and?"

Yuuri tries a glare, but Victor's completely unperturbed, blue eyes shiny and eager. This is what Yuuri gets for being glad that Victor's totally shameless.

"And a good friend, that's what I was thinking," Yuuri says, "but I take it back."

"Too late!" Victor cheers. "A good friend, though? Not a good boyfriend?"

Yuuri ducks his head. "How would I know?"

"I guess you wouldn't, yet. Well... give it time. I can be very convincing."'

"I know that," Yuuri says. Victor is a better actor than he ever imagined. And Yuuri's imagination had already been wild. He tries a little smile, to show he's still on board with the act.

Victor's own smile blooms even bigger in answer. "Good."


They arrive half an hour early for their ice time, and it's a good thing, too. Yuuri thought the rink would be deserted, thanks to the power outage, but there are people around. And of course he can't take Victor Nikiforov to an ice rink without spending the next twenty minutes waiting for Victor to sign autographs, take selfies, and answer questions.

And that's just the staff, their kids, and a couple of hobbyist skaters who dropped by to help test the brand new ice. If there had been classes today, Yuuri can only imagine how swamped Victor would be.

"If I pass out, just prop me up at the desk," says Diane, hand over her heart. "When we heard the news about you and Yuuri, we wondered if you might visit, but I didn't honestly think we'd get to meet you!"

"It can't be that special," Victor jokes, signing her skates: Russian on the right skate, English on the left. "You already have Yuuri and Phichit here."

"We have to play it cool with them— they're here all the time!" Diane says. "If we freak out and fangirl them and get on their nerves, we'll have to live with it every day."

"I see," Victor smiles. "But you can probably use my visit as an excuse to do that now, can't you? Yuuri! Phichit! Come take a selfie with us!"

"Just think," Phichit says, looping an arm around Yuuri to position him just so within the camera frame. "You always thought you were just indulging your phone-happy roommate, but it turns out I've been training you to date Victor Nikiforov, all this time."


No one else is using the rink, so Diane tells them they can have it whenever they're ready. Yuuri wants to rush through his warm-up, but Minako trained him too well for that; he checks the clock and adds an extra five minutes instead, gathering his focus, slowing himself down.

Victor and Phichit take to the ice before him, tracing a slow circuit around the entire rink. Since the building lost power, the ice melted, and it's not just a matter of turning the machines back on and refreezing it. Layers of water are frozen one at a time to create a surface that can hold up to skate blades; it's an exacting process. And even though the hobbyists tried it out, they probably didn't do any serious jumps. The first jumps on green ice are always a little nerve-wracking.

For Yuuri, anyway. He should know by now that Victor will always surprise him, breaking from Phichit's careful twizzles to do a waltz jump and then, a double flip, the gold blades of his skates flashing.

"Feels good!" he calls to Yuuri, as if Yuuri needs coaxing to come out.

It itches at him; he steps onto the ice and, the second he feels sure on his blades, Yuuri does a double axel.

He feels stupid almost instantly. It's not like Victor will ever take him seriously as a competitor, so why bother, even at this dumb, petty level of challenge—

Victor soars right past him into a double axel, half loop, double flip, banks out of the landing and blows him a kiss.

...Right. Okay. Sure. Victor didn't become the most decorated male figure skater in the sport by backing down, ever, from anyone, no matter how insignificant.

Screw it. If the new ice cracks, Yuuri knows how to fall. Falling is probably his greatest skill. He definitely gets plenty of practice.

Yuuri whips up some speed, focusing on his irritation and bruised pride, and throws himself into a quad toe loop. The landing is pitiful— his free foot grazes the ice and he still wobbles it. He knows his face is red (as it has been fully fifty percent of the time since Victor arrived) but when he curves out of the landing and catches Victor's eye, he blows a kiss right back.

Victor claps— not the slow sarcastic golf clap Yuuri probably deserves, but just a quick one-two of his gloved hands coming together as he strokes across the rink to Yuuri, heart-shaped smile in full effect, matching Yuuri's easy speed. "Was that a dare? Do I owe you a quad flip now?"

"No," Yuuri says, "I already regret it. Please don't until we're more sure of the ice. If you get injured on this visit, the entire staff of the Yubileyny and the Russian skating federation and ten million fans are going to storm this place and break my kneecaps."

"Never. I'd defend your legs with my life. And consider it well spent."

There's nothing Yuuri can say to that nonsense. As they round the next corner, the breeze plasters Victor's bangs over half his face, left eye shut against it; it occurs to Yuuri that sometimes Victor's trademark wink might just be a reaction to his hair getting into his eye.

"I thought you'd pin your hair back for practice," he says. "Isn't it uncomfortable to have it hanging in your face all the time?"

Victor swerves at a steeper angle, slowing down, and Yuuri paces him instinctively, til they're barely moving and Victor's giving him an enigmatic little smile.

"You tell me," Victor glides closer, drawing Yuuri to a cautious stop.

And then he's much closer, one gold-bladed skate slipping between Yuuri's. Here on the ice, the radiant heat of his body surrounds him like a glow; Yuuri can feel it.

Tipping his head down, Victor rests his brow against Yuuri's. He purses his lips and blows a breath upward, sending his long bangs drifting into Yuuri's face. Yuuri stares up into blue eyes through a sheer screen of silvery hair. He's pretty sure his soul just left his body and he can taste time.

"That's not so bad, is it?" Victor asks in his lowest, sexiest voice.

"Okay," Yuuri answers nonsensically.

Victor smiles like that ridiculous non sequitur was exactly what he wanted to hear, and he eases back, glancing sideways. "I think your coach is here."

"Great," Yuuri says, and flees.


"So this is really happening," Celestino says, when he spots Victor.

"Hi, Coach," Yuuri says in unison with Phichit, feeling vaguely guilty.

"Hi, Coach!" Victor adds, waving.

"Not your coach," Celestino tells him, settling his bag on the rinkside bench as they come off the ice to him, plastic blade guards clacking on the hard floor.

"Hi, Yuuri and Phichit's coach!" Victor amends immediately, with a plastic smile.

"Are you two sure you want to do this?" Celestino asks Phichit and Yuuri, sighing when they promise they do. He addresses Victor: "You can take the far half of the rink. At two-thirty everyone else comes off the ice so Yuuri can do a full rink runthrough. Then Phichit at two-forty-five. If you want the rink to yourself while you're here, you're going to have to arrange that on your own. These two may have agreed to share their ice time, but I'm not compromising their practices with me."

"Of course," says Victor, folding his hands, all attention.

"You're not my student, but if I do tell you to do something, I expect you to listen. With these power cuts, I'm not so sure of the ice quality today. No arguments if I call you in. Understand?"

"Of course," Victor repeats soberly.

"Good. I'm not Yakov Feltsman, I don't intend to let my skaters run wild."

"Don't tell me you believe those stories about how Yakov's skaters don't obey him."

"About how you don't obey him," Celestino corrects, dry.

"But I do," says Victor. "Yakov wouldn't put up with anything less. We're all loyal to him. You don't think I've come this far without listening to my coach!"

Yuuri tries to elbow Phichit when he opens his mouth, but he can't land a jab in time to keep his friend from observing, "There's literally a Deadspin article about the top ten times you defied your coach."

"Half of those weren't even true," Victor says.

Celestino's mighty brows arch. "And the other half?"

"Wellll, five times in an entire career," Victor shrugs. "I don't do what Yakov says when he's wrong. That's not loyalty, it's just stupidity. But what's that reputation about, really— because I argue with him? He expects it. Because he looks angry when I talk too much to reporters? That's nothing. I always stop when he tells me to."

"Like when?" Phichit scoffs. Yuuri really regrets making him watch all those interviews with Victor... many, many times...

"He taps his foot," Victor folds his arms and does a little double-tap with his fingers in demonstration, fingers curving over his (enviable) biceps. "Like that. And I stop when I see it. It's just that Yakov usually lets me talk a lot before he does it. Honestly? I think he thinks it's funny when I stir people up, and he only stops me when he thinks it's more trouble than it's worth."

"He can't be happy you're here right now, in the middle of the season," Celestino says.

"No. But when we argued about it, he didn't threaten to quit. That's how he tells me he's serious. So he didn't want me to come, but he didn't stop me."

"He has to threaten to quit to get you to listen?"

"It's just how we relate. We've worked together almost thirteen years now. We understand each other."

Their own coach just shakes his head, but he doesn't argue further, probably thinking of all the little codes and signals they have after years of working together, all the ways he's learned to manage Yuuri's weakness and Phichit's exuberance (usually by pushing one of them into the other until their negative and positive charges equal out).

Celestino checks his watch. "Enough, it's nearly one. Let's get started. New ice, not to mention we're just coming back from a break, so no jumps today."

Yuuri could bow his head to the ground at his feet. The last thing he wants to do is fall out of his jumps in front of Victor again.

"All right, in some ways he is just like Yakov," Victor murmurs under his breath; he lifts his voice. "I'm going to work on my Lutz, okay?"

"You can do what you like, you're not my student."

"I know, but I don't want to be a bad influence!"

"Too late," Celestino says, but it seems good-natured now, a hint of a smile on his face. Victor seems to take it accordingly, waving with almost a salute before he takes off for his side of the rink.


Yuuri expects to have a panic attack at some point during practice; he's practically penciled it in.

He imagines he'll get through warm-ups and maybe half an hour of serious drilling, but even though he has every reason to believe Victor will be nothing but friendly and encouraging, it won't matter. Just knowing he's watching while Yuuri inevitably screws up is guaranteed to drive Yuuri to cram himself someplace small and lose his breath for a little while.

It doesn't happen. Because— and Yuuri knew this from interviews, from hearsay, from documentaries on Russian TV, but somehow failed to take it into account— Victor is an absolute beast at practice.

The moment Victor's skates cut the ice, he claims his share of the rink and doesn't look back. He's completely focused on his own work with no attention to spare for Phichit or Yuuri.

It's humbling to watch. Most days, Yuuri and Phichit give themselves a little padding around serious run-throughs and exercises. They'll roam the ice doing simple pair skating moves together for fun, or race each other back and forth, or do compulsory figures while Phichit complains and tries to tweet through it. They tighten up the schedule on the days Celestino is here to crack the whip, but he still allows a little extra time to recover and gear up between major efforts.

Victor spends fifty minutes punishing the ice with his precise and powerful strokes, and then his phone beeps at him and he takes a three-minute break, guzzling water and thumb-typing on his phone with the expression of a heart surgeon presiding over a chest cavity. Another beep signals the end of the break and he's immediately back at it.

Inevitably, it distracts Yuuri from his own practice, because this part? This is the dream come true. He doesn't have to negotiate the lies or think about who's watching or navigate the high tide of Victor's attention. He can just watch Victor skate, from closer than the audience could ever get. He can see Victor scratch through unfamiliar choreography and launch himself into his polished programs with skill earned in over twenty years of dedicated skating, the skill that's made him the best in the world.

Celestino doesn't bother trying to regain Yuuri's full attention, just has him do drills and power pulls, occasionally shouting corrections to his form. When Yuuri can tear his eyes away from Victor, he sees his coach jotting down enough notes to make Yuuri dread the after-practice cool-down talk.

After the first hour, Victor starts working on his quad Lutz, and Celestino waves Yuuri off entirely and gives all his attention to Phichit. Yuuri claims a patch and does figures, craning to watch as Victor systematically tackles and fails every possible variation on the jump.

Different entrances, different speeds, a Tano arm, a little less height, a little more; it never connects. Victor doesn't spill across the ice even one time, the way Yuuri always blows his jumps. But he touches down or two-foots every landing, under-rotates, over-corrects and stumbles out of it.

Yuuri's sure he himself would be in tears of frustration after five failed passes, but it's five, it's six, it's ten, and Victor is just as flatly determined as he was the first time. He even attempts it on his other leg, which is startling. Since his injury, he's never landed anything beyond an occasional double on that leg, but here he is, making a credible attempt at a quad Lutz with it, even if it ends in another two-footed wobbly landing.

With Victor's penchant for surprises, of course he wouldn't let anyone know if he was building up strength to do a serious jump on his off leg. He probably plans to do a quad on it out of nowhere and make all the announcers scream.

Victor finally comes the closest he's managed so far, a landing with the second foot just barely kissing the ice for a moment, and just like that, he pivots out of it and switches to the difficult choreographic sequence from his short program, working through it over and over with the same relentless, honing repetition.

Celestino beckons Yuuri in, soon after. "Sunday, I expect you to be ready to work on your programs. If Victor's a distraction, he needs to book his own ice time."

"I understand. I'll be ready," Yuuri promises, guilty; he knows he deserves more of a dressing-down than that.

"Have you made a therapy appointment yet?"

Oh. There it is. "The phone appointments weren't enough?" He cringes under Celestino's disapproving look. "Okay, coach, I'll call her."

"Do it now, while Phichit has the rink."

Yuuri would put it off and wind himself up about it, but Victor's also leaving the ice clear for Phichit, snapping on his skate guards. He sits to untie them and Yuuri quickly calls— no time to rehearse what he's going to say and second-guess and delay, he has to finish up before Victor changes into shoes and comes over here.

It's probably the fastest phone call Yuuri's ever made. Raising his voice just enough to be heard over Phichit's free skate music, he secures the appointment in under two minutes and hangs up while Victor's still checking his blades.

"Gym next, yes?" Victor asks, joining him. "Or do you do a cool-down here?"

"Walking to the gym is kind of our cool-down." Yuuri makes sure his skates are dry and covers the blades with his fuzzy blue soakers, grateful that a year or so ago, he finally replaced the Makkachin soakers he used for ages. Not that the depth and depravity of his fannishness would surprise Victor at this point, probably, but still, Yuuri would like to spare himself as much overt embarrassment as he can.

The bright, brassy tones of "Shall We Skate?" start up from the rink speakers.

"Oh, no. Really?" Victor asks, looking a little pained.

"Yeah, but—" Yuuri hesitates, with a wave encompassing Phichit whipping through his choreography.

"Oh, right, of course," Victor says, touching his finger to his mouth. "Sorry, that was a little silly of me, wasn't it."

"I get it, I mean, I've heard it way too often too. And I didn't think about it at first, either— Phichit explained it to me. I knew he probably wanted to do it because The King and the Skater is set in Thailand, but I didn't know about the whole history of The King and I, and all the appropriation and distortions, and... I don't know. You should ask him, he's been working on a mini speech for next season about why it's important to him to reclaim this music and make it his."

"I'll ask. I'd like to hear that." Victor tips his head to the side, watching as Phichit starts from the top again. "I see a lot of dance background in both of you, in different ways, but Phichit's done theater too, I'm guessing?"

"Yeah. Um, his older sister's in television, so I know he did some drama training, growing up."

"He has a lot of presence and style. But he does some of the acting with his facial expressions, and you can't count on the cameras picking up all that during performances, so the judges are bound to miss some of it, if it doesn't carry through in his body language."

Yuuri nods. "That's funny, Celestino said the same thing."

"Did he?" Victor smiles faintly, eyes tracking Phichit through a triple flip.

"They're still working on bringing more of that into the choreography. I guess that's part of the reason Phichit's working a little on next year's programs already... taking extra time to really develop what he wants them to be."

"I do that too, most seasons. I usually get a little tired of the current season's programs and start on ideas for next year just to have something new to do."

Yuuri looks over at him, and for once, he's struck by how weird it isn't, seeing him here. Standing with a hand on the boards and a jacket tied around his hips— which flatters no one, and yet here Victor is, making it seem perfectly attractive— Victor looks relaxed and at home, even here in their slightly shabby, halogen-soaked Detroit rink. It isn't weird when he glances back and smiles, meeting Yuuri's gaze; it isn't even strange when he reaches over and flips up the curled-under collar of Yuuri's hoodie.

It's stupid to get used to this, Yuuri knows that; he keeps trying to remind himself to keep his perspective. But it's probably already too late.


Even aside from his ravenous consumption of Victor Nikiforov news and interviews, Yuuri’s not surprised to hear that Victor, like Phichit, prefers free weights at the gym.

The two of them quickly agree to spot each other, leaving Yuuri blissfully free to use the weight machines. The other two can exult about how much better the workout is with free weights all they want. Yuuri will gladly work out twice as long on a machine if it means he can avoid the horror of having someone hover over him to spot him, with nothing to do but watch him push and sweat and struggle.

“Do you use headphones?” Phichit asks. Thanks to all the secondhand exposure to Victor facts from Yuuri, he barely waits for Victor to shake his head. “Okay. We can use the TV or the sound dock, as long as we keep the volume under 12. You’re the guest, you get to choose the music or show.”

“That’s okay, whatever you usually do is fine,” Victor says.

There are at least two more rounds of after-you-no-after-you while Yuuri sweats his way through incline sit-ups, unable to stop himself from trying to watch upside-down while Victor and Phichit do bicep curls throughout their back-and-forth.

Finally Phichit insists, “What do you usually do, then? Why not that?”

“It would be boring,” Victor says. “I don’t put anything on. My trainer says the only way to be sure you’re not cheating reps is staying focused, so no music, definitely no TV.”

“Yeah, but then you just end up listening to other people’s stuff.”

“Our sessions are one-on-one.”

“Is that what I’m going to have to do to get that kind of definition?” Phichit laments. “Well, we can’t kick everyone else out, so I’m putting my music on. If I hear that Iggy Azalea song coming from the stair machines again I’m going to snap.”

“Yuuri, are you… how many sets have you done?” Victor asks while Phichit fiddles with the sound dock.

“I don’t know?” Luckily he’s got enough of a flow going to be able to breathe and talk through it. “I just go until I can’t anymore.”

Victor mutters something Yuuri can’t interpret– too accented or too Russian, hard to tell— adding, “That explains a lot.”

Like why he constantly falls out of his jumps, maybe? Maybe Yuuri should be targeting his lower back and obliques more, too; it's possible that overtraining these muscles is pulling him off balance.

As hard as it is to hear criticism here, it’s not like Yuuri could ever pass up tips from Victor. Anyway, his face must already be red, he might as well take advantage of the camouflage and let the chagrin roll in. He slows a little, considering. “That’s right, you said you don’t do crunches, that they’re bad for the back? Reverse crunches are better?”

“Reverse crunches are better for me,” Victor says, “but if this is what you do, it’s obviously working for you. Don’t change a thing.”

“It’s just that crunches can be hard on the back because you rely on your hip flexors to support you, and I can understand why your trainer would have you avoid that, since you had a labral injury,” Yuuri thinks through it out loud. “But on the incline board the abs have to engage more. It’s harder, but it’s less strain on the hips as long as you have the core strength.”

“I can’t believe you’re still going,” Victor says, somehow almost in a tone of complaint. “I need a drink.”

“I won’t make a thirst joke,” Phichit says. “You’re welcome.”

“Thank you,” Victor says, heading for the drink fridges by the front desk. Yuuri finally stops, because even if it makes him creepy, and even upside-down, he’s not missing that retreating view.

“Ugh, you both need to take a drink and cool it down a little,” Phichit says, “some of us are here to work. I mean, not me, everything I do is effortless, I’m just here for moral support and dewy selfies. But someone here is probably working. Have a heart.”


