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Just Hold On (We're Going Home)

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When his father had said there was a foreigner in the onsen, this had not been what Yuuri was expecting.

“Mr. Feltsman,” he squeaks.

“Katsuki,” the Russian coach greets, gripping tighter at the towel around his waist. It may be April, and snowing, but the onsen is always warm. He looks Yuuri up and down, lingers at his stomach. “It seems you’ve let yourself go.”

Yuuri flinches. “Ahh. Yes. Sir. Why are you…?”

“I would like some clothes, before we have this conversation,” Feltsman replies, gruff. “And perhaps some dinner.”

Ten minutes later, it’s set before him, with Hiroko cheerfully bustling about in the background. After two bites, he sets down his spoon.

“It’s excellent,” he compliments Hiroko, who waves a hand and presses the other to her blushing cheek. “Now on to business.”

“B-business?” Yuuri asks.

“Yes, business. One of my skaters, Georgi Popovich, has made the decision to retire this season rather than continue to compete against my other student. I’ve been made aware of your recent break with Celestino Cialdini after your low ranking at Japanese Nationals and the GPF. I would like to offer you a trial period where you train under me, in St. Petersburg. There are only three conditions: you will board with another one of my students, you will take ballet with Madame Baranovskaya, and you will help me coach Yuri Plisetsky, who refuses to listen to my criticisms of his spins.” Yakov nods at this point, leans forwards and looks Yuuri in the eye. “I will charge no coaching fees.”

The Japanese skater nearly faints on the spot. “Sir. This is extremely generous. I have to ask…”

“Don’t ask me why, boy,” Yakov lets out in a booming sigh. “You take good things when they’re offered, if they’re something you desire. You don’t ask why they landed in your lap.”

“I understand,” Yuuri breathes.

“Do you need time to think about this, Katsuki?”

A world-class coach, showing up at his door and offering a chance to make a comeback to the world of skating after his shameful showing at the Sochi GPF? There’s no logical reason to hesitate, no reason to say no, if he wants figure skating in his life.

Yuuri hesitates.

Because Yakov Feltsman might be offering to coach Yuuri, but there’s another man he coaches. The man Yuuri idolizes. The man Yuuri has loved—in many ways—starting from his first glimpse of him at twelve years old. The man who, even when Phichit pushed and pushed and finally convinced Yuuri to send a tentative Instagram message, had only responded back with a message clearly written for him by his public relations department.

Yes, Yakov Feltsman coaches Viktor Nikiforov, and Viktor Nikiforov is the man who’d promised Yuuri everything he’d ever dreamed, everything he didn’t deserve, at the GPF banquet in Sochi.

Then, he never called. 


 

In the end, love for skating—for Viktor, too— wins.

Feltsman already has a contract written up and printed out. Yuuri signs it with no complaints, and starts to pack. Board with another skater, train with Madame Baranovskaya, train with Yuri Plisetsky. Some people would kill to do the second. Some people would die by doing the third, dealing with the vicious younger skater, but they’d do it happily. And the first—well, Phichit had been Yuuri’s only friend in Detroit. Maybe he and his new roommate can become close, if he’s lucky. He realizes, belatedly, that judging by the people Yakov coaches, that his roommate will probably be Plisetsky himself. Yuuri debates taking some kind of weapon along for self defense.

Overall, Minako is delighted with the news. She writes a letter to Madame Baranovskaya (“don’t you have email?” The triplets question, shocked. “You do not email Madame Baranovskaya,” Minako replies darkly) and sends Yuuri off with a tight squeeze.

“You deserve this,” she says, “remember that.”

It’s a second try, at Yuuri’s skating career. Yuuri may not deserve it, but he’s good at trying things again. And again. And again. So he follows Yakov Feltsman to Saint Petersburg, skates and body and soul, and hopes this time he can be better.


 

Yuuri doesn’t know what to expect, as he ascends the narrow yet elegant staircase. Yakov had given him this address, and Yuuri had wandered past the street signs in Cyrillic that he couldn’t read, following his phone’s directions blindly. It’s snowing, despite the time of year—it’s always snowing in Saint Petersburg, if Viktor’s Instagram posts are anything to go by. Yuuri goes by them religiously.

There’s only a few apartments in the building he’s come to, but they’re expensive, and it’s hard to imagine that Yuri Plisetsky, rebellious fifteen year old, emerged from this extravagance. Admittedly, Yuuri knows next to nothing about his family. The complex feels familiar, though, like he’s seen it in photographs.

Checking the email from Yakov on his phone screen one last time, and confirming the floor of the loft he’ll be sharing, he raises his knuckles to rap at the door—there’s a scrambling then, a scratching of nails on tile, and a surprisingly light thud against the door.

“Um,” he says. Apparently, Yuuri doesn’t need to knock, because the door swings open and over a hundred pounds of tan curls and pink tongue are on him; the only thing that’s not on him anymore is his glasses. It’s hard to be too upset with such an excited welcome, though. He ruffles his hands through the curls, kisses the dog’s blurry nose, and laughs. “Hello. Who are you? You look just like…” He cuts off, rubs at the dog a little more softly.

“I’m sorry about her,” a voice interrupts, amused, and Yuuri looks up with a squint. “You’re Yuuri, yes? Please come in.”

The other man is wearing a blue hat, and is slim but taller than him. This is all that Yuuri, completely blind, is managing to gather.

“That’s me. Sorry, do you see my…” the other man bends over, slides them smoothly onto Yuuri’s face, and everything snaps into focus with dizzying clarity. “Glasses,” Yuuri chokes out.

It’s Viktor Nikiforov, in the flesh.

Viktor Nikiforov, his childhood idol and crush rolled up into one tall and smiling and gorgeous package.

Viktor Nikiforov, who he drunkenly danced with and put his hands all over at the Sochi GPF, who asked for his number and then never, ever called him. Yuuri hadn’t been waiting, not at all. He’d suspected, when he woke up the next morning with sore thighs from the pole and a heavy head and a clear memory of Viktor’s hand warm and damp in his, that the other man probably would never want to see him again.

But now they’re standing three feet apart, and it dawns on Yuuri that Viktor is intended to be his flatmate. Rooming with another student, Yakov had said, and Yuuri had assumed he meant Yuri Plisetsky. Foolishly, foolishly assumed.

“You’re going white,” Viktor says, “did Makkachin manage to make you hit your head? I’m sorry, she gets excited.“

“I have to go back—to Mr. Feltsman’s office,” Yuuri blurts. Viktor blinks at him.

“Yakov’s already gone home, I’m sure. You’ll have to wait for tomorrow.” He glances behind Yuuri, catches sight of the single suitcase. “Where’s the rest of your luggage?”

Yuuri’s tongue feels swollen. “Um,” he says.

“Don’t just stand out here,” Viktor says, brows furrowing, “you can come in. This will be your home, too.” He puts a finger to his lips. “Ah, I forgot to have another set of keys made for you. Yuri stole my second set. We’ll drop by a hardware store tomorrow, after practice.”

Yuuri still hasn’t managed to say anything. Viktor is still passively standing there, looking soft in a blue beanie and stretched out sweats that are slung low over his hips, his hand resting casually on the doorframe.

Deep breath. He can speak English. He spoke English for five years in Detroit.

“Is this okay?” He finally asks, looking Viktor in the eye for however long he dares. The situation is awkward. He’s sure it’s undeniable to the other man: Yuuri is a huge fan, and he’d told him so, repeatedly, after the banquet, whispered and giggling confessions of you changed my life when I was twelve, I love you, you were floating and unreal and beautiful, I’ve always wanted to catch you and hold you to wide blue eyes. And for that night, just for one precious night, Viktor had let him. Let him catch, and hold, and seemed eager to let him.

Now, he’s acting like they’ve only met in passing. Yuuri supposes that, besides the night of the banquet, that is true. He feels foolish. Twelve years of adoration on his side, and one drunken night on Viktor’s—that can’t add up to a balance, can’t be equal. Yuuri’s sure the other man has had plenty of nights that were more enjoyable, steamier than a few rounds of tango and stumbling childishly through the halls after, cheek to cheek, until they found the hotel’s abandoned ballroom and danced again there, slower. Heavier. Chins pressed into the other’s shoulder, swaying, Viktor’s pale fingers creeping beneath his jacket to thumb gently at the soft skin of his hip, but no farther. Alcohol, swirling over him like dark incense blown by the wind. Viktor, trembling in his arms and nudging in closer, closer, with every step, reeling him in pleadingly after every turn in the dance like Yuuri was going to float off into the darkness and never come back. I’ve never met anyone like you.

Yuuri shouldn’t have remembered. Shouldn’t have done this in front of Viktor. Shouldn’t have come to Russia at all, no matter how free the coaching had been.

Is this okay?

“Of course,” Viktor says brightly, cocking his head as though the question is silly. “It’s no trouble to go get a set of keys.”

Viktor shows him around the flat, through the minimalist décor that Yuuri is already terrified of getting his fingerprints on or knocking off of the glass shelves. Viktor waves cheerily at Yuuri’s new bedroom, “across the hall from mine, so grab me if you need me,” shows him the modest collection of vegetables in the crisper drawer of the fridge, and turns on the showerhead in Yuuri’s bathroom for him.

“It’s a tricky one,” he admits, twisting at it. “I’ve almost forgotten how to use it, and it’s my own house.”

Viktor is a god on the ice. He’s going to be a good flatmate, too, Yuuri can tell. Maybe, if Yuuri can swallow these feelings down deep enough into him, dig his fingernails into his palms enough that it hurts more than pretending that night never happened, he can enjoy this time. Invigorate his skating, by being around Viktor, the man he still respects and admires more than anything. Yuuri had been sucked into a whirlpool of his own anxiety, but he always tries to escape it.

The guest room’s lightbulb is out. Viktor looks sheepish, flicking at the switch with a sigh and then a careless shrug. “Ah,” he says. Yuuri looks deeper into the room—there’s no cobwebs, but the room screams unused—the paint perfect, the closet packed neatly with boxes so clothes can’t be stored. “I’ll move them out,” Viktor promises. “I haven’t been in here for so long, I forgot I’d filled the closet.”

Yuuri flicks at the switch four times with trembling fingers. He can’t tell if he’s excited, or terrified, or both.

“I’ll just go to bed now.”

Viktor glances at his watch. Yuuri doesn’t recognize the brand, but he wouldn’t, see as how three months ago he was a college student who had won a meager amount of skating competitions and dressed in ratty free T-shirts from skate club events. The watch is made of gold. “You’re sure? It’s early.”

“I go to bed early, most of the time,” Yuuri admits. “…Though I don’t necessarily sleep, once there.” He taps at his phone, and there’s a quirk to Viktor’s lips.

“I did try to look you up on social media,” he says, and Yuuri freezes. After we danced? Did you look for me? Why? Did you ever want— “I thought I’d see what my new flatmate would be like, after Yakov told me he thought I needed one and said he would provide. Alas, your last Instagram picture was nearly two years ago, and that one was…“ he considers for a moment. The Japanese skater realizes which account the other man had found.

Yuuri covers his eyes with one hand. It had been a very, very badly photoshopped version of two men at an alter, his face slapped onto one and Viktor’s onto the other. He’d been drunk when he made it, posted it, he’d been joking because, well, Viktor would never marry him, but a drunken Phichit thought it was hilarious, don’t delete it, Yuuri, this is amazing! Someday Viktor will see it and realize you two are MEANT TO BE!

Drunk Yuuri had agreed, and changed his account passwords to something that sober Yuuri had yet to figure out. He’d made new accounts, and Phichit had used his magical social media powers to bury it as much as he could, but it was online, if you looked for his name.

Oh. God. “My friend hacked me,” he lies, desperately. My friend being me, with two bottles of vodka in my bloodstream. “That’s an old account. I have a new one now, though I don’t use it a lot.” Viktor nods with a slight, cut off laugh.

“I guessed as much.” He stretches then, a light gesture, one hand clasping at his other arm’s elbow above his head as he arches with a dreamy sigh. Smooth, effortless, and devastatingly attractive. Yuuri thinks, for a moment, that things will be okay, that he’ll just exist in close proximity to Viktor and get to appreciate him, but then Viktor’s arms drop and his mouth opens. “I was a huge fan of Lambiel when I was young—Mila and Georgi always teased me about marrying him, no matter how ridiculous that was, decorated my skate locker with hearts and magazine cutouts of him, once.”

It’s almost funny. Yuuri can think of three occasions off the top of his head where Phichit or Yuuko had done something similar, and he’s about to share, but it dies on the tip of his tongue. Viktor knows, knows the degree to which Yuuri has a desperate crush on him, probably amusedly remembers his drunken confessions from the banquet night, probably tells stories to his Russian friends. The guy who crashed and burned at the GPF had a crush on me. It was kind of cute, he was such a sloppy drunk! Followed me around like a lost puppy at the banquet, though I don’t know why they let him in! What, be interested in him? Never.

“I’m going to bed,” he says, the flatness of his voice belying the oncoming wave of panic and shame. Let me come with you, Viktor had said. Let me come back to your room. His head rolling soft over the knotted muscles in Yuuri’s leg, pillowed on Yuuri’s lap in the empty ballroom. Yuuri can’t have imagined that. “You could—“ he murmurs, unconsciously seeking some kind of reassurance, but he stops himself. Viktor knows he’s a fan. Viktor seems intent on not bringing the banquet up. Viktor doesn’t want now what he wanted then, and everything is already awkward enough.

The other man waits, finger tapping lightly on his waist before he takes one step back.

“I’ll see you in the morning.” Close-lipped smile. “Good night, Yuuri.”

Yuuri shuts the door.

His fingers dart to his phone before he can help it, pull up the all too familiar folder and flick through it like some kind of coping mechanism. But this, this longing—it’s not coping. He’s not coping, not at all.

Viktor’s smile, so bright and free, his hand on Yuuri’s cheek. Letting Yuuri dip him until they were breathless, leaning into him like he trusted Yuuri implicitly, impossibly, like Yuuri was a tree in a thunderless, drenching storm and the only cover for miles.

Burying his mouth into his new pillow, Yuuri cries.


 

Yuuri wakes to rapping on his door.

“Yuuri,” the voice comes through, “Yuuri.”

He’s imagined Viktor saying his name a million times since the night of the banquet, but rarely like this, impatient and pressing and—okay, he has imagined it like this, but never for this reason.

“We’re going to be late. I don’t want to barge in, but I’ve got an apple and some milk for you, and Yakov will make us do suicides if you’re late on your first day.” There’s a pause. “He’ll make you do suicides.”

Yuuri opens the door. “You won’t have to?” He realizes after that the question is stupid. Viktor is Yakov’s star pupil—the man probably caters to him, or at least that’s how the magazine articles frame it.

Viktor laughs. “He won’t be able to convince me it’s worth the practice time.” The blue eyes flicker down, then.

Yuuri realizes, with a sinking heart, that his shirt has ridden up in his sleep, revealing his slightly pudgy belly. He hadn’t stopped skating for long, but it didn’t take long to put back on the weight, and he’d been stressed.

“Maybe suicides are necessary,” Viktor hums. Yuuri flinches. After he’s changed in his room, Viktor hands him the apple and milk, and Yuuri chugs the milk but does not eat the apple in Viktor’s car, because it is a pink sports car. It’s probably worth more than anything Yuuri has ever earned, combined.

“You don’t have to drive me,” he says, when they get out of the car and Viktor’s swinging his athletic bag over his shoulder from the trunk. “I’m used to walking or riding public transportation.”

Viktor props his sunglasses on the crest of his head, shrugs and gives a beatific smile. “We’ll be going to the same place, won’t we?” Yuuri feels dazzled, and unable to argue.

They are late.

“I was going to make you run anyway,” Yakov grunts, “but we’ll add on suicides to the five miles.”

“Yes, sir,” is all Yuuri can reply.


 

Yuuri tries, helplessly, to set down his towel over the leather seats, so he doesn’t have to sit his sweaty and disgusting bottom half onto Viktor’s pristine car. Viktor gives him a curious look, and slides in. There’s a bead of sweat—exactly one—that rolls down from his forehead, leaving a shining trail. It hangs, precarious and a perfect teardrop, from his jawline before it drops as a wet kiss onto Viktor’s grey practice shirt, right above where his nipple hides. Heartstopping. Yuuri feels like a pile of trash left on a street corner on a hot and sunny day.

“Sit,” the other man chuckles. Yuuri sits. “So you stay late, hmm?”

Yuuri sneaks a look at Viktor’s watch, glinting on his wrist against the wheel. He can already feel the buzz of anxiety rising again, the urge to get on the ice or into a studio palpable in his chest. It’s only six o’ clock. Yuuri wishes he’d been given a rink instead of a guest room.

“Not really,” he says instead. Viktor arches an eyebrow and lets it go. This, perhaps, is the most contradicting thing about him. Viktor is talkative, yes—he hadn’t stopped on the way to the rink in the morning—but the silence with him is relaxing, unstrained, surprisingly communicative. He doesn’t mind the quiet—almost seems to appreciate it, sometimes.

“Yakov seems to have high expectations for you,” Viktor interrupts his thoughts casually. “He wouldn’t stop looking over.”

Yuuri had been incredibly perplexed by this. Yakov Feltsman was a very incomprehensible man, to Yuuri. When they’d discussed the contract and what would happen when he reached St. Petersburg, Yakov had fired off rink rules: no phones, no alcohol (Yuuri had flinched at that, knowing Yakov had been exposed to him at the banquet), no kissing or horseplay or anything sexual on the ice.

“That won’t be a problem,” Yuuri had assured him, dazedly. Yakov had grunted, scoffed something out in Russian, as though Yuuri—anxious, shy, chubby Yuuri, who broke down at the last GPF—was going to be seducing skaters left and right and pressing them up against the boards for make-out sessions. Incomprehensible.

But the way he’d looked between Yuuri and Viktor—like he’d expected something. Not Yuuri’s skating, no—the expression on his face when Yuuri skated was something entirely different.

“Have you been practicing since the GPF, boy?” He’d asked loudly, when most of the other skaters were gone, Viktor had headed off to the weight room, and Yuuri was absorbed by the music in his own head on the ice. Yuuri had winced.

“I know I’m out of practice.”

“No,” Yakov had corrected bluntly, “no, your spins and jumps were better, just now. Better than I’ve seen them.”

“Oh.” Yakov would find out eventually, if this trial period managed to last to a competition. “I… get nervous. At competitions.” This was possibly the mildest explanation he could give. It was enough.

Yakov had just stood there, mouth slightly ajar and head tilted. “I see,” he concluded finally. “I… didn’t realize you were that kind of skater.”

“I’m sorry,” Yuuri had apologized instantly.

“No need,” Yakov said, raising one hand. “I should have figured it out. Nobody takes third during the short program at the GPF, coming off a silver and gold from the qualifying competitions, and then does a free program like that, unless… hey!” The tears are already brimming. Celestino hadn’t seen Yuuri cry until the third week, and he’d slapped him on the back and offered him a bottle of water, sat with him on the bleachers while they discussed expectations. Yakov’s approach is, instead, to command brusquely, blustering, “don’t cry! I’m not insulting you. People were expecting you to medal in Sochi, you know.”

Yuuri hadn’t been expecting to medal.

Yakov sighed.

“Being at my rink,” he said, “you can absorb some of the cocky confidence from the others. Maybe they’ll learn something from you, too.” He pursed his lips. “On that subject, you’ll meet Plisetsky tomorrow.”

Yuuri had tried to tell Yakov that they’d already met. Yuri Plisetsky, the boy that had yelled at him in the bathroom after his failure, was unlikely to be thrilled that Yuuri was helping to coach him. Yakov had brushed this off.

Yakov had expectations. Yuuri’s not sure what those expectations are, yet.

In the car with Viktor, Yuuri manages to start a conversation. “Do you know Yuri Plisetsky?”

The corners of Viktor’s mouth stretch up. It seems wrong. “Oh! Yes. He’s very fierce. Quite adorable. He hasn’t realized that he needs to practice to keep up in the Senior division, though. We’ll have to call him something else, now that you’re here. Yurio, maybe?”

Yuuri slides down a bit in his seat.

“Yakov wants me to work with him.”

Viktor doesn’t even try to hide his laughter. “I wish you the best of luck, Yuuri.”

As it turns out, Yuuri doesn’t need it. What he had needed was a corner of the rink to himself for a few moments after practice the next day, doing figures and musing on his jumps, but as he moves into a lazy Biellmann Yuri Plisetsky takes the ice.

