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NEXT LEVEL: Nights After Dreams

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CHAPTER ONE

-Go go go! The Grand Prix Final Exhibition Gala!-

"It's not a Gold medal, but..." Yuri started, holding his head down a little despite still being happy he'd won a medal at all. He held the Silver in his hands by the lanyard, letting the round, glimmering disc dangle beneath it. His coach stood ahead of him, proud all the same, even if a little disappointed deep down.

Tousling that silver hair, the Russian quirked his head to the side a little and smiled, "I don't feel like kissing it unless it's Gold."

Yuri blanched, the medal wavering as he took half a defensive step backward.

"Man... I really wanted to kiss Yuri's Gold medal..." Victor whined, mostly to himself, but then took a step closer to his student, "I'm such a failure as a coach." He walked right into the younger man's space, forcing him to back up, almost to the point of putting him right on the ice again. A mischievous look grew on Victor's face as he leaned over his student, "Yuri, do you have any suggestions?" His right hand came up to his chin, the gold on his finger gleaming under the lights high above, as his face took on a more serious expression, "Something that would excite me?"

Half a dozen truly inappropriate things ran through Yuri's mind in that instant. He just stammered nervously in response. It was all he could do to avoid toppling over where he stood.

"What did you think just now?" Victor purred.

Cherry-hazel eyes clamped shut even as Yuri's cheeks flushed, but he opened them again and looked at the man looming over him, trying to maintain some semblance of composure, "Oh...uhwell..." He stuttered incoherently. Mentally, he took a moment to regain himself, and then rose up, forcing the Russian back and pushing him down to the ground; the Silver medal was forgotten, and fell to the floor nearby. "Victor!" Yuri called out resolutely, perched on the heels of his skates over the man's right leg. He leaned in close to hug his stunned coach tightly, "Please stay in competitive skating with me for one more year! Next time, I'll win Gold for sure!"

Slate-blue eyes widened in surprise as Yuri pulled back, and Victor could do little more than stare at the man with hope and anticipation, "GREAT!" He suddenly chirped, eyes getting watery with excitement, bringing his own hands up close to his face, "But keep going!"

"Eh?" Yuri choked, leaning away where he was kneeling, caught off guard a little by the Russian's overzealous response.

Victor turned to the right and grabbed the forgotten medal with his ringed hand, "Even I'm worried about making a full comeback if I'm staying on as your coach." He said as he pulled the lanyard through his fingers and held it properly, lifting it up to place it over his student's head, settling the colored ribbon gently around shining shoulders, "In exchange, I'll need you to become a five-time World Champion, at least."

The sentiment was overwhelming. Tears suddenly fell from Yuri's eyes, sliding down his cheeks to drip off his chin. They fell past where his gold ringed hand clung to that Silver disc, "Okay." He said weakly, trying to stay coherent. He leaned forward again and wrapped his arms around the man's shoulders, and cried.

.

['He Must Go On' - Luke Garret]

The arena had gone appropriately dark. Music was playing overhead for the Pair Skaters already on the ice. The Grand Prix Final Exhibition Gala was officially underway, and Yuri was to be the second of three from Men's Singles to get to go out. He stood at rink-side with his coach, butterflies rising in his stomach, his limbs feeling hot despite the cold of the ice nearby. He felt a hand come up and squeeze his shoulder, and he turned his head to meet its source.

"Knock it out, Yuri." Celestino said, giving him a thumbs up, "I can already tell what you're about to do."

The medalist nodded excitedly, "Thank you!" He bowed his head, his cheeks a bit pink, "It's been a long journey... I...I hope I make you proud tonight."

"You always made me proud." Celestino corrected, patting that shoulder again before letting go, and turned his eyes towards the man who'd replaced him as coach, "He's finally starting to live up to the potential I always knew he had. I guess you're not a half-bad coach after all. "

Victor huffed, but smiled innocently anyway, "He just needed a different kind of motivation."

Yuri glanced back nervously, seeing the knowing grin on the Russian's face, "...You would say something like that, Victor..."

The silver affectionately leaned in to cling to his athlete's arm, and perched his chin on one shoulder. Hands came up around the front, and he batted his eyes slowly, deliberately, "Are you saying you didn't appreciate my unique approach?"

The younger figure just chortled in embarrassment and pushed the man away with a hand against his grinning face, smiling despite it all as Victor laughed at his reaction. Once standing normally again though, Yuri saw his coach give a happy sigh. He tried to get serious again after that, "It's almost my turn."

"Mh." The Russian agreed, nodding, "It's time to bring it all home. I skate the way your friends and fans have always know you could."

Yuri nodded as well, his skate-guard thunking against the ground as he took a step forward. He wrapped his arms around the man who'd gotten him back into the Grand Prix Final after such a close brush with retirement, "This is as much for you as it is for Celestino. For everything you've done, for bringing me this far...for helping to give me what I lacked...Victor, arigatou gozaimasu."