"You know what we forgot to get last night?" Phichit asks as they pack up their gym bags. "A new showerhead! We need to go back to Bed Bath and Beyond."

Yuuri frowns. "Wouldn't they have more choices at Home Depot or someplace like that?"

"I already looked online and picked out a good one, and it's at Bed Bath and Beyond," Phichit says. "We don't have to go to the one on the way to the airport, we can go to the other one! It'll keep us out of the cold apartment and we can pick up stuff for dinner at the Food Giant. Or Whole Foods, if we drive out a little further."

"Right. And if I go on Instagram," Yuuri gets his phone out, "I'm not going to see some other motivation for this idea?"

"Of course not."

"Or Twitter...?"

Phichit breaks. "Yuuri! Come on, we had fun. You want me to treat him like anybody else— well, if anyone else was that good at making videos and netted me that many hits, I'd ask them to do more."

"That's a loophole and you know it." Yuuri finds the poll on Twitter. Phichit asked his followers where he should shoot more videos with Victor; the options are Wal-Mart, Target, Dollar Tree, and 'Bed Bath and Beyond, but like, a different one.'

"How is Bed Bath and Beyond winning?"

"It was way behind earlier, but then Victor voted for it. After that, I guess all his fans voted for it too."

Victor comes through the door with his bag, spots them both bowed over the phone, and smiles. "Has the internet decided where we're going next?"

Phichit looks at Yuuri significantly.

Yuuri gives up. "I guess we're going to Bed Bath and Beyond. But like, a different one."


If there's one thing Yuuri knows about social media— from Phichit, from Celestino, from common sense and long experience— it's never look at the comments.

So of course, of course, in the car on the way to the strip mall, he looks at the comments on Phichit's poll.


sharp as ice @darlingniki4ov 58m
you & viktor r an amazing team never stop!!

talk talk passion baby @taffetafairy 56m
Fave part of all the BBB videos: every time the cam swings around to see Victor's bf C R I N G I N G in the bg

fiona time @takesometime 51m
imagine being so up yourself that ur embarrassed to be seen with victor nikiforov

Medal Up @icyhaute 46m
Lolll you kidding? Katsuki is figure skating's biggest Victor fan, bet he's not embarrassed, more like comatose w joy.

slippery trigger @sexathelon 42m
Truth tho: I bet the BBB employees were Real Done with their filming antics and I bet Katsuki knew it. Doesn't his family run a hotel? Trust, once you do some time in the customer service trenches, you knooow when you're bugging the retail slaves

Skate lyfe @nicecapades 33m
Did you see the look on Victor's face when he said "My boyfriend is here"? Did you ever think you would live to see the day

Medal Up @icyhaute 14m
I'm a Victor girl but of all his competition, I've always had a soft spot for Katsuki, prob because he's a Victor boy. Seeing him date Victor is so satisfying, I can't even tell you. I feel like my best friend just got crowned prom queen.

Skate lyfe @nicecapades 9m
Right? Can they please just make a thousand videos? I don't even need the little jokey remarks and mini skits, I just want hours of Victor looking happy like he did in the boyfriend vid


Yeah. Yuuri would like that, too.


"Why did you want to come back here, anyway?" Yuuri asks as they get out of the car, following Phichit as he communes with his phone.

"You look cold," Victor says, tucking an arm around him. "Did I want to come back here? I thought Twitter sent us."

"They only voted for it after you did."

"Oh! Oops." Victor nuzzles his chilled-pink nose into Yuuri's knit cap. Yuuri doesn't jump this time, he isn't even surprised; the evening wind is coming in vicious. If someone else was at nose-height to Yuuri, he'd probably try to warm up like that too.

Victor says, "I just voted for that one because I thought it was funny how Phichit wrote it. 'The same place but like, another one,' that was cute!"

"If that was all, we don't have to go here if you don't really want to."

"But we're already here," says Victor, skimming his own cap off as they pass through the doors. "How's my hair?"

Victor has a cowlick whorl at the crown of his head; GQ did a little article about it, complete with photos showing how his hairstyle works with it. Thanks to the expert cut, it's not obvious unless his hair's mussed, like it is now from the static electricity and the hat. Right now, one of the locks at the dividing line of the part in his hair is veering off in the wrong direction, sticking up.

"Here," Yuuri hands him the comb he fruitlessly carries for himself. Victor checks himself in the glass of the doors they just entered; a few quick strokes, a little patting, and his hair's back to perfect.

Yuuri swallows a sigh when he sees Phichit getting ready; he brought attachments. And thanks to those commenters, Yuuri's paranoid now that shooting videos might bother the employees here. He'll have to keep an eye out for that. Also he needs to be more careful to avoid the camera, because his cringing isn't likely to stop, but at least he can keep it out of sight.

