• 24 January 2017 • Ostrava • Yuliya •
This was far from Yuliya Anetayshyn’s first skating event, but it was the first time she’d ever been invited specifically to attend a practice session before the main event. Katya had been reluctant, but when Yuliya insisted that she’d work on homework in the stands while practice was going on, Katya had relented.
Of course, she wasn’t getting much studying done. Yuri and Otabek were stretching next to her, and Victor was down on the ice, with Yuuri leaning on the rail next to Yakov, watching. Chris was somewhere, and the fact that she was now on a first name, nickname basis with all of them was still not really computing.
“Vitya. Yura. Beka. Chris,” she murmured to herself, and then asked Yuri, «What’s other-Yuuri’s nickname? Do you just call him Yuuri-san all the time? That seems very formal. I mean, you were close enough to be in the wedding party, no?»
«If I call him Yuuri-chan, he gets this weird look,» Yuri said. «I guess that’s more a girl thing? Mostly I call him as little as possible. Katsudon when I’m annoyed, Yuuri-san when he’s being okay, sometimes just his name. You can just call him his name, it’s fine.»
«It doesn’t get confusing?» she asked.
«Do you know how many Yuris I went to school with when I was small?» Yuri said. «You get over it.»
«What about Phichit?»
Yuri shrugged. «I’m not that close with him. You should ask Yuuri-san.»
«I wouldn’t want to interrupt,» Yuliya said.
«He’s not really doing anything,» Otabek said.
Yuliya looked down at Yuuri, and shook her head. «He’s completely absorbed in watching Victor. I mean, who wouldn’t be?»
«You get used to it,» Yuri said dryly.
«I don’t know if I ever could,» Yuliya said. «I mean, think how it must be for Yuuri. Does he wake up every morning going, ‘Oh my god, I’m married to The Victor Nikiforov!’?»
Yuri snorted. «Probably. But Victor’s worse. Do not get him started on his favorite subject. He will not stop.»
«How’s the…» Otabek waved a hand in the general direction of Yuri’s hip.
«Fine,» Yuri said. «Back to normal. Needed rest.»
«Are you seriously thinking about skating? You’ve barely had practice time, and you grew again,» Otabek said.
«Beka, drop it,» Yuri said. «I’ll either fall on my ass or I won’t. I’m not going to not try.»
«Will they let you skate for practