Yuuri has a panic attack the night after the free skate.
He'd skated last and came in first. The medal ceremony isn't until tomorrow but he can feel the ribbon twisting around his throat already.
He can't move.
He can't breathe
Can't feel his arms or legs.
The ribbon tightens.
I'm sorry, he thinks, as he fights for every wheezy breath. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.
There's a sudden bright light. He squeezes his eyes shut against it.
Someone's calling his name. Hands are gripping his arms. Yuuri tries to breathe and it comes out like a sob.
He opens his eyes again and this time it's to a world of blue, blue, blue.
I'm here, he hears.
I got you, he hears.
Come back to me, he hears.
Yuuri gasps out air. He wants to come back. He wants--
"Victor," he chokes out.
"That's it, moya lyubov. That's it."
When he looks down the medal's gone. It's replaced by strong arms, hugged tight around his chest. It should make it harder to breathe, but somehow it's easier.
"I'm sorry," Yuuri says quietly. "I don't even know why it happened. I never meant for you to see me like that."
Never meant for you to have to deal with me like that, he doesn't say. But Victor must hear the words anyways.
"Yuuri, Yuuri," he says. He kisses Yuuri's jaw. "I want to take care of you. Would you be so cruel as to keep me from doing what I want?"
Yuuri chokes out a laugh despite himself.
"Oh!" Victor draws back. "By the way, I promised Chris I'd ask you before I do something you might not be happy with me for."
"Okay," Yuuri says cautiously.
"If I were to propose to you in front of a large audience, what would you say?"
He twists around to look at Victor. There's less confidence in his eyes than in his voice.
"Victor, look at me, I'm a mess." His face is hot, blotchy with tears, there's snot wiped on the sleeve of his JSF jacket. He's covered in the cold sweat from panicking and older sweat from the free skate.
Victor hums and says, "I am looking at you."
Yuuri exhales and shakes his head. "You just saw me at my very worst and your response is to propose?"
"No," Victor corrects. "I'm not proposing. I'm asking you: if I were to propose in front of a large number of people, would you say yes?"
A part of his mind is telling him Victor is just saying this to make him feel better after he just humiliated himself. Another part is saying that once Victor has time to register how weak Yuuri really is, he's going to change his mind. Maybe he wouldn't even tell Yuuri he'd changed his mind. He just wouldn't ever get around to asking him.
He reaches up to push Victor's bangs back from his face, and then combs his fingers through his still-wet hair.
Yuuri believes in him. Believes in them together. Right?
It's ridiculous and spontaneous. They've barely been back together two weeks. And Yuuri should hate the idea of the world watching and --
Knowing that Victor Nikiforov is his. That Yuuri gets to keep him. That he doesn't belong to the world anymore, he belongs to Yuuri.
Because Yuuri, in his own way, is as ridiculous and spontaneous as Victor, he says, "You'll have to ask me and find out."
"Yuuri," Victor whines, dropping his forehead to Yuuri's shoulder. "So cruel. I won't be able to stand the suspense.
"I'm sure you'll find a way," Yuuri says dryly, but he's sure Victor can hear the smile in his voice.
Victor gives a long put-upon sigh and says, "Maybe you can think of something to distract me, then?"
"I need to shower, Victor. I'm still a mess," Yuuri says as he stops Victor's fingers where they're toying with the waistband of Yuuri's warmup pants.
Victor eyes him thoughtfully, then gives a resolute nod and jumps to his feet, announcing, "I'll shower with you, then!"
Yuuri takes Victor's hand and lets him pull him up off the floor, eyeing his wet hair and hotel bathrobe skeptically.
"You just got out of the shower," Yuuri reminds him.
"So?" Victor says, tugging him towards the bathroom. "I think I missed a spot."
Yuuri takes his place on the podium between Victor and Chris.
> This is Katsuki's third Grand Prix Final. After a rather disastrous performance at his first one two years ago, there were rumors he was going to retire.
> But we all know the rest of that story, how Nikiforov took half a season off from competitions to coach him, leading Katsuki to an impressive comeback in which he broke Nikiforov's own free skate record and won silver.
> And then he broke his own record yesterday by 1.5 points.
As he bends down so the ISU official can place his gold medal around his neck, Yuuri flashes back to his panic attack last night and how the ribbon had strangled him until he couldn't breathe.