"You said some stuff about the candle section yesterday that sounded pretty good, we didn't get that. We could start there?" Phichit suggests.

"Sure," Victor agrees, and they're off.


After twenty minutes, Phichit breezes right by the bath section as he and Victor discuss whether twisting on a balance board provides an adequate workout.

He's obviously forgotten all about his putative excuse for coming here, so Yuuri leaves them to it, fetches a handbasket, and goes looking for their new showerhead. He checks Phichit's various accounts, dead certain that he recorded his preference somewhere: it turns out to be on his Pinterest.

Yuuri's only criteria is "not leaky," so he puts Phichit's choice in the basket and idles around, trying to stay out of camera range. He can only kill so much time here, though. Eighteen years of living at a hot springs resort gave him enough exposure to towels and bath supplies and laundry to last a lifetime, and the kitchenware seems overpriced and overspecialized to him. He gets so indignant over the "air fryers"— they're just weirdly shaped toaster ovens! How is that frying?!— that he has to walk away, and bedding isn't very compelling either.

He doesn't share Victor's weird fascination with candles and he doesn't need glassware or china for his last few months in Detroit. That leaves nowhere much to go but wherever Victor and Phichit are.

Doom creeps over Yuuri the moment he hears Victor asking, "What on earth is Poo-pourri?" He steels himself as he rounds the corner; it's not enough.

There's an entire display, centered around a TV blaring a woman's accented voice as she sits enthroned on a toilet in an immaculate dress. "I used to hate pooping in public. You know the feeling..."

"I don't remember the States being so bathroom obsessed when I was here before," Victor says, "but when I first arrived at the airport one of the shops was selling chocolate moose poop, and now—" he reads off the labels from the endcap display. "Poo Plunger, Poo-pourri, Squatty Potty...? Charcoal odor control pads, a toilet bowl light... America, are you okay?"

Phichit lowers his phone, cackling. "Perfect. The ad running behind you really makes it."

"Oh, the charcoal pads say they're for gas! I was getting really worried for a minute," Victor says, examining the package. "I know they love convenience here but I'd hope they aren't just letting loose and letting the charcoal soak it all up."

"Ohhh yes, say that again," Phichit raises the camera.

"Isn't one video here enough?" Yuuri pleads, covering his face. The stupid ad is looping again. You know the feeling...

"You're probably right, Yuuri." Victor's moved on to spraying the horrifically named Poo-pourri so that he can sniff it, a floral-tinted chemical reek. "We don't need to give them free publicity. After all, I don't think any of us particularly want a sponsorship from any of these companies."

"You don't want a piece of that Poo-pourri money?" Phichit asks. "I'd take it."

"Could we just," Yuuri drops his hands, "stop talking about this and get away from this commercial, please?"

"Why are you so embarrassed?" Victor asks with a teasing smile. "Isn't there a famous Japanese book called Everybody Poops?"

Yuuri parks his fists on his hips. "Isn't there a famous Russian book called The Idiot?"

He feels a wave of cold shock pass through him as he realizes what he just said, to Victor Nikiforov— but Victor's already laughing brightly with his huge heart-shaped smile.

"Okay," he says, still chuckling. "You win. Let's move on."


Just when Yuuri thinks they might escape the gravity well of retail home goods, Phichit plows into the clearance section with a delighted gasp, instantly lining up half a dozen things to comment on.

Victor blinks at the shelves of red and green, holly and mistletoe, Santas and reindeer. "That's right, Christmas stuff is on clearance here already."

"It wouldn't be in Russia?" Phichit asks. "Still not capitalist enough for clearance sales?"

"We have plenty of capitalism. It's not Christmas there yet, or at least it hasn't been Christmas for everybody," Victor says. "It's this Saturday."

"I didn't know you have a different Christmas!"

"I don't have any Christmas, I'm not Christian. But the churches celebrate Christmas on January seventh. I think some people still celebrate in December. Or do both. At least, I know Gosha— Georgi's family always had their family dinner and gifts and things on December twenty-fifth and went to church on the seventh."

"I guess if it's not a holiday to you, you don't mind that your birthday's on Christmas. Old Christmas. Original recipe Christmas."

Victor shakes his head. "Just another day."

"I guess we can skip these shelves then," Phichit says, abandoning his little collection. "Maybe the other side?"

"I wouldn't have much to say about Thanksgiving either," Victor says, following him, Yuuri trailing uselessly after them both. "Is that right? Thanksgiving is the one before Christmas here?"

"Yes," Yuuri finally contributes something to the conversation, but he goes back to biting his tongue, still a little shook from snapping at Victor.

"Oh, they have Hanukkah stuff? Wow!" Victor performs surprise, giving the camera a good angle. With his usual great timing, Phichit was already recording as they came around the corner. "Look at all this blue and silver. Blue and white lights? Star of David napkins? Ice cubes shaped like dreidels... Oh, and for some reason we get Hanukkah stockings, even though stockings are a Saint Nicholas thing. And a bunch of weird menorahs, because all anybody really knows about Hanukkah is that it's something to do with candles."

