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The nostalgic feeling of the unfamiliar

Chapter Text

The young Japanese last-placer Yuuri Katsuki finishes with a graceful dip forward, one arm against his stomach, the other outstretched, palm upward, after quite the show against the pole in the centre of the banquet hall in front of dozens of well-dressed dignitaries, high-ranking athletes, established others. It had almost been too much to watch that Victor had averted his eyes at one point, which he severely regrets doing.

He claps louder than the disappointingly lukewarm reception the others around him give after such a performance—he almost doesn’t think his own hands can make enough noise that can match the giddiness he’s feeling, for the amount of elation that swells in him. If they’re currently judging Yuuri Katsuki then they better judge the widespread smile that Victor plasters on his face, unable to hide even a microscopic amount of desire for Yuuri to do it all again. Not like he’d want to hide it anyway.

And everyone’s eyes do follow, still judging perhaps, the young man as he gets off the pole, striding across the floor, settling in front of Victor sat on a chair. Victor’s wide smile transfers to the wideness in his eyes, though he can’t help the unconscious reach forward he does when Yuuri bends against him to put one hand on his thigh, one hand ghosting along the slack of his jaw to tilt his chin upwards so he can stare glazingly into Yuuri’s eyes. Oh, he doesn’t mind at all.

“I’ve got a job for you,” Yuuri slurs, smiling like he’s got something extra special in store for Victor. And if Victor had thought that tonight was going to be anything but something really special, anything other than a night to remember for the rest of his life, then he’s about to be proved wrong, has been proved so completely wrong for a while now. “It’s very important.”

Victor doesn’t mind, whatever it is. He’s not drunk, not nearly enough, but he’s willing. “What is it?” he asks, no amount of alcohol able to get him to this state as much as Yuuri does.

“I need just one person,” Yuuri says, drifting close, oh so close. Victor’s heart races. His skin tingles where Yuuri has touched and made his own, slithering up and down Victor’s clothes, against his limbs that might just be on fire. “One special someone,” Yuuri whispers, taking Victor so far along.

And Victor simultaneously wants them to be both alone and for everyone to continue watching exactly as they are. He can’t decide if he should grab Yuuri’s palm, run with him through the outraged crowds and drag Yuuri outside into the evening snow showers of Barcelona, or maybe just as far as the other side of the two main banquet doors—that might be enough. But Victor has no idea if he’ll be able to stand properly on his two legs if he were to get up. So, instead he settles for, “I can be that person” and hopes that Yuuri will understand.

“Promise?” Yuuri says, putting a gentle thumb to Victor’s parched lips. And he doesn’t even need to ask.

“Of course.”

-

He wakes up in his hotel room by the sudden vibration beside his head, a little worse for wear than he thought he’d be despite not actually drinking much the night before. He briefly considers it might be Yakov or someone calling to inform him they’ve saved Victor a seat at the breakfast buffet, and if that’s the case then he might as well take his time and go back to sleep.

But it’s not—instead, it’s a text message that reads

You didn’t forget, did you?

He does end up eventually joining Yakov and the others at breakfast, but only to relay the messages that Yuuri had told him over text that bright and sunny aftermorning. He’d found himself saying no, I didn't and then yes yes yes immediately after to everything Yuuri was saying, which only solidifies the fact that he’s sober enough, had definitely not drank the previous night, was definitely not hungover, and is still far more than willing. It’s a wonderful feeling. To want something for once.

“You’re what?” Yakov’s yelling again, piling on more sausages onto his plate like the protein will help to digest this nonsense that Victor’s spewing at him. “You’re not,” he starts.

“Yes,” Victor says. “I am. I promised him.”

Who?

“Do you even have to ask?” Mila says.

“Yuuri Katsuki,” Victor answers anyway.

“What did you promise him?” Mila asks from over the table and her own plate of buttered bagels, eyelashes fluttering with too much prying interest and no doubt a keen remembrance from the night before. Yuri beside her scarfs down an entire Belgian waffle. “Are you going to elope? Become his one-on-one coach for next season? He’s cute and you could use a break, you know.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Yuri says grouchily over his food.

But Victor only offers up a wink. “Secret,” he sings. It’s really because he has no idea, either.

Mila wags her butter knife at him still with a bit of butter on the end of it. “Hey, secrets are for the faint of heart. Of which none of us are.”

“I am. And I don’t want to know,” Yuri mutters.

“Like hell,” Yakov growls at Victor, plate of sixteen pieces of sausage about to break under the pressure of his fingers. “Any other time I’d let you do what you want, you know I would.” He wouldn’t. “But we have a flight to catch. We have signings to go over. You don’t have time to canoodle in his room when we’re leaving in an hour.”

“Oh, no. I’m not going to his room.”

Yakov lets out the grunt he’s holding. “Then where exactly…”

Victor steps just one foot away from the table they’re all sitting at, just safely out of reach. “I’m going to his hometown of Ha se tsu,” he enunciates. “Japan,” he concludes, waltzing out of the dining hall to the tune of a hundred crashing plates and Mila saying “I knew it, I know Victor best!

-

It takes the whole taxi ride to the airport with Yuuri, multiple tickets handed to him with a final arrival destination of Fukuoka rather than St. Petersburg printed on it, and the train ride to Hasetsu until he’s standing in front of the huge pagoda roofs of the Katsuki property that it really hits Victor that he’s here and he’s doing this.

“Wow,” Victor breathes a huff of air into the cold before he even has the courage to step forward, one of his suitcases trailing behind him since he’d left the others with non-essentials back with Yakov. The roof towers over him like something mighty but also strangely benevolent, akin to a god that Victor’s never believed in before until now, whose epic folklore he’s sure exists somewhere in history books. He’s never been much of a religious man, but he silently asks it—the god, the archway—to please be kind to him. “I thought only royalty lived in these kinds of places,” he manages.

Yuuri looks back at him, walking right underneath the roofed archway. “Thanks…” he says, seeming caught between if that’s a compliment or just another silly thing Victor’s saying. It’s both, obviously.

“So, you live here?” Victor checks just to make sure.

“Well, yes. I’m not just leading you to some weird place. And I’m not royalty.”

“Where does royalty live if not here?”

Yuuri’s so far ahead along the dirt pathway because of the way Victor stops. He has to squint back, partly because he’s far up ahead and partly because Victor’s being weird. “The Imperial Palace.”

“Wow,” Victor says again. “Is that what Yuutopia Akatsuki means in English?”

“No.”

“Oh, too bad.”

Despite having to stop and wait, constantly, consistently, every time Victor marvels too long at a glass window pane with frosted Japanese cakes or a top-to-bottom length poster for an action movie that covers the entire outer shell of the train they took here, Yuuri always continues pressing forward with only the most minimal regard for Victor keeping up. He still listens, though, whenever Victor points things out, like the groomed potted plants set out all over the ground in public areas that passersby know not to step on, things Yuuri’s always stepped around like it’s second nature, things that Victor has to show himself to most of the time before Yuuri goes on too fast and leaves him almost tripping behind.

Arriving at the Katsuki entranceway is quiet with a warm air, and Victor doesn’t know why he’d expected anything else.

Yuuri calls out into the house, leaving his things to the side and toeing out of his shoes before the raised floor. In an attempt to be as little in the way as he can, Victor hurriedly does the same, accidentally dropping the arm of his suitcase to clack on the wooden floor after he’d let go and the whole thing’s toppled over. Yuuri throws a look at him, and Victor has to sheepishly bend down for it.

“This is Victor,” Yuuri introduces after they’re met with both of his parents by the doorway having emerged from the stairs and another room to the side to greet them.

“Hi,” Victor says, nerves fraying him a bit, unsure whether to shake hands or bow—he ends up doing both.

Yuuri had said that the archway out front is because they’re a business and need somewhere to put a sign. There are probably tons of people who come here every day, repeat customers, regulars, greeted by the kind familiarity that Yuuri’s parents exude no matter if they’re stranger or not.

They might be greeting Victor with the same graciousness and kindness as any other guest they house in their inn, ushering him in without missing a beat, in none of the crudely bombastic ways Victor’s used to back home. Yuuri’s mom chatters on happily about how good-looking he is in person, mostly things too fast for Victor to catch on, and Yuuri’s dad slows down enough to tell Victor, “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

He proceeds to smile something familiar, like he’s greeting an old friend, somehow like Victor is neither a regular nor a stranger, and Victor doesn’t quite know what to make of that.

“You, too,” Victor says, entranced with it all, and Yuuri’s dad only laughs.

-

Twenty hours ago, he might have found himself held up at the airport on the flight between Barcelona and St. Petersburg, intercepted by TV reporters and Russian and Spanish fans alike waiting to ask him about his thoughts after this year’s Worlds and his direction for next year’s upcoming routines. It’s customary to give at least ten minutes of his time to answer any quick questions, but lately more and more he finds himself whisked away by Yakov’s arm insisting he’s going to be late for their flight, at least first class calling, while Victor chuckles out half-hearted apologies.

Many of his fans tell him they’ve followed him since his junior days, asking what his biggest inspiration is, to which he always answers You guys, of course, and it’s true but also not entirely true. The reporters ask him scripted questions about how he’s going to step it up to which he hands back more scripted answers like this is show-and-tell.

This year has none of that—maybe because no one, not even the most die-hard fan nor the keenest reporter, had thought to wait for him near a gate bound for Seoul. He wonders how Yakov’s dealing with the repercussions of Victor’s disappearance by himself. Well, himself and Yuri and the rest of them.

“They won’t ask you weird questions. You’ll be fine,” Yuuri assures him on their third connecting flight together, warming up more to Victor after the accumulated hours of being in such close proximity to each other. Yuuri even successfully takes the aisle seat from Victor who’s relegated to the window seat by Yuuri’s command on this one. “They’re not very prying people.”

“I want to make a good impression!” Victor says, tugging at his hair to simultaneously show his frustration and his dedication, all of it already messy and flat, and they still had a ways to go before a nice shower would be available. “I don’t want your own parents to hate me.”

“They won’t and you will be fine. That’s just how you are.”

“What am I like?”

“Good,” Yuuri says easily, falling into the stiff cushion of the chair, “at everything.”

“Not true,” Victor rebuts, testing the shutter of the window by opening and closing it repeatedly.

“Okay, you’re pretty bad at rock-paper-scissors.”

“Hey, how do you know I didn’t let you win this time?”

“Ah, you’re right, then.” Yuuri mock sighs, and Victor can’t believe he’s fallen for that. “I guess you are good at everything.”

Then just an hour ago, Victor stops in front of the humongous wall-scrolling poster of, not another action movie, but Japan’s own figure skating ace Katsuki Yuuri with the most beautiful still-framed shots gracing Hasetsu’s train station stairways. Yuuri reaches out, grasping for the spring petals that fall around his deft form with his face full of wonder and inspiration and hope.

“No way! Guess who lives here!” Victor grins widely, nudging at Yuuri, pointing at the poster with his other hand, and awing at how dedicated the town is to their most beloved local-turned-international celebrity.

But Victor isn’t graced with the snappy response he’s expecting as much as Yuuri violently shushes him instead, whipping his head around like they’re in a warzone, hand closing in around Victor’s wrist with a vice grip, the longer Victor stands there out in the open in front of such a wall with absolutely no regard. And he would have stayed there all day probably if Yuuri hadn’t forcefully dragged him away, going from his wrist to clutching Victor’s arm to his body like Victor is something heavy that Yuuri needs to have hauled over his shoulder if he could.

“It’s only because I come from a small town. Nobody cares, otherwise.”

“Are you alright, Yuuri?”

No, I’m not.”

Yuuri’s cute cat hat frames his head nicely, but he figures Yuuri is using it for an entirely different reason than Victor’s own personal enjoyment of it, yanking it down as far as it can go without obscuring his glasses.

“Isn’t it nice to be appreciated, though?” Victor muses, leaning most of his weight against Yuuri like it might slow them down so he can stare longer, pressing a cheek against the side of Yuuri’s head. He’s almost forgotten what it feels like to walk the streets unafraid, with none of the crowds of back home begging to see his gross, unwashed face after three consecutive flights. Here, Katsuki Yuuri may as well be king. Victor doesn’t have to worry about himself here.

 “I’m glad you’re having fun, but can we please get going?” Yuuri pleads with him before turning threatening in three seconds flat. “I’ll leave you here, otherwise. You don’t want to be lost in translation, do you?”

Victor scrunches his face at that. No, he definitely does not, though he’s sure Yuuri wouldn’t let him wander around Japan unsupervised anyway. But he begrudgingly lets himself be dragged along, though not without swiping for the camera on his phone and quickly snapping a pic of the wall while Yuuri’s not looking, as well as waving to a couple of girls a ways away whispering and pointing not-so-inconspicuously at the two of them. Poster Yuuri smiles a delicate smile back at him through the lens of his phone, and Victor wonders, thinking back to the banquet, glancing back to Real Life Yuuri staring pointedly ahead, if such a joyous Yuuri is really so rare a find.

-

He emerges from the Katsuki kitchen, tray of hot tea and four cups in his hand that he sets down on the table where Yuuri is sitting at across from his parents. Victor had insisted, despite Mari saying she should be the one bringing them over since he’s a guest and all. But he’d refused, saying it’s because he’s a guest and all, and he has no idea if he’d just flouted Japanese tradition or not. But he’d thought about it a little too late, already on his way to the other room, and figuring he’ll just have to try his best and hope that things will turn out. 

When he’s done setting everything down, Yuuri pats the seat next to him, and Victor sits, knees against the pillow on the floor in a manner similar to everyone else, wondering what this is going to be about. It feels like a meeting of some kind and, though he hates meetings with every fibre of his being, he really really hopes he hasn’t been rude yet. All their stuff is still lying scattered in the hallway.

“Thanks for coming all this way,” Yuuri’s mom, Hiroko, says, beaming at Victor. Toshiya nods alongside her.

“No no, it’s my pleasure. It’s nice to meet you both,” Victor replies, bowing his head deeper than he’s ever done before. And then as if springing to life, he remembers about the tea pot and begins pouring out tea to the cups. He’s still hot on the heels of that good impression.

Yuuri hasn’t yet moved beside him, oddly stiff in front of his own parents with a serious expression on his face. His shoulders are up, almost guarded, taking in a breath, hands folded together in his lap before announcing suddenly, resolutely, “So, I brought him as promised. My boyfriend.”

Victor’s hand twitches. “What?”

“My fiancé, actually,” Yuuri talks swiftly over him.

Victor nearly spills tea over the sides of his cup. Thankfully, it’s only his own cup. But it is the Katsukis’ living room table. But then again, it’s also the Katsukis’ cup. He whips his head around, but Yuuri’s expression betrays nothing to him.

“Oh, yes, how lovely,” Hiroko chirps over the incoming thoughts bombarding Victor’s head, clasping her hands together. “It’s like a dream come true, isn’t it? I always knew you two were meant to be. Like something out of a fairy tale!”

“It sure is,” Toshiya agrees, nodding more. “Oh, I remember when you were so little and it was always Victor, Victor—”

“Dad, please.”

“Wh-What—?” Victor stutters at Yuuri again, hoping he’ll get a bit more information into what’s happening or at least a small bit of explanation, trying his best to get a grasp onto something, mostly that first bit, even though he’s sure he’s heard right and he’s really sure there’s no other possible meaning Yuuri could have meant by such objective words.

“You two are so secretive. Tell us everything,” Hiroko urges, leaning over the table in expectance. “I want the whole story!”

They haven’t even kissed, they haven’t even held hands yet—facts that flit to and fro across Victor’s mind, wondering if there’s something he could have missed from between Worlds to the banquet to here. His head might have slipped innocuously onto Yuuri’s shoulder in the middle of their thirteen-hour flight and Victor might have quite liked it, but for most of it he was largely unconscious. There was also the time Yuuri casually seduced him on the chair in front of five hundred people, just a few nights ago actually, but Victor had figured Yuuri was also operating on largely unconscious desires during that as well.

But still, Victor manages a half shaky laugh because there’s still time for all this to be something of a funny joke, as he glances fervently between Yuuri and his parents, arms beginning to shake with the pot still in his hands, close on its way to completely overflowing Victor’s cup and then he’ll have to apologize for making such a mess when it inevitably does.

It’s then that Yuuri finally looks at him, his eyes desperately telling Victor to put down the damn tea pot.

So he does, words still not coming to him, as he sits robotically back down. He opens his mouth so that he can attempt to voice another useless questioning “What?

But before he does, Yuuri’s hand darts out to grab his underneath the table, stopping him right where he is, as if he were unsure what Victor might say, if he would acknowledge his confusion out loud and ruin the whole thing.

The hand holds onto him, comforting and devastatingly warm, so much so that it thwarts his whole attention, in the way Victor has always wondered what it would feel like to have his hand held by someone else like this. Not dissimilar to the way his hands burn after coming in from the deathly cold of Russian winters or after scraping his hands against the ice in the rink on a particularly hard fall regardless of if he was prepared for it or not, the blood shooting up like a lightning rod through his fingertips. Both scenarios are equally numbing. Perhaps he didn’t think this would be exactly like that.

He knows it’s merely an indicator for him to calm down and go along with this, whatever this is, but he can’t help but feel it all the way into his skin, can’t simply ignore it as some gesture when Yuuri’s the one who’d so easily tossed out the ideas of boyfriends and fiancés into the room for everyone to hear and then does this.

He shifts his attention to Yuuri again, still unsure of what to say, if he should be saying anything right now. Yuuri steels his hand within Victor’s, cautiously bringing them up onto the table for show, letting their fingers intertwine one by one in a slow display of commitment, which sends a jolt of tingling up his arm, and Victor doesn’t know if he’ll last through the rest of this.

Well, they’re holding hands now, is all Victor’s feeble brain supplies. That’s one down off the list, he supposes.

“He proposed,” Yuuri finally says, and that causes Victor’s head to spin more than it already is. “At the banquet, a few days ago.”

So, this is recent? Victor thinks blearily.

Yuuri fiddles with his hand in Victor’s when everyone waits with bated breath for him to continue. “I was sitting in a chair and he’d gotten down on one knee.”

Having Yuuri’s hand travel up his thigh, squeezing along, one knee bent as he stands hunched over Victor. He stares down at Victor with watery eyes, drunk with happiness, a sort of idolization, and sweat-slicked skin that almost seems to glisten against him. His hair, having originally been gelled back to be out of his eyes, falls in strands along the sides of his cheekbones from the workout, and Victor, oh so desperately, wishes he could push them back up with his fingers if he hadn’t wanted to ruin the already gorgeous image set out in front of him. His eyes trail down, staring unabashedly right down Yuuri’s unbuttoned shirt, blazer strewn somewhere forgotten on the floor. Victor might have stuttered out an apology, he can’t remember if he had or not, but even so it would have fallen on deaf ears.

Yuuri continues, squeezing Victor’s hand in something so nostalgic and so familiar, voice coming out just as breathy, “And he said—”

I need just one person.

“I only need one person in my life.”

One special person.

“Just one special person.”

Victor’s mind is reeling, understanding but also totally not understanding the context, and wondering how Yuuri can say all of this without the slightest bit of inflection, with a face that only looks back at Victor for mutual confirmation like he’s begging him to remember the story like this. It seems Yuuri’s parents are taking his look more as a dreamy lovestruck awe from their son by the way they coo across the table, and Victor lets it get to him despite knowing better.

“And what did you say back?” Hiroko looks excitedly back and forth between the apparent happy couple.

It turns all the attention on Victor, including Yuuri as well, startling him out of his silence by a nudge from Yuuri’s leg underneath the table.

“Oh, um.” His words catch in his throat.

Victor is by no means shy to performance. He’s had to do it his whole life.

But somehow all the experiences he’s had, spinning stories about himself to the press and to anyone else listening trying to glean any little bit of information from him, it’s all gone out the window. He’d been getting monstrously good at it, too, surprising even himself at how utterly devoid of emotion he is sometimes.

Now, maybe because this isn’t with the press or other restless relentless individuals, and maybe because this doesn’t only involve him or his own reputation this time, but he’s unwilling to trust those practiced words, not his current thoughts, nor even his haggard emotions. He’s not sure what Yuuri or his parents want from him exactly, and that’s always been one of the first crucial steps to any successful interrogation.

Victor gulps, throat impossibly dry, his tea cup still so full, its contents threatening to spill over with the slightest movement. He turns to Yuuri in an internally frenzied panic that he tries not to let show on his face because he’s already decided to commit to this by staying and he can’t back out now. He finds he might be doing okay if Yuuri’s eyes are this gentle on him, if a little bit worried, giving Victor a half-nod in encouragement as well as another deliberate squeeze of his hand on the table.

“Yuuri could be that person for me,” Victor finally breathes, letting the words and Yuuri’s satisfied expression wash over him.

Hiroko squeals in delight with Toshiya howling in good-natured laughter, and Victor allows himself to laugh hesitantly along. They’re so close to in sync, like a real couple should be, and if this were actually another interview, Victor might have thought it was his worst performance yet. The cards will always tell the audience to cheer no matter what he says.

“How willing are you to die for our Yuuri?”

Victor's still in the midst of nodding absently, blinking.

“I’m sorry?” Victor stutters.

The question comes out of nowhere, the friendly laughter around the room dying so fast that Victor is still hearing it distantly in his head. He's barely processing anything, so emotionally exhausted by this point that he has to lean a little across the table just to give himself some time to be concerned for his hearing and all of his other senses being gone for good this time. But the expression on Toshiya’s face goes from good-natured to dead serious to the point that he's almost daring Victor to even consider counting his winnings in his head.

“Are you willing to die for Yuuri?” Toshiya repeats, steadfast.

And Victor’s throat seems to close on its own. “…Yes?”

“Is that a question?”

He shakes his head faster than he’d ever thought possible. “No?” And Victor thinks, right here, after more than twenty years of ingrained training, of faking it gracefully and dutifully for the cameras, of performing both as an art and as an act of protection against those deliberately trying to get an answer out of him—all of it has been for nothing if he can’t even get this one moment right, where it really matters, where it seems his whole life has been leading him to. Cold slithers through him. Yuuri had promised him they wouldn't ask weird questions.

 “Yuuri is our precious child,” Hiroko cuts in, the small smile on her lips trying to diffuse the atmosphere and instill in Victor at least a small sense of comfort as well as the benefit of doubt. But somehow all Victor can think is it only proves to be even more threatening, like she’d take Victor apart with an extra sense of enjoyment rather than merely doing it out of necessity. The extra chances she’s giving him will be justification of that. “He has a fragile heart,” she continues, gentle. “I’m sure you know. You’re not much different, are you?”

Victor shows his agreement through the slow sure nodding he does, even if he’s never heard such a thing said about himself before. But nevertheless his chest takes it to heart without much oversight, pounding indiscriminately like an erratic drum beat or a piano striking fast dissonant chords. Would he? Would he lay down his life for Yuuri if that's all he's capable of doing?

“So, I ask you again, will you—”

“Yes, I would,” Victor states, more definitively this time, the words practically pulled from him, tumbling from his mouth before he can realize.

He looks once more to Yuuri in guidance to see if he’s messed up royally again, if he should just get up and leave and never come back, to wander forever lost in translation as Yuuri had put it so eloquently earlier. But that doesn’t seem to be an option as Yuuri gives him a pleased smile, looking up through his eyelashes at him, shy after everything that’s happened, and then turns his attention back down towards the table so he can reach with his other hand not still in Victor’s to take a short sip of the tea that Victor’s poured for him. His ears are drowning in red, and Victor wonders if his own are too.

-

“Is it okay to lie to your parents like that?”

Yuuri frowns at him, biting cautiously at his lip. He can’t look Victor in the eye, not even after spending three connecting flights together side by side, and sitting across food court tables eating airport breakfast in the middle of the night, and not even after sitting hand in hand with Victor across from his parents.

It could be the fact that they’re currently standing in his bedroom after Victor hadn’t known whether to argue that they’re under Yuuri’s parents’ roof and it would be inappropriate for them to share a room so intimately, even if they’re engaged fiancés, which Victor still has a hard time saying aloud let alone thinking in his head.

But in the end, he couldn’t bring himself to mention the implications of just why sharing a room, a bed, would be inappropriate, and Yuuri had been so furiously red the whole time, making the whole situation on yet another level of difficulty that Victor had stumbled ungracefully over. But he’s already seemed to pass level one, possibly level two. In the end, it’s just like sharing a hotel room, right?

“If you could just do this for a little while for me,” Yuuri says, curiously forward again, actually taking two steps towards Victor, making Victor take two steps back in an attempt to be the rational one. Yuuri hasn’t lost the blush from earlier, in fact it might have only deepened with the way they’re both in Yuuri’s bedroom together, but he looks so hopeful, determined about this that Victor’s nearly backed himself into the wall before his hands are placed squarely on Yuuri’s shoulders, halting him securely in place.

“Do… what, exactly?”

The whole while Yuuri’s tone turns to a quiet, clammy desperation. “I told my parents—well, they know I’ve always been a big fan of yours. They may be under the impression that I’m skating because of you, for you, or something along those lines. Skating’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. Just… let them believe that I’ve been able to do this. That I could… that you would…”

“You’ve been a big fan of mine?” Victor parrots, a little lost again.

“We can break up when the next season starts,” Yuuri continues, his shoulders rising with the inhale of breaths he’s taking. “Or any time before that. Whatever’s fine with me. I just… I’m going to retire soon, probably after next season, and I don’t want to finish off my career and for them to think I hadn’t achieved anything at all.”

“But you’re the best skater in Japan?” Victor says inevitably because that’s all it seems he can say, though it’s a pretty useless statement. It’s more of a way to let it ring out into the air than anything. “Top six in the world?”

Yuuri flinches at the titles, and Victor almost wants to take them all back. But he won’t. He shouldn’t have voiced them as questions, either. That was stupid of him.

“I am, but…” Yuuri’s eyebrows furrow, his gaze drifts, like the acknowledgement of having blown up pictures of his face in a public area, for years by now probably, is a slow burning realization that he’s always known but hasn’t quite taken enough time to let adequately sink in. “Sorry, I didn’t—mean it like that. That you were a trophy or something to show off or…”

“I’ll do it.”

Yuuri blinks at him. “You will?” Surprise is already being overtaken by the slow bubble of relief starting to tremble beneath the surface. His eyes glow something tragically beautiful.

Victor nods. “Even though I don’t really understand.” Because he doesn’t.

But Yuuri shakes his head. “You don’t have to.” He’s warm, far too much so, like this is all something vaguely out of a dream. And even though Victor thinks he should probably be feeling swindled, keeping promises whose conditions he did not fully question, or question at all until it was too late, those eyes of Yuuri’s look up at him so unfairly.

“You could have told me earlier,” is all Victor mentions. “At least so I could be ready.”

Which makes Yuuri nod, pensive. “I guess I should have. But it’s not really something I’d thought a whole lot about before now.”

“You… did you just… on the spot?”

“Well, I wasn’t planning on going as far as fiancé, that’s for sure. It just… happened. I got a little caught up in the moment?” Yuuri surmises, shrugging a little under Victor’s hands.

Everything that’s happened so far kind of makes sense now. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, you did call this a job.”

“I did.”

“So,” Victor contemplates, “I could have had a whole list of vows prepared in advance to recite. We could have made a real production out of it.” His thumbs find themselves rubbing along the shoulder seams of Yuuri’s cotton t-shirt. And then because Yuuri lets him, remaining still under his touch, Victor rubs up and down Yuuri’s shoulders, gently and slowly, maybe just because he can, because his hands are already there. Comforting Yuuri like this is oddly comforting for himself as well, the same way Yuuri had done for him earlier. “We could’ve gotten rings,” he says offhandedly, musing about the way his hand might look with something gold glinting off it.

Now that he’s thinking about it, both of their hands are bare, had been when they’d been held up together on the table in front of Yuuri’s parents. But if they’d taken notice, they hadn’t said anything. He wonders if Yuuri will want to do that again sometime. Hold hands.

“They don’t care much about that sort of thing so it wouldn’t have mattered,” Yuuri says. Though, Victor finds the way he says it is a little solemn like he wishes they would care and it would matter. Victor can’t remember if he’d seen rings on either of Yuuri’s parents’ own hands either, but it might have been a little hard to pay attention during that whole time. Even if they don’t care much about that sort of thing, Victor believes in it. Wants to, at least.

“I do, I care about it,” he says as such.

“We’re not actually…”

“I know.” Victor breathes in, aware, overly aware of that fact. “I know. But it’s… important. You know? It just is. I, well—the little things captivate people! Like, let me see. It’s like if you’d memorized all the lyrics to this season’s program and could now perform it yourself in Italian in front of everyone. Wow, how did I do that! I don’t even speak Italian! Long nights practicing, of course.”

“You’d practiced that?” Yuuri says, furrowing his eyebrows a bit. He decides to detach himself from Victor then, stepping away from him to sit on the bed, just out of reach, letting Victor’s arms fall to his sides.

Victor pauses, thinking back to that particular TV interview. “Yes, well. That one was a little out of my control. I guess I get a little caught up in the moment.” He smiles cheekily at Yuuri, wondering if he should sit on the bed next to Yuuri.

“Hmmm.” Yuuri sniffs, his nose twitching cutely.

“It’s such a beautiful song, I couldn’t help but devote all my time listening to it even when I wasn’t on the rink. The sounds just come to me, even if I can’t understand all the words themselves. Though I know the overall meaning of the song, of course! Maybe that one was a bad example.” He’s not even sure of the point he’s trying to convey anymore.

“Would you perform it for me sometime?” Yuuri says slowly, having his eyes set on Victor once more, expression flickering back and forth. “For… research purposes?”

Victor quirks his head, sensing something just a little beneath the surface. “For research or because you want me to?”

Yuuri’s lips press together, trying to bite back a small smile as well but failing terribly. “Because I want you to.”

Which may also be the sole reason for everything Yuuri does thus far. Victor doesn’t claim to know Yuuri that well or understand why he does the things he does, in the ways that he does them, but Victor is here anyway far beyond where he’d thought the scope of his world was, for reasons that he can’t really articulate. He’s not unfamiliar to travel, his career taking him to the most international of places. But somewhere where the smell of seawater isn’t drowned out by the smoke of traffic, or the wind whistling through him and feeling like it could have come all the way from the other side of town, is not somewhere Victor thought he’d ever be in this lifetime.

Maybe he would say yes to anyone who’d had the courage or the mind to ask him something like this, maybe it’s simply that no one had ever done so before and Yuuri is the first one who had. Victor’s whole life has been all about obligation and obliging people even if he’d been a little bit of a brat about it sometimes. The outcomes would always be the same. He’d found himself comfortable in the spotlights and the glow of city streetlamps that line every three steps he took.

But this, even though he’s following after Yuuri’s whims more than anything else, feels more of a choice than he’d ever had before, like something that he let himself purposely into and maybe even gone out of his way for. He should have told Mila more of the truth—that he’s had some idea of the eloping he’s doing with Yuuri since the beginning, even if it wasn’t straight out marriage that he’d been aware of. Maybe after all, he just really wants to know what it’s like to be engaged to Katsuki Yuuri for a while.

“Sure, then,” Victor says, liking the smile that blossoms across Yuuri’s face. “Anything for my beautiful fiancé.”

-

It’s still early. Victor’s a little afraid of waking up before Yuuri, who snores away back in the room like the world is dead to him. And he hadn’t been disturbed with Victor sneaking downstairs because Victor had taken to the floor the whole night, insisting upon it, even though Yuuri had given the same excuse as his sister that he’s a guest and all and should be the one to take the bed, but Yuuri had specifically added in that Victor is Victor like that’s supposed to mean anything.

Of course, Victor had thrown himself on the floor anyway on top of all the blankets and sheets Yuuri had laid out, before Yuuri could do anything about it, and Victor hadn’t moved until he got up this morning despite Yuuri pulling at him, trying to drag him up onto the bed practically all night. So, maybe there’s a reason why he’d woken up first, his limbs sore and achy, but he blames that mostly on all the long flights rather than anything Yuuri had particularly done to him.

Mostly he’s afraid of waking up before Yuuri because it means going down for breakfast would have Victor facing the rest of the family before they’d gotten their stories straight, but it’d turned out to be easy enough. True to Yuuri’s word, they’re not very prying at all. At least, in ways other than asking for Victor’s life.

“You two’re something,” Mari tells him, fixing Victor a bowl of rice, soup, and some fish. She’s the only one here and she doesn’t look at him too much, not as much as he thought he’d be scrutinized.

In fact, it might be Victor who’s the one doing most of the prying. “What did Yuuri tell you guys before now?” he asks carefully, biting down on some rice at the table where just the night before he’d had the conversation of a lifetime.

“Nothing,” Mari says, drinking her own tea.

“Nothing much?”

“Nothing,” Mari repeats. “At all.”

“At all?” Victor echoes.

“Don’t be offended,” Mari continues, regarding Victor with a lazy stare, one that tells him not to worry too much. It works, too. Even if it’s not offence he’s feeling at all. It might be this Katsuki Look that runs in the family that’s become both the cause and the calming of pain for Victor so reliably. “If you thought he might talk all about you to us, he’s not really the kind of person to do that but you probably know that already. Of course, he did a lot more before when you were just—” She stops right there.

“When I was…?”

“Just someone he looked up to,” she decides she can say, and Victor finds that hearing this again solidifies the information in his brain more so than the first time he heard it from Yuuri. And it swells something inside of him. Mari goes on, though, “Well, he didn’t tell us nothing, exactly. Just that he was bringing someone over to meet the family. Then we saw all the photos so we had a hunch.”

“Oh. The photos.” From the banquet. God. Somehow, it’s understandable now that Yuuri’s family would be so protective after seeing that. The Katsukis might be less descendants of royalty and more descendants of ninja samurai.

“So, how was it?” Mari leans on her chin, giving Victor something mischievous that instantly causes his hair to raise. “How’s meeting the family? Are we up to your impossibly high standards? They didn’t scare you too badly, did they?”

“You’re great!” Victor says hastily, ready for his redemption of getting on the family’s good side even though he’s sure he’s going to have to repeat it all over again in front of both of Yuuri’s parents. “Good,” he says again, a little softer this time. He lets his lips form around a small smile, hands skirting around his lap. “I… think I understand. You want the best for Yuuri. I can’t fault you or your parents for that. I mean, I would expect no less of the people who care the most about him. They’d probably be the same way with you, too.”

“I’m sure they would be,” Mari agrees. “But Yuuri’s different.”

“Yeah,” Victor says.

He begins to shovel more rice and fish into his mouth before he says anything else, unsure if all of that had come across as pandering to Yuuri’s family, even if it’s just to his sister, even though it’s what Victor really thinks.

Yuuri’s honesty radiates through his family, an explicitly honest honesty, despite Victor only knowing both parties for such a short amount of time, probably too short to make any real judgements other than cursory ones. He doesn’t believe Yuuri wants to outright disappoint his parents, nor does he think Yuuri’s parents have anything but Yuuri’s best interests at heart, and all of this is culminating in a rather weird situation. Hopefully, it will all work out in the end. Victor will try his best to make that happen, anyway. It’s something, he thinks, that will become recurring throughout the rest of the trip.

“Oh, morning,” Mari says suddenly, her eyes fixating on the doorway. Victor cranes his head around.

“Morning, Yuuri,” he greets as well. Yuuri stands by the doorway, sleepy, hair mussed, glasses a little crooked on his face. His eyes round on the food they’re eating at the table. “Wanna sit?” Victor pats the seat next to him the same way Yuuri had the night before. “Or do you want to get breakfast first?”

It seems like Yuuri’s going to take him up on that first offer, stepping sluggishly into the room. But instead of sitting to Victor’s left once he gets to the table, he pauses for a moment, takes a step in between Victor’s spread legs, and then drops himself unceremoniously into Victor’s lap like this is something he does all the time.

Victor sucks in a sharp breath, getting a bit of loose rice caught in his throat in the process considering Yuuri doesn’t give him any time to swallow at all. He leans back against Victor’s chest, getting himself comfortable, like Victor is his second bed. And Yuuri’s hair rustles just beneath his chin when Victor’s hit with a sudden astronomically sweet scent.

“You guys weren’t talking about me, were you?” Yuuri mumbles, swiping a tired hand underneath his glasses against his eye.

“Nope,” Victor says, voice dry.

“A little,” says Mari. She doesn’t even seem to bat an eyelash at them.

Victor doesn’t know what to do with his arms, but they seem to form naturally around Yuuri’s shoulders when he reaches forward to get at his cup of water, sipping as best he can in this position, before shakily putting it back on the table, letting his arms fall around Yuuri. It’s hard when he’s certain Yuuri can feel every one of his pounding heartbeats through the thin layer of his robe, can probably feel his horrifically shallow breathing down his neck. He’s close, much too close.

But then he feels Yuuri’s head drift downwards a little before jerking back up and then falling again.

“Go back to bed if you’re still sleepy,” Victor says, laughing a little, channeling his restlessness into the nudges he does at Yuuri’s shoulder with his inner arm. “Hm?” He nudges Yuuri again, this time with his knee at Yuuri’s own legs drawn up to his chest.

“I heard you guys talking about me,” Yuuri murmurs, like that’s his excuse for staying awake and hearing everything.

“Wow, superhearing, huh?”

Yuuri’s head bobs gently against Victor’s chin. “I’m sensitive to my own name so I can hear it in my sleep. It's probably to make up for my bad eyesight.”

“Oh, really? Pretty sure your bad eyesight is because you keep reading in the dark, right?” Victor says cheekily.

Mari directs a look of surprise at him. “Is that really the reason why?” she hums, finishing off the last of her tea before getting up.

“Yeah?” Victor replies, blinking.

“I did tell him,” Yuuri mumbles with a yawn.

But instead of continuing, Mari’s eyes seem to linger on the sight of them for a beat before turning to leave. “Okay, well, I guess I’ll leave you two lovebirds to it, then.”

Victor laughs again, feeling Yuuri’s embarrassment mostly by the way he curls in slightly into himself, his fingers dipping one by one into the folds of his pajama pants as he holds onto himself.

“You scared her away,” Victor teases in Yuuri’s ear, suspecting there was something more to what she’d said but not really concerning himself with it when Yuuri’s right here on top of him. The breath he ghosts along the shell of Yuuri’s ear is only a little bit unintentional, but Yuuri cups a hand to it anyway, letting out the smallest noise, and the shiver he does would have gone unnoticed if he hadn’t been leaning against Victor’s body so closely.

“That was your fault,” Yuuri deflects.

But just as Victor’s getting comfortable with Yuuri in his lap, thinking they could stay like this for a little while longer even if no one’s around to see them and they have nothing to prove, Yuuri leaves the warmth of his arms and the pillow of his chest to get up as well, making Victor fall forward a little. “I’m getting breakfast,” Yuuri says distantly.

“Oh. Yeah. Of course.” Victor blinks after him, realizing the cool air on his chest with it open a bit at the top. Yuuri doesn’t look at Victor the whole time he’s hurriedly padding across the tatami mats to follow after Mari down the hall and towards the kitchen, making the room quiet again, the way it was before Mari had showed up to offer Victor breakfast.

But suddenly, Yuuri’s appearing in the doorway again with a rather unreadable expression. “Sorry, you didn’t want anything else, did you? Some—more water, maybe?”

“I’m okay!” Victor smiles at him in an effort to reassure Yuuri that he really is fine. And Yuuri seems to take his own turn in staring back at Victor for just a beat longer than necessary, as if he’s finally taking in the sight of Victor actually sitting in this room, in his house. There's a contemplative expression on his face, one he doesn't seem able to voice properly, before he's stepping out again.

With Yuuri gone, Victor’s gaze falls back to his own unfinished bowl of rice and the bit of soup still left. He sighs, leaning back on his hands against the course material of the mats, crossing his legs back together, and remembering he was the one offering for Yuuri to get breakfast in the first place so he doesn’t have to feel like—however he’s feeling right now. Like how domestic all of that had seemed.

Yuuri does come back after several minutes, but again with nothing in his hands.

And he doesn’t offer up an explanation for it, not when Victor looks at him with concern, asking Yuuri if he’s changed his mind or something. He doesn’t get a response, only able to watch as Yuuri devolves into the same expression that he had after dragging himself and Victor away from the train station interior, looking almost physically ill, like every time he has to pass through there it’s reliving a bad memory he’d rather forget. It’s an expression that seems to happen so suddenly, and it twists Victor’s stomach up. Yuuri’s gaze drifts back down, gripping onto the ends of his sleeves.

“Sorry, I…”

Yuuri closes the sliding screen door behind him, enclosing them both in the small room, and Victor doesn’t know how effective it cuts the sound traveling down the hall for Mari or perhaps his parents to hear if they’re up as well, but Yuuri doesn’t seem to mind. Victor isn’t sure if Mari had said anything to Yuuri in the kitchen, or if he’d even made it all the way there.

 “I don’t know why I thought I could ask you to do this…” Yuuri says slowly. “That you would want to…” He shakes his head again and again, like as soon as his thoughts settle they stir up again.

“I said I would,” Victor reminds him, holding onto himself on the spot, feeling itching. “I did, didn’t I?”

“Do you?” Yuuri asks, eyes narrowing at him. “Don’t you… mind?”

He’s itching to do something, to touch Yuuri again, comfort him the only way he knows how that seems right, but that’s not what Yuuri wants right now from the way he’d just stepped aside from Victor. Comfort, maybe. But Victor doesn’t know how to properly express that he’s not doing this because he’s feeling swindled into it, because of the promises of one lust-fueled night. Which he isn’t. Which it’s not.

But how exactly is he supposed to be convincing about this when there isn’t anything at all between the two of them? Why should he expect Yuuri to believe anything he has to say about this? He’s not even sure what it is, himself—why he’d agreed so easily, why he’d felt this pull to Yuuri so naturally.

It could be a yearning to understand the kind of person Yuuri is that grows so visceral the longer he has to sit there unable to voice anything. Yuuri in turn stares at anything but him, searching desperately for an answer that he can accept, growing more and more unsure, more and more agitated, the longer Victor remains silent. Victor almost wants to yell—stop, stop—once at Yuuri and then once more at himself after that for being so tactless, because if there’s one thing he doesn’t like it’s hearing someone like Yuuri question himself like he has any right to. But Victor himself doesn’t have any right to tell him something like that, either.

If this were under any normal circumstances, he could have a lifetime of commitment to tell Yuuri what he really needs to hear. There would be years to come up with something so genuinely perfect—once a day, every day, or whenever the situation calls for it. I’m sorry but that’s not right, he might say. You’re far more than I deserve, but I want you so. Please don’t talk about yourself like this, it breaks my heart. We’re married, so you don’t have to worry anymore.

But none of these things are things he gets to say. Victor isn’t married and he doesn’t have years, even if he wishes he were and he wishes he did.

“I don’t mind at all,” is what Victor does end up saying. “Not at all. Not with you.”

Yuuri continues clutching at his sleeve, one of his palms coming up to brush against the side of his cheek, pushing up against his glasses.

Somehow thinking back to the way Yuuri’s parents had reacted to Victor in their home, the probably only surface-level threats and the challenge to Victor as their only son’s fiancé who’d come so brazenly out of nowhere—it almost feels like an easy battle compared to this. They don’t need to fight for Yuuri, giving Victor that extra stepping stone—their approval, their unwavering protection—to overcome when Yuuri already poses the most challenging, the most difficult, the most inexplicable of the whole family.

Because Yuuri has traded gripping the edge of his sleeve for holding his hands balled together in front of him, holding tight like he’s trying to hold himself together. His eyes close, exhausted already from having to pretend to people who love him so much, and Victor might be the only person who’s seen this right here, Yuuri desperate for someone to really hear and to listen to him. This whole thing may simply be a part that Victor has to play at Yuuri’s own request, to prove something he’s not even sure of, but if this is the way Yuuri wants to do it then Victor finds he’s more than willing to go along with it, and it feels like he’s the only one who can.

Yuuri isn’t something to solve and he isn’t something to fight to get or achieve or win, but he is something that Victor finds himself wanting to work his hardest for. For whatever the outcome, through whatever means, in whatever circumstances, whatever may become of the two of them in the end.

“I want to try loving you. For real,” Victor proposes as bravely as he can, something he’s probably wanted to admit this whole time, orienting his knees on the cushion he’s sitting on so he can properly face Yuuri. “And maybe you can try loving me, too, if you want. That is…! It might be good, for both of us.”

Yuuri gradually opens his eyes again, looking at Victor that makes him gulp thickly. But Yuuri seems to consider that, thinking it over more carefully than he had when arbitrarily engaging himself to Victor in front of his parents earlier, until he’s responding with an agreeing nod and a reserved smile that sends Victor into a flurry.

“Okay. Yeah. That sounds… good.” He glances up at Victor again from beneath the rims of his glasses. He still stands there in front of the closed screen doors, but his hands loosen, the tension in his body dissipating through the air he lets out of his mouth. “Thank you.”

Despite not knowing Yuuri very well besides what Victor could have garnered from the blunder at Worlds and previous programs set to some of Victor’s favourite composers and the way Yuuri had looked at him at the banquet like Victor isn’t an international megasuperstar but still with eyes dazzling so brightly regardless, it makes Victor believe if he doesn’t try now then he’ll never have this chance again.

“No, thank you,” Victor breathes, finding the biggest weight he hadn't known was there lift off his chest, and Yuuri doesn’t laugh at him for saying something so inane. But then again, Yuuri’s the one who’d suggested being fake engaged in the first place, tugging Victor along on such a convoluted plan at the chilly start of what’s supposed to be a very promising cherry blossom season.

-

It’s pitch black except for the little blobs of light that illuminate the floor of the plane when they’re flying over some body of water outside, at least from what Victor can squint to see. He stirs from however long he’d been sleeping, not long enough by how exhausted he feels and how dark it still is. He shifts a look at Yuuri, still awake and resting his head against the window, using what little light there is outside to read the novel in his hand. It’s dark in their entire row.

Their flight is so late in the day, already sunset by the time they’re boarded, not leaving much room for talking before the cabin is considered lights out. Even now, the loud engine of the plane combined with the cabin’s silence provides such a conflicting atmosphere that’s almost too much to consider having a decent conversation about anything. He sits next to Yuuri in a weird state of knowing each other vaguely professionally, tainted with first impressions from the banquet, and mixed with the niceties of strangers meeting for the first time.

 “You’re going to go blind like that,” Victor says without thinking through the darkness and Yuuri, body partially aligned away from him from the way he leans against the wall of the plane, turns his head to regard him for a brief second.

“I’m already blind,” he returns flatly, a far cry from the banquet seduction.

The cabin is so quiet that it almost makes Victor laugh out loud even when he’s still in the process of rousing back to consciousness, rustling underneath the blanket they have draped over both of their legs as he tries to pull more of it up against him. But he doesn’t end up laughing because his throat is quaky with sleep and it’s cold even when he has his winter coat on. The air seems completely different in economy class. “I mean, you’re going to be even more blind if you keep going like that,” Victor elaborates.

“I’m used to it,” Yuuri says, glasses perched so precariously on the precipice of his nose that the bouncing movements of the plane’s cruising could startle them at any moment.

“What, reading in the dark?” Victor asks, watching the glasses on Yuuri’s face more carefully than anything else.

“Yes.”

“That’s a bad habit.”

The glasses, along with Yuuri’s head, turn even more towards him. “Coming from you.”

“Hm?”

“Because you’re such a creature of habit, right?”

Victor blinks, finding that a bit of an odd statement. “I am.”

“I—That was…” Yuuri pushes his glasses back up his nose with the back of his hand, coughing to clear his throat. “That was a joke… Because you’re here. With me. Unless this is the sort of thing that you do often…”

“Oh.” Traipsing off with someone he hardly knows? Victor laughs softly. “No, I guess not. Why? Do I seem like the kind of conservative guy that does the same thing all the time?”

But Yuuri only answers his question with another question. “Why do you think I asked you to do this with me?”

To be honest, he hadn’t really thought too much about it—not at all, actually. And he says as much. Though skating for twenty years and winning gold at least half the time takes a certain amount of consistency, a certain amount of dedication, a habit for resistance of some of the better things in life, it really doesn’t take much to throw off Victor’s rigidly set schedule, getting him to do crazy and ludicrous and such awfully exciting things at the drop of a hat. The way he feels whenever something as remotely suggesting of excitement as Yuuri’s eyes turning on him seems to be proof of that.

“Never mind then,” Yuuri says, slouching in his seat. “If there was internet connection up here, I’d show you something.”

“On your phone?” Victor says, perking up.

“Yeah.”

“A video? I watch videos.” He tells Yuuri that like it’s something important he has to mention.

But Yuuri at least seems to find that amusing, asking him with a piquing of curiosity now. “What do you watch?”

Victor huddles under the blanket once more, all the way up to his shoulders, trying to cocoon himself in it. “Hmm, mostly other skaters’ programs. Hahaha. Is that way too obvious?”

“A little.” The book in Yuuri’s hand completely face down on his lap by now, one finger against the curve of the spine. But there’s a bit of a smile playing on his lips. “Like… like who? Plushenko? Lambiel?”

“Yep,” Victor says wistfully because they're such obvious choices, as well. “What about you? Probably other skaters, as well?”

Yuuri’s eyes dart up to stare right at him, not answering right away, before bringing the book up close to his face again, and Victor pouts at the way it hides most of Yuuri’s expression that Victor has to crane his neck when Yuuri says a quiet, almost hesitant, “Yeah.”

It seems so secretive that Victor has to press, “Like who?”

Yuuri says something in response, but at that moment the air of the plane engine screeches so loudly, the air pressure plunging Victor’s eardrums into a deafening underwater-like haze that he can’t make out what Yuuri’s said at all. He leans forward, voicing another What? but he’s pretty sure Yuuri can’t hear him, either. He waits until Yuuri lowers his book down to just below his lips.

They form a shape, a single syllable of a name that Victor still can’t make out, the darkness certainly doing him no favours.

And it could be the absolutely blank look on his face, struggling between downright confusion and his brain simply shutting down, that suddenly causes Yuuri to burst out laughing.

Victor can't help smiling at that. "What? What is it?" But, of course, that's not heard, either.

Yuuri leans forward, shaking with laughter, his glasses falling all the way down his nose, that Victor finds the sight so captivating and overwhelmingly boisterous that he can't help joining in. The way Yuuri just keeps going and going, not being able to stop, it somehow carries a voice that reaches through to Victor even through the heaviness of airplane air and the distance cultivated between them from years of knowing each other but never saying anything at all. Even if all Yuuri's doing is laughing at how completely inept Victor is, he wishes he were better at lip reading because they both wait for the noise to die back down before the gradual return to calm themselves, catching one last smile that lingers on Yuuri's lips, before it begins to feel like too much time passes afterwards for Yuuri to offer to repeat what he said again. 

 

 

 

 

Maybe it’s his stubbornness that eventually prompts him to reach a hand out from the warmth of the blanket to feel for the buttons above their heads, hoping to god his finger’s not on the air condition one. It’s still the middle of the night—Victor has no idea what time it is.

On the way to the button controls, his fingers meet something else, brushing against the tips of another set of fingers also reaching for the buttons, and the surprise, the sudden touch, lurches both of them forward to press whatever button they’re on before retracting back just as fast.

With a click, a blinding yellow light shines straight into Yuuri, illuminating him as well as the front and back covers of his book, and becoming another odd light in the sea of black on the plane. The bangs of his hair are ruffled underneath his hat, his cheeks pink slightly, his hand curled and hovering awkwardly in the air after pulling back. Disappointingly, Victor still can’t read the title of Yuuri’s book.

“Sorry, I was just—” Yuuri starts, one eye closed, blinking from the sudden intensity. “Since you seem to be awake for good now I thought I could… turn the light back on. If that’s okay.” Squinting, his eyes search for Victor’s, who’s still bathed in darkness, though they don’t ever quite reach him. “I can turn it back off if you—”

He catches Yuuri’s hand on the way back up to the light to stop him, his fingers curling around the soft of Yuuri’s palm, and Victor’s not quite sure why he has to hold Yuuri’s hand like this specifically. It looks like Yuuri might have let out a gasp of some kind by the way his mouth parts, but if he does it’s lost within the noise.

“It’s fine. I was just thinking the same thing,” Victor responds, letting their hands fall together until Victor’s elbow rests against the armrest that divides them. Yuuri seems stunned as Victor leans over the divide, catching himself under Yuuri’s spotlight. “You know, I wanted to say earlier when people say they read in the dark they don’t literally mean they’re reading in the dark.”

Yuuri reddens at that, slipping his hand discretely from Victor’s and looking like he wants to push Victor’s too-close face away. “I know that,” he scoffs, blinking away, lip jutting out. Meanwhile, Victor grins gleefully through his teeth as Yuuri looks away again. “Also, your hand’s cold,” he murmurs.

Because of that, his hand disappears back underneath the blanket and Victor decides to do the same. Warm me up then? Victor might have said if they were close enough.

But he feels satisfied enough when Yuuri carries on reading, under the light that Yuuri has all to himself, blinking rapidly every time he’s turning a page and readjusting himself in his seat until his body curves in towards the inside of the cabin, his back in the junction between the chair and the window.

Yuuri doesn’t once look up at Victor for the next little while, ignoring him in favour of whatever fascinating plot he’s reading. Maybe it’s because there’s nothing much for Yuuri to look at considering Victor’s basking in darkness himself, hardly picturesque, but Victor finds it’s nice not to be bothered with prying looks.

He can stare selfishly at Yuuri all he likes and he doesn’t have to worry about being caught doing it, instead taking his time to wonder just what it is about Yuuri that’s been able to so successfully provoke him into such an unplanned trip. Sometimes it’s nice to just lay back and wonder freely, wandering, without the expectation of a definitive answer.

 

Chapter Text

If there’s one topic that the general public can count on Victor to avoid at all costs, it’s that of romantic relationships—past, present, or future.

Any affairs?” Victor scoffs one time on morning Russian radio, one of his very first in his career. “You ask me that like I have my fair share of them whenever I feel like it.” The host has just a little too much fun at Victor’s expense, so much so that it’s probably the first time in Victor’s career he gets actually worked up while on air.

He’s young so he thinks he has permission to run his mouth so badly that he gets an outraged scolding from Yakov after the whole thing’s over, and Victor has to have a serious sit down to learn the proper ways of answering leading questions like that. Namely, a polite and more neutral-sounding none at the moment would suffice, that’s all it takes.

And Victor already knows this without being told it. Even while he’d been sitting there earlier hot under the microphone, chewing the fat around topics that had barely anything to do with his skating, he’d known such a simple answer is all it would take to shut a comment like that down without damage to the truth or his reputation.

“None at the moment? None right now?” Victor snaps back afterwards in the face of Yakov’s increasing annoyance with how difficult Victor has to be about everything. “Is that all I am? Just something everyone’s waiting to see be tied off at the earliest convenience so they can gossip and talk about me like I’m some watercooler entertainment? That’s rich—hilarious. I don’t like it. In fact, I hate assumptions like that. And I hate these radio interviews.”

He’s almost slapped; that’s what it seems like.

Saying things like that, defaulting all his responses to ridiculous sidestepping like the possibility of a romantic relationship is an inevitability in the near rather than distant future—all of it leaves more than a bitter taste in Victor’s mouth.

He’s petulant about this exactly because he’s still in his teens and newfound fame comes only with more opportunities to increase that fame—for sponsorships, for getting on certain people’s good sides, for playing the game that everyone who gets popular enough unwillingly or unwittingly signs up for. Victor doesn’t care. All he wants to do is skate.

“Skating is one side of it,” Yakov has to tell him, having been doing this fifty years prior and simply knows better. “You don’t only perform on the ice. You perform off it, too. That’s just how it is.”

It’s a concept that Victor needs to absorb quickly because he has to, yet also taking a decrepit amount of time to really sink in—somewhere inside of him it’s still not fully there. The more he absorbs, the more it feels like he’s abandoning something of himself that he’s afraid will never come back the farther and farther away he goes. And even to this day, Victor still only considers one of those two things Yakov said to truly be a performance.

“If I surprise everyone by skating so well, then nobody can tell me what to do,” Victor proposes magnificently, like it’s a loophole no one’s ever thought of before. “That’s how that works, doesn’t it?”

Yakov has no choice but to concede, throwing his hands up in defeat because if he doesn’t then they’ll really be skating around in circles. “Fine. Whatever. But just promise me, until then—”

Victor makes sure to hold him to that.

-

“Oh, it’s being used.”

“That’s okay. We can wait.”

He’s only a little bit disappointed that the rink at Hasetsu Ice Castle is open to guests for the day, meaning that Victor’s personal request for a live uninterrupted program from Yuuri will have to wait. Japanese oldies pop plays across the stadium, bouncy, having Victor nodding along in beat to it.

Another part of Victor isn’t disappointed because it means he and Yuuri can sit together on a bench at the back of the rink, watching strangers skate during what should be regular workhours. Victor likes this—being able to sit back and watch all kinds of skating, professionally, competitively, and those stumbling along. Sometimes he does this back home, too, sitting out during guest hours under the cover of darkness way up in the nosebleed seats until someone has to come and get him, sweaty and angry, demanding why Victor hadn’t picked up any of the twenty-seven calls trying to reach him.

“I got lost,” Victor would have said, turning his phone back on because there’d be no point keeping it off anymore.

“We’re on the other side of the city,” is what he might have gotten back, possibly with a kick to the shins.

Despondent in response. “So?”

“This isn’t the only rink in town,” Yuuri mentions to him now, dropping down on the bench beside Victor, slinging his skates tied together by the laces down from his shoulder to the ground in between their feet. He breathes, the strung up lights they have up all around the stadium twinkling against his face. They're unecessarily decorative. But Victor likes it. “I came here for everything,” Yuuri reminisces. “In the middle of the night, when I had homework to do, when I just wanted my feet to be doing something. I’m the only competitive skater that uses this place as a home rink so it’s open to the public twenty-four seven when I’m not around. And they probably have these lights up because sometimes people come here to visit…”

"For you," Victor finishes. "To see you, right?"

"No," Yuuri is quick to deny.

"What if you're not here? Are they disappointed?"

"I don't know. I wouldn't be here."

"I would be."

"Disappointed?"

"Yes," Victor remarks, looking all around. “It’s nice, but if you're not here this place probably sucks.”

"Hey, you're talking about my home rink."

"I'm talking about you."

It surely isn’t much different from what Victor would have experienced himself growing up, his own home rink in St. Petersburg opening and closing regardless of if Victor was there or not. If he isn't there, someone else would be. Georgi or Mila or Yuri Plisetsky. Yakov basically lives there; he has a comforter under one of the seats.

So Victor sits here, twiddling his thumbs, and enjoying being patient for once.

“I haven’t been here for a few years so they probably don’t know I’m back,” Yuuri admits, scratching at his head. “If you want we can see if the other one’s free but it’s a little further down. And I never really go there ever so I don’t know what it’s like.”

“No, I like it here.” Victor is adamant about this, about the quaint atmosphere and about the Yuuri Katsuki memorabilia he'd caught on display outside—little shrines with handmade things cheering him on and wishing him luck, brochures with Yuuri's skating history printed on it for distribution, all of which Yuuri had walked right past. Victor will go steal one of those pamphlets during a break to the bathroom that he's planning soon. “It has to be here. You grew up here. I won’t be satisfied with someplace inferior in every way.” Victor's insistent. Would that place also have a cardboard cut out of Yuuri, too? He doubts it.

“Actually,” Yuuri laughs, “It’s quite a bit bigger at the other one, maybe even a little more renovated. But that’s why more people go there. It’s more crowded. If you think this is bad…” He gestures to the three whole people on the ice right now. Victor snorts in amusement. “That’s why I chose this place. I could go at my own pace, you know?”

 “Right.” Victor hums.

Yuuri gives him a smile, twirling the lace of his skate around his finger. “I didn’t think you’d actually want to go the other place, anyway.”

“It’s quieter here,” Victor agrees, finding the feeling is similar sitting here as it is to sitting in the inferior one back home, quiet and left alone, only he doesn’t have to turn off his cell phone because here it technically doesn’t have service yet. Neither does he have to get kicked in the shins. “It’s nice,” he adds again.

He peeks up at Yuuri who’s biting back the smile on his lip, pleased, staring straight forward. They’d become engaged fiancés so haphazardly that it only makes sense that Yuuri does his due diligence and woos Victor properly with a bit of skating. On and off the ice is equally a performance, as his coach used to say. And still does say on the off chance Victor is still listening.

An older couple skating hand-in-hand is probably on their five hundredth lap around the rink by now, showing no signs of stopping, looking like they’re the type that come here every day, arms linked just like that.

And Victor hadn’t thought to bring his own skates with him even when he’s thinking he should’ve had the foresight to plan ahead, considering if the couple decides to push for a thousand laps then he and Yuuri could give up waiting and go on the ice together. They could link arms like that couple, so they know what it's like, of course. They can get used to it. But it seems like a waste to walk all the way back to Yuutopia. Even if he wants to he doesn’t think he’ll get to skate today with Yuuri, not unless he wants to ruin the iced surface with his hard Oxford shoes. And he can't do that to Yuuri's rink.

“Can I ask you something?” Victor says instead, having a thought, watching mildly as a kid no older than ten finishes her run and exits the rink, making one less person they have to wait for, not that he’s trying to telepathically will people off the ice. The older couple trucks on despite his hardest effort, and maybe it’s Victor’s tone, suddenly serious, when he speaks that has Yuuri inching in towards him to listen, ears perked, dropping the laces from his fingers to catch on the edges of his skates.

“You can ask me anything,” Yuuri tells him in the space between the last song finishing and the next one starting up. He hadn’t meant to have Yuuri actually answer him, but the way Yuuri says anything, so sincerely open, has Victor believing he really could say anything.

“Did you ever think of marrying just for fun? Before, I mean.”

He’s been wondering for a while now, with the easy way Yuuri had gotten him to go along with this, and the lack of anything coherent that Victor could piece together on his own towards the littlest bit of sense.

It causes Yuuri to stare at him, long, hard, and unrelenting.

“You?” Yuuri responds, his fingers playing on the edges of his knees, no longer looking at Victor, only seeming to notice the last remaining couple on the ice, watching them now. His words come out careful but also oddly pronounced. “Marrying you for fun? Or just—marrying for fun… in general?”

 “…Me?” Victor repeats, dumbfounded, lost for words, because Yuuri seems to imply there’s a significant distinction between him and in general, before remembering that Yuuri and the rest of the Katsuki family have some unquantifiable history with Victor for who knows how long. “I mean—no. Marrying… in general,” Victor quickly backtracks.

At the very least, Yuuri isn’t perturbed by such a question. “Well...” He’s thinking hard, staring more at the bleachers cascading downwards in front of them than anything else. “That’s tough because I’ve never even had a lover before, you see.”

“You haven’t?” Victor exclaims, louder than he intends.

“Why, is that surprising?”

The look on Yuuri’s face almost dares him to say otherwise.

“No,” Victor is quick to say, sheepish. “It’s not. Not having a lover isn’t bad. I mean, I don't know if you noticed but the ladies have never really held any charm for me, either.” He lets out a laugh.

But upon hearing that, Yuuri looks straight at him, cold and brutal. “That’s a lie.” As if he’s personally offended by a statement like that, humble or not.

It has Victor tongue-tied, taken aback, blinking at Yuuri. “Is it? Well, I don’t know what to tell you then.”

As if realizing this, Yuuri dials back a bit. “Uh, not that I’m calling you a liar or anything. I just mean that you have this tendency to say things like that. In your... your interviews you try to let them down gently, but then sometimes I can’t tell if you’re going off script… if you’re implying that no one’s ever had feelings for you, or even has the potential to, or I don’t know? Sometimes, you make it sound like you’re some deplorable thing almost, who’s only good for skating and that’s not—You don't know how much it hurts to hear you say things like that...”

“I don’t,” Victor counters, feeling thwarted slightly. He doesn't know, and he shouldn't be surprised that Yuuri is listening to any of these, all of the radio and TV interviews he does. He should be more careful of what he says. But then, god, how much more can he possibly do? He rubs at his arm. “Sorry, that’s not… people love me, of course. But see, that sounds bad, doesn’t it? It sounds narcissistic. I can’t go outlining all the confessions of love I get or all the marriage proposals thrown my way…” He’s sure it’s the same for Yuuri, too. He's sure he's not the only one that has to go through this.

“Do you get proposed to a lot?” Yuuri asks him, more subdued.

“I do, but they’re not—”

“Serious?”

Yuuri lets the word hang in the air, weighted and shamelessly inelegant, and Victor can’t deny him.

“Yes.”

If Yuuri regrets saying something like that, he doesn’t look it. He just looks contemplative, and Victor doesn’t mind, particularly. It’s one of those things that comes with the job, whether he wants to waste time and energy complaining about it or not. So he doesn’t. 

There’s an echoing advertisement-like narration that cuts across the stadium as the last song fades out, and Victor realizes the sound system is probably hooked up to the radio. The words blur together across the walls, advertising something in a language Victor doesn’t understand, and he’d rather liked the lazy pop that was playing before. He wishes it would come back as soon as possible.

“Anyway, I never really thought too concretely about marriage in general before,” Yuuri starts to say, switching gears, leaning back a bit in a stretch to put his feet on the edge of the bench in front of them.

"Not at all?"

“Not... really. I’d probably thought of it like… winning gold at the Olympics, or the way the average person dreams of striking it rich someday. It’s that sort of thing where I hope for it to happen? By some improbable chance, maybe sometime in the future. But I’ve been pretty content without it happening so far, and if it doesn’t ever end up happening then I’ll probably be okay with that too.”

It’s an interesting bit for Victor to chew on, voicing a curious “Hm” in the process. Yuuri spins an invisible ring against the skin of his finger, looking down on it like it’s really there. 

“Having a partner that you like and can call all yours is… appealing, isn’t it?” Yuuri continues, carefree or careless, Victor can’t tell which. “Wouldn’t you want something like that, even temporarily? If you believe that the real thing might never happen to you?”

Victor feels prompted for a response, “I…” But it doesn’t quite come.

The temporary aspect of it is what he finds conflicting about the whole thing, being rather contradictory to the concept of marriage itself. Is Yuuri trying to tell him that he’s one of those people that appease themselves by cutting out pictures of wedding catalogues or watching shotgun ceremonies happen in movies with awe? These people are in love with the idea of love, the idea of commitment, without the actual tangible experience of it—and Victor hadn’t thought Yuuri would be like that.

But then again, that isn’t the same kind of concrete practicality that Yuuri seems to be talking about. He’d fake engaged himself to Victor without any of the expectations of an expensive wedding or any long-term attachment, without any reasons to believe that Victor was being sincere when he’d offered to try to fall in love with Yuuri for real.

Victor has gotten a thousand and one proposals for marriage, but he’s never accepted a single one.

This whole agreement he and Yuuri have is much more the idea of a potential. It’s feeling like you could matter just a little bit more than normal, feeling accepted and understood wholly and as you are, being convinced that coming close to such things is better than nothing at all. It’s the kind of thought that persuades Victor to believe this isn’t about proving something to Yuuri’s parents after all, but rather something that Yuuri has to prove to himself in the grand scheme of things.

“I don’t know if that answers your question,” Yuuri says, smiling a bit in the process. “I guess I don’t really know what you mean by marrying for fun.”

Victor laughs despite feeling like he’s fallen into a swamp of even more questions after that. “Marriage by some improbable chance,” he repeats thoughtfully. “I think that about sums it up, actually.”

“Falling in love in itself is by chance too, isn’t it?” Yuuri looks upwards like he’s lost in a daydream. “Heartbreaking and lonely at times. But maybe that’s part of the fun.”

Victor hums, wondering if Yuuri’s ever been in love, if he's ever loved or been loved, even if it's never happened at the same time by the same person. “Maybe you’re right.”

Yuuri shakes his head, though. “Not really. I don’t want to pretend like I know what I’m talking about.”

“I wouldn’t know either way,” Victor tells him truthfully because there's the fact that Victor has no frame of reference for any of this, but there's also no right or wrong answer. If Yuuri really wanted to he could be spewing anything he wanted and Victor would eat it right up, reach for seconds, and then ask if there's any dessert. Love is complicated, and he doesn't know why it has to be that way. He leans back on his hands. “You know, I was thirteen once.”

“Were you now?”

“And, yes, there was a time when one of my friends my age had declared to me that they liked a boy but didn’t want to tell him their feelings. They were mature, much more so than I was. And the boy was smart and capable, one of those types, you know? I could see why other kids would have crushes on him. But my friend just wanted it to stay as this one-sided thing. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went but it was something like they didn’t know what they would get out of confessing to him. And, being thirteen, I’d said something to the effect of ‘well, marry him’ as if it was the obvious thing to do?”

There’s a beat of silence between them where Victor’s just listening for a reaction, unsure if that was a stupid story to bring up, before Yuuri doubles over laughing next to him, clutching himself.

“And then they laughed at me, just like that.” Victor pouts. “I was dead serious, though. I just didn’t get it.” And he still doesn’t, to a certain extent.

Yuuri puts a hand to his mouth, and then to covering his face like he can’t bear to look at Victor, before laughing some more. “Because it’s funny.”

“I thought, what’s the point? If you were going to go out with someone as their lover, and then the only options in the end are marriage or break up. So, you can’t expect to marry them. But if you go in expecting to break up, what’s the point?”

“Because you’re looking at it all wrong,” Yuuri claims, settling down a bit to hear Victor properly. He holds up a knowledgeable finger, one that looks like he’s about to school Victor into the next millennium. “The point is, human beings aren’t made to last. It could be a wild ride, going out with someone, loving someone, getting to know them and seeing where it goes, even if it ends up going nowhere, even if you know in your heart you’ll break up eventually.”

“That’s just setting yourself up for failure,” he says because he’s not ready for failure. It’s not in his agenda, not in his beliefs. It might very well not be in his genes.

“It is, isn’t it?” Yuuri comments, the smile on his lips turning into something slow and melancholic just then. It has Victor feeling like he really knows nothing about anything at all.

When the radio narration overhead stops and another dreamy saxophone riff starts back up, filled with something newfound or profound, the old couple drifts their way off the empty ice as the last remainders of the rink, and Victor takes that as his cue.

“Okay, save the rest of this conversation for later,” he says finally, patting at Yuuri’s hand on his leg before standing up fully. “Let’s go.”

“You’re rather eager,” Yuuri remarks, still wiping what could possibly be leftover tears of laughter from his eyes, before getting up as well.

He really wants to see what else Yuuri has in store for him.

“Yep. We should hurry before that one couple finds another reason to circle the ice another five hundred times.”

That has Yuuri’s lips upturning. “That’s excessive.”

“I know. Go and tell them that’s way too many laps.”

Yuuri sighs loudly, slinging the skates back onto his shoulder and following after Victor who’s already made his way to the end of the row, beckoning endlessly at Yuuri. “I mean, you’re clearly exaggerating. Four hundred, maybe. But five hundred…”

“I’m not,” Victor insists. “I counted every single one of their laps while we were sitting here. Please don’t doubt me, Yuuri.”

“They were here before we even arrived.”

“They’ve been here since yesterday?” Victor says, sounding flabbergasted.

Once Yuuri reaches the end of the bleachers in front of Victor, turning to head down the steps, Victor instead hurriedly grabs onto Yuuri’s sleeve, catching him off guard before he can even comprehend what’s happening, with both of them bounding down the steps at an almost dangerous pace.

“W-Wait, what—”

“Yuuri, we’ve gotta let them know they can go home.” Victor’s only saying this as an excuse but he can’t help himself. “I know they’re dedicated to their craft, but overwork leads to fatigue and we both know that helps no one.”

“They’re already leaving!” Yuuri tells him, tripping over himself. "I'm going to fall and break my neck! Or worse, you'll break yours."

“We've gotta tell them for next time!”

“What next time?” Victor can hear a noise of exasperation from behind him. “Victor!” Yuuri pleads with him for the millionth time, trying to get his attention.

“Yuuri!” Victor calls back in the same semi-chastising tone, glancing back only to throw Yuuri a grin, not willing to slow down in the slightest as he pulls Yuuri along, and they hurry around the edges of the rink like their lives depend on it.

“You’re crazy,” Yuuri splutters breathlessly at him from behind, his hand squeezing when Victor runs himself into the corner of a railing. “Careful!” Yuuri cries, his other hand coming to instinctually take hold of Victor’s upper wrist in concern. Though, it’s not enough to slow them down or even stop for longer than a second.

He’s one to talk, Victor thinks, about being careful. Yuuri has no room to talk.

Out of everyone here, Victor’s been feeling the most strung along, running minute by minute on assumptions, only barely registering the answers that Yuuri gives him because they’re just plain confusing. It’s almost like he’s being left out of stories and inside jokes that you’d have to have been there to understand. Except Yuuri would've been the only person there anyway.

But Yuuri doesn’t say anything else, doesn’t forcibly pull back on Victor’s grip. He doesn’t demand Victor to stop before one of them trips and falls carelessly down the stairs, taking the other with them, or hitting themselves against the jutted out edges of blue plastic bleachers (though, it’s too late for that). Yuuri lets himself be dragged along the same way he’s been dragging Victor along this whole time. And maybe Yuuri’s aware of this, being the reason why he’s letting this happen at all. Or maybe Victor has such a strong hold on him that he couldn’t resist even if he wanted to.

Since when, Victor wonders, has he been part of all these equations rolling around in Yuuri’s head? How much of this is planned and to what degree is Yuuri simply as lost as he is about all this and just making things up as he goes along? How much longer must Victor be made to feel like this is the result of some happenstance coincidence, some improbable chance, him being picked out of everybody that Yuuri could have possibly chosen to spend this summer with, when really it seems far more likely that Yuuri had been the one to set the parameters, of his own volition, for Victor to walk into and then simply hope for the best? Is all of this merely calculated chance? Is Victor that temporary appeal?

Or is it Yuuri’s eyes settling on Victor from across the banquet hall before the first drop of alcohol ever touches his lips, year after year after year, hoping upon hoping every time that Victor will look back? Why had Victor never bothered to?

Of course, Yuuri had so slyly gotten them to enjoy both options—of both marriage and breaking up. Only, they know it up front instead of having to wait and see what would happen, but it doesn’t make it feel like any less of a ticking time bomb. Perhaps knowing there’s a deadline lets them focus on what really matters, at least just for now.

“I’m okay,” Victor says reassuringly despite the wincing he does every time his side feels stabbing pangs from the impact against his ribcage. “I’ve had worse, for sure.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah.”

They’ve managed to slow into a brisk walk because Victor’s feeling hazy enough that walking into another banister is becoming ever more likely. Yuuri’s no longer holding the skates over his shoulder either, having them hang by his side so they don’t bump against him.

“I’m going to need to hold both your hands at this rate,” Yuuri mutters in a tone that half suggests he means for Victor to hear it and half doesn’t.

But Victor does hear it. And at first he would adamantly protest such a thing because there’s no one around to have to prove anything to, to hold onto each other so dearly, before realizing it isn't too far from what they have already, his grip on Yuuri's sleeving managing to morph somehow into the caught in the rain scene of unsuspecting lovers running hand in hand dazedly through the streets together towards an overhang shelter too small to fit the both of them. They'll have to huddle, he'll have to tug Yuuri in close.

“Hah… ha… it would be a little hard to walk like that.” Victor laughs along amicably as they continue rushing, hoping that Yuuri isn’t able to feel his skin heating up through the hold on his hand because he can feel it all the way up his arm and through the collar of his coat. They’re in an ice rink, but Yuuri doesn’t complain about his hand being frozen solid this time.

He doesn’t know why he has to keep focusing on such small things like handholding like some sort of madman. But Yuuri’s palm carries a familiarity that feels new and also strangely long lost, like Victor has missed out on so so many things, the longer Yuuri doesn’t let go, the more the feeling creeps up on him like the overused tropes of every romance movie he’s ever seen in hotel rooms and airplane viewings, hitting him with sudden, painfully real, tactile understanding.

Yuuri may or may not have thought all that much about marrying for fun or marriage in general, but Victor has spent more than his fair share of time thinking about it—the practicalities of it, the fantasies of what ifs and could bes, and the clinging desperate thoughts of why hasn't it happened yet? What is it he's doing wrong? Why does he push it all away and then have to feel so regretful?

He’d never entertained the ladies but he’d entertained the thought of their marriage proposals, wondering if any of them would ever actually be able to spend the rest of their life with him. Would they tolerate his fourteen-hour schedule, his competition jet-setting?

And maybe it’s unfair of him to project all of that onto Yuuri when Victor had been asked here as nothing more than a simple favour during the depravities of a glorified after party. Perhaps it’s become a trend that those caught up in the busy life of the competitive world have no time for love and other amenities so they have to make up for it in other ways.

His programs as of late have been described as wistful, lonely, heartbreaking, and Victor would say that is exactly what he was going for. He ignores when his performances are called out to be what they really are—the sugar-coated emotional conjectures of a workaholic superstar like himself who surely has no real life experience. He’s not being purposefully disingenuous, he’s just hilariously out of touch.

And that frustrates him more than anything. It’s not Yuuri’s fault that Victor has been feeling so awfully, desperately empty because of that, agreeing to things before he even really thinks them through.

So this might very well be it, right here, as the warmth radiating off of Yuuri’s skin seeps into him, overtaking the air conditioned chill of the rink and the ice just below them to fill Victor’s weakened heart with a sense of pre-programmed longing that he’s never really, truly felt before.

And then he’s turning around to face Yuuri by the time they come to a stop in front of the couple, whom Yuuri greets by name with embarrassed breathlessness because of course he knows them despite not having said anything before this.

“They say hello,” he tells Victor.

"Hello," Victor says back. "Beautiful skating, by the way. This is the best rink, isn't it?"

"Victor."

He likes hearing Yuuri say his name like that.

He takes both of Yuuri’s hands in his after the skates are hanging back on Yuuri’s shoulder, relishing in the way the couple’s giggles make Yuuri warm further if that’s even possible. They stand there like they’re in a wedding chapel without a minister, with Victor making such a display partly because they’re being watched, partly because Yuuri had so shamelessly implanted the idea in his mind and he can’t get rid of it without doing something, and partly, mostly, because Victor simply wants to for his own selfish desires.

Yuuri is staring down at their hands enclosed around each other, expression soft. “Well, what do you want me to skate for you?” He says it quieter than the couple is likely to hear.

“Hm? Anything you want,” Victor answers because really it doesn’t matter at all to him. He doesn’t want to admit it but he can’t quite pull any specific memories of Yuuri’s past programs, even though he must have been watching them since Yuuri’s senior debut. He watches everyone when he can. So it produces a lump at the back of his throat with a bit of guilt that he can’t seem to remember anything.

“I…” Yuuri starts and then bites his lip. “My most recent routine put me in last place at Worlds.”

“So?”

Yuuri looks narrowly at him like that should be enough of an answer. "I'm not showing you a last place routine."

"Why not?"

"I'm not showing a five-time World champion a last place routine," Yuuri rephrases.

"I'll be the judge of that."

"I'm being judged now?"

Crap. "N... No..."

It doesn’t seem like Victor’s complete incompetence at navigating these kind of situations helps much at all when Yuuri has to wrestle with himself on what he should do, the cogs in his head ticking like clockwork, to the point that Victor has to wrack his own brain for something better he can say. 

Maybe it’s the fact that Victor doesn’t budge, even if he can't find the right words at all, that has Yuuri succumbing.

“No, you’re right,” he says while shaking his head, letting out a breath before Victor can say anything. “I’m number one in Japan. And it’s… not like I didn’t make it to Worlds too, right?”

Victor’s nodding along with him. “Right. So you had an off day, so what? Everybody has them.”

“Not you.”

“I do,” Victor says. “You just… don’t see them.” Victor shakes their still-clasped hands to get their attention back. “Anyway, this isn’t about me. Ahh, tell you what, how about you show me the program you’re most proud of? It can be anything.”

It still takes Yuuri a moment to contemplate, Victor’s thumbs running small encouraging circles underneath Yuuri’s palms while Yuuri presses his lips together, eyes closing in contentment.

"Yeah?" Victor prods.

“Okay.”

Yuuri takes out a music player from his coat pocket, briefly scrolling through it, before pressing it into Victor’s hand.

"Hold this. Don't drop it."

"I'm not going to drop it."

Disappearing somewhere to turn off the surround system, saying something about how they just leave it running all day sometimes, he leaves Victor briefly with the old couple. They stare at him, and, making sure not to drop Yuuri's antique music, Victor gives them a polite smile back.

“I’m Yuuri’s fiancé,” he tells them idly, leaning back against the barrier, even though they say nothing back. The old man gives him a wordless thumbs up for some reason.

"You could've plugged this—" Victor holds up the player when Yuuri comes back. "—into the sound system, couldn't you?"

"It doesn't plug in," Yuuri responds, lacing up on the bench.

Victor looks at it, scrunching his face, inspecting it every which way in his hand. It's kind of colourless and see-through, and Victor has no idea what model it is or supposed to be. "Can this play those old vinyl records?"

"It's really not that old. Also, do you know what those are?"

"No."

Yuuri seems to find that amusing. "They definitely wouldn't fit into anything that can be handheld."

"How sad," Victor says.

The couple decides to stay and watch once they have their rental skates off and all tied up, curious about what’s happening. It feels like the lights above shine even brighter now like a spotlight on Yuuri as soon as he steps out onto the ice. He takes off his coat to hang over the side of the rink, placing his glasses down on top for Victor to watch over.

He’s pure and refreshingly stunning without anything on his face, an image that Victor surely should’ve gotten used to by now considering spending so much time with glasses-on Yuuri is more of a recent development while he’s had years to get used to glasses-off, but Victor still feels hit with something he can’t quite put together. He can picture Yuuri vaguely in different shades of blue, silk thin ruffles, sequins, and the serious expression of an athlete worthy of being reigning champion.

“What is it?”

“Nothing,” Victor says hurriedly, glancing away to the couple who also look like they’re silently chastising him for having been caught staring. “It’s nothing. You just—look different.”

Yuuri rubs a hand at the back of his neck, seeming unsure of what to say to that. “Oh, well, then don’t take your eyes off me when I start, okay?” Victor nods, and Yuuri takes his hand again, guiding his finger to a button on the music player. “Just press play when I say so.”

He pushes off from the guard and Victor hikes up the volume from the buttons on the side, he knows at least that much, intent on doing just what Yuuri says because this feels somehow intimate, a performance just for him (and, well, a prying old couple). His gaze, true to his word, follows Yuuri’s every movement as he glides out all the way into the centre of the ice.

After Yuuri finishes a brief stretch, Victor finds he has to be snapped out of a bit of a spellbound reverie when his eyes fall on what he supposes is the signal, Yuuri doing a tapping motion with his thumb against his index finger in Victor’s direction, before Victor is scrambling to look down at the title of the song, so small and so dark that Victor has to squint at it scrolling across the screen, thumb hovering.

Oh, Victor thinks with bewildered recognition at the title, it’s mine.

-

The first time Victor sees Yuuri, he doesn’t really notice him.

And it’s been years so he can’t quite remember all the details except that it’s the first time Japan sends a competitive skater to Grand Prix. Victor knows this because the Japanese sixteen-year-old had been denoted as the most promising up-and-coming young skater, hot on the heels of four years his senior Nikiforov. There had to have been some sort of formal introduction between the two of them at some point but he can’t place anything specific, only that their interactions afterwards had consisted mainly of cursory glances and passively watching each other’s programs from the sidelines.

When Japan sends their first skater to the Grand Prix Finals some years later, it’s also the first time Yuuri makes small talk with him in a Sochi bathroom.

“You’d smiled at me,” Victor says now in front of Yuuri and the whole Katsuki family gathered around the table at dinnertime in the common room. He squints. “But—it wasn’t in a happy way. It was more like a… of all the places you’d be, you had to be in this bathroom here sort of way.”

“I…” Yuuri fumbles for words. “There’s no way you could have interpreted that from a smile.”

“Why? Were you not being coy because you were a fan of mine? I think you even said good luck to me on my way out.”

“That’s…!”

It’s all true, and not even because it’s a technically-true but mostly embellished story. It’s Victor having crystal clear revelations while walking down a hall at Ice Castle, too similar to one he shared with Yuuri going the opposite way years ago in a Fukuoka competition, or when he stands by the rink and remembers himself standing the same way while watching Japan’s Yuuri Katsuki performing his free skate as Yakov hounds him to get ready because he’s up next. They come to him in fragmented memories or even simply a feeling that he and Yuuri had shared something, been together, done something years before.

When Victor wracks his brain for what must have changed this particular year to prompt him into flying himself off to meet Yuuri’s family, the only thing he can come up with is it’s the first year that Japan sends a skater to Worlds. And Yuuri had done a little more than smile and small talk with him this time.

“Yuuri.” Victor turns to him, elbow on the table and resting his chin on his palm, putting forth the cheekiest grin. He's drunk a little, but not too much. “When did you have the time to learn Stammi Vicino while practicing for your own programs? We’d been in competition all season.”

“You learned Victor’s routine,” Mari says in a disbelieving deadpan. But she says that like she really could believe it if she wanted to.

Victor nods where Yuuri is frozen stiff. “My free skate from this season. He performed it for me. Perfectly, too, might I add.”

Yuuri puts his face in his hands. "I shouldn't have..."

“How romantic!” Hiroko says, cupping her cheeks. "You've always wanted to show Victor, haven't you—"

"Show me what?"

"Mom!" Yuuri is furiously red by this point, sitting back to make himself smaller, taking a shaking sip of his sake in hopes someone will talk for him before realizing nothing is getting him out of this. “Well... I'd been practicing it mostly after midnight, I guess. It didn’t… take precedence over practice for my own short program and free skate, of course.”

“Of course,” Victor echoes, and then more annoyingly, "Show me what, though?"

“You worked so hard. You wanted to impress Vicchan here, right?” Toshiya says, nodding in agreement, popping a fried scallop into his mouth. "Well, Vicchan?"

“Vicchan?” Victor repeats. Oh, that’s me, he thinks.

“It was really very romantic. Very beautiful,” says a woman appearing out of nowhere, placing a gentle hand to Hiroko’s arm. The woman from the rink before! Victor thinks. How did she get here? Well, it's the common room where those staying at the inn are free to roam. And she’s wearing the inn’s bathrobes now. “This good-looking foreigner right here couldn’t take his eyes off him.”

“He’s Yuuri-kun’s fiancé,” the man next to her, the other half of the old couple, reminds her.

“Oh, that’s right. Yuuri-kun’s fiancé.”

“You told them!” Yuuri hisses under his breath to a just-barely-keeping-up Victor, who can only manage to give a sheepish shrug.

“…Did you not want me to—?” 

Suddenly, the couple is so chatty now despite not having said anything at all to them only hours before. They’d led Victor into a false sense of security. He hadn’t quite known the extent of their relationship with the Katsukis or the consequences of sharing his and Yuuri’s current engagement status, but now he’s beginning to regret it just a little.

 “Your son works so hard, Hiroko! And he brought home such a nice boy, too.”

“He certainly did.”

"He is very nice, isn't he?"

“I was surprised he didn’t give Yuuri-kun a kiss after such a heartfelt performance like that!”

“It looked like he wanted to. But perhaps we were in the way, dear.”

“Oh, you’re right. Perhaps we were.”

“Really?” Mari teases, pointing her drink accusingly at him. “Victor, how could you. Or, how couldn’t you?”

“Huh?” Victor finds himself heating up involuntarily. “K-Kiss?”

"They haven't?"

"Not once since they got here."

"Don't pester them."

"They're like schoolboys in love. All those little glances. You wouldn't think they were already engaged."

"Uh," Yuuri stutters. "That's..."

Yuuri downs another thing of sake.

Victor hasn’t thought nearly far enough ahead for any of this either, and he’d only just gotten past being able to hold hands comfortably with Yuuri of all things. Really, he supposes he should have expected this to come up sooner. He supposes this is simply another clause in the agreement he’d willingly, enthusiastically signed up for, but Victor needs time to think about being that close to Yuuri, until he’s good and ready, to mentally prepare himself—not that he doesn’t want to particularly, with Yuuri, it’s not that at all, just that, well…

It doesn’t help that when he glances over to see how Yuuri’s faring with all this, Yuuri isn’t looking anywhere else but adamantly down at his empty cup and untouched plate of fried squid, withholding an expression like he wants to combust on the spot.

 “Victor, is it?” the old woman says towards him. “Now why do I feel like I’ve heard that name before…”

But right then, Yuuri’s head shoots up again with lightning speed, before the old woman waves her hand, not quite being able to place name to face or perhaps the other way around.

“Anyhow. Oh, how I adore young love. Yuuri-kun, why don’t you give Victor that kiss now? I think it’s well overdue.”

“Hm?” Victor squeaks again while Yuuri remains silent. Victor’s shaking his head so quickly and yet so mechanically he can feel just about every one of his joints flaring. “Oh-hh, n-no... really—it’s…” He’s desperate, but also not trying to offend Yuuri by being so against it, and, god, he just wants to able to please everybody while having his emotional stability remaining intact.

“They’re shy,” Hiroko says, placing a hand to the woman’s like she’s the one in need of comforting.

“Right. We are.” Victor’s words mesh together with the staggered laughing he can’t stop himself from doing, not being able to sit still at all. He’s babbling, “In front of… so many people, I don’t think we can…? Ahhh, yeah? Right, Yuuri?”

He feels himself being nudged closer against Yuuri by someone, the old man it seems like who has a wicked grin on his face like he’s getting a real kick out of this.

"Hi, hello, excuse me," Victor says, feeling the man's elbow and the rest of his body getting a little too close into his personal space, to the point that Victor doesn’t have anywhere to go, moving against Yuuri and having to drop a hand to Yuuri’s thigh to stop himself from falling completely on top of him.

And Yuuri lets out a small yelp when he does.

“That’s—that’s—that’s… sorry! Yuuri, I—”

“It’s fine…” He says that but he stiffens under Victor's touch, not knowing where to put his own hands except back on the table, taking deep breaths, like he doesn't know whether to assist Victor in removing his hand.

Victor knows he’s absolutely red because he can feel the heat in his face in the same way someone usually tells him he’s blushing after drinking so much, simultaneously delirious and tipsy. He knows the feeling well. Except he's not even drunk right now, not nearly enough, he's just overwhelmed. A bit.

What comes as more of a surprise to him is the way Yuuri finally peeks up at Victor, devastatingly shy like his mother had described, but it happens all at once. There isn’t anything gradual about it—all of a sudden Yuuri’s eyes are on him, a little watery, as if Yuuri can tell with prying pinpoint accuracy exactly what Victor’s thinking, as if he’s already come to the conclusion that Victor’s considering following through on this but he can’t actually bear the thought of it. He’s just as clueless about it, just as tentative. His lips waver, becoming more mortified the longer Victor’s hand remains on him, and Victor feels punched in the gut with a feeling he can’t comprehend, mouth parted and dry where the words won’t come.

He lets go of Yuuri’s leg, hand burning, heart coming up through his throat.

That’s not—he’s not ready for a kiss, either. He wants to insist, he wants to assure Yuuri, but it’s also not like he doesn’t want to not kiss—? He doesn’t know. It’s hard to think.

Yuuri sitting next to him becomes a razor sharp singular focus, so close that Victor can see every miniscule movement he does, the sloping curve of the back of his neck, the ends of his hair, his skin looking soft to the touch, and all of these things mean nothing separately but together become something Victor can’t seem to stop himself from noticing.

It’s the same Yuuri that nailed every single one of the jumps in Stay Close To Me despite flubbing all the ones for his own routine at Worlds, who spent an entire competition season watching Victor so closely like it’s something he does all the time, who managed not to make the routine look sad or lonely or heartbreaking at all. He’d ended it with a flourish so powerful and so moving that Victor had felt his own breath leave him just standing there, gripping Yuuri’s old outdated music player, holding onto the final notes like he hadn’t wanted the music to end.

In front of all these people, Yuuri looks only at him, and Victor can’t tell at all what’s running through his mind. The others chattering around them dulls to nothing more than an insignificant static roar, hearing them vaguely spurring them on. All he wants is to desperately ask Yuuri—what now? What should they do? What is it that you want? Anything, anything at all.

Like Victor has somehow become attuned to it, perhaps now he’s learned to listen for it, he hears Yuuri’s soft whisper cut through the rest of the background noise, loud enough against all the others for only him to hear.

Yuuri looks at him again, pinning him with the heat of his gaze.

“Do you… want to…?”

And regardless of if Victor says yes or no, whether he does it temporarily or for fun or just because it’s the obvious thing to do, if he told Yuuri that he really does want to kiss him, he’s not sure if Yuuri would believe him.

Oh, Victor wants to fall in love. He wants to fall in love so bad.

 

Chapter Text

“If you’re going to do it, do it now,” Yuuri tempts him like what they’re doing should be behind closed doors, placing his hand now to Victor’s own resting on the tatami mats. It doesn’t quite help to alleviate Victor’s anxiety-driven pulse, but being able to set his palm and his fingers around Yuuri’s as an anchor of sorts does set his mind at ease, even if Yuuri’s words absolutely do not.

“Okay,” Victor wheezes, taking a breath. He definitely wants to—to kiss Yuuri—and he has permission to now. He doesn’t have to worry about being rejected, or being awful. Well, perhaps he still has to worry about being completely awful at it, and about the rest of the family being able to tell from one too-chaste kiss that this is the first time he and Yuuri have ever done such a thing.

He brings a hand up in preparation, wondering where indeed it should go—against Yuuri’s cheek, curled around the back of his neck in something more suave. He’ll merely lean himself forward, capture Yuuri’s lips swift and Casanova-like. Or maybe he’ll draw it out, show just how in love they undoubtedly are, so simple and effortless. But in that case, he’ll definitely need someplace to hold on to Yuuri—for balance, or, even, just to ground himself in case he accidentally happens to faint in the middle of it.

“You guys really don’t have to if you’re only going to stare at each other like that,” Mari tells the both of them with an unimpressed frown.

Victor’s face warms even further and they both hastily sit back once more as if broken from a spell, tearing their gaze from each other after realizing just how far forward they’d been.

“Don’t listen to your sister,” Hiroko says like she’d been so close to getting them to do it, shaking Mari’s arm so the shrimp she has between her chopsticks falls, before giving Yuuri and him an appreciative smile across the table. “I want you and Victor to feel comfortable in front of us. We’re all family, after all.”

Family?

“No pressure,” Toshiya mentions as if reading Victor’s mind. And then he has an almost conniving look in his eye. “Oh, I have an idea. How about you tell us the story of your first kiss, hm? Would that be better?”

Victor’s mind is completely blank.

Hiroko nods along like this solves everything now. “Yes, yes, how about that? Ooh, was it how you always thought it would be, Yuuri?”

“Mom, this is not making them more comfortable.”

“Well, if they don’t want to share then that’s fine, too.”

“Yes. We’ll ask another time. Perhaps over breakfast tomorrow morning.”

“Darling, that’s too soon. Let them settle in first.”

She says that but Yuuri’s mom’s expectant unwavering eyes meet the elegant smile she has for them to eventually dish every last detail of a moment that he and Yuuri have never shared. Victor doesn’t have the faintest idea where to start. Why does it feel like they’re being asked about their plans for potential grandkids? Victor isn’t opposed if this is all in the hypothetical, but he’s feeling weirdly responsible—like the fate of the Yuutopia Inn will be compromised if he and Yuuri don’t decide right now.

Suddenly Yuuri is getting to his feet, in the process grabbing at Victor’s hand he’d forgotten about still suspended in midair that he hadn’t known what to do with yet.

As if Yuuri hadn’t thought far enough ahead, he stutters, “Sorry, we have to—uh…” he wracks his brain, eyes darting around the room looking for something to point out as a distraction. Victor can only stare wordlessly up at him along with everyone else at the table, making Yuuri crack under the scrutiny. “We—uh.”

When he comes up with nothing, Victor is standing up in solidarity.

“We forgot something,” Victor blurts as the first thing that comes to his mind, giving everyone a sheepish grin he hopes is convincing. “At the rink! Your… music player, right, Yuuri? It’s very precious to you. Can’t leave that behind; someone might steal it! Someone who… um, collects antiques? Uhh, we’ll be back. We’ll give everyone our best kiss by then! We promise. Haha, so, we’ll see you then.”

He runs out of the room with Yuuri in tow, leaving them all in obtuse silence, not daring to look behind him.

“That was…”

Their feet carry them until they’re well out of the hallway, all the way outside. Victor doesn’t want to risk going anywhere else in case someone follows them, not that anyone would. They didn’t bring their jackets either so the evening cold bites at them once more, a testament to the lengths they’re willing to go to escape the claustrophobic confines of Katsuki expectation. He tries to pull Yuuri in the direction of Ice Castle to be authentic about where they were going, but Yuuri tugs back on him, until they’re standing hand-in-hand again underneath the Yuutopia archway.

“That was…” Yuuri repeats, staring in disbelief at Victor, clutching at the front of his t-shirt when a cruel gust of wind blows through them. “We’ll give everyone our best kiss? What—What is that supposed to mean, exactly?” Yuuri ends up spluttering out a little laugh he can’t keep in, dissipating the remains of whatever sake-induced haze was put over them temporarily, and Victor has to put a depressive, regretful hand to his face.

“I… don’t know. I panicked,” Victor admits.

“Victor Nikiforov, you panic?”

“Is that really so hard to believe?”

“Yes.”

Victor’s hand slides further down his face, feeling nice now with the cold air against it. He stares Yuuri down through the cracks in his fingers. “You’d be surprised, you know.”

“I am.” Yuuri presses his lips together, teeth starting to chatter a bit with the cold edging around them, though he’s trying to hide it. “I would’ve come up with something eventually, though. You didn’t have to… promise a kiss to them or anything like that. Now they’re going to be vultures about it.”

“Were you? Going to coming up with something?”

“Something or other.”

“You weren’t going to just kiss me?”

He doesn’t mean for it to sound so accusing, if it comes across that way.

But Yuuri loosens the grip on his hand right then like his arm has suddenly turned to liquid, like he wishes Victor didn’t have to bring it up in that way. But Victor still holds onto him, so he suspects he was. Accusing—that is.

Yuuri looks away from him, towards the ground. “I… was—wasn’t, unless you wanted to. And you didn’t look like you wanted to so…”

The other hand Yuuri has clutching at his shirt comes up to the section of fabric on his chest, near his heart, and maybe it’s the clear air and being alone again out here that has them sobering up to the idea that they really were so very close to being just that close.

“I wanted to,” Victor replies, in much the same way that he’d offered himself so freely to do any of this with Yuuri no holds barred, sincere and willing to do whatever it takes to satisfy Yuuri’s wishes as well as his own urge he can’t seem to tamp down.

But saying that now doesn’t seem to make a dent in whatever it is they have that’s suddenly thrust up between them once more in place of the alcoholic haze, this invisible layer of too-conscious thought only punctured by the way Victor refuses, absolutely refuses, to let go of Yuuri’s hand. He’s crazy, he really is crazy, as Yuuri had said before.

“Oh,” Yuuri says in careful surprise, shifting on his feet like after everything that’s happened tonight he still hadn’t been expecting Victor to say that at all. “…You did? Well—maybe next time?” But he says that rather noncommittally.

“Next time?”

“When they ask.”

That has Victor wondering just what that’s supposed to mean. “Is there some specified time you think they’re going to ask us to kiss in front of them?”

Because if there were, that would be incredibly helpful so they don’t end up going through the same agonizingly embarrassing stint again. Toshiya had mentioned tomorrow morning, for one. However, “I dunno, it could be anytime,” is the swerve he gets in response from Yuuri.

Which is about what Victor expects but is still useless information. “Okay… so, we’ll just have to be ready for it when it happens?”

“I suppose so.”

Get Victor to kiss him in front of everyone. Hold his hand and skate his routine better than he did himself. Have him falling for you and then watch as he pretends he isn’t.

They’re all part of the role, Victor knows that, painfully well. But when he closes his eyes, lets his emotions wander just a little bit, he has to think: is it really so farfetched and so implausible that going through the motions couldn’t lead to something more, accidentally or not? Is he strong enough to believe nothing could ever accumulate, happening just as naturally as two people meeting normally and hitting it off instantaneously?

For so long, Victor has had to cast aside all of the old school notions of romanticism, all his thirteen-year-old ideas of marrying your one true love and having them love you unequivocally back.

“We’ll have to practice then, won’t we?” Victor suggests, nonchalant but more tenuous than he’d like, hoping Yuuri knows he isn't completely joking about this.

He feels Yuuri’s hand flinch in his hold, even when Yuuri’s eyes don’t waver. “Practice what…” he trails off, suspicious, like he knows what Victor’s getting at and only waiting for him to say it.

Let Yuuri as well as the gods of ardour forgive him for taking advantage of the circumstances and trampling all over the sanctity of love by what he says next.

“Kissing, of course,” Victor states so obviously.

Yuuri decides not to understand. “Um, what do you mean?”

“We’ll have practice,” Victor draws out. “Kissing,” he emphasizes, just to be a brat. “So we can get used to it, you know? So we won’t be caught off guard when they ask next time. We can do it like it’s no big deal.”

“I… don’t think that’s necessary.”

“I think it’s completely necessary.”

“Do you? Are you that well-versed in the ways of fake engagement?” Yuuri throws at him. “That we have to go that far…?”

No, I’m not,” Victor huffs, not seeing this go as well as he’d planned—he’s not sure what exactly he’d planned—and then he’s shifting his weight to one leg, tilting his head. “But I like to put myself wholly into every role I play, and I can only do that when I’m extremely well-prepared. Don’t you agree?”

Yuuri frowns at him, the same way his sister had frowned just earlier, apathetic but cutthroat at the same time. “I agree that you get into all the roles you play, but I don’t think we need to practice doing something as simple as kissing.”

“Oh, really?”

“Really.”

Sometimes, Yuuri is so infuriatingly rational. But then sometimes, he provides an opening like this that Victor leaps upon in hopes it won’t get away.

Victor leans forward slightly, and in a bold move he brings a hand up to caress a bit at Yuuri’s cheek he hadn’t been confident enough to do earlier, when his hand had stilled and unable to go any further. For some reason now, no longer in front of anyone, no longer under any kind of pressure to perform, Victor can brush a gentle thumb to the corner of Yuuri’s lips.

He does it slowly, so Yuuri still has time to dodge out of it if he so desires. But instead Yuuri only stills, letting Victor do it, only sucking in the smallest of breaths through those thin lips, and flicking his eyes downwards before staring up at Victor once more. His skin really is as soft as Victor’d imagined it’d be.

“If it’s so simple, then let me?” Victor says, not playing anymore. If he wants to he could lean all the way forward, all the way until his lips touch the soft skin where his hand is, and Yuuri might just let him. He might not move away this time before Victor lets the chance slip away once more.

“You just want a story to tell them,” Yuuri murmurs, moving to ghost a hand loosely around Victor’s wrist, even if he doesn’t move it away from his face, just letting it hover. His eyes close like he doesn’t care if Victor really leans forward or not. “The story of our first kiss without having to lie about it.”

“No,” Victor says back just as hushed, like the wind might pick up their voices and carry them all the way to the other side of the city. “Well, yes. I want to be able to tell everyone what it’s like to kiss you.”

“Why?” Yuuri opens his eyes again, seeming genuinely probing, or more accurately in a solid state of unwillingness to budge from his beliefs, even as he tries so frustratingly to understand if there’s more to it behind Victor’s words.

“Because—”

And, well, it’s because Yuuri is so addicting, so damning the way Yuuri always looks at him, evidently whirling through thoughts he just won’t say aloud even when he has Victor craning for him every which way. Victor wants to know so badly, why it is that Yuuri has to look at him like that, as if he’s trying to commit every angle of Victor to memory during this limited amount of time they have, trying so hard to hold himself back from doing anything more than what’s necessary, pushing forward and then reining himself in like an elastic band so close to snapping every time.

And yet he’s completely unafraid of letting Victor see these expressions so indicative of something swirling beneath the surface because, no matter how ruined Yuuri ends up looking like, he’s so thoroughly convinced himself that nothing will come of this in the end anyway. No matter how often they keep calling each other fiancés, no matter how many times they hold hands, the offer to try actually falling in love still seems like a distant dream. Yuuri had dared Victor to kiss him with everything he had, and here’s where they ended up—trapped back at square one and not much to show for it.

“…Just because.” Victor doesn’t have a better answer than that for Yuuri.

The blush cultivated from the earlier excitement at the inn  has been gone from his cheeks for a while now, but it’s replaced by a red sting from the wind mixed with the weight of the archway that hangs over them like some neon-lit watchful guardian. It’s not as crushingly overbearing as the Katsukis & Co. watching them, judging their every move. But here Victor feels somehow encouraged to do what he’s always wanted to do instead of what everyone’s always expected of him.

Just this once he’d like to put his mouth where his words are.

It doesn’t happen though, not now, not as his hand burns against Yuuri’s cheek, rubbing away what might be invisible tears, not as his fingers turn abysmally cold far too soon and fall through the air when Yuuri backs away from him. It’s Yuuri that speaks first.

“I’ve always thought about kissing you, you know,” he confesses in such bombshell raw honesty, with a curious lilt to his voice that has Victor rooted to the spot, not letting go. “Every… so often. After every lonely thing you said in an interview that nobody else seemed to mind. Every time you skated and drew a gold medal to your lips on top of the podium. I thought it was like you were doing it for me, looking at me directly.”

He brings his hands together, rubbing his fingers over each other. Victor’s heart beats a harsh rhythm in his eardrums.

Yuuri licks his lips, looking away to anything that’s not at Victor. “Of course, I don’t think that anymore. You’re your own person. There’s no way you would ever—and I was just a kid. I only thought about myself and projected all my desires onto you. But you were also just a kid, and I… just wanted a story to tell myself, and to tell everyone else. Would you ever look at me if I didn’t ask to do something like this in the first place? It would’ve been so easy to go on living our lives separately.”

Yuuri doesn’t need an answer to that because simply the look on Victor’s face, whatever it is, has him letting out a humourless laugh, empty and light enough to be carried away to the ends of the ocean shoreline down the street.

“So, I’m sorry,” Yuuri breathes like it’s something he’s wanted to say to Victor for a long time. “I just…”

He looks heartbroken, but like it’s a pattern he keeps doing to himself.

Yuuri keeps trying and trying to put himself in the ugliest light possible, having others thinking the very worst of him. And even if he’s silly for thinking Victor could be turned off by what he’s said, it’s still a little unfair of him to do that.

But now Victor has to wonder—if he were to remain right here, plant his feet so firmly into the ground that not even Yuuri’s constant second guessing and self-deprecation and his idolization of Victor could push him off. If he hung around long enough, without the aid of a hazy enough atmosphere to let things happen where they shouldn’t, out here where the potential for something real is no longer so easily swept under the rug, would Yuuri eventually tell him plainly and simply what he wants?

Victor’s not exactly sure what prompts him to ask Yuuri so blatantly in the next moment, “How many times have you kissed me in your fantasies?”

But maybe he says it purely for the way it has Yuuri flushing pink all the way down his neck, looking next to horrified, stepping back and stuttering out, “W-W-What? Why is that— what you’re asking me after everything I said…”

Victor only shrugs. “I dunno. I only think about myself. And I want to know.”

But Yuuri’s lips are sealed for good now. “It’s… none of your business.”

“It involves me so it’s at least partially my business.”

“It’s actually zero percent your business.”

“Cruel.”

“Cr… What’s cruel about keeping what’s mine to myself?”

This fantasy of Victor is all Yuuri’s, is it? This autonomous being constructed purely for Yuuri’s desires and nothing else?

“I’m only curious of the shenanigans my fantasy other self gets up to.”

“He doesn’t get up to anything, so there’s nothing to tell you.”

Victor has to raise an eyebrow, almost snorting out a laughter when Yuuri makes a complete about-face turn away from him. “He must get up to something,” Victor presses.

And it feels strange that he wants to keep pushing when this isn’t the first time he’s heard something like this from a fan, reading things online, hearing through the grapevine. When it comes to Yuuri, shy and far too honest for his own good, Victor finds himself infinitely curious.

“Nothing noteworthy, at least,” Yuuri murmurs from behind his hands that have begun to cover both sides of his face from where Victor can see.

“Oh?”

“Nothing.”

“You said nothing…?”

“That’s right,” Yuuri says, keeping his hands to himself, refusing to turn around.

Victor, confused but also delighted, tries to step around him to see him from the front, but Yuuri only shifts away again. “You said nothing noteworthy,” Victor repeats, unable to help himself.

“I did, I said nothing.”

Victor crosses his arms, and he’ll wait until both of Yuuri’s hands stop rubbing at the goosebumps that have pinpricked the back of his neck from the wind, where the blushed red has come all the way around. He’ll wait out here all night if he has to. He’ll bother Yuuri in his sleep if he has to.

Even if there really is nothing else—all of this should be in the past anyway. At least, that’s what Yuuri had said, though it doesn’t seem he’s entirely willing to let go.

Tell me everything about this fantasy, Victor thinks, trying to project his wishes into Yuuri’s mind. How does he act? What makes him worthy of being a fantasy, one that’s supposedly thought about so often? Or at least, often enough? Yuuri couldn’t possibly believe Victor would let this go after bringing something like this up in the first place.

He wants to see if he compares to this Fantasy-Victor. Did he love Yuuri enough? Did he treat him well? Was he ever elevated to fiancé at some point? Husband? Or did he remain merely a crush? An idol? Something that Yuuri saw simply touching as if he were bringing a god down from heaven?

Before he’s able to voice any of these questions aloud, Yuuri beats him to it, looking coyly back at Victor from over his shoulder, eyes sparkling like he’s amused that Victor’s still standing there, just as stubborn as he is. It’s as if Yuuri knows exactly what Victor’s thinking just from the revealing look on his face. He spreads a grin, laughing.

“You’re too funny, you know?”

“I am?”

And hearing that stops Victor in all his thoughts. After all, Victor doesn’t know when he’s teasing on purpose when it comes to Yuuri—it happens so naturally, without conscious thought, and it’s spurred on by the exhilaration he feels every time he’s rewarded with one of Yuuri’s head nods and cheeky grins.

“I said I was okay with all this, remember?” Victor finds he has to bring up again, just in case. “And I still am, just so you know. So, you can tell me anything. Maybe not now. Whenever. I’ll be here.”

He doesn’t know why. Every time Yuuri throws something new at him, something to scare him off, trying to make Victor regret ever agreeing to this—Victor has no idea if any of this would turn anyone else off. But he’s not.

“Thanks for understanding, Victor.”

Which is the kind of thing a couple with years under their belt might say to each other after assuming disinterest, and Victor doesn’t want to be assumed of anything like that right now when it’s only the very beginning for the two of them.

If he were a good fiancé he would place a reassuring kiss to Yuuri’s forehead, maybe five, maybe ten, to set Yuuri’s worries aside and tell him there’s no need to have to go out of his way to be thankful for something like that.

But if Victor is allowed to just be himself, he might instead put his arms around Yuuri’s quivering form, shielding him from the cold the best he can, holding Yuuri gently instead of tight.

So, that’s what he does. “It’s okay,” is all Victor can think to say, so that’s what he says. He’s not quite ready for anything else bolder or more mature, but then again Yuuri might not be ready to hear anything more along those lines either. He seems okay with just this too, warm against him, so Victor will take that as a win.

-

He waits in anticipation for the buzzed ringing in his ear to stop after the telltale click, and with a little disregard to the circumstances says, “Hey, how are you, Yakov?” in response to the immediate frenzy of questions that he doesn’t actually get a response to without a flurry of even more questions.

“I had to go all the way to Fukuoka to get a proper SIM card,” Victor explains even though it’s dubious whether Yakov actually knows where that is relative to where Victor is. “They didn’t carry one for my brand of phone here. Did you know flip phones are still quite popular in Japan? That, and Sony Walkmans.”

“That doesn’t excuse you not calling for weeks. I was about to send a search squad,” Yakov spits at him through the phone. And even if it’s partially a joke—though, Victor knows from experience it isn’t half the time—that search squad Victor can imagine consists of exactly one blond teenager, the same as it’s always been. He feels sorry for the kid to have to be used like this. “You could’ve used someone else’s phone. You could’ve used that Yuuri Katsuki’s phone,” Yakov continues rambling.

“And charge him for long-distance? That would be very rude.”

“And not calling me isn’t rude?”

“I don’t have any Japanese yen on my person to pay him back if I did that.”

“He flies around the world, he must pay for international—”

“Yuuri’s phone is a decade old.”

No, that’s his music player but Yakov doesn’t need to know that; Yuuri owns a smartphone like everyone else. But then wait, why does he carry around a secondary music player with him?

You…” Yakov half-splutters half-yells in something Victor is all too familiar with to comment on. “If I thought you weren’t irresponsible enough… You only think about yourself.”

“They’ve been taking really good care of me. In case you were worried,” Victor talks over him, swinging his legs out from the stone edge he sits on on the side of the road, overlooking the ocean. It’s still early in the morning, a dewy seabreezy haze falling over him that soaks his skin, and Yuuri suffers from jet lag for an irrationally long period of time so Victor always wakes before him.

“Yuuri Katsuki has?” Yakov says his name like it’s something abhorrent.

“The Katsukis,” Victor corrects. “And Yuuri, too. Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Victor, come back to St. Petersburg.”

“Do you remember anything at all about him? About Yuuri?” Victor asks this seriously. “It’s just, I have to keep coming up with stories of how we met and the things we did together, but the truth is I don’t think we interacted much before now so I’ve run out of things to say. But do you remember anything? Even if we’d just said hello, or if you talked to his coach or something.”

“What in the world are you talking about?”

Victor repeats everything verbatim.

“You called just to ask me this?” Yakov says, getting progressively more staticky like he’s pressing the phone right up to his face with how annoyed he’s getting, and he wants Victor to hear it. “Hand the phone over to this Yuuri Katsuki so I can talk to someone sensible. He must not approve of this.”

“In fact he does approve of this, but he’s sleeping right now. Also, you think he’s a sensible guy? Can you tell me how you came to that conclusion…?”

“You’re really testing me, Victor Nikiforov.”

Victor lets out an amused breath, tilting his head towards the overcast morning sky. His head’s a little fuzzy, he didn’t get much sleep the night before, not with Yuuri pestering him for days about calling his coach after going with him to get the new SIM card and then leaving it on the desk for a week.

“I’m sorry,” Victor says, biting back more petty excuses. “The truth is, I’m here pretending to be his fiancé.”

Yakov takes an inordinate amount of time to process that, so Victor just waits until he hears, “You’re… what.

“In front of his family. And, well, the rest of the city, it turns out. Word seems to have gotten around. Even though I’m the one usually bringing it up… it feels like lying if I don’t say anything. Even though I’m technically lying either way.”

“You… you…” He can see Yakov’s blanching face already between the long pauses. “What do you think you’re doing?

“It all happened really fast! I didn’t know beforehand, but sort of got dragged into it. Though, I’m going to try to last throughout the summer for his sake.”

“Tell the boy the truth right now.”

“Who?”

Yakov is yelling in his ear now. “Yuuri Katsuki! Tell him right now. Stop with these stupid games. I could accept you doing something crazy every once in a while, but I never pegged you to play with people’s hearts and do something so—”

“Wait,” Victor cuts him off, standing up now on the large rocks below before slipping down them to the beach sand. He’s shaking his head to no one. “That’s not it. He knows, Yuuri knows. We’re doing this together. He offered for us to pretend to be fiancés in front of his family.” For some reason. He leaves that out. “Of course, he’s in on it. I wouldn’t do something so…”

Yakov is silent again then. And hearing the immediate disapproval that any normal person would have, after being convinced so thoroughly by Yuuri that this should all be fine, has Victor feeling so suddenly anxious that he can’t keep still, trudging along the sand near the shoreline where the waves nearly lap at his shoes, the only pair of shoes he brought with him. Even as he waits patiently for Yakov to understand the situation and to forgive him, it’s hard to stomach the long pauses where the only things he can hear are the waves crashing and the seagulls squawking at him from overhead and nothing over the phone line.

“What the hell are you doing…?” Yakov hisses to him then, calmer than earlier but not by much.

“I, umm—I don’t know,” Victor says truthfully, finger drumming soundlessly against the side of the phone.

“I don’t understand. I don’t get why you’re doing this at all, if you could care to explain.”

“I don’t… really know, either?”

Yakov, understandably, doesn’t have any words besides a low, threatening, “Victor…”

“I think he needs closure of some sort?” Victor tries to explain, at least put into words what he’s been trying to comprehend himself about all this. “He said he was planning on retiring from skating soon. And he’s been a fan of mine for so long, so he just… wants to…”

“Live out some last ditch fantasy with you?”

Victor grimaces. It sounds bad when it’s said like that by Yakov in that Yakov-tone. “Well, something like that.”

“And you’re okay with this?”

“I am.”

Victor’s never been more sure about anything in his life.

Which is strange, even to have to hear it with his own ears, because he’s been skating for over twenty years and he’s one of the very best at it. His training regimen has been largely unchanged for half that time, and there isn’t really anywhere to go but horizontally from here. If there’s one thing he’s always been sure of it’s that if he left the ice, he’d probably die.

But Yuuri isn’t some fan Victor had caved in for after having heard one too many times to please bear their children. Yuuri is a fellow skater who has an understanding of the nature of both of their lives. He seems to be the only one that doesn’t fully revere Victor yet doesn’t fully ignore him either. He sits in a balance in between somewhere Victor finds equally curious and fascinating.

“Have you been feeling deprived, Victor?”

Yakov’s voice sounds so odd when his tone is gravelly but soft instead of accusing. And Victor doesn’t know why he has to constantly think about his life as never being good enough, never curious or fascinating enough, wondering inanely if things were better before or if they’ll ever get better in the future. He hasn’t skated in over two weeks, and if he’s ever done that before, he wouldn’t know, because it feels entirely unfamiliar. But not as unwelcome as he’d thought it’d be.

“I’m still trying to figure things out, Yakov,” Victor says, hunching over his knees on the sand, phone pressed against his ear so he can hear what Yakov says through the crashing of the water next to him, creeping up on him, before missing his shoes and washing away.

“Don’t put it on this Katsuki kid to give you all the answers,” Yakov tells him. “It’s unfair to him.”

“What, then?” Victor returns. “Are you going to tell me to give it up? Are you going to give me the answers like you always do?”

“I’m going to tell you what you need to hear.”

“Which is what?”

There’s a bit of silence on the other end, like there’s a couple things Yakov’s wrestling with, to enlighten Victor, to have him see the better way as he always does. Before ultimately, predictably, Yakov only tells him, “Come back to St. Petersburg.”

“I can’t do that,” Victor replies curtly. “Not right now. Maybe in a month.”

“That’s too long.”

“Maybe two months, then. Use my vacation days.”

Victor doesn’t have vacation days. That’s kind of the whole point. But he wouldn’t know how to use them anyway—not vacation days, not sick days, nor paid leave or maternity leave. Some fathers in some parts of the world actually get paternity leave now, and Victor thinks this is truly a step forward in human rights.

“Listen,” Yakov says finally, and Victor does, listening for the evening of Yakov’s breaths through the other side of the phone. There’s a pause, a sigh, and then just when Victor thinks he won’t ever hear the end of it, “Just… don’t stay out too late, alright.”

Victor nearly falls back on his ass as a palm-sized sea crab scuttles by in front of him. “What are you talking about? I’m not on a date, Yakov.”

“If he makes you happy then there’s nothing I can do.”

Victor actually takes the phone off his ear so he can look at the screen in puzzlement in case there's some kind of communication error caused by a technical malfunction, or perhaps he’d leapt through time and accidentally landed in a period when Yakov is suddenly okay with all this. But the screen of his phone continues to show the length of the call, relatively unchanged. “We’re… we are fake engaged. Did you forget that part?”

But Yakov still isn’t listening, grunting to show his frustration with Victor’s inability to keep up. “Tell this Yuuri Katsuki that… if he breaks your heart then I’m coming after him.”

“What? Don’t do that.”

One of them hangs up soon after that, Victor doesn’t know who, once neither of them has anything else to say. All Victor can recall is being rendered speechless throughout the whole last bit, pressing his finger uselessly to the end call button even when the line has already cut out.

As nice as it'd sounded, it doesn't feel as if Yakov had ever had to say those lines before in the entirety of his life, and if Victor weren't his number one student skipping right to marriagehood without so much as ever attending a Sunday afternoon park date or a shared bottle of wine for dinner, Yakov might've had more time to prepare what to say without resorting to the same romance novel clichés that Victor worships.

If this had been something more real, a relationship more established, would Victor be in an even worse state from hearing such things directed at him? Would he find it similarly hard to accept, would his heart clench just as much, upon knowing his coach might have sort of given Victor his blessing to pursue a life outside skating? Or perhaps Yakov had simply used up all his long-distance minutes and wanted to hurry up and get things over with without leaving off on a sour note like Victor had clumsily done when he’d left Barcelona behind.

“You didn’t have to say it like that!” Victor yells to the wind, across the ocean, clutching his knees, in hopes of reaching Russia for Yakov to hear.

And then, Victor wonders if that really was Yakov being sincere, or if it was him performing off the ice, letting Victor's deprivation hear only the words he wants to hear.

-

By the time it’s dawn in St. Petersburg, it’s already lunchtime in Japan. A number of weeks have gone by since Barcelona but Victor’s body doesn’t tend to feel the usual effects of jet lag anyway. It could be that years of worldly travel have well-worn his body to absorb whatever’s thrown at it no matter if it’s injury or heartbreak or circadian imbalance.

Yuuri not so much.

“Yuuri,” Victor has been repeating at monotone level for about five minutes now, sitting cross-legged on the makeshift mattress beside Yuuri’s bed. He leans with his arms beside Yuuri’s head, poking at the strands of Yuuri’s hair splaying on the pillow whilst receiving Yuuri’s even breaths on him. “I called Yakov. So, everything’s okay now.”

There’s no response.

“He sends us his warmest regards and says we can get married now.”

Still, nothing.

Victor pouts when Yuuri remains unchanged. He could probably sleep through a tornado or a hurricane, blissfully unaware. If Victor had said something really crazy like marry me for real, Yuuri would likely sleep right through that too. He doesn’t want to take any chances with that, though.

“I couldn’t get any stories out of him,” Victor says instead, straying a finger down to Yuuri’s forehead where the creases have smoothed. “I’m sure he remembers something, though. He’s got way better memory than me and he’s more attentive. He’s always saying I’m a skating nut that doesn’t pay attention to anything else and that I’d be absolutely lost without him. And he’s right, you know.”

Yuuri might’ve laughed if he were actually awake to hear that.

“Sometimes I find it so surreal that I’m here. It doesn’t feel real. If I were still in Russia right now I’d probably already be getting ready to train. Which isn’t, you know, bad or anything. It’s like, I understand why Yakov has to be that way with me—he’s my coach and it’s his duty to get my ass in gear. I guess it’s just like… how it’s my duty to have your parents love me.” Victor laughs at that. “And I love your parents, too, so it’s kind of the same thing.”

He can’t get his mind out of a routine years in the making.

If he’s successful, there’s no reason to stop. And if he stops even briefly, for even a second, someone younger and faster and who works harder will take his place. Victor doesn’t have much room to move up but he certainly has room to fall down, a fall that Yakov and everyone else keeps telling him he won’t be able to come back from, not with that attitude, not without disgracing everyone who looks up to him.

He wants to forget all about it. He wants to lie against the side of Yuuri’s bed like this until Yuuri wakes up.

Yuuri finally cracks open an eye, whispering in a voice still quaked with sleep, “What’s wrong,” after one look at Victor’s face.

“Morning, Yuuri. I talked to Yakov,” Victor says, opting out of his other thoughts. “Also, I got lost on the way back here.”

It’s the reason why noon has already seeped into Yuuri’s room, even though Victor hadn’t been all that surprised to find Yuuri still lying in bed ignoring the rays of sunlight against his eyelids. Victor doesn’t mention his feet taking him all the way to the front of Hasetsu Station just a couple of hours ago, standing in front of the weird mythical octopus statue that’s supposed to be the city’s mascot staring down on him with its sharp teeth and misshapen appendages, as if informing him it would only be a short ride back to Fukuoka Airport if he’d really wanted to escape this place.

“I got you a plant,” Victor says before Yuuri can close his eyes again. He jabs a finger back behind him to Yuuri’s desk where he’d placed it, small and unassuming. “An old woman with a stand on the street had enticed me into it. Well, I’m not sure exactly what she said but it’s supposed to be a… Japanese… asplenium nidus fern, or something. That’s what it says on the label. It’s supposed to purify the air. And it’ll keep growing as long as we keep putting it in a bigger pot. Clean air forever. Doesn’t that sound nice?”

Yuuri doesn’t have his glasses on so he has to lean up a bit and squint across the room at it. He falls back down on his pillow, looking slightly less appreciative than Victor had hoped. “Oh. Thanks. I… ah… might kill it, though. Mari—she got me the cactus because she said it didn’t have to be watered much when I go overseas.”

“Oh.” Victor purses his lips, looking back to where the small cactus plant sits on a stack of books in plain view on the other side of the desk. “You’re probably right. We’re, we have to—What was I thinking? A cactus makes more sense.”

“We’ll be here the whole summer, though,” Yuuri tells him lightly.

“But it’s going to die when the season starts and we won’t be here to take care of it?”

Yuuri closes his eyes and the creases on his forehead form again. He sighs, rubbing a hand at his eyes. “I don’t know. I guess I’ll have my parents take care of it. That’s… what I always do with things I leave behind and I know I won’t be back awhile.”

“I should’ve gotten you a cactus,” Victor mutters, scratching his chin against the sheets of Yuuri’s bed, his hand falling against the side of Yuuri’s pillow. “This is what Yakov meant by not being attentive enough. Fantasy Me probably would have known to get you a cactus instead.”

Yuuri snorts like that’s absurd. His eyes are still sleepy but he reaches forward to brush a hand through Victor’s bangs so they’re out of his face. “Fantasy You wouldn’t have gotten me anything at all, truthfully.”

“Just what kind of a jerk is he?”

“That just wasn’t his function.”

It’s a little vague if Yuuri means it’s a fantasy without a physical body that wouldn’t be able to walk down the street to buy things, let alone to be able to gift Yuuri anything tangible. But the sentiment he’s trying to get across is still there—he won’t allow himself to place any sort of expectations on Real-Victor. Not ones that rely on ill-informed delusions, anyhow.

“If you kill it, it’s okay. I won’t mind,” Victor says quietly. He’s talking about the Japanese asplenium nidus fern.

“I could try taking it along to competitions?” Yuuri offers.

“Will it get through customs?”

Yuuri’s face scrunches. “No, I don’t think so.”

“It’s fine. You’ll just have to leave it behind. I can always get you another one, you know?”

In truth, it’s because nothing ever seems enough. Getting Yuuri a plant out of the blue is compensation for all the failed missteps Victor can’t bear to own up to properly, every time Victor can’t answer a question posed to him about Yuuri’s likes or dislikes or his hobbies or really anything, and every time his thoughts stray back to wondering what the hell he’s doing here. But it’s more guilt than regret. It’s understandable for anyone in his position. It’s homesickness, Victor tells himself. Even though he’s been spending far more of his life not home and less and less of his time wanting to go back.

It’s a strange kind of purgatory—being Yuuri’s fiancé but also not, missing skating but also not, wanting to kiss Yuuri in an effort to complete the story but also not knowing how to.

Some things are just hard to explain, even harder to do, and all of that is much too difficult for Victor to get straight in his own head let alone to be able to put into enough words for Yuuri. Without skating and training to keep himself busy, the days drag on without much progress, and Victor feels stagnation for the first time in his life.

The bed shifts as Yuuri does, and Victor hadn’t been paying any attention until his eyes focus back in to see Yuuri having pushed and angled himself back, a hand flat on the mattress between them.

“Come,” he says, haggard, patting it. His eyes droop in comparison to Victor’s own that widen before narrowing back, blinking a lot, and Yuuri has to repeat “Come on… ” like he’s egging on a newly adopted dog to perform tricks.

“Oh” and then “Kay” and then Victor’s lugging his body onto the bed before he can question it, not taking his eyes off Yuuri’s face until he’s squeezed himself in next to him, only inches away, before Yuuri throws the blanket over the both of them so they’re enveloped together, protected from everything outside.

“Why do you have to look like that?” Yuuri whispers to him once he’s settled in.

“Like what?”

Victor’s heart pulses in his chest as Yuuri shifts his head minutely in disapproval against the pillow, all the while staring at Victor. He has something to say, and Victor does too; he’s just waiting for his turn to be able to say it.

They’re not touching, but Yuuri’s hand rustles from somewhere beneath the blanket to place warmly against Victor’s cheek which has Victor waning, calming, almost to the point of completely letting go and catching up on the sleep that he’d missed that morning.

If Victor had thought that Yuuri would give an explanation this time, he doesn’t. Of course he doesn’t.

“Hold still,” Yuuri tells him.

The curtains are still drawn shut in Yuuri’s room but the afternoon light can’t help reaching through, similar to how Yuuri is suddenly shifting again, but this time it's to reach forward, pressing his lips to Victor’s forehead, and all Victor can think is he didn’t need to climb into Yuuri’s bed for him to do this.

But Victor closes his eyes then feeling like that’s all he can do, focusing everything he has on experiencing the feel of Yuuri’s lips finding their way down his skin, gently down the tip of his nose, not doing much more than hover, and then curving around to the indent just above Victor’s lips even if Yuuri doesn’t touch them outright. He’s so detrimentally close and it feels like Yuuri’s holding his breath. Victor doesn’t move, not in the slightest, not if he can help it when his throat ends up so tight and he can’t bear to open his eyes again.

And then it’s over all too soon when Yuuri pulls back, swiping a thumb against Victor’s cheek as if asking for forgiveness in doing it, or even for not going further. Victor still can’t open his eyes after he can no longer feel Yuuri’s touch, fearing that everything will disappear if he does. He’s not sure what everything is, exactly.

“You looked like you really wanted to kiss me,” is all Yuuri murmurs to him.

And if it’s true, if Victor did look like that, it would have been entirely Yuuri’s fault. Because Victor has never quite been touched like this or had the lines blurred quite so craftily. Thinking of this being only the first of what should be many intimate moments that Victor so deeply craves, it causes an inextinguishable stirring in his chest that he doesn’t know what to do with. It might have been a little misguided to conflate Yuuri’s slow with no progress, after all.

Victor’s turn to say something comes and goes long before the time it takes for him to realize, and if he wants to say I do in response to Yuuri’s sentiment, it seems he’ll just have to wait a little longer. Maybe be a little bit quicker about it next time.

Chapter Text

If jazzy Japanese oldies begins to feel weirdly sentimental and if the chill of Ice Castle Hasetsu has a distinctly windy sort of smell that clings to Victor even after he leaves, then the skates he carries bumping against his legs begin to do the opposite—growing a distance even though he knows every nook and cranny, every curve, every scrape he’s ever made against them in the last however many years now he’s been using them.

“Did you know,” Yuuri starts to say as Victor’s tying up, and Victor has one foot in a skate and one foot out as Yuuri leans against the rink barrier, watching him. “This place runs at a loss. It’s expensive to keep the air condition going, and there are only so many kids willing to book skating lessons or hockey games.”

“I figured.”

“When I left for America, I thought they’d shut the place down during the summer.”

“You would be okay with that?”

“But they didn’t, though. They kept it going. For five years, and I had no idea. It’s, ah, famous now, you know?” Yuuri says with a dimly lit smile. Of course, of course Victor knows.

“More like you’re famous now, right?” Victor quips.

“Well! That too, I suppose. If you’ve seen the front…”

“Oh, I’ve seen the front.” Victor flips through the pamphlets on Yuuri’s skating history and background as reading material before he goes to bed. It lists his biggest inspirations as being able to eat his favourite meal and Victor Nikiforov.

“Yeah… that’s…”

“Amazing.”

Embarrassing.

“Where’s the Yuuri Katsuki Museum? We should plan a trip.”

“You assume there is one.”

“So, there is one?”

Yuuri is deadpan. “It’s at home. In my room. Where you’ll be locked in for the rest of the summer if you don’t stop taking things from the front.”

“Oh, so you caught me!”

“My room is literally the Yuuri Katsuki Museum now because of you.”

Victor laughs. He thought Yuuri would find out sooner or later considering Victor leaves all his personal belongings out in the open for everyone to see, and he doesn’t exactly make any effort to hide anything. And he always forgets where he puts his Yuuri Katsuki: Life and Times pamphlets, so he keeps having to take more from the front.

“It’s mostly because all that stuff is given to us,” Yuuri says. “When we run low, they send more. So we really don’t need them shipping us any more stuff. It’s kind of crazy when you start to represent the country and all, the government has to get involved. They start to say things like keep winning us medals and we’ll take care of you. Not in so many words, but essentially. So, that’s, well, how this place gets funded to stay open now. It’s become a sort of monument. A tourist attraction.”

Victor nods. “Yeah. That’s how it is.”

“I have to think—do they really care about us or do they just care about the medals?”

Victor pulls the laces taut, as tight as he can, double-knotting them, before moving onto the next one. “Obviously, they only care about the medals.”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

“We represent our countries so we have to work hard.”

“The whole world’s watching us, like—like, what are we supposed to be—figureheads? Motivators? Are we ultimately only encouraging people to come spend their money in our country’s economy?”

“All of the above.”

“It’s nerve-wracking if I think about it too much.” Yuuri sighs.

“Don’t think about it then.”

“I have to. You don’t?”

“I’m used to it.”

If Victor does think about it though, he’s come here to Japan, to spend his money or otherwise, because of Yuuri. In some roundabout way.

After Victor steps into the other skate, but before he can pull on the first row of the laces, Yuuri pushes himself off from the barrier to come towards Victor, dropping down suddenly to kneel in front of his outstretched foot.

“Yuuri?”

It has Victor about to ask what’s wrong, if he’d mis-laced his other skate or something since it might’ve been just that long since Victor’s done up a skate, even if he’s been doing it up for years and can do it in his sleep with the same level of efficiency, but Yuuri looks up imploringly at him, round-eyed.

And Victor only blinks back at him.

It feels like Yuuri’s giving him time to be ready for when he wraps both of his hands around Victor’s. And despite Victor having his gloves already on, there it is again—the fact that Yuuri’s palms around his has him grounded and sated, like Yuuri recognizes the symptoms of nerve-wracking expectation and knows exactly what to do and how to do it in situations like these.

“Let me?”

“What?” Victor blurts.

“You look a bit antsy,” Yuuri says, waiting patiently until Victor’s fingers fall away from the skates entirely before taking hold of the laces himself. He doesn’t—Victor hadn’t even realized.

But Yuuri’s serious, pausing for just a moment to stare down at the skates, as if aside from relieving Victor of the duty of typing them up, touching these very real skates has been his goal this whole time.

“It’s been a few weeks,” is all Victor says, feeling his shoulders relax on their own. “Since I’ve been on the ice.”

Yuuri looks up at him. “You should have told me. We could have gone anytime. Or, you didn’t only have to watch me skate; you could've brought yours along and—”

“I know.”

And Victor is—a little antsy, that is—as Yuuri begins lacing him up for him, gentle but pulling firm, one row at a time. Yakov would yell at him if he knew how long it’s been, would be appalled at the extent to which Victor’s been slacking, and would have likely convinced himself that even if Victor had come to Japan for such blindingly empty reasons as finding himself and seeing what’s out there and discovering life, whatever any of that's supposed to even mean, there’s still no way Victor would let practice fall by the wayside.

But, ha ha, little does Yakov know that Victor had to hold his skates upside down to let the dust bunnies fall out.

At some point, keeping himself off the ice had stopped being a way to telepathically spite his coach and started being a weeks-long itch that not even watching Yuuri skating his own routines from the sidelines could satisfy.

It seems the ache is no different from the way Yuuri gathers his knees together to prop up Victor’s skate between them, stirring something in Victor as Yuuri holds his foot securely in place, eyes roaming keenly over the surface.

“You’ve always wanted to do this?” Victor guesses, chuckling, leaning his hands back on the bench to watch as Yuuri works on him. The material of the skate is too thick to feel the heat from Yuuri’s legs.

“I have.”

“Cute.”

“Never mind. I take it back.”

Victor can’t help muffling back a laugh. He won’t stop him, if this is what Yuuri wants as well.

Yuuri tries to hide the fact that his fingers linger on the glossy surface of Victor’s skates, but it really isn’t too hard to notice when Yuuri treats him so gently and his eyes have that well-worn glint of reverence every time he’s taking extra care not to have any creases or folds anywhere tying the pristine white laces together.

“You’re too good to me, Yuuri.” Victor lets out something of a sigh, head drooping onto his shoulder as he watches the top of Yuuri’s head, fussing about him.

“It's the other way around.”

“Hm?”

“How many of your fans must dream of doing this?” Yuuri says almost dizzyingly under his breath, something cheeky pulling at the corner of his lips. He lets his hands frame either side of the skate like it’s something royal and precious. It looks like he nearly reaches down to kiss it too, even though that would be silly.

And Victor laughs, really laughs at that thought. “Are you doing this on behalf of all my fans then?”

Yuuri nods. “I most definitely am.”

“Ooh, they must be so jealous. Another’s hands on the Victor Nikiforov’s skates.”

When Yuuri finishes double-knotting the neat little bow, he gets up, but only halfway, to lean his hands back on Victor’s knees.

He hunches over, domineering, narrowing down a look that has Victor’s breath hitching. “Am I the only one?”

Victor finds himself licking the breath back into his lips. “The only…?”

“That’s put their hands on Victor Nikiforov’s skates?”

Yuuri comes intimidatingly close, like he’s issuing the better part of a threat or putting forth an accusation of betrayal that Victor’s dared to allow anyone else, the likes of a fan, someone like Yuuri but not Yuuri, to put their hands on his gaudy gold-bladed skates. They’re gaudy and the blades are gold because someone had said he shouldn’t to Victor’s completely innocuous what if.

And, oh? As Yuuri’s lips come together into a pout that Victor’s not sure Yuuri’s quite aware of, it’s undoubtedly jealousy.

“Only… Yakov, my coach,” Victor says with a wave of his hand and Yuuri’s grip on his knees tightens just a bit. But Victor can’t help spewing the truth even when he still wants to play along. “The Russian Federation certainly doesn’t. Yakov’s the only other person that unties my skates for me sometimes when I’m tired, or when he doesn’t want to look at me.”

Yuuri frowns. “Who wouldn’t want to look at you?”

“I know. It’s absurd, right?”

Funnily enough, Yuuri isn’t looking at him right then either, casting his gaze away to the bench where Victor’s hands have slid forward a little to hook themselves on the edge. “I didn’t… tie your skates for you because I didn’t want to look at you,” Yuuri murmurs.

Victor raises an eyebrow, a little confused, a little amused. “Then what did you tie them for?”

Yuuri crouches down, sitting on the backs of his heels, his hands still resting on both of Victor’s knees.

And then his palms shift around, coming flat against the underside of Victor’s knees.

He stares up at Victor, eyes round, brows raised, like he’s about to do something wicked. But Victor doesn't quite have the words to question it.

Then without any other indication, Yuuri’s hands are sliding down along his legs on the stretchy black material of Victor’s loose pants meant to give him free rein of movement, working to cling to and outline the backside of Victor’s calves. Yuuri seems to revel in feeling against his leg muscle, outlining the shape of them, almost giving a light massage with the tingling pads of his fingertips through the thin nylon material. It has Victor letting out a harsh breath of air.

Yuuri looks up again at him while he does this, shameless. “I’ve always wanted to, that’s why.”

“To…?” Victor exhales, feeling his legs jellified even whilst he’s still seated on the bench. All he can focus on are Yuuri’s hands on him, patting against him, consoling him, but he doesn’t go any higher than the bend of Victor’s knees.

“To touch you—your skates.”

Whether Yuuri had meant to correct himself or not is unclear.

“You already said that?” Victor tells him, not fully able to ascertain whether Yuuri’s sneakily dipped his fingers into the inside backs of his skates or if he’d only imagined it. It would’ve made Victor’s breath drop, just at the thought of Yuuri’s fingers dipping where they shouldn’t be going. They’re actually still sitting safe on his lower calves, right at the edge where the skate ends and the leg of his pant begins.

“And,” Yuuri continues, “I guess… it felt like you would be okay with it. So I just—let myself. You’re the only one I ever felt okay with… just… not worrying. If that makes any sense.”

“Same! I think—I, uh, the same.” Victor cuts Yuuri off by accident, tucking his legs back under the bench, which has Yuuri letting go of him. With all this boundless energy that has nowhere to go, Victor’s a little overeager if he’s being honest with himself. “Sorry.” He’s getting ahead of himself.

“You’re blushing,” Yuuri notes, his hands landing back on his own knees.

“Because you…! You’re—!” Victor is distraught.

“And flustered.”

“Are you enjoying this?”

“While I can.”

And Yuuri definitely is with the way his lips carve into a smile so close to a full-on smirk with the way he’s gotten Victor so wound up.

Because the thing is: Victor only ever skates singles, and Yuuri should be one to know this. He's a one man show; it's all Victor knows.

During exhibition galas, he turns down offers to branch out and gain valuable pair skating experiences with nothing else to say besides a self-contained no thanks, with nothing to prove, no trophies to win—though, Victor wouldn't be opposed if they'd started up that particular tradition.

In fact, the improvement of his personal brand is so often ruined by not partnering with up-and-coming young skaters that if the ISU started offering miniature statues made of gold to put on his bookshelf then perhaps he wouldn't be so far up his own ass.

There’s never any real reason he would reject collaborations either, other than they all almost always insist on doing something with romantic themes.

It’s the same as how Victor can’t quite come up with a good enough reason for why he isn’t bothered now by Yuuri’s hands skirting mindlessly over every part of his body, duly aware of what he's doing, like he's always wanted to have his hands on Victor’s legs, lifting him into the air the way a pair skating partner would.

Maybe Victor hates the initial expectation that comes so calculatingly with people—that they both know who each other are and why they’re there along with the handshakes that tug him in for kisses on the cheek and securing sponsorship business deals.

But instead of feeling grateful or worthy or flattered at the very least, it only ever has Victor apprehensive. He never quite feels right with himself even when he tries to force himself to, always putting on a show even when he’s not in costume, always aiming to please even though most everyone’s far too nice to him anyway, so nice that Victor can't help being nice back. And no one, not even Yakov, has ever told him when or how to turn it all off.

But it’s always okay in the end because Victor’s trained everyone around him, even the pushy ones, to accept his rejections with grace. Perhaps it’s stupid of him to keep promising things happening somewhere down the line, maybe next time, some other time, when he has no intention of following through. Perhaps it doesn’t make sense to constantly say no, no, no whenever he’s finally given a choice for himself, in a world where he’d otherwise be saying yes for his career and yes for his future.

“Lonely,” Yuuri had once described him as sounding, though Victor isn’t lonely when he’s the one doing the rejections.

It’s Victor’s only way of keeping a hold on who he is—if he can clearly differentiate between things he doesn’t want and things he definitely doesn’t want. He wouldn’t know what to do when the things he does want come free of charge, with no apparent strings attached.

“I’m… going to get on the ice now,” Victor announces after he’s composed himself, standing up from the bench, and then Yuuri's on his feet as well. Victor tries not so discretely to cover the flush he surely he has on his face with his hand.

Yuuri has to tilt his head back to look up at him now too, since Victor’s gotten two more inches over him with the skates on.

“...Okay.”

“Uh, feel free to join me.”

Maybe that’s not so discrete.

But Yuuri shakes his head, like he's got all the time in the world to do so. “I’ll let you have it to yourself for now.”

Which has Victor giving a vague, concealing roll of his shoulders. “Oh. Suit yourself then.”

“Next time,” Yuuri promises. But his eyes are unwavering, like he really means it.

Victor will hold him to that.

He should’ve done this earlier, is the first thing Victor thinks as he steps off from the barrier, letting his blades slide across the unfamiliar rink. All at once the air feels different, the ice meticulously maintained. After all, it's stupid and pointless to deprive himself when Yakov isn’t even here to feel the effects of his ice abstinence. He doesn’t know what he was thinking; it was only inane self-infliction at this point.

Still, it feels good now, freeing, even if all Victor does is glide around the edges of the rink without any conscious thought for routines or jumps or figures. His body, which should be feeling stiff and unused after weeks, only manages a light buzzing, the backs of his legs warm and humming.