Today, the ribbon hangs all the way down to his chest. Yuuri's throat isn't closing. There's nothing wrong. Nothing wrong.
> Technically, it was Nikiforov who broke Katsuki's old record by 1 point, and Katsuki, who skated last, then broke Nikiforov's new record by 0.5 points.
> It was certainly a stunning competition to watch this year. I think we will all be sad to see Nikiforov retire after this. It's been years since he had any real competition out here, and now it comes in the form of his own protege.
Yuuri takes a deep breath, holds up his medal and smiles for the crowd and the blur of the cameras. He wishes he could fake a smile as well as Victor. Or Chris. Chris's actually looks genuine. Yuuri's afraid he just looks ungrateful.
> I'm sure he considers this a poetic way to retire. A true passing of the torch.
> In case you missed it, here's footage from yesterday, of Nikiforov as he jumps over the security gate to hug Katsuki as he returns from his stunning free skate.
> You know, from this angle, it almost looks like they kissed.
> I know there are rumors going around, but this was certainly just a congratulatory hug between close competitors.
> Now, back to the other skaters. Yuri Plisetsky, the winner of last year's Grand Prix Final, subsequently had a disappointing season, and, unfortunately, was unable to redeem himself here...
Yuuri feels a tug on the medal he's holding and frowns in confusion, even as he lets Victor take it.
Victor doesn't take his eyes off Yuuri. There's a small smirk on his lips as he lifts the medal up.
> Wait, no, look at that. Is Nikiforov -- yes, Nikiforov is kissing Katsuki's gold medal.
> Never seen anything like that, but that's Victor Nikiforov for you. Surprising us to the very end. Now...
Through the final organ notes of Duetto: Stammi Vicino, Non Te Ne Andare, Yuuri and Victor come out of a pair sit spin. There's a moment of stunned silence, and then enthusiastic cheers erupt around them.
Victor takes Yuuri's hand. But, instead of leading him off the ice, he kneels in front of him.
"Tell me you'll marry me, Yuuri," Victor says.
Yuuri nods. Did the crowd silence itself? Or is that just Yuuri's ears? He feels his heart racing as he holds out his hand.
But Victor stops with the ring not even past Yuuri's first knuckle.
"You have to say the word," Victor tells him, lips curving into a smile.
Yuuri nods again and then -- right, Victor had wanted him to say something.
"Yes," he says. "Yes, please put it on."
Victor shakes his head, but he's smiling as he slides the ring onto Yuuri's finger.
It's Victor's own ring, of course, because they didn't organize this, and Yuuri's is still around his neck. But despite the seeming difference between Victor's elegant long fingers and Yuuri's short stubby ones, they're the same ring size.
When Victor is standing again, Yuuri pulls the chain out from under his own costume and lifts it over his head. The tips of his fingers are half-numb from the cold and he might be shaking and it takes three tries, but he gets the clasp undone. He takes Victor's hand and looks up.
Victor is watching him intently.
Since Victor brought it up last night, Yuuri has worried about what to say. Wondered if he had to say anything. Because last time he did this, none of the words came out the way he'd meant them to. Victor had taken his ring anyways, but it had barely lasted a day.
This time, what slips out of his mouth is, "Don't ever leave me."
"Never, Yuuri," Victor says.
Yuuri examines his eyes. He's happy, but without the usual mischievous glint to his eyes. He's happy and very serious at the same time.
Yuuri fingers are still half-numb and trembling -- don't drop it, don't drop it, don't drop it, there are millions of people watching -- as he slides his own ring down Victor's finger. Victor cups his face and kisses him.
Yuuri can hear the crowd again. The crowd is going wild.
Victor starts to pull away but Yuuri grabs the collar of Victor's costume and tugs him back into a hard, possessive kiss for the world to see.
> ... Perhaps we were premature in saying the display after Katsuki's program yesterday was just a hug between competitors.
> And that Nikiforov lacing Katsuki's skates before his programs was a demonstration of respect from a former coach.
> It also puts him kissing Katsuki's medal in a new light ...
