Hiroko is the first person to say the thing Yuuri has been afraid to hear, on a slow afternoon for the onsen when Viktor is out with Mari picking up groceries. She comes to sit by her son, by Vicchan, and folds her hands neatly into her lap.
“I have not always been the best mother,” she starts, and it’s jarring for Yuuri to hear that because the thought has never crossed his mind.
“No, okaa-san, what—“
She smiles at him, taking his hand and squeezing it before turning to the photo sitting in the small shrine. “Your father and I never quite understood skating. To be honest, I still can’t tell a Lutz from a Loop, and I don’t just mean Yuuko-chan’s daughters.” Hiroko laughs at her own joke, then continues, “When Vicchan passed, we were so heartbroken. We felt as if our last strong connection to you had been severed; for years we cared immensely for him because you were too far out of reach. So when we lost him, we felt the need to reach out to you and make sure we still had you. We didn’t even think about how you must’ve been feeling at the time, facing the biggest competition of your life.”
“Okaa-san, please, I never held that against you,” Yuuri says emphatically, eager for this to end because his mother looks so small. Even though he’s been back in Japan for a year, he still feels a little estranged from his family; he supposes the effect of five years of missing a person can’t be made up by a few stolen minutes in their company here and there. “You and otou-san and Mari-nee-chan have been nothing but supportive of my dreams. Even though it’s been really costly, and you had no idea if it was even going to be worthwhile.”
“Well of course it was going to be worthwhile!” Hiroko laughs, her eyes soft. “I think we realized you were born to perform the very minute you snuck into Mari’s dance recital and immediately upstaged all the girls in just your little pajamas.”
Yuuri blushes at the half remembered memory, one he’s pretty sure he only remembers at all because he’s been told the story so much. There’s a photograph, too, of Mari in a tutu with her hands on her hips while Yuuri, in striped green and blue pajamas, executes a flawless plié; his parents have it framed on the vanity in their bedroom.
“Still,” he counters meekly, rubbing the nape of his neck. “You’ve done so much for me, and I… I was never upset about that. Vicchan was important to me, too…”
He muses on that difficult time, the death of his dog back-to-back with the worst competitive performances of his life, and then the memories he doesn’t have of a party that’s still humiliating to think about, and adds, “Besides, if you hadn’t told me… I might never have gotten to know Viktor the way I have now.”
The mention of Viktor makes Hiroko absolutely beam, her whole face open and soft. “Ah, yes, Vicchan 2.0,” she giggles, reaching for Yuuri’s hand. She toys with the ring on his finger fondly. “He’s been so involved in planning this wedding. I think he’s enjoying this even more than he enjoyed planning your skating routines.”
“Okaa-san,” Yuuri whines, covering his face with his free hand so he can at least pretend she can’t see his reddening cheeks. “Please!”
“I think it’s wonderful,” Hiroko continues, ignoring his embarrassment. “I have always known you were meant for a great love. But this is also what I wanted to talk to you about.”
Hiroko takes a slow, deep breath; Yuuri is reminded of his childhood panic attacks, and how his mother would guide him through breathing exercises to calm him down. “I may never have learned much about skating, but I definitely know a thing or two about marriage,” she says brightly. Yuuri groans as he realizes he’s going to learn more about his parents’ relationship than he’s ever wanted to know. Somehow he and Mari were both spared the oversharing gene that his parents have in spades.
“You don’t have to do this,” he bargains. “I know what I’m signing myself up for.”
“You’re a smart boy,” Hiroko agrees. “But no one really knows what they’re signing up for when it comes to marriage. You can love someone for ages, but then you start living together and suddenly it’s like learning them all over again.”
“But Viktor and I have already lived together,” Yuuri points out quickly, only blushing a little as he says it. “I already know about his bad habits, and stuff.”
“I’m not saying this to patronize you, Yuuri, but trust me: right now you both are more willing to be indulgent of one another’s unique qualities. Your love is young and novel, and everything you learn about Viktor brings you closer to him. Everything he learns about you makes you feel more understood. And those are beautiful and important qualities of your relationship.”
“I sense a ‘but’ coming…”
“But,” Hiroko nods. “Someday, the novelty will wear off, and the cute things Viktor does now may not be so cute anymore. You may find yourself becoming irritated by things he does. The differences that balance you out now, like his spontaneity and your premeditations, might become sources of conflict. And worst of all, you might come to find that there are things you do that irritate Vicchan.”