At his pause, Phichit lowers his phone; Victor waves his hand dismissively. "Sorry, that's no good. Delete that, let's start over."

"You don't have to make a video here at all if you don't want to," Yuuri feels compelled to remind them.

"No, I'll find something," Victor says. "Dreidel ice cubes are kind of cute. And on-brand for us. And I can definitely do something with this sign. Here!" He holds it up, and Phichit obligingly resumes filming.

Yuuri moves behind Phichit to see what the sign says. It lists off eight different romanized spellings of Hanukkah: Chanukah, Hannukah, Chanukkah, and more.

Yuuri doesn't really get it until Victor taps it and says, "See, this? This is why I don't care how English speakers spell my name."

"Remind me to tell you about Hepburn romanization sometime," Yuuri says once the recording stops. "Sometime when you feel like hearing me complain for a few hours."

Victor seizes his hand theatrically. "Yuuri, tell me about Hepburn romanization!" A beat. "It's not Audrey Hepburn, is it? I can't hear a bad word about Audrey Hepburn— no, never mind, of course for you I can listen. Is it?"

"No, it isn't Audrey Hepburn," Yuuri says, as deadpan as he can manage. "I'll explain later. Let's finish here, we still need to do something about dinner before we go home and freeze."

"One more," says Victor, "I have to do something with this dog." He clears part of a shelf and sets a plush dog on it. The dog has a Santa hat, but blue, and a saddle shaped like a menorah with felt candles sticking up.

Victor lets Phichit get situated and start shooting. He looks at the toy dog, looks into the lens, and back to the dog, very deliberately raising a hand to squeeze its ear. The dog starts to jitter in place, kicking mechanically while "Hava Nagila" plays.

After a few doleful seconds of this, Victor shakes his head, imploring the camera, "America... what are you doing?"

He looks at the jerky dancing dog again, and almost visibly softens. Another glance at the camera, and he snatches the stuffed animal from the shelf, still playing music as Victor declares, "I changed my mind, I want it."

"Nice!" Phichit says, taking the attachments off his phone camera. "That was perfect. Really cute."

"Hm. Is your Insta moderated?"

"No...?"

"Don't post those last two, then," Victor says. "Unless you want to deal with a hundred troll comments about the international Zionist conspiracy to steal all the gold medals in figure skating."

"The what?"

"Never mind. Send them to me, I'll put them up. Nothing gets through on my Instagram, and I'll link to you from the posts."

"Okay, perfect," says Phichit, instantly losing interest in the details. Yuuri supposes that the only thing better for Phichit than featuring Victor on his Instagram is getting a shoutout from Victor's own Instagram, for all his ten million followers there to see.

"Conspiracy theories?" Yuuri asks Victor quietly.

"Actually it's probably more like sixty percent conspiracy theories and forty percent people complaining that I'm not really Jewish, but trolls are trolls," Victor shrugs.

"Why would they think you're not?" Phichit hasn't actually tuned out after all. "Or are they just trying to bait you?"

"Mostly baiting, but some people mean it. I'm Jewish on the wrong side, it's my father's family. So technically I wasn't born Jewish— it's mostly only important to people who want to say everything I've done was accomplished by an ethnic Russian." Victor produces a camera-ready smile. "But I had a bar mitzvah and my grandparents are always trying to feed me. And then I went to skate for Yakov Feltsman, so," he waves a hand like that completes the sentence.

Phichit shoots a look at Yuuri, who has to shake his head.

In a mock-whisper, Phichit loudly admits, "We don't know what that means."

"Oh! Right. Feltsman is a Jewish name."

"Is Nikiforov a Jewish name?" Phichit asks. Yuuri's glad he said it.

"No," Victor laughs. "I do admire the chutzpah of whatever relative of mine was told he had to use a surname and said, fine, call me the son of triumph."

"That's what it means?" Phichit scrunches his nose in consternation. "Wait, so your name is Victor, son of victory?"

This time when Victor flashes that brilliant smile, he helpfully frames his face with his squared fingers, too.

Phichit inevitably takes the bait and starts recording. "That's great!" he says. "But it's not a Victor Nikiforov impression unless you do the wink and the hair toss. That's what Yuu—"

Yuuri steps threateningly on his foot.

"—you're known for," he finishes without pause.

"Okay, let me go again," Victor says. He renews the smile once more, and this time he tosses his hair back and gives the camera a flirtatious little wink.

"Perfect!"

"Great. Let's pay and get out of here, Yuuri was ready to go ten minutes ago." Victor scoops up the plush dancing dog and confiscates Yuuri's shopping basket so neatly that he's halfway to the cash register before Yuuri catches up to him.

"You paid at the restaurant last night, you're not buying this stuff for our apartment," Yuuri says firmly.

