One wrong step and he lost his balance, the ice pulling him into its cold embrace. Just like that, the ground around him collapsed, leaving him at the center of its dangerous cradle. Gold had now turned to dust, that he knew… painfully knew. What was left shimmering around his framed dream gradually dimmed and that was how the first piece of the dominoes toppled.
Two years later, he stood at the lowest block of the podium, the medal felt cold against the palm of his hand, its metallic brown color a complete contrast of his skin tone. Gone was the usual silver that hung from his neck, swinging languidly across his chest while he glided over to the Russian man waiting for him outside the rink.
Since the round metal had changed its color, the smile that usually greeted him had lost the familiar warmth, now devoid of sincerity and mirth. Third time was never a charm. Not in this case. So Yuuri chose to avoid the eyes of the man who had stood by him over the years, afraid to see the slightest hint of disappointment hidden beneath the mask of curved lips and crinkled eyes.
The game of circumvention stretched on at the banquet, with Yuuri waltzing his way around the hotel’s ballroom, fake smile firmly in place even as the retiring Chris Giacometti tutted and said, "Second Grand Prix you missed, Yuuri. How will Victor marry you if you keep letting the gold slip through your fingers?"
Though seasoned with a hint of jest, Chris’ words lacerated through the surface of his mind much like a paper cut, smart like a bitch.
The banquet’s noise evanesced into a low hum as Yuuri folded into himself, barely hearing Victor speak, saying, "Next season will be Yuuri’s, I promise."
Of course he would think so. Victor was likewise retiring this season in hopes of paving way for Yuuri to claim his spot on the podium. Unless… Unless misfortune would decide to permanently engrave its mark into Yuuri’s soul.
Slipping away from the group didn’t take much of an effort. The spotlight wasn’t on him. Never on him. At least not for the past couple of years. He preferred it that way, to be an imperceptible presence, perdu among the brightest, so used to fading in the background.
The alcohol kept him company, washing away the filth of shame, even if it was only temporary. With an impetuous desire to detach from reality, he downed one flute of champagne after another. Then he took a shot of something stronger, liking the way the liquid burned against his throat, so he grabbed another. And another. Until his head felt like cotton and his brain thick like mud.
Slowly, gradually, he took a step or two away from Celestino who tried to steal the bottle of liquor from his hand, another step to the side to avoid Mila and Yakov, and a quick step back to forestall crossing paths with Yuri, a half turn to his right, a full one to the opposite side and Yuuri danced his way out of the suffocating space.
His corporeal suffering eventually claimed sanctuary in the bathroom. Thick walls finally separated him from the world he had come to love, the same world that, at some point, had become too heavy to carry on his shoulders.
Yuuri hardly recognized the face he saw in the mirror, staring back at him with petrified curiosity, dark eyes a pool of uncertainty and frustration.
Next season will be Yuuri’s, I promise. Victor’s voice echoed in his head, laced with curbed discontent. The urge to let the curtains drop around him waged war with his submissive yearning to play the perfect protégé and satisfy the expectations of the man who owned his heart.
What am I doing? The weight of despondency grew heavier, creating a stark illustration of a jaded figure in front of him.
Something ripped inside him, like a sheet of paper torn in two. The conflicting feelings closed its fingers around his throat, making it hard for him to breathe.
A medley of resounding cheers, crisp applause, boisterous laughter and voices – distorted and rough – saying, You'll never get the gold. You'll never get the gold. You'll never get Victor, swirled around him. Above him.
Yuuri dropped his head, hands gripping the edge of the sink as if that was his lifeline. His glasses slipped off his face and bounced soundlessly on the porcelain surface. There was a sharp tug right at his core before the rush of dark, murky water swallowed him.
You just sit back and let me take over for a while, a voice reverberating this time from the depths of his mind stated.
He managed to raise his head and catch a glimpse of the reflection in the mirror quick enough for the image that held an eerie resemblance of him but outlined with confidence to register before his consciousness was completely stolen.
"Should we be worried?" his mom asked, voice laced with concern.
"About Yuuri talking to himself? I don't think so," was his teacher's response, her words ironic to the uncertainty in her tone. "Shy children tend to create imaginary friends because it's easier than making actual friends. He's only four. Let's give him time to adjust."
At the grandiose banquet, Victor Nikiforov practiced his craft of charming people with expert ease, his face harlequined with a mask of heartwarming smile and seductive aura that he was certain made both men and women around him swoon. It was his curse to put on this act while he was showered with obligatory congratulations for having conquered the topmost podium yet again.
Regardless, he wasn’t purblind to the absence of his lover. Yuuri had disappeared among the crowd quite some time ago. Worry had started to bubble in Victor’s gut as time ticked and danced around him. It was with tapered earnest that he wove his way through Armani suits and Christian Diors until he was near enough to grab his youngest rink mate and drag him over to a less populated corner.
"Have you seen Yuuri?" he asked, hardly fazed by the perpetual scowl decorating Yuri’s face.
"I did, an hour ago. He escaped into the men’s room." Yuri’s lips thinned, as if visited with a particularly unpleasant recollection. "He seemed to be avoiding me, so I had Otabek tail him, but he said he saw Katsudon leave half an hour ago and…."
The dramatic pause didn’t sit well and Victor wasn’t in the mood for such wavering conversation so he prompted, "And?"
"He saw him hop into a motorcycle with some guy Otabek didn’t know."
The scenario spawned from his mind wasn’t that of Katsuki Yuuri – at least not his Yuuri because…. "Are you sure?"
"I wouldn’t make up something like this, Victor. You know me." The serious façade Yuri wore was enough to punctuate that statement. "And Otabek found this in the bathroom." On Yuri’s palm sat Yuuri’s glasses. "Phichit’s already trying to look for him. He’s worried because a lot of us have seen Yuuri drinking earlier and you know how he is when intoxicated."
"We need to find him" Victor's phone felt like friable glass in his grip. "Let's just hope he hadn't lost his phone and let's hope the GPS tracking function works in this country."
The sun in its full radiance pried his eyes open as if in silent declaration that it was noontime. Calming scent of fresh linen tickled his nose and the draft of humid winter caressed his face. The draperies swayed languidly in submission as cool breeze trespassed through the window.