Returning the hug easily, Victor nuzzled his student's cheek, "You always had it in you. But I'm glad to have been the one to bring it into the light." He said, patting Yuri's back before pulling up again and looking him in the eyes. He pressed his palm to the younger man's cheek, and rubbed his thumb across it adoringly, "Go show the world how much you've grown. I'm proud of you, Yuri."

Hazel eyes got misty as he heard the words, and he buried his face against the Russian's shoulder a second time, eyes watering again for the happiness of it all. It was serendipitous that the audience started to clap and cheer at the exact same time; the Pair Skaters ended their Exhibition and came off the ice nearby.

"Ladies and gentlemen," The announcer said high above, "Please welcome to the ice...your Grand Prix Final Men's Singles Silver Medalist...Yuri Katsuki!"

Anxious, Yuri pulled back and rubbed his eyes on the back of his sleeve, pulling the track-suit coat off to reveal the costume beneath it. The gradient of black-to-blue flames on the stomach, rising up the chest to end in a short white turtle-neck. The sky-blue lapels to either side that came down to a point at the bottom. The royal blue sleeves that ended in white ruffles over gloveless hands. Yuri gently handed his jacket over to his coach and reached down to pull his blade-guards away, giving them over as well.

As Victor took the guards in his left hand, he reached with his right to pull Yuri's ringed hand up, kissing the gold thereupon and smiling, "I'd say 'Davai,' but I don't think you need to hear it. Go have fun out there."

Yuri nodded excitedly, the butterflies fluttering about with even more energy, "Mh."

Cheers and screams rose again, louder than before, when he finally set silver blades to white ice and started moving out into the rink.

"Some members of the audience may recognize this outfit," Newscaster Morooka was saying, though only the TV and streaming audiences could hear it, "The last time Skater Yuri wore it at an international competition was at last year's Grand Prix Final in Sochi, Russia, where he suffered a catastrophic defeat and came in 6th place. Many worried he would retire from the sport after such a crushing humiliation, but thanks to his coach, Victor Nikiforov, he not only returned to competition, but surprised us all by setting a new World Record for the Men's Free Skate, and won Silver in the process. From the bottom of Japan's heart, and the world's...Coach Victor, thank you!"

Yuri pulled to the center of the rink, mesmerized by the whole thing; the cheering, the adulation, the screams of his name and well-wishes. He knew when and where he was, but seeing himself with that costume from what he still considered his 'dark past' made him a little anxious...but for the first time, it was in a good way. He finally knew what he was capable of, and every muscle in his body twitched to show it off. He looked at his hands, his ring helping to ground him in the present. He set his feet apart, kissed his ring, and crossed his arms over his chest, one hand on each shoulder, and drew one last long breath.

['Firebird Suite Finale' by Stravinsky - found on YouTube channel PrimroseMagic]

The music was quiet, peaceful.

Yuri spun around on the spot in an inside spread-eagle, rotating out again to skate further from center, his arms spread out, descended in front of his chest, and then out again like wings flapping. As the music grew louder and more intense, so did his turns and twists.

He leapt into a flying camel-spin, moved upright into a scratch-spin, and then lowered himself into a sit-spin as the music got quieter again. The world was a blur all around him, even in the dark; lights twinkled from the void where the audience was hidden, looking like shooting stars as he spun. He rose again and pulled away backwards, skating with his eyes nearly closed.

Victor watched intently, practically without blinking. He'd remembered the last time he'd seen the performance himself, and the pity he'd felt for Yuri even back then.

.

"What's wrong with him?" Victor had overheard someone critiquing the performance in the prep area, "He did well enough to place in the Final and now he's just falling apart."

"Is it first-time GPF jitters?"

"Who knows? His Short Program was pretty good though...held onto 3rd despite having only made it here for the first time."

Victor stuffed his hands into the pockets of his half-zipped track-suit coat; the black pants and sheer magenta tips of his Aria costume were still visible, but he'd taken his skates off a little while earlier. He had already done his Free Skate and was just waiting for the last handful of competitors to do theirs before claiming his Gold medal. The large screens in the prep-area made it easy for him to see every detail of every performance, but this one caught his attention more than the rest.

"Something happened to him." Victor said to himself quietly, pulling a finger up to his chin in thought, "This isn't like how he was before."

"What do you mean?" Chris asked, suddenly stepping up next to him and watching as well, "Didn't think you cared that much at this point."

"I don't care?" Victor repeated, looking at him side-ways, "That's harsh."

"You've never really paid that much attention to other skaters before, at least not like this. You always seem to get a bit aloof with the rest of the competition once you've gotten your final score and know how far ahead of the pack you are." The Swiss skater pointed out, "What do you see that's gotten your attention?"

Victor pulled his hand down and crossed his arms, "Yuri's Short Program the other day still had some excitement in it. This...even though we've all seen it half a dozen times leading up to today, it's different. There's a weird sort of melancholy to it. You're his friend..."

"I am."

"...Did he say anything to you that might explain it?"

Chris thought about it, "No, but...he didn't seem like himself this morning. He's been looking at the ground since he showed up for early morning practice. If something happened, it was last night, after we'd all left already."

Victor nodded, and then turned away from the screens, heading out to the rink-side area quietly. The Swiss skater watched him go with a ponderous expression on his face, but decided against following. Stepping out into the seating area, the silver legend looked out quietly, standing near a railing that guarded a ledge. A few people recognized him and called his name, but he was focused and paid them no mind.

'...Here comes the triple toe-loop...' He thought to himself, and winced as Yuri collapsed, sliding nearly into the rink-wall before struggling to get up again and continue on, 'This is painful to watch...'

.

Quad Toe-loop followed by a triple-loop. Yuri was in top form, spinning with ease as he entered into his step sequence.

.

"Come on, Yuri...shake it off." Victor whispered to himself, "Forget whatever is going on outside this place and just skate."

Yuri Plisetsky was in the lower level seats of the arena, feet propped up on the empty chairs in front of himself as he gawked at the skater in the rink. He seemed fixated. The jumps were embarrassing to look at, but the spins and step sequence would frequently grab peoples' attention, even that of the Russian Punk, 'He obviously knows how to move...but it's like he forgets what to do when his skates leave the ice.' The blonde thought to himself.

.

Quad Salchow, single Loop, triple Salchow. The audience was cheering, and the energy fed into Yuri's body and soul like fuel. He was in the zone now.

Yurio stood at rink-side, watching just as intently as he had the last time the show had been put on. Otabek stood quietly next to him, just as interested in the redemptive performance as anyone else.

This is exactly what I wanted to see back then, Katsudon.

.

Yuri's enthusiasm for the Free Skate was withering, and Victor could see Celestino at rink-side, watching like he was a hair's-width away from complete nuclear meltdown. There was nothing the coach could do at that point though, so Celestino crossed his arms and hoped for the best.

.

Quad Loop, and the crowd roared with approval. Yuri pushed on into a low sweep, rising into a series of two butterfly jumps before finally sliding into a triple-Flip, double-Salchow combo.

.

Victor turned his eyes back to the ice; Yuri's only quad for the Free Skate was coming up. He'd changed the program up to emphasize less-difficult combination jumps in favor of more difficult solo jumps. The Russian Champion wondered if Yuri would even try it at that point...but...he did...and again, he fell. Unlike Celestino though, who had since put his hands over his face to hide himself from his skater's collapse, Victor's eyes were wide open and analyzing.

.

Yuri spun a few more times, but then burst out in reverse to build up speed for his final major jump...and he threw himself into the air with a click of his toe-pick against the frost. He spun four times, and landed on the opposite blade...the quad Flip he'd admired; the audience screamed through the dark, and Yuri couldn't help but cheer for himself as well as the glided on.

.

He was utterly exhausted, but Yuri pushed himself up again from where he'd fallen and skated quickly to regain his previous momentum. He'd had to cut a few elements from the end of the program due to lost time, and so the entrance into his final spin sequence looked unpolished.

.

Yuri moved into a camel-spin variant, and hopped to the other foot to continue on. He lowered himself into a sit-spin variant to gain momentum, raising one arm above his head for added difficulty. Ice crystals flew off his blades as he carved his mark into the rink. When he rose up again, he 'stepped' a few steps backward before rotating one last time, and reached up with both hands for the final pose. The rising crescendo and ultimate finale of the music was a perfect analogy to the way the skater himself felt; he'd finally risen above his past defeats - victorious - and stronger than ever.

Born again like a Phoenix from the ashes of its own Death. Blue flames instead of red, burning three times as hot as any normal fire.

Victor had thought the same thing, a look of proud determination on his face as he heard the audience go wild. He clapped his hands along with the rest, but soon found himself unable to maintain the cool control he was trying to hold onto. He jumped up with his hands over his head, cheering wildly, "Yuri~! Amazing~!"

Yuri was panting heavily in the middle of the rink, but the feeling of having pulled off that program...especially with the difficulty having been raised so much higher than the last time he'd done it...made him feel like he'd won Gold after all. Tears ran down his face and he bowed to the audience in each of the cardinal directions, waved, and finally turned to head back to rink-side as the spotlight high above cut out, plunging the rink back into darkness. He rubbed his eyes again like before, but when he raised his face again, this time, he saw not only Victor there clapping for him; Yurio, Phichit, Chris, Celestino...even Otabek and JJ...they were all clapping. It was such a departure from the last Grand Prix Final that Yuri almost fell to his knees before even making it to the rink wall. Instead, he collapsed into his coach's waiting arms, and drank in the sweet sound of his own revival.

.

The Exhibition had ended, and everyone piled back to their hotel rooms to get ready for the Banquet. Yuri was starting to feel tired after the last few hours of adrenaline pumping through his system, and when he finally saw where the two twin beds were mashed together, he threw himself face-first across both of them, the Silver medal squished under his chest, arms flopped out to the sides.

Victor huffed a laugh where he saw from the hall, letting the door quietly click closed, and removed his long-coat, "You're going to fall asleep and miss the fun later if you stay like that for too long."