Everything his mother is saying seems sensible, even though Yuuri is averse to hearing it, but the last bit makes his heart sink into his stomach. He can tell that he looks as betrayed as he feels, staring at his mother like a wounded, gaping fish, but Hiroko’s expression is firm and unapologetic, and Yuuri slowly works his mind around the thought.
“Let me be clear, Yuuri. I’m not saying that Vicchan will find you irritating,” Hiroko says seriously. “There is an important distinction between disliking a person and disliking something specific the person does. I truly believe that you and Vicchan make one another happy, and that you will learn to work out conflicts when they arise.” She places Yuuri’s hand between her palms and squeezes it gently. “I just want you to know, they will inevitably arise. And when they do, you are allowed to ask for space, or to ask someone outside the relationship for help. You can call me, or your father or sister, or Phichit-kun, and that’s not betraying Vicchan’s trust. And if he calls one of his friends or someone else he trusts, he’s not doing it to betray you. Okay?”
Dumbstruck, Yuuri doesn’t look up and just nods with his gaze fixed on his mother’s yukata. “Okay.” He agrees, though it’s a hollow agreement at best. Hiroko leans in, kisses her son’s forehead, and then slowly gets to her feet.
“Ah! That was something I’d wanted us to talk about; I feel much better now. Can you come help me fold the linens when you’re done with Original Vicchan?”
Yuuri nods, and after a gentle tousle of his hair Hiroko leaves him to his thoughts.
Flashes of the conversation come to mind many times over the next few months: when Yuuri is awoken early in the morning by Viktor singing as he shaves in the ensuite, or when Makkachin gets sick because Viktor can’t resist spoiling him with heavy foods despite his old age. Each time it washes over him like icy water thrown on the sparks of his irritation; he’s immediately pacified out of fear of becoming the thing his mother warned him about.
The month before Yuuri’s birthday, he takes bronze at Skate Canada after losing narrowly to Emil Nekola and Christophe. Then, adding insult to injury, he and Viktor get to St. Petersburg only to learn that Yuuri’s suitcase has found its way on the wrong flight and is currently on a Lisbon-bound plane. When he walks into the door of their apartment, without his luggage and with a deep furrow in his brow, Yuuri kicks his shoes off and makes a beeline for the bed, wordlessly burying his face in the mattress.
“Yuuri…?” Viktor calls hesitantly from the doorway, his voice soft. The plush carpeting must muffle out the sound of his approaching footsteps, because the next thing Yuuri knows Viktor’s hands are on his back. “Don’t you want to take your clothes off? Here, let me just—“
With a huff, Yuuri squirms at the touch. “Let go, Viktor—“
“I know you’re upset,” Viktor starts, and Yuuri interrupts with a derisive snort.
“Did you figure that out all on your own? Congratulations, Vitya!”
“Yuuri, I just want to help…!”
“You’d be the biggest help by leaving me alone,” Yuuri answers curtly. “There’s nothing else you can do.”
“Oh.” Viktor goes quiet, and Yuuri wonders if he’s left the room; the silence is blissful to his pounding headache. He starts to lose track of where his body ends and the mattress begins, and it isn’t long until he’s lost to the darkness of sleep.
When Yuuri wakes up, the bedroom is pitch black. He stirs slowly, feeling groggy and under-rested, and it takes him a minute to realize that he’s also quite cold. Before he’d gone to sleep he had neglected to pull the comforter over himself, but that had never been a problem before given Viktor’s—
Yuuri groans and buries his face shamefully in his hands as he remembers the snappish, cold way he’d spoken to Viktor before he’d fallen asleep. He remembers the stress, too -- the combination of his unfulfilled desire to win at Skate Canada, his anxiety over his lost luggage that included two very expensive skating costumes and his relatively new pair of skates, and Viktor hovering around him like a persistent honeybee all week long… but the memory of his stress does nothing to alleviate the guilt calcifying in his gut. Yuuri slides out of bed quietly and grabs one of Viktor’s warm up jackets from the closet. The warmth it provides when he pulls it over his arms is immediate, and when he inhales he can smell Viktor’s favorite deodorant. Like a fast acting drug, the smell melts away some of the tension in Yuuri’s shoulders, and the guilt becomes even worse.
