Chapter 1: Invitation
The skater’s pain is a constant worrying pulse—
no one sees these marks of the flagellant,
no one must know the carnage of their art.
- Kwame Dawes, “On Beauty and Power”
The fourth time in an hour that Yuri Plisetsky crashes to the ice—body slamming into the unyielding surface of the rink with the full force of a quad salchow and skidding until he’s nearly kissing the boards—it’s the silence of his rinkmates that has him snarling as he shoves himself upright.
The first time, Yakov had yelled at him, foaming at the mouth about his sloppy technique, how he needed to watch his free leg. The second time Mila teased him gently, throwing up a spray of ice at him as she snowplow stopped beside him, hauling him to his feet with a wink and a shove before Yakov could turn back from his phone call and catch that it happened. The third time, Georgi called out to ask if he was alright from across the rink with Victor, probably locked in another stupidly dramatic discussion on the woes of being in love with people on the other side of the world.
Blue eyes narrowed critically at him across the ice had sent him speeding into this final ill-fated jump, away from the questions he could see Victor barely holding back by the finger pressed to his lips.
Now he’s fallen again and this silence is damning, judgmental, and complete. There’s no slice of blades across the ice, no murmuring of discussion. Everything is still and quiet. Yuri can feel eyes on him as he grabs hold of the wall like a stupid foal-legged fool on the ice for the first time, and it makes him spit a quiet curse just to break the hush that’s fallen over the rink. He hates this silence, almost as much as it seems hateful to him.
But fuck-all if he’s going to stand here and wait for someone to try and talk to him.
He doesn’t want Yakov to tell him that he’s done for the day. He doesn’t want Victor’s asinine singsong voice as he outlines what he could do better. He doesn’t want Georgi’s mournful commiseration or Mila’s stupid concern. He doesn’t want any of them to even look at him right now, and he’s not going to give them the chance to try to do more than that.
Yuri doesn’t limp as he launches himself into a glide across the ice to the gate, savagely embracing the sharp stab of pain through his shin and knee as he makes it take his weight, a spiteful twist to the metaphorical knife. He doesn’t acknowledge Yakov’s attempt to speak to him as he slaps on his skate guards and stomps towards the locker rooms, and he doesn’t slow when he hears Victor leave the ice to make excuses for him.
He’s done crying in front of people. He can barely handle that he did it in victory at the Grand Prix Final, he draws the line at letting them see him cry in defeat. He promised a long time ago, he’d never let that happen again. A curtain of blond hair hides his expression in shadow, lips twisted into a rictus of pain and fury, and when he reaches the changing room he slams his fist into the lockers, furious when the gesture doesn’t leave a dent.
Grabbing his bag, Yuri drops gracelessly onto the bench to unlace his skates, tugging them off and shoving his feet into his sneakers. He hastily dashes a hand across his eyes before yanking his hair back into a harsh ponytail, the elastic too tight, the pull enhancing the growing headache in a way that he appreciates right now. It’s a distraction from the shards of glass that seem to have taken up residence in his knee, the low throbbing in his elbows, the deep ache in his bruised hip. He doesn’t let himself check for bruises as he switches out joggers for jeans. He wants to be gone from here, but like all of them he’s a slave to the routine of this, the necessary evils of shucking skate guards for soakers to keep his blades from rusting, the Tetris game of fitting his skates neatly into the bag and changing from his training gear into street clothes and layers so he won’t be recognized by anyone on the streets of St. Petersburg. Right now, he’d cut loose on any of those ‘Angels’ to come within ten feet of him, and he can’t handle the blow to his income that tearing apart his fans would give him right now, when he’s already afraid he’s poised to lose it all.
Yuri doesn’t want to talk to anyone, and made that as clear as humanly possible. So naturally, the assholes here refuse to let him leave in peace. He can tell when Victor enters the room without turning, the feeling of eyes on him even more a give-away than the soft hush of the swinging door. He doesn’t know how he can tell it’s Victor, specifically, but he doesn’t have to look away from his bag to know.
“Go away, you stupid old bastard. I’m not in the mood for your bullshit.”
“Thankfully, then, I’m not in the mood to give you any.” Victor’s got that voice, the faintly clipped undertone to each word that belies the seemingly cheerful bullshit demeanor that the press eats up with a spoon. Victor is going through the same routine at the first locker in the row, now, but he treats his skates like they’re truly the gold of their blade color, tucking them away gently. He watches as Yuri winds a scarf around his neck, hiding himself, and ignores the obvious attempt to disengage. “You know, I noticed the other day. I think you’re almost as tall as Yuuri now.”
“Fat fucking deal, stop bringing your stupid boyfriend into every discussion like anyone cares. Leave me alone. You have another two hours of practice at least if you’re not going to embarrass yourself and your pet pig at Worlds.” There are times that Yuri can feel and hear himself snarling, lashing out, where he’s already questioning it inside his head—waiting for it to be too much, too far, too mean, and for him to lose someone else from his life consequently—but this time he’s entirely committed to it, biting out each word like an attack, hurting Victor as Victor is inadvertently hurting him.
Victor hums quietly, infuriatingly refusing to show that Yuri landed a hit with his cutting remarks, slipping into that faint curl to his lips that fails to convey any humor or anger but seems to judge Yuri all the same. He’s sick of it. He’s sick of Victor’s stupid interference, and his silence, and his words, and… everything. He’s not fit to be around other people right now, and it’s in both of their interests if he leaves before Victor gets any farther under his skin, or he digs his claws into Victor any deeper. Kicking his bag into motion, Yuri spins in place, ponytail flying, and stomps towards the door.
“Yakov will bench you, winning right now or not. He tried to bench me, and I was already farther ahead than you are.” Victor’s words hit like a physical blow, staggering Yuri where he stands, hand outstretched to shove the door but not yet connecting. He keeps going as if he doesn’t realize the impact his comments made, but he continues nonetheless, clearly aware that Yuri is frozen and unable to leave without hearing this. He knows all of this—he’s been counting down to the end every time he touched the ice or barre for weeks—but Victor’s confirmation is chilling. “He wouldn’t be wrong, either. It’s probably better for your health. Yakov’s a good coach and he’s working from a team perspective; he’ll bank on Georgi and I having at least another year left in us, and make you prove you can handle everything from the basics on when you’ve been cleared.”
Yuri isn’t prone to panic. Not like his Japanese counterpart. The door in front of him is swimming because he’s holding in furious tears, not because he’s being taken hostage by nerves. But he can hear the too-fast drumbeat of his heart in his ears underscoring a quiet whisper that promises that being benched right now would destroy him. He just had a record breaking senior debut, the biggest victory of his life, and it finally, finally, brought enough sponsors and prize money to take care of his grandpa and himself for months. If he takes time off, he’s old news. If he steps off the ice, people will wonder if he’ll ever be able to come back.
His words come out steadier than he feels—small blessing—the rough undertone sounding angry and challenging rather than fearful.
“What the hell do you know about it, anyway.”
They both know it’s a genuine question, half a plea but worded as a challenge. If anyone in this world can understand the self-destructive need to keep going, it’s Victor Nikiforov, who gave up twenty years of his life to the all-consuming blaze of sport and spotlight. Victor’s hand rests on Yuri’s shoulder, anchoring him without making him turn, without making him reveal his weakness. “I know enough… Like I said, Yakov only tried to bench me.”
He squeezes Yuri’s shoulder, then slips past him to push open the door, glancing back once to make sure Yuri will follow him.
Yuri’s hope is like his anger; a fierce, hungry thing.
Victor has been nesting. He knows it’s ridiculous, knows he’s ridiculous, but he still can’t quite help it. Yuuri will be coming in just two short days, and every box sent ahead of him has been a promise of a future together. They haven’t seen each other since they parted ways for their respective Nationals, inconveniently overlapping and far too soon after their disagreement at the GPF for comfort. Yuuri sent Victor home to focus on returning to competition with a kiss, a ring, and a promise that his return to Hasetsu would be temporary—allowing him to pack all of his belongings and obtain the appropriate visas to let him legally call Russia home.
It’s not that he doubted Yuuri would return to him, but it’s been a month since he’s gotten to kiss his fiancé, gotten to push the glasses up his nose when he stared dazedly down at Victor, gotten to wrap his arms around him and pull him close, gotten to see him blush and stammer without a computer screen keeping him from being able to chase the heat coloring his cheeks with fingertips and lips. He had to watch from halfway across the world and hours behind as Minako stood in his place at Yuuri’s side at the Japanese Nationals, as Yuuri gave the camera strained smiles and short answers, as his lover stumbled and Minako struggled to help him. Even with Victor’s closest friendships over the years, with skaters flung to the far corners of the earth for months at a time, he’s never felt a distance so keenly.
Every box has been a gift, a small piece of Yuuri to fill the empty spaces in Victor’s home, the way Yuuri will soon join him to fill that Yuuri-shaped hole in his life. He spent sleepless nights eagerly unpacking every box that Yuuri sent ahead, and right away it emphasized the bare, blank, austere space that Victor’s home had been before. Victor’s condo had been perfect for entertaining, staged like a photograph, ready for magazine features, and absolutely functional. Cold and clean and white white white, like fresh powder on the ice, just a background to showcase him.
Yuuri deserves comfort, so Victor has tried to provide it. It’s no Hasetsu, but as Victor crouches down to greet an over-excited Makkachin, he knows what Yuri is seeing when he looks around. He’s been here before, crashing in the guest room before catching a ride on early flights out, so he knows what the place looked like before Yuuri took up permanent residence in Victor’s heart. While Yuuri will likely never know how much he’s rearranged to make room for their relationship in his life, Yuri is getting a front row seat to it.
The condo still smells like fresh paint and sawdust, but everything is softer now, the bamboo floors warmer under Victor’s feet than the porcelain tile ever was, the drag of fleece throw blankets under his fingertips indulgent as he trails his hand along the couch while he walks deeper into his home to let Makkachin out into the dog run on the terrace. Curtains cover the slatted metal blinds now, soft area rugs define the living spaces with plush textures that will be easy on battered feet. Yuuri’s books fill shelves once left to vases and statues that came with the furniture set, his movies and gaming console are tucked into the entertainment center; there are a few drug-store printed photos from Victor’s phone framed on the shelves, and Yuuri’s awards and medals are framed and displayed as proudly as Victor’s own, with room deliberately left for more as a silent challenge to them both.
“Shoes off. Go change. I’ll be right back.”
“You’re such a sap. You did all this for him?”
It’d be easy to shrug and nod and accept that—pretend to be the selfless caregiver catering to his boyfriend’s needs alone, or the indulgent rich man who can simply spoil his lover on a whim—but Victor considers the question a moment before smiling and shaking his head, turning away from watching Makkachin. “Not just for him. For me, too. For us.”
He’s happier now; this ache of missing Yuuri is a temporary thing, one that he can see an end to unlike the crushing loneliness of before. He wants this for himself, as much as he wants it for Yuuri. He’s been changed by their time together, and stubbornly denying that is pointless. Now that happiness is at his fingertips, he wants a home, a husband, he wants to live his life and he wants to keep Yuuri’s love. He wants it, and will commit himself wholly to achieve whatever prize he wants the way he always has. He doesn’t feel shame in that.
Yuri makes his characteristic unattractive retching sound, scrunching his nose up like being in the presence of affection of any sort is repellant to him, and turns away to prowl through the condo, surveying the redecoration. “Whatever.”
He’s limping, and Victor narrows in on the slight hitch of his leg as a sharp reminder of why they’re here. He hates seeing a skater injured, and seeing one of his team of skaters injured is a personal insult.
“Change. You’re not done with practice just because we’re here, and you’re going to be useless if you won’t listen.” The bite of command in his voice snaps Yuri’s attention back and narrows his eyes, hooking into that part of a skater’s mind hardwired to hear a coach even when they want to ignore, but cold enough to reach farther, to dig at him. He called a wounded athlete useless.
It was poorly done on Victor’s part, and this time he knows as soon as the words leave his mouth.
There are ways in which Yuri reminds Victor strongly of himself, even with their obvious differences; it’s in their similar roots and their upbringing in Russia’s unforgiving production line of champions. They both gave themselves up completely to this sport to make something more of themselves than where they came from, and both chose to take all the skills the schools gave them while rejecting the authority they had over them. Neither of them does well with callous authority.
The program at Sambo never truly worked for Yuri—too structured for a temper as strong as Yuri Plisetsky’s—but like Victor he is still a product of the Figure Skating Federation of Russia through and through. They owed their lives to those schools from the time they were accepted as children until they each found their way to Yakov, and even now both pay the programs lip service as poster athletes. At Dynamo everything from Victor’s education to his diet, to his social activities, sleep schedule, and above all his training were under their constant control as soon as they realized his potential, and it was the same for Yuri at Sambo. Every skater was a competitor from the moment they set foot on the ice, the only advancement possible through winning. Anything less, and you were a failure. Yakov may be a taskmaster as a coach, but he has never sapped their spirit the way the schools did, and Victor loves the old man for that.
Victor hates that there’s still part of himself as a coach that reflects how he was raised—the part that Yuuri flinches from during his most cutting lectures at the kiss and cry, the part that will work his fiancé until his feet are bruised and bleeding just to get a step sequence perfect, the part that instinctively tore at a skater’s insecurity about his weight to get him back into peak competitive condition, the part that would see an injured skater and lash out at him.
Both Yuri and Yuuri deserve better than that, and Victor is trying hard to be better, even if it makes him indulgent at times in his attempts to swing the opposite direction in apology. So he takes a breath and rephrases again before Yuri can get his back up or the thought can take root, putting apology in his tone if not his words.
“If you want, I’ll show you how to land your jumps again, so Yakov leaves you be until you can figure out a better way.”
He leaves off at that, letting Makkachin in again before retreating, aware of Yuri’s slant-eyed stare aimed at his back until he’s out of sight and can relax again in the master bedroom. Here, there is more of Yuuri than anywhere else. His clothes hang in the closet and sit in the drawers, as if he’s lived here for years. His blanket from Yu-Topia is carelessly bunched on the center of the bed where Victor has clutched it to himself through the night as a poor surrogate for holding Yuuri. A desk, the only furniture piece his fiancé paid to send along, is now settled near the windows overlooking the waterside park. Photo albums, books, childhood trophies, knick-knacks, everything that he’d carefully packed in Japan and shipped ahead of himself have found themselves a place in the bookshelves Victor had installed to match the desk. Everything has a place here, and there are gaps for what remains: a space for his pillow when he arrives, a drawer in the bathroom ready for his toiletries, a cleared off nightstand on his side of the bed waiting for his glasses and phone.
“Two more days,” Victor reminds himself and a forlorn Makkachin as he surveys the room, fighting the absurd pang of Yuuri’s absence from a space he’s never actually been in. Yuuri is probably saying goodbye to his family and friends in Japan, perhaps already getting onto the train to Fukuoka Airport. He can manage to wait that long. Their next chapter, here in St. Petersburg, will begin soon—and wherever they choose to live after skating, they will move to together.
He can’t loiter. God knows what Yuri will get up to if left unsupervised for long. He digs through the closet with Makkachin still following at his heels, sniffing along the clothes surrounding them and whining softly. Even to Victor it smells a little like Yuuri already, his fabric softener and detergent and the scent of his skin long settled into the clothes he loves best.
“I know, girl. Me too.”
Victor pulls out one of the canvas drawers in the organizer unit, shuffling through the contents and gathering supplies before making himself leave, feeding his faithful old companion in the kitchen, then trudging across the flat to find his younger counterpart before he can get himself into trouble.
He comes in on Yuri midst an off-ice loop, knee buckling under him when he touches down, hand snapping out to grab the barre and steady him upright as he curses under his breath. The jump should be nothing to the Prima Ballerina that Lilia declared him to be, or the skater Victor knows that he is. Off-ice jumps should be cake. When Yuri notices Victor in the doorway he straightens, a challenge in his eyes, chin tilted proudly, silently daring him to say anything.
“Well that was horrible.” Victor beams sunnily. Far be it from him to back down from a dare.
“Fuck off, Victor.” Yuri snarls, throwing himself down to sit on the weight bench in the room, arms folded across his chest, every inch the petulant child he tries to pretend he isn’t.
“Such language from someone so young.” Victor tuts teasingly, shaking his head and setting his supplies down on the table near the door.
The room is bathed in natural light, floor to ceiling windows accentuated rather than concealed by the gauzy curtains, making the thin sunlight of St. Petersburg seem warm and buttery. While the third bedroom has always been his gym, the wood floors, the ballet barre, and the mirrors that take up one wall were all newly installed with the renovation. Yuuri is giving up all-hours access to Minako’s studio to live with Victor, so he’s done his best to recreate it in his home gym, giving over space for a dance floor long enough to allow his lover to leap. Victor’s well used (if not well loved) exercise equipment used to fill the space but with renovation he had the door to the walk-in closet removed and the drywall knocked out to lengthen the room, the support columns defining gym and dance spaces to let them train. Victor justified it to himself easily: as his coach and a fellow competitor, it will be more convenient to both of them for off-ice training to take place at home as much as possible.
Even with the bratty expression painted across his face, Yuri fits in this space as well as Victor or Yuuri would, comfortable in the usually unseen trappings of their profession. It stirs that old inclination again, the quiet urge to see how he could shape this promising little monster, leaving the thumbprint of Victor Nikiforov’s teaching in every jump, every step, for the next decade of competition that stretches before this child.
That’s his ego getting away from him, the vain need to secure his legacy long after he’s retired. He’s good, but he’s not sure he’s good enough yet for himself and Yuuri when he’s going back on the ice; he can’t risk dragging Yuri down with them. Especially not when the boy is already unsteady. Getting Yuri back on his feet again, perhaps that could be enough.
“Have you seen a doctor?”
Yuri’s scornful expression is answer enough. Victor doesn’t even know why he bothered to ask. “Of course you haven’t.” He sighs, shaking his head and continuing. “I told Yakov it was growing pains. I doubt he fully believes me, but it’s got enough truth in it that I think we can sell that for a while longer, if you learn how to take care of yourself so you don’t damage your joints before you’re twenty. I’ll help you, but you’re going to talk to a doctor. If I think you’re going to hurt yourself permanently I’ll drag you off of the ice myself, alright?” He waits for Yuri’s terse nod of agreement, Victor’s blue eyes sharp and serious for once. He means this wholeheartedly. His help bypassing a setback will not come at the expense of ruining Yuri.
“I’m not letting any of them know.” It’s not a question, and it’s non-negotiable. Young as he seems, there’s steel in Yuri’s spine, flint in his eyes. “If you say anything to anyone, I will kick your ass. They’re all waiting for me to fail. They’re all sharks. I’m not going to let them smell blood in the water.”
Victor wishes he could argue, but he knows this isn’t paranoia, or wounded pride. They’ve both seen it happen to others. Victor’s been both lucky and cunning in his manipulation of the press—his headlines have been for an injury only twice, and he deftly massaged them both into stories that just spotlighted his seemingly unshakeable will. Everything smaller and less sensational—every fracture, sprain, strain—those he hid from the public. He refuses to be a cautionary tale of professional athletes.
Sullen punk or not, he’ll try not to let it happen to Yuri either. Yuuri’s struggle with the press predates their relationship, and now they carefully watch him at every event, gleefully waiting for signs of mental weakness so they can run a highlight reel of his failures, comment on how tired he looks, or whether he’d been crying, or his weight, latching onto every shift in his posture to speculate. Victor runs interference for him with a steady hand now, providing a glittering distraction and even glimpses of their relationship to give them a new focus and a more engaging story to peddle… but that’s his future husband. He can share the shine the press has given him with Yuuri, but all he can do for Yuri as far as the press is concerned is cast a shadow. Maybe the best he can offer Yuri is a lesson in self-care and shrewd planning.
“I am not going to lie to Yuuri for you. Beyond that, it’s your decision. Even if it’s a stupid decision.”
He’s not sure that answer is enough for Yuri, but it’s the most he can give.
Victor fits a plug into the wall, unravelling the cord with a deft hand before crouching at Yuri’s feet, brow knitted in thought as he taps his landing knee with a silently raised eyebrow, accepting the grudging nod as all the answer he needs. “How long? Don’t lie, I’ll know.”
“Rostelecom, I think. It wasn’t bad then. It was just an ache when I was skating or dancing, until it got worse the past couple of weeks. I’m still fine until I really get going.” Yuri grumbles, hating admitting a weakness even in private. Victor’s low whistle pleases the boy, making his chest puff out, proud that he hid this pain so long and took the GPF gold regardless, even breaking Victor’s record. He really is an idiot.
“You’re lucky you haven’t torn something.” Victor lances that pride neatly, without mercy, and ignores the wounded growl from the kitten as he reaches out and rolls up the leg of his pants neatly, baring a delicate ankle, long muscled calf, and faintly puffy coltish knee. Yuri lets him. He’d think it trust, but it’s more likely the lack of self-consciousness that any of their fellows were left with when prodded and shaped and dressed and rearranged like posable dolls in the dance studios and rinks.
Victor battles down the protective urge that brings in him—Yuri is strangely fragile for all his bluster. This must be what it’s like, having a younger sibling you both want to strangle and shelter. “You’ve shot up significantly in height over this year. It’s enough strain to put on anyone, let alone a skater. During my time in Juniors I went from where you were at the start of the year to...” Victor gestures airily at himself as he unfolds, nearly six feet of lean muscle and sinew “…fast enough that it threw off my center of balance. We’ll use that as a cover story for you, if your practices leak. But I did go to the doctor when my knees finally began to buckle, because I’m not a self-destructive child…”
Green eyes narrow furiously, but Yuri doesn’t interrupt.
“But a doctor off the Federation payroll, so they couldn’t spread it to Yakov. They told me there was nothing to be done about it. That I should take a year off, let my body settle, my joints and tendons adjust, and find out afterwards if I’d be able to pick it back up. Osgood Schlatter Disease, they said. It’s common in young skaters, though I think calling it a disease is unnecessarily dramatic. It stops once you’ve grown… a few months, a year… But I’d had my taste of gold, and couldn't give it up. I did the championships by alternating moist heating pads to soften up the tendons before every performance…” Victor holds up the warming terrycloth-covered pad indicatively, before draping it over Yuri’s knee and stepping back, letting him situate the heating pad directly over the worst of the swelling with a grimace. “Quad and hamstring stretches before taking the ice. Icing down my leg after. Menthol creams at night.”
“And Yakov let you get away with all that.” Yuri’s words are part skepticism, part scorn, and all hope. Ah, this child… a mess of contradictions. Victor’s not exactly sure what it is about him that is so endearing, but part of him is glad that he and Yuuri will be here to help him, no matter how resentful he is of their support.
“No, I learned how to do it without Yakov, the press, or the others catching on.” Victor grins, arching one eyebrow smugly. “Did you think you were his first problem child? I was giving coaches the run-around before you were born, Yurio.”
“Finally you admit that you’re ancient, old man.”
Victor purses his lips, annoyed that Yuri scored a point there, and even more annoyed by how snidely amused he is by it. He doesn’t need this impertinent child to remind him that he’s gotten old. Some days Victor can feel it in his bones, from the stiffness of his right shoulder to the tingling numbness of his left toe, and so many places between. Victor was already a medal contender in Juniors the year Yuri was born, a squalling angry infant with no idea how he’d be served up to the dogs, clawing and fighting to find a place at the top of the heap.
“Fifteen minutes of heat. Fifteen minutes of stretching. Then do your practice. Fifteen minutes of cold. Search online and find a private doctor quickly. Then go back to deal with Yakov with a strategy that will get you through Europe and Worlds, so you can clinch your Olympics spot.”
Yuri huffs a vague agreement and flops down along the exercise bench, stretching his leg gingerly under the heating pad, head tipped back over the other end of the bench and blond ponytail swinging just above the wood floors. In the mirror, Victor can see him closing his eyes, testing a thought and trying to spit out words that seem sour on his tongue, choking on them, and coughing out something else entirely.
“You didn’t live with them, though. Yakov and Lilia.” The first time he botches a leap or fails to stay en pointe after becoming flawless for her, Lilia will know. The first time Yakov catches him limping, it’s all over. Europe, Worlds, likely even the Olympics if the federation and sponsors have reason to doubt his performance.
“No, I didn’t.” Victor agrees easily, waiting to see if Yuri can make himself voice the request, weighing if he should make him. He knows where Yuri’s mind has gone: he’s rarely ever hard for Victor to predict and nowhere near as complicated as he thinks he is. Would it be good for him to make Yuri ask, perhaps put a crack in the walls he’s slapped up to protect his ego? Or would it crumble his brittle self-image? Skaters and their glass hearts… he’s shattered enough for now while thinking it was for the best, he thinks, remembering warm brown eyes filled with tears, a broken voice echoing through an empty garage.
It’s not like it’s the first time the thought has come to mind. Victor’s own inclination to fold Yuri under his wing was established years ago. Then in Hasetsu, Yuri’s jealousy of Yuuri’s home and family and freedom and command of Victor’s attention was obvious to anyone who looked. By the time Yuko mentioned Lilia’s training methods to Yuuri, even he began hinting at the possibility that Yuri might need a different environment than one where commands were barked at him.
Victor thinks he knows what Yuuri would tell him to do in this situation, and his fiancé is by far a better man than he is so perhaps he should. He’s always been a little withdrawn in his peculiar way, affable but impersonal—the instinctive defense of someone placed too high on a pedestal and afraid of falling—but he’s learning to meet people halfway now. It’s a skill he should continue to hone. He’s wrapped himself around Yuuri now, and perhaps offering a hand to Yuri, keeping an eye on him and making sure he doesn’t destroy himself out of stubborn pride...
It could be fun having him here, anyway. If nothing else, his reaction should be priceless.
Victor offers his widest, most guileless smile, waiting for the aftermath with eager expectation as he throws himself into the next challenge without second-guessing. “Obviously, you’re going to have to move in with Yuuri and I!”
Victor’s absolutely useless on the ice today. He’s been distracted for the past week, really, but today his head is entirely in the clouds, focused about 30,000 feet above Russia and descending with his precious katsudon while the rest of him dreamily loops around the ice to unfamiliar half-formed choreography, entirely heedless of the other skaters as he designs and refines whatever program he’s dreaming up. If his rinkmates weren’t experts in their own right, he’d have probably decapitated one of them with a seemingly randomly timed camel spin by now.
Yakov’s been yelling at him for the past ten minutes and Yuri’s absolutely sure Victor hasn’t heard a word of it. He certainly hasn’t bothered to take off the oversized headphones attached to a pointlessly small MP3 player, piping god knows what music into his head. Shifting the weighted self-heating warming scarf where it’s casually tossed across his knee, Yuri tightens his laces as he watches Yakov’s face go from red to purple.
“YURI! Get him out of here before I kill him!”
That’s his cue. Yuri dumps his lace hook, the scarf, and his jacket back on the chair and rises to his feet again, offering Yakov a smartassed ‘I told you so’ smirk that on any other day would probably get him yelled at, were Yakov’s oldest pupil not humming under his breath and twirling around like he thinks he’s the prettiest princess at an imaginary ball instead of actually working on his current program.
His knee aches as he launches himself back onto the ice, but it’s bearable for the moment. Yesterday was harder. Yakov was watching him like a hawk from the start, suspicious and offended at the sudden declaration that he was moving out, but apparently buying Victor’s story for now about learning to compensate for the increased height he’d need to clear for a quad, and the excuse that between Victor’s own rapid growth and Yuuri’s experience with skating through weight gain and loss, they could help him adjust. He’d been forbidden from quads like he was twelve again, and gave a token protest just to keep Yakov from suspecting anything. He still fell twice but he managed the element and three others after that flawlessly. Victor had skated over part-way through to correct his posture, but mostly to check on him and give him an excuse to slow down and even stretch again. Yesterday, Victor had actually been helpful.
Today, after crashing in Victor’s guest room and riding with him to the rink, he warned Yakov that with Yuuri’s impending arrival this afternoon that Victor would be impossible. Then he landed three triples toward the start of practice when he was fresh on the ice, and Yakov harumphed but didn’t pressure him further. Just as well: landing hurts worse than falling, now. Once the benefits of the heat and stretching wore off about 45 minutes into practice, his signature Biellman began to feel like he was ripping himself apart and Yuri wound his way back to the sidelines to stretch and surreptitiously apply heat to his aching knee as he fixed his skates. He wasn’t ready to take the ice again quite yet, not with Victor too distracted to be of any use today.
So now he’s been sent to play fetch.
“OI! Jackass!” Apparently yelling from about three feet away does finally get Victor’s attention, or maybe it’s just that it’s Yuri yelling. His eyes snap down from where he’d been staring off, worry creasing his brow as he pushes the headphones down to hang around his neck, before his face relaxes into that ridiculous heart shaped grin.
Yuri will deny for the rest of his life that Victor suddenly hooking an arm around him, dragging him into a waltz, made him yelp. A year apart, a year where he was the primary focus of the rink, and he’d forgotten how ridiculous and touchy Victor could be, and not just with his stupid boyfriend. If Mila and Georgi ever stop laughing to comment on this turn of events as they slow to spectate, he will strangle them with their own laces.
Yuri punches him. Repeatedly. In the shoulder, at least. He’d kick anyone’s ass for touching him, but even he’s not vicious enough to kick someone while wearing skates, or outright attack a competitor-slash-teammate on the ice. “Let go of me! Not everyone wants to be ambushed into dancing with you, moron!”
“Oh, Yurio, you wound me. I miss the nice Yuuri.” Victor pouts, but he twirls Yuri out to arm’s length, sulking more when Yuri immediately yanks his hand away and puts a respectable distance between them again. Thank god that overdramatic love-sickness isn’t contagious.
Victor blinks, mohawk turns to face their coach across the ice as he continues his circuit along the walls, and answers as sweetly and curiously as if he hadn’t been entirely ignoring Yakov for the better part of an hour. “...Yes, coach?”
The throbbing of the prominent vein in the old man’s temple is obvious even from here. It is absolutely no surprise when (with a yell that even Yuri is a bit jealous of) Victor is summarily tossed out of practice. Even then he’s still humming under his breath as he looks around the rink for his misplaced phone with the memory of a goldfish and the demeanor of a lost puppy, before abruptly deciding he must have left it at home, or the coffee shop, or...
Yakov throws Yuri out with him, to make sure the idiot gets home safely. Yuri almost slumps in relief, but stays steady as he skates off the ice to collect Victor, quietly thanking God that Russia’s living legend is an utter moron about love and a forgetful airhead, while bitching to Yakov and anyone who’ll listen about being made Victor’s babysitter by default now that he’s moving in with him.
It’s not until they’re in the locker room that Victor’s seemingly absent smile gains a smug edge, his movements suddenly precise and quick as he shoves his arms into his coat. He plucks his ‘forgotten’ phone out of his bag and checks the time, then begins texting someone (probably Katsudon) rapidly. “Good. We still have just over two hours to get everything from Lilia’s that you need and load it into my car without them watching. I’ll help pack and have a truck come later for anything else, so we can get it done in time to meet our Yuuri at the bus stop and bring him home.”