Yuri just waved his left hand lazily where it partly hung off the foot of his own twin bed, his words muffled against the sheets, "Just wake me up in an hour. I need a nap."

Blue eyes half-lidded in amusement, but the Russian moved off without answering, leaving the skater to his own devices while he plotted his own next move. Turning on the shower was the first order of business, and he discarded of all his clothes. He stuck his hand into the stream of water and found it acceptably warm...but then, instead of getting in, he left the bathroom entirely and padded softly across the carpet with bare feet, moving close to where Yuri's hung off the side of the closest bed.

The younger skater was easily asleep already, and didn't notice the figure looming behind him. Victor just observed carefully, a finger over his mouth as he contemplated things. He closed his eyes and smirked to himself as both hands went down to Yuri's feet, put a finger on the back of each heel, and pushed down, just enough to get each sneaker to slide off.

It was only when Yuri felt the weight of another body coming to rest along the entire length of his back and legs that he finally awoke. His eyes went wide, and he stammered incoherent protests as half-conscious confusion reigned. Pale hands went under his chest, one grabbing hold of the medal to pull it free, then lifted the glinting metal in front of Yuri's right shoulder, holding the trophy in front of them both.

It was enough that Yuri could see that his coach's arms were bare, but what made his cheeks go to a darker shade of crimson was feeling where the man wedged his knees between his own, "...You're naked, aren't you?" He finally managed, a look of amused but embarrassed surrender on his face.

Victor nosed his student's cheek affectionately, and curled his knees back behind himself, "What difference does it make if you aren't?"

Yuri took the point as it was and stayed quiet. Instead, he turned his eyes to where Victor was holding the Silver disc ahead of him, turning it slightly to glimmer in the light of the setting sun through the window. His eyes closed a little as he looked away, and despite his earlier pride and excitement, the stark truth of the night's events suddenly hit him...harder than before, like it was a bad thing, "He took it from us by less than a quarter of a point."

"It looks like Gold right now though, neh?" The legend asked, making Yuri look up to see how the silver-chrome finish reflected the golden color of the light outside.

"Yeah...but that doesn't make it Gold."

"You'll win it next time, like you said."

"You're not disappointed in me, deep down, are you?" Yuri wondered, turning his eyes as he lowered his chin down to the sheet, "After everything you did...in the end, I let you down..."

Victor's brow furrowed, and he set the medal down on the blanket to free up that hand. He moved to cross both arms under his student's chest, and held him close, "You could never disappoint me. I firmly believe you'll get your due in time...and really, you broke my Free Skate record yesterday, which I set during a Gold Medal performance of my own once. You should be proud of what you did here."

"I am...I just..." Yuri said, but let his words trail, pausing only enough to wiggle out from under his coach and roll onto his side next to the man instead. His eyes were low, staring at the ring on Victor's hand where he was holding up his head, "...I-"

"...-wanted to get me something round and golden." Victor finished, echoing the words from the days prior. He reached out his free hand and gently trailed a finger down Yuri's jawline, stopping just under his chin and making him look up with a gentle nudge, "You got that for me, and it's more precious than any medal could ever be."

Hazel eyes looked forward, seeing the Russian there as though for the first time all over again. Yuri rolled onto his elbows, and looked down as he pushed himself up onto them, feeling where his arm and shoulder pressed against Victor's chest. He felt the Russian's arm settle across his lower back, one knee sliding over the back of his leg, but only barely. A moment passed in silence before Yuri reached out to pull the medal up again, looking at his own reflection in its mirror-like surface before noting the gold band around his own finger; the matching ring that Victor had given to him at the Sagrada Familia.

...He must've realized what I'd done when I dragged him into that jeweler's store, and got this while I had my back turned. I can still hardly believe it...but...

He turned his eyes from his reflection on the mirrored disc, and found it again in the blue eyes that were watching him.

Victor waited. For a brief instant, it looked like Yuri was leaning closer...but then turned away again. He smiled despite feeling a little disappointed, but said nothing to question it, simply waiting quietly for Yuri to make the next move.

"Whatever happens..." He started, "Don't let me hold you back."

"Eh?" Victor quirked a brow in confusion, "...Hold me back?"

"You said you were worried about making a full comeback. If it's..." Yuri bowed his head low, turning only enough to see his idol's elbow in the blankets, "If it's because of me...don't feel obligated to stay on as my coach. You sh-"

"Yuri."

He went quiet, a little embarrassed by his words.

"I know. You're going to say that I should do what's best for me..." Victor started, bringing his left hand up a little bit to stroke the skater's back gently, "But that might not always be what's best for my skating. I have to really think about what's going to happen... I'm turning 28 before the month is out; by figure skating standards, I'm a fossil. Staying on with you for one more year...that might be all I can manage."

The words made Yuri's heart pound in his chest.