Out of habit, Yuuri fumbled around for his glasses and didn’t think it strange when his fingers coiled around the fragile object. And out of habit, he slid it on. Only when he was fully upright and sitting on the bed did he realize he was in his hotel room with no memory of how he made it there.
In fact, when racking his brain, the farthest he could recall was the banquet where Yuuri was certain he dug through the intricate assemblage of filled champagne glasses. If he did start drinking, then that would explain the cold void floating in his head at the moment.
Not even the mildly chilled shower worked in jumpstarting any particular memory. And seeking out Victor was out of the question. Whatever might have occurred between the banquet and the moment he greeted the day would probably be something that could potentially irk the Russian or amuse him, and Yuuri preferred not to witness either.
It was Phichit whom he first encountered when he finally emerged from the confines of his rented space. It was Phichit who informed him Victor was at the hotel’s indoor pool with Chris, the latter probably engaged in a fierce attempt to stop the Russian from drowning himself.
"Do you remember what happened last night?" asked his friend once they were seated at the patio, the busy port of Marseille stretched before them, littered with yachts and framed within asymmetrical ivory buildings.
"No. And I don’t think I’d like to find out." With the shock that coursed through him after learning what he did at the Grand Prix banquet in Sochi still fresh in his mind, Yuuri deemed it best if he was left clueless. But Phichit’s expression, for once, was unreadable enough to nudge Yuuri’s curiosity. "Is it that bad?"
The answer came in a series of photos retrieved from a folder hidden in Phichit’s phone. "These were all in Instagram last night. But they’ve all been taken down," Phichit explained. "I never imagined Yakov could even be scarier than he looks." As an afterthought, he added, "I never expected Victor to have a dark side either."
Yuuri felt horrified seeing tainted versions of him captured so painstakingly clear that he knew denial was futile. The photos revealed that he was still garbed in the same outfit he wore at the banquet, sans the jacket (and his glasses). The topmost buttons of his dress shirt were undone, his bluish-gray tie – the one Victor had sworn to burn in hell countless times – hung casually around his neck. He was clearly dancing along the sandy shore amongst bonfires and grinding, sweat and water-slicked bodies.
Phichit offered a pained smile when he said, "That was how we found you."
"This isn’t me," Yuuri muttered, more to himself, his eyes trained on the stilled display of drunken revelry.
This isn't me. Who was he trying to convince, really?
Victor was relieved to be back in Hasetsu, caressed by the familiar winter wind and pacified by the warm embrace of spring water. This place had been more of a home for him than St. Petersburg, if he were to be honest.
Respite, unfortunately, wasn't served to them in a silver platter much as he'd hoped. A few days in Japan were all he had to help Yuuri prepare for Japan Nationals before he had to fly back to Russia for his own competition.
Anxiety had always been Yuuri's regular visitor before and during (sometimes even after) competitions, cloaked in black, menacing presence that lingered around him like a wraith. Now, it seemed to cling onto Yuuri and the fear of its consequence stabbed through Victor persistently.
There were moments, though rare, when Victor had been haunted by an unsettling notion that Yuuri seemed to be an entirely different person. Mari, despite hiding behind a nonchalant wall, seemed equally concerned. Yukko told him he worried too much. Takeshi, on the other hand, claimed he had the same inkling.
Victor wished he could say this wasn't something new, but he could sense the ominous difference, could smell the stench of apprehension, doubt and confusion permeating the air. Leaving Yuuri had never felt this difficult.
"I'll be fine," Yuuri declared, nothing about the positive demeanor he displayed seemed forged. "Besides, you have your own competition to focus on. So don't worry too much. Minako-sensei will be there with me as usual."
So off he went to Russia with a cloud above his head.
The sky sung to him in celebration, hymn of victory resonating across the vast blue-gray space. In irony, dark clouds grew thicker and heavier around him, carrying the silent tears of heaven within.
Chelyabinsk welcomed him with a dingy mist and chilly gust of wind. The air was sullied with the heavy scent of wet earth and tainted ambitions and dark, dark secrets that shook his very core.
The gold medal in his pocket burned through the fabric of his jeans. Yuuri wasn't sure he deserved it when his memory of the competition was nothing but white-painted walls inside his head.
Minako spoke about how he had been sculpted to perfection, radiating with the blinding power to command the rink and bend the ice under his will.
In reality, he couldn't remember. Not a single second on either of his short or long program registered in his bleary memory. Videos of the National competition – of both his programs – had been practically shoved into his face by a frustrated Yukko as a blatant proof of his conquest. He embraced it but with an ounce of skepticism because… because Yuuri couldn't remember it ever happened.
Otabek was the one who collected him from the airport and delivered him straight to the arena. The man had grown into a distinct character of valiance and humility and a reliable friend.
"Victor wanted to come pick you up himself, of course," Otabek said with a slight twitch of his lips. "But Yakov had been breathing reminders of today's schedule down Victor's neck. Literally."
"It's fine." Yuuri knew that the probability of being graced with Victor's magnanimous presence at this point was near inexistent, not when it was barely an hour before the long program commenced.
Victor was his usual self, a model of perfection and grace, something Yuuri always found awe-inspiring. It wasn't a surprise to see Victor soar through the Nationals and European Championships with majestic wings spread in its full glory.
That was his last flight across the empyreal world of competition but not exactly the end of his journey in the intertwining roads of figure skating.
Though Victor's retirement was expected, Yuuri was still touched with disappointment. But he had somehow found solace at the fact that Victor wasn't leaving his side.
In a twisted view of things, he did help sow the fruitless tree.
Without the need to train with Yakov any longer, Victor had suggested they move back to Hasetsu. Yuuri acquiesced in a heartbeat. Though he loved St. Petersburg, the place was filled with ghosts of incertitude that lurked around him endlessly, their presence so distinct that Yuuri felt trapped in an onerous loop and was left with no room to breathe.
At home, he felt he had more freedom. At home, he could be himself without being burdened by the unnecessary desire to please people whom he had little connection with. He still strived to meet Victor's expectations though, because seeing Victor's face lit with satisfaction was enough to nourish Yuuri's ego.
Though he had been haunted by the irrational foreboding that something didn't sit right with Yuuri, Victor was still caught in an unpredicted shock when the uncanny theory he had tucked away in his hindbrain manifested right before his eyes.