Yuri gapes at him for a moment, pausing with one shoe tied and the other braced on the bench. It was an act. Not all of it, maybe, and not always—Yuri knows for a fact that Victor is every bit the lovestruck fool he appeared out there—but the rest was an act that he discards like a mask now that he’s gotten the desired outcome, more effectively than Yuri’s outbursts have ever been at getting him his way. For all their years skating alongside each other, this is the first time Victor’s let on just how devious he can be. Yuri’s a bit impressed despite himself, and needled by it at the same time.
Victor notices his stare and winks, entirely too pleased with himself for catching Yuri off guard. “You were getting stiff out there. I may not have a motorcycle like your Otabek, but I have my ways to come to the rescue. Come on. We need to hurry. Yuuri can’t read cyrillic yet, and I don’t want him to get lost!”
Without waiting for Yuri to catch up, Victor gathers up his bag and bustles out of the room, an unstoppable force of nature in his absurd way. Yuri frowns at the door as it swings shut behind him, and ties his shoe before following at a slower pace, lost in thought. He’s not sure if he’s angry at Victor for deceiving him along with the rest of them, or struck by Victor allowing him past that facade, treating him like an equal instead of a kid.
Unfortunately, the cheery obnoxiousness is not an act. Victor talks non-stop once they’re on their way, prattling annoyingly about everything Katsuki, every update for the past month from Minako and Mari, things Yuri’s already heard from Yuko. Then Victor moves on to how he gets updates about where Yuuri is at any given time from the airline website, and then from the metro schedules, on to where he wants to bring Yuuri in St. Petersburg, if he needs a class in Russian or if they can teach him at home, thoughts on costume changes for next season, how he was still mourning not being there to see Katsudon win the Japanese Nationals because he was busy winning the Russian Nationals…
It’s that final part that makes Yuri snap once they’re out of Victor’s car, temper fraying at the reminder that this idiot edged him out for Gold by two points in their home country, after being back on the ice for mere weeks as a competitor.
“God, shut up.” Yuri rounds on Victor at the door to Lilia’s home, jabbing the key at his chest with a snarl. “You’re not even saying anything, you’re just being an irritating shit like always. I don’t know how Katsudon puts up with you. If I were him I’d jump back on the first flight to Japan and leave your pathetic ass here. I can’t imagine putting up with your shit for the rest of my life.”
Victor Nikiforov, the god of figure skating and unquestioned hero athlete of Russia... flinches.
Yuri has seen Victor injured, just once—he watched him gouge his hand, thumb to heel, on his toe pick and blade in a catch-foot spin gone awry and still finish his program with blood dripping from his fingertips onto the ice like some kind of tragic Shakespearean hero, graceful to the end. Not once did Victor’s demeanor slip. He even flirted with the medic as he was getting stitches, with the cameras hovering just behind him. Hell, by Victor’s own admission, he skated through his knee feeling like it was going to rip itself in two for months to a year, and never let his persona slip in public. And those are just the injuries he knows about. They all are bruised, they all are bleeding, they all face stress fractures and strained muscles, that’s just the fact of their lives. Their sport is as damaging to their bodies as any of the other Olympic events, but figure skaters deal with all of the same trauma with a smile on their face and a bow to the crowd or they’ve failed. The carefully performed lie of perfection and ease is half the score of their entire profession. They’re good at hiding what they’re feeling, and apparently Victor’s great at it, like he is in everything else.
But Victor recoils from Yuri’s words as if he’s been gutted, breath leaving him in a wuff, blue eyes creased. Then, between one blink and the next, he draws himself up to his full height again and slaps on a mask of indifference to replace his earlier smiles. His nervous smiles, Yuri realizes belatedly.
Victor is an excellent actor. Yuri just got his reminder of that at the rink. Full marks for performance, even if the technical aspect was baffling. But that one vulnerable moment, he couldn’t fake.
Spitting out a quiet curse, Yuri thumps his head back against the door, key still tucked between his fingers, and watches Victor in morbid fascination mixed with the churning in his gut that tells him he pushed too far. He needs Victor right now, and that’s got him off-footed and irritable, but Victor…
“Shit. Are you seriously worried about Yuuri leaving you? He’s even more disgustingly in love with you than you are with him.”
But Victor’s frozen him out now, lips pressed into that narrow line, his eyes gone cold and his voice flat without the stupid sing-song cadence he uses. “We have two hours to get everything taken care of. Unlock the door and get your things. Or don’t. Stay here with Lilia and Yakov, and try to stand on your own.”
They both know he can’t. It’s a jab, a challenge, retaliation for a hurt that Yuri barely realized he was giving, but it stops short of being a threat. Victor doesn’t retract the offer to help, which maybe would have been nothing less than Yuri deserved.
He unlocks the door and lets Victor in silently, and Victor doesn’t wait for him to lead. Though he’s been gone the entire year Yuri has lived here, Victor takes off in a brisk stride towards the guest room without needing to ask directions, past ornate woodwork and formal furniture, and it’s only by speeding up, two limping steps for every one of Victor’s, that he beats him to the door and blocks his way.
“I need to grab Kikimora first, or we’ll end up chasing her through the entire house.” Yuri explains without meeting his blank stare, dropping to one knee before carefully opening the door. Twenty pounds of fur and muscle barrels at the narrow opening, a black and white streak of speed and grace that tries to slip like mercury through Yuri’s grip. “Oh, not this time you demon!” Offended blue eyes stare up at him as the overgrown Siberian finds herself trapped in her owner’s arms, captured against his chest. “Don’t look at me like that, if you hadn’t tried to eat Lilia’s bird, you wouldn’t have been locked up to begin with.”
It’s mortifying that he needs a moment to stand again because he never got the chance to ice his leg after practice and he can’t free a hand to brace himself without losing his grip on the cat. He’s glad Victor doesn’t notice the delay. Chancing a glance at Victor’s face, Yuri watches the ice in his gaze melt slightly as he looks to Yuri for permission, and then reaches out to offer a hand to his cat for inspection, like a formal introduction. “Hello, Mora. I’ve seen your picture online. How do you feel about dogs?”
Yuri shrugs slightly, faintly embarrassed that Victor is talking to his cat like he would a person, but honestly he started it. “I guess we’ll find out. Come on. This shouldn’t take long, we can just throw my stuff in your guest room, introduce Mora and Makkachin, and then I can help you get the place ready for Katsudon.”
Apart from the small piles of dirty clothes sorted to wash along the side of the bed, all of his designer clothes are in a garment bag in the closet, ready to be zipped and taken with him to competition, and all of his regular clothes are stacked on or by his suitcase on top of the dresser already. Wrangling Mora into her carrier is an ordeal, sure, but nothing else is really going to take that long to gather. When he turns around, Victor is frowning softly as he surveys Yuri’s room.
“No books? Movies? Comics?”
Yuri shrugs, gathering up the dirty clothes and cramming them into his studded backpack. “I can get all that on my computer.”
“The decorations, bedding and furniture… that’s all Lilia’s?”
“Everything except the leopard print airplane blanket. The burlap crap they pass off as blankets on overnight flights itch like hell.” He snatches the aforementioned blanket up off of the floor and rolls it into a tight bundle, securing it with the attached strap and throwing it into the bag too, then he moves on to zipping up the luggage over the clothes stacked within.
“You have to at least have your medals.”
“They’re in Moscow. Grandpa keeps them in a safe for me at the home, I think he shows them off to the other residents sometimes.” He’s not sure why Victor’s looking at him like that, a mournful stare that is worse than the stupid blank look from earlier. It’s uncomfortable as hell and pissing him off, as does every question Victor throws at him. “Hurry up. You can strap Mora’s carrier to the handle on the rolling bag, then grab my suits. I’ll get the stuff from the bathroom and my laptop and cords, then we should be good to go.”
All told it’s one luggage bag of clean clothes, a backpack with a small case of toiletries and the dirty clothes he’s too lazy to fold until they’re washed, a garment bag for his suits and current costumes, his laptop, charger, and his cat and her toys, litter box, bowls, and treats. Straightening the bedcovers back into their neat lines, he unearths a plush toy one of his Angels threw on the ice a while back that he impulsively brought back with him instead of leaving for the arena to donate to the children’s hospital he does some spokesperson stuff for. Yuri considers it for a moment, deciding between taking and leaving it. The seaglass eyes of the plush siberian tiger stare back at him out of thick white synthetic fur, soft enough that it doesn’t suck too badly as a replacement when his cat’s being an antisocial shithead to punish him for leaving her all the time. Victor glances up, narrows his eyes, and immediately takes the decision to keep or leave the stuffed toy out of his hands, plucking it up from the pillow and tucking it under his arm with a weird air of defiance, as if the idea of Yuri leaving behind some dumb toy is abhorrent.
Whatever. As long as he doesn’t care that Mora comes with him, Victor can be weird about what he brings or doesn’t, it’s his house after all. Which reminds him. “How’d you know where to go? Here, at Lilia’s.”
Victor pauses, and then huffs a soft, wry laugh as he checks that Mora’s secure, reaching through the metal grate to her in apology and getting a swat for the trouble. “When I was about your age, Yakov helped me rent a little one room apartment not far from here. Put his name on the lease but let me pay it. It was in walking distance, so I ate dinners here with them most nights. When I was first starting out, Yakov and Lilia were married and still, as you said… ‘disgustingly in love.’”
Yuri doesn’t have an answer to that. He just feels even more like an ass for the low blow, now. Of course shit can fall apart. Of course it does fall apart. Yuri knows that better than most teens his age. Sure, maybe Victor’s worry about Katsudon leaving him is dumb, but because it’s eating at Victor it’s eating at him. “Come on. We can pick up a steak on the way or something. I don’t have time for pirozhki, but I can start stroganoff so you have something to feed your boyfriend. I’m not eating shitty takeout again.”
It’s a peace offering of sorts, and thankfully Victor seems to realize that. Blowing out a breath, Victor forces the tension from his shoulders, taking on the practiced loose posture Yuri recognizes as his stance before skating onto the ice. “If we’re buying the steak, we’ll also have to buy whatever you need to cook it with… and probably cookware to cook it in. I only have the spices and things Yuuri’s mother sent ahead for him, and frozen dinners.”
Yuri bites back the immediate insult that springs to his lips about Victor’s patheticness; an adult who can’t even cook for himself and lives by the calorie count on energy bars and shitty prepackaged health food and the speed dial list of takeout around him. Yuri’s been cooking for himself since he could reach the stove; it was frequently the only way he’d get to eat. He thinks his lack of scathing retort shows great restraint. “Fine. I won’t tell Katsudon you can’t even cook. But I get to stock the fridge and pick out what’s in the kitchen. And you’re buying me an apron.” Hoisting the backpack onto his shoulders and carrying the laptop under one arm and Mora’s things under the other, Yuri takes the lead. He can feel Victor staring at his back thoughtfully, but the moment passes. Victor quietly looks back as he turns off the light and falls in line, rolling Yuri’s luggage and carrying his suits.
Less than ten minutes to clear out, and now it’s impossible to tell he ever lived there at all.
There are moments on the ice when you’re flying. Wind in your hair, testing the absolute limits of gravity, heart in your throat from exhilaration, not sure if you’re going to land or crash. But in that one perfect, mad fraction of a second, weightless and free, you don’t care.
Yuuri feels that way with Victor’s arms around him, lifted off of his feet by the force of their hug and spun through the air with all of the demonstrative love and longing of their pair skate, and none of the coordination or artistry. The icy wind of St. Petersburg is the cold of the rink, and as the wind ruffles through his hair and his breath fogs the space between them, it feels right. He doesn’t let go immediately when Victor puts him back on his feet, face tucked into his shoulder and arms locked around him. He’s not ready to let go yet from the warmth embracing him, surrounding him. Yuuri could tell himself it’s because he’s tired from the trip and dizzy now, but honestly it’s relief that keeps him floating there.
For a month, he’s been this maddening combination of restless and lethargic, dreading the moment he climbs into an empty bed, air crushed from his lungs when he wakes up alone. For a month, his days have been frantically filled with activity that left him feeling entirely unfulfilled. Now Victor’s fingers are stroking through his hair, tilting his head to press a kiss to his forehead, and he’s so alive.
He’s not sure he’ll ever be over feeling this much every time they touch. He’s not sure he ever wants to be.
“Ah, my Yuuri. I’ve missed you.” Victor’s voice purrs in his ear, and back in his home country his accent is even more pronounced, rich and rolling. More than that, Yuuri can feel the rumble in his chest, the swell of his lungs filling, the moist heat of his breath fogging in the cold air, all these things that videos and phones and texts and emails just can’t substitute. There is no substitution for Victor.
“I missed you too.”
Yuuri knows he’s smiling, but he doesn’t realize he’s crying as well until Victor shushes him, tilting his head back to thumb the tears away from beneath his eyes, his gaze warm and too intimate for the public scene they’re making. Victor wants to kiss him. It’s there in the way his thumb grazes Yuuri’s lip, saltwater damp and warm, the way his finger crooks under his chin to keep him trapped, the way he sways in closer as if drawn by gravity.
“You’re both pathetic.” Yurio scoffs, leaning against the concrete support of a street lamp, but there’s no barb to the words. It serves enough as a reminder that they have an audience to let Yuuri resituate himself, drawing in a breath and ducking his chin down again, breaking the moment. If they start trading kisses, Yuuri isn’t sure he’ll be able to stop, and this isn’t the place for that. In apology, he catches Victor’s hand in his, pressing it to his cheek for a moment before bringing it to his lips, the gold of the ring skin-warmed and smooth against his lips. Victor smiles, accepting the familiar substitute for a kiss in amusement as he laces their fingers together, giving Yuuri freedom to move without letting him break contact—not that he’d want to—when he turns to address Yurio.
They’re nearly eye to eye. Yurio’s growth spurt began before they parted, he’s been shooting up all year and Victor told him to expect this, but it’s still slightly disorienting. “You’ve gotten taller.”
“You’ve grown your hair out.” Yurio counters immediately, lobbed at him as if in retaliation for stupidly stating the obvious. It makes Yuuri grin, and Yurio’s lip curls up slightly at the corner in answer, and it’s probably the warmest greeting they’ve ever shared between them. Yuuri would hug him right now, if he weren’t sure it would get him kicked.
“Let’s go home!” Victor bounces on his heels, interrupting the moment by dragging Yuuri under his arm, hands still intertwined, greedy for all of Yuuri’s attention. Yurio rolls his eyes at them as he pushes away from his perch and steps forward to lead the way, likely so he won’t have to watch them as Yuuri settles into Victor’s side, fitting together like puzzle pieces, like magnets, falling neatly into step with each other. “Yurio made dinner for us! I want you to see the condo, and Makkachin is waiting for you. I think she missed you almost as much as I did...”
Yurio is limping in front of them as he taps away at his phone, most likely texting Otabek or Mila or haranguing other skaters on social media. It’s not obvious. On anyone else it likely wouldn’t be noticeable, and perhaps to anyone who hadn’t trained beside him, trained to compete against him as a singular focus in Hasetsu, it wouldn’t be clear. But even off the ice Yurio has always defaulted to lithe poise, prowling or floating unless he was sulking and stomping and posturing. It’s likely a large part of why teen girls around the world obsess over him, that negligent grace. The slight hitch in his gait, favoring one side over the other, is obvious as a warning flag in Yuuri’s mind. Victor, hyper-focused on Yuuri, notices him noticing and catches his lover’s eye, shaking his head slightly, warning him from bringing it up yet.
A conversation for later, then.
For now, Yuuri lets himself be caught up in the moment, in Victor’s and his own sheer joy, answering and amplifying each other’s happiness. Rather than a dark cloud over their celebration, the younger Russian is quieter, teasing and slinging insults, but none of them carry the rancor of his past interactions because they’re not at odds right now. He does however look as if he’s swallowed a lemon when Victor unexpectedly sweeps Yuuri up into his arms bridal style to carry him over the threshold.
“Victor!” Yuuri clutches at his shoulders as Victor grins, pressing a kiss to his nose and shouldering the door open, too pleased with himself for managing to surprise Yuuri again.
“Indulge me. I’ve waited for this.”
The stunt means they’re both knocked down when Makkachin bounds over to greet Yuuri, but that’s good too, a pile of tangled human limbs and overexcited dog as Yurio steps entirely over the writhing laughing mess of them on the floor to close the door before an unfamiliar cat can make a break for it. Makkachin bathes Yuuri in affection, covering his face in dog kisses, and Victor braces his elbows against the floor with Yuuri trapped in his lap by the wriggling poodle.
“I was going to give you the tour, but I think this is more important. Our Makkachin has been giving me the cold shoulder, you see. I think she loves you more than me, now!” Victor’s laughing, ducking his face down into Yuuri’s shoulder to avoid the dog’s tongue. The soft fringe of his hair tickles Yuuri’s skin and Yuuri breathes deep to draw in the floral shampoo, the salt tang of sweat and hard work, the musty scent of Makkachin’s thick fur, even the savory smell of beef and garlic from the kitchen, and for a moment he closes his eyes in this impromptu puppy pile and everything is right.
He forgets, sometimes, what it feels like not to be anxious, or worried, or like he’s missing pieces of himself, some fundamental part that makes others balanced and complete no matter what’s going on around them, when he’s still fumbling around trying to seem whole in day to day tasks. It’s not that Victor completes him—Yuuri is not so naive that he believes that—it’s just that he hasn’t felt entirely himself for weeks without him. He’s a better person around Victor.
The pillow that sails out of nowhere to crash into them, knocking Yuuri’s glasses askew, interrupts any personal revelations that might have spurred.
“Oi! Food!” The younger Russian plants his hands on his narrow hips, eyes slitted into what’s likely supposed to be an intimidating look, chest puffed out like a cat with its fur on end; his shoulders are broader than Yuuri remembers. “And don’t come to the dinner table covered in dog slobber, eugh.”
His hair swishes behind him as he spins on his good heel to tromp away, the cat at his feet flicking its tail at the same time as it follows looking for food. The entire scene is so ridiculous that Yuuri can’t help laughing again, leaning back into Victor’s chest, digging his fingers into Makkachin’s fur to pet her lovingly. He can’t even manage to be offended, not like this. “Since his cat is here and he’s making dinner, I’m guessing Yurio lives here now?”
Victor rests his chin on Yuuri’s shoulder, wrapping his arms around his boyfriend's waist, sheepishly apologetic. “...Surprise? I was going to tell you, but I forgot when you called from the airport. It just happened.”
It’s a major life decision happening overnight on what seems like one of Victor’s whims as he spontaneously took advantage of an opportunity to offer something they both know he’s long considered. Yuuri strokes his fingers across Victor’s cheek as he shakes his head in fond amusement. “Ah, typical.”
“You’re not upset?” Victor widens his eyes into the innocent hopeful look he’d likely perfected in a mirror. He does that sometimes, falling into clearly practiced expression—it has less effect than he thinks, given Yuuri had those same expressions plastered on his walls for years. He wouldn’t claim to be immune, but prolonged exposure did lessen the impact some, and he can tell when Victor is putting on a face.
“If it gets cold I am making you eat it anyway, you ungrateful pigs!”
Yuuri smiles, untangling himself from Victor’s limbs and Makkachin’s weight, pushing himself to his feet before offering Victor a hand up from the floor. It’s a ridiculous question, honestly. After all, the same instincts had brought Victor into his own life. “No. I’m happy, Victor.”
Victor understands. That heart-shaped smile is every bit as breathtaking as Yuuri remembers, and he presses a finger to Victor’s lips to keep him back when he tries to swoop in for a kiss. “Remember, ‘dog slobber.’ Show me where to clean up, then we should eat before Yurio strangles me.”
It’s not until later, after a dinner full of laughter and teasing, Yuuri’s soft blushes and Yuri’s sharp tongue, that Victor remembers what he’d forgotten that he’d wanted to remember to tell Yuuri. The man in question is nestled in his arms, warm and well fed and sleepy, jetlagged as he always is after so much travel. His vulnerability is endearing in these moments, how trusting he is when Victor guides him through the motions, leading him by the hand to the bathroom to brush his teeth, helping him peel off the layers of travelling clothes, and how easily he curls into Victor’s arms, head pillowed on his shoulder, back warm against Victor’s chest, fingers laced together, knees bent to allow Victor to curl around him. The gauzy curtain paints a watercolor out of the city lights, the river beneath catching the reflection of the moonrise and drifting clouds above, and it’s hypnotic to Yuuri’s exhausted mind.
Yuuri’s too tired to do anything exciting, but their murmured, lazy conversation has drifted on and off as the sun sank, as Yuuri stubbornly fought the pull of sleep, trying to keep himself at least somewhat conscious to try and sync his schedule to Russia, to Victor. Having him here, in his arms, feels right. It feels perfect. Victor wants this always—Yuuri in his arms, Makkachin at their feet, their home around them, Yuri safely ensconced down the hall, and a rink waiting for them all. He’s always been a greedy man in his estimation, and now he’s found everything that he’s coveted so long. He couldn’t ask for more than this, but he can ask for more of this.
But a man should want. A life without desire, without goals or dreams or hopes that can fill him with this kind of contentment, is no life at all. Victor has been taken before by empty ambition, by cold medals and hot spotlights and no warmth. He never wants to become that again, and wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
Yuuri hmms softly, showing that he’s listening as the conversation picks up again, tugging Victor’s arm tighter around him and letting him organize his thoughts.
“I think that Yurio is homeless. I don’t know if he knows it, either.” It’s a poor way to phrase it, and Victor sighs at his mind, how quickly he fell out of the habit of wrangling his thoughts into English once he was around Yakov and Mila and Georgi and Yuri, and them alone, every day. Being back in Russia has made him lazy. “He lives wherever he is like it’s a hotel room. His cat has more comforts than he does. He has nothing.”
He can see Yuuri’s brow furrow slightly, exhausted mind processing translation, then consideration of the meaning, then dragging his own sluggish thoughts into order and translating them, extra steps for so simple a process that when awake he takes for granted. Even complications of languages and distance and the competitions that will separate them at times, anything is worth it to have this. He’s a lucky man, that Yuuri thinks so too.
“He has us.” Yuuri eventually settles on, and it’s so sweet, so Yuuri, that Victor presses a kiss to his bare shoulder. “He has his grandfather and he has us and Otabek and the rest of your team, like I had my family even when I didn’t see that.”
“But he won’t see that. He isn’t looking for it and doesn’t know to want for it.”
At times you can see what Yuri might have been like, if he hadn’t been left like a stray and forced to fight his way up. It’s in the grins you have to surprise out of him, in the way he soaks up any praise he can get and basks in it for a moment before remembering he ‘doesn’t care,’ the moments of childlike wonder he still has in him. That’s all too rare in Yuri’s life, and on the ice it’s as if all of that dies for the competition. But there’s still the promise that if nourished right, taught to trust in himself and the people around him, he could grow into something truly remarkable.
“He doesn’t see anything beyond the scores.”
Yuuri chuckles softly, sleep-rough voice enticing Victor out of his train of thought, unconsciously making promises Victor knows that his Eros is in no condition to follow up on. Not yet, but perhaps in the morning before practice.
“Ah, Victor... you are very good at being seen. Just don’t get too carried away. You’ll make this home for him. Just give it time. ...For now you should sleep, zolotse.” The Russian trips off his tongue awkwardly. Someone’s been studying, his clever love, and while he needs more practice it makes Victor’s heart swell to think of Yuuri spending their month apart trying to learn this for him. “We can worry about Yurio in the morning.”
Time. He’s not a patient man, but Yuuri can provide patience. They’re together in this, taking in an arrogant injured homeless child just another fork in the road, and the entire world and future is stretched out before them for as long as Yuuri will stay.
“I missed you.” Victor confesses again, because the other words are harder to spit out sometimes, trapped behind his teeth, twisted up by the way his mind knows that he doesn’t always deserve the things his heart wants. He’ll do everything he can to try and make sure he can keep this, but time apart has stretched him thin. He’s relearning the shape of them together, and something about bringing Yuuri into his life, his home, has left him more vulnerable than slipping into Yuuri’s life for most of a year. “I hope this can be home for you, too.”
Yuuri is quiet for a moment, and for that moment Victor worries that he fell asleep already. Then he’s turning in Victor’s arms, chin uptilted and soft lips finding his own. Fingers cup his cheek gently as they did on the ice to draw Victor down to meet him, dark lashes a fan against his skin as he closes his eyes, putting his whole body into the kiss, slow and deep. Victor pulls him closer, clinging tighter to this so it can never slip away. He needed that, more than he could possibly express, but somehow Yuuri knew.
“It’s already home, Vitya. You’re here.”
Victor will never be able to put into words how much he loves this man.
Our obviously oh-so-edgy child named his cat after a questionably evil house spirit that features in a Russian cartoon and a orchestral piece by Anatoly Liadov. Because of course he did. Kikimora can either keep your house safe, or screw up everything overnight if you tick her off.
Chapter 3: Fall
They skate better when they’re together. It’s fucking ridiculous.
It was only one year, from the time Victor took off to Japan overnight to chase a guy who drunkenly hung all over him at their previous Grand Prix Final, to his return to St. Petersburg after this year’s banquet. Twenty years Victor’s been skating, and skating well enough to sweep up medals everywhere he went, five years of not missing a single Gold when it counted on the International level. But one hour into practice it’s obvious that having Katsudon’s eyes on him brings out more from Victor.
The program he cooked up while he was training Yuuri with some stupid vague theme of “dreams,” suddenly flows like silk as Yakov runs each of them through their short programs. It was good enough for Nationals before, good enough to beat him for a gold when Yuri was fighting his own body to make his routine work, but it’s enthralling enough now that even Mila and Georgi and the junior prospects are sticking around after their run-throughs to watch. Engaging enough that Yakov’s got that stupid smug look of pride on his face and is too caught up in the performance to browbeat the rest of them to move. Katsudon is watching Victor like this is some kind of religious experience for him.
It’s pretty damn obvious who Victor’s ‘dream’ performance is about. His look of longing and sadness at ‘waking’ to their separation drops as soon as he raises his head and winks at Yuuri across the ice, skating over to a man who’s entirely within reach in this moment.
Then they trade, Victor drawing Yuuri out to center ice by the hand, murmuring quiet words that only they can hear, but it makes Yuuri blush like he’s going to combust, makes Victor laugh with his entire body. Then he skates back to lounge against the wall beside Yakov, elbows resting on the top of the surround and a smug smile curling his lips as he waits to be seduced. Yuuri assumes his starting position, shoots Victor a kiss that the moron pretends to grab out of the air, and then he makes the entire rink resonate with the music even without the track playing.
It’s like Onsen on Ice all over again, and Yuri hates it. He’s worked so hard, played through the pain so long, and even with Yuuri tiredly two-footing a landing, he can see the art in the footwork, the emotion in the way Yuuri reaches towards Victor and flits away, the perfection in his spins and the staggering improvement over the video he studied of Yuuri at Japan’s Nationals. Victor comes alive with Yuuri around, and Yuuri blossoms with Victor’s approval.
He wants to throw something, but there’s nothing around to grab.
“Ah, there’s our green eyed monster.” Mila skates over from her spot beside Georgi and the juniors to join him, and flicks the end of Yuri’s ponytail playfully, grinning as he watches Yuuri skate through narrowed eyes. He grits his teeth and tries to ignore her. “Yakov thought having those two together might bring it out of you. You skate better with a challenge, and we know poor Georgi can’t keep up with you now.”
“Shut up, hag.” Yuri growls, too frustrated to even come up with more of a retort. He likes Mila. Hell, he doesn’t hate Victor and Katsudon, either. But this is his life, his everything, and these two distracted assholes are beating him in it. He looks at them and he sees bronze in his future. And that’s provided he can beat Beka, Chris, or that fucker JJ, with his body betraying him. It’s not enough.
“I wasn’t sure about bringing him here. But you’re good for each other. He’s good for you, Vitya.” Yakov sounds like a proud father, Victor practically beams at having his blessing, and Yuri can’t fucking handle it.
When Katsudon flings himself across the ice into Victor’s arms for whatever celebratory sappy crap they’re subjecting the rest of the world to now, Yuri straightens himself out, shoves off, and skates past them towards center ice.
“Yurio…” Victor sounds worried but like he’s hiding it, too close to Yakov to sling whatever sage advice he probably felt he needed to. He cuts himself short, trapping his thoughts behind his lips and leaving the stupid nickname, laden with concern, to be his warning.
“Ganba!” Katsudon clearly doesn’t know yet, but Yuri can hear the edge to his voice like he suspects as he finishes a sentence for Victor. They’re tangled together when Yuri looks up to stare his challenge at them, Victor’s arms over Yuuri’s shoulders as they lean like one being against the wall, Victor’s chin resting on the top of Yuuri’s head, Yuuri’s hands crossed over his chest to hold Victor’s where his wrists dangle above his shoulders. The gold of their rings mocks Yuri like the medal he’s going to have to fight tooth and nail to win now.
Yuri doesn’t want luck. He’s better than needing luck.
The technique Victor showed him has worked so far, warming his tendons and ligaments up before skating, shocking them with cold after… it’s working, but Yakov’s demand that Victor and Yuuri go first has given him time to get stiff again, and lessons with Lilia this morning have strained him. His legs ache already, the pain making muscles tense that should be loose, but he shoves that to the back of his mind for focus as he takes his place. He grabs on to the anger though, the rage. It’s fuel, white hot and simmering beneath his skin. He’s not jealous, no matter what Mila or Yakov think. He doesn’t even hate Victor and Yuuri the way he briefly thought he did. He was just pissed off.
And he can work with that. This is why he didn’t want Katsudon to retire, after all. Why he wanted Victor back on the ice. This isn’t jealousy. It’s incentive. Victor would call it inspiration.
That’s what he needs now. Because Katsudon, Victor, they’re artists. Yuuri goes and spills his emotions out for everyone to see, revealing himself and making himself vulnerable. Though it makes Yuri uneasy sometimes, it’s always been captivating when he paints his feelings across the ice. It can be messy and abstract when he’s unfocused, but there’s still beauty there. For Victor, it’s about becoming something new, reinventing himself into every new piece. If Katsudon is a painter, splashing his feelings on everyone around him, then Victor is an actor—he sheds his skin and from the start of the music to the end he breathes and moves and thinks as someone entirely new.
Yuri can’t do that, he’s too unapologetically himself to play at being anyone else, and he can’t strip all his walls down and vomit emotion on everyone the way Katsudon does. He thought he could just go out there and beat them as a competitor, bludgeon them with his anger, his determination. That’s part of it, he knows now. He needs that, just as much as anything, if he’s going to prove himself. It’s the heat of anger that’s filling him, the determination that will get him through this. That competitive spirit is the fire that tells him that he can win. That his body answers to him, not the other way around.