You think you can coach me?” He demands, finger less than an inch from Yuuri’s face. Yuuri wonders if he had ever been so difficult as a teenager, and seriously doubts it. He’d essentially been raised as an employee of the customer service industry. So he sighs, and ignores the unmerited hostility.

“Yakov decided this was a good idea, and Yakov is our coach. If he thinks you have something to learn from me, he’s probably right.” The blond’s expression sours further, if even possible. Yuuri feels the need for damage control. “Though, I’ve noticed you have the Salchow down.”

Yuri snorts. “Yes. Better than you.”

“Then we could trade skills?”

“Hardly a fair trade!” Yuri announces, but he slides closer to Yuuri with a determined ferocity. “Teach me your step sequence from last season.”

The one that had Plisetsky yelling at him afterwards in a toilet stall? Yuuri wants to say no way. Instead he launches towards the open ice, with Plisetsky at the back of his blades. They’ve been at it for twenty minutes, Yuri already bafflingly familiar with the steps, before Yuuri notices Yakov, clipboard in hand, watching from the side of the rink.

“Oh! Sir.” He stops, and Yuuri scratches to a halt beside him. “Did you want us to…”

“That is what I wanted you to do. So stop talking to me, and keep doing it.”

They go on, and on, and on.


 

Madame Baranovskaya reads his letter from Minako, on Yuuri’s first day. The turn of her mouth sours slightly. Yuuri hadn’t thought she could disapprove further.

“You are passable,” she says to Yuuri, and Yuuri can see the widening of the eyes of several nearby danseurs and does not understand, in his panic, what that could mean. “This is why I agreed to take you. But I am not Minako. I will break you. You will dance differently, for me.”

Yuuri can only nod, completely lost. Then she claps her hands, and he loses himself in the music.


 

On their first rest day, Yuuri’s not quite sure what to do. If it was Phichit, they’d hunker down on their old torn-up couch and watch terrible old Japanese or American films while Phichit presented him with the highlights from the world news that week. They’d eat yogurt with fruit and pretend it was ice cream, and Phichit would wheedle and prod until Yuuri put on The King and the Skater II, with English subtitles, dubbed in a random language. The French version was Phichit’s second favorite, beaten out only by his own native tongue. He swore that the songs sounded different.

Yuuri misses him, so desperately it closes up his throat. Maybe this is why he dares to meander into the living room, peers hesitantly at Viktor’s expensive flatscreen and nudges experimentally at the remote.

Viktor, of course, walks in with a half-eaten carrot aloft in his hand, and notices.

“Did you want to watch something?”

“No.”

Viktor turns on the television anyway. “I have Netflix, I think. Mila told me to try it.” He sits on the couch, gestures beside him. Yuuri perches hesitantly on the other end. “What do you like?”

Yuuri’s answer is vague, and Viktor settles easily on some comedy, plays it in English.

The Japanese skater likes movies. He also likes movement, which is calming. During a slower scene, he pads off to his room and comes back with a deck of cards. Viktor peers at him.

“Solitaire,” Yuuri explains. Viktor watches, points at opportunities. When Yuuri sets the last card down Viktor claps in mild excitement.

“I’ve never finished solitaire before.” A pause. “Do you want to play another game?”

Honestly, Yuuri should have known better. Viktor is a world champion, and you don’t earn that title without a certain competitive nature. He smacks at Yuuri’s hands mercilessly when they play Slapjack and distracts him with strange stories about his exploits as a teenager during Go Fish, until Yuuri is laughing and laughing, conceding victory rather than bringing out his own competitive nature. They’ve sprawled out on the living room floor, movie forgotten in the background, and when Yuuri shuffles the cards Viktor asks to be taught the technique, too.

“We’ll do a simple bridge for you,” Yuuri feels brave enough to tease. “You’re a novice.” Viktor scoots closer, strong hands curling over the deck of cards, and without thinking Yuuri leans in, corrects them with his own. “Gently. You’ll scatter them everywhere, like that.”

He looks up, a mistake, because Viktor’s face is too close, expression soft and sleepy and pleased. Yuuri can feel the heat rising in his cheeks—he takes his hands back, tucks them into his hoodie pockets.

Viktor’s expression is no longer sleepy. “Help me,” he requests, almost coy, and Yuuri wishes he could scramble back, could prevent Viktor from hearing the pounding of his heart against his ribcage.

“You have to learn how to do things on your own,” he scolds, and he doesn’t mean it, and Viktor knows this.

“I’ve learned how to do that,” Viktor replies, tone distant. “I’ve never liked it.”

Yuuri wants to ask him what he means, but those perfect, pale hands are too strong. Cards spray out onto the carpet, into the air, flutter over Yuuri’s face.

“Viktor!” He laughs. “You did that on purpose.”

“I didn’t, I promise.” The other man’s softness is back, an implacable expression flickering over his face. Yuuri can’t bear to look. Yuuri starts scooping the cards up together, and as he does, he mumbles,

“There’s a game.” Viktor hums in response to that, a question, and Yuuri continues, “it’s called fifty three card pickup. Whoever has the most cards wins.” Viktor freezes, and from the corner of his eyes Yuuri can see him opening his mouth, opening it to ask. “I’m going to win this round.”

Viktor is moving in a flash, pulling cards towards him. Yuuri yanks at them, pulls them from beneath Viktor’s palms and his knees, where the Russian is shoving them for safekeeping.

“Cheater!” Viktor protests, breathless, “How scandalous, that you have to resort to cheating to beat me at your own game, Yuuri!” His pale cheeks have the lightest flush.

“It’s not cheating!” He laughs in response.

“It is.”

There’s a shine to his eyes that Yuuri hasn’t seen since the banquet, and it gives him confidence.

Yuuri straightens, looks over Viktor’s shoulder, towards the apartment door. “Oh no,” he says.

Viktor pauses suspiciously, his hand on the Queen of Hearts.

“Makkachin’s got ahold of your new scarf.”

Viktor’s on his feet too quickly, turning—Makkachin, perfectly innocent, peers up at him from where she’s cuddled next to a heating vent. Yuuri swears he hears the lightest gasp. But it’s too late for the champion.

That,” Yuuri  says, “that is cheating.”

Viktor looks down at him—Yuuri, in his sweats, hair sticking up, stretched out awkwardly towards the last card on the ground a distance away. He’s already collected the cards Viktor used to have pressed beneath his knees. It’s a royal mess. But Viktor Nikiforov is laughing, then, low and rumbling and genuinely appreciative.

When he’s done, Viktor crouches, leans in. “I think, overall, that I won this round of games.”

Don’t look at his eyes. Yuuri always drowns in them.

“Fifty three cards,” he says, in a wobbly voice. “That’s fifty three victories. More than you get, for winning Go Fish three times and Slapjack five times and Euchre six times.”

“Ah, but you admitted that you cheated.”

Yuuri feels them before he registers them fully, the fingers at his pulse point. They’re climbing curiously up the underside of his wrist, his forearm, and the feeling shoots like electricity straight through his veins.

He looks up into the blue eyes. “Viktor?” The fingers stop, drop sweetly from his skin, and Viktor sits back on the carpet.

“Teach me the bridge again?” he requests. His fringe falls gently over one eye, the other still locked onto Yuuri’s gaze.

He pushes the deck towards the other man, and feels a sickening déjà vu. Yuuri’s been exposed to a look like this before—all slightly stunned interest, a growing crescendo of excitement. That had been at the start of the banquet, before it deepened and solidified into pure longing. The start of the banquet, the banquet that faded away after like the interest had been fairydust, magic sprinkled over the evening, disappearing when it was over.

Viktor’s fingers are on him again. “Show me?” He requests, a thumb skimming over Yuuri’s knuckles. “Yuuri, show me?”

Yuuri bites his tongue till he tastes blood, tries to steady his hands, and does.


 

Yakov comes to them with two videos.

“Viktor has choreographed two routines,” he says, gruffly. “He no longer identifies with them, and must skate something that has finally caught his inspiration, or so he squealed at me this morning. I have to deal with his infuriating arrogance, but you two will benefit from it.”

“He choreographed it for me?” Yurio demands.

Yakov gives him a strange look. “No.” The younger skater immediately begins mashing violently at the buttons on his phone. “Your grandfather worries when you text him like that, you know.”

“I am not talking to him about it,” Yurio snaps. “I am asking him something else.” Yuuri vaguely has the thought that Yurio needs a friend his own age to text and rage to, but Yuuri isn’t one to talk. His own texts are limited to Phichit, Mari, and now Viktor, apparently, who has texted him three times since they arrived at practice in the morning, despite eating lunch with Yuuri.

“You could text me?” He ventures.

The response is immediately. “Shove a skate up your ass.” That earns them both three suicides.

The response is equally immediate later, though, when a picture of a long-haired cat finds its way to Yuuri’s phone.

She looks so happy in the windowsill, Yuuri texts back.

Of course she is, idiot, she’s a cat, comes the instant reply. Cats are amazing. Send me pictures of your stupid dog. I know you have one.

Yuuri takes a while, to respond to that.

Not anymore, he finally texts. There is an equally long wait for Yurio’s next text.

Come meet Sasha sometime, he says, I’ll teach you proper Russian food while you’re here, cause Viktor has horrible taste. Pirozhki. Remember pirozhki. They’re all you need in life.

Saint Petersburg is very cold, even in April.

“Who are you texting?” Viktor asks. There’s the subtlest pout to his mouth. “When you weren’t texting me earlier, too, how cruel.”

“I was in practice,” Yuuri laughs. “So were you. And it’s Yuri.”

By May, it’s surprisingly warm. Yuuri can almost forget Sochi.

He doesn’t.


 

Madame Baranovskaya only scowls at him, during practice. He’s been having nightmares. About her, and about other things.

“If you’re going to come into my studio,” she says, “you will have to learn to dance properly, even when your body is weighted with emotion.”

“I’ll work it off,” he assures her, ashamed, “madame. I’ll do it faster in the future, I apologize.”

The displeasure only grows in her eyes. “I do not ask you to toss your emotions away—they are worth their weight. I am telling you to utilize them.”

This is an ideology he’s taken to the ice for years. So Yuuri does. His guest room is empty enough, and the floors are wooden, so at night in socks and his pajamas he dances with his emotion. He’s been working up the courage to ask Yakov for after-hours access to the rink. For now, this will do. Plie, tour en l’air, grand jete. Arabesque and detourne. When he needs a change it comes easy in flamenco steps, and a tango for one.

One night he opens his eyes, with panting breaths, to Viktor: standing in the open doorway with two steaming mugs and wide eyes.

“Tea,” the other man says, “with jam. No. Mine has jam. Yours doesn’t.”

Yuuri shuffles over, tousles at the hair over his eyes self-consciously. He’d been doing a tango for one. It’s not difficult to imagine that Viktor sees the resemblance to the banquet night too, which is probably why he’s tapping at his mug with one finger, troubled, eyes locked on Yuuri’s sweaty frame. Yuuri sips at his drink, half sick with shame.

“I, um, I really appreciate this, but I’m actually very warm from practicing—“ he begins, so quiet, but Viktor is on his feet in moments.

“I’ll get water,” the Russian asserts quickly. Anything to escape the man who still spends his nights reliving their banquet dance, is all that Yuuri can imagine.

He still returns anyway, nearly shoves a new cup into Yuuri’s outstretched hands. The rapid motion has Yuuri spilling some on his pajama top. They stare at the growing stain together, and Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut slowly as it seeps across the fabric on his chest.

“Um,” he breathes finally, “I have to change my shirt.”

“Of course,” is Viktor’s calm response. Yuuri fiddles at the hem, and his eyes dart up.

“Um, do you… mind?”

“Oh,” the Russian laughs, “of course.” He makes to leave the room, and Yuuri watches him go, so collected and beautiful, still clothed in a sweater and expensive, soft sweats. Yuuri knows now that the other man likes to sleep shirtless.

Stay, Yuuri’s whole being seems to be crying, please stay.

“Don’t forget your tea,” is all that Yuuri’s mouth says. Viktor circles back, shaking his head at himself, smile warm.

“Do you always turn your bedroom into a ballet studio?” 

“No,” Yuuri lies.

A chuckle at that. Viktor tilts his head, thoughtful and devastating. “We should dance together, sometime.”

“Yes,” Yuuri lies again. He would rather cut out his own heart from his chest with the blade of his skate. Living with Viktor is hard, sometimes. Being close to Viktor is difficult, always, even as it sends him soaring. But dancing with Viktor—dancing crosses the line. “Goodnight,” he says woodenly.

Viktor echoes it. Every line of his body seems drawn for Yuuri’s eyes to roam over, every turn of his lips something private and breathtaking. It breaks Yuuri’s heart. Breaks and breaks and breaks.

“There,” Madame Baranovskaya says one afternoon, when Yuuri is musing on it during practice, reliving the swell and ache of his chest. Even five grueling hours on the ice in the morning hadn’t been enough to dissipate it, so he gives in, lets himself break rather than worry about breaking, something he can only do while dancing. “That is how you will dance for me.”


 

They’re two months into being roommates, and on one off-day Viktor steps breezily into his room, cocks his perfect silver head, and declares: “we’re going out.”

Yuuri is in mismatched socks and basketball shorts. “To the Chinese takeout on the corner?”

Viktor shakes his head. “No, no. We’re going to—“ the next word out of his mouth isn’t in English. It’s definitely something flowing, something French, something expensive. He must see the look on Yuuri’s face, because he smoothly follows it with, “my treat, of course.”

“I couldn’t,” Yuuri protests.

“Let me,” Viktor says. “So then it’ll be a date?”

Yuuri knows this is not what Viktor means, that ‘date’ must be a more casual, unromantic word for him. In the United States, there’s a phrase like this that has only to do with scheduling, and after several moments of confused silence it bursts from his English speaking brain without much thought. “It’s a date, then. But I’ll try not to go overboard with ordering.”

The restaurant is exactly as Yuuri had feared. It’s expensive, and stylish, and the owner personally stops by their table and chats with Viktor in French for a few moments while Viktor tilts his flute of red wine. Yuuri had nearly spilled his on the white silk tablecloth, earlier.

Of course, Viktor insists that they have two appetizers, and the owner insists that they have dessert. They walk home, stuffed and sated, and Yuuri shivers in the cold because his blood rushes to his abdomen. Viktor, in the middle of a step, easily slides their palms together, links their fingers.

“Better?” He questions.

It is not better. It’s only making him long for something impossible, stoking a fire in him.

He’d wanted to hold Viktor’s hand again, after the banquet. He’d wanted to hold it every single day, in a clenching and painful way that outpaced his former childhood crush on the man, something he’d never imagined could get any worse. Yuuri had watched interviews and short videos on Instagram from Mila and Georgi and Viktor himself, desperate for pieces of the other man. So he doesn’t let go. He just says, “yes.” Better than the last few months. Not better.

In the dark of the apartment’s entryway, Viktor slides their hands apart. Starts unwinding the scarf from around Yuuri’s neck, and it makes Yuuri’s lower lip tremble and his mind scream numbly. When he’s done, scarf hung neatly on the coat tree, he settles hands on Yuuri’s shoulders, squeezes lightly at the tense muscles.

“I had fun.” Yuuri nods. It was fun for him, too, once Viktor had— with no trace of judgment— shown him which fork was which. “It was a good date, yes?”

Yuuri waits for him to step away, to shrug off his own coat. Instead, Viktor’s thumb starts lightly brushing at his neck. Focus on breathing.

“Is this okay with you?”

“Is…” Yuuri can’t even vocalize it, it makes such little sense. “The scarf?”

Viktor laughs through his nose, just a little. “This,” he explains, and his lips are brushing at Yuuri’s forehead. It’s a small gesture. It’s tearing Yuuri apart. He leans up, and Viktor leans down, and Yuuri is kissing him on the lips then, desperately, hopelessly.

They’d done this at the banquet, too, in the ballroom. Gentle, in the silence, the only music their lips moving in light rhythm. I’ll kiss you until you can’t breathe, Viktor had promised, when neither of us are drunk. One month after the banquet, after clinging onto hope for far too long, Yuuri had finally, finally accepted that Viktor hadn’t meant it.

He nips at Viktor’s bottom lip, and the other man opens it with a willing, small moan, and Yuuri presses in like he’d imagined doing.

Viktor pulls away too quickly, tugs at the buttons on Yuuri’s coat and his own. “Let’s go to the couch?” His voice is soft, pleased, the curve of his mouth sweet, even with his lips cherry red where Yuuri had bitten at them.

They kiss and kiss and kiss, tongues and fingerprints on each others necks. When the kisses slow, Viktor settles against him and curls comfortably on his chest.

“I never imagined,” he is saying, his words vibrating over Yuuri’s heart, “that this would happen, when you showed up at my door.”

He’d thought they would never kiss again, never be close again?

“For so long I’d been… growing desperate. Life is full of all of the same things, and I was becoming one of them. Sochi was a breaking point—everything was lifeless.” Yuuri can almost feel his breath rattling in his lungs. Sochi. The banquet. Viktor thought it was lifeless. “And now you tumble into my home, and it—“ he punctuates this with a laugh, a chuckling kiss to Yuuri’s nose, one that shudders over his skin “—everything’s... It seems almost too convenient. Orchestrated by someone, you know, even though that’s impossible. Just… convenient.”

“Convenient,” Yuuri repeats.

It must be convenient, to have someone like Yuuri in his house, someone he can kiss and who looks at him with helpless affection. Yuuri can feel the tears welling in his eyes.

Viktor looks startled at them, almost panicked. “That was too heavy, wasn’t it. We don’t have to talk about that. I won’t bring it up again. I don’t want you to feel pressured.”

And the truth is that he’s not pressured. Yuuri had kissed him first, had wanted to, had liked it because it felt like the banquet night again, something quietly intimate and instantaneously close. He’d indulged in the fantasy of Viktor wanting him, needing him.

And he had, for tonight. On this little couch. Just like he had during the banquet.

Now Viktor was saying he wouldn’t bring it up again. Just like during the banquet. It’s Yuuri’s own fault, for being emotional and attached and obsessed with Viktor since childhood.

He wants to stand, but Viktor’s body is a pressure atop him on the cushions. At the shift in Yuuri’s eyes, his shoulders, Viktor scrambles smoothly to a sitting position at one end of the couch. Watches and waits.

“It’s fine,” Yuuri says. “I understand.”

There’s the strangest vulnerability that trickles over Viktor’s expression. “You do?” He questions softly.

The younger skater nods, and stands, and goes to his room. When he shuffles out to use the bathroom in the hallway and brush his teeth, Viktor’s standing at the end of it, rubbing at the poodle wound about his legs, but his eyes are up, focused. Like he’d been waiting for Yuuri.

I’ve never met anyone like you. That night. Waltzes and swaying and a slow swing dance, then something entirely their own, each step a newly created secret between them.

I waited for you for so long. A confession Yuuri had only dreamed of hearing.

“Goodnight,” Yuuri says. Viktor beams, pats at Makkachin one last time.

“Goodnight.”

Yuuri expects them not to talk about it or acknowledge it, in the morning. They don’t, for the first half-hour—Viktor chewing at a banana and scrolling through his phone, elbow on Yuuri’s shoulder while they sit at the kitchen counter stools and the Japanese man wakes up.

They don’t acknowledge it when they drive in the ridiculous pink sports car. When they park in the rink lot.

Then, Viktor swings Yuuri’s equipment bag over his own shoulder from the backseat.

“I want to carry it,” he announces, and leans forward to drop a kiss on Yuuri’s cheek.

No!” Comes a growl, and before Yuuri has much of a chance to register it Yuri Plisetsky is barreling in and shoving his own sports bag between them with all the ferocity a short fifteen year old can muster. “I am not putting up with this at morning practice! And he’s my coach, you stay—“ he spreads one arm out gracefully as far as it can go “—you stay this far away at all times!”

Viktor smiles. “Of course, Yurio.” Pleasantly retreats a step, roughly the length of Yuri’s arm. Unfortunately, Viktor towers over the blond by a good seven inches, and when he reaches out a hand it still easily comes to rest on the curve of Yuuri’s cheek.

“I hate you,” Yuri hisses, resignedly now. “I can’t believe Yakov thought this was a good idea.”

“What’s that?” Viktor asks, distracted. His thumb is stroking pensively at the bags beneath Yuuri’s eyes, a subtle frown growing on his perfect lips. Yurio rolls his eyes, and mutters something in Russian that Yuuri can’t catch before slinging his bag back onto his shoulder and stomping off, as gracefully as Yuuri has ever seen anyone manage. “Oh. Speaking of Yakov. Do you mind if I tell him?”

Yuuri blinks. “Tell him what, exactly?”

“True, I’m not sure how we’d phrase it, either. He didn’t like it when I went out with one of the ice dancers from the rink, thought it would distract us.” Viktor’s smile is blindingly bright and utterly confusing. “But I’ll be working harder now, to impress you. I’m sure he’ll approve of that.”

Yuuri is still unsure what they’re telling Yakov.

He is unsure until, when he’s again disgusting and gross and has Yakov’s yelling ringing in his ears at the end of the day, Viktor comes over, links their hands, and waves to Yakov as they head out the door.

“Don’t just walk away from me,” Yakov booms.

“Yakov,” Viktor sighs. “Yakov, Yakov, Yakov. I know what you’re going to say.”

“Do you, now.”

“Yes,” Viktor asserts. “I even spent time making a pro and con list so I could convince you.”

“You don’t have to convince me.”

“There are no drawbacks, Yakov! We don’t drink together, weeelll not yet, and I’ll teach him jumps and he’ll teach me spins and we’ll show off on the ice for each other!“ he pauses, squeezes at Yuuri’s hand, as he absorbs Yakov’s final words. “…We don’t have to convince you?”

“No, Vitya. Finally.” He points at Yuuri, then, who swallows and wishes they were having this conversation in Russian, because then he’d have an excuse to not understand a word of it. “Remember the rink rules.”

Yuuri thinks through them. No phones. Check. Phichit complains about how little he’s on it. No alcohol. Check. He hasn’t touched a bottle since Detroit.

No sexual activity.

He glances down at where their hands are interlinked. “Sir!” He yelps, and yanks his hand out of Viktor’s. The man visibly pouts, and Yuuri stares at him with wide, disbelieving eyes before Yakov trundles back into the conversation.

“Hopefully now both of you can come out of your slumps and be the inspired but ridiculous skaters I know you to be.”

“Sir,” Yuuri says, desperately. There’s been some kind of mistake. The coach is acting like one night of kissing that Yakov doesn’t even know about, one night, again, and a morning of hand holding has some kind of mysterious, special meaning. Yuuri knows it does not. He’s not sure how long the affection will last, this time—they’re both sober, yes, but soon enough Viktor will lose interest again, and he doesn’t want his new coach aware of something transient and embarrassing like this, and—

“Breathe,” Viktor says, from beside him. “Breathe, Yuuri, he approves.”

Maybe Viktor just does things like this. Flirts with his rinkmates. Looks and speaks at someone for one night like they’re his everything, like Yuuri is rain and sun and the feel of a perfect slide to a stop on the ice—but only for one night.

They go back to the car. Viktor turns up the radio, tilts his head with the piano and the dip of the singer’s voice. “That went well, I think.”

That evening, when Yuuri has snuck away and started playing his 3DS in his guest bedroom, eager for a distraction, Viktor raps on the door. He sweeps in, a small but intricately decorated box in one hand and a comb in the other. “I need to occupy my hands.” So Yuuri moves to the floor, after Viktor holds up one finger in brief thought and retrieves a couch pillow for him to sit on. The Russian settles onto the edge of the bed, starts combing through Yuuri’s short hair, dreamily humming bits and pieces of song, like he’s talking in his sleep. Yuuri is lulled—closes his game, sighs, shifts back and decides to enjoy the affection while it lasts. “You gel it for competitions, yes?”

“Mm hmm.” The feeling’s nice, tingling, every sweep of the brush making him anticipate the next.

“Japanese nationals and Russian nationals are too close together,” Viktor complains, a soft buzz above Yuuri’s head, “I wouldn’t be able to fix your hair.”

It’s uncomfortable, the implication. Like a promise that Viktor is going to be around in months and months, going to be here and intimate like they’ve been the past few days. Yuuri can’t handle implied promises, not anymore. He tilts his head back, reaches up with one hand, and Viktor makes a noise so softly he almost doesn’t hear it.

“Can I?” He asks. Viktor leans down till his fringe is sleek in Yuuri’s hand. “Sorry. I’m sure people ask all the time.”

Viktor hums, shifts down further, till his forehead is on Yuuri’s, and Yuuri pushes his hand up, past the crown of Viktor’s head.

“Mm. Not since I cut it.” There’s a pause. “…And sponsors never asked to touch, really.”

Yuuri can’t see his eyes. He wishes he could. Instead he scratches lightly beneath the other man’s hair until he melts around Yuuri, pale arms about his neck and shoulders, lips to Yuuri’s ear.

“I’m sorry,” Yuuri says quietly. “I’m sorry, Viktor.”

They stay that way for a few minutes more, just brief sighs and Viktor, relaxing, filling in every crevice on Yuuri’s shoulders and back.

“Stay with me tonight,” Viktor’s voice rumbles, low. It vibrates from his ear straight to his throat, his heart. Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut, flinching, and Viktor sits up, cards his hand through the dark hair one last time. “That didn’t come out right. I just want to sleep next to you.”

It’s traitorously tempting, like Viktor sleeping next to him will keep him there tomorrow morning and every morning after that.

“Okay,” Yuuri says.

When they’re in bed, Viktor rolls impossibly close, nudges his way beneath Yuuri’s arm and wedges one leg between Yuuri’s. When he’s sure that Viktor is asleep, peacefully, without a care in the world, he presses his face into Viktor’s hair and lets out one tear. One, another, and then his mind collapses into twisting dark.


Yuuri tries to ask Yurio about it, once.

“Viktor?” Yuri scowls. “Viktor’s always saying things he doesn’t mean. Well, maybe he means them at the time, but he forgets.”

“Things he doesn’t mean,” Yuuri chokes out, and Yuri launches into a spin, completely oblivious to the oncoming breakdown.

“Yes,” he huffs, “that idiot always forgets things. Or maybe he remembers, and just plays dumb to serve his own interests. It’s hard to tell, with Viktor. He can’t keep a promise for his life.”

“I see,” Yuuri says. He cannot see, actually, because there’s tears welling up and the ice of the rink has melted into blurry white and dirty brown. “I have to go to the bathroom.”

“Like hell you do,” Yuri replies, all sharpness, but he follows Yuuri there, stands outside the closed stall door—Yuuri imagines him, arms crossed and yanking impatiently at his own ponytail. “What’s your problem, idiot? We’re not at a competition.”

Putting the problem into words would be difficult enough, if he wasn’t trying to explain a private situation to a furious fifteen year old.

“It’s, ah, nothing.”

“People don’t typically call Viktor Nikiforov nothing,” Yuri snorts, “but I’m glad that you do. What, did he make you a promise too?”

Yuuri opens the stall door, wipes roughly at his own eyes. “Something like that. At the banquet last year.” He looks up, bites his lip. “Has Viktor ever… said anything to you about the Sochi banquet?”

Yuri scowls, but it’s the weakest one of his Yuuri has ever seen. “It’s an unofficial rule not to talk about the banquet with Viktor.”

There’s a burning sensation that rises in Yuuri’s face. “Ohhhh, god. Us dancing was that embarrassing?”

“Hah? No.” Yurio kicks at the bathroom tiles. “You didn’t meet him before the banquet. You live with him so you’ve probably seen bits of it. Viktor’s a screw-up, sometimes.” He kicks again. The words ‘screw-up’ and ‘Viktor Nikiforov’ have never once been close to each other in Yuuri’s mind, except for when the screw-up was Yuuri himself. The dripping of water from a leaky sink permeates the whole bathroom, tears at Yuuri’s ears. Yurio continues on. “A screw-up in his… head. He only got twenty times worse after Sochi. Yakov thought… hmph, yeah. We’ve all learned not to talk to him about the banquet or the GPF. Even Christophe Giacometti, who reveals everything from his fetishes to what’s under his disgustingly tight skating outfits, got the hint to not talk about it.”

The fear Yuuri’s felt is swept away, for a temporary moment. “Is he okay? Should I be… doing something?”

Yuri glares at him. “He’s a lot better this season, yeah. I don’t wanna hear the details about how you did that.”

“Me,” Yuuri questions, too mild and unsure for it to even be a true question.

“Ugh, gross, let’s just get back to practice,” Yuri says, “I want to make my step sequence faster than yours.”

Yuuri presses his palms into his eyes, takes a deep and watery breath. “Won’t happen till you stop favoring your right side and keeping yourself unbalanced. I know you can do it.”

“Shut up,” Yuri growls. His step sequence improves significantly. Yuuri’s got the quad salchow consistently in practice, now.

He has the rinks late at night for himself, too, after a long and uncomfortable discussion with Yakov. He takes the bus after dinner sometimes, so he doesn’t bother Viktor for a ride, and skates until the buzzing nerves seep from his muscles. Figures, On Love: Eros. The piece he hasn’t named yet, the piece Yakov is making him produce. He thinks of dinners with Viktor, and soft kisses, and never dares to hope.

At night, no one can see him practice his new jump.


 

A few days after their talk with Yakov, Mila Babicheva returns from training camp in America, where she’s been since early on in the summer. She sees Yuuri and Viktor curled up, eating bentos the Japanese man had made in a corner for lunch, and slides over to them with a knowing smile.

“So it finally happened.”

“What happened?” Yuuri questions warily, worry starting to thrum at his chest. He hates this vagueness that’s settled like a haze over so many of his interactions in the past few days.

“You’re…” she gestures with a hand. Her nails are painted electric blue, and Yuuri stares at them as they dart through the air, dragonflies.

“Dating,” Viktor pipes up. Yuuri drops his chopsticks. One rolls under the bench they’re sitting on. Viktor laughs, nudges at his hand that’s fisted around the one chopstick he managed to save. “I’d like to see you eat, like this. I’m sure you’ll still be better than me even with only one chopstick.” Yuuri hopes that singular chopstick isn’t shaking, isn’t completely obvious.

“Well, after the GPF, I suppose it was only a matter of time.” Her eyes settle softly on Yuuri. “I was so happy to hear that Yakov had offered you a spot at our rink.”

“After the GPF?” Viktor echoes, bright and curious. “Ah, well, of course after Yakov saw Yuuri skate, even in a routine that wasn’t his best, he couldn’t resist!”

Someone couldn’t resist,” she replies slyly. “Maybe two someones, even?”

“Dating,” Yuuri states stiffly. It’s a mere echo of Viktor’s statement from earlier—it’s taking so long for Yuuri to catch up, to accept that he hadn’t imagined the word.

Mila giggles, pats him on the shoulder. “Of course it’s mutual, if you’re dating. Then I won’t interrupt your romantic lunch. Stay safe!”

Yuuri can’t stay safe. He’s having a heart attack. Mila sways off, throwing one last cheeky smile over her shoulder, and when she’s gone Yuuri takes a deep breath and shoves his bento to the bench.

“We’re dating?” He hisses. Viktor has the good grace to look jarred. His perfect lips fall open, maybe even tremble a little, and his pale fingers clutch at his bento box. It’s heartbreaking, and completely unfair.

“Ah, just, for so long I’d—we kept going out on dates in the evenings and after our conversation with Yakov, I—“ The Russian swallows, shakes his head. “I always get ahead of myself, I’m sorry. What do you want to call it?” Yuuri just stares at him, trying to work it out. Viktor gives a strange smile, makes eye contact. “You want to keep your options open? Date other people?”

“No,” Yuuri says.

“Thank you,” Viktor lets out on a quick breath. “Then we can label it anything you want, Yuuri.”

Yuuri grips lightly at his knees, stares determinedly out towards the rink. “I don’t see the point,” he replies, trying so hard to not let his voice break, “I know it’s not going to last. You don’t have to pretend like it will.” Don’t do it for my sake. It’ll only make it worse when you leave again.

There’s a perfect silence, something Yuuri is unused to. Viktor can be quiet, can sit in the living room with Yuuri and not talk for hours, just settled sweetly with a book or his phone, but the Russian man likes to tap with his fingertips, likes to communicate with smiling sighs anytime he finishes a chapter. Recently he’s taken to tracing patterns on Yuuri’s skin, dragging the Japanese skater’s legs over him like a blanket when they sit on the couch. Yuuri wants that now, wants it fiercely. But he wants so much, in this world, and his desires are too sharp and strong to keep in his heart. They just make him bleed out.

The silence doesn’t end, just stretches out thin and terrible, and Yuuri can’t bear to look up from where his knuckles are clutching white against his pants.

“There you are,” Yakov bursts in with a growl, rounding the corner. “You’ve been on lunch break for almost forty-five minutes. I agreed to dating, Vitya, I didn’t agree to elopement from the ice.”

Beside him, Viktor stands. “Yakov, you know me! I jumped straight to the elopement. We’ll come back now.”

Later, when they’ve hung up their coats and are standing in the entryway of their home, Viktor stares down at him and says,

“So… a temporary situation. That’s what you want.” Then, quieter, “I can give you what you want, Yuuri. I’m good at that.”

Yuuri tries not to shake. Maybe this is what Viktor finds fun. Be someone’s dream, for a night or a few days, make promises of forever and I’ve been waiting for you like the romance is real.

“You don’t need to mold yourself into something for me. Just be Viktor.” Because no matter how ridiculous the promises Viktor makes, no matter how he doesn’t mean most of them, there are other parts of the champion that Yuuri knows has to be real, human. Delighted aggression in winning at cards, the way he cuddles with Makkachin, combing Yuuri’s hair, beautiful things. Things that are even more attractive than promises. Things that Yuuri has been gifted, however temporarily.

 “Even when you’re cruel,” Viktor says, “even when you’re cruel you’re good to me, Yuuri. This isn't the end.”

The Japanese skater goes numbly to his room, and wonders, in that spiraling agony of the anxious, why Viktor calls self-preservation cruelty.