They're sitting at the front of the press room, Yuuri in the center of the table, Victor to his right, Chris to his left. They're newly showered and changed into their respective country's tracksuits, medals hanging around their necks. They'd almost been late because Yuuri had had to wait for Victor to blow-dry his hair and then had insisted on styling Yuuri's as well.
"So, Mr Nikiforov, you've announced that you planned to retire when the Grand Prix Finals were over," the reporter says. "Is that still the case?"
"Yes. And yesterday was the perfect end to my career," Victor says, smiling. "It was my honor to take silver in the face of such competition. And I still got to kiss a gold medal."
Yuuri feels his cheeks flush when Victor winks at him.
"I also suspect you and Mr Katsuki have another announcement to make," the reporter says.
"Yes." Yuuri glances toward the blurry dark hair and black coat in the corner. He'd nervously broken the news to Allison this morning. "I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Coach Chang for the last year. She is the one who has brought me here. I thank her very very much." He bows his head in respect. "But now that our contract is over, I have asked Victor to be my coach again."
There are sounds of voices and rustling papers at that announcement.
"Yuuri has always been my favorite pupil," Victor says, nudging Yuuri with his shoulder.
"Yuuri was your only pupil," Chris points out dryly.
The reporter cuts in, saying, "I actually meant about the ending to your exhibition program."
Yuuri glances at Victor, then back at the blurry shape of the reporter.
"Oh, yes, also we are engaged," Yuuri says. "Was that not obvious?"
Victor wraps an arm around Yuuri's shoulders and announces, "And, since Yuuri won this beautiful gold medal, we will be getting married right away! Our flight's not until late. We'll go to the courthouse tomorrow."
"No," Yuuri says, shaking his head. "You have to live in France at least four weeks before you can get a marriage license."
Victor stares at him for a beat, then laughs a happy laugh and squeezes his arm around him. "I can't believe you looked that up, Yuuri!"
"Um," Yuuri says. He feels his cheeks burn. He wants to bury his face in Victor's chest, but that wouldn't look good on camera.
Cameras. Right. They're in the middle of an interview.
"You know, I am happy to take questions, too," Chris, from Yuuri's other side, tells the reporters.
Phichit stops Yuuri from grabbing another glass of champagne off of a passing waiter's tray.
Yuuri gives him a disappointed look, and he can see Victor doing the same. But Phichit just informs them that he knows how much Yuuri can drink without blacking out -- or stripping in front of ISU officials -- and it's less than sixteen flutes of champagne.
It makes Yuuri think about two years ago. If he'd been able to remember it, he certainly wouldn't have been drunk enough to dance with Victor Nikiforov and ask him to be his coach. And Victor never would have come to Hasetsu and --
"Isn't that right, Yuuri?" Victor murmurs from where he has an arm draped over Yuuri's shoulders.
"Would you have come to coach me if I hadn't been drunk in Sochi?" Yuuri blurts out.
Victor and Phichit both give him odd looks. But, no matter what topic they'd been on, Yuuri knows that this is more important.
"I might have worn more clothes," Victor says eventually. Then he shrugs. "Or not."
Chris comes up to the group and tries to sneak Yuuri champagne, which Phichit smoothly intercepts.
"So," Chris says. "I don't know whether to congratulate you two or threaten you with violence if you screw this up. You do realize you're complete disasters without each other, right?"
"You're not a man of violence, so I do believe congratulations are in order," Victor says lightly.
"I might just handcuff you to each other," Chris muses. "That might be more effective."
Yuuri thinks about that, and says, "I'll need to choose a safeword."
Victor barks out a surprised laugh next to him and Phichit exclaims, "Yuuri!"
Chris raises an eyebrow at him, but then says, "Don't worry about that. I'll be throwing away the key."
"Rabbit," Yuuri decides anyways.
"You are not a coach," Yakov tells him.
"So you've said," Victor says lazily. He's wishing, as he has for the thirteenth year in a row, that they served vodka instead of champagne at these banquets.
"It was one thing to play at coaching a man who didn't even win his own nationals," Yakov says. "But now you think you can coach the World Champion?"
"I do know something about being a World Champion, you know," Victor reminds him.
"That's hardly the same, Vitya. And you can't stay in St Petersburg, you know," Yakov continues. Victor had suspected that. If he's retired, he doesn't have any leverage to get Yuuri in there. "And Yuuri can't go back to Vancouver, either. No major rink will give the two of you rink time, you know."