For months now, since the Grand Prix ended, Victor had an inkling that Yuuri seemed to be hosting a whirlwind in his head. He wasn't the only one who noticed. Chris brought it up once. Otabek twice. Yuri… Yuri shared his thoughts about Yuuri every chance he got. Makkachin was probably the most sensitive over Yuuri's emotions.
The conversation with Phichit didn't help ease his worries either. But he knew the Thai skater had every reason to voice his concern.
"I called him right after he won the gold at Japan Nationals," Phichit had said. "And I opted for a video call because I wanted to see him blush and all. But he just looked at me and asked who I am." At this point, Phichit's face was veiled in confusion and dejection. "I thought he was joking, but there wasn't a pinch of recognition on his eyes, like it wasn't Yuuri I was speaking with, though he had Yuuri's face."
Victor believed every word only because he went through the same dilemma. But since he had moved back to Japan, back into the Katsuki household, the convoluted shadows that had seen swirling around his lover hadn't reared its ugly head.
A video of Yuri's practice session shown on TV and an inadvertent revelation that the young Russian had made changes to his program had been the trigger. They were casually watching when Yuuri stilled beside him, back straight as a rod.
"H—how can I win against him now?" was what Yuuri murmured and Victor could only presume his lover was speaking to himself.
"Are you okay?" Victor asked, his voice sounding like a crack of distant thunder. He wasn't exactly a stranger to Yuuri's display of anxiety. The visible sheen of sweat on Yuuri's forehead, the restrained hyperventilation and the blank stare were clear signs.
"Yes. I… I'm going for a run." Yuuri sprang on his feet and he wobbled, his hand flying up to his face, fingertips nudging his eyeglasses off and it cluttered on the floor. Surprisingly, it didn't break. "No, don't, " was the watery plea that spilled out of Yuuri's mouth before he straightened up and turned his head back to Victor. The look of apprehension was completely gone.
"You again," Yuuri said, or more like spat with unconcealed displeasure. There was a tangible difference about him, one that had Victor's heart racing. And Victor felt his chest was about to explode when a crooked smile formed on Yuuri's lips, his eyes growing darker and face outlined with a sinister expression. "Victor, I suppose."
It was then Victor realized it wasn't Yuuri standing before him. "Who are you?"
"Aww, Yuuri. Another silver? I wonder when you're going to have me kiss gold. You do know I won't kiss it unless it's gold, right?"
"But…but Victor. How can I grab the gold when you keep snatching it from under our noses!"
They were sitting along the beach nestled at the edge of Hasetsu ocean. A dark mantle had rolled off across the sky, leaving the carved moon and one radiant jewel sparkling above them.
"Were you serious about marrying me?" Yuuri asked wistfully.
Victor pulled his fiancé closer. "Of course. And it's a promise I intend to keep. We'll get married as soon as you win gold."
"As soon as I win gold," was breathed out almost inaudibly that Victor wouldn’t have heard if he wasn't paying keen attention to every sound Yuuri made. He didn't miss the hint of despondency in Yuuri's tone.
"Second Grand Prix you missed, Yuuri. How will Victor marry you if you keep letting the gold slip through your fingers?" Chris had said amidst the flowery words and glittery praises that rained on Victor. It was enough to steal Victor's attention.
"Next season will be Yuuri’s, I promise," he blurted without filtering his thoughts, hoping it would be enough to fix the broken expression on his lover's face.
Yuuri laughed halfheartedly and uttered, "Yes, it will be," with a rigid smile. "My throat feels dry. I'm going to get some water."
As he was drifting away, Chris had thrown an idiotic, "Stay away from the champagne, Yuuri," after him that had Victor digging his elbow with a force into Chris' ribs."
The riveting melody flowed from the violin strings and spiraled over the sunflower field where bright yellow flowers sat over thick cushions of snow.
Whispered encouragement had been his constant visitor, sang softly in his ears like a romantic ballad.
Occasionally, this peace would be disrupted by the sharp, strident thrum from an electric guitar and the violent and incessant striking on the drums.
And with unabated horror, Yuuri would watch the sunflowers catch fire and the whole field gradually turn ashen.
This scene incessantly scratched at the surface of his mind like a razor.
Some days felt like an unending tribulation that had Yuuri literally shut his self from the world. And upon climbing out of his proverbial hole, he would be met with a gap he had no idea how to fill.
There were more instances when he felt more normal. If there were some sense of normalcy left in his life. Keeping his head above the water had helped him perfect his program. The fact Victor had shown lesser frustration than he did the past year, often showering Yuuri with positive words, was enough to dispel the dark clouds of anxiety that had been hanging above him.
That was until the pressure Worlds inevitably carried along rushed down on him like an avalanche.
The scenario wasn't exactly foreign and unusual. Though not a frequent occurrence, Victor had seen this unfold countless times.
Yuuri's eyes were as wild as a tempest, irises dilated and unfocused. This was a clear sign that anxiety wrapped in a golden bow had come to keep him company.
In the past, Victor was limited to two options. Either leave Yuuri to deal with this psychological devastation on his own, or Victor would mercilessly hammer on the nails sticking out of Yuuri's brain until he broke into a million fragments. Then Victor would just pick up the shards afterwards and piece them back together before Yuuri stepped onto the ice.
Now, a new option had been unveiled. He wasn't entirely sure if he would categorize this under the list of pros, considering it frighteningly involved Yuuri's mental instability. Or perhaps… perhaps it should be on the top of cons list. But tapping on option number three could break through the thick but delicate wall of etiquette and Victor wasn't entirely sure that would be a reasonable choice.
The angel and the devil debated over his shoulders as he was submerged in the deep ends of contemplation.
Eventually, he realized there was no need to keep on tossing the coin because fate stepped in when Yuuri collided with presumably an arena employee. The impact was strong enough for his glasses to fly off and skid across the floor.
Victor picked up the item before facing the other side of Yuuri's mirror. "I was wondering when you'd show up."
A derisive sound burst through Yuuri's nose. "Quite risky to hope I'll make an appearance, Victor. You do know I could simply walk out of here and save Yuuri the trouble of going through the process that could potentially hurt him, you know."
"Yes, I know. But I also know you wouldn't do that. Because throwing away the chance to climb the podium would hurt Yuuri just as much, and that would be the last thing you want. Am I right? Yuu." Victor could only hope that this man speaking through his lover's lips would only hear the confidence he struggled to keep in his voice and not the rabid sound of his heartbeat.
