After the Cup of China, Victor gives some serious thought to firing his PR team, because it’s really starting to feel like they’ve been falling down on the job.
For much of his career, Victor has paid these people a not inconsiderable amount of money to create and maintain a particular Victor Nikiforov image: artistically elevated and technically excellent and distinctively attractive, cool and confident and just eccentric enough to be textured and intriguing. Exactly the kind of man you’d want as the face of your brand of luxury luggage or watches or clothes or cars or shoes or vodka or premium airline membership service.
When he cut off his long hair, his PR team told the world it was donated to Locks of Love and made into hairpieces for tiny sick children (who probably wondered why the hell they got stuck with weird platinum wigs). His PR team faithfully spreads the word every time he donates money for rink repairs or heating subsidies, or sponsors skating lessons for underprivileged kids. (Yuri Plisetsky benefited from one such program and Victor sometimes wonders if Yurio will ever forgive him.)
It seems that none of this has had any effect on anyone Katsuki Yuuri knows, because after Victor kisses Yuuri in the wake of a stunning free program performance, complete with an impromptu quad flip–- a flip! of course Victor had to kiss him!–- Victor finds himself running a gauntlet of self-appointed Yuuri guardians, starting with Phichit Chulanont.
“If you’re not serious about Yuuri, you need to back off,” Phichit murmurs to him, crunching the drape of Victor’s suit jacket in a brutal hand. “You have no idea how many times I watched your programs with him and listened to him rave about you. He’s memorized interviews of yours that you forgot you ever gave.”
Victor steps on his first responses, which would be a sincere That’s sweet and an even more sincere What does that have to do with anything? in favor of a smiling, “I’m very serious about Yuuri,” which is also true.
Phichit gives Victor a colder look than Victor would have imagined him capable of. “Are you very enough, though? Because Yuuri’s idolized you forever.”
Well, yes. That’s the idea. If Victor bought into his own press, he’d idolize him too.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been accused of not being very enough,” Victor says lightly, but Phichit really does look awfully thunderous, so he adds, “I care about Yuuri. I’m as serious about this as I’ve been about anything.”
“Have you ever been–-” Phichit seems to remember, then, that Victor has been extremely serious about at least one thing, to the tune of some twenty-odd international gold medals in the last five years alone. He finally lets go of Victor’s jacket, which is going to need to be dry-cleaned and pressed to get the creases out.
That’s fine. Victor is glad Yuuri’s friend cares so much about his happiness. And the suit was going to the dry cleaner anyway.
Back in Hasetsu, Yuuri’s friend Yuuko pulls Victor aside during a break from practice and involves him in a lengthy and confusing conversation about Yuuri’s toy poodle who sadly died last year. She seems uncharacteristically impatient with him when he mentions the adorable puppy photos Yuuri has showed him.
“You know Yuuri named him after you,” she finally says, giving him a deeply significant look. Victor only then realizes that the previous five minutes have been an extended indirect metaphor about loyalty and devotion and abandonment.
“Yes, his sister mentioned that,” says Victor, because it’s true and seems easier than trying to figure out where the loyalty metaphor was going.
Yuuko heaves the same sigh that Yuuri’s father does when foreign visitors dip their washcloths in the waters of the hot spring. (That sigh always makes Victor very glad he looked up onsen etiquette on the flight to Japan.)
“We first saw you skate when Yuuri was twelve years old,” she says. “We used to imitate your programs. That’s why Yuuri learned your free skate program, to remember what it was like to just enjoy skating, like when we were kids.”
“I used to do that with Alexei Urmanov’s ‘94 Olympic free program, and Elvis Stojko’s from '91,” says Victor. “It’s a good way to learn.”
Yuuko doesn’t sigh again, but she looks like she wants to. “The stunt at the Cup of China. If you’re just doing this to motivate him, or for publicity, or if you’re just bored... it means too much to him for you to play around.”
Yuuri is, the last time Victor checked, a grown man who is shy and anxious, yes, but also uncommonly determined and driven and stubborn. It’s true that at times, he gazes at Victor as if Victor is a god come to earth bearing the divine commandments of figure skating on golden scrolls.
It’s also true that very often, Yuuri gives Victor that awestruck, overwhelmed look, and then immediately skates out and does the exact opposite of what Victor just said.
From what Victor’s learned, the people around Yuuri here in Hasetsu haven’t seen him on a regular basis for the past five years. Yuuri at eighteen may have needed this kind of protection. Victor doubts that Yuuri at twenty-three does.
Though Phichit also did this guard dog routine, so who knows. Yuuri does evoke protective urges even now. Victor has to admit, he’s done it too. He vividly recalls cupping his hands over Yuuri’s ears in a last-ditch effort to block the crowd noise that was causing Yuuri such distress.