They don’t practice with their music. Any fall or misstep could throw them off the timing, and in practice Yakov likes to be able to call out to pause them, make them retrace their steps. Yuri doesn’t need the music, though. This program is new enough that they’re still ironing it out to perfection, choreographed by Lilia for his Worlds run and only publicly skated at Nationals so far. He wasn’t going to beat Victor with his own choreography—not that he couldn’t, he set the record himself with it. But if he beat Victor in competition with Agape, then Victor would still be credited with a win—he wants to beat the man on his own terms. He wants to stand on his own.
Now Stravinsky’s chords play even in his sleep, the way the music always does until he can instinctively find the beats and feel the way it rises and falls. Lilia makes him dance Ivan’s part of the ballet at practice sometimes, made him watch the full production, and now he can chase firebirds across the ice without the noise, transform into the phoenix himself and fly.
That’s why he can beat them. He can beat Katsudon, and how he can coil color and emotion around him like a silk shawl. He can beat Victor, and how the ice seems to worship and spotlight him even after all these years.
Letting out a breath, Yuri raises his arm, snaps his eyes open again, and grabs hold of the art he sold his soul to master.
Then he dances.
The press love to assign nicknames to Yuri. Russian Punk, because of his outlandish clothing and abrasive persona in interviews. Russian Fairy, because he floated through Juniors like a dream, his small form flitting over the ice like he was flying. In a recent rewatch, Victor heard one GPF commentator breathe out what a beautiful monster Yuri Plisetsky is, and they’re not entirely wrong. That one, more than the rest, seems to suit him right now.
Victor has spent years now watching this creature claw its way up, larger than life, certainly larger than his diminutive frame would lead you to believe. But now he’s changing, evolving, shoulders wider and hinting at a raw power to come. The height he’s adding hasn’t been matched in muscle mass yet, making him lean and drawn. He’s less stray kitten than feral cat now, spitting mad and aggressive and hungry. Always hungry.
In Victor’s arms, Yuuri draws himself up unconsciously, leaning forward and using Victor for balance as he watches this transformation for the first time himself. Yuri Plisetsky the competitor is coming into his own, carving a space for himself in history with every violent slice of the blade as his body twists and leaps and pirouettes and bows. “He’s grown. But…”
It's clear Yuuri sees it too. Victor can feel the tension in Yuuri mounting, matching his own, as Yuri’s dance begins to reach its crescendo. Because there is pain in that snarl now contorting Yuri’s lips as he flings himself into his quad combination. That’s agony, not just the fury he’s using to mask it, as he lands hard, skate edge chipping away the ice.
There is a battle between Yuri’s ambition and his potential, and the ambition is consuming him whole. Not on a grand stage, not in the middle of a competition. This is no blaze of glory. This is his best performance, tucked away in a silent rink in Russia, away from the screaming crowds to admire it, the music to accentuate it, and the cameras to capture and immortalize it. Right now, as they’re watching from the sidelines of a silent rink filled only with people who love this boy, he is gracefully and magnificently destroying himself.
“Yakov, we need to stop him.”
The words spill out of Victor before he can help it, before he can register the trust he’s betraying and promise he’s breaking. Yakov doesn’t hear it right away, too caught in the display in front of him. Yuri is undeniably mesmerizing, showing his top form right in this moment, when only yesterday he’d stumbled on a triple loop. His hair streams behind him, and sweat and tears bend in distorted tracks to the force and speed of his body as he flings himself into a leap, a death drop for his sit-spins.
“Why is he…?” Yakov is frowning now, creased eyes narrowing in genuine concern as he registers the tears on his young skater’s face. “Yuri! Come back here!”
“I don’t think he can hear you.” Yuuri murmurs, shaking his head slightly. And he’s right. Caught in a spin like that, sound whips away; the cheer of crowds, the music itself in memory only, relying on the skater’s sense of timing and grasp of their program. Victor’s always found it comforting, focusing him in the moment, but this time it’s terrifying.
“We need to get him off the ice.” Sensing the urgency of the situation, Yuuri is already getting out of Victor’s way, untangled from each other’s grip, fear in his eyes at Victor’s voice.
Victor swears he can tell the moment Yuri realizes it’s over, that he can hear it, feel it in the still air of the rink as he races across the ice, Yuuri at his heel ready to help however he needs to.
One moment, Yuri is twisting into a modified pancake spin, body flat to the bend of his knee, fingertips of one hand nearly skimming the ice beside his blade as the other arm hooks around his leg to keep him flat, ponytail a proud golden banner that snaps and twirls, face tucked down towards his leg as he tenses for his transition into an upright spin. The next moment he is a puppet with its strings cut, falling those last few precious inches to the ice.
By the time Victor hits his knees, letting the frictionless surface take him the rest of the way to the figure crumpled around his own leg on the ice, Yuri Plisetsky’s entire season, his Olympic ambitions and dreams of gold at Worlds this year, are over.
“Shit! ” Tears streaming down his face, thin frame folded around himself, fist hitting the ice in a futile display of rage, it’s clear he knows it too.
He’ll be lucky if he ever skates again.
Chapter 4: Shock
Yuuri should be used to this by now. Anxiety has been his near-constant companion on the ice, off the ice, in his career and in his personal life. Sometimes he wishes that experience made it easier to harness or redirect. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. He can still taste acid on his tongue as his stomach churns and flips, his hands shake and his vision swims, and his mind and heart race uncontrollably. Yuuri’s nerves are a familiar enemy, a part of himself that he can’t ever quite master.
But it means that he has some idea of what he’s looking at while his idol-turned-lover paces the floor in front of him, eyes unfocused, skin pale and silvered hair limp with sweat, a ghost of himself. He just never expected to see Victor in this state.
When Victor had cried in Barcelona, glittering tears clinging to long lashes with his voice soft and skin flushed, Yuuri couldn’t quite help thinking that he was beautiful in his distress. He came to the conclusion that he’d never reach a day when he didn’t see Victor as stunning, breathtaking.
Then Yurio fell to the ice, chaos erupted, and Victor silently shut down. Everyone has seen Yakov Feltsman’s temper; it’s famous in the skating community, seen as a trademark eccentricity like Celestino’s “ciao, ciao” or Josef’s quirky fashion sense. Yuuri has never seen him explode like this before, though the coach has been in the periphery of Yuuri’s admiration of Victor for over a decade, wrangling Victor on screen and in print the entire time. He’d crowded into Victor as he yelled, and Victor didn’t offer a word of defense to the onslaught, answering with quiet “da”s and “nyet”s and downcast eyes. Harsh Russian words echoed through the waiting room, sending nurses scurrying to be elsewhere and making Georgi and Mila sink into their seats, trying to be invisible in the face of the sheer fury exuded by their coach.
Yakov had stormed out, back to the room where Yurio is being examined, but Victor seems farther away somehow, lost in his own mind. He traces his footsteps across the tile again, chin down, hands shoved into the pockets of his warm-up jacket. He’s compacted himself, drawn into some invisible shell, and everything about that is wrong. Victor takes up space. He was made for sweeping gestures, expressive motion, speaking with his hands, capturing attention on and off the ice. A room just feels so much more full with Victor in it. He was never meant to be seen like this.
Mila and Georgi are speaking to each other quietly in Russian, and Yuuri can see Mila’s pretty face turned down in a frown, the sadness in Georgi’s expressive eyes, even if he can’t understand their conversation. It’s strangely isolating, being right beside them and yet excluded so completely whether intentionally or not. He can only catch one word in every ten or so. They’re worried about what this means for Yurio. He can’t blame them.
Yuuri worries. He might argue it’s a primary characteristic of his personality. It’s not hard for him to to be worried for his injured young friend and his upset boyfriend at the same time. But for now there’s only one of them he can do anything for. It’s strange, how things have turned all around in his life: this is like Detroit all over again. Another rinkmate. Another accident. Another person who edges past his personal boundaries, waiting alongside him—but this time it’s Yuuri wanting to close the distance. If Yuuri reaches for him now, will Victor thoughtlessly shove him away the way he shoved away that girl? He remembers telling Victor this story on the beach, how Victor understood and let him set the pace.
Yuuri nervously scrubs the sweat from his clammy palms and then pushes himself to his feet. Victor has done so much for him, helped him so many times just by being there, even if his fumbling attempts to wrench Yuuri out of his anxiety attacks backfire at times. Is this how Victor felt in the garage? Can he offer Victor what Victor’s always given him? He chances it, stepping forward into Victor’s path, waiting for him to look up when his footsteps falter at having his pacing blocked. “Victor…?”
The moment he looks up, Yuuri can tell. Victor’s shattered. He just doesn’t show it quite the same way Yuuri does. The blue eyes that meet Yuuri’s are bloodshot and tired. Victor’s lips twist into a faint, self-mocking smile that Yuuri never wants to see again, but he doesn’t hesitate as he draws Yuuri into his arms. “I’m sorry, Yuuri. This was not how I wanted your first days here to go.”
“I don’t think anyone expected Yurio to get hurt, Victor.” That doesn’t seem to help, and Victor barks a bitter laugh as he folds into Yuuri, long body bowed to let him rest his forehead against his boyfriend’s shoulder. Heedless of their audience, Yuuri rubs a hand between his shoulder blades slowly, anchoring him there.
“Ah, Yuuri. Sometimes I forget you don’t understand us.” When Victor moves to pull away and stand on his own, Yuuri catches his wrist, tugging him down towards the chairs. He leaves space between them and the other two skaters, an illusion of privacy if nothing else, and then leans into Victor’s shoulder. It’s better this way. Victor can explain without needing to distance himself. “It’s only fair you hear it from me. Yakov’s angry because he thinks this is my fault.”
“It could happen to any of us...”
“He’s not wrong, Yuuri. I saw Yurio was hurt and helped him hide it. I said I’d keep this from happening, and I’ve been undermining Yakov looking out for him for years. Some coach I am.” The look on his face, the disdain in his voice, is enough to freeze Yuuri where he sits, hand rising to cup Victor’s cheek to try and smooth away the bitter twist of his lips.
A sudden outburst of Russian, vicious as a spitting cat, snatches everyone’s attention and stops them before Yuuri can find the words to fix this.
“I said I’ve got it, don’t grab at me! I don’t want someone pushing me around.” The rough, angry voice of Yurio rips Victor away from his arms again, setting him on his feet and dragging everyone’s heads up from where they’d been bowed. The teen scowls at all of them as he rolls himself into the waiting room, an exasperated nurse and equally harried coach in his wake, one carrying a clipboard and one a set of crutches, both annoyed.
Yurio’s hair is down and ruffled like he’s been running his hand through it, his face pale and eyes red-rimmed. The training jacket is zipped up to his chin like armor, and he’s as stubborn as Yuuri’s ever seen him despite the wheelchair and the compression wrap circling his swollen knee. He scowls at his worried teammates as he sizes them up.
“What are you all sitting here for? Don’t be stupid, they wouldn’t do anything today except the scans and poke at me to say what happened. We all know what happened, and I’m not letting any of these hacks near me with a scalpel. I don’t even need the wheelchair, it’s just a stupid hospital rule.” Yurio glowers up at Yakov, holding his hands out in a demand. “Just give me the crutches.”
“Yurotchka, be reasonable…”
“Don’t ‘Yurotchka’ me, Yakov.” Yurio’s eyes narrow into slits and he reaches down, flipping the hand-brake on the wheelchair to lock himself in place stubbornly. “I am walking out of here, with the crutches or without.” After a beat of silence, testing Yakov’s resolve, he jabs a finger out at the others waiting, singling out Yuuri and Mila. “Katsudon, Baba, come here, you’re both about the right height…”
Yuuri doesn’t need to speak Russian to understand that Yakov’s retort as he caves to the demands of a teenager is impolite considering the circumstances, as the nurse looks scandalized. Honestly Yuuri can’t help but be relieved he gave in so easily: he’d help Yurio up if he needed it, but he doesn’t want to get in between the angry coach and irritated teen. Crutches under his arms, Yurio hoists himself out of the chair carefully, as defiantly smug over this small victory as if he was taking the podium.
“Good. Now all of you go away, you’re pissing me off acting like this is my funeral. Except you two. Victor, get your damn car. Katsudon, be ready to get the door. I want out of here. Take me back to your place.”
Victor has a watery smile, faked and faint and sad, as he nods slightly and digs his keys out of his pocket, taking off towards the car to pull it around. Right now, Victor would probably cede to any demand Yuri could make without once glancing at Yakov for a reaction. Yakov glares at his back as he disappears, leaving Yuuri to watch Yurio receive a kiss on the cheek from Mila and a shoulder squeeze from Georgi before he curses both out with barbed Russian insults, as if to prove he’s still entirely capable and unperturbed. It’s about as convincing as some of his earliest, furiously struggling performances of Agape.
“Coach Yakov…” Yuuri doesn’t want to interrupt the rinkmates, but he needs to know, especially with Yurio living with them now. As Yakov turns to him, dark eyes sharp, he doesn’t seem to need the rest of the question. He expected it.
“His knee is blown. He was already under strain, and tore his ACL, LCL and meniscus in his landing leg. He’s decided on full reconstruction just for the chance to skate again, because he’s too stubborn to consider this may be the end.” Yuuri winces slightly, and nods—even with surgery, there are rarely any guarantees that a skater will have his full range of motion again, or that his knee will accept the strain they put on their bodies for long if he does. “I’ll use my contacts and find him the best surgeon and physiotherapist, but he can use the crutches to move and start limited physical therapy until the surgery. He would be better off with Lilia and I until then. If you and Vitya are still on the stupid plan of keeping him…”
Yuuri frowns, meeting Yakov’s challenge head-on because Victor isn’t in any mindset to do it himself. For Victor, he can be brave, and he can speak up. “Victor sees Yurio like a younger brother. He wants him to succeed, and he wants him to be happy. Right now, I think Victor would do anything to make that happen.”
Yakov scowls, shaking his head slightly. “That’s half the problem. That idiot and his grand gestures. Fine. Ice and elevation for the swelling. He was too pigheaded to take pain medication, but he has them when he needs them. I’ll send a physical therapist by with instructions. Keep them both out of my rink tomorrow. Yuri needs to rest and will only hurt himself, and if I see Victor on the ice right now I’m going to do something we’ll both regret. I don’t know if you have any more sense than either of them, but try not to let either of those morons do anything stupid.”
“Katsudon! Stop talking about me behind my back and get the damn door so I can get out of this hellhole!” Mila and Georgi moved on at Yurio’s command while Yuuri was focused on Yakov, and the knowledge that Yurio noticed him in this conversation makes Yuuri flush despite himself, feeling caught-out.
Yuuri bustles out, pulling open the back door of Victor’s car and helping Yurio lower himself into it, tucking the crutches away on the floorboards as Yurio stretches out along the back seat, resting his head against the window.
It’s an awkward ride for Yuuri, between Victor being caught in his own head and Yurio pained and silent in the back. The gravity of the situation is impossible to escape. In many ways, everything is worse because it’s Yurio. If Yuuri had suffered the same injury, he would have retired at peace with the idea that he’d given his all, that he’d achieved a lifelong goal of being seen as Victor’s equal, and that he’d live the rest of his life by Victor’s side. Had Victor been injured, he’d have retired at the top—his place in history secure, his legacy ensured, and his future as a coach already prepared.
Yurio is young and had an entire bright future in skating—likely over a decade on the world stage—ahead of him. The sad truth is that no matter how explosive his Senior Debut, no matter how strong his talent and ambition, if this injury keeps Yuri from ever returning to competition, he’ll eventually be widely forgotten by the media, by the fans, by the world outside of his skating community. A life full of could-have-beens and dreams snuffed out after his first big win.
Outside, St. Petersburg is dark and dreary but teeming with life, the early sunset not enough to keep its people inside. Yuuri stares out at the dark water of the river as they idle on one of the city’s hundreds of bridges, waiting for traffic, lost in his darkening thoughts until Yurio abruptly speaks up, his voice low and hoarse.
“Plushenko had multiple knee surgeries and medaled at four Olympics. Lambiel screwed up both legs and a hip and still came back. I’m younger than either of them were, and I’m better.” On anyone else it would be arrogance, but Yuuri can hear the desperation now, the plea hidden under the vicious tone of his delivery. He’s learning to understand Yurio’s masks, and the frightened child Victor sees beneath. “I’m not giving up and if you give up on me I will kick both of your asses, crutches or not.”
Victor adjusts the rearview to look back at his younger counterpart, eyes focused now and face set in determined lines. “Yakov isn’t going to give up on you, Yuri. But if he did, I promise you I will coach you myself until you can climb the podium again as many times as you need.”
Victor has broken other promises before, easily given and easily forgotten, but Yuuri can tell this isn’t one of them. This is solid ground for all three of them—for Yurio’s fear, Yuuri’s worry, and Victor’s guilt.
“I need at least six consecutively.” Yurio rumbles, hands pressed over his eyes to hide the tears as he turns his head again so he can’t see them looking back at him. “Only way to make them shut up about you.”
“Ah, but I owe Victor five gold medals, too…” Yuuri reminds them of the promise made as he took the Silver at the Grand Prix final, Victor’s arms around him as they clung to each other on the floor of the kiss and cry. This feels a bit like that—like coming together, fumbling to figure out their future together in a world where they’d compete against each other and then return to each other, half teasing and half hoping they can make this work between them.
“Fat chance, pig. I’ll be back before I’m seventeen…” Yurio sobs the words out, half a laugh. Unseen by Yurio in the back, Victor reaches for Yuuri, his shaking hand tight around Yuuri’s in the gap between their seats. Yuuri grabs hold tightly, trying to reassure with touch where words have failed. “But you’d better kick Victor’s ass the rest of this year so he doesn’t keep adding those damn things up.”
“It’s a deal, Yurio.”
“Betrayed by both my Yuris.” Victor laments, letting himself be drawn into the challenge and struggling to match their tone. As the cars in front of them begin to move, he raises Yuuri’s captured hand, softly pressing a kiss to the pulse thrumming beneath the thin skin of his wrist before letting him go so he can take the wheel and guide them home. “I have no intention of making this easy on either of you. I have two records to retake.”
“Never gonna happen, old man.”
It’s a perfectly polite, perfectly reasonable, perfectly vague and pitch perfect tweet perfectly spaced to 140 characters with the Russian flag emoji and a figure skate emoji ending it, featuring a month old photo of him in practice gear. It’s pinned to the top of all of his social media, seemingly innocuous. It’s perfect through and through... as long as you know jack shit about Yuri Plisetsky because it’s complete bullshit and nothing he’d fucking say, and anyone who’s ever hit the follow button on any of his accounts should know that.
The phone makes a satisfying thwack as it sails across the living room into the wall. Makkachin looks up in alarm at the sound and accompanying explosion of expletives, her ears perked up and head cocked in concern. Mora doesn’t even bother to look up from where she’s grooming herself on floor near the dog, too used to Yuri to be surprised.
“Yurio! Are you okay? I thought you were asleep!”
Katsudon’s glasses are crooked on his nose, wet hair ruffled as he pops out of the master bedroom in loose sweats like he was shot out of a rocket, drawn by the noise. Victor emerges in his wake, hair also wet, with a towel slung around his shirtless shoulders. He meanders across the room to retrieve the phone after pausing to ruffle Makkachin’s fur, while Yuuri takes a seat on the coffee table near Yuri’s elevated leg. Thank god for small favors that he doesn’t have to share a bathroom with them, because he’s pretty sure the water hasn’t been running long enough for them to have taken separate showers and he doesn’t need that image.
“The fuck kind of question is that?” Yuri grumbles, irritated by the sight of the two of them being so disgustingly couple-y, and he drags one of the stupid overstuffed couch pillows Victor bought up over his face. Anything to get the mental image of what he probably interrupted out of his head. Ugh.
“A polite one.” Victor doesn’t mince words while keeping him from snapping at Katsudon, dropping the phone onto Yuri where it bounces off of his stomach, a minor annoyance compared to the ache of his knee. He sounds exhausted and flustered. Yuri definitely interrupted them. “That was a well phrased tweet. Publicist?”
He’s not sure if he should be insulted or grateful that Victor can tell the difference between him and someone paid to act like him but better. “It’s like I’m fucking banned from social media. They think I’ll screw it up, so they don’t want me doing anything at all. They’re emailing my sponsors too and doing damage control or whatever. It’s all bullshit because as soon as the sponsorships dry up, I’m not going to have the cash to pay them for being pains in the ass anyway.”
“It will be okay, Yura.” Victor has settled back into the sympathetic tone that’s pissing Yuri off, and he ignores it. The man whose stupid face is on billboards all around the city selling stupid watches and stupid perfumes and crap doesn’t get to patronize him about money issues. “Your insurance will cover the medical expenses, and everything else will be fine.”
“Your sponsorships won’t all dry up.” Yuuri promises with a reassuring pat, and Yuri drops the pillow from over his eyes to glare at him for the platitude. “Honestly. Private sponsorships are considered a gift, legally, not a business obligation. The ones who’ve already cut checks, they can’t pull those back, and a good agent would have found you philanthropic sponsors who you can ask to increase their contribution for your recovery. The business sponsorships are trickier, but it’ll depend on your contracts. You’re sheltered from most of the termination clauses that Victor and I have in ours because you’re still a minor, and that may lock several of them to you until you’re eighteen. Unless you breach contract in some other way you could b-be set for…”
It’s like an alien is sitting in front of him. An alien who just happens to look like one of his rivals-slash-sort-of rinkmates. Even Victor seems taken aback by Yuuri’s knowledge. Katsudon notices the eyes on him and his final words slow and stutter to a stop as he looks back and forth between them, confused by their expressions. “Did I say something...?”
“...You’ve always been lame, but when the hell did you become a nerd?”
Yuuri’s flushed cheeks turn even more pink, and he finally reaches up to straighten his glasses, ducking his head as he does. “My university in Michigan had a good business administration program. I thought I was going to retire and help my family with the onsen. But I needed to choose an entrepreneurial model for my capstone, and skating was familiar…”
“Is it strange that I find this very attractive? Beauty and brains...” Victor asks faintly, sinking onto the opposite side of the couch to stare at Yuuri openly, like he’s surprised enough that he’s seeing him for the first time all over again, and probably wants to drag him back to the bedroom to finish whatever they started even more now.
“You’d start drooling over him for breathing, so shut up.” Yuri smacks him in the head with the pillow on principle, because he can’t kick him right now. God, he is not here for watching Victor have another sudden kink realization about this man like he did at the damn dance-off. Carefully reaching out and using both hands to move his leg off of the table so he can lean forward, he pins Yuuri with a stare and gets them back on topic.
“Can you help me with this, Katsudon? I don’t…” He doesn’t have any idea what he’s doing. He isn’t about to admit it, but the truth of the matter is he skates, he studies (reluctantly), he works out, Yakov coaches, Lilia choreographs, and he has no fucking clue what else goes on behind the scenes to let him do any of this except he agreed to wear a few brands and not others, and he signs a lot of thank-you form letters and legal documents. Money comes into his bank account and goes out of it towards paying Yakov and Lilia’s fees, his agent and publicist, memberships that let him have rink time and equipment, his insurance, online courses, phone and internet, and his grandpa’s home, medical care, and bills. Everything is sliding out from under his feet right now, and he never prepared for this. It was his first year in Seniors. “I’ll teach you Russian, or cook dinner until I’m on my feet, or teach your boyfriend to cook so he’s less pathetic...”
“Rude, Yurio! You said you weren’t going to mention that. ” Victor grouses, half in English, half Russian. “Oh, Yuuri, does this mean after we retire we could…”
“I swear to god I will cockblock you for the rest of your life, Nikiforov, shut up.” Yuri smacks Victor with the pillow again to try and silence him, eyes still fixed on Yuuri as he switches to Russian for the threat, and back to English to plead his case. “I’m going to be stuck here anyway until I recover, I can…”
“... could run a skating school and you could handle the…”
Yuuri waves his hands to interrupt, flustered and overwhelmed by the pseudo-violence and the rapid language changes and excited plans for the distant future and desperate pleas about immediate worries, trying to process the cross-streams of conversation. “Wait! Wait, please. Victor, we have years to plan out our retirement, we can talk about it later. Yurio, if you’re worried I can look at your contracts and finances, but I’m really not an expert at…”
Yuri’s not sure who’s most surprised when he lunges forward to hug Yuuri in relief: Yuuri, Victor, or himself. Likely himself, given the motion is interrupted before it really even happens as he pulls back from slinging his arms around Yuuri already spitting expletives in Russian and English; the sudden motion banged his knee against the side of the table. It already seems swollen to the size of one of the overripe melons his grandfather used to sell in his shop in Moscow. He knocked one down off of the cart once and it burst, spewing seeds and pulp and too-soft flesh, and it feels like it’s only the compression wrap right now keeping his knee from the same fate. Tears sting his eyes, and his knee throbs in time with the rapid beat of Yuri’s heart. It’s stupid, and he hates feeling like this, and he hates that it makes him feel slow and clumsy, and he hates that he has no idea what’s going to happen with his life, and he hates that they’ve all treated him like a kid long enough that he doesn’t have any control over his future, and he hates they’re seeing him this way, and he hates that this one stupid thing might end his competitive career.
Victor’s out of his seat with the explosive speed of a champion athlete, gently lifting Yuri’s legs into his abandoned spot so that he’s stretched out along the couch, the pillow he’d thrown at Victor tucked under his knee. “Shush, Yura. It’ll be alright. Yuuri…?”
Katsudon is already there, kneeling between the couch and shoved-back table, brow set in determination like he’s going into competition. Victor’s hovering, unsure what to do now and needing direction. “Get a glass of water, his medicine, and the ice pack, Victor. He needs to bring the swelling down.”
Victor nods decisively, long legs clearing the space of the room in quick strides as he takes off to gather the supplies. Yuuri pushes Yuri’s hair out of his face, avoiding the swat aimed at him for it. Fuck no he doesn’t need these two fussing over him.
“Get back, you morons, I’m fine, it just caught me off guard.”
Katsudon rocks back to sit on his heels, giving Yuri room between them, but there’s a frown tugging his lips down and worry in his eyes. “I don’t mean to crowd you, I’m sorry. I know that’s not what you want right now. But… you should take your prescription, Yurio. You don’t look like you slept at all, and being in pain is only going to tense you up and hurt it more.”
“I said I’m fine.”
Then Victor is back with the ice pack and a glass of water, the bottle of pills Yuri tossed carelessly onto the nightstand tucked into the crook of his arm as he perches on the table. “You’re not fine, Yura. Please, just… let me help.”
“Yeah, right. Fat lot of help you are, Victor.” Yuri grumbles as he tugs the loose leg of his sleep pants up to above his knee and unwraps the compression slowly just to see. He tests the swelling with his thumbs, pressing into the tender flesh on either side of his knee and releasing his pain in a hiss between clenched teeth as he drags the touch up towards the front. As an athlete he’s acutely aware of his body, and this swollen mess feels ruined and unrecognizable. Yuri dashes his wrist across his eyes angrily, ducking his head down to hide behind his hair as he rewraps the knee again.
After a long beat of silence that Yuri doesn’t notice until after it’s broken, Victor sets the ice pack down on his knee and then stands, leaving the water and pills behind.
“Vitya, please…” Katsudon sounds almost as pained as Yuri feels, and it makes him blink, tearing his eyes away from the injury in confusion to look up at Yuuri, then follow his gaze towards the door.
“I’m going to take Makkachin out for a walk.” Victor is tugging his jacket and then coat on to hide his shirtlessness, zipping the jacket up to his chin and grabbing the leash. As if summoned by the sound of the leash uncoiling, the dog is suddenly there, her long tail swishing across the floor as she sits waiting for Victor to hook her up and go out the door, tongue lolling out, Victor the center of her entire world in that moment. Victor looks like he’s aged twenty years in the last five minutes, brow creased and lips tugged down, shoulders slumped beneath the heavy coat. “I have my phone. Text me if you need… text me if anything comes up.”
When he walks out the door, it’s as if all the spirit drains out of Katsudon in the same moment, like the air rushing out of a balloon, leaving him wilted and somehow less in its passing. The silence is too thick, settling over the room and making it confining, trapping them in it and leaving Yuri mired in frustration and confusion.
“What just happened?” If nothing else Yuri’s good at filling an awkward silence. Yuuri wrenches his gaze away from the door, looking down at Yuri with a shake of his head as he pushes himself to his feet.
“It’s… not my place. I’m sorry. I… I can look at your contracts and finances later. For now, please, just take your medicine?” Then Yuuri ditches him too, stepping over Yuri’s crutches and trudging towards the kitchen, where he can hear the refrigerator and drawers opening, the rattling of their new pans, the click and gust of the gas stove lighting, then the rhythmic sound of vegetables being chopped.
It’s more unsettling than Yuri ever expected, to see the picture-perfect power couple struggling with their relationship and not even get why. They seemed fine just a few minutes ago, or like their usual disgusting selves at least—Victor staring at Yuuri like he was a miracle, Yuuri blushing and returning his gaze fondly, and then both of them clucking over him like mother hens. Now Yuuri is hiding and Victor is running away.
His head hurts, his knee hurts, and now there’s just one more situation he has no idea what to do in. With a quiet curse, Yuri gives in and pops one of his pills, washing the bitter taste in his mouth down with the water. Capturing Mora where she lounges, he drags her onto the couch with him as he lays back again, one arm flung over his eyes and the other dragging a hand through her thick coat as he lets the cold numb his knee and the medicine get to work taking the edge off the pain. He can at least handle one of these things the way he’s supposed to.
In the couch, Yuri’s phone buzzes with a text notification and he fishes his hand down between the cushions to grab it, squinting at the glowing screen.
Yuri frowns, biting his lip and considering the answer for a moment. Otabek is a competitor, and a fierce one; for any of the others, he’d snap and tell them he’d be back to kick their asses soon. But Beka’s also Yuri’s friend. Maybe not his only friend like he thought, but the only one to pursue friendship deliberately instead of ending up one by default or circumstance. He’s still fumbling through this whole friendships thing, but he figures Otabek deserves the truth.
He’s not okay, and he’s not fine.
He has one more person he needs to reply to—the message that kept him awake as much as the pain did, the missed calls filling his history.
Yakov called his grandfather. Yuri knows he did, he could hear him in the hall. The murmured voices as if he was on his deathbed filled him with such shame. His grandpa deserves better than this.
Silencing his phone and dropping it back onto the table before the buzz of responses, Yuri groans and rests his forehead against his cat for a moment, too overwhelmed to deal with all of this right now. He won’t risk going anywhere until after the surgery, so he has plenty of time under house arrest to figure all of this shit out later.
He falls asleep in the living room to the sound of Katsudon in the kitchen and Mora purring quietly on his chest. He wakes for a moment to the soft hush of a door closing, the light in the hall silhouetting Victor as he slips out of the guest room. Yuri’s back in his bed, with his soft leopard print blanket draped over him, the stuffed tiger tucked into his arms, Mora kneading and stretching on the bed before she curls herself against the small of his back.