The man cloaked in sultry sin glided and spun across the frozen field, painting every corner with sable strokes. He possessed an intense gravitation that drew Victor in; that drew in every person who stood witness to his sublime display of Yuuri's enthralling side.
The distinctive fragrance of adrenalin rising from the man as they sat at the kiss and cry was so addictive that Victor's senses sought it until he was trembling with need.
That feeling clung to him like a leech sucking away all rational thoughts.
"You want it. Don't fight it." Yuuri – or Yuu – climbed into his bed with a seductive grace later that night. "And I think I deserve a reward after today's performance. I did, after all, leave everyone, including your young Russian friend, in the dust." His tongue felt warm and cold against Victor's neck.
Victor knew he shouldn't. This was Yuuri, technically. But this wasn't Yuuri in an otherworldly sense. With all moral sagacity cast aside, Victor allowed the electrifying urge to take control until the dark, murky water rose to swallow him and pull him into the depths of this intoxicating hell.
And as he was buried balls deep into the man who screamed his name in Yuuri's voice, Victor had an epiphany that he had practically surrendered his soul to the devil.
At odds and ends and feeling trapped at a crossroad, Yuuri sought escape. The ice had always been his sanctuary but knowing Victor would be at the Ice Castle, Yuuri opted to visit the pond a few meters from his old high school.
Ahh… how nostalgic.
This was where heaven met the earth, where the past interlaced with the present.
A portrait of white and blue mixed with the color of the earth painted a breathtaking view. The hushed whispers of the wind and the faint chirping of the birds were his music.
Peaceful. Tranquil. And comforting. A far cry from the world of spotlights and eccentric music and cheering crowd and gold medals. In his own world, Yuuri still had his precious freedom. In this world, Yuuri felt like he could fly.
Despite his limbs still feeling sore, Yuuri surged forward with his arms stretched, his blades etching lines and circles on the surface of this vast, glassy floor.
With no rules to break, no coach to please, no judges to judge, Yuuri moved the way his heart yearned, jumping with abandoned restrictions and spinning with open intensity. The world around him faded in a blur of leafless trees and melting snow and life buried beneath a mountain of unfulfilled promises.
On the surface, he hummed the music spun from his life as a skater in peaceful content. Deep down, he was screaming his plea to undo the shackles that were digging through his neck.
Sometimes, he wonders what his life would be like if he had chosen a different path, if the triplets hadn't captured his impression of Victor's program on video or if he had opted to stay in his room that day. Not that he held any regrets. With Victor being a relevant part of him, he couldn't imagine life without his partner.
Maybe the rollercoaster ride he'd taken happened for a reason. Maybe his history was deliberately written in a way for scholars to analyze and study and discover an integral part of him.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Underneath the blanket of self-inflicted consolation lay the ugly reality where he lived through distorted dreams and false hopes and deluded pretenses.
It had been an hour, maybe two, when Yuuri finally stopped right at the center of the frozen pond. The sun's glare shone clearly on the surface of this sea of glass as if it was smiling down on him – whether in warm sympathy or wicked mockery, he wasn't sure.
His reflection peering up at him from the vitrified surface possessed a different set of eyes – eyes shaped with fierce determination. Yuuri clearly recognized his image, but why was he seeing someone else?
Dark, watery laughter echoed from the depths of his mind, prompting him to take a sudden step back.
A distinct sharp crack reached his ears. Before his mind could conjure a possible explanation, he felt the fragile ice beneath his feet shatter and the freezing cold water sleeping under awoke, reaching out and wrapping its icy limbs around his body.
Yuuri saw Victor smiling at him, offering a commemorative photo. He saw Victor standing buck naked at the onsen, offering to be his coach. He saw Victor at the edge of the rink, beaming at him with pride. He saw Victor outside Sagrada Familia, offering him a ring. He saw Victor in every angle of his life.
Apart from the liquid embrace, Yuuri felt something strong and solid coil around his middle. Then slowly, he felt himself detaching from the frosty hold, a familiar voice filling his ears, calling his name over and over and over.
"Yuuri. Yuuri. Yuuri!" was what he heard before his consciousness took a sudden plunge back into the dark abyss.
What in reality was a faint symphony of beeping and whirring and swooshing and buzzing evolved into a deafening cacophony in Victor's ears. His sanity hung loosely by a thread so thin, Victor felt it could snap at any given time. His only anchor to reality was the rhythmic sound of Yuuri's breathing.
He was alive. He was alive and that was what mattered.
The first time Yuuri opened his eyes, he stared up blankly at the ceiling. Victor noted the lack of the usual vibrant life shimmering in those dark orbs as if he was a soulless vessel that merely existed to pacify him. But he was alive.
He was alive.
"Could it be…" Yuuko started but couldn't seem to form the proper words that would give shape to her thoughts. She didn't have to. Victor didn't need to guess what she wanted to ask now that he knew she was likewise aware of the existence of Yuuri's alter ego.
"I don't think so, no. He wouldn't look like an empty shell if it had been the other," Victor explained, his fingers entwined with his partner's cold, unmoving ones. "Honestly, I'd prefer Yuu than nothing at all."
The second time Yuuri had slipped out of his slumber was to his entire family visiting. His eyes surveyed the room as if he was cataloguing every person present then his chest rose and fell in a sigh. "I'm not dead."
Of course, you're not, Victor wanted to say, but the words were lost in the manic laughter he couldn't stop from bursting out of his chest. Elation took control of his usually composed manners that all he could do was gather Yuuri in his arms and bury his face in Yuuri's hair until the laughter progressed to another level that involved tears spilling out of his eyes.
With his hands cradling Yuuri's delicate face, Victor peered into the windows of Yuuri's soul, every emotion churning inside him spun into three words that could best describe the feelings he had for this man. "I love you." He sealed it with a kiss on the lips and a quick peck on Yuuri's forehead. "Please don't scare me like that again."
The slight upturn of Yuuri's lips, the innocence in his tone when he said, "I'm sorry, Victor. I only wanted to skate," and the crystalline gaze his lover graced him with were enough to reassure Victor that Katsuki Yuuri – his Yuuri – was back indeed.
And he was alive. He was alive.
Yuuri's other side had only shown up once while Yuuri was in the hospital, demanding to be released because….
Unfortunately, Phichit, Yuri and Otabek were there to witness the horrifying change.
"So you're saying that if he doesn't have his glasses on, he becomes someone else?" Every word that poured out of Yuri's mouth was laced with undeterred confusion.
Victor shook his head. "I don't think it works that way. He's had his glasses off while training and he stayed Yuuri the whole time."
Discussing the predicament somehow made it real and it scared him. Victor had been trying to convince himself it was all a prank and Yuuri would one day crack into a fit of laughter and tell him, "I can't believe you fell for that."
"I think it's only triggered when he doesn't have his glasses on and at the same time, his anxiety takes over all his senses. His glasses seem to be his anchor to reality when he's struck with what the doctor referred to as a mental disorder. So when he loses it, he loses himself," Victor explained in the simplest version he could manage, recalling the discussion with the psychologist who initially came to analyze the effect that the accident had on Yuuri.
They were at a café across the hospital, having left a sleeping Yuuri under his mother's watchful eyes. With her gentle touch still tingling on his shoulder and her solacing words of, "Go take a break, Vi-chan. I'll watch him for now," still ringing in her ears, Victor felt at ease despite the unwarranted separation from his partner.
"Is there a cure?" The cloud of worry hovering above Yuri's head grew thicker.
"We were told there is no cure. But there are treatments and Hiroko Kacchan has already consulted a psychiatrist."
There was no earth-shattering reaction involved when Hiroko confessed that she had noticed the peculiar change in Yuuri as well. Only a mother would notice with practiced prudence, Victor thought then.
The sad reality was that apart from the medications that the doctor could prescribe, Yuuri was the only who could see his misplaced reflection on the mirror and the only one who could clear the fumes in his heart.
There was an unwritten and unspoken code of etiquette he was expected to follow in post competition banquets – a code as delicate as porcelain that needed to be handled with care.
But Yuuri swooped in like a rampant hurricane and Victor found himself falling into the rabbit hole, having a Mad tea party and dancing the night away with the Queen – erm, King of Hearts.
And he fell deeper still when Yuuri, breath smelling like sweet champagne, clung to him in divine drunken stupor, saying, "Be my coach, Victor."
His life had been filled with cosmic turn of events ever since.
His hospital days were way behind him but visions of glass and ice and water and white, nothing but white, were all still part of his nightly visitor.
It took more than a month, long after the cherry blossom trees had showered their front lawn with its pretty pink petals, when Yuuri found the courage to step back on the ice without the clammy tentacles of fear slithering at the edge of his mind.
Victor's patience had been his strength and his guide.
Phichit and Yuri had taken up residence at his family's house for a week. Phichit, the ever radiant spirit in his otherwise shady existence, and Yuri, the scorching fire to his otherwise cold world, provided the perfect balance, like having the sun and the moon in his living quarters.
When they left, he was glad the balance he struggled to keep a grasp on didn't tip.
For a while, he basked in content, living in a pretense of what he deemed was some level of normalcy. He helped his mother prune the flowers in the garden, helped his sister clean the bathhouse, helped his father with his chores in the kitchen and helped Victor drew lines on paper, labeling each corner with figure skating moves that his body yearned to do.
It was close to summer, as warm air snuck up behind the cool draft of spring, when Yuuri yielded to his mother's request to see the psychiatrist. She never explained why it was necessary, just that it was part of his healing process and Yuuri merely concluded it was probably due to the panic attacks that came quite frequently after the accident.
Yamamoto-sensei was eccentric and extraordinaire, Yuuri was quick to discover, not one to speak in jargons but someone Yuuri imagined could cast away any fear and uncertainty raging inside him with a magic spell and a snap of his finger. Or so Yuuri wished.
The doctor advised that he lay off competitions for a while, at least for a season, until Yuuri learned to control the beasts that lurked in his head whenever he was close to promenading into the ice.
"We will beat this, Yuuri," the doctor said behind his brilliant display of medical knowledge. "But for me to help you, you will need to help yourself first."
The bells at the temple tolled as Yuuri embraced this newfound goal. To his relief, the news about his foregone hiatus didn't upset Victor. His fiancé only wrapped his arms around him, whispering, "We will beat this, Yuuri. I am here for you," which comforted him and confused in all the same.
The road ahead was narrow and unpaved, a river and a hill stood on either side. Behind him were trees standing close together which clearly meant he wasn't allowed to take that path. Victor was left with no other choice but to move forward.
At the far distant end, he could see a light, faint but distinct and it grew brighter the further he marched on.
The stars above hid behind thick clouds, his only guide was the soft yellow glow of the moon. But despite the semi-darkness, despite the desolation, he wasn't afraid. He wasn't afraid because he knew that somewhere along this lengthy path, perhaps right at where the light was, he would meet someone who would teach him about life and love.
So when he took the first step, he knew then he was treading through the point of no return, knew that the crows would only eat the bread crumbs he had left in his trail.
In a trance, he moved around darkened halls and dimly lit stairwell like a ghost tiptoeing past the skeletons in the closet. Under the moonlight, he would tread through the shallow waters of the pond, the soles of his bare feet burned against the hot sand and stones beneath it. Along the shores, he danced his tragic waltz with Chopin's Nocturne Opus 9 Number 2 playing in his head until his feet bled and his lungs ran empty.
In the morning, Victor would clean his wounds and wipe his tears and hold him tight, whispering, "Everything will be alright," before shoving down a handful of pills down his throat.
"Will it, Victor?" He'd ask, doubted everything would be alright if he functioned merely on colorful pills through sleepless night.
Yuuri hated his medication. He suspected they were the cause why his immunity level dropped and why he was sick half the time. The cough seemed to take comfort residing in his lungs and it burned every time he hacked out thick, dry air.
At some point he mastered the art of hiding the pills under his tongue and when Victor or his mother weren't looking, he would spit it out and flush it down the toilet. But when he didn't take them, the headaches took over.
Then there was also the black hole phenomenon, blank pages in his mind that no one could even provide a decent explanation or lie as to why he seemed to be experiencing a bizarre time skip. Sometimes, Yuuri would wake up in a place without any recollection on how his feet had brought him there.
Maybe the pills weren't for my anxiety after all.
One morning, when Victor was doing his stretches, Yuuri asked, "Am I crazy?" from out of the blue just to catch his fiancé off-guard.
"What? No!" Panic flashed in Victor's eyes and his expression was priceless but before Yuuri could laugh at his fiancé's reaction, a sharp pain sliced through the top of his head.
With the heel of his hand pressed against his temple, Yuuri yelped and cried out, "Ahhh! Headache," then a blinding, white light cloaked his vision.
Victor thought with Yuuri being off-season, there was no chance for Yuuri to take the plunge and allow his alter ego to surface.
He was wrong.
Perhaps it was the headache that acted as a trigger. Perhaps it was the crippling confusion or the feeling of being lost. Whatever the case, Yuuri managed to escape inside his head once again and the other man who wore his fiancé's face flashed him a conniving smile.
"It's pointless trying to lock me in," the alter ego said in that overly sweet tone that grated on Victor's nerves. "He needs me. It's impossible to resist me."
"So he yielded," was Victor's conclusion. Maybe this half of Yuuri was right, resistance was futile, totally out the window if Yuuri longed to be free from all the constraints thrown around him. Maybe it was pointless to circumvent the inevitable. Maybe he should help Yuuri face this head on instead. "Would you mind taking a walk with me, Yuu? Maybe we could go to the beach."
Victor wasn't entirely sure he was doing the right thing – building brick walls around them until he could form a castle, a fort where he could hide the truth and wait until the world forgot about them. But he vowed to protect Yuuri. If this involved shielding his reflection from the outside forces as well, then so be it. He didn't mind getting his hands dirty once in a while.
Facing Yuuri's other side – Yuu – might have been a good decision on Victor's part. He was, in some twisted way, still Yuuri. The confident, sensual, indomitable and assertive side of Yuuri that Victor believed lay dormant deep inside his fiancé.
Yuu was right. Keeping him locked away was pointless because he was a part of Yuuri, the other side of the coin, the other half of the whole. What Victor should help Yuuri with is to unite them, to make them one.
Maybe that would ease Yuuri's and Yuu's internal battle. Maybe, hopefully, that would prevent them from scratching against their respective prison walls, would put a stop to all the screaming and running and hurting, would end Yuuri's suffering and would put Victor at peace.
In hindsight, he was most likely to blame. Victor felt he was responsible for tapping into unknown territory, for unlocking the code that opened the floodgates of Yuuri's core when he eased out his Eros some lifetime ago. Though honestly meant as a tease, the words he used to help Yuuri find his Eros might have been some discreet form of verbal manipulation that left a crack on Yuuri's mental chamber, a crack large enough that a simple punch on the wall could make it crumble.
The realization that he might have been the one to unleash the hidden persona crashed down on him in a forceful and freezing wave.
"You understand now, don't you, Victor?" Yuu said while in the process of peeling his clothes off down to his underwear. "It was you who created this monster." He ran over to the ocean in all his naked glory and dove headlong, meeting the fierce water rushing to the shoreline, the red summer stretched out around them in its blistering heat and humid air and cruel, cruel intentions.
It was nearly dark by the time he climbed out of his slumber hole. He couldn't even remember when he slept. If his memory served him right, which was pretty much the opposite most of the time, he was warming up with Victor that morning. Everything else was either a blur or a complete blank slate as usual.
Worrying about it wouldn't keep him nourished so Yuuri decided to file it in memory, leave it for later analysis and beg his mother for food.
Victor was in the kitchen, perfecting his skills in creating katsudon, the brilliant ray of sunshine in a steamy space that smelled of onions, Kikkoman and sake. "Ah, Yuuri. Hungry?"
"Yes." He was, should be, if all he did was sleep all day. But as soon as his meal was served, his stomach seemed to reject the food. It was strange how he felt full after only a few bites.
The need to escape Victor's worried glances drove him to Ice Castle later that night. The rink was, as usual, his sanctuary, the only familiar place that could shield him from unpredictable forces of nature. Yuuri arrived just as the Zamboni was rolling out of the rink and back into its cave.
"Go ahead. I know you need your alone time." Takeshi emerged from the shadows, a sad smile sitting on his lips. "I'll be at the office if you need anything."
Yuuri was grateful he hadn't been deprived of the occasional chance to spread his wings, to be blessed with the liberty to let go of himself in the midst of rising mist and fogged space.
Summer crawled through Hasetsu like an aimless slug, blowing hot air against the shorelines, creating sand dunes and biting into his skin like fire with teeth. Running along the beach with Victor and Makkachin at night became a ritual despite the humid air sucking moisture out of their bodies.
Near the end of August, Yuri came by for another visit, bringing Otabek along with him. They lit sparklers near the ocean and drew elliptical shapes in the air and danced around the sand like crazed children, their laughter drowning the music that Victor had playing on his phone.
Showing Otabek around, not only in Hasetsu but also in Fukuoka, was the distraction Yuuri didn't know he needed. For a while, he felt as if the shackles that had been bearing him down were taken off and he could breathe easier without its weight. But when he noticed his companions watching him with guarded wariness, he sank back down to the corner where his shackles were hung.
"Why are you all looking at me as if I may explode any second?" he asked while they were on a train bound to Hasetsu.
It was Yuri who responded, candid as ever. "It's because you do look like a ticking time bomb. Have you been sleeping well? Are you aware of the ugly dark circles under your eyes?"
Of course Yuri would notice. The young man wasn't exactly naïve as Yuuri would like to believe. "It's the medication. They're keeping me up at night."
"Why don't you ask the doctor to change them?" was Otabek's suggestion which shook Yuuri out of his defensive lie and made him wonder if the pills were indeed to blame or if it was his constant fear of waking up and not remembering anything at all.
To him, Yuri was like an intricate puzzle that was hard to solve, so many patterns hidden beneath layers of tough guy image and vulnerability and impulsive outbursts.
To him, Yuri was like a tornado, his warm personality clashing with his cool façade, creating instability which burst into a fierce force that twisted around his world.
To him, Yuri was the epitome of unpredictability that would eventually settle into a stable part of his life
Yuuri knew that behind the scowl and fowl words and unbidden antagonism lay a sweet, caring boy that would eventually become his friend.
None of the books he had read could give him answers. Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji, even words written in English, were practically burned into his cornea from the hours he'd spent pouring through pages after pages, yet he was still fumbling in the dark.
The internet was a treasure cove of information, yet Victor hadn't discovered one that could possibly help him with Yuuri's situation.