Yuuri stays behind the barrier, leaning against the edge just watching him with a proud smile, true to his word.

-

When Victor had awoken again earlier that day, it’d been well into the afternoon, and once again it’d been before Yuuri.

It’s a well proven fact by this point that Yuuri will sleep through anything.

If a two hour nap after a pseudo-confrontation with his coach was supposed to revitalize Victor, it doesn’t. It takes every second of the ten minutes he has to open his eyes and then another well-used ten to notice he’s lying on his stomach but his arm is thrown carelessly over Yuuri’s head, which is smushed into the inside of his shoulder.

It takes Victor even longer to recognize how the shape of Yuuri’s body is pressed up right against his, even if Yuuri doesn’t seem to mind all that much that his head is trapped between the pillow and Victor’s arm. In fact, he seems comfortably snuggled within it, breathing soundly, even if his hands and legs are kept relatively to himself.

As if he just can’t help it, this whole thing has Victor running through a good number of scenarios that he shouldn’t even be thinking about right now because he knows none of them actually happened. It’s illogical and stupid and nothing actually happened, he knows that for certain from the way he can still feel all of his clothes on his body, but the idea of exhaustively waking next to a sleeping lover runs rampant through his brain anyway.

When he’s able to stop thinking about ludicrous things for a bit, he realizes—this is it.

This is it! repeats in unnecessary exclamation in his mind.

This is what it feels like.

Sharing a bed. Waking up next to someone. Being—a couple. Knowing their name and them knowing yours. Hearing nothing but the sound of each other’s breathing and commotion elsewhere, likely downstairs, that they don’t need to concern themselves with. Feeling natural. Being peaceful.

His elbow bends slightly, even at the awkward angle it's positioned, to brush the tips of his fingers against the hairs on the back of Yuuri’s head.

It’s the middle of the afternoon and time feels like it’s slipping away, and not even just today—the whole time Victor’s been here. Weeks seem to have gone by in a flash.

“Yuuri?” he whispers.

“Yeah.”

“Oh, you’re awake.”

Now that he can no longer feign sleep, Yuuri seems to shift against him but he doesn’t do much except to subtly brush the back of his hand against the front of Victor’s shirt, like he’s just feeling for Victor there. “Yeah,” he says again. Victor can’t see his expression from here.

He tries to move his arm so he’s not suffocating Yuuri under the weight of it, but in doing so he has to shift himself back a little, his arm coming down until his hand is on the pillow in the space between them. Victor props himself up on his side so he can face Yuuri. “How long have you been awake?”

“Not that long,” Yuuri replies, and then bites his lip. “Okay, a little while. Long enough.”

“Were you watching me sleep?”

Maybe it's too early in the morning or the afternoon or whatever it is to be playing like this, his head fuzzy with oversleeping. He doesn't expect much of a proper answer from Yuuri anyway.

But while there are times when Yuuri plays along, poised, when he understands the situation and the response Victor will give him—

No, I wasn’t watching you, he might say in righteous vindication. How dare you think that, Victor Nikiforov.

Or:

Yes, I was, he might say. How dare you, Victor Nikiforov, judge me for doing so.

—then there are times when he doesn’t pull away completely with an answer so uncharacteristically self-assured that Victor’s sure it’s mostly meant to befuddle him.

Instead, Yuri’ll stay and he’ll put himself purposely in a place where he’s unsure—no matter how scary or terrifying it is for him.

“Is that… so bad?” is what he does say.

It’s a place Victor feels so overwhelmingly warmly in his chest, not that he takes pleasure in Yuuri’s own befuddlement. It's this amount of trust that Yuuri has with him that he can allow himself to be unsure.

“No,” Victor answers, drawing his hand soft to Yuuri’s cheek. “I don't mind.”

And Yuuri himself will soften, taking hold of the line of rope that Victor throws halfway to him.

“You know you say that all the time.”

“Because I don’t mind,” Victor tells him. “Really.”

“But do you mean it?”

“Of course.”

“You’re not just saying it?”

“No.”

He’s known for a long time the mental weaknesses of Japan’s Yuuri Katsuki, the media having portrayed him to rival Victor that first year at the senior division. But it’d ended up taking Yuuri season after season to finally secure a spot at Worlds to truly face Victor. He’ll fail to make the podium at Grand Prix one year, only rise enough to make bronze the next, silver the next, then gold. Fails the podium once more at Continentals, makes bronze the next, silver the next, and on and on it goes.

This year is the year he achieves last place.

His journey is slow and the complete opposite of Victor’s. His is navigating a labyrinth of trials, that of constant renewals of inspiration and frustrating heartbreak, of determination and agonizing failure. He’d make for a good main character of any story arc.

So, what of Victor? He’s not a main character that audiences will sympathize with unless he goes out of his way to make them. His own rise to stardom is, when delicacy fails him, a massacre, a god’s domination through means so easy as merely raising his voice in front of a studio camera. If he doesn’t say the pretty words that he does or act the graceful act, he’ll be feared instead of admired.

And Yuuri himself is one of those trapped under Victor’s might, being a fan for years, even now still starry-eyed like no matter how normal Victor acts there's always background noise of his glory-filled achievements following behind him wherever he goes. It's not Yuuri’s fault—everything is on Victor. He simply doesn't have the room to move around society’s expectations of him.

“Now you get to see how ugly I look in the mornings,” Victor jokes, despite resisting the urge to a run a hand down his pores. “Well, afternoon.” He’d done himself up two hours ago, but it’s likely turned into some monstrous mess after rolling around in bed by now.

“You’re not.”

“Hm?”

“You’re not ugly. At all,” Yuuri says in a serious tone, on the verge of chastising. “You’re… it’s a little unfair, actually.”

“Hah?” Victor laughs. “What's unfair?”

“You.”

“I'm unfair?”

Perhaps even the last bits of residue leftover from trying to look decently presentable that morning have survived, even if all Victor can think about is how half his face is likely smudged onto Yuuri’s pillow.

He doesn’t know what he looks like to have Yuuri squeezing his cheeks together with his thumb and index finger.

Yhhuurri,” he attempts.

“You don't have to keep rubbing it in now.” Yuuri sniffs. “You have a pretty face but you’re also insufferable sometimes. You, looking like that, while I'm... like this...”

"Thasnottrue."

Yuuri himself looks too good for mornings, as Victor looks at him sideways, naturally angelic and effortless in a way completely different from Victor. Though, it’s not for faux ideas of purity.

Rather, he feels like Yuuri would look good no matter what—if he were to work hard at it or not at all, if he's some version of successful or not at all what he's going for. It feels like none of it's important—that no matter what, Victor will enjoy staying in Yuuri’s bed until far too long into summer mid afternoons anyway, wasting time he knows he’ll never get back.

People keep telling him things like twenty-seven is so ancient yet he’ll always have magazine covers because his face will look good until the day he dies, he could always pass for ten years younger no matter how old he gets. Hearing things like this, Victor has no idea how to navigate around things he has no control over like magazine covers and the neverending river of time.

But regardless of what people think of an ambiguous age like his, not as old as the mature thirty but not as young as endearingly twenty-one, there's no argument that twenty-seven is still an age too old to begin living.

He’s got so many more years to go, and he’s grateful about that, but what of the years that it’s taken to get him here—all the gold medals and the long vicious nights on overscratched St. Petersburg ice? Is that all it was? Years and youth sacrificed necessary to get him where he is?

Yuuri lets go of his face. “Victor?”

“I…”

Yuuri is staring at him concerned, pushing his fingers into the messy strands of Victor’s hair falling over his face so he can see Victor properly. Victor in turn blinks hard. Let sleeping gods lie, he thinks desperately.

“Is everything okay? I didn't mean it, that you were insufferable.”

Yuuri looks just a little bit worried so Victor nods, eyes bleary, as he guides Yuuri’s hand from his hair to his lips so he can distractedly place a kiss to the inside of Yuuri’s palm, near the bottom edge of his wrist.

“I’m really glad I’m your fiancé,” Victor says under his breath like he wants no one else to hear. He wants just Yuuri to know this, huddled together under Yuuri’s blankets, as many times as he can say it.

“Me too,” Yuuri says with a little surprise but still just as quietly without missing a beat. “You’re the best one I’ve ever had.”

“Well, I’m the only one, aren’t I?”

“Umm… yeah. But I’m also your... number one fan, you know.”

“You’re my number one fan and my number one fiancé?”

“That’s right.”

Victor stutters out a half laugh, wondering why hearing something like that is the one thing he needs to hear the most. “Okay then. Cool. Awesome.”

And if Victor can forget about everything except for what it feels like to lie in a bed so warmly and contentedly like this with Yuuri, thinking that if he deserves anything in the world after his years of service then he deserves this. He’ll belong to just Yuuri instead of the whole world, and he'll keep saying yes for as long as it’s possible for him to.

-

Victor doesn't so much finish ‘practice’ as decide now’s a good time to stop fucking around and get off the ice to head back to the barrier where Yuuri is. He doesn’t know how long he’s been there except that his legs have finally given in to that worn-in tremble and his lungs are burning with the adrenaline of skating again.

“Woo! How sexy!”

Colour Victor surprised if Yuuri had been the one to yell that across the rink.

But when Victor manages to find where Yuuri’s blob is along the rink, he’s not alone, standing with two of the people who help to run the building—they’re clapping emphatically beside him.

“Oh, I didn’t know you guys were here.” Victor skates over, breathing between every word.

“That’s just like you, Victor Nikiforov,” Takeshi Nishigori says with a wagging finger and a knowing smile. “Don’t even notice your surroundings until you’re done skating.”

“That was so amazing, Victor!” Yuuko Nishigori exclaims, having her elbows on the top of the barrier. “You really outdo yourself every time.”

Victor smiles at her. “I’m glad, but that wasn't a routine or anything. I was just screwing around.”

“But those passion-filled spins! That smoldering look! Ah, you’ve taken a page from Yuuri, haven’t you?”

It’s only then Victor notices Yuuri trying to shuffle himself off to the side, red-faced.

“Hm, what do you mean?” Victor smiles curiously, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, of course. He’s been watching Yuuri for weeks now,” Takeshi tells her.

“Oh, is that all?”

“Well, that part’s true,” Victor says with a wink, and he notices Yuuri has both his hands raking down his face. “He’s very talented. And beautiful. Just watching him every time makes me want to get on the ice myself. In fact, if we could perform something together, I think that could be wonderful? What do you say, Yuuri?”

Despite not being able to fully looking at him, Yuuri manages a fixed blink now that the conversation has been directed towards him. “Oh, yeah, sure, that sounds fine…”

“Ooh, yes,” says Yuuko, eyes dazzling. “You’d be great together. Your movements now—that step sequence, that stylish flair, so different from how you used to be. It’s almost like… seeing Yuuri in you. How romantic.”

“Hah?”

Yuuri doesn’t look like he denies this. His eyes have been rather glassy this whole time.

Which prompts Takeshi to nudge into Yuuri’s elbow. “After all those years of copying Victor, it’s a little surreal now, isn’t it?” Takeshi laughs.

Yuuko squeals. “What are you two planning? Are you going to have a comeback together?”

“Hang on,” Victor interrupts with a hand up, look back and forth between the three of them. “You can see Yuuri in my skating? How can you tell?”

“Oh, don’t play.”

“I’m not!”

“Your flourishes!” Yuuko insists with a wave of her hands now. “It’s so very… Yuuri-like! He has this… I don’t know. What is it? Intensity? This very innocent but also salacious style of moving. It's Yuuri’s specialty. He gets that way when he’s high off the crowd. Or drunk.”

“I do not!” Yuuri is suddenly protesting.

Takeshi nods informatively. “I think they’d called it heartfelt sexiness, as opposed to Chris Giacometti’s raunchy sexiness. Or your own more come hither playboy sexiness, Victor.”

“It’s like—you draw us in,” Yuuko comes back to saying. “You entice us, as if you had a loose collar and a fruity cocktail to your lips, but what you end up whispering in our ear is Darling, I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

That seems oddly specific to what happened at this year’s Worlds banquet. Victor has to wonder if she was secretly there the whole time.

Takeshi’s hand is on her shoulder to placate her. “Okay, honey—”

“Really?” Victor says though, a little surprised but exuberant nonetheless. “I didn’t think… I wasn’t really trying for that specifically.”

“Not that you weren't this sexy before!” Yuuko’s interjecting again. “But it's a little more… genuine now? No no, that's not it. Just a little more like you’re skating for one person instead of all the girls and young guys out there.” They’re all looking towards Yuuri now.

But Yuuri stares back at all of them like he has no idea where he fits in this conversation.

“Engagement has really changed you two.” Takeshi chuckles heartily, patting an amicable hand to Yuuri’s back, which has Yuuri’s eyes trained on the floor, glowing expectantly pinker if that's possible.

Yuuko stares both at him and then back to Victor so fondly—as if finally, finally their treasured best friend has found someone that he can be truly happy with. And it’s Victor of all people.

“It’s… all because of Yuuri,” Victor explains, trying his hardest not to explode with commentary even though his will is failing him with each passing second. “Ever since I first laid eyes on him, you know? That—That heartfelt sexiness, is what you said? That’s exactly what it was. I felt it—in my heart, you could say. He has this way of luring you in with his eyes. And, and it has you so interested. He’s so devastatingly curious. And it’s not just his skating because sometimes he’ll say something, one line, that will seem innocent on its own or to anyone else, but then you realize it’s said from somewhere deep in Yuuri’s heart that could be said to no one else but you, and it’ll snake inside you until you realize it’s everything you’ve wanted to hear for a long time. He just has this way of grabbing hold and not letting go...”

Even now as Yuuri’s eyes begin to linger on Victor’s form, clearly remembering the way Victor’s hands were sliding along his hips and through his hair just earlier, with a cocktail to his lips and a loose collar, before retreating back into his head to seriously consider all of the words that have just been said.

“Uh, yeah.” Victor rubs the back of his head, having gotten a little carried away. This isn’t some interview with the press.

“Oh, um, yes!” Yuuko says, after all three of them are staring once more at Victor. “That’s exactly it. You got it.”

“Shit, Yuuri,” Takeshi says with a teasing grin. “Who knew you would get Victor Nikiforov this bad?”

He doesn’t seem to say that with any sort of negative connotations.

These two are Yuuri’s friends after all, with perhaps a bit more insight into the nature of their relationship and who Victor is in relation to the skating world than Yuuri’s family does. But they don’t seem to be particularly more or less gullible to what’s really going on, more or less accepting, or more or less understanding to the point that Yuuri would act in any way differently around them.

Which is why Victor doesn’t know why now, why in front of Yuuko and Takeshi, Yuuri is able to reach a hand over the barrier, grabbing a fistful of Victor’s shirt to pull him in. And Victor has to put out two hands to brace himself against the edge he crashes into, eyes wide.

Yuuri brings him in swiftly for a kiss.

It’s sharp and sudden and none of them see it coming save for Yuuri, probably. Whether or not this is meant as a show is gone as quickly from Victor’s brain as it comes.

Because in that moment the world seems to melt, enveloping him, casting away any doubt and judgement and all the feelings of possibly being horribly inadequate and this being a crucial part of their story and everything else Victor had been worrying himself to death over all this time.

It’s so out of the blue, he’s being swept off his feet and will soon crash headfirst into the ice.

Yuuri’s eyes are closed, his mouth turning soft and warm and pressing insistent against Victor, as if murmuring all of the things he himself can’t otherwise say out loud. Victor had thought he might be the only one struggling with things he can’t otherwise say.

But it’s there—something, at least— on the tip of Yuuri’s tongue edging along his lips, the farthest he’s willing to go to remain chaste. I’m doing this because we’re fiancés, that’s all. We’re doing this for that practice that you suggested before, remember?

For your uninhibited skating that really did have pieces of me in it, I saw it with my own eyes.

Because we’re just two people who could so easily be in love.

Victor doesn’t know which of these is the reason why Yuuri kisses him. Maybe it’s more than one or maybe it’s none of them. He closes his eyes, kisses back, and likes it more than he should.

But before he can figure anything out, Yuuri lets him go, as quick as it had come.

Victor wants to lean back in but the barrier in front of his legs stops him and Yuuri is just out of range. His face is unreadable once more and Victor doesn’t know what to say either, none of the words come.

Somewhere in the background, Yuuko is gasping with an oh, you guys! before turning around as if to give them some privacy in case they wanted to continue, settling into another fit of giggling. Takeshi is making another comment about how surreal this all is, still.

But Yuuri’s eyes are large and sparkling and closer than ever, running through too many expressions for their first shared kiss. He looks like he might ask Victor how it was, if that was okay, if he was being presumptuous or assuming, but all of that’s too weird to say aloud. So he says it with his eyes and with the way his hand unclenches from Victor’s shirt to slide along Victor’s arms still braced against the barrier. His touch is always so gentle, Victor can’t understand it. He basks in it longer than he should.

For what it’s worth, Victor takes Yuuri’s hand in his own, squeezes it, feeling his breath clamoring up through his throat harder and thicker than it had been through even the kiss itself. Yuuri’s face and all the expressions that come with it tend to do that to him—leave him feeling achy and wondering and as if his heart could leap out of his chest at any moment.

In turn, Yuuri breathes ever so steadily, his shoulders rising and falling, his chest swelling. He seems to snap out of whatever dreamlike state he’d been in before to finally say, “You… flatter me. Before. With what you said. Err, that’s all.”

“Oh,” Victor says, winded, surprised he can make any noise at all. “Right.”

Victor can’t look away from Yuuri’s face, even as Yuuri doesn’t seem able to look at him at all, fixating on a particular point on the ice instead. Maybe that’s why Victor finds he can freely stare at the top of Yuuri’s head, so neat and soft-looking and Victor wants to run his hands through Yuuri’s hair. He’ll probably look away too should Yuuri ever find the sense to look at something more interesting than the ground.

“Would you… let me flatter you some more then?” Victor tries. He’s half joking, but also half not.

“No, that’s really okay!”

Yuuri’s hand comes up to cover his mouth, looking away, like he’s only just realizing what he’s done, what he’s just shared with Victor.

And maybe none of this has anything to do with Yuuko or Takeshi being there, if they’re friends or family or just people that Yuuri doesn’t mind doing things like this in front of.

Perhaps no one else minds that Victor, as a terrible fake fiancé, has nearly nothing to say about things that happened prior to two months before. They're all just as aware that this is a whirlwind love in the best of cases, from what they can determine is predicated on little more than a decade’s worth of stolen glances ending in, what, a Cinderella-type scenario? Except Victor doesn't know if he’s losing more than a shoe at the ball, considering Yuuri refuses to let him off at midnight.

If Victor simply does what he can with the information he has now, with the current Yuuri he has right now, that should be fine, right? Isn’t it entirely possible that the opinions he’s formed, the feelings that have accumulated thus far, could have done so in such a short amount of time? Is—this—any different from what could’ve actually happened?

A single dance at the ball in a single night.

He’s always described things as simply a feeling—like that of loving skating.

Victor falls in love with the sport by the time he’s seven years old. He knows it's what he wants to do with the rest of his life, and for a seven year old simply following his feelings, it doesn’t seem like he’d been all the wrong at such a young age.

So, maybe it’s in him to fall hard and fast. It’s in his blood, sweat, and tears.

No matter the constraints he’s put within, no matter how many conferences he has to attend and press he has to talk to, it’s all so he can do what he wants to do.

He takes Yuuri’s face in his hands, having Yuuri look up at him because if he doesn't do something then Yuuri will probably stare at the ground forever. His cheeks are warm under Victor’s fingers.

“I never get tired of kissing you,” Victor relays, can’t help the satisfied smile that overtakes his face, taking his turn to confess something because confessing strange things seems to be all Yuuri’s doing these days without asking for anything of Victor in return.

Yuuri only stares at him weirdly before understanding, nodding in Victor’s hands, lips quivering, doing that thing he does when he’s caught between deciding if what he’s saying is a lie or his real feelings. “Oh. Me too, of course.”

Victor laughs. “Where did all that confidence from earlier go? Did my skating make you that weak in the knees?”

“Of course it did… it always does.”

“Oh!” He doesn’t know how much wider a smile can possibly go.

They have to watch their conversation sometimes when they’re still in the presence of others (though, Yuuko and Takeshi seem to marvel at their camaraderie more than anything), especially when they’re under the pretense that this should be just another typical thing they as an engaged couple do on any other typical day.

But Victor tries his best to get across all of the sincerity he can muster, even in the words where they’re flat out pretending, that he wishes weren’t lies at all. He’ll give himself over in the same way that he’d given his heart over to skating all those years ago.

How does he ask for more of something he already supposedly has?

Victor feels so light, so airy. He’ll give anything for more of this—surprise, satisfaction, acceptance, contentment—every day, if he could. If the world will let him.