“Vitya…?” He calls out nervously, opening the bedroom door. Yuuri heads out to the living room, where the only sources of light are a side table lamp and a video streaming on Viktor’s phone, which is resting on his smooth stomach. Viktor himself is dozing, his fingers twined in Makkachin’s curls as the dog naps between his legs, and even in the low light Yuuri can tell that his eyes are red-rimmed.
“Vitya,” he murmurs at length, anguishing inside. He reaches for Viktor's phone, turns it off, and sets it aside. He pushes the long silver bangs away from Viktor's face.
Slowly, exquisitely, Viktor opens his icy blue eyes. He yawns, and follows Yuuri's arm up to his face. A smile appears on his face in his sleepy haze, but it's gone seconds later when he's fully awake.
“Viktor, I am so, so sorry,” Yuuri says immediately, hands balling into fists at his sides. He has to fight the impulse to fall into a low bow. “I was completely out of line before.”
Viktor looks down at Makkachin drooling on his thigh and idly strokes his fur. “I just don’t understand why you were so mean. If you wanted space, all you had to do was ask.”
“I…” Yuuri trails off, knowing he doesn’t have a good answer. But in spite of the guilt, he’s also aware that there’s still part of his mind that feels justified in having shouted. “Everything just got so pent up, and I—I should have been kinder. I’m sorry,” he repeats dumbly, looking at his feet.
“I forgive you. But I’m still… hurt,” Viktor says at length, still not meeting his gaze. “And I’m not used to feeling like this, so I don’t really know what to do.”
Yuuri rubs his nose. “Um, well… I know that when I’m hurting, I usually tend to isolate myself. Do you want to do that?”
“No,” Viktor answers miserably. He finally faces Yuuri, lip jutting out in a thoughtful pout. “I don’t like being alone.” He suddenly tilts his head and stares. “Are you wearing my sweater?”
“I got cold,” Yuuri explains, hugging himself self consciously. “And your clothes are better. They, um… they smell like you.”
Viktor reaches out and hooks his fingers in the closest pocket, tugging on it to make Yuuri step closer.
“Am I a bad coach?”
“…Am I a bad lover?”
“Viktor, no,” Yuuri pleas. “Why would you ask that?”
“I’m trying to make sense of what happened. I knew you were upset about winning bronze, but I didn’t – what am I supposed to say? If I say I am proud of how you skated, you’ll probably think I am patronizing you. And I know if I tell you that I want gold, you’ll push yourself too hard. You are already hungry for it on your own.”
Shamefully, Yuuri admits, “Coming third was part of it, but it was more than just that…”
“The airline losing your luggage? That happens, it is okay; we have insurance on your skating equipment. I guess that’s what I get for booking on Aeroflot, but it could happen on any airline.”
“I just… hate feeling so powerless. And it was one bad thing after another, and I was so tired, so I just…”
Viktor mimes an explosion with his hands, then hums sadly. “I could tell you were agitated in the airport, but I didn’t know what to say then, either.”
“I-If it makes you feel any better, I usually don’t know what to say to myself either. When I get to that place, I just can’t be rational anymore.”
“I thought a hug would make you feel better, at least-“
“I don’t like feeling like you feel sorry for me,” Yuuri mumbles.
“That doesn’t leave me any options,” Viktor complains. “I don’t feel sorry for you, I just don’t like seeing you upset. And we’re engaged, so I want to comfort you. But my words will be twisted, and you reject my actions, too.”
Yuuri winces. “Maybe I’m not worth all that work.”
Viktor sits up, only intuitively mindful of Makkachin’s head in his lap, and gives Yuuri a severe stare. “You break my heart when you say that. You’re worth everything to me. Teach me how to prove it.”
“You do,” Yuuri says so earnestly that he’s shaking with it. “By staying. Letting me be here. T-Trying again and again even after every time I’ve snubbed you.”
“Oh, um, like, ‘been cold or mean’.”
Viktor shakes his head. “You haven’t been mean to me, Yuuri. The only person I catch you truly being mean to is yourself. And I want to ease that burden.”
“Viktor…” Yuuri mumbles, his eyes burning with the onset of tears. Viktor shushes him and slides a cushion under Makkachin’s head so he can get to his feet.
“It would make me feel better to go to bed with you now,” he says, reaching for Yuuri’s hand. Yuuri offers it out wordlessly. “We can talk about this when we’re not jetlagged and sleepy, yeah?”
Yuuri finds himself without a complaint, and without hesitation he squeezes Viktor’s hand.