But he continued to search for answers, for a feasible solution, scribbling ceaselessly on his notebook until every page shone vibrant red with Yuuri's name written in every corner.
Perhaps he was looking at the wrong place. Or perhaps the answers weren't in the textbooks and websites and imaginary scrolls. Perhaps he just didn't know what he was looking for.
The hourglass was running out of sand. The single rose hidden within a glass case had started to wilt, one blood red petal after another. Yuuri's flame was getting weaker, gradually losing its shine.
"I feel like I'm the one losing my mind," he told Phichit on one of their video calls. The younger man had been keeping tabs on Yuuri like a best friend should.
"Hang in there, Victor. You're probably his only source of strength right now." This boy had indeed grown and Victor was grateful for his constant presence despite the damnable distance. "Maybe you should try talking to his doctor, without Yuuri around, that is. Maybe he can help you help Yuuri."
Breaking down the walls of whatever etiquette there was, Victor took Phichit's advice and eventually snuck out to meet with Yuuri's psychiatrist alone to discuss what he had learned. About Yuuri. About Yuu.
The autumn wind snuck up behind the humid breath of summer, creeping in undetected like a thief in the night.
It wasn't long before the leaves burned bright orange and bronze like rusty crowns that sat on the head of dying kings. Yuuri still helped his mother tend to her garden, regardless of the knowledge that in a month's time, they would mourn them and leave whispered promise to the flowers that he'd see them in spring.
Nostalgia nudged at him incessantly, reminding him what this season usually brought.
"We could go to China and watch the China Cup. Yurio will there," Victor offered so eloquently but Yuuri declined.
"Nah. My hypnotherapy sessions start in a couple of weeks so I won't have time for that."
After he had forced the truth out of his doctor and Victor nearly a month prior, Yuuri had been more inclined to keep himself secluded, haunted by uncertainties with his own ghost lurking beneath his consciousness.
One afternoon, he felt courageous enough to stare at his reflection in the mirror, coaxing his other side to surface, only to realize an hour later that he had lost weight and the shadows under his eyes were darker than he remembered.
The doctor gradually decreased the dosage of his medication and sleep came easier afterwards. His dreams were serene at the beginning, white at the edges, sakura petals raining on him, the sound of a violin soothing every bone in his body. Then the white turned gray, clouds heavy with rain and laughter resonating from the distance, visions of shattered mirrors and dark waters creeping into his subconscious illusions every night. Then there were the empty dreams with nothing but a stretch of white barren space, not a speck of contrasting color to disrupt the brightness.
His distractions these days involve taking Makkachin for a walk, or dancing in Minako's studio, or snuggling in Victor's arms while they engage themselves in a marathon of what his father claimed were classic drama and anime.
But they weren't enough to stop the memory gaps and empty dreams and headaches that made him want to slam his head against the wall.
Choosing what he deemed was lesser evil, Yuuri begged for the pills again, feeling utterly condemned like a fallen angel whose his wings had started changing colors, from glimmering silver to ashen gray, crystalline feathers turning brittle that easily crumbled in a gentle touch.
"I'm sorry I failed you!" came Yuuri's high-pitched cry, smothered with thick sobs and raspy breaths that stuttered through the tiny speakers of his laptop.
"No. No, you didn't." Victor wished he could reach into the screen like it was a doorway that could bridge the distance standing between them.
The gold was close to Yuuri's fingertips, but his mind seemed to have been violated with unnecessary thoughts that disrupted his rhythm as a result. Victor's heart broke with Yuuri's and he felt utterly helpless as he watched his fiancé hurl the silver medal across his room.
"Yuuri! Yuuri!" he called out with every ounce of desperation, fearing that his Yuuri might – would slip away.
Yuuri's alter ego hadn't surface in three weeks. The water remained still as a dead lake, the absence of ripples had left Victor trapped between feelings of trepidation and relief. What he took as a blessing was the fact Yuuri's health seemed to improve. He was gradually gaining weight, eyes no longer sunken and he was back on the ice.
Victor's days were no longer spent in solitude. Yuuri was back by his side, skating the program they both choreographed, moves that told the story of trials and defeat, of revelry and conquest, of rising to the top.
Then Yuuri skated to an enthralling music of bright morning suns and majestic sea birds, of flower gardens and tall trees, of the waxing moon and glittering stars and singing cicadas with a step sequence that drew Victor in like a moth to a fire.
"I think he'll be fine," he told Phichit later that night. "You can skate without worrying about him now. So do your best. We'll be rooting for you."
They watched the NHK the next night on streaming where Phichit skated and conquered, earning a spot to the Grand Prix finals for the fourth time.
Yuuri couldn't hide the pride in his voice even if he tried when he called Phichit that night. Victor could only stand witness at the teary exchange between two friends, could only eavesdrop at the inside jokes they threw casually, leaving him scratching his head in confusion.
No words were needed. Victor could see the longing unfurl on Yuuri's face. "We can… we can fly to Nagoya if you want. Watch the finals and—"
"I can't." The flames burning brightly in his eyes earlier slowly diminished as Yuuri shook his head. "I can't." He left the room in a hurry.
Trees wept as the season plucked their leaves two or three or maybe even ten at a time, branches too frail to hold them together. The wind blew at them in mockery as if they were birthday candles, the gust strong enough to shake off their prized coronet.
Yuuri reached out to catch a leaf which reminded him of an object with a similar color that once rested on his palm. His feet were buried in a pile of red orange and rustic gold
Nights have turned chilly and the air clung to his bare skin like clawed fingers. Staying indoors seemed to be the wiser choice.
The weight that had taken up residence in his chest grew heavier as the Grand Prix Finals crept closer. He didn't have a name for this just yet. It wasn't frustration, nor was it regret. If anything, Yuuri was glad for the respite. He had, in fact, been wanting to retire but the expectations of the people around him, Victor most especially, fueled him to surge forward, despite the pressure taking a toll on him.
Back then he knew it was only a matter of time before he broke down. But even he didn't notice the miniscule crack on his resolve.
So no, it wasn't frustration or regret. Was it fear then? If he were to be honest, he would admit he wasn't ready to face the people whom he'd come to consider as friends. He wasn't sure if he'd be able to turn a blind eye on curious stares he feared would be thrown his way. He most likely won't be able to turn a deaf ear on whispered rumors that he was certain would encounter.