Burying his face in silky synthetic fur, Yuri lets sleep drag him under again.
Chapter 5: Guilt
Victor white knuckles the wall as Yuuri over-rotates the first quad salchow, tumbling to the ice before springing back to his feet, shaking off the mistake. It's not until he's already into his crossover steps, pivoting into his camel spin, that Victor breathes again.
He might be old for this sport, but he’s too young for it to give him a heart attack just watching his fiancé fall. He loves the man dearly, but statistically speaking if he's going to fall apart every time Yuuri flubs a jump, he's setting himself up for trouble. The loop is beautiful, the double in combination with it his nod to the earlier mistake, making up points lost. As his outside spread eagle takes him sailing past, he’s close enough that Victor can see the tension he's carrying, the furrow of his brow as he works over all the mistakes in his mind. The Ina Bauer shows the long lines of his lover, the graceful arc of his limbs and power hidden within his figure, and he lands the axel without fault.
Victor knows he’s just being ridiculous, his mind getting away from him like it does sometimes.
He still tenses as Yuuri transitions out of the intense step sequence of his free skate and launches himself into the quad flip. He smacks ice with his hand as he touches down, skates sliding sideways under him, unable to stick it when he's already found fault in his program. The sound of flesh hitting the ice makes Victor nauseous, twists something in his gut. He’s not deep enough in denial to pretend he doesn’t know why.
The combination spin at the end...
“Victor?” Yuuri’s fingers are gentle, pushing Victor’s fringe back, leaning over the wall between them with a concerned look in his eyes as Victor drops the hands from his face, dragging up a smile for his love, battered and unconvincing as it may be. Yuuri is dripping with sweat, chest still heaving, cheeks flushed. He’s beautiful, even shaggy-haired and exhausted and so clearly worried.
Yuuri’s frown deepens, his head shaking in reply. “Victor, I know you weren’t watching toward the end, but you saw me over-rotate and touch down. My form was sloppy, my execution was…”
“Ah, now who sounds like they spend too much time around Yakov?” Victor teases, clasping Yuuri’s hand in his own and pressing a kiss to the ring there. “You did well, considering you had too much on your mind. We both know you can do better, and that you will when the time comes.”
“Should I run it through again?” Yuuri asks, and Victor knows his stamina, knows he could, whether exhausted or not, run end to end again with the program. Victor’s body would give out on him long before Yuuri’s.
“No, not today.” Glancing at his phone to check the time, Victor reaches down to slip off his guards, opening the gate and stepping onto the ice with Yuuri now that he’s done being a miserable excuse for a coach. “We’ve only got thirty minutes left before our time with the rink is up. Mila and Georgi and Yakov will be here a while after that...” And frankly, Victor would rather be gone by then. He’s booked their time at the rink separately from Yakov’s since Yuri fell. Today in particular he took off early to the rink with Yuuri, out before Yakov could arrive with the therapist for Yuri and the surgery schedule.
Yuuri is waiting for Victor to say something, maybe weighing if he should speak up himself, and Victor isn’t sure how he could explain right now. “I want to change out part of my free skate before Europeans. My choreography was good enough for Nationals, but I need it to flow better. If you want to go cool down and shower…” He can see the offer to stay, to give feedback, but he needs this. “...I could use some time with the ice.”
It’s Yuuri’s line. Yuuri always thinks better when he has quiet around him and ice under his feet. That hasn’t changed out of Hasetsu, and will likely always be part of him. Usually Victor likes to keep an eye out to make sure he’s not pushing himself, but he tries to give him his space to think. It’s important to Yuuri to have time to collect himself. Crowding him always makes things worse.
Victor needs the space right now. He needs that quiet. He needs…
Yuuri’s fingertips touch his chin, tilting Victor’s head back up as he searches his face. After a moment, he brushes a kiss to Victor’s cheek like a benediction. Victor has no idea what he did to deserve this man, but he’s thankful for him. “When you’re ready, I’ll be in the locker room.”
They’ve been struggling. Victor knows he’s been more distant and that it’s put a strain on Yuuri, who just moved across the world to be with him. Even if things had been smooth, the schedule of St. Petersburg was bound to be a burden on their relationship; he is coach and competitor now, either a difficult task, and together nearly impossible. He always used to thrive on ‘impossible’ though, and just a week ago he was excited to prove again that the word held no meaning for him. Perhaps that’s his ego, saying he can coach, compete, keep up the facade of perfection he has spent decades polishing, take care of Yuri and help him come back from this, and be the fiancé that Yuuri deserves as well. He knows right now he’s failing in all the ways that truly matter.
Right now, the only part that he has any confidence in himself for is the competition. The one and only thing he knows that he can reliably do is skate. He doesn’t need this time on the ice just to work on his program. He needs it to understand. Maybe even come to terms.
This rink is his home, and before he met Yuuri the only place he felt he belonged. The team is meant to be family, and for Victor they are the only family he has. Yakov all but adopted him when he took custody of Victor, took him under his wing when he was already proving to be a troublemaker to the Federation--he saw Victor’s potential and nourished it in his own way, but he also raised Victor to be the man he is. Yakov taught him how to shave, to drive, even gave him the ‘birds and the bees’ talk though it was the most agonizingly awkward experience in either of their lives. Georgi is a brother to him--they’re very different, they’re forever at odds within their sport, but the care is there all the same, and Georgi had his family fold Victor into his birthdays when he realized Victor spent the day alone waiting for Nationals. In a way, Victor was just as jealous of Georgi’s family and his openness and even his intense but fleeting relationships as Georgi has ever been of Victor’s talent. Mila is his little sister, trading nail polishes and beauty secrets and gossip about pretty girls and beautiful men; she kept his confidences, made him laugh, cried on his shoulder, has the deftest hand with an eyeliner pencil he’s ever seen, and comfortably pushes into his space with a quip and a smile.
Then there’s Yuri...
The lazy figures he’s been skating trail off as he retraces program elements in his mind’s eye. Stepping into a backwards cross, he gains speed to race across the ice, eyes distant as he remembers. The start was smooth. It had to have been nearer to the... Quad salchow. Triple toe loop. The jumps—always a crowd pleaser, and the talent they were both originally selected for. The speed whips his bangs back from his face, and he lets his arms fall wider on the landing than is his custom, holding them out for a moment longer with hands spread in demand, boldly daring the audience to try looking away and commanding the applause that he sees as his due. It seems so light from the audience, but this time Victor let himself feel how the speed and force combine, how his entire body weight balances on the edge of a single blade as it crashes back into the ice with absurd force, cutting deeply into the hard surface, the impact jolting up his leg twice in quick succession.
The step sequence, hellishly taxing even for Victor. This carries the markings of Yuuri for the inspiration and Lilia for the execution. Because this is Yuuri’s natural talent, not his own, and not even the child who flung himself into it so artfully. He remembers an angular young boy with shaggy blond hair and a perpetual sulk, lectured about his elbows and knees being everywhere. He remembers a petulant junior champion ignoring the same criticism not so long ago, talking over him in the halls at Sochi. They were chosen for technical skill. Victor fell in love with steps, with choreography, and chased it with enthusiasm. Yuri had Lilia beat this skill into himself through constant practice after being bested by Yuuri during Onsen on Ice, and it’s only recently that he truly mastered it. Twists, pivots, dips, Victor dances across the ice, making himself feel every whipcrack motion, every supple bend threatening to break.
Death drop. Boitano, likely learned by way of watching Victor himself as it was nearly an axel in the launch, kicking the takeoff leg back and flying into a sit spin, foot hitting the ice and then body twisting to whirl him in place like a top. Here, maybe. It could have been landing the salchow or the loop, but the pain would carry from there into the steps and even driven by stubborn pride he couldn’t have continued… could he?
Rising from the final spin into a scratch, Victor rides the momentum out and then frowns to himself, shoves off, and begins again. Quad salchow. Triple toe loop. Step sequence. Death drop. Sit spin down immediately to pancake spin. Rise to a scratch spin. No, again. Salchow. Loop. Steps. Death drop. He didn’t kick off hard enough, he didn’t reach the same height for the drop, it’s not comparable. Again. Quad. Triple. Steps. Drop. Spin. Rise.
He promised Yuri he wouldn’t let him hurt himself, then stood by and watched it happen.
Quad, triple, steps...
“There are more effective ways to try and maim yourself.”
Victor checks his speed before he can launch into the death drop, eyes wide and chest heaving for breath as he throws up a spray of ice in the stop, caught out. Yakov is watching him from the gate, arms crossed and expression forbidding as he blocks Victor’s escape, immovable and demanding and early. It’s not unheard of for skaters to arrive early and attempt to steal more ice time, but Yakov is usually perfectly punctual. He meant to catch Victor here.
“How long… I booked the rink, what are you doing here?”
“Hunting down my wayward student. You’ve missed practice. I only told that boy of yours one day, and I know he’s not the one with problems listening. As for the rest... I’ve been here long enough.” Yakov swings the gate open, glaring expectantly, and Victor hesitates. “I’m an old man, Victor, and haven’t had to chase anyone across the ice in thirty years. Do not make me break that streak.”
While an amusing image, that would be rather petty of him. Particularly considering Yakov is not the one to blame here. With a sigh, Victor glides to the exit, taking more care than usual in slipping on the skate guards Yakov hands over to him, just to keep from having to look at his coach. “I heard you in the hospital, and I know what you’re going to say. You’re right, I could have stopped this. It was stupid and reckless, and Yuri is paying the price for that.”
“Yes.” Yakov agrees, blunt as always. The cup of coffee shoved under Victor’s nose is still steaming and completely unexpected, as his other hand comes down on Victor’s shoulder, pushing him down towards the bench. “But that was not what I was going to say. Which you would know if you listen. Now, sit.”
Victor sits, frowning uncomfortably as Yakov takes the seat beside him, both of them looking out over the ice as he brings the coffee up, breathing the steam, heart still racing after the workout. This is going to be a feelings discussion from coach to skater, and he’s been under the man’s tutelage long enough to know Yakov’s worse at it than he is, even.
“I have been coaching competitive skaters for nearly forty-five years. Broken wrists, fractured ankles, one fool who couldn’t remember that skates are sharp and tried to juggle knives in the middle of a free skate…” Victor huffs a reluctant laugh, cradling the coffee in his chilled palms. “A concussion, and now two blown knees. Not including the twists, sprains, fractures, minor injuries, and idiot students who thought they were hiding from me, everything from chronic pain to STDs picked up in the Olympic Village.” Victor can’t help the raised eyebrow. There’s a story he doesn’t know, and doesn’t need to know. “I know that you all hide things from me. But I take responsibility for every one of those injuries, because they happened to my students, under my care...”
“I think you can be absolved of any STDs. The Olympics Committee gives each of us a bouquet of condoms, and your curfew that everyone ignores is very sternly worded.” Yakov seems entirely unimpressed by Victor’s attempt to lighten the mood, but he barrels on anyway, rising to his feet. It’s rude to interrupt. Victor knows it. But Yuuri is waiting for him, and Yuri as well if Yakov is here. He can’t have this discussion right now. “I understand. I take responsibility for what happened. I interfered, when I should have gone to you.”
Yakov growls his irritation, pushing himself laboriously back to his feet and jabbing a finger into Victor’s chest. “You do not listen, Victor. We do not coach just to win, we coach because we care about our skaters, apparently more than we care about our own sanity when they’re determined to undermine themselves at every pass. Sometimes we undermine ourselves, as well. It’s possible to care too much and let yourself be caught up in...”
“I said I understand, Yakov. I promise I won’t break any more figure skaters.” Victor’s temper snaps, the fine thread of control he’s kept fraying, the icy chill of his words dismissive and he stands unmoving as a statue in the face of Yakov’s fury. It’s not the first time Yakov has seen the colder side of Victor’s famed sunny temperament and it won’t be the last if Victor really is to keep skating. Coaches and priests, they see the worst of your sins and still have to look you in the eye afterwards.
For a moment, the only sound is the deep thrum of the air conditioning, the soft whine of refrigeration pipes, the gentle hiss of dehumidifiers, the creaking old bones of a rink. Yakov’s gaze softens, and he shakes his head quietly.
“Ah, Vitya. You already have. Surely you’ve been a coach just long enough to figure that out that a champion...” Shifting the accusing finger away from his chest, Yavok taps his student’s forehead instead with a sad sigh. “...breaks here, first.”
With a pat of Victor’s cheek, Yavok turns, gathering himself visibly as he makes his way back towards the offices to wait for his team, shoulders square, bald pate catching the light. He’s a few steps away when he calls out behind him, gruff and commanding again. “Leave your guilt off of the ice. I won’t have you killing yourself with it, and you won’t find the answers you’re looking for in the rink. You need to be ready for Europeans. I expect you back in practice tomorrow, and bring your Yuuri with you. If you won’t listen to me, maybe you’ll hear him.”
Mila Babicheva is an absolute mystery to Yuuri.
Victor he’s always admired, of course. While Yuuri feels like there will always be new facets of Victor to uncover, he’d be lying if he said that he didn’t have a shocking number of facts memorized long before they met. Yuuri knows exactly how old Victor was when he got Makkachin as a puppy. He knows that Victor renovated his apartment sometime in the past three years, as it doesn’t match the interior he walked a camera crew through, smiling and answering questions in Russian (Yuuri had to check a website for translations). He mourned the day Victor showed up with his silver tresses shorn off, but he celebrated the Olympics victory with Yuko and agreed that it did accentuate his more mature programming.
Yuuri was a fan, with all the obsessive information collection that entailed. Victor was never a mystery, he was just always unattainable.
Georgi, of course, he can’t claim as detailed of knowledge on… but Georgi never seemed as far away as Victor in the social circle of competitive skaters. Where Victor was idolized, every dramatic breakup of Georgi’s was gossip at events they were both at. Phichit always had the newest information on everyone, and Yuuri had spoken to him briefly at competitions; they were close in age, and often surrounded by younger skaters.
When the redhead streaks across the rink in a blur of scarlet and grey and hooks an arm through his, dragging Yuuri into her wake in their warm-up skate, he has no idea what to make of her.
“Skate with me.”
He’s utterly baffled, in fact. His experience with women is generally down to his mother, sister, Minako, and Yuko. The abrupt intrusion of a vivacious eighteen year old girl into his personal space is alarming, especially with Victor locked in the office, arguing with Yakov about changes to his free skate. “...Okay?”
Mila flashes him a quick, teasing grin, her blue eyes sharp as she twists to skate backwards in front of him, resting a hand on his shoulder and letting Yuuri’s momentum guide hers. “Don’t worry. I don’t bite, I’ve seen the ring, I know you’re not interested in me, and I won’t risk seriously angering Victor just because you’re cute. But my teammates are all emotionally inept, you’re living with the two worst, and they’re both melting down. Tell me you’ve noticed.”
“I wouldn’t call Victor emotionally…”
Mila shakes her head in a quick toss of flame red hair, throwing off his defense. “No, I’m not insulting them. I love them both, and Georgi too. We’re lucky that this team is close, like family. Georgi, everyone has seen his relationships and knows how he gets. Yuri, we were all there when he fell. You know he isn’t well, and we’re all worried. But you have to have noticed that something is off about Victor right now.”
Frowning, Yuuri rests a hand against her opposite shoulder to secure her for a moment as he leans to adjusts their trajectory, taking them sailing past a small gaggle of Novice level skaters and their own lecturing coach, slowly learning steps along the wall. “...Yes. I’ve noticed.”
Mila clutches both of his shoulders in her palms in thanks and praise for a moment, and he adjusts for the checked momentum with a few quick forward strokes as he skates for them both. “Good. Thank you. I need more balanced people on my side.” How does one tell a new acquaintance that you actually fumble emotions spectacularly? You don’t. She’ll probably learn well enough in time. He’s pretty sure the highlights reel of his general imbalance still plays on TEN Sports every time he takes the ice, though it’s possible she hasn’t made that connection given his improvement since Victor came to him.
It’s reassuring to realize that she’s probably nearly as unfamiliar with him as he is with her.
“Yura is just young.” Mila observes, with all the expansive wisdom of not quite three years of age difference. “He doesn’t know how to handle his emotions yet. But Victor is very…” Mila frowns softly as she considers her words, the slice of their blades against the ice and the chatter of the children punctuating the silence. “I think Victor has been very sad for years now. He hides it well, and he can forget while he’s skating, but he can’t help it. I could tell he was happy when he went to coach you. But he’s not handling Yuri getting hurt well. He blames himself.”
“ Yakov blames him.” Yuuri’s a bit more snipped there than is likely polite, but given the circumstances he can’t stop himself. He knows that Victor is struggling with what happened to Yurio. He’s struggling more because his coach is reinforcing the idea that he’s at fault.
“No, that’s not it. It’s not that he blames him. Victor said he did?” Mila’s brow knits, and she shakes her head as Yuuri clasps her shoulders again, taking them soaring past the curved outside wall of the rink, and then righting them again for the next circuit around. He couldn’t understand the conversation in the hospital, but he can tell tones, and he knows Victor. Whatever Yakov did say, Victor didn’t knowingly misrepresent it. He firmly believes the blame has been laid at his feet, and he’s accepted it. “Yakov is afraid for Yuri and for Victor. Russian men are just very dramatic.”
“Miii-la.” The singsong voice from the sidelines is very familiar, dragging out the first syllable of her name in remonstration. “We’ve talked about this.”
Mila’s lips curl up into a grin that she aims over Yuuri’s shoulder, before leaning in close to Yuuri’s ear.
“They’re also very possessive. It can be a fun trait in boyfriends, sometimes. Have fun. Please be happy with him.” With that, she plants a very theatrical kiss on Yuuri’s cheek, shifts her grip, and spins him with surprising strength to face Victor as he skates onto the ice to catch up with them. Yuuri’s blushing at the strange display and he can feel it. This little dysfunctional family of Russian skaters may end up being the death of him at this rate.
“Don’t you have another hockey player to seduce, you menace?”
Mila primly folds her hands together behind her back, her grin unrepentant, gaining speed and changing course to put distance between herself and Yuuri, cutting in a wide sweep across center ice back towards where Yakov and Georgi are also emerging for practice. “But your boyfriend is very cute, Vitya! You should keep closer watch of him.”
“My fiancé is very cute.” It shouldn’t hit Yuuri this way, that playful correction-as-warning, but it does. He hasn’t really heard Victor use that title aloud, and hasn’t dared to even think it himself, considering the fumbled mess he made of giving Victor a ring. Even now, he’s not certain how much of this is Victor teasing, but he’s sure it is and so he struggles to put that aside. The rings are omamori, good luck charms, that’s all. Everyone knows that.
Still, the word sounds nice in Victor’s thickly accented English as his arm coils around Yuuri’s waist, Victor’s hand catching one of his, lacing their fingers together. He purrs the next words loudly enough to be heard, tightening his grip around Yuuri to pull him indecently close, pressed together and skates locked side by side, Victor’s hand splayed wide across the small of his back as one finger flirts with the hem of his practice shirt, stroking over bare skin like a brand. “If you wanted to pair practice you should have told me, lyubovnik. I have so many ideas. ”
Possessive indeed. Yuuri’s fairly sure he may combust at this point. “ Victor. There are children on the ice.”
“I promise I won’t run them over.” Victor swears, and Yuuri can hear the teasing tone to his voice. It’s good, though. This is all good, potential indecency charge aside. Victor sounds more like himself in this moment. Between Mila’s stunt to spur him into playing and just being on the ice together again, Victor’s managed to drag himself out of his own head for the moment. Yuuri wants to keep that as long as he can.
“You said you were working on a second exhibition skate for us, for if we both medal at Worlds…?”
“Actually what I said was when we both medal at Worlds.” Victor pulls back enough to meet Yuuri’s eyes, falling into a more natural pair hold and canting his head curiously, bangs falling into his face. “Do you want to work on that today? It’s more complicated. I watched pairs and dance at Nationals for ideas, and talked to Anya some… I want to try again with the lift, and I think I could land a throw jump. I could take a break from reworking my long program, if you want to try.”
There are dark circles under Victor’s eyes betraying his lack of sleep, and when Yuuri cups his boyfriend’s cheek in his palm he’s met with fine stubble... but there’s a light in his eyes again at the prospect of dancing together. That light is what’s been missing, maybe longer than Yuuri realized: Victor’s love of this whirlwind life they live. Yuuri wants to help him find it again, even if just for this moment. Across the rink, Yakov watches them with folded arms and narrowed eyes as Mila and Georgi stretch against the rink surround beside him, obviously discussing them. For now, no one seems inclined to interrupt.
“I’d love that. As long as my coach will let me…”
Victor’s smile is faint compared to the brilliant heart-shaped grins Yuuri’s gotten used to, but it’s genuine and hard-won and for now he’ll take that victory. The kiss he steals, heedless of their audience, takes Yuuri’s breath away. “I think he can be persuaded.”
“Last time, we’re gonna hold it! Three… two… one. Relax. Great!”
Physical therapists are paid sadists, and the fact that Yakov got Yuri the most cheerful and patronizing pain in the ass he could have found proves the man is probably just as sadistic. It’s not like Yuri’s averse to pain for gain. He’s run himself ragged in pursuit of perfection, and he’s beat the shit out of his own body to get as far as he has. At Sambo, every part of his day was focused on building him up as an athlete or forcing him to wash out. Under Yakov, he worked his ass off to expand on what they gave him and claw his way up through Juniors. Hell, he sat around while a monk attempted to batter tension out of him with a wooden board while he was working with Victor. For fuck’s sake, he lived with Lilia Baranovskaya for a year. Lilia would say his lifestyle was about suffering for the art or whatever the fuck, but the truth is that Yuri just knows that absolutely nothing comes without pain.
“Once you have the surgery, you’re going to really need to work hard on flexibility and strength! Can you do that for me?”
But not a single one of them talked to him like he was a stupid six year old crying over a skinned elbow. Peppy, her hair pulled back into a bouncy ponytail by a stupid puffy scrunchie, her smile wide, her English accented—Australian, British or something, he doesn’t really give a crap—she’s just irritating as fuck. Because of course he’s willing to put in the work and even the pain.
Figure skating is all he has. After the surgery, he has maybe a one in three chance of ever getting on the ice again. A one in ten chance of ever having the necessary flexibility and strength in that leg to actually compete at his former level. And that’s if the surgery goes perfectly, and his body doesn’t reject the grafts, or his leg doesn’t get infected, or any of a million other potential pitfalls. He’s read the shit they gave him over enough that he could probably diagram the ligaments of a knee from memory by now, highlighting all the places he’s fucked his up and how his muscles are struggling to compensate without the structure there to support his knee, everything that could go wrong, and the best possible outcomes.
He doesn’t bother answering the physical therapist about his dedication beyond a flat stare. They’re done. The time is up for the day, he’s let himself be bent and shaped and prodded and moved. He’s pushed himself to the point where he can feel his knee swelling up again in the brace, and he’s going to have to give in and take the pain pills tonight.
“Try to do some basics on your own tonight—any flexibility or strength you can rebuild now will help you regain full mobility post-op. ...Do you want help up?”
The wooden floor feels pretty damn awesome beneath him right now, actually. “No. I’m fine. I’ll see you after.”
At least after a week she’s learned not to expect more of an answer from him. Laying on the studio floor, he listens to Katsudon step away from his hours-long cooking session and offer her a polite goodbye as he shuffles her towards the door. Moments later, Victor is standing over him, upside-down from his perspective as he leans over, bangs swaying, one eyebrow raised slightly, an icepack in his hand. “You look like crap.”
“Screw you too, Nikiforov.”
He does look like crap, though. Pale and disheveled, his hair is escaping his ponytail to frame his cheeks and cling to the cold pain-sweat on his forehead, and he can’t sleep for shit right now with the surgery in two days so he probably looks like someone punched him in the face. Not that Victor looks his best right now either. He’s vain enough that he’s usually clean-shaven and fresh as a fucking daisy like the press is going to show up at any moment (sometimes it does) and turn even grocery shopping into a photo shoot. Now he’s scruffy and has bags under his eyes like he hasn’t slept in twelve days.
Miserable bastard. At least Yuri has a reason.
Victor doesn’t bother asking if Yuri wants up, he just sets the icepack on Yuri’s knee for him (saves him the trouble of moving, that’s fine by him) and then drops to the floor beside him, staring up at the ceiling like he’s trying to see Yuri’s perspective on it. After a moment, the door creaks and Yuuri settles on his knees beside Victor like it’s totally normal they’re all collapsed on the floor.
“She’s gone now.”
Yuri lazily raises one hand to thumbs-up, and then lets it fall flat on the studio floor again. “Don’t you two need to be packing?”
When silence answers him, Yuri tilts his head and catches them in the tail end of one of their silent conversations. He’s not a mind-reader, though, and them being secretive or trying to communicate in meaningful stares and mime around him gets old really quickly, especially when he’s pretty sure from the harsh slant of Victor’s mouth to the lines by Yuuri’s eyes that they’re fighting without saying a word. “What? I blew out my knee, I didn’t fuck up my memory. You need to leave for Europeans. Surprised you haven’t already gotten your sorry asses on a plane.”
“I think I’m going to withdraw.”
The icepack hits the floor with a wet plop as Yuri shoves himself up to a sitting position and scowls down at where Victor still sprawls on the floor. “Like hell you are.”
Victor turns his head to look up at Yuri with a frown, but otherwise doesn’t react, one arm tucked behind his head and long legs crossed at the ankle. Yuuri doesn’t seem surprised by Victor’s declaration, but at least he’s not acting supportive of this crap. God, he knew something was off about them, but he didn’t expect this. Victor’s ridiculous, but he’s not usually so stupid. “Yura, you’re going into surgery and…”
“‘And’ you think the doctors give a shit whether the Great Victor Nikiforov is there to cheerlead them? I’m not even going to be here most of the time you’re gone, don’t be stupid.”
“...‘And’ you need someone there during the surgery…”
Yuuri tips his head back, resting his head against the mirror, but his voice is firm. “I’m not competing until Four Continents, Victor. If one of us stays, it should be me.”
“You don’t speak the language, Yuuri. What if something happens and…” They are fighting. They’ve been fighting, too. It would explain why Victor’s been such a sad sack, and Yuuri’s been so quiet. Yuri’s watched these two idiots pine for each other since they met each other, he’s seen them fall so stupidly, all-encompassingly in love with each other that it’s sickening. Now they’re blowing it over something so dumb. Over him.
“Shut up!” They both look surprised at him interrupting, shoving himself to his feet with effort and a grip on the barre until he can find his natural balance to keep the weight off of his bad leg. He can’t go through this again, and he’s not going to sit there while they rip their relationship apart over his fuck-up. “Victor, why the fuck did you even come back if you’re going to drop out before Worlds? And you, Victor spent months following you around competitions he wasn’t in so he could hold your hand at the Kiss and Cry or whatever, you’re not staying here either! I’ve got this. Lilia’s picking me up after, okay. I’m not. . . I’m not some useless kid you have to babysit, so just… pack your damn bags and go, both of you!”
Storming out works better when you don’t have to grab for crutches first, when you can actually stomp, and when the people you’re yelling at aren’t faster than you. Victor beats him to the door, blue eyes wide in alarm, a hand bracing against Yuri’s shoulder to stop him and the other fluttering uselessly at his other side like he has no idea what to do with it.
“Yurio…” Yuuri’s at his back, and they have him blocked in, and while they’ve stopped bickering with each other, now their entire focus is on him, and Yuri doesn’t want that either. Shifting his weight all to his good side, Yuri jabs the rubber crutch tip at Victor’s shin, an ineffective kick.
“No! Move out of the way, Victor. Both of you get your heads out of your asses and don’t use me for your stupid fights...”
Yuri staggers again as Victor practically tackles him, dragging him in close, arms pinned with his crutches as he’s captured. With Yuuri at his back he ends up crushed between the two of them by Victor’s sudden hug.
“Yura, please don’t cry. I’m no good with crying. We’re not fighting, we’re just…”
“I’m not fucking crying, back off!” He is, though, fat tears soaking through Victor’s shirt and proving him a liar as he gets his hands between them and manages to shove Victor back, swatting at Yuuri for grabbing at him, even if it is to keep him upright. Morons, he can stand in a straight leg split forever, he’s got the best Biellmann in the men’s division, so he can handle balancing his weight if they stop trying to knock him over. “Don’t lie to me! I’m not dumb. I know something’s wrong. I know what you two are like when things are good, and I’d still rather have to live with your disgusting lovesick crap than you both moping and bitching at each other!”
And it’s true. As much as Yuri complains about how overly affectionate the two of them are, it’s comforting in its way. Hopeful. Romantic love’s always been stupid. It’s a ridiculous attachment that people invest everything into, and then everything crashes and burns and takes out everyone around you.
Love is Georgi pining over some woman who clearly never felt half as much for him as he did for her, whining to Yuri all through practice and scrolling through all her social media obsessively while she moved on, and then starting the process all over again with the next girl. Love is Yakov and Lilia coldly sniping at each other through his training, orbiting around him as they all three moved in together, turning him into a prop in a decades-long argument. Love is his father marrying his mother because she got knocked up, and thinking everything was fine for six years until they’re screaming in each other’s faces what an accident you were and what a mistake their marriage was, and how having you ruined her skating career. Romantic love is bullshit.
Then there were these two stupid assholes with the kind of romance they write shitty pop songs and sweeping arias about, and the false hope that it was more than just blind sentimental pap. Since Yuri screwed everything up, they’ve been pulling apart. Victor disappears on long walks and comes back practically carrying an exhausted Makkachin. Yuuri stares at him so mournfully as he walks out the door, and then throws himself into cooking for them all. A hundred little signs that everything isn’t okay are suddenly becoming clear, and Yuri hates it.
He can’t be the wedge between them, just because he fucked up. He won’t be.
When Yuri shoves past a stricken looking Victor, they let him go. He gets a glimpse of Yuuri pulling Victor into his arms as he closes himself into his bedroom, and then he’s left alone. Mora lets out a disgruntled complaint as he drags her off of the windowsill and onto the bed with him, digging her claws into his arm in warning before eventually relenting once they’re settled on the mattress, butting her head against his, her tongue sandpaper-rough against his cheek. She eventually falls back asleep crammed into the bend between his neck and shoulder, her paws unconsciously comfort-kneading his shoulder, and over time he manages to stop the waterworks before he can embarrass himself further.
He’s stubbornly working through his PT stretches, toe pointed, arms holding his phone over his face as he taps out a frustrated update to Beka, when there’s a timid knock on the door that could only be one person.
“What do you want, Katsudon.”
Yuuri slips into the room silently, closing the door behind him. He watches Yuri as if afraid he’s going to burst into tears again as he leans against the wall by the door, but at least he’s not freaking out over the prospect like Victor did. It’s the yelling that gets to Yuuri more than tears. “Victor’s on the phone with Yakov… he’d already booked us tickets, and didn’t cancel them when Victor started talking about dropping out. We’ll be leaving tomorrow morning. He’ll miss the first press conference, but we’ll be there just in time for practice.”
Yuri grunts quietly, stretching his leg slowly above him again and holding it with his fingers dug into his thigh, determined not to show how upset he’d been. “Good. At least Yakov has some sense. Victor’d be screwed without him.”
Yuuri doesn’t agree or disagree, just stares at Yuri like he’s trying to find the right words. “Thank you, for telling him to go. I think he needed it to come from you. He feels…” Yuuri’s lips twist slightly, and he changes course in whatever he was going to say. “We’re not fighting. Not… not like you think we are. But we both want you to be okay, and we want to be here for you. It’s important to us, but especially to Victor. That’s why he wanted to stay.”
Yuri carefully drops his leg again and turns his head to stare at Yuuri lingering by the door, eyes narrowed critically as he looks for a lie there. He knows it’s more than that. He knows there’s more that he’s not seeing, too. He’s still upset, and he’s still doubtful, but maybe he can try and help whatever the hell is going on before everything falls apart. “Fine, whatever. But I’m going to be the one stuck with him if you two screw this up. So don’t screw it up. He’s pathetic without you.”
Because it’s true. Whatever the hell else is going on, Yuri saw already how terrified Victor is of losing Yuuri. He has no idea why the asshole is shoving his boyfriend away now that he’s finally got him here, but he knows if he succeeds at chasing Yuuri away, Victor will self-destruct. This isn’t Georgi and his girlfriends, this is bigger than that, and the fallout will be exponentially worse. Yuri will end up losing one or both of them in the process, left behind in the separation.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Katsudon looks almost fond, though Yuri can’t tell whether it’s of him for trying to look out for their relationship when Victor’s being too stupid to take care of it himself, or fond of Victor for being pathetic without Yuuri around. “If you’re feeling up to it, I made dinner. It’s not exactly tonkotsu, but I thought you might want some ramen. I also cooked a few meals that will keep well, so you can have real food at the hospital while we’re gone.”
Yuri knows he’s just being baited into coming out and making nice with Victor, though he seems intent on screwing up both his personal and professional lives... but he did get a taste for Japanese food in Hasetsu, and Yuuri’s cooking is almost as good as his mother’s. As bait goes, it’s kind of unfair. He also needs to see for himself that he hasn’t messed things up between the three of them.
“...Okay. But only because of the ramen.”
A faint smile is tugging at the corner of Yuuri’s lips, now. “Of course. Just for the ramen.”
“Shut up and hand me my crutches, Katsudon.”
After waiting an hour and a half for Aeroflot to load their flight, Victor sleeps most of the way from St. Petersburg to their connection in Prague, waking just long enough to shuffle to the next terminal, and then curls into Yuuri’s side again once they’re in the air to Bratislava. Yuuri’s honestly so relieved to see Victor resting that he doesn’t resent being pinned between the window and the heavy weight of his boyfriend, waving away the flight attendant with a finger pressed to his lips when she comes by to offer dinner. They need food, but Victor needs sleep more, and with his adventurous palate Victor would only complain about the bland airplane fare anyway.
It turns out letting him rest was the smart move; as soon as they’re out the terminal they’re swarmed by skate fans, and the sudden burst of noise once Victor is recognized is as disorienting as it is enthusiastic. Victor’s himself enough after eight hours of rest to pause for the group of fans crowding the barricade, signing autographs, posing for a few selfies, and even dragging Yuuri into them with him. He laces their hands together afterwards as if determined to make sure the skating fandoms know their relationship is going strong, gold band on his finger winking in the daylight as he waves goodbye before sliding into the car with Yuuri.
Yuuri’s not sure how he does it, or how he makes it seem so natural, but it’s clear time out of competition hasn’t impacted Victor’s innate ability any. During public practice, Yuuri watches as Victor, Michele, Chris, and Georgi share the ice with skaters Yuuri knows by face and reputation from the other European member nations, and Victor’s persona takes over on the ice as he practices his jumps as if he’s entirely carefree.
It’s strange, being on the sidelines instead of on the ice. Is this how Victor felt?
“He looks good out there,” Yakov rumbles suddenly in English beside him, arms folded as he watches both of his skaters, but it’s clear who he’s referencing. Victor’s flowing across the ice again, answering Chris’s commentary in French with a quad flip and a teasing bow before skating on, playing for cameras that catch the whole thing. “I’m glad he coached from the ice, and didn’t fall too out of shape or practice.”
“He’s a good coach.” Yuuri agrees quietly, offering Victor a smile as he skims by dangerously close to the wall, fingertips dragging over Yuuri’s on the boards before he turns into a backwards glide and propels himself towards the corner with his eyes on Yuuri and a faint smile curling his lips, building up speed for another jump.
“He’s a terrible coach. Great skater. Good man. Maybe even a decent boyfriend. But a terrible coach.” Yuuri frowns at Yakov, ready to jump to Victor’s defense when he relents grudgingly. “I suppose he got you far enough, though. Thank you for getting him here.”
“That was Yurio, really.” The young skater is a sensitive topic, and Yakov’s frown deepens, the lines of his face clearer than ever at the reminder that his youngest student will be in surgery instead of on the ice. Before moving to St. Petersburg, before Mila tried to explain, Yuuri might not have known what to make of this silence as Yakov trains his eyes on his students rather than reply, but he sees it now. It’s easy to overlook that Victor and Yuri aren’t the only ones for whom this team is their entire family. Yakov is the closest thing to a parent either Victor or Yuri seems to have, and they are both Yakov’s sons in every way that matters. Yurio’s injury has strained that, and they’re all three absurdly prideful so none of them are speaking as they should. Rather than take the bait to discuss everything, Yakov barks out a correction to Georgi as he two-foots a landing, and when he speaks again his tone is sharp.
“Lilia will keep us updated. Vitya is distractible. That can work for and against him. We need him not to obsess over Yura, but he needs to focus on the competition; everyone has increased the technical difficulty of their performances since he stepped away, trying to replace him, and all of them want to unseat him. If you truly want to skate against him at Worlds, he needs to be on the podium here.”
Yuuri feels like it’s a test, in its way. His relationship with Victor is unorthodox: they are not merely lovers, they are coach and student, and they are competitors on the same level, if not the same stage this time. Yakov cares about Victor, and it is Yakov’s job to safeguard his career—even from Yuuri, if he must. “I know. I’ll help him how I can.”
The buzzer echoes through the arena, calling time on the men’s public skate practice, urging them away so the Zamboni can resurface the ice for the women next. Yakov scowls at Yuuri a beat longer as if judging his sincerity. Yuuri knows that Phichit gave Victor what he called the “shovel talk,” after China and their kiss, and there’s an element of that to Yakov’s level stare. For all Phichit likely gleefully outlined what he would do to Victor if he hurt Yuuri, Yakov’s silence is more intimidating than the cheerful Thai skater could ever be. There’s no follow up before he turns away, snapping gruff feedback in Russian to Georgi, but he doesn’t have to say it in words. It’s good, though. Yuuri is glad to know that there are people who care for Victor so much, and that he’s being trusted to take care of him now.
Victor’s arrival dispels the strange tension of the moment as he ignores the gate and comes directly to Yuuri at the boards, bracing his upper body on the wall as he squints between his retreating coach and his waiting lover, oblivious to what just happened. “You two are getting along? This spells no good for me. Unless he was telling you to keep me relaxed, in which case I have a few suggestions as to how...”
Yuuri can feel his cheeks heating at the implication and Victor’s suggestive tone. Though he’d searched online during their travel for places to visit, the idea had crossed his mind when he was considering how to distract Victor in a hotel room overnight when he’d already slept. Victor chortles at his embarrassment, clasping hands with Yuuri and skating smugly towards the gate with Yuuri walking alongside him on the other side of the boards, led along by his grip. That simply won’t do either.
As Victor steps out the gate, Yuuri tucks a finger under his lover’s chin once he’s braced against the wall, and allows himself to slide into the Eros mask as he lifts Victor’s head from where he’s folded down to put on his skate guards, fingers cupping the sharp line of his jaw. Yuuri trails an appreciative, scorching look up Victor’s body—long and lean in his training gear—eyes catching on his lip as he presses his thumb to the plush curve of it. As the Zamboni cruises closer in its slow circuit he palms the small of Victor’s back and pulls him away from the gate and into his arms... before answering from a breath away.
“Ah, Vitya. There’s ‘relaxing,’ then there’s what I would do to you. Your stamina is no match for mine.” For a moment, they breathe the same air, hot and heady, Victor’s pupils dilated beneath the dark fan of his lashes, his body swayed into Yuuri’s grip and bowed down towards him, at his complete disposal. Pecking an off-centered, entirely chaste kiss to the corner of his boyfriend’s waiting lips, Yuuri steps abruptly away, dropping the persona and speaking normally again as he moves on. “...So we’ll have to wait until after you win. I was thinking we could sightsee, actually. It was fun in Barcelona.”
Victor gapes at him in surprise, blinking twice before straightening back upright and gathering himself enough to move. “Mean, Yuuri. That was… it was unfair. You smell like an airport and are wearing twenty layers, you should not be able to do that.”
“It was entirely fair.” Yuuri smiles over his shoulder at Victor, catching Victor’s bag and wheeling it behind him as he leads with the besotted Russian trailing behind him. “First of all, you did far worse to me showing up at the onsen in Hasetsu…”
“I thought you remembered the banquet! It’s not my fault you didn’t…”
“And second, if you hadn’t wanted me to use that trick, you shouldn’t have spent a year teaching me how to seduce you, specifically.” He scores a point there, and Victor’s faux pout grants it to him. “Come on, let's get back to the hotel, clean up, and then go out for a while. I read that there’s a UFO shaped restaurant on top of a tower overlooking the castle…”
It’s enough distraction for now, but it’s not hard to tell that his thoughts keep drifting to their young friend. Yuuri watches as Victor stops at a rack of tourist brochures and quietly plucks out a brochure on a nearby Siberian Tiger rescue featuring a picture of a worker with his arm full of the cubs, and doesn’t object when their shopping diverts into buying decorations for Yuri’s room, including a painting he pays to have framed and sent back to St. Petersburg for them.
Shopping will never be therapeutic for him the way it seems to be for Victor, but he cannot begrudge him wanting to help make Yuri realize that regardless of the outcome of the surgery, he will still have a home with them.
Victor is fighting his demons the only ways he knows how, through activity and quick superficial smiles, material goods and constant motion. Yuuri knows the feeling well enough to let him do what he needs to in order to cope, even if it’s not how he’d go about it himself. Victor doesn’t fight him when he swaps out liquor with water for him at dinner, accepting the decision with a wavering smile and a change of topics.
Hours later, Yuuri wakes in the middle of the night to Victor staring up at the ceiling, glassy blue eyes open and unfocused in the pale moonlight that silvers the hotel room around them, pulse racing in his throat and skin clammy from the fear-sweat of a nightmare. Frowning, Yuuri slides a hand across the pillow between them, brushing his thumb over the sharp line of his lover’s cheekbone. “Vitya?”
Victor blinks once, slowly, and drags in a shuddering breath. His voice when he finds it is quiet and sleep-rough, and he rolls on the pillow to face Yuuri, a false smile twisting his lips. “Sorry. Go back to sleep, detka.”
“Don’t.” Yuuri hushes him quietly, and presses his thumb to the unnatural curve of that smile as if he can erase it away. He doesn’t want that from Victor, doesn’t need the carefully practiced lie. Yuuri, of all people, understands this. “You don’t need to put on a show for me.”
Victor stares at Yuuri for a beat, expression slowly blanking as if he’s trying to decide what he’s supposed to feel, how he’s supposed to react, the right way to handle this, before surging forward. Yuuri finds himself abruptly holding an armful of sleep-warmed boyfriend, Victor ducked down to fit under his chin, his arm a tight band around Yuuri, a long leg flung over both of Yuuri’s to trap him close.
Yuuri rests his cheek against the top of Victor’s head, stroking the soft hair at the nape of his neck gently with his fingertips, shushing him quietly. He can do this: he can be the anchor for Victor when he needs it, solid ground the way Victor tries to be for him. He can’t lie and promise Victor that everything will be okay when they don’t know that yet, but he can at least offer this much. “I’m here. Not going anywhere.” Victor’s fingertips press into the spaces between Yuuri’s ribs, and he lets out a shaking breath against the slope of Yuuri’s shoulder. Yuuri has no idea how much that simple statement means to the man in his arms, but he drops a kiss to Victor’s head, silver hair tickling his nose. “Sleep. We’ll figure it all out after, together.”
Yuuri stays awake until long after Victor’s breath evens out, soothing him with soft stroking hands. When Victor’s grip slackens, he reaches across to the nightstand and turns off all but the latest alarms, tucking the blankets over them and nestling Victor comfortably in his arms.
He’ll keep Victor’s fears at bay until after the competition.
A little creative license going on here with the venue change, given the debatable time-frame of the show. Bratislava was the site of the 2016 Europeans, and Helsinki of course was the venue for this year's Worlds (and the Olympic qualifying event, as has been referenced). Why Bratislava, then? Because there really is a Siberian Tiger preserve and a UFO restaurant, and Ostrava didn't offer anything quite so appealing sightseeing-wise. I'm world travelling from my computer at home. Because research.
Chapter 7: Reflection
By the time Yuri Plisetsky is done with the surgeries to reconstruct his knee and is alert enough to check social media, he is an active topic within the figure skating communities and trending fifth in Russia on social media, trailing behind Victor at first. It takes longer than he wants to admit, with the medications making his head fuzzy, to realize that the information of the date of his surgery didn’t somehow leak, and no one had snapped pictures of him being led into the hospital by Lilia.
No, it’s Victor’s fault, of course. Their names are being dropped together.
But sorting through notifications when you’re well behind is a pain in the ass, especially when you’re drugged, exhausted, and barely keeping up with your own language let alone the dozens of languages of being a ‘celebrity’ on social media. With a groan, Yuri gives up on trying to sort through all the messages, throws his arm over his eyes to block out the stupid incessant buzzing light of the hospital room, curses the wires and IVs in his arm, and just decides to deal with it later. Hospital medications are strong, and he’s sleepy and pain-free for the moment and should take advantage of that.
He wakes a few hours later to Lilia carrying miso soup in a tupperware bowl in for him, a moue of distaste on her lips. For a moment the idea is strangely hilarious: Lilia Baranovskaya—legendary prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet—stabbing buttons on a hospital microwave and glaring at it as if judging its performance.
He thanks her anyway, and means it. Lilia cares in her way, and she cared enough to bring the soup in for Yuri and clear it with the nurses for him. She’ll never be maternal, but it’s not like he has much experience with mothers anyway. When he thinks of mothers, he pictures Hiroko Katsuki. Yuuri’s mom mothered him the entire time he was in Japan, language barrier or not, and Yuuri’s cooking is almost like being back in Hasetsu. It’s more comforting than he’d admit.
Yuri lets Katsudon fuss over him by proxy, finishing his dinner and then his physical therapy, taking the medications the nurse doles out for him at exactly the top of the hour and letting his leg be strapped into some kind of stupid machine that slowly and continuously bends and relaxes his knee for him. The novelty wears off after a few minutes, and he grabs for his phone again. After answering texts from his grandpa and reminding him that he shouldn’t fly with his heart condition and assuring him that Yuri’s fine, he flicks to Otabek’s texts and past his short string of well-wishing then squints at the screen, trying to parse out what his taciturn friend is getting at.
Which reminds him of the strange online trends he woke to. Time to figure out what those assholes did this time.
Navigating YouTube, Yuri drags up the short program video, hits play, and watches Victor Nikiforov take the short program world record away from him by a fraction of a point while he was in surgery. His Dreams program is flawless, just as much of a threat as Yuri saw in practice and devastatingly powerful when paired with its music and with Yuuri standing by ready to be the object of his obsession. It’s infuriating watching him turn a love letter to Katsudon into stealing Yuri’s fucking record; he didn’t even get to keep it for a full year. At least by the end Victor is dragging in breath in proof that the effort cost him, sweat glistening on his forehead, a stuffed poodle on his lap and Yuuri at his side. He hugs Katsudon when the scores go up, accepts his pat on the back from Yakov, but the little smile and heart hands he gives the camera at the kiss and cry is smug and definitely directed at Yuri.
It’s only because Beka said performances, plural, that Yuri doesn’t chuck his phone across the room. That, and it would be difficult to go retrieve it right now since he’s practically tied to the bed by medical equipment. The free skate video starts with an interview from the night before, and Yuri’s about to fast forward when he hears his name.
“...broke Yuri Plisetsky’s record for the short program after he pulled out of the competition. Did you return to reclaim your records? What would you say to him if…?”
On screen, Victor is shaking his head while he waits for her to spit out the question, the well-practiced polite smile stretching his lips as he answers to the microphone shoved in his face, looking into the camera rather than at the interviewer. “I am skating for both my Yuris in this competition. Records are made to be broken, so I do not resent either of them for breaking mine. I’m just holding this one for a while. I wanted to give incentive for Yurio to get better quickly and take it back!”
Yuri grits his teeth, scrubs his finger along the video timeline, and skips the rest of the interview to get to the skating. Anyone who thinks that record was so easy to break, even for Victor, has no idea how figure skating works. He packed as many technical points into that performance as he could, breaking down Yuri’s score into the components he choreographed for him and planning accordingly, all to smack Yuri with a challenge he can’t help but want to rise to. It shouldn’t bother him that Victor knows him so well, but it does anyway. That fucker.
As Victor skates out of the gate, though, the new grudge is temporarily forgotten. Yuri saw Victor’s free skate in Chelyabinsk at Nationals: he was brightly colored, glittering with carefully placed Swarovski Crystals in a design he’d apparently been dreaming up while he was chasing Katsudon around everywhere, put together by someone willing to bend over backwards on the timeline to have Nikiforov returning in her work.
This is not that costume, and it is not that performance.
Unrelieved black encases Victor’s legs and chest, the velvet texture of his pants and tailored vest seeming to reject light without a crystal or sequin to soften the effect, without a hint of fishnet to tantalize. Even the billowed brushed silk sleeves of his silver undershirt and black embroidery of the vest fail to soften the monochrome look. These are mourning colors, and with Victor’s pale skin and silvered hair he seems a specter as he skates a figure, burning off nervous energy before taking center ice as the audience waits for him. He is a silver-screen idol, adrift before an audience of screaming color.
“Nikiforov will be debuting his performance of ‘Nightmares,’ set to Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s ‘Right of Spring.’ Nikiforov dedicated this performance to fellow Russian figure skater Yuri Plisetsky, who withdrew from the competition due to injury after a training accident. Plisetsky recently debuted another Stravinsky composition at Russian Nationals...”
Yuuri mentioned that Yakov and Victor were arguing over last minute changes to his free skate, but he didn’t expect this. Stabbing the incline button, Yuri leverages himself up carefully in the bed, watching the screen intently as Victor takes the same starting position as his Dreams performance, his head tipped down in ‘sleep,’ his body lax.
Nothing that follows remotely resembles the joy he infused in his short program. Even as the program begins, light as a dream, there’s an uneasiness to the music that Victor plays to, a wariness that he channels into his motions and expressions. The tone shift of the music, the famous dissonance that infuses the piece, he twists into falling deeper under the spell of the nightmare, hurled by the music into jumps and spins, quick steps to escape, graceful retreats that never quite break him free. His jumps soar, his steps are complex, the technical difficulty of the piece working with the music to increase the tension in every breath.
Everything snaps into place when the music crashes around Victor as he launches himself into a quad salchow and triple toe loop, each landing punctuated by the clang of cymbals, arms flung wide to implore the audience before he spins away, dragged back into the nightmare. Yuri knows what this is, now, and grimaces as Victor flings himself into the final step sequence as the crescendo builds.
Victor’s body bends, whips, twirls, buffeted by the music, and Yuri grits his teeth as Victor launches himself into the death drop, then twists through the sit spin into the pancake spin. As the reverberating chaos fades back into soft, disharmonious chords, Victor ends the program poised on one knee, arms folded around the other leg, and when he lifts his head to ‘wake’ there’s no relief or joy: the nightmare is not over yet.
As the music ends on what was unquestionably a gold medal worthy performance despite its intensity, there’s a temporary stunned silence in the rink, the kind of momentary surprise that Victor always cherished from a debut. When the audience finally roars its cheer, Victor blinks his way out of the performance mindset… and bursts into tears on the ice.
Yuri thumbs out of the program immediately and stares at the home screen of his phone blankly for a moment, heart racing as if he’d skated the routine himself.
Yuri checks the time and jabs the call button on his phone before he can second-guess himself, and before his ire can falter. Yuuri picks up on the second ring, rumble of crowds around him muffling to white noise as he steps away from wherever they were in the arena.
“Yurio! Are you…”
“You idiot! I can’t believe I bought that ‘not my place’ bullshit. You could have just said Victor was being stupid about me.”
To his credit, Katsudon doesn’t try to act like he can’t figure out what Yuri’s talking about. Yuri can hear his sigh, the worry he’s been carrying for Victor thick in his voice. “I couldn’t, I’m sorry. He’s not being stupid. He didn’t want to upset you because he was upset.”
Circular bullshit is what that sounds like. He’ll deal with Yuuri later: it’s easier to chew him out in person, and at least it doesn’t sound like he’s about to start sobbing too. “Just put him on the damn phone, Katsudon. I don’t care if he’s in the middle of an interview or not.”
He listens to Yuuri sigh, and then to the opening of a door and blast of sound as Yuuri steps out of wherever he hid to take the call. Probably another bathroom stall, knowing him.
Victor sounds breathless when he takes the phone a minute later, and Yuri can hear the arena and the familiar music of Chris’s stupid exhibition skate echoing in the background. “I’m here, Yuri! What’s wrong, are you…”
“Listen to me, you egotistical pain in the ass. When I take my record back, and I will, I am going to do it on my own. When I fall on my ass and hurt myself again, and I probably will, I am doing it on my own! I am sick and tired of someone else taking all the credit for everything I do, whether it’s winning or fucking up, do you hear me?”
There’s a wry tone note of amusement in Victor’s response when he finds it, though his voice is hoarse as if he’s trying not to cry again. “I think they heard you in the cheap seats, Yura.”
“Good! Then listen when I tell you to take your guilt, shove it up your ass, and go skate your sappy exhibition with Katsudon. Then get back here so I can kick your ass.”
Yuri hangs up and scowls at the nurse who comes in to check on him after the yelling until she backs away, then he thumbs open his text messages again.
Why are his friends so stupid ?
Yuri greets them with fresh home-cooked food and bruising violence, which seems perfectly characteristic of the young skater. As soon as Makkachin has stopped dancing around in her excitement at Victor and Yuuri’s return, Yuri is there with a slit-eyed glare and a hard punch to Victor’s shoulder that rocks him in place as he takes the blow like he would a fall to the ice, letting his body move with it.
“Idiot.” Yuri spits at him, growling insults in Russian as he shoots a similarly dissatisfied glare at Yuuri where he lingers behind Victor, using his fiancé as a human shield. “You too.”
“I have no idea what you just said.” Yuuri admits, taking their luggage from Victor and wheeling it away in a wide arc clear of the standoff between the two Russians in their entryway. “But I’m just going to unpack and start laundry, and return some calls…”
Victor lets his lip wobble, eyes wide, and his beloved fiancé ignores his (faux) pain and (real) distress with eyes widened in apology and a finger pointed towards the bedroom as an excuse as he abandons Victor with the angry kitten. He even steals Makkachin, as his dog prances in Yuuri’s wake towards the bedroom looking for any treats they brought back. Aah, all his Yuris are mean.
He’s dreading this conversation, actually.
In twenty years of skating, that free skate was perhaps the most painful performance he’s ever done, and that’s including the myriad injuries he’s skated through over the years. It’s not that Victor is shy... far from it… and it’s not that he’s completely devoid of emotion, he actually feels things very deeply. For all that he’s a public persona, Victor likes to play his negative emotions closer to the vest. As a professional performer, he is conscious of the fact that there is a difference between evoking emotion and expressing emotion, and the trick is finding the line between them. Georgi is pure expression, spilling his personal feelings out on the ice in an uncontrolled mess, and he sabotages himself in doing it. Christophe… well, even after years of friendship, Victor is fairly certain he’s purely evocative in all things, and it makes his performances lack the depth of others. Yuri evokes emotions while poorly playing as if he’s brashly impervious to feeling them himself, which is why he lost Onsen on Ice and what he’s worked over the last year to balance by finding his true Agape. Yuuri is a formidable competitor because he throws himself headlong into both, and is at his most devastatingly beautiful when he goes out on the ice and makes the audience fall in love with him and fall in love alongside him in the story he is telling.
It’s a fine balance, and they all fall somewhere along the sliding scale between the two. But for his part, Victor is far more comfortable with one than the other; there is a level of artifice to even his most moving performances, especially in his earlier years before the melancholy off the ice and his wistful choreography began to blur the lines. He had always been able to find the emotional inspiration for a piece, break it down into its component posture, mien, intensity, pace, and tone for the choreography, express it for the length of the performance in order to coax the audience into the moment with him, and then pack it away for the next skate.
For years he could do that off the ice as well. He would become exactly what people desired him to be, and if people thought him shallow… well, a mirror doesn’t require much depth, and they wanted his name and his face and his skating and for him to ‘keep his pretty mouth shut’ about anything outside of his sport or marketable tabloid fodder. So he began to tuck away ‘Victor’ and keep up the performance of ‘Victor Nikiforov, champion skater’ anytime eyes were on him. He thinks he’s been that way since his transition out of Juniors. It was okay, though. Victor wants to make people happy, wants to be likeable, wants people who watch him to be inspired... and so it was no trouble to become whatever made people happy. Not really. Not right away at least.
Yuuri has no idea, still, how much of a wrench he threw in the works by asking Victor to just be himself when given the option of all the roles people hoped for Victor to fill, or what it means to Victor that Yuuri fell in love with him as-is rather than the vision he had of Victor from before. Yuuri didn’t understand what a precious gift it is to be seen and accepted as yourself, when he invited Victor down from his pedestal and embraced him, flaws and eccentricities and all. But years before that, Yuri kicked that pedestal out from underneath him and got under his skin to keep Victor from pretending to be anything more than the trainwreck he is, unearthing Victor’s sharper edges and his failings, and then digging his claws in and clinging tight to keep Victor from leaving anyway. There’s a reason he cares about the boy so much, despite his prickly demeanor, and feeling responsible for hurting him has been tearing Victor apart.
He was upset enough crying in front of Yuuri, despite Yuuri being the reason he began showing more of himself in the first place. Crying in front of the world is unlike him, and unsettling. Knowing Yuri saw it and knew why is terrifying. He dealt with it well enough, he thinks. He watched the video in the airport, and while the smile he flashed at the kiss and cry as tears clung to his lashes wasn’t convincing by his usual standards, it at least kept him from looking as destroyed as he felt at the time. Perhaps using the ice to grieve during a major competition was not his most well-considered plan ever. He’s still feeling a bit raw, and he’s not sure what Yuri will say.
“I’m not doing a stupid feelings talk, so if you’re looking for one then fuck off. Otherwise get in here and set the table.”
It is a dubious gift, being able to flounce while on crutches. But Yuri is looking better already with color in his cheeks and his chin high, even if it’s because he’s pissed off. Victor will take the younger man being angry at him, if it means he’s feeling more like himself than he has since the fall. Being Yuri, however, he still prods at the ‘feelings talk’ no matter how belligerently he phrases it.
“I hadn’t seen you cry before.”
Of course. Like Yuuri, it’s not even sympathy as much as fascination. What is it with his Yuris and their morbid interest in seeing him cry. “Yes. I do that sometimes.”
Yuri glares at him for the deadpan reply as he makes his way into the kitchen, swinging himself past the island and to a stop in his dominion. “Yeah, well, you’ve never cried in competition before.”
"You have.” Victor points out, deliberately needling the teen for being obnoxious. “Most of you have. There’s a reason it’s called the kiss and cry. When you put your emotions into the performance…”
“Your shitty emotions. I’m still pissed at you for that. You’re lucky Katsudon told me to play nice or I’d kick your ass even more.” It’s a little sweet, that Yuuri took the time while they were travelling back to warn Yuri to be kinder to him. His fiancé is quietly fierce in his way, and protective. The fact that Yuuri had tried to ensure Yuri wouldn’t take it out on him too badly is almost enough to make him forgive the sudden abandonment. Still, there are far more important things to talk about than his emotional response to the situation.
“Yakov told me the surgery went well?”
Yuri shrugs as best he’s able on crutches, before leaning one against the corner of the counter so he can tug the oven mitt out of the front of his apron and slide the tray of pirozhki out of the oven to cool. “The surgery, yeah. Doesn’t look like it’s going to reject the new tissue or whatever. We won’t know how well I’ll take to the ice again for months. I got out of the hospital yesterday and convinced Lilia this morning that I wouldn’t burn it down if she let me come back to your place before you got back. I can mostly kind of walk with the crutches, but it’s swollen as hell and I don’t get the stitches out for another week and a half. I’ve got an instruction sheet from the physical therapist longer than my arm.”
“I’d like to help. If I can.” Victor offers quietly as he carefully folds napkins beside their plates, and pours water for each of them. He can’t cook much, but he’s excellent at staging a table. He can feel Yuri’s suspicious stare on him, as if he’s looking for Victor’s guilt still, and he wonders if he can see it. The conversation with Yuri, however confrontationally phrased, did help some. He still can’t help feeling like it’s his responsibility to get this child back on his feet, both literally and figuratively.
“You’re already letting me crash here.” Yuri shrugs again, sliding the pirozhki onto a serving tray and handing it to Victor to set on the table, turning to shoot a questioning look at his ‘assistant’ when Victor doesn’t take the dish immediately.
They’ve stumbled onto the exact right moment for another important conversation they need to have, and Victor hasn’t exactly prepared for it. Never one to miss an opportunity, he flings himself into the discussion regardless. “You’re not crashing here, Yuri. You live here. You can live here as long as you want, I hope you know that.”
This time, it’s Yuri who blinks. It’s like the idea never occurred to him, like it’s such a foreign concept that he can’t exactly fathom it. “Don’t be stupid, I’m not even paying rent. Staying with Yakov or Lilia always came out of the coaching fees…”
Victor sighs, taking the serving dish from Yuri’s still outstretched hand and putting it on the table, before pointedly pulling out a chair for Yuri to sit. What an obstinate child. As if paying his own way had made any of those places any less temporary for him. “I own my home, and I’m not hurting for money. Should I be charging Yuuri rent, for living here?”
Yuri rolls his eyes with all the overblown drama of youth as he braces a hand against the back of the chair and lowers himself into it slowly. “You’re marrying Katsudon, dumbass. Eventually, at least, since you exchanged those stupid rings but never talk about it. That’s like charging him coaching fees when you’re just handing over finances to him. Anyway, there are still utilities, taxes, groceries. I’ve been paying my own way for years, don’t act like I don’t know how the world works.”
The world is a cold place, from Yuri’s perspective. One where a ten year old’s first winnings are carefully counted and portioned specifically to further his chances of winning more, where creature comforts, hobbies, and any desires outside of competition are rationed out sparingly. A world where he is conscious at every moment that every adult around him is either paid to be there or fighting to usurp him... even the ones who genuinely care for him. In any stable home, Yuri would still have years left before he had to worry about paying rent, or handling his own insurance, or covering utilities. The fact that Victor understands this from personal experience in no way means he has to accept it for Yuri, as he did for himself.
“I know you can pay your way, Yura. I just don’t need your winnings, or your sponsor money. Save it for college, like Yuuri did, or put it towards your grandfather. I know you pay for him to live comfortably in Moscow. But that room is yours.” Victor perks up suddenly, remembering what he’d forgotten on the trip home, and when he’d been attacked on walking in the door. “Oh, and I found some things for it, while we were away! There’s a painting of a tiger on its way that I think you’ll like the colors of, and it’s artistic without being pretentious, and ‘edgy’ and a bit messy without being tasteless… Oh! Just outside of Bratislava, they have a rescue sanctuary for Siberian Tigers where they’ll let you hold the cubs! I picked up the information packet. When you’re better we should find an excuse to visit. Maybe we can get a photographer there, you and they could both use the press.”
“That… could be cool.” Yuri is staring at Victor like he’s grown a second head, but it’s good that he’s not arguing the case any farther, too thrown off by Victor’s enthusiasm.
In fact, Yuri is staring at him in bemusement, brow knitted in confusion. Victor understands the theme here, but really he’s still surprised the people who know him best don’t understand him when it matters. He did everything he could to make it clear. He exchanged rings with Yuuri, he convinced Yuri to move in with them. Neither of his Yuris is that adept at letting other people care about them, but if they’re going to second-guess his intentions maybe he does need to spell things out.
“I think I should ask Yuuri to marry me during our exhibition at Worlds.” A sudden jump in topics and switch to their native language makes Yuri blink again.
“You didn’t already?” Yuri points at Victor’s hand and the ring on it, transitioning into Russian to match him in case Yuuri is near enough to eavesdrop, though they can both hear the rush of water filling the washing machine, the one-sided phone conversation across the condo as Yuuri replies in flustered Japanese—Mari, then, teasing him—giving them space after Victor’s performance. “What the fuck was with all that ‘when he wins gold’ crap, otherwise?”
“It’s complicated. It’s been months and he still hasn’t mentioned it again! Besides, you won gold. Good for your career and for keeping Yuuri from retiring early, but bad for my relationship plans.” Victor laments, dropping himself into the opposite chair dramatically, finally succeeding in breaking the tension.
Yuri snorts, unapologetic as he judges Victor’s antics. “Don’t blame me for that. I’m not the moron who set up stupid impossible tasks before my boyfriend could marry me.”
“It’s not impossible!” Victor corrects in English, glaring at Yuri for insulting his fiancé, before switching back to Russian. “He’s perfectly capable of winning…”
“I was skating too, it was impossible.” Yuri snipes back, arrogant and self-assured, or at least able to play it well enough to be convincing. Victor knows Yuri wasn’t entirely satisfied with his free skate, and is conscious enough of scores that winning by 0.12 points wasn’t enough by him. “And with me out the rest of the season, I’m cheering for Otabek to kick both of your asses.”
Obviously Yuri’s loyalty to his new friend is adorable, but the chances of that happening are… well, minimal at best, in Victor’s purely objective view. Anyway, the skating isn’t as important as the fact that after a year, his Yuuri still has some strange hang-ups about their relationship. “I love him, Yura, and I know he loves me, but he’s still so difficult. I don’t know what he’s thinking sometimes when he looks at me…”
Yuri sighs his annoyance, dragging his hands down his face, but frankly he wouldn’t be Yuri without dramatics so Victor’s not letting that stop his train of thought.
“Does he think I wasn’t serious? Is it the fame thing? I know he was a fan…”
“God, shut up.” Yuri grumbles. “Just propose to him again already if you want to.” Pushing himself out of his seat again at the whistle of the kettle is a slow process, but Victor knows from his expression that any offer of help would be rejected as Yuri catches his crutches under his arms again and limps to the counter to pour water for tea, slowly getting things together as he begrudgingly offers his advice. “I think it’s stupid and you should both just talk to each other about the engagement you already have, but you obviously want to ask him again so just do that and shut up about it. What the fuck do I care, it’s none of my business, I’m just glad you’re finally talking about getting it done, so you both stop pining for each other around me.”
“Ah, but of course it’s your business! You’re my best man!”
Yuri freezes in place, the refrigerator door open, cream in hand as he processes the words. Blinking, he slowly pivots on the crutches, the cream forgotten as he stares at Victor. “…What the hell did you just call me?”
Ah, there it is. Victor’s grin curls, smug behind the steeple of his fingertips. “Best Man. I was originally going to suggest you be the flower boy because of your expertise in throwing things, but I think by the time we’re married you’ll actually be taller than my Yuuri and would block the camera as he started down the aisle.” Victor sighs, letting the comical drama of the act run its course just to see Yuri’s jaw tick in frustration. “So that won’t work. Presentation is important, after all. So, I hope to have Yuko’s girls with the flowers. Oh, maybe Makkachin can carry the ring…!”
Yuri nudges the refrigerator door closed again with his crutch, limps back towards the table, and spears Victor with a look. “Chris is your best man. Or Georgi.”
“Groomsmen.” Victor agrees, resting his chin on his fist, entirely too amused at how much this has caught the teen off guard. “Mila as well. On Yuuri’s side I think we could have Mari, Minako, Yuko and Phichit, so it will be an equal number of men and women at the altar. Again, presentation…”
The look of confused shock on Yuri’s face is perfection. Oh, this is priceless. What do they think Victor was skating around thinking about as he choreographed his half and then Yuuri’s half of a wedding dance on the ice? No, he and Yuuri haven’t made exact plans yet, but he has so many ideas. Victor is a romantic at heart, and their wedding will be a once in a lifetime event.
The weight that has been pressing down on Victor is lightening, and while he’s not precisely giddy and he knows that they still have a long road ahead of them, the realization that he can do this, and the hope that he can be what he needs to be for both of his Yuris leaves him feeling buoyant.
“I would humiliate you in a toast.” Yuri threatens, still obviously taken aback by how much thought Victor has put in this, and he frowns faintly at the growing smile and careless shrug Victor gives in answer.
“No worse than Mari would for Yuuri. That’s what siblings do, isn’t it?” Victor rises gracefully to his feet to go fetch Yuuri for dinner, sparing a deliberately irritating ruffling hand to Yuri’s hair to leave it a rumpled mess as the younger man stares flabbergasted at him. He can have this, life and love and family. “Don’t overthink it. Just accept it. If nothing else, know the press will love it... Provided they notice you. Obviously, I intend for Yuuri and I to steal the show!”
“But I’m not your…”
Victor loves still being able to surprise people after all these years. Happy surprises are a warm feeling in his chest, the laughter he’s barely trapping within him as he wraps his arm around Yuri’s shoulders and squeezes.
“Don’t worry, Yura. I promise I’ll let you tell everyone that I twisted your arm for this.”
Chapter 8: Reconstruction
Europeans was a tipping point. While Victor breaking down after his free skate was the lowest point Yuuri had seen Victor in since the night before his free skate in Barcelona, his mood has taken a positive turn since he and Yurio spoke afterwards. Yuuri suspects it’s partially deliberate, a concerted effort to lift everyone’s spirits by amping the cheeriness of his own persona. Neither the cheer nor the melancholy are a lie, but Yuuri’s come to realize they may be two sides of the same coin.
Victor is not the glossy prints and posters, or the bright smiles of his interviews, or even the carefully constructed performances on the ice. Yuuri realized that when Victor came to stay with him in Hasetsu. As he showed himself to be vulnerable and human, he became less of an untouchable icon and more than Yuuri could have imagined. Victor is still a work of art, but by getting closer Yuuri’s able to see the individual brush strokes, the captured bristles, the thumbprints and supposed flaws that could never be conveyed in a photograph, depth and character that is washed away in cheap reproductions. Victor, who tries so hard to be perfect, doesn't seem to understand that Yuuri likes him better for the fact that he isn't.
It’s better this way, though. Just like Victor can adore his awkwardness and soothe his anxiety while amping up his competitiveness and reveling in his possessive streak, Yuuri loves all facets of Victor, from the athlete who inspires, to the coach who stumbles, to the man who stands beside him, glass heart and all.
He even loves Victor when he’s an absolute tyrant. The run up towards Four Continents is brutal. Victor’s preoccupation with Yurio’s fall had made him inattentive, but in the weeks following Europeans he makes Yuuri work through every jump on his sheet relentlessly, the two of them mirror skating during their shared practices until Victor has to concede to Yuuri’s stamina, Yuuri is cursing Victor’s precision, Georgi is waxing poetical about the power of love that fuels them for these impossible competitions between them, and Yakov yells them off the ice so the juniors can have their practice time.
Yakov weighs in on Yuuri’s progress by habit regularly, barking corrections before he catches himself and turns back to monitoring Victor. Some days it’s almost like having two coaches, though between Victor’s split attention and Yakov’s attempts to stay out of Yuuri’s training it balances out. One is quick with praise but follows every compliment with at least three criticisms, and another who is sparing with comments but can cut right to the problem in a program without dancing around it. The pursuit of perfection is a constant drive among the Russian team, and with Yuuri in their ranks it is expected of him as well. He’s not sure how Victor has withstood the pressure of it for so long. The training regime is grueling and unforgiving, even compared to the usual high standards for everyone in their sport. Yakov’s students have embraced that impossible goal, though, and Yuuri sees it from both sides now.
When Victor and Yuuri tumble through the front door, exhausted, it’s to an equally exhausted Yurio, hair pulled up out of his face, drowning in an oversized tiger-striped sweater, brace on over leggings and a cane propping him. Yurio runs himself ragged in an effort to push his body back into skating condition, and the evidence of it is in every line of the boy, in the dark circles under his eyes and the pronounced limp he has by the end of every day as he greets them, showing off his newest culinary successes, from borscht to shashlyik to pelmeni to blini, proud of every home cooked meal he manages and soaking up their praise.
Yurio’s improvement after the surgery is marked by small victories. It’s in how the cheerful physical therapist’s encouragement makes him work harder rather than cringe, how then he can hold an extension, how his leg begins accepting weight again without buckling, and then how he can pick his way across their home with a hand on the furniture or wall for balance, putting aside the crutches and cane for short periods of time. Where figure skating has the imposed limits of time on rented ice, Yurio can dedicate nearly his entire day to his recovery and rehabilitation by incorporating it into even his daily tasks, or retreat to the gym and studio to work himself between a set of the parallel bars, and rotate through exercises to keep from straining his knee too quickly by working the muscles around it instead. He is sliding up the timeline of his recovery through sheer determination and constant work.
Too exhausted to do much more than collapse after eating, the three of them will then watch movies or play video games—the second mostly for the novelty of Victor being bad at something competitive. Then Yuri limps off to his room to call his grandfather or Otabek or to finish an online course assignment, or just overtly declares they’re being ‘disgusting’ by curling into each other on the couch and dismisses them to their room, or Victor will just grab Yuuri’s hand and tug him towards the bedroom without bothering to give an excuse. As if still afraid that he’s hurting Victor and Yuuri’s relationship, Yuri practically demands they leave him alone to spend time together separate from him, and makes a show out of grabbing his noise cancelling headphones that never fails to make Yuuri blush.
As if to validate Victor’s impulsive, seemingly mad genius, the three of them do fit together fairly well as an unorthodox family unit. Yurio and Victor go back years, of course, and they share space with a sort of companionable teasing and bickering that seems natural for them, and Yurio gradually folded Yuuri into that dynamic. Yurio’s an endearing mix of obnoxious little brother and petulant teenaged son, a strange blend of natural caregiver and selfish child, but in his brash way he clearly does care about them both.
Yurio has always been too much —too loud, too brash, too energetic, too competitive—so much life crammed into a deceptively small and delicate frame. Because of how overwhelming Yurio still can be, it’s hard to spot right away that the sharp edges of his personality are softening, even if just a little. There’s good and bad to that: while Yuuri is happy to have Yurio be more comfortable now that they’re not going anywhere and abandoning him, he doesn’t want him to become less. Yuuri is perceptive enough to see that there’s more going on than just him becoming comfortable.
Because since he returned after the surgery, with the exception of the follow up to have his stitches removed, Yurio hasn’t even stepped foot outside of the condo. In fact, in the month since he was injured, only the surgery and the follow-up have brought him out of the house at all.
At first, Yuuri thought nothing of it. With his limited mobility, it made sense that he didn’t want to stray too far from home. He turns down offers to go out to dinner, for a drive, to join them at the store as they work through his shipping lists. He’ll use the stationary bike for extended periods of time, but he refuses to join Victor and Yuuri on short walks around the block with Makkachin. The only daily contact Yurio has with the outside world is Victor, Yuuri, and the physical therapist. Outside of that, he only calls Otabek and his grandfather, submits his classwork online, and texts updates to Yakov and Lilia. The boy who snarled in Yuuri’s face for showing weakness would rather disappear than be seen as less than perfect.
It’s not until Yurio’s nearly violent reaction to being invited along to Four Continents that Yuuri puts together that he’s depressed. There was nothing really obvious about it until then. After all, Yurio certainly hasn’t become timid since his injury—it’s clear that his spirit hasn’t entirely broken from how he snarls profanity in Victor’s face about what a moron he is for thinking he might want to watch other skaters compete—but the problem is clearly more than just working through his recovery. He doesn’t manifest depression the way Yuuri does: he swings widely between aggression and withdrawal, between restlessness and fatigue, between hiding in his room staring at the ceiling and living on the weight bench and exercise equipment, between determination to recover and the complete belief in his own worthlessness without skating in his life.
Yurio has always been a creature of extremes, either owing to teenaged hormones or his mercurial personality, but the backward swings now are more concerning than ever, and Victor and Yuuri can both see it. It’s a weight on Victor as well, but unfortunately, with the pressure of competition ramping up, it has to remain a tertiary concern for both of them.
Practically shoved out of the door by Yurio, they leave for competition with time for Yuuri’s body clock to adjust, and to take full advantage of the 4C practice ice.
As if the GPF has been a switch, it’s his short program that Yuuri makes mistakes on, and the long program that he pulls off cleanly… if not as perfectly as his record breaking skate in Barcelona. Yuuri’s bronze at Four Continents is a bitter addition to the walls of the condo; by all accounts, he should be glad to have made the podium compared to his previous years in competition, and his score places him as the fifth best skater of twenty four going on to Worlds, an improvement over his standing going into the GPF… but anything less than gold seems like a failure now, especially when flanked by Victor’s insurmountable number of golds, and Yurio’s GPF and Juniors medals that Victor coaxed Nikolai Plisetsky into sending.
The next competition is where it matters, though. He has to time it to peak again at Worlds. It will be the first time since the ill-fated Grand Prix Final of Tears that he will be competing on the same ice as Victor, and it feels like for the first time in his life he has a chance.
Yakov has a national team to help see to, and as the Moscow group and St. Petersburg groups begin converging they tap Victor as their star to work alongside the other skaters, the Russian method pitting them against each other as motivation. Then, after lunch and time to cool down, he and Yuuri have their practice, Victor focusing on coaching from on and off the ice. The final thirty minutes of every practice they share together, honing pair skating moves: it’s as rewarding as it is exhausting. The long hours are taxing Victor, though, so Yuuri spends more time in the dance studio as Victor taps out to bed earlier for his 5AM rink time, and Yuuri uses that time to try and unravel the other conundrum in their lives.
The first break in the hectic routine happens mid-week as Victor gives them both a full day off from the rink to celebrate Yurio’s sixteenth birthday at home with cake and ice cream and katsudon pirozhki that they’ll regret when they work it off tomorrow, and a movie marathon and video game tournament that Yurio wins by viciously sabotaging both of them with carefully timed shoves and well-aimed pillows. Even with the deliberate levity of the day, it’s clear that at least half of Yurio’s demeanor is an act. He lets his phone buzz on the kitchen table until the battery dies, texts and calls unanswered, and unconsciously leans into Yuuri’s side as the night goes on and they squint at the split screen, leaving Yuuri trapped between the two Russians on the couch. Victor falls asleep on Yuuri’s opposite shoulder at around ten at night, clinging to Yuuri like a barnacle and snoring softly as the two more accomplished gamers take on challengers in online competition, both vicious when unleashed on strangers.
He finishes out the round with Yurio, then bumps their shoulders together to get his attention, jerking his chin at Victor wordlessly. Yuri rolls his eyes but nods silently in understanding, moving away on the couch so Yuuri has room to carefully ease away from Victor. For all Yuuri’s been learning to heft Victor’s weight as they’ve been practicing their pairs routine, it turns out a dead lift just isn’t feasible and he still has to wake him slightly to help him to shuffle to bed with his arm around Yuuri.
Routine takes over again as Yuuri changes quietly in the bedroom, then nods to Yurio on the couch as he passes. Without needing to discuss it, Yurio tosses the controller down and follows him to the studio.
“Get your leg up. You haven’t been working long enough to start crapping out on it now. Lilia would skin you alive.” Yurio hooks the handle of his cane into Yuuri’s knee and hoists it up higher, leaned against the mirrored wall as he squints at Yuuri, finding all his faults. Yuuri shifts to compensate, convinced Yuri’s joints must have been made of rubber prior to his injury. This is their nightly routine now. Every day after Victor drifts off, Yuuri lets an over-invested teenager criticize his every move as he practices.
“Minako believes that…”
“Minako was teaching a little pig, dumbass. She went easy on you. You’re good, but you’re not great, and Lilia is a fucking legend. Now hold there.”
It’s been weeks now of Yurio showing up after Victor was asleep, the first night leaning against the doorway and sniping, then using the gym and offering critiques as he exercised while Yuuri danced, and now he limps around Yuuri correcting his form, comfortable that Yuuri will let him. It feels like a shared secret, it feels like Hasetsu before Onsen on Ice, Yurio impatiently drilling him on quad Salchows and berating every failure, unseen by Victor.
Yuuri’s not too proud to admit there are some things Yurio has surpassed him in. Prior to his injury, Yurio was one of the best jumpers on the ice, his height and speed unmatched. Dance, it’s frankly subjective: Yuri’s form is better, beaten to absolute precision by Lilia, and his flexibility was inhuman—but Yuuri’s better at the story of the dance, more adept at musicality and expression, and more adaptive to each program’s needs. But precision is what Yuuri’s failing is, a holdback of his past inconsistency, and if nothing else Yurio’s helping him there. He’ll take any advantage he can to win, and it gives him time with Yurio to gauge how he’s doing.
“Better. Now start again.” Yurio limps back to the wall, leaning against the mirror to rest his leg as Yuuri transitions into a spin, to his steps across the floor, the motions clean and crisp as he finally leaps into his off-ice axel. It sounds better, absurd as that may seem: the stomp and slide and drumming of his feet across the polished floor has the right rhythm this time, even as the blister at the ball of his foot tears on the landing, a slick slide of blood to join the mottled stain of effort and will that stiffens the inside of his slippers and boots. He can tell the corrections helped him maintain his form and with Yurio’s curt nod, Yuuri lets himself relax, glancing at the clock on the wall to confirm what he already knows from the darkened windows.
“It’s well after midnight. I can sleep in when Victor goes to practice, but I should still try and get to bed soon.” He needs to change, and then he can join Victor in their bed and revel in the slurred sleepy welcome he’ll get in Russian as he’s dragged into Victor’s arms, his boyfriend sleep-warm and soft and acting entirely on instinct to pull him close. It’s one of his favorite parts of Victor beating him to bed, and such a small thing to mean so much to him.
Grabbing his towel from the top of his skate bag parked between Victor and Yurio’s by the door of the studio, Yuuri mops his brow as he settles on top of the bench made of the three Zuca bags, meeting Yurio’s curious stare as he digs out a bandage and folds his leg to put his foot in his lap, carefully peeling off his slipper and dabbing ointment over the ragged tear at the bottom of his foot, pressing his thumb into old and new bruises to massage the battered flesh beneath, digging his fingers into the arch of his foot to ease strained tendons. They’ve been at this long enough that he can tell Yurio is chewing on a thought, and he’ll give him time to spit it out.
“It doesn’t bother you? With my leg fucked up and JJ crapping out during the GPF, you’re on the short list, even after Four Continents. You know Yakov’s been watching you at practice and is drilling Victor on how to beat you, too.”
“I’ve been studying Victor for half my life.” Yuuri reminds the boy kindly. “I hope they are watching me. I’m not going to be holding back, and he won’t be either.” He and Victor love each other—but anything less than their best effort to defeat each other would be disrespectful. As a coach, Victor will see his weaknesses anyway, and will do his best to force Yuuri to overcome them. As a boyfriend, Victor knows that Yuuri’s major stumbling block is his own confidence, and he’ll try and bolster it. As a competitor, though, they’re both skating onto that ice to win.
“You’re not going to freak out on him, are you?” Yurio is watching Yuuri carefully, expression blanked and guarded, and Yuuri thinks he understands a little what’s going through his mind. It’s not as if he’s blind to his own weaknesses, or so focused on Yurio’s issues that he’s missing his own. For all his prickly demeanor, Yurio is using this time to gauge how Yuuri is doing. It’s sweet, honestly.
“I’ve never really thought of rivals as enemies, Yurio. I’m not going to be upset at Victor for trying to win, I’d be upset if he didn’t. I can’t help…” Yuuri can’t help what his mind does to him sometimes. He can’t help that sometimes his anxiety makes his head swim and his heart pound and his body betray him. When it feels like everyone is watching, waiting for him to fail again. All he can do is battle through it, or try to head it off. They all skate through their pain—just sometimes Yuuri’s isn’t as obvious as an injury. “I don’t know how I’m going to feel at the competition. But right now, it’s good. Skating against Victor like this, on the same ice… I’ve wanted that for a long time. It’s what made me want to compete at all.”
No matter what happens at Worlds, he thinks he made the right decision by staying in, by not giving up after Barcelona. Victor gave him a gift there—perhaps more of one than the rings they impulsively exchanged. It’s an insane, herculean task that Yuuri never could have asked of him, but by returning to the ice Victor gave Yuuri a second chance to make right his failure in Sochi, and by staying beside Yuuri as his coach he gave him the strength to fight for the win.
“Eugh. Sappy. Whatever, just don’t blow it this time. If you wait until he’s old, it won’t count when you beat him.”
Yuuri ducks his head to hide his smile. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Being befriended by Yurio is a unique experience, a dance of acceptable distances and affectionate jabs. As invested as Yuri is in the skating, he is furtively injecting himself into their relationship, checking on Yuuri’s mental state and making sure Victor isn’t somehow hurting him. He’s protective in his uniquely abrasive way, where every statement of support is couched in an insult to further his disaffected image. It makes him wonder what Yurio’s intent was when he found him in the bathroom in Sochi, because he’s not sure screaming in his face was the original plan. Yurio, like Victor, is just really quite bad at dealing with other people’s emotions. Mila may have been right about her teammates after all.
They fall into a companionable silence as Yuuri works on doctoring and wrapping his feet. When the silence drags on longer than is customary for them, he turns back to Yurio to find him staring off, eyes unfocused, shoulders pulled in as he drums the end of his cane against the heel of his bare foot. There’s a hesitation to him, and Yuuri stills as he waits it out. “Could you…”
Shoving his bangs back, fingers knotting in his hair, Yurio tips his head and stares out at the city lights of St. Petersburg, letting his breath out in an exasperated sigh as if he’s as thrown off by his hesitation as Yuuri is. The window is a darkened mirror, painting his reflection in the colors and movement of the city beneath and the haze of the sheer curtain between them. Yuuri can see the furrow in his brow and upset twist to his lips as he follows the slow crawl of late-night traffic below, the gentle drift of a light snow, and the mosaic of frost crawling up the corners of the window. He watches quietly as Yurio finds his resolve again. “I want to go to the rink.”
That... could be a very bad idea, or a very good one. This is the first time that Yurio has expressed the desire to go anywhere, and while it could be a sign of him being ready to move on, he’s still physically recovering. Yurio’s lack of regard for his own health and his aptitude for self-destruction is still fresh—and it will likely be months before he’s fit to try again.
“Yurio, I don’t know if…”
“Yeah, it’s a stupid idea.” Yurio agrees, dropping it at the first sign of Yuuri’s reluctance, and he hides behind his hair again, fingers tightening around the handle of his cane as he braces himself upright and goes to limp past Yuuri out of the room, his dismissal half a threat. “Forget I said anything.”
The trouble is, Yuuri understands this. He’s something of an authority on withdrawal as a coping mechanism in depression, and also on how damaging it can be. Yuuri drowned in his own thoughts for months after the GPF, a slow downward spiral of failure and destroyed pride that took a minor miracle in the form of Victor Nikiforov to drag him out of. While not as sensational as the overt self-destruction of some athletes under pressure, the creeping loss of self can be as debilitating as any injury.
Yurio lost himself in that rink. The champion, the competitor, the figure skater, how he’s always defined himself. Everyone is hopeful that he can reclaim that, and he’s certainly working nonstop to. Yurio is the living embodiment of determination, but not even determination can keep his knee from buckling beneath him this soon after surgery, or make his still recovering leg bear his weight entirely on the ice. But if he needs this…
It’s Yurio’s birthday.
“Get your jacket on and head down towards the parking garage. I’ve got to change, and I’ll get Victor’s keys so we can drive over.”
The surprise and hope in Yurio’s eyes is gratifying, and he pats the boy on the shoulder and slips past him towards the bedroom, easing the door open and closed again behind him. He tugs off his ballet tights and slips his tracksuit on before he perches on the edge of the bed. Brushing the backs of his fingers down the sharp line of Victor’s jaw, he calls him quietly, smiling to himself at the slow wrinkle of Victor’s nose at being disturbed, and the unintelligible questioning ‘mrm?’
“Yurio and I are going out. May I borrow your car?”
Victor’s eyes blink open slowly, and it’s a long moment before they really focus on Yuuri’s face, and a moment beyond that before the question really processes in his mind. Yuuri barely manages to lean back before Victor can smash their foreheads together with how quickly he sits up once he understands. “We’re going out?”
He sounds thrilled with the idea regardless of the late hour, blue eyes bright with the promise of adventure. God knows how he does that: Yuuri doesn’t wake up half so quickly as Victor does, and he certainly isn’t alert as soon as his head is off the pillow. It’s only because half of his hair is plastered to his head by sleep and the creases of his pillow are traced in red on his cheek that Yuuri is willing to admit Victor is human despite that. As he quietly explains the situation, Victor tosses the blankets off of the bed to shimmy out of his pajamas and drag on his own tracksuit, disturbing Makkachin who huffs her displeasure at them both, shaking out her fur and then flopping down on Yuuri’s side of the bed.
So Yuuri didn’t precisely intend to bring Victor along, but he can’t regret that he’s coming. A midnight run to the skating rink is less likely to get raised eyebrows from overnight security if they walk in with Russia’s darling, especially with Yuuri only having a rudimentary grasp of the language and Yurio being… well, Yurio… about confrontation.
Yurio scowls at Victor as he wheels his and Yuuri’s skate bags down, tucking them into the back seat with Yurio’s. “I didn’t know you were bringing him.”
“I brought myself.” Victor beams, swinging himself into the driver’s seat and ruffling Yurio’s hair irritatingly as Yuuri settles into the back with their bags. “Yakov would call this reckless and stupid, so obviously I’m going to be part of it!”
“I wasn’t planning on skating. I can’t…” Yurio scowls, lips twisting as if he’s swallowed a lemon, and he hunches down in his seat as they ease out of the parking garage. “I can’t even get my fucking skates on yet. At the hospital they gave me a stupid plastic slide just to get socks on, and I’m stuck in slip-on shoes.”
“But you brought your skate bag.” Yuuri points out reasonably, ignoring Yurio’s betrayed look at him for speaking up. “So you were going to ask me for help. It’s okay to need help sometimes.”
“Bite me, Katsudon.” But he doesn’t argue further, doubtless conscious of needing their help and resentful of it. The drive to the rink is a short one and familiar, and to get them in Victor flashes a thousand megawatt smile at the security guard and signs the back of her phone case, shoving the marker at Yurio to do the same with a stern look not to ruin his shock and awe plan, and then they’re in through echoing late-night hallways.
It’s so much different than the Hasetsu Ice Palace, a sprawling sports complex worthy of Olympians and legends, instead of a quiet, sleepy little rink that specializes in children's birthday parties and one skater’s off-season practice. During the daytime it teems with activity, full of studios and gyms, fencers and boxers and skaters and hockey players… but at night it seems vast and intimidating, full of dark corners and empty stands. When Victor hits the lights of the rink, he only flips one of the switches, the half-light more than enough to see, but not the blinding bright of performances.
“Sit.” Victor commands Yurio, pushing him down onto the bench. This time, when Victor kneels down to lace up someone else’s skates, there are no kisses, no flirtation. Yuri’s pale and still as he waits for them to ready themselves, hiding behind the curtain of his hair as he stares out over the ice, but he breathes in like a drowning man surfacing for the first time in weeks. It’s always the same, wherever they go; the cold, clean bite of 50,000 liters of frozen water waiting for them to score the surface in lines and loops, vicious scars that will be healed and retraced and surfaced over again in their wake every time they walk away.
His cane is useless with the added height of the skates, so Yuuri stiffens his arm, letting Yurio tuck a hand into the crook of his elbow, the boy leaning into him heavily as he finds his balance on the blades off the ice, teetering on the rubberized floor for a moment as he closes his eyes and centers himself, physically and emotionally. Yuuri exchanges a look with Victor, and finds his worry reflected back at him.
It’s too early. It’s far too early, and it is reckless, but Yurio needs this right now. It’s clear in the determination on his face as he stares out at the ice, in his fingers pressing into Yuuri’s arm as he accepts the help offered wordlessly. Victor leads out onto the rink, blades cutting the surface in a familiar hiss as he twists to face them, hand snapping out to grip Yurio’s shoulder when his skate slides sideways before he can help it as he steps in the gate, keeping him upright and letting him find his legs again, and they all pretend not to understand his whispered invectives as he grabs for the wall as he would the parallel bars in his first days of physical therapy, braced between it and Yuuri.
“One lap around the outside of the rink. If I think you’re going to hurt yourself, Yuuri and I are going to carry you out of here.” Victor warns Yurio, in the coach-voice that he brings out when Yuuri’s altering his jump order without permission, when he’s ignoring his commands. Yuri nods curtly in acceptance, blowing his hair out of his face and raising his head again, looking out before them.