"But Yuuri," Victor still seems to be stuck in video mode, with exaggerated wide eyes and a wheedling tone, "I have to pay you back for wasting so much time here while you were bored."

"No."

"And this is going to be the second night you save me money on a hotel room."

"That doesn't cost us anything— Victor, if you get out that credit card you're walking home."

Victor stops short and stares at him, a grin slowly growing on his face as he raises his empty hands in surrender. "Wow, Yuuri."

"—I'm sorry, of course I don't mean that, it's just— I know you're trying to do something nice, but. Don't," Yuuri gives up, chest tight, winded.

"No, of course. It stops being nice if it bothers you. I just wasn't sure if we were heading toward a 'Well, if you insist.' Now I know." He hands the basket back to Yuuri.

He tries, anyway. Phichit snatches it and takes it to the checkout. Yuuri's too busy talking himself down to argue again. Anyway, he knows he can pay Phichit back, when it's unexplored territory with Victor.

"I'll pick up the bill next time we buy extra ice time," Yuuri says.

"Sure, go nuts. Are you seriously buying that dog?" Phichit asks Victor. "It won't squish down, it's going to take up a lot of space in your suitcase."

"I know, but now I feel bad for him," Victor cradles the plush dog.

"Plus as soon as your fans see that video, they're going to run out and buy every Hanukkah dog left on the shelves to throw to you at Europeans."

"Maybe. But he's the one I insulted and I need to make it up to him."

"You're one of those people who gets weird without their dog, aren't you."

Victor makes a moue of concession, and buys the dancing plush toy.


"How much is ice time at your rink?" Victor asks after dinner.

They found a place to eat right after shopping; Phichit insisted Yuuri was just hangry, and there was probably something to it, because he feels a lot better now.

They're going to have to quit eating out as soon as they get power back, though. It's expensive, and their diets are hard enough to stick to without the additional challenge of fitting in restaurant food. For now they've ducked into the Food Giant to try to find food they don't have to refrigerate or cook. Though only after a quick pause so Victor could take a picture of the sign, oddly charmed by the name.

"At our rink... I think it's a hundred an hour. Plus taxes, and you might have to pay some extra fees since you're not a member of the skate club."

"It's cheaper for you, I hope! Do you buy it— what do they call that, wholesale? In bulk?"

"For time? I think they just call it a discount. And yes, Celestino gets us a better deal."

"Oh, good." Victor laces his fingers together and flexes his hands absent-mindedly as they walk through the aisles. Everything shelf-stable is starchy and no good; the only thing Yuuri's picked up so far is peanut butter.

"Even with that, I think I pay more for ice time than my college tuition."

"It could be worse," Victor offers. "At least figure skating is something people are willing to pay to watch. Think how hard it would be for the guy we saw at the college today, with the—"

He stops with a frown; Yuuri can almost see the English hovering just out of his reach. Those moment are always so maddening, and Yuuri finds it irritating when people try to guess the word he's hunting for, so he just waits it out.

Victor shakes his head, frustrated. "You know, the guy was throwing them, it's like juggling, but with—" He's sketching some kind of shape with his hands but Yuuri can't interpret it. "You were there! You don't remember?"

"I wasn't really paying much attention," Yuuri says apologetically.

"He was throwing these— wands. No. Stems? Sticks. He was using sticks to juggle other sticks."

"Oh, devil sticks. Right. Not exactly an Olympic sport."

"No. Not dangerous enough, maybe," Victor's mouth quirks. "Anyway! Imagine if that was his art, those sticks, and he wanted to do it full time, or compete. Maybe that exists, but would people fill an arena to see it? He'd probably never recoup."

Yuuri's very ready to stop talking about money, and he's not above resorting to teasing to do it. "You're usually so fluent, I can't believe you couldn't remember the word for sticks. What do you throw for Makkachin when you play fetch? Wands?"

"Yes, and it's terrible," Victor says seriously. "She grabs them in her mouth and magic spells go all over the place. It's all gourds into carriages and mice into horses. My neighbors are furious."

"Why?" Yuuri asks. "Free carriage!"

"True, but the mouse-horses lick the finish off their cars."

Yuuri nudges him— that feels possible when Victor is like this, when he's more Vitya xx than Victor Nikiforov. "That's not even a thing! This is the gun battle all over again. Horses don't lick finish off anything! Neither do mice!"

"You don't know that. Mice would do such awful things with their tongues if they were big enough, Yuuri. You would be appalled."

"Did you sneak a drink at the falafel place?"

"Did you? Are we dancing?" Victor offers his hand with a little flourish, beaming.

How is this Yuuri's life? It's so close to being a dream come true, but all Yuuri can think about is Victor stopping to call Phichit over so he can record them while they pretend to tango in order to put it on Instagram.

It doesn't matter. He can't see Victor offering a hand and not want to take it.

Yuuri puts his hand in Victor's and lowers it between them, leading him out of the baking aisle. "Maybe next time."