Victor has suspected that. Though, ever since Yuuri had asked him to be his coach ("After the Grand Prix Finals, be my coach again, Victor"), Victor had liked to pretend he could give him options beyond Hasetsu. Train anywhere Yuuri wanted to be.
"You don't have the funds or the clout to get the access you need," Yakov is saying. "And you say you know what it takes to be a World Champion? You've had a physical therapist, a personal trainer, a dance teacher and a dietitian. And you've had a publicist, too, by the way. She's the one whose calls you've always ignored. And that's what Katsuki's used to now. That's what got him here."
"Yuuri's talent got him here," Victor says stiffly. He downs the remainder of his champagne. "What is your point?"
Yakov shakes his head. "Go on and marry the boy. I'll toast you at your wedding, Vitya. But will your marriage last when you sabotage what could be a glorious career? Don't make the mistake of being his coach, too."
"What do you suggest, then?" Victor asks, starting to feel angry. "Do you want to be his coach? Are you jealous?"
"You know I only take Russians," Yakov says. "And I'm retiring after World's, anyways."
"You are?" Victor's so taken back by that that he forgets his anger.
"Yes, and I'm doing you the honor of saying it in person, rather than letting you hear it when I announce it to the press."
"But you said you'd retire when you died. Are you dying?" Victor asks seriously.
"Don't be ridiculous, Vitya," he says.
Victor is suddenly startled by arms around his waist. A cheek presses into his back.
"Yuuri," he says. He grins as he turns around and gathers him into his arms. Yuuri does something between a sigh and a yawn as he nestles his head into Victor's shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Mr Feltsman. Am I interrupting?" Yuuri asks.
"We were just finished talking," Yakov says in his heavily accented English.
He switches back to Russian for his parting words: "Think about it, Vitya. You know it'll ruin you, too, if you ruin him."
Yuuri tilts his head up to ask Victor, "Were you fighting? You sounded angry."
"All Russian sounds angry," Victor says. "We were reciting poetry."
They're on the flight from St Petersburg, Russia to Hasetsu, Japan, with a stopover in Vancouver, Canada.
Yuuri's in glasses, face mask and formless brown coat. How that coat had even made it to St Petersburg in the first place, Victor has no idea, because Yuuri certainly hadn't arrived with it. Victor had spent a good part of the first leg of their flight (St Petersburg to Moscow) plotting its demise -- perhaps it could be disposed of in the same manner as that tie?
But the worst part is how adorable Yuuri looks in all of that.
Yuuri laughs shyly, which is, of course, also adorable, and says, "That's the worst part?"
"It's terrible," Victor moans. He rests his head on Yuuri's shoulder and tucks an arm around his waist.
When Victor wakes from a nap midway through their second flight (Moscow to Amsterdam), Yuuri's gripping the arm of the seat too tight to not be thinking too hard about something.
"What is it?" Victor asks him.
For a long moment, Yuuri is worrisomely silent. Then he says, in a cautious voice, "You've been different lately. Whenever we talk about Hasetsu. Are you regretting asking me--"
"No, Yuuri, no," Victor says quickly, sitting up straight. His heart speeds up in a fight or flight response, and he is here to fight. He grabs Yuuri's right hand and touches his ring with his thumb. He says again, firmly, "No."
"There's something, though," Yuuri says.
Victor looks past Yuuri, out the window at the tops of the clouds.
"Are you sure you want to go back to Hasetsu?" Victor asks. "You know you deserve a competitive rink."
"You sound like the JSF now," Yuuri mutters, slumping back into his seat.
Victor should have expected that. Should have known the Japanese Skating Federation, who has a vested interested in their World Champion skater, wouldn't be happy that Yuuri being stuck with a coach who can't provide basic amenities for him.
"They offered Chiba, Saitama or Nagano," Yuuri says.
Victor rubs his eyes. "You should have told me."
"I'm sorry," Yuuri says, though he mostly looks confused. "I didn't think it mattered. I thought we already planned to go to Hasetsu."
"Which coaches did they try to get you?" Victor asks. He wonders if it was one of the ones they'd met at the regional competitions. He doesn't remember any names, but--
"What?" Yuuri asks. "You're my coach. Why would they try to get me another one?"