Yuuri takes the initiative first, pushing off gently with his arm hooked through Yurio’s as the boy’s hand goes flat on the boards, a gentle touch for balance rather than weight bearing, letting himself be pulled along in a two footed glide as Victor matches their slow pace, skating backwards, eyes on Yuri’s skates as he begins pushing off with his bad leg haltingly, letting his good leg carry his weight. He slowly relaxes his grip on Yuuri’s arm as he takes on more of the work for himself. His toe pick catching the surface bobbles him, but he rights himself between Yuuri and the wall before Victor can reach out to grab him, the spark of a challenge accepted lighting his green eyes again as he slowly increases their pace.
Instinctively trying to take inside edge on the corner nearly topples him, but Yuuri and Victor are there, hands righting Yurio as he curses and waves them off once they’re back on the straight-away, hands off the wall and off of Yuuri as he resumes the slow, comparatively lurching skate up the outside wall of the rink, flanked by his surrogate family.
This is Yurio’s natural element, his home. The furrow in his brow melts away when he closes his eyes, letting his momentum carry him in a slow glide, his cheeks pinked by the cold, hair gold as they pass beneath the outer lights of the rink, and arms outstretched for balance, for freedom, even if his fingertips are skimming the sleeves of the skaters on either side of him now. For just that moment he’s flying, the terror that he’ll never be what he was melting away. When they finish the lap, he slumps ungracefully against the wall and sinks to sit on the surface of the ice, coltish legs stretched akimbo in front of him as he rubs his knee gently, head resting back against the boards as Victor and Yuuri take their place at his sides, shoulder to shoulder against the surround.
“Damn I miss that.” They all know it’s nothing like what he’ll be expected to do once he is cleared for the sport again, only better than a beginner because of muscle memory and an uncanny sense of balance, but it’s a kind of freedom in its way. A promise to himself.
“You’re an idiot.” Victor informs Yuri as bluntly as if he’s remarking on the weather, but he leans into the younger skater’s shoulder companionably, a smile curling his lips. Some risks are worth taking, and this one… it was clearly exactly what was needed. “If you’ve been hiding out because you can’t skate right now, you’re a complete idiot. You’re injured. There’s nothing shameful about that. Even if you use the cane for the rest of your life off the ice, there’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Fuck off, Victor.” Yuri tosses back, but it lacks bite and even with the chill of the ice seeping in for all of them he looks like he’d be content to stay forever.
It’s almost a shame to end the moment, but as Victor’s jaw creaks in a yawn he barely conceals behind his hand, Yuuri stands, offering both hands down to Yurio to take all his weight up and hoist him to his feet, getting him braced against the wall before offering an unnecessary hand down to Victor to pull him up as well, rewarding him with a quick kiss for joining them to keep Yurio safe and protect Yuuri from any fallout.
“Come on. Yurio and I can sleep in, but you need to be back here in a couple hours.”
“Ah, you’re right of course. I’m getting too old for late-night adventures…” Victor makes a show of draping himself over Yuuri’s shoulder as they’re caught waiting for Yurio to be ready to move, and Yuuri finds himself taking another, significantly larger Russian’s entire body weight as he’s used as a pillar and his shoulder as a pillow. Close to his ear, Victor’s voice softens, and Yuuri knows they’re both on the same page, watching their young friend. “I think this was worth a lecture from Yakov, though…”
Yurio doesn’t even offer his customary retching sound at their public affection as Yuuri and Victor wait beside him on the ice while he lingers, reluctant to leave, hands curled around the boards to brace himself and green eyes soft as he looks out over the ice as if he’s seeing it for the first time.
“I do love it, you know.”
It’s such a quiet statement to be so important. Each of them love to skate—they just forgot it for a while. For Yuuri, anxiety and depression and damaged pride nearly ended his career, until he found his love of skating again through Victor’s support and his love. For Victor, the view from the top became cold and distant, the personal and public expectation that he would always win draining away his joy in every success, until Yuuri gave him back inspiration and hope. For Yurio, his competitive nature stole that childlike joy and freedom from him, turned the love he held for the sport into a war against all others and against himself, until Yuuri and Victor gave him back the wonder of flying.
Yuuri grasps his shoulder, pretending not to notice the wet track of a tear down Yurio’s cheek as he offers a reassuring smile, pulling him into an embrace that the boy sinks into without objection. Yuuri doesn’t think Yurio ever let himself admit that he was afraid, terrified it was over, terrified he’d never come back, until he was ready to attack that fear and conquer it by stepping foot on the ice again. After a beat Victor folds himself into the hug as well, long arms curling around the both of them. For just this moment Yurio allows their open affection, and Yuuri squeezes him tighter.
“You’ll be back. When you are, remember that.”
In many ways, the arrival of Worlds is always a relief to Victor. In years past it signaled the actual end of a season. He would leave the host city almost immediately after the press conferences and celebrations were over to rescue Makkachin from the pet sitter and spend the next week draped over his couch, indulgently spoiling his dog and catching up with social media and television shows. His practices were all in the afternoons or evenings and focused on creativity as much as staying fit; he would have months to dream up and perfect new choreography, to pick out music and plan costumes.
Last year after Worlds, he took that to the next level; his regular catch-up with social media left him flooded with notifications of Yuuri reaching out to him again after the banquet, longing on his face as he flawlessly skated Victor’s routine (mostly flawlessly: Yuuri tripled three out of five of his quads, but the casual viewer can rarely count rotations at the speed they go, and the choice was clearly deliberate).
Everything changed in the best of ways then.
Now Victor is looking forward to an off season with Yuuri, where he will have time to create new programs for himself and his lover that better reflect their current relationship and Yuuri’s growth as a skater. Seduction and longing are excellent creative material, but no one ever told him that being in love could be even more inspiring than falling in love. He has a notebook full of ideas for both of them, and that rush of inspiration is exhilarating; he can’t wait until he has time to pursue it.
But even more than that… he wants to be able to spend the offseason with Yuuri planning their wedding, setting the stage for something more important than any competition. Victor wants to be married, to be able to claim Yuuri as his own and belong in turn to him. Now that he’s decided to propose regardless of whether Yuuri takes Gold or not, he can throw himself into the competition wholeheartedly with that end in mind. He’s going to win here, and then he’s going to steal the man at his side away from them all.
Victor’s only regret, as he skates warm-up circles on the practice ice of Hartwell Arena, is that Yuri isn’t here on the ice or on the stands for them. He’d rather hear Yuri complain about the cave-like atmosphere of the space than worry about how he’s doing back in St. Petersburg with everyone who cares for him hundreds of miles away. While their late-night skate seemed to be some sort of breakthrough for the boy, he still glared daggers at Victor for the suggestion that he come to Worlds, threw a fit when Victor asked his neighbor who typically takes in Makkachin to check in on the boy a few times over the weekend, and he ultimately grunted his goodbye to them from the couch when they left for the train to Helsinki, Makkachin curled up at his feet and his cat curled up on his chest. Everyone asks about him, from Yuuri’s friend Phichit, to Christophe, even the obnoxious Canadian. Some want the challenge he poses back on the ice, others want a rematch, and all hate the idea of someone so young being so injured. The skating community is small enough that they all mark his absence.
Worlds brings them all together, every one of the top skaters in the world vying for a medal. It's especially exciting during the year before the Olympics, where even more than a spot on the podium, each skater is trying to secure the best ranking possible as their standing determines how many places their national team are granted in the Olympic Games the following year. Everyone will be trying to put in their personal best.
It's the kind of atmosphere Victor lives for, the kind of competition he hopes for every time he steps onto the ice. The arena bustles with activity, press and national teams and coaches all in motion, and it is energizing and exhilarating for Victor. The same cannot be said for all skaters though.
“Yuuuuri!” His fiancé smiles midway through a rinkside interview, shoulders relaxing from the tension Victor could see even from the opposite side of the ice. Without breaking from his pace in the response, he holds his hand over the wall of the surround to let Victor’s fingertips skim over his palm as he skates past, for the fourth circuit in a row.
Yes, Victor is a lovesick fool and he revels in it. Also, viewers love it and will eat it up, slow it down, splice it into compilation videos, and adore Yuuri even more for his on-camera aloofness melting at a touch. Meanwhile, a Yuuri distracted by how ridiculous his fiancé is, is a Yuuri who does not look like he's going to nervously throw up on the reporter’s very expensive looking shoes. Victor is an excellent coach and fiancé, if he says so himself. He’d rather he could step off the ice and ferry Yuuri away, but for now this will do as he waits for his music start in the practice.
Every touch is a tease now, inspiration both of them can use for their short programs. Since Yuuri moved to Russia they've both been so spoiled by separate competitions allowing one to support the other, and by near constant contact. Now a long weekend of competition, of forced celibacy and keeping public decorum, makes every fleeting touch electric. Just a brush of his fingertips over Yuuri’s palm reminds Victor of every caress, every touch, every kiss they’ve shared in private. He can't wait to give this feeling outlet on the ice.
He can feel the weight of Yuuri’s gaze on his skin, and knows the viewers will get one hell of a show today from both of them.
“You are a lucky man, Victor,” Georgi intones dolefully from Victor’s side as he flies past towards center ice, and Victor puts on a burst of speed, turning to face his serially heartbroken teammate with a grin before he launches into his quad flip.
It’s not luck that carries him into his short program, though. Yuuri briefly slipped the rest of the Japanese team to stand alongside Yakov for Victor’s routine, and it’s effortlessly easy to skate for his love, to catch the glint of the stadium light on Yuuri’s glasses as he skates past and know Yuuri’s eyes follow him across the ice. While it doesn’t quite crack his current short program record (Europeans judges always did love him better than Worlds), Dreams is a performance for one.
Unfortunately (or fortunately?)... so is Eros. When Yuuri’s turn comes and brown eyes narrowed in seduction and myopia fix on Victor, his lover licks his lips and lets them curl into a smug smile that dares Victor to try looking away, then he dances his seduction across the ice one last time, the final bow before he puts this routine away for a different program next season.
It’s clear the late-night dance practices with Yuri have been for a purpose. The sinuous lines of Yuuri are flawless from the cant of his head to the tips of his fingers to the flash of his blades on the ice as he lands the final quad cleanly. As his coach, Victor has front row tickets as Yuuri makes the entire stadium want him just as badly as Victor does, and dear god he cannot even begrudge them lusting after his love this way. When Yuuri’s short program edges out Victor’s by a fraction of a point based on PCS, putting them neck in neck going into the long program, he can’t even argue with the judges about it. Sitting together as they get Yuuri’s scores, Victor tries to congratulate Yuuri with a kiss to justify the name Kiss and Cry and pouts when Yuuri blushes scarlet and turns his head at the last second so his kiss lands on Yuuri’s cheek instead, ruining Victor’s attempt to break their ban on public intimacy. It’s cute, how shy his katsudon can be in public considering how their relationship took off in on live television, and how it has since evolved in private: Victor can’t help but want to crack through that lingering social awkwardness and show off his Yuuri.
While there are a few upsetting stumbles and falls among the ranks, ideas of this being a two-man race are dashed by Christophe and Otabek putting in personal bests and JJ nipping at Victor’s heels like a particularly irritating chihuahua. It’s the kind of competition that newscasters love: a cluster at the top within points of each other, the reigning champion usurped by the love of his life going into the free skate, a redemption story for JJ after his appalling short program at the GPF, Christophe the perpetual silver medalist with Gold in his reach after years of Victor overshadowing him, and Otabek as the stoic and mysterious hero who could finally climb to the top of the podium. Even the others are pulling out all the stops for Worlds; twenty four skaters in his bracket all determined to do their best and be draped in their nation’s flag fight their way to Olympian status.
Victor hasn’t had so much fun in competition in years.
Worlds will never be Yuuri’s favorite competition. As the “ace” of the Japanese team, it puts him front and center of the ten skaters sent to Finland on behalf of Japan—a pairs team, a dance team, three women, and three men’s singles skaters, including himself, a talented young skater from Sendai that Yuuri feels may surpass him by the time he retires, and an over-excited Minami Kenjirou, ecstatic to watch Yuuri skate and hanging on his every word. A publicist for the JSF drills him for the better part of an hour on his responsibilities and feeds him the lines he will be expected to regurgitate over and over on crowded press lines, all with a twist to her lips that says she’s frustrated already by the lack of prep time she’s been given because he ran off to Russia.
The pressure of being the face and voice of his country on the world stage is getting to him. Even Minako commented on it when she met him before he went back to stretch, frowning in concern and trying to advise him to loosen up in interviews, to calm down, and Mari trapped her brother in a rare hug as she brusquely tried to assure him that he absolutely deserved to be there.
By contrast, Victor takes to acting as spokesperson for the fifteen-person Russian team so easily, charming the cameras and crowds with a smile and a wink and bantering with commentators he knows from their days of skating, whereas Yuuri feels like the least interesting member of the Japanese team, tapped to play team parent. Victor’s flair for dramatics and handsome face more than make up for the homework he clearly didn’t do, but by this point it must feel that everything is by rote—only the names of his other teammates change.
So the increased exposure is a mark against Worlds. Then there’s the simple fact that the team dynamic they’re meant to represent has them staying together with their national team, meaning less time for him alongside Victor during the competition. Despite being Yuuri’s coach, Victor has obligations outside of him now, and Yuuri’s finding himself in an unfamiliar group, in forced social situations, and on-camera without Victor around far more often than he’s accustomed to.
It’s fraying his nerves, but with Victor on the ice it feels like an unfair distraction for him to show it and risk worrying Victor when he has his own free skate to prepare for.
Headphones piping in music from his phone, Yuuri paces the halls in a jog, past the first aid room, dressing rooms and cameras, unfinished stone walls, and mirror-windowed offices that reflect his pale and clammy skin back at him as he tries to burn off nervous energy. Victor is away, dragged off by Yakov to be the team player. Yuuri’s been pulling Victor away from where he needs to be, and if Victor does poorly he will be blamed for it—he sabotaged Russia’s icon by selfishly refusing to let him go. Worse, if Yuuri does less than perfectly, everyone will blame Victor for it—claiming he stretched himself too thin between the ice and the sidelines, that he let his ego get away from him, that he thought he could have it all. But Victor is having fun, he is absolutely in his element here, and if....
The buzzing of his phone in his hand throws off Yuuri’s gait, and he jogs in place a moment as he brings the screen up. It’s not the Russian he’d selfishly hoped for.
It’s accurate enough that Yuuri raises his head, glancing around the training rooms trying to figure out how Yurio knew that. Minami’s already finished his skate with the first group and has been snapping Instagram pictures featuring him, so spying the shock of red and yellow nearby makes that a possibility. Otabek is leaning against a divider, watching Yuuri silently until caught, so it’s possible his friend told him. The cameras are always nearby, the televisions around them all tuned in to the competition on the ice, only exacerbating the issue…
The phone buzzes again.
Despite himself, Yuuri laughs at the irritable teen and slumps into the wall beside him, tapping out a reply as he stretches his quads.
When Yurio follows that up with a screencap of Mila on the podium last night, followed by a string of jackolantern emojis, Yuuri does have to admit that her dress is rather shockingly orange, particularly as it clashes with her scarlet hair. But let the skater who has not dressed in absurd colors or fabrics throw stones: they are few and far between. Considering what Yurio lounges around the condo in, let alone his on-ice attire, he certainly has no higher ground.
The warm weight that drapes itself over Yuuri’s back is familiar, and he tucks his phone away and pushes back into Victor’s chest, letting his head rest against his boyfriend’s shoulder as he stretches his back next, arms linked backwards behind Victor’s head. “You didn’t stay for Yakov’s lecture?”
Victor curls his arms around Yuuri’s waist and drops a kiss to his neck, his unrepentant shrug jostling Yuuri’s head pillowed on his shoulder as he splays his hand low across his stomach, balancing him for the stretch. “I think I have it memorized. Besides, Georgi is melting down about his short program score. So I…”
There’s a screen flash of a photo being taken, and somehow Yuuri isn’t even surprised to see Phichit with his back to them, his phone up and aimed over his shoulder as he mimes fanning his flushed cheeks. It’s only once the picture is taken that Yuuri really considers the position they’re in and blushes scarlet, scrambling to pull out of Victor’s arms to chase down his former roommate (his boyfriend protests into the bend of his neck, because he has no shame left in him).
Unread in his jacket pocket, his phone buzzes again.
Despite the distractions, their wait for the Free Skate seems to take forever. At the head of the pack, Yuuri and Victor are forced to wait through everyone else’s performances, and while Victor is ecstatic with the close competition, Yuuri’s broken into a cold sweat that stings his eyes as his stomach flips and churns with every surge of applause above them, resonating through the building and echoing tinny and time-delayed on the surrounding televisions as they warm up.
Somehow Victor thinks it will be comforting for Yuuri to know how much worse the Olympics are for crowds and for team commitments, how they’ll be separated by flags, crowded out by athletes of all the other disciplines and chaperoned place to place, to only see each other on the ice. It’s only through careful breathing and long practice as they take turns with their jumps on the mat that Yuuri doesn’t have a panic attack through his lighthearted commentary. His oblivious boyfriend doubtless is trying to ‘cheer him up’ but is doing it in exactly the wrong way, as the high stakes of this competition will determine Olympics for all of them, and he’s as terrified of winning as he is of losing now. His pulse is racing for absolutely no reason, and his breath is shallow, his hands shaking as he watches Victor leap into the air like this is nothing.
When the phone rings in his pocket, Yuuri takes the excuse to step away. Victor frowns, eyes growing thoughtful when he feels Yuuri’s clammy skin as he brushes a kiss along his cheek as he goes. Ducking into the bathroom, Yuuri stabs the button to accept the call.
“If you hyperventilate and miss the podium after coming in first in the short, all because you’re flipping out in a fucking bathroom again, I am going to make your life hell for the next year. Breathe.” Whoever it is that Yurio is getting his intel from, Yuuri owes them a thank-you. His breath leaves him explosively, not easing the tightness in his chest yet, but better with every inhale Yurio commands him to take, and when Yurio snaps at him to take third position without letting go of the phone Yuuri doesn’t question it, letting his body react instinctively as demanded to take the ballet position, grounding him and forcing him to consider how he’s holding his body, to focus on the control he has over every movement. Free arm raised gracefully, feet crossed and flat on the floor, chest open, shoulders loose, head high, he knows this, can’t help but posture himself correctly.
In much the way Yuuri has familiarized himself with the rigorous demands of Yurio’s physical therapy routine, it seems his young roommate has been reading up about anxiety and panic attacks. He counts for each breath like he would beat-count in the studio, familiar and brisk without coddling and making him feel worse, without making Yuuri’s panic his own, and it gets easier with every passing moment as the room stops swimming and his heart stops racing.
“Thank you. You didn’t need to…”
Yurio huffs his dismissal before Yuuri can get the words out, as resistant to affection as always, or just refusing to let Yuuri apologize. “Shut up, Yuuri. We’re even now.” For how they met in Sochi, maybe, or for some other moment since that unbalanced the fictional scale in Yurio’s mind. But he used Yuuri’s name, not a nickname or an insult… that’s rare enough to merit notice. The boy shows his affection in the strangest of ways. “Now go make out with your boyfriend or whatever. I texted and let him know he’s an idiot, so he’s probably looking for you.”
He hangs up without another word, and Yuuri doesn’t have time for dread to grow as he steps out of the bathroom and Victor’s suddenly there. He tugs Yuuri into a hug that hides his face against the velvet material of Victor’s costume vest under the unzipped track jacket, sheltering him from the view of the other competitors with what anyone looking on would take as another of his affectionate stunts. Victor still doesn’t quite understand why Yuuri’s mind does this to him sometimes, but he has been trying. He chastises Yuuri quietly for trying to keep this from him; as his coach, Yuuri’s mental state is something he needs to know, even if he feels he needs to spare Victor as a competitor of the hassle pre-skate. The gentle reprobation for trying to hide makes Yuuri cling tighter as the tears finally fall.
After a lifetime of shoving away anyone who would try and reach out to him when he’s upset, the combination of Yurio’s snappish concern and Victor’s unstudied affection balances out in the end. He breaks free of the hug after a few short moments, dashing a hand over his eyes and nodding, and Victor eyes him critically before returning the nod in satisfaction at whatever he sees in Yuuri. “Okay. Now we stretch again. We still have fifteen minutes before they call our group out, and I have plans for both of us to be standing on that podium.”
Victor is reluctant to let go when Yakov stomps in to fetch him, so once again Yuuri finds himself awkwardly between the Russian and Japanese teams as they walk back out to the Stadium, Minami proud in his national team jacket to match Yuuri’s and promising to cheer for him from the stands.
As he’s coming off the ice again from the warm-up skate, trailing behind Victor in an attempt to drag out the last minutes they’ll have left before they separate again, Yakov abruptly catches Yuuri’s sleeve in one hand and Victor’s arm in the other, tugging them together in the opposite direction of the Japanese team and pushing Yuuri into one of two empty seats beside Mila as he drags Victor a few steps away to speak to him. Mila decides to act as translator and drapes her arm over Yuuri’s shoulders as the pretty brunette gold medalist beside her giggles, everyone shamelessly eavesdropping on the grumpy coach and boisterous defending champion. “He just declared you an honorary Russian, so long as it keeps Vitya from wandering off again. Welcome to the family!”
Victor laughs, the sound bright and joyous, and flashes a sly glance at Yuuri as he gives an answer that raises Yakov’s eyebrow. Victor captures his coach into a hug that for a moment seems grudgingly tolerated at best, before Yakov sighs and folds Victor closer with a pat on the back, rumbling something out in Russian to him. When Yakov breaks the hug by holding Victor out at arms length and scolding him with a slight shake of his shoulders, Victor laughs again, nods, and drops himself into his chair before anyone can translate for Yuuri. Pulling his phone out and holding it up for the Russian team to see, Victor grins, light and boyish and irrepressible in his good cheer. “Instagram! We should welcome our stolen Japanese skater, no?”
Mila, Georgi, the brunette women’s champion, Victor, and the ice dancers from Moscow crowd in around Yuuri, Victor and Mila’s arms trapping him in place and their team jackets hiding all but his face as they snap a photo, Yuuri’s cheeks pinked and glasses crooked as Victor surges in at the last second to catch himself planting a surprise kiss on Yuuri’s temple in the image. Victor smiles to himself the entire time he selects filters and taps away at tags, and Yuuri feels almost as if he’s the only person not in on a joke. Beside him, the girls exchange looks and lean in to whisper excitedly to each other, Georgi looks between Victor and Yuuri with watery eyes, and Yakov squints at Yuuri and Victor, sighs in resignation, and then walks away to speak to the Japanese team.
Still smiling, Victor steals his glasses and urges Yuuri to put his earbuds in as soon as Christophe starts their group off by taking the ice. The stadium noise drowns out the music with every jump and spin, and even with his glasses off he can see Victor following every skater as they lace up their skates side by side, blue eyes sharp and clear as he lets himself enjoy watching his competitors and friends at the top of their game.
The phone in Yuuri’s jacket pocket buzzes again after Otabek’s scores are announced.
There’s absolutely no way the cameras are on them while JJ is on the ice. Yuuri blinks, raising his head and trying to look around, but the stadium is a blur and Victor glances up at him as he checks their laces, raising an eyebrow in query that Yuuri waves off as his phone buzzes twice more.
Having a stream of consciousness look at Yurio’s mindset is a strange novelty that serves the purpose of distracting Yuuri long enough that he’s still composing a reply when Victor stands, peeling off his Team Russia jacket and handing it to Yakov. Yuuri tucks his phone away quickly, rising to his feet as well. A squint shows that JJ is stepping into the kiss and cry, grinning and waving at the audience, but Victor is up next.
“Wish me luck?” His boyfriend beams as they walk side by side to the rink wall, and Yuuri straightens the lines of the vest he’d cried into, fingers smoothing artfully styled silver bangs as he stands on his toes to kiss Victor’s forehead.
Victor pouts, obviously hoping for more of a kiss than that, but the red light of the camera on them is obvious, gathering clips for Victor’s entrance to the rink, and Yuuri is braver than he’s ever been but he’s rarely as demonstrative in his affection as Victor.
“I’m getting a real kiss later,” Victor warns as he hands over his skate guards, flicks Yuuri’s chin, and takes the ice to stretch against the rink wall as he listens to Yakov’s instructions, smiles melting away as he gets himself into the right mindset, agrees with a simple “da,” presses a kiss to his ring and gives a pat to his stuffed Makkachin, and then shoves off to take his opening pose with his head tipped down to feign sleep.
“You can enter from the kiss and cry. I spoke to the ISU officials to clear it, and the networks are prepared given your start order and him down as your coach. They’re willing to make minor allowances, because together you’ve brought in more viewers, but don’t make a spectacle and make them regret it.” Yakov rumbles, gathering Victor’s things and leading the way, eyes fixed on his pupil at center ice. “Don’t let his performance affect yours. And mind your edges, they’ve been docking scores for it all day. You’re a good skater, and god knows you take instruction better than he does.”
It’s touching, in a strange way, how Yakov is embracing him into the fold with every brusque tip. Since moving to St. Petersburg, there has been more than one time Yakov has found himself correcting Yuuri’s mistakes on the ice while Victor was practicing alongside him, or giving advice before he could help himself. Yakov is, whatever he appears, a good man and a good coach, and he loves his students.
They’re partway around the rink when Yuuri hears as much as sees Victor stumble, the harsh cut of his toe pick gouging the ice on a landing, the slap of his palm against the ice keeping him from going face-first into the rink, before he shoves himself back upright. Even over the jarring music of his nightmares, Yuuri can hear the way the audience above responds with a hiss of surprise, the way Yakov curses quietly in Russian, and Yuuri grips the wall to stare out at his boyfriend as his brow furrows in concentration, blue eyes narrowed in consideration.
Victor’s doing the math, calculating and accounting for penalties, the complex mechanics of the sport. Beyond that, he’s shaken. This is the story of a skater’s nightmare, after all, one he saw played out as truth. The same intensity that makes this piece so compelling is working against Victor now, reminding him that he could fall just as easily.
Yuuri’s holding his breath when Yakov’s hand clamps around his arm, pulling him the rest of the way to the kiss and cry. “He’ll make his remaining jump elements combinations, and use a Tano or Rippon variation. Vitya never plans for a technical error, but he’s always been able to tack a triple toe on any jump….”
Victor follows his quad lutz with a triple toe seamlessly, arms raised to improve the grade of execution, pushing harder to keep his performance on beat with the music and proving his coach’s point. Yakov nods in grim satisfaction and drops their things at the Kiss and Cry, gripping the boards and watching.
“...Even with the penalty his base TES still edges out Altin’s. The Canadian popped his required axel, and the judges were conservative with Giacometti’s PCS…”
On the ice, Victor flies past them, shoulders tight, and gains speed for his next jump, making it a quad-triple-triple as he fights back against his own mistake, but it’s Yurio’s text buzzing in his hands that cuts to the point Yakov will not make to a competitor.
On the ice, Victor throws himself into the death drop, the blind fall into the sit spin as he pulls his body in tightly, whipping around with force and speed as he changes feet and poses himself for the added grade of execution. Victor is battling fiercely for every point he can and falling back on his technical proficiency; a champion to the core he gives nothing away—if someone wants it, they’ll have to fight to take it.
Victor ends his skate panting against his bent knee for the few crucial moments before rising to his feet and thanking the audience with a bow. Tearing his eyes away from Victor’s flushed face and tight showman’s smile, Yuuri glances at his buzzing phone and finds his resolve at last, the feeling of claws constricting his lungs loosening, the screaming in his mind falling quiet. It happens like this sometimes—when his worries are so derailed that the fear slips away, and only a single resounding thought is left to him.
If Yuuri is rattled and fails now, Victor will blame himself, as he blames himself for Yuri’s fall.
Victor needs him.
Victor’s still catching his breath when he leaves the ice, folding Yuuri briefly into a sweaty hug before taking the jacket, phone, glasses and skate guards from him, pushing him gently toward the gate. There are no lectures exchanged this time; none are needed. Yuuri catches Victor’s hand, pressing a kiss to the ring on his finger from the other side of the wall, and Victor’s gaze softens at the reversal of roles. They don’t have time to talk, Victor is already being chivvied to the padded seat of the kiss and cry to smile and wave at the cameras as the panel reviews his elements to calculate. Once Victor’s score is posted, Yuuri will only have thirty seconds to get to center ice before a deduction for delay, so he takes to the ice instead, hands braced against the wall, watching the ice sweepers carry armful of flowers away.
He tunes out Victor’s score as best he can as he skims across the ice, and in the moments from his name being called to his music beginning, Yuuri lets out his breath and his tension with it. He doesn’t need to think right now, he needs to feel. He wants to show the world just how much he cherishes the man who made this competition possible for him. It’s the final skate of the season, and the final skate he will ever do to Yuri on Ice, and he intends to make it count. Victor skated his fears and it undermined him. Yuuri plans to skate his hopes for the both of them.
The music rises, and Yuuri raises his head, hands cupped gently as he lifts those hopes and lets them fly, soft as a dove.
Skate the performance you love the most.
Everything fades away, the noise in his mind, the anxiety, the doubt, the worry for Victor. All that exists is this story, the story of a skater who failed and rose again, a lonely boy who chased a dream he never expected to catch, the story of his life changing in all the best of ways. It’s deceptively gentle, this tale, the power of it hidden in every sweep of his hands, in the longing reach of his body, in the triumph of every landing.
As the music draws to a close, Yuuri finds himself back at center ice, one hand to his pounding heart and the other outstretched to his love—not in longing, but in invitation.
In that moment, Yuuri would like to claim he could hear the roar of the crowds, the praise and recognition he always thought would in some way cure him of his fear of failure. Instead, he can hear only the rapid drumbeat of his own heart, pulse racing, every breath a searing drag into his burning lungs. Then Victor is there, against all etiquette, taking advantage of the fact that they both are in skates to crash into Yuuri at center ice, spinning him in place with a laugh and a hug that belies any media-concocted stories of on-ice rivalry in any way tarnishing their relationship. Yuuri clings tightly to the back of his vest, taken by Victor’s laughter and his love.
“I’m afraid after that performance I may not be kissing gold today after all. Unless you’ll let me kiss yours.” Victor pulls back to grin at him, blue eyes bright, and Yuuri knows he never wants their story to end. He wants to be with this man until they’re old and bald and overweight, forgotten in favor of younger skaters that will come up to take their place, their medals gathering dust and their records long since broken. Let his legacy be this, ridiculous moments on the ice together, two men so in love that impossibilities, rules and expectations meant nothing.
“I love you.”
He doesn’t say it nearly often enough. Victor deserves to hear it every day.
“Ah, my Yuuri…” Victor chucks a finger under his chin, tilting his head back to smile at Yuuri as he presses a thumb to his lips with the promise of a kiss later. “I know. I have eyes.” He gestures at the stadium around him, at ice littered with stuffed toys and roses, at the memory of his performance. “Now bow to the audience and then come on, before they hook us off the ice…”
“They don’t actually have a hook, Vitya.” Yuuri chuckles breathlessly as he turns to thank the audience and judges, Victor leading the resurgence of applause as he takes his bow and then lets himself be led towards the kiss and cry, leaning into Victor’s side.
“Maybe they just push you off with the Zamboni.” As if to demonstrate, Victor gets behind him, hands planted on his shoulders to push him across and off of the ice to the delight of the audience and to Yakov’s impatient glower at their antics.
“Victor!” Yes, he loves this impossible, beautiful, ridiculous man.
At the empty kiss and cry Victor grins in the dim light, as aware as Yuuri that while most are captivated by Otabek’s exhibition skate, there are at least a few eyes on them and a few phone cameras pointed at the darkened sitting area as well, particularly given Victor tweeted out a tease to their fans that their second exhibition would be something special, secure in the knowledge that Yuuri hasn’t touched his Twitter in weeks. His lover’s cheeks are still flushed from Stammi Vicino, but the pink creeps to his ears and down to his collar as Victor cheerfully peels the glittering blue over-shirt of the Prince Charming costume away to the simple black collared shirt below. Yuuri’s fingers fumble as he returns the favor for Victor by tugging away pink and burgundy. Victor liked the symbolism of this, the quick change between sets peeling away their on-ice personas rather than replacing them with a different costume.
This is a familiar intimacy played out in public, and between them it is almost inherently erotic in Victor’s opinion. Without regard for their setting, Victor steps into Yuuri’s space, cheek to cheek under vague pretense of smoothing back a flyaway hair disturbed by the shirt. “I know what you’re thinking. Later, my love.”
He can feel Yuuri blush, heat rushing to his face, all the air whooshing out of him at once in an admonishing hiss that tickles the shell of Victor’s ear. “Don’t be embarrassing…”
“Ah, you know everyone is already imagining…”
The foot in Victor’s back should not be as surprising as it is, shoving him into Yuuri, both of them thumping into the rink surround. Thankfully not as strong a kick as usual, considering the obvious culprit is using his still-healing leg to dole out violence. It’s almost contradictory how much being shoved around makes Victor’s heart soar suddenly.
“Yurio!” By the (very close, as they’re pinned together) blossoming smile on Yuuri’s face, Victor’s not the only one heartened by being attacked abruptly.
“Get a room! God, you two bastards are distracting, I’m trying to watch Beka and I get enough of your lovey dovey crap at home!”
How Yuri snuck up on them in a restricted area with a cane and a limp, nearly 400 miles away from where they left him, is beyond Victor. He may perhaps have been a bit distracted. Planting his hands against the rink wall, Victor pushes away with an apologetic kiss on the forehead to Yuuri for crushing him, before he spins to take in Yuri.
He has his hood up covering the distinctive gold of his hair, but there’s little question of his identity for anyone watching, the tiger emblazoned across his back bold and bright as he uses the cane to hook a chair closer before lowering himself into it. Yuri actually came, he hopped a train to Helsinki to celebrate with them even though he couldn’t compete himself, even though it would mean publicly showing his injury.
“I suspected you were here somewhere!” Yuuri laughs, which puts him ahead of Victor by a mile because even with random texts of Yuri declaring him an idiot and commanding him to find Yuuri outside the bathroom, he somehow didn’t suspect there was a kitten lurking around the arena. It’s a good surprise, though.
It’s very amusing that Yuri makes almost the exact sound of a cat hacking up a hairball when he’s abruptly caught in a three-person hug in public, Yuuri flinging his arms around the slight form of the younger skater and Victor immediately pouncing to join in the affectionate gesture once it’s clear Yuuri’s not getting his eyes clawed out for it. It’s also amusing that for all his protests, Yuri awkwardly pats both of them on the back during it.
“Alright, get off me already, it hasn’t been that long! Also, you’re almost up, morons."
Laughing at Yuri, Victor pulls away to nod at Otabek as he steps off of the ice. The young skater doesn’t seem surprised at all by Yuri’s presence, which explains how Yuri has hidden from them throughout the competition, where he’d stayed, and whose credentials he has around his neck. The older teen takes the seat beside Yuri to unlace his skates, jostling when his shoulder is bumped companionably, and together they look up and give Victor identically unimpressed stares and perfectly timed simultaneous thumbs up.
Do they practice that?
Victor laughs his way onto the ice for the last performance of the exhibitions, side by side and hand in hand with Yuuri as they skate out in the dim light. He squeezes Yuuri’s fingers before letting him go as they take their starting pose, back to back with their hands linked as they wait for the music to begin. Victor has to fight the grin that twitches in the corners of his lips, trying to compose himself for the piece. Exhibitions are fun. It’s almost enough to make him look forward to inevitably retiring from competition to ice shows. Without the strict ISU rules dictating half of the performance with mandatory components, Victor gets complete creative freedom, from the music to the lighting to the choreography, to any added props or… as the case may be, added fiancés… and he can tell a story exactly how he wants to.
This is a story worth telling, and telling well, his own answer to “Yuri on Ice.” More than that, this performance is a gift to Yuuri, though his unsuspecting little katsudon doesn’t know that quite yet. This is a one-time performance, just for tonight. As the music starts, piano notes echoing over the dark stadium, Victor lets it take him along with it.
“Detect my sudden existence on your sonar, you feel it echo...”
Yuuri begins their dance with the lyrics, head tilting back to look at the ceiling, and as his arm sweeps back he tugs Victor with the motion, spinning him in place to ‘notice’ Yuuri. Though they begin linked, they separate quickly: this first part is flirtation and denial, the push and pull of their early relationship, Yuuri pushing him away, Victor circling, a distance between them and when he can pull Yuuri into his arms it’s a triumph. The tango brings them close, and Victor lets himself go pliant in Yuuri’s arms as he’s twirled and dipped, reveling in Yuuri’s blush as he catches Victor’s thigh in his hand and dips him back over his knee, recreating a moment from a celebration he still doesn’t quite remember.
“Somebody ought to corrupt you on the dance floor, and take you home…”
They push away, a pace between them as Yuuri coils his arms around himself, gaze smoldering, Eros incarnate for this moment. “Show you all your demons and desires and dark sides...”
Victor reaches for him with the yearning of Stammi Vicino in return. “All of your colonies and continental divides...”
Stammi told the story of Victor looking for something he’d never had and always longed for. Victor has had lovers before, he’s had relationships built around convenience, casually coming and going out of each other’s lives as the winds took him, as he threw everything into his career. This with Yuuri is so much harder, but so much better than anything he’s ever known.
“For you are made of nebulas and novas and night sky.” Yuuri’s hands around his waist lift him and fling him across the ice, and Victor trusts in Yuuri’s strength and his own agility as he pulls into himself with a held breath, arms tucked tightly as he rotates the throw-jump, his arms outstretched to pull Yuuri back in as he puts on a burst of speed and chases him across the ice by the time he lands.
It was well worth the bruises in practice for the finished effect, and for the elation on Yuuri’s face at the success when it mattered.
“You are made of memories you bury or live by. ” Victor indulges, letting himself caress Yuuri’s cheek before they link hands for a pivot spiral, Yuuri’s beautiful posture captivating as Victor anchors him, the fixed point for their shared spin, grip tight to keep Yuuri from careening away as he’s whipped across the ice. This is Yuuri, and how fear can bury him alive and failure can either drive him to the brink or motivate him to rise to new heights. How Victor imagines it feels when everything spins out of control for him, and how he hopes to be the one Yuuri holds on to when it does.
The side-by-side aspects of the dance are flawless, jumps and twizzles, spins and steps, second nature now to two men who have taught and trained that way for a year, two soloists managing perfect harmony. Victor doesn’t have to look to know Yuuri is keeping step with him, and when he reaches a hand back he knows exactly when it will be grabbed, when he can pull to bring them into contact again, dropping a shoulder and hefting Yuuri into an axel-lift that Victor has been abusing their home workout equipment to pull off with his lover. He is nothing if not determined, and when Yakov yelled at him for risking his back with this, he just moved the practice to Yuuri’s ice time and kept at it. Yuuri got the throw and they needed more to top their first pair skate, so he gets to lift Yuuri overhead, making him fly.
He’s breathless with it as Yuuri drops lightly back to his feet, safely supported in Victor’s hands, the lead changing again naturally as Yuuri grips him back.
“I want the storm inside you awoken now, I want your warm bright eyes to never look away.”
Victor didn’t expect to become so nervous. He’s already gotten a yes… hasn’t he? He shouldn’t have let Yuri talk him out of buying another ring, no matter how impractical it might have seemed considering the gold bands that sit on both of their fingers. He wants the full effect, he wants everyone to see and understand. He’s always been afraid that Yuuri’s anxious nature would send him running again, that he’d be left alone. In Barcelona, he had one glorious night to think he’d secured this man by his side forever, before Yuuri gave him cause to wonder again. Before announcers began calling them good luck rings and neither of them bothered to correct the notion. Before their engagement never came up again.
As if sensing Victor’s anxiety, if not understanding the source, Yuuri squeezes his hand in their shared grip as he leads them in the last of their dance, and they camel-spin clasped together as the music hits its closing loop, a plea and promise echoing over the ice.
“I will never look away, look away, look away. Don’t you ever look away, look away, look away.”
Victor wrote and memorized a heartfelt speech for himself in exactly the way he does interview responses and press junket lines. It was sweet, a little funny if Victor says so himself, and earnest enough to ensure Yuuri would say yes. Yuri thought it was over the top when he coerced the boy into listening for feedback, but honestly even he has limits on how much romantic advice he’ll take from a surly sixteen year old. Mila at least thought it was adorable when he sought a second opinion and Georgi just cried through it, which could frankly be interpreted either way. His planned proposal was perfect. However Victor finds, as he drags air into his burning lungs with Yuuri’s forehead resting against his shoulder as he pants alongside him in their closing pose, that it was also not at all well planned for right after two physically taxing routines nearly back to back. He’s exhausted, pulse racing and body aching, and the memorized words are slipping away. He’s not as young as he used to be, and didn’t consider that putting the harder of the two pair routines last would be as much of a workout as it was a grand finale, especially for him considering their comparative stamina.
The timing is more important than the speech; skating communicated for him better than words usually do, and he’s too impatient to wait longer and risk Yuuri mistaking his meaning or beating him to the punch and making it about the gold medal and that ridiculous teasing dare he never should have made. Victor slides to one knee as applause from the crowd overtakes the final reverb of the music, clutching Yuuri’s hand in his own as he stares up at his love’s surprised face and presses a kiss to the ring, labored breath warm and damp across his knuckles as he makes his intentions absolutely clear, so his Yuuri will be on the same page at last, and so there’s no question in the minds of anyone watching what they mean to each other.
“I had a plan for this.” Victor admits ruefully as Yuuri stares down wide-eyed at him as if concerned he’s taking a knee because he’s hurt. Tightening his hands around Yuuri’s fingers in reassurance, he tips his head down, bangs falling into his eyes as he considers how to improvise this, a performance gone a little awry and all he knows how to do is try to drag it back on track before the judges can take notice. In the stands, 8,000 spectators are watching Victor make a fool out of himself for love, again, but frankly that seems to be the theme of this event and Victor’s never really been prone to shame. “Marry me, Yuuri? Not because of how we placed on the podium. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, because I love...”
Yuuri is kissing him, dropping to his knees as soon as the proposal is out, fingers pushing into his hair to tilt his chin for the kiss, other hand still clasped in Victor’s. It’s a sweet kiss, soft and warm and maybe a little clumsy with surprise—a Yuuri kiss through and through—and he can feel when Yuuri smiles into it, how it reshapes the lips pressed against his, how the moment has caught up with him at last and the meaning has settled in. Victor chases the sensation of his smile, coiling his arm around Yuuri to keep him from pulling away. Even when Yuuri’s laughter breaks them apart he surges back in to press their lips together again, just to taste Yuuri’s happiness. It’s better than any gold he has ever won, sweeter than any other victory.
The kiss breaks as Yuuri finally notices the roar of the stadium and pulls back with wide mortified eyes like he forgot they were in public. His Yuuri is beautiful, hair mussed and eyes bright, and Victor watches scarlet bloom across his cheeks as he registers the reaction of the crowd, and the fact that for all the teasing throughout the past few months it was Yuuri to initiate them kissing on live television again for the first time since China.
“...I can’t believe we did that. I can’t believe I just did that.” Yuuri’s stiff with embarrassment in his arms as Victor hauls them both to their feet, laughing when Yuuri buries his face against his shoulder as if that will make the crowds disappear.
Victor can’t help but tease.
“That was yes, right? It felt like yes, but we’ve been unclear before.”
He can feel the heat in Yuuri’s face even through his shirt, but Yuuri nods as he lifts his head to meet Victor’s eyes, leaning into the hand that cups his cheek, lacing their fingers together as he fumbles out the words. “Yes. That was a yes.”
Victor turns to the stadium seating, tugging Yuuri into his side and raising his free hand in victory as he yells to the audience. “He said yes!”
“Of course he did, you idiot, now get off the ice!”
Ignoring the familiar peevish voice yelling in Russian at him from the gate, Victor’s euphoric second wind has him pulling Yuuri along by the hand as he skates to the far wall where fans are clamoring for them. Perching a rose crown on Yuuri’s head before accepting one for himself and shooting their fans a wink, Victor twirls Yuuri away with him in a loose dance hold. The rose crown is the perfect touch. Over the top for the wedding, he’s already ruled that out, but perfect to celebrate Yuuri’s first international gold and their engagement!
“Mmm?” Oh, what an adorable little girl! Dark hair pulled back into a ballet bun, the tiniest of the ice sweepers picking up their tributes is lingering to stare at Yuuri with undisguised idolization, and he can’t fault the girl’s excellent taste in skaters. She shyly holds out one of the bouquets tossed to the ice for them and Victor pulls Yuuri forward by the hand to have him take it from her, watching hero worship spark in her eyes when Yuuri extends his beautiful smile to her as well. If Victor were a betting man he’d wager she’s going to grow up remembering this moment every time she takes the ice, the next generation of skaters shaking in her tiny doll-sized skates as she disappears behind a mob of identically dressed excited little girls, the rest of the ice sweepers swarming her while they skate away, surrounded by the scent of ice and roses, the cellophane of the bouquet tickling the back of Victor’s neck as Yuuri tucks his arm around Victor’s shoulder.
“Vitya, if we don’t leave the ice I’m afraid Yurio is going to start throwing things at us.” Even now Yuuri can’t help the smile that’s belying his concern, letting Victor sweep him back into dancing as they soar past the kiss and cry, no choreography, no music, no fancy steps or spins, just Victor’s ridiculous elation to drive them, keeping the exhaustion of the evening at bay. Yuuri anticipates each spin, reading the flex of muscle or the turn of his body or the song in his heart, and they dance with the same impossible synchronicity that had swept Victor off his feet at the banquet. They belong together like this, Victor knew from that night that he’d met his match in Katsuki Yuuri—not as a rival but as a partner. The months spent coaxing Yuuri into seeing that too were well worth it.
“Damnit, Nikiforov, hurry up! I made a fucking party reservation!”
“There are innocent children present, Yurio, mind your language!” Victor sing-songs back, and it’s only luck that keeps the skate guard hurled at his head from hitting him, glancing off of Yuuri’s temple instead, knocking the flower crown to a very fetching angle. Thankfully a rubber skate guard is not the most effective projectile in the world. “Whoops! Guess you were right. But your namesake needs to work on his aim.”
This close to the kiss and cry, they can see the crowd gathering: Yuri braced on his cane with his other elbow on Otabek’s shoulder as if to rub in their changing height difference, a second skate guard in his hand and ready to throw, but a faint smile curls up the corner of his lips that he will probably deny until death. Yuri may complain about being Victor’s best man, but he’s already taken to the role as if it's a championship title to be defended and he will bludgeon anyone that interferes. He's gathered everyone together for them, and pressed his friend into helping; Otabek is recording using Yuri’s phone, completely unperturbed by being turned into a human crutch and as much partner in crime as best friend to their angry kitten.
Phichit is crying with a grin on his face, phone up and back down again so quickly that it’s obvious he’s live-blogging the entire proposal. Excellent, Victor will need to share those pictures when he’s back to his phone, and he wants to see the expression he missed on Yuuri’s face while he took a knee. Mari is on the phone, grinning widely and speaking rapidly, doubtless answering all the questions from Hasetsu as Minako stands crowded beside her, hands clasped over her nose and mouth and happy tears streaming down her face. Yakov has their bags on his shoulders, and Victor suspects there are tears in the old man’s eyes too: he always was more of a romantic than he ever let on to the younger students. Yakov has known since yesterday that he was going to propose—he couldn’t keep it in after his coach made Yuuri an ‘honorary Russian’ pre-skate—and now here he is waiting with a dozen young skaters, trying to remain unaffected. Victor can tell that Lilia is looking at him, probably remembering their own engagement. Maybe it’s true what they say about matchmaking newlyweds, because he already wants to fix the two of them back up, to give everyone he knows a relationship that can make them feel how Victor feels in this moment. Chris is there with Mila and Georgi, laughing and shaking his head, likely amusingly lamenting the end of an era and loss of one of the most eligible bachelors in the world, but he’s so wrong: Victor hasn’t been tied down, he’s been freed.
They’re all there, family and friends, rivals and rinkmates, dragged together in secret by Yuri to celebrate their engagement in a surprise party at the last competition of the season. It’s a surprise that can wait just a little longer, though. Yuuri is in his arms, smiling up at him as he lets himself be whirled across the ice, and Victor has never been more in love than he is in this moment.
Tightening his arm around Yuuri’s waist to pull him in closer, Victor leans down to press a kiss to his future husband’s nose, and together they swing around for one last circuit of the rink.
“How do you feel about a summer wedding? Is three months too long to wait?”
"Never Look Away" by Vienna Teng. https://youtu.be/i-ONycYf7EI
Acoustic Version: https://youtu.be/U3sshWis2jI
Full lyrics: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/viennateng/neverlookaway.html
“Taking the ice in the last group will be defending Grand Prix champion and silver medalist at last year’s Rostelecom, Yuri Plisetsky, who has been battling his way back up through Russia’s qualifying rounds to the international stage after being out of competition for nearly ten months. Everyone is wondering whether after a knee reconstruction surgery he still has a chance to recreate the surprise upset of his 2016 Grand Prix win, where he broke a world record and took the Gold at only fifteen years old. We’ll be back for more figure skating at the 2017 Rostelecom Cup, after these words from our sponsors...”
Yuri scowls at the announcer on the television, knee clutched in his hands as he stretches his hamstring carefully while Yakov stands over him and lectures him for not listening—as he’s not listening. It was easier when Georgi was around, but with him knocked out by Phichit and Katsudon at Skate America two weeks ago and Victor and Mila both assigned to Trophée de France later in the month, Yakov only has one student to harass.
“You’re still two-footing your quad salchow and your step sequence is sloppy towards the end. You need to focus on…”
What he needs to focus on is keeping his damn calf from cramping up as he compensates, but Yakov doesn’t need to know the extent of that. He already worries too much, and scowls at the compression sleeve Yuri will probably be sporting on and off the ice, under his costume for competition of course, for a few more months. The doctor Victor found is keeping an eye on it and he gets enough nagging to take care of himself at home, but as long as he doesn’t screw up and re-tear the ACL, the doctor figures he should be fine for having reentered competition a few months ahead of schedule. He chose to two-foot some of those landings, because he knew he could still beat the competition at that level even with the deduction, and it gave him a couple of productive months to get himself back in competition without fucking his knee up all over again.
He needed that long to get used to being on the ice again, to break in new skates after having jumped up two sizes seemingly overnight, to stop over-correcting every jump given his height change, to get the stiffness out of too-long limbs and account for his broadening frame. It’s been an uphill battle, but barring getting the lovebirds to their wedding so they’d shut up about it, and the week they were gone on their honeymoon, he spent every waking moment of the off-season working on strength training and conditioning with Victor and continuing late-night dance practice with Yuuri to keep himself flexible and limber despite his changing body, even before Yakov let him back on the ice on a trial basis and with the harness for jumps.
He’s worked his ass off and he’s physically stronger than he’s ever been, but there are no guarantees, just contingencies. He’s the Russian Skating Federation’s host pick for Rostelecom, his home country dibsing him for their event even over Victor because of his medal here last year, and it’s their attempt to give him a leg up on the competition. If he screws up and can’t nail a win here even after that, he’s got no chance of cinching one of the three men’s spots on the Russian team for the Olympics in February even if Victor does step down and leave a spot for an alternate open.
Victor’s waiting to see how he’ll do. He’s willing to give Yuri the shot so he can focus on coaching his husband for what’s likely to be Katsudon’s only shot at an Olympic medal, and maybe even keeping on with his psuedo-manager slash unofficial assistant coach role for Yuri, but no fucking way is Yuri going to let Victor back out of the Olympics before he proves it wouldn’t be a waste of time to send him. Turns out there are limits to even Yuri’s ambition.
If he screws up here, he’ll pour everything into a Worlds run when everyone else is done at the Olympics, and he’ll focus on stealing the title from Katsudon. In four years, he’ll still be in his prime when half of his rivals are on the way out or retired already, and he’d try again for the Beijing Olympics.
He wants the GPF title more than ever now, though. Honestly, he wants all of it. This Rostelecom Cup win, and the NHK Trophy. The Grand Prix title. To medal at the PyeongChang Olympics. To take the Russian Nationals title from Victor, and Europeans as well, then Worlds in Milan. This competitive season is probably his only chance to beat Victor at his own game while he’s still a contender, and he…
“Yuuuu-ri-o!” Speak of the devil.
Though neither of them were assigned to this event, both of the Katsuki-Nikiforovs sail into the room as if they own the place, as if they’re not in street clothes and scoping out the competition. As if they didn’t hop on a damn plane from St. Petersburg this morning just to heckle him. It had to have been this morning, because Victor Instagrammed a picture of Mora and Makkachin crouched side by side scrutinizing a squirrel on the terrace just a few hours ago.
Victor’s a sneaky pain in the ass.
Yuri sighs, releasing the stretch and sitting up, twisting to pop his back. “Eugh. Who let the lovebirds in.”
“We’ve had the tickets and a room booked since assignments were announced.” Yuuri at least looks vaguely embarrassed about being party to Victor’s behavior when he's stuck on “surprising” people, though he’s clearly been in on this plan from the start and has the Russian flag neatly folded over his arm. Katsudon offers a hand down to pull Yuri up that he bats away, standing on his own, as Victor floats up to them looking like the Russian flag vomited on him with his red and white team jacket unzipped over a white and blue turtleneck, carrying an obnoxiously red poster board that has Minako written all over it. Well, no, it has that damn nickname written all over it.
He’s going to murder Victor.
“Of course we were going to be here to cheer for you! We picked up your grandfather, too, and Lilia has us all together, Georgi and Mila too. Opposite side of the stadium from your Angels, obviously. I think they’d steal my sign.” He brandishes it demonstratively, with a wide self-amused grin. There are foil hearts and kitten stickers all over the damn thing, and marker-doodled cat ears and whiskers on a cut-out glossy picture from one of the teen girl magazines his fans voted him the cover model for.
He’s going to murder Victor slowly. They can keep the flag, but there’s no way that sign leaves this room in one piece.
“Nikolai and I have been exchanging texts, working on some other variations of pirozhki…” Yuuri holds out a brown bag in supplication, and Yuri’s mouth waters at the scent wafting from it as he peeks in. Damn, he’s going to look forward to that once he’s off the ice, and then he’s going to have to work out three extra hours just to burn it off. Still worth it. There’s nothing like his grandpa’s cooking. No one else gets the dough quite right, not even Yuri.
“Okay, you I’ll let live because you made nice with dedushka and brought me food. Victor, though…” He’s carrying a damn flower crown in a clear plastic box under one arm, and by the grin on his face he has plans to inflict it on Yuri later. “You’re lucky Russia still loves you, old man, or you’d be leaving here in a body bag.”
“You can’t kill me, my name is on the deed to the condo.” Victor bops him on the nose with a fingertip, then dances back behind Yuuri as a human shield when Yuri goes to sock him in the shoulder for it.
“You should be nicer to your father.” JJ taunts from across the room, and Yuri shoots a middle finger back at him out of habit. He’s just bitter Victor and Katsudon’s wedding overshadowed his own. Calling Victor his father? Like he’s never heard that before. That lame attempt at an insult hurts Victor more than anything, his blue eyes narrowing in an attempt to see if that’s a jab at his age.
It’s stupid, but knowing everyone’s out there cheering for him is heartening, even if he’d rather rip his own tongue out than ever admit it. By the reassuring squeeze of Katsudon’s hand on his shoulder, at least one person has seen through his crap to know that, and if Yuuri has, that means Victor’s here because he’s trying to be supportive too, not just because he’s a showboating idiot. “You know, if you win here and we both go on to NHK, I can show you around Osaka, and we could stay at Yu-Topia until the GPF in Nagoya, practice at the Ice Castle for old time’s sake...”
Victor slings an arm around Yuuri’s shoulder, smirking at Yuri as he forgets JJ and rejoins the conversation. “Aah, my Yuuri is too nice. What he means to say is if you don’t win here, kitten, one of us is going to take that Grand Prix title from you.”
Yuuri shrugs, leaning into Victor’s side as he links their hands together on his shoulder, sheepishly agreeing with a smile, head canted to show he’s teasing as he gives the worst possible attempt at smack-talk Yuri has ever seen. “I do need another gold on my part of the wall. And you did only beat me by a fraction of a point last year…”
“Fat fucking chance, pig. I kicked your ass and I’ll do it again.” Yuri can’t quite help grinning at Katsudon’s pitiful attempt to join in on an motivational taunt: it took the idiot long enough to figure out that you’re supposed to rise to a challenge when a competitor jabs at you, not go off and cry about it. The competitive spark is familiar and welcoming, and being back… well, he’s beaten the odds already just by being here; he’s good at clawing his way up from nothing. This is why he needed Yuuri to stick around in competition, and why he doesn’t actually want Victor to retire until he’s too old to pose a threat. There’s nothing more motivating than a worthy opponent, and having at least a few other skaters who he could stand seeing on the podium with him is new enough that the novelty hasn’t worn off yet. Not that he’s going to let Katsudon or Beka or god forbid Victor on the top of the podium ever again any time soon.
Victor brings his phone up and snaps a candid picture of them before Yuri registers that he can with how many stupid props he’s carrying, and now there exists in the world photographic evidence of him and Katsudon grinning at each other like dumbasses. It was bad enough Victor dragged him along for the ride over the summer by letting photographers splash them on the cover of magazines before the wedding, arguing that they needed to work on his and Katsudon’s media exposure over the off season. It’s bad enough that Victor got photos of the three of them at the wedding framed and hung in their living room. They’ve gotten enough evidence to try and ruin his deliberately fashioned fierce reputation, he’s not going to let this become a habit. Yuri lunges for the phone, spitting threats when Victor palms his forehead and keeps him at arm’s length as he stands on his toes and holds the phone straight up over his head, narrating his tags aloud as he thumb-types them and posts it to Instagram with a flourish.
Stupid Victor, he’s not that much taller. If nothing else, Yuri’s able to snatch the poster in the struggle, and when it hits the ground he kicks the damn hearts off and stomps on the ridiculous stickers until they’re ruined.Yakov is quick to intervene and separate his skaters, foaming at the mouth at both about sportsmanlike conduct as Victor grins unrepentantly, Yuri glares and violently stabs a loose bobby pin back into his braid to trap his hair back, and Yuuri stands against the wall beside a dumbfounded Michele and Leo, fondly explaining that no, it’s not always like this at home, sometimes one or the other of them is asleep.
The buzzer sounds to alert the third group that it’s time, and suddenly Yuri is being crushed in a hug again: he knows by now it’s best to just let it happen or they cling longer. Of all the skaters he could have ended up with, he’s babysitting the two lamest pains in the ass ever.
“Yakov, take a picture of us!” Victor calls out, thrusting a phone at their coach and widening his eyes pleadingly until Yakov humors him with a put-upon sigh the way he always has, because Victor inevitably gets his way. The couple fling their arms around Yuri’s shoulders, pinning him in place as they curl their fingertips together in front of him to make a heart, because Victor’s an idiot and Katsudon’s a sap and it’s a good thing they’ve made this permanent because they deserve each other. Yuri’s eye roll isn’t even faked for the camera this time.
“Alright already! This isn’t my first competition, you idiots! Go sit down before you’re thrown out. And don’t eat my pirozhki!”
He finally sends Yuuri and Victor off with a threat and a promise that he’s going to go kick ass, and then skewers his competitors with a glare for watching all of that as he follows Yakov out into the light of the stadium.
Yuri dares any of them to try living with Victor and keeping any kind of hero-worship they have for the man. Especially now that he’s fully embraced his eccentricities publicly because of the power of love or whatever. On the ice he may be a genius, but off of it he’s the airhead who wanders off and leaves the milk on the counter to spoil, hogs all the hot water by soaking in hours-long baths that he refills repeatedly, and chooses Pixar movies for their nights off and then cries over them. Then there’s Katsudon, a moody pain in the ass who will sulk for weeks over an offhand comment no one else even remembers, stubbornly digs his feet in on the stupidest things, freezes up for no reason at all on things they all know he can do, and still acts like he thinks the sun shines out of Victor’s ass. Both of them leave their laundry in the dryer and think it’s going to fold itself, get into stupid arguments that they can’t even explain when Yuri confronts them about it, and are so disgustingly in love that they cling to each other pathetically even though they see each other literally every hour of the day.
Yuri’d strangle anyone else who even thought about giving either of them crap. How’s that for “unconditional agape.”
Tugging off his skate guards, Yuri takes a deep breath of the frigid air of the rink, letting the roar of the arena wash over him as he shakes his arms out and with it his tension. He’s on his home turf. Everyone he gives a crap about is watching and cheering for him. He’s had ten solid months of nothing but physical therapy and strength training and calisthenics and practice. Apart from lingering aches, he’s sixteen years old and in the best physical shape of his life. A little pain’s nothing new and has never held him back before.
Shedding his jacket and nodding at his coach’s final commands, Yuri launches himself onto the ice, arms stretched out and chin high as luck is screamed at him in at least three different languages from the front row, the Russian flag snapping and waving in the hands of the audience around him. He doesn’t need the luck, but he’ll take it.
Then he thinks he’ll take the gold, too.
Just watch him.
Thank you to Muse and Jojo for setting up this bang, to Tennyo and Christina for beta-ing this beast for me, to Angel for dragging me into this fandom, to M & Z for not killing me for hurting their angry adopted kitten child, and to all of the authors and artists of the Katsudon Bang for being an amazing community!
Art by Chloe, for the Katsudon Bang.