Yuuri had made up his mind and Victor didn't push.
Phichit flew in to Japan earlier than the others so he could drop by Hasetsu before heading to Nagoya for the finals. Having him around was like a breath of fresh air. His enthusiasm was so infectious that Yuuri shared his excitement and nervousness for the upcoming competition. They practically stayed up all night talking.
The next morning, Yuuri was surprised to see Chris Giacometti at his family home's doorstep, claiming that he was going to watch the Grand Prix finals but decided to make a detour first. "Plane fares aren't cheap, you know," he said, claiming a spot on the floor across Yuuri. "So I might as well make the most of my trip."
Yuuri was glad for Chris' presence as well. That way Victor would have his own distraction.
The day faded into a thick fog that cloaked the whispers of the night. Even the cicadas weren't singing their nightly ritual song, only a few humming the occasional lullaby, hushed by the chill in the air. If it weren't for present company, Victor would've been engulfed within the mist, lost in the deafening silence.
"He looks fine," Chris said as he sank in the warm pool beside him. "Is he still having episodes?"
"No. Hasn't been for five weeks now, and still counting." Victor slid further into the water, resting his head against the stony edge. "I don't want to jinx it and claim that he's all better. I feel like I'm holding my breath every time he's thrown in a situation where he could potentially break, you know."
Chris sighed. "I admire your patience though. I would've packed up and leave if I were in your place."
Victor cast him a somber gaze. "I love him Chris. And I do intend to marry him. So why not put the in sickness and in health part of the vow in practice now, right?"
Chris shook his head, a smile on his lips. "Like I said, I admire your patience."
However. Patience came in brittle ancient paper that withered in time.
Peace didn't leave Yuuri even after Phichit and Chris left. Though no longer enveloped in a deathly veil, he seemed to recoil within his mind more often like an angel waiting for his tattered wings to heal.
Victor vowed to wait with him.
The relaxing aroma of frankincense and lavender permeated the room. Flames from the candle that had been lit in place of the radiant fluorescent lamps cast misshapen shadows that swayed like Arabian dancers against the pastel-colored walls. Soft nature music filled the eerie silence – an endless loop of the mesmerizing sound of sea water hitting the shore. It was pacifying enough to guide Yuuri's mind towards his temporary haven.
The psychiatrist's voice was as gentle as a feather falling over a derelict rope bridge when he asked, "Ready, Yuuri?" like a recorded dialogue he played every visit.
"Yeah." Yuuri had been succumbing to hypnotherapy for the past four months now so he was already familiar with the process.
It was completely pointless to resist, that he learned, so he surrendered to the doctor's melodic voice, counting, "Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven…," that by the time he reached six and five, Yuuri was already floating halfway through the familiar place – a nest that wasn't even his own – where he was kept like a bird with a broken wing.
Except this time, the injured limbs had healed and he was free to soar through the vast empty space in an eagle-like grace. But he didn't. Instead, he chose to remain nestled in the dimly lit void until he could hear his psychiatrist's voice dragging him back to the surface.
Victor was at the waiting area to meet him once the session was over. Always waiting. Always.
That night, a peculiar vision visited Yuuri in his dream – vision of a vast green plain with a single tree standing near a stream. The rush of water called out to him, drawing him close to the bank until a figure emerged from behind the tree.
As soon as the figure was within considerable distance, only then did Yuuri notice the man wore his face.
Comforting warmth enveloped him as he stared through the proverbial looking glass… as he stood before his reflection.
"It's you," he started, familiarity trembling within him, unaware that the simple act of acknowledgement would weave conversation with what once was the personification of his unstable hysteria.
It spun into acceptance. It spun into realization.
When Yuuri woke up the next morning, he found Victor watching him with worried eyes.
Victor sounded miles away when he spoke, said, "You were talking in your sleep," as if forced to bring bad news. And he looked awfully older when creases formed between his eyebrows. "You never talk in you sleep."
Yuuri pressed his thumb just above the bridge of Victor's nose to smoothen the wrinkled skin. "I'm fine. I was just having a good dream," he told his fiancé, punctuating it with a chaste kiss on the lips.
The familiar scraping sound that his blades made pierced into his soul as he spun and spun and glided across Ice Castle for the last time.
"How long will you be gone?" Yuuko asked and Yuuri didn't miss the desolation in her voice.
"I don't know. Until I'm good enough to compete internationally, I guess," was the most honest answer Yuuri could offer. Moving to Detroit was one of the hardest decisions he had to make, but it was one step up the ladder he needed to take. "You should be happy for me. If I do reach world level then that means I can possibly stand on the same stage as Victor. Isn't that what you wished for?"
Clear sky and colorful butterflies greeted him the moment he spilled out through the Katsuki home's back door. His sneakers are soon buried in layers of soft pink sakura petals littering the ground.
A strident screech prompted him to lift his gaze to the heavens where an eagle circled above him three times before flapping its majestic wings and changing course southward.
Victor found Yuuri tending to his mother's garden, face glowing with pure bliss and beaming with pride. "Look, Victor! The roses have bloomed," he announced when their eyes met.
Victor's eyes scanned the flower bed that cradled a collection of roses in different colors. "They're beautiful."
It seemed like a lifetime ago since he last saw Yuuri's eyes burn with innocent enthusiasm. He knew that they hadn't reached the end of this trying journey yet. There were several twisted, winding roads that lay ahead, but at least he could see they were treading the right path
"I'm going for a jog. Aren't you joining me?"
Yuuri took off his apron, said, "I need to clean up first. Why don't you go ahead and I'll catch up with you," and planted a kiss on his cheek before disappearing inside the house.
The sun had already crept out of its hiding place, reminding him that it was way past daybreak and he was late for his morning run.
Victor rarely slept in but this was one occasion where he deemed he deserved prolonged rest. He had an exhausting week of adding final touches to Yuuri's short and long programs. They both agreed that Yuuri was ready to return to the ice. For the last time.
While the Grand Prix stood at the opposite end of the longest road, far from Yuuri's reach, he had decided to go through the process of qualifying for the Japan Nationals instead. After that, Victor had promised to allow him to hang up his figure skates. It was a promise – one of the many – that Victor intended to keep.
The weight of the ring on his finger was a vivid reminder of another promise that he would need to follow through. Gold or no gold, he would make sure it happened before their lives faded into black and white.