"But you've thrown me a life-line." The Russian went on, drawing Yuri's attention back again, "You told me at Fukuoka Airport that you wanted me to be yours until you retire...and then after the medaling ceremony, you agreed to win five World Championships... That means I'll be able to stay in figure skating for another four more seasons after this. If it's as your coach...or as your competition...the one thing I know for sure is that I'll be there because I'm with you." He said reassuringly, and leaned close to kiss the figure's shoulder. He held for a moment, and twisted to sit up again, reaching back to pat the back of Yuri's leg, "Come shower with me. It's more cramped than the wash-room at Yu-Topia, but I'll do your hair again. Okay~?"

.

The hall leading to the Banquet was bright, just like Yuri's vague, beer-goggled memories of Sochi. Victor had snickered a few times as he'd gone through the photos again while they walked, each time offering to let Yuri see, and each time being turned down. Victor had honestly felt a little déjà vu at the constant rejection, but vowed that he wouldn't go to bed with tears in his eyes that time. Makkachin wasn't there to console him anyway. He huffed to himself and put his phone away in defeat, but slipped his arm over his athlete's shoulder as they approached the party. He felt a little better about the whole thing though when he noted Yuri's arm coming up behind his back in return, a hand settling gently over the crest of his hip. The longer he felt it there, the more he found himself smiling.

The pair strode into the Banquet Hall through massive wooden double-doors, and those within seemed to go a little bit quieter at the sight of them. The pause soon changed to clapping, and within a few seconds, practically everyone in attendance was adulating the pair's arrival.

Victor beamed under all the attention, and squeezed his student's shoulder where he held it, laughing happily as he brought his free hand back up out of his pocket to wave graciously. His pride as a coach of a medalist was withered only as those gathered decided to focus their attention on a certain rumor they'd heard, rather than on the star skater he'd taken time off to train.

"Victor!" Someone had called out, "Are you really going to skate at Russian Nationals!? That's only two weeks from now!"

"It's true!? You're coming out of retirement!?"

"Does that mean you're going to stop coaching!?"

"Victor!"

Chris' eyes peeked up where he'd been standing in the crowd, a champagne glass already sitting in one hand, "You are coming back? I'd heard the rumors, too, and as much as I want you back, it seems a bit ambitious to say you can do so in time for Nationals."

The Russian's name, and various other comments, echoed throughout the room. Yuri could feel the man's fingers tighten a little around his left shoulder, and he looked up nervously. To his surprise, Victor actually looked a little annoyed; eyebrows twitching despite his desperate attempt to keep the smile he'd born. But, true to Nikiforov-style, Victor quickly turned his sour-tinted expression to one of jovial excitement. He stepped forward only long enough to quiet the inquisition and return attention to where he thought it should've been all along, "Yuri skated a perfect redemption-program today, especially with the flawless Quad Flip at the end!" He explained, pulling attention entirely off the rumors, and back onto what really mattered, "And I hope he continues improving for his own Nationals, and Four Continents after that. By the time the World Championships come up again in March, Yuri will have a lot of competition! Wish him the best of luck! He'll need it!"

"So you ARE coming back!" The crowd erupted, much to Victor's chagrin.

"Victor..." Yuri whispered, speaking in such a hushed voice that he could barely hear himself. Not knowing what to say or do, he softly rubbed his thumb back and forth against his coach's hip, trying to soothe the man's nerves as well as he could.

"So, he's decided to keep skating then after all." Yurio's voice came from the background, rising above the clamor of the rest of the crowd, "How does it feel, Victor? The only Gold you're going home with is the meaningless band on your finger, just like I told you. Looks like it was fool's gold all along, just like its owner."

Yuri could hardly believe the words, but hearing them from the Russian Punk, it almost didn't surprise him either. He practically hid in Victor's shadow, not wanting to be part of the confrontation, even if it was about him.

The crowd parted, and several coaches and skaters alike commented on the offensive language.

Yurio's Gold medal hung proudly around his neck, and Coach Yakov whisper-growled some choice words to the teen, but they went unheeded.

Victor breathed in a quiet sigh, and pulled free of Yuri's shoulder, stepping forward and facing the teen squarely. He pointed his right hand forward, and pressed hard against the medal dangling in front of the blonde's chest; he stared intently, but spoke softly, "There's more gold in this band than there is on your prize. It's 100% pure gold, just like the man who got it for me." Slate eyes focused on emerald, each of them unblinking, "If it bothers you so much that I have it, then try to steal gold from me at the next competition. You still have a long way to go before you're Russia's sole Champion, Yurio."

Hearing the nickname set the teen's teeth on edge, but he challenged the finger-poke against his chest with a jab of his own, and got right up into his counterpart's face, "Tell Katsudon that I'm glad he isn't quitting. I'll crush him, over and over again, until the day he finally gives up and retires for good. Maybe by then you'll regret putting your faith into the wrong Yuri."

"That's enough." Yakov finally said, pushing the two skaters away from each other to defuse the situation, "Yuri, he's your rinkmate again, show some respect." He scolded, then turned then back to his reinstated-student, "When are you coming home then, Vitya?"

The room finally went back to its previous tempo, calmed after the bustle of the conflict.

"Aha~!" Victor laughed meekly, trying not to let the Russian Punk get under his skin, "Pretty soon, probably."

The conversation seemed to go on as though it were the most obvious thing, but to Yuri, still standing a bit in the background, it was a hard pill to swallow. He gave a nervous look as his eyes went to the floor.

All the time he spent with me in Hasetsu, the plan all along was that he'd move back home after the Final. He still talks about it like nothing has changed. ...How can he keep being my coach if he leaves though? How can he talk about leaving at all after how upset he got on Friday when I said we should end things...? What's he thinking...? He's so impulsive. He probably has no plan at all. Stupid Victor...

Chris stepped up with Phichit just as Yuri turned his back to go towards the banquet display, leaving both skaters with their mouths half-open in planned-but-cut-off conversation, having no idea they'd even been there. They blinked at him quietly as he went off, seeing curiously as he held his head low. Chris just rubbed his chin, "Despite winning Silver this time, he still has that look on his face like last year. I wonder if this'll turn into another Strip Tease?"

Phichit wasn't sure what to think of it, "Maybe we should stop him if he plans to drink."

"He's a happy drunk though." The blonde shrugged, holding up his flute of bubbly, "Maybe it'll lighten his mood."

Looking a bit nervous at the idea, Phichit shook his head, "Drunk Yuri always regrets what he does though once he's sober again."

"Not if he forgets again, too." Chris put his free hand on his hip and sipped the drink a little, casting his eyes aside to spot his rival, "I still can't believe they went that whole year and the Sochi banquet never came up. Victor really spent that whole time in Japan thinking Yuri knew all about what happened." He laughed quietly to himself, "It's no wonder he chose to choreograph a super-sexy program after that. He got a taste of Yuri's sweet Eros and couldn't help but ask for more."

The younger skater just gave him a look, watching where Chris had a hand up against his cheek while he daydreamed, "I can only wonder what horrible things you're imagining right now."

"Yuri's special training. One more minute and I think I might cum again..." He sighed contentedly, closing his eyes to 'watch' the show in his mind.

"Youcandothatjuststandingthere!?"

"Yuri!" Victor's voice suddenly called out. The Russian had turned from the conversation with his coach and realized his own student was missing, lost somewhere in the crowd.

The ominously absent skater had slinked off to where the food was on display at the far end of the room. He saw a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice, and a dozen or more glasses already full in front of it. His hazy recollection of the previous year started with champagne, and he didn't want to forget again, so he snubbed his nose at the alcohol and turned it instead to the carefully-arranged hors d'oeuvres on a different table nearby. Before he'd even managed to put a single piece of prosciutto-wrapped cheese in his mouth though, Victor had wrapped both arms around his waist from behind, and rubbed a cheek against the side of his neck.

"Yuri! Found you~"

The morsel fell from his hand, but his cheeks flushed and he forgot all about it. Just as quickly as he'd calmed from the surprise of having someone clinging to him unexpectedly though, Yuri's mind went back to the whole reason he'd moved off on his own in the first place.

"It's going to be so weird to train under Yakov again after spending so much time in Japan." The Russian was saying, heedless to his student's apprehension, "Reverting back to an athlete after being a coach for so long will be exciting!"

"Yeah..." Yuri mumbled, fingering for another hors d'oeuvre to replace the one he'd lost. He half bit-down on it, not quite focused enough to eat the thing even though he meant to. It was enough to taste the salty flavor, and everything else faded away.

Victor blinked at the lackluster response, and pulled off the man's back to turn him around. It was only then that he saw the anxious look on Yuri's face, those brown eyes cast down towards his tie rather than up into his eyes like he wanted. A gentle hand went under the skater's jaw, pressing the tips of two fingers to the underside of his chin, and lightly pushed the man's gaze up.

Hazel irises resisted the move, but Yuri couldn't help it, and reluctantly looked to his coach's face. His brow furrowed as the nerves coiled in his stomach, but he said nothing; he kept on biting down on that prosciutto-wrapped cheese, using it as an excuse to stay silent a little while longer so he wouldn't have to voice his worries out loud.

"Why do you look so nervous all of a sudden?" Victor wondered, snaking his hands forward to rest them on Yuri's waist, "Is it because of what Yurio said? Don't worry about him. He's always been vulgar like that. It might even get worse once you've beaten him for Gold at Worlds. You should look forward to it more."

Yuri still had no answer. Worlds was months away. Victor returning - leaving - to St. Petersburg was around the corner.

Victor was perplexed, staring down on his silent companion. For lack of knowing how else to make the man speak, he leaned forward with parted lips, and gently bit down on the end of Yuri's snack. Though Victor had closed his eyes, he could feel Yuri's stunned gaze, and all but kissed the man right there. The tips of their noses lightly brushed together as Victor held still there for a while, but eventually bit off his half of the snack before pulling away again.

Yuri blinked in embarrassed amazement, watching in continued silence as his coach finished the piece off. Reluctantly, he finished his own half as well, sighing and setting his forehead to the Russian's collarbone.

"What's wrong?" Victor asked again, feeling the younger man's arms come up around his sides, hands clinging to the back of his suit-coat, "Yuri...?"

"You're moving back to St. Petersburg." He finally said, doing everything he could to avoid letting his voice crack from the pain rising in his throat.

"Of course." The silver answered; it was as obvious as anything, but Yuri's response to it was mysterious as ever, "Aren't you excited?"

"Why would I be? You're leaving."

"Oh! I'm not leaving without you." Victor clarified, "We're moving to St. Petersburg. Together."

Yuri pulled his head up, shocked, "...But...what? ...Really?"

"Yeah. Wasn't that obvious from the start?" Victor asked as he offered a confused smile, "It wouldn't be the first time you've trained abroad, after all. Did you really think I was going to leave you behind? How was I going to coach you? Through FaceTime at 4 in the morning?" He laughed nervously, perplexed at the whole thing, reaching both arms around those trembling shoulders, and rubbed his cheek against the man's ear, "Yuri..."

"Well...I didn't...want to just assume..." He stammered, though his cheeks flushed all the same, ...Me...moving to St. Petersburg!? He thought in a panic, Living with Victor in his own home!? It'll be so different from Yu-Topia...there was always a whole resort between us, and a dozen or more people. In Russia, we'll be alone... He drew in a nervous breath, feeling the euphoria of that unexpected realization. He anxiously clung a little closer, eyes wide.

Victor seemed to enjoy it, and whispered quietly, "I know that we'd planned on me leaving after the Final, but we've exchanged rings now, Yuri." He started, speaking the words against the skin of that bare neck, "Plans will have to change. Having you follow me home is just the natural choice. Unless you don't want to come for some reason?"

"...Unless I don't!?" Yuri echoed in horror. He craned his head back to look at his coach squarely, "I... How could I refuse!?"

Victor offered a smile, calm and reassuring as he'd always been, "So you'll come?"

"Of course I'll come!"

"That's just what I like to hear." He mused, leaning in a little closer.

Chris chuckled into his champagne glass and elbowed the stunned figure next to him, "We won't have to imagine it for much longer, the way they're going."

Phichit had to fan himself with one hand as the other was up and clicking away on his phone, camera shutter noises resounding with every thumb-tap, "Yuri, you know not what you're doing..."

Yurio blustered quietly to himself, watching the spectacle from further away, "Someone should pull the fire alarm. The way they are now, it could get gross if no one stops them."

Mila put a finger on her chin as she looked at the pair, "So their matching rings..." She wondered, the thought lingering for half a second longer. She saw how precariously close the two had gotten, and how flushed Yuri's face had grown. She pointed at the both of them and utterly ruined everything by yelling her realization out loud, "Those rings aren't good luck charms AT ALL! You guys are ENGAGED!"

Yurio, Yakov, and half the people in the immediate vicinity, all turned to gawk at the red-head, but only the Russian Punk spoke, "Jesus, Mila...wasn't it obvious? Victor even said they'd get married if Katsudon won Gold." He turned his head slightly and muttered the rest under his breath, "Which he didn't...so they won't."

"When did he say that!?" She turned to him and grabbed his shoulders adamantly, leaving the spoken-of pair in confusion.

"O-On Thursday!" He answered frantically, though something clicked in his head and he deadpanned the woman instead, "Oh right, you weren't there."

Mila suddenly hefted the hapless Gold medalist over her head, and started marching around the room with him in spite of his flailing and protests, "I can't believe this! Why didn't anyone say anything!? This is going to be huge news back home!"

"PUT ME DOWN, BABA!"

Otabek and the Russians just watched quietly, eyes following the teen as he passed by them in the air.

Victor sighed and turned back, the moment lost, seeing the modest and reluctant expression returning to Yuri's face. Realizing there was no chance to go for it again, he reached instead behind Yuri's back and lifted two champagne flutes from the table, looking over to Chris and Phichit as though in invitation to come closer. The pair did as suggested as Victor handed the second flute to Yuri, and then held up his own into the center between them all, "A toast, then. To Yuri's Silver medal, to my officially announcing that I'm coming back to competition, to the move to St. Petersburg...and all the fun and challenges of the season yet to come."

"Here here." Chris agreed, holding his own glass up as well.

"To Four Continents for Yuri and I, and then, to Worlds!" Phichit added.

"To Worlds." They all agreed, clinking their glasses together.

The Banquet went off without a hitch after that; photos were taken of the various groups, cakes were cut, gifts given from the ISU to the various winners. Yuri made sure never to have more than that first glass of champagne, wanting on pain of death to remember the night. Victor had gotten plenty toasted though, ending up in a rather brief - if comparatively mild - dance battle with Chris. Event staffers quickly mobilized and pulled the two apart before more than just their shoes and jackets had come off, though many commented on how 'those two never change,' leaving Yuri flustered and wondering what had happened that he still didn't know about.

The opportunity seemed to present itself at that point though. While Yuri was trying to get the Russian's jacket buttoned up again, despite Victor's overtly affectionate drunken antics making it difficult, Mila came up behind him. She put her hand softly on Yuri's shoulder, getting his attention just long enough to turn his head back and feel his coach come slithering up all over him again.

"V-Victor!" He protested.

"If they won't let me dance with Chris then you should dance with me!" Victor called out with a slur, "It'll be just like last year, except this time I'm drunk! It'll be fun! We can do that bull-fighting thing again!"

The red-head laughed, sighed, and shook her head, reaching forward to help untangle her rink-mate's arms from around his helpless victim's smaller frame. She managed to get hold of Victor's wrists and pulled them up, giving Yuri a chance to escape, though the Russian continued to play grabby-hands in his direction even as he moved away.

"Yuuurrriiii! Yuuurriiii~!" The silver genius whined.

The younger skater huffed a nervous laugh, but then turned his completely-sober self towards the lady who'd plucked him out of the situation, "Sorry about that..." He held his hands together in front of his head as he bowed it in apology, "Did you need something?"

"Just him." She answered, maneuvering the hazy Nikiforov towards a nearby chair until she could dump him into it, "Can I have a word alone?"

Yuri blinked at her, "I don't know that much of it will stick..."

"Victor is Russian. He can drink all night without blacking out. This is just champagne." She explained politely, "It'll only be a minute."

"Oh... Okay." Yuri nodded anxiously, reaching up to adjust his glasses before stepping away, but glanced back over his shoulder as he moved off. His only relief from the growing swarm of butterflies in his stomach was hearing Phichit calling his name out to distract him.

Mila smiled and waved, waiting until he was out of earshot before turning back to Victor and giving him his wrists back, as well as giving him a strange look.

"What a scary face." The silver quipped, slouching where he sat.

"Victor...what you're doing is reckless."

"You just said yourself that it's only champagne." He defended, "I've had harder liquor before without problems. I drank all night in Hasetsu a bunch of times!"

"I'm not talking about the drinkingstupid." Mila corrected, "This thing you have with Katsuki...it won't be welcomed in Russia."

"Russia's opinion doesn't matter." He said simply, shrugging in his drunken haze and still looking quite merry, "The fans at Rostelecom didn't seem to mind when Yuri showed them his love." He leaned in close to whisper behind his hand, "He asked me later if I thought Russia would be mad at him for taking me off the ice...and when I told him 'no, they'd be jealous,' he got excited, like he was so proud of himself. It was so adorable."

"They didn't mind you guys because they're fans. Not everyone in the Motherland is so understanding. This is dangerous." Mila clarified pensively, "You could get hurtHe could get hurt. Don't you know what's happening back home? If people find out that you, Russia's Hero, are engaged to another man-"

"I can protect us." He cut her off, speaking with a bit more mental clarity than before.

"Victor..." Mila argued, quieter than before, but also more worried than before, "There's video online...a number of people have declared an open hunting season on same-sex couples or those seeking such relationships. They post fake ads on match-making sites and lure single men to hotel rooms, and beat them half to death for fun-"

"How could they bait me like that? I'm not a single man anymore," He interrupted, holding up his ringed hand for a moment before setting it back down on his leg, "...And I'm not going to let anything happen to either of us."

"You're not taking this seriously at all! They're beating people up in the streets, like it's a game!" She whisper-yelled, taking Victor's arm with one hand, "With you being such a high-profile character at home, you could be walking into a death trap as soon as you get off the plane. Too many people will see your relationship with Katsuki as something that needs to be erased. You'll both be torn apart, if not by the media, then literally... I can't watch that happen. Promise me that you'll keep all this on the down-low while in Russia. I don't want to find out that you won't make your return after all, because some gang on motorcycles broke both of your legs."

Victor could see the terror in her eyes as she spoke those words of warning, and he took her more seriously than before, feeling himself sobering up unwillingly. Quietly, he nodded, and laid the woman's concerns to slighter ease, "I understand."

Mila wasn't sure about it, but at least she'd seen the man accept her caution rather than brush them off. She nodded and reluctantly let go, and the two parted ways again, leaving Victor to sit quietly in his own head for a little while. His slate-blue eyes looked down at the floor as he crossed his arms, his rink-mate's words rattling around in his mind like echoes off a canyon wall. Something seemed to stir under all of those thoughts, and his left eye twitched slightly under his bangs, but just as soon as he felt it, he shook his head and rose to stand again. He scanned the room for his athlete, and started walking over to where he saw Yuri standing with Phichit and Chris.

Yuri saw him coming, and noticed the sour look on his face, like he'd been kicked in the gut, "Victor? You okay?" He wondered quietly, reaching an arm out to put his hand on the Russian's lower back as he neared.

Victor nodded quietly, trying his best to put on a smile again, but it was just a façade and Yuri knew him better than that. Chris and Phichit could tell that something was off as well, but no one dared broach the subject. Instead, they focused on Yuri, as Victor had previously requested, and let the former Champion be with his thoughts until he was ready to return to the party. He just quietly slipped his arms around the younger skater's smaller frame and held there quietly until the night ended.