"You're the World Champion," Victor says desperately. "You deserve better."
"Victor, I'm not--" Yuuri starts. "I mean, yes, I guess I am. But -- is that what you're upset about?"
"Yakov?" Yuuri asks. "Victor, you've been my coach before, remember? You got a dime a dozen Japanese skater a silver medal in the Grand Prix Finals. Everything I've done since then has been because of you."
Victor shakes his head. "You can't say that--"
"You always ignore what Yakov says, anyways," Yuuri says. "Why are you listening now?"
"Because I obviously don't know anything about being a real coach," Victor says. "You'll regret--"
"You do," Yuuri interrupts. He grabs Victor's hand and holds it tight. "You do. And I'll prove it to you by winning World's."
Victor sighs and leans on Yuuri's shoulder again. Insecurity, he decides, does not suit him. So he says, "Well, don't think you'll get any special treatment because of who your husband is."
"My husband?" Yuuri repeats. "Will my fiance give me special treatment, then?"
Victor shakes his head against his shoulder. "Sadly, your fiance is soon to be no more. He booked a hotel near the Provincial Courthouse."
"There's no waiting period in British Columbia," Yuuri says slowly.
"And, luckily, we are arriving on a business day," Victor says.
Yuuri takes a moment, then decides, "Makkachin will be our witness."
Yuuri Katsuki-Nikiforov wins Four Continents.
Yuri Plisetsky gets silver at Europeans.
Yuuri Katsuki-Nikiforov wins World's and beats Yuri Plisetsky's old short program record. Yuri Plisetsky gets bronze.
When Yuuri arrives at Ice Castle Hasetsu, the sun is halfway across the sky. He has a sleepy memory of Victor telling him to keep sleeping and to meet him at the rink when he wakes up.
Through the winter, Victor's training had been brutal, pushing Yuuri harder than he ever had last time he was his coach. But Yuuri proved Victor's coaching in winning World's again, just like he promised he would.
Now it's spring and the off-season and Victor has become more lover than coach. More husband than coach. Victor lets Yuuri sleep in, has cut back on the time on the ice -- though he has arranged more dance practice with Minako in exchange -- and is adoring of Yuuri's couple off-season kilos (which he had gained immediately upon eating his mother's extra-large katsudon as reward for winning World's).
Yuuri's about to push open the glass doors to the Ice Castle when he hears a growled, "Out of my way, pig."
He whirls around, and feels a smile spreading on his own face at the sight of an angry seventeen-year-old Yuri Plisetsky. Who at least didn't kick him through the doors this time.
"Yurio!" Yuuri exclaims, and throws his arms around him.
"That's not my name," Yurio grumbles. But hugs him back anyways, before demanding, "Where's Victor?"
"Inside, I think," Yuuri says, and Yurio pushes past him through the doors.
Yuuri follows him in a mix of amusement and curiosity as he heads for the rink.
"Oi, old man!" Yurio calls out. Victor turns around and Yuuri sees his face brighten.
"Yurio! You came to visit," Victor exclaims with a grin.
"No," Yurio says.
"Oh." Victor glances at Yuuri, who shrugs, then back at Yurio. "Did I forget something again?"
"No," Yurio repeats.
"Does Yakov know you're here?" Victor asks, as he skates up to the boards where Yuuri's standing. Yuuri tucks a stray strand of silver hair behind his ear.
"Yakov's retired," Yurio snaps.
"Ah, right," Victor says, as if he hadn't given a tearful, half-drunk toast at his retirement party after World's.
Yurio's hands are fisted at his sides, body tense. Yuuri, who can recognize anxiety from a mile away, finally realizes why he's here.
"Yurio," he says gently. "He can't say 'yes' if you don't ask him."
"Fine," Yurio says as if it's a concession on his part. "Victor, teach me to beat katsudon."
"Ah, that would be my pleasure," Victor says, and winks at Yuuri.
"We have an extra room. You can stay in our new place," Yuuri tells him. Victor takes his hand and twines their fingers together.
Yurio stares at them and snorts, "You two are going to be completely disgusting, aren't you?"
"Most likely," Victor says with a shrug.
"Fine," Yurio says. "But I want walls that aren't made of paper this time."