Possibly now is not the time for reverie, though, with Yuuko growing increasingly fretful at his lack of response. “It wasn’t motivation, or a reward, or a stunt,” Victor says. “I just had to. Everything after that has been up to Yuuri. I doubt you want the details?”
“No!” Yuuko waves nervous jazz hands at him in a warding gesture. “No, no. As long as you’re being good to him.”
“I’m being as good as I know how to be,” Victor says. Really that should worry her more than anything else he’s done or said, but she doesn’t know that, and lets it go.
Yuuri’s ballet teacher Minako joins the family for dinner, and by now, Victor isn’t surprised when she buttonholes him in the kitchen and bores into him with a narrow stare.
Victor answers with his biggest, brightest smile and with the practice of a thousand photo shoots, holds it steady: “I know,” he says. “I know there were lots and lots of posters, I know he named his puppy after me, I know he was twelve, but he’s an adult now and he can decide for himself whether he’s going to take a chance on me.”
No, of course Victor doesn’t say that, no matter how much he wants to. He doesn’t deploy his smile, either. Minako might actually punch him.
He keeps his composure and lets her stare. A man once came up to him when Victor was seventeen and threw a cup of blood on him, because his costume that year was trimmed with fur. Once a teenage girl acted shy and beckoned to him so that he bent down to let her whisper to him, and instead she put her tongue in his ear. When his hair was long, sometimes in big crowds of fans he’d feel a tug on it, and when he got back to his room, he’d comb it out and find the shortened strands where someone had scissored off a lock.
Victor learned. He skated in the bloodstained costume and dominated the sports news cycle even though he came in fourth. He straightened back up and said, “I see what you mean,” stepped away from the teenage girl, and turned to the next person waiting for an autograph. He braided his hair any time he was going to be close enough that people could touch it.
“Be careful with him,” Minako says finally.
“I will,” Victor answers. He thinks: earnest, open, relaxed, caring, and he makes the effort to show all that in his expression and body language. He is in earnest, and he does care, but what he feels is meaningless if he can’t portray it effectively.
Minako is a veteran dancer and dance teacher, skilled and savvy, but Victor is very good. At length, she nods curtly, and releases him back out into the dining room.
After dinner, the Katsukis spend some communal family time folding and rolling washcloths and towels for the onsen. Victor joins them; Yuuri’s mother stands by Victor and refolds his first few efforts, showing him what she’s doing until he gets the hang of it. He braces himself for another intervention, but there is apparently no subtext this time, she really did just want him to be able to help out decently with the linens.
Victor didn’t realize how exhausted he was until she moves on without further comment and his shoulders relax.
When it’s time for bed, he walks Yuuri to his room. He doesn’t expect anything to happen, doesn’t plan anything beyond a chaste good-night kiss, but when he leans down for it, Yuuri says, “Not here.”
He straightens, looking up and down the empty hallway, and turns back to Yuuri with an inquiring frown.
“Not here, not at home,” says Yuuri, pink but determined.
“They know,” says Victor. He offers a little smile. “Yuuko and Minako both warned me today not to toy with your affections.”
Yuuri scowls hilariously at that. “That’s not–- I’ll speak to them.”
“I don’t mind. It’s sweet of them. Phichit did the same in Beijing.”
“Ugh, no,” Yuuri groans.
“It’s all right,” Victor tells him, “really, it’s fine.” He scoops up Yuuri’s hand and squeezes his fingers. “I’m happy to tell them, tell anyone, that I’m serious.”
“We’re not doing this here,” Yuuri takes his hand back.
“This?” Victor asks carefully. He thought they were finally connecting again, after he surprised Yuuri with that kiss. After Yuuri let Victor kiss him again, later that night, and made out with him heatedly, later still; after they rolled into bed together and shared rushed but warm and buzzy and entirely wonderful orgasms between them. It might be overstating things to say they had sex, since after what felt like the world’s longest build-up of months and months and months, Yuuri got off within a minute of Victor finally getting his mouth around him, and Victor had no choice but to follow in even less time, giving himself a hand, still swallowing. Victor had every intention of offering more of the same now that the edge was off, but at some point during the afterglow, mid-murmured praise about how good it felt to finally be close to Yuuri after so long wanting and hoping for this to happen–- Victor must have dropped off to sleep.
He thought he’d been forgiven for that, since Yuuri kissed him very sweetly in the morning, but he should know better by now than to assume anything. It seems this is the banquet all over again: after spending an incredible, life-changing evening of happiness in Yuuri’s arms, he’s back to exile once more.
Because Yuuri just shakes his head, withdrawing into his room. “Good night,” he says, and shuts the door in Victor’s face.
There’s no one telling Yuuri to be careful with Victor, of course. No one tells Yuuri to be serious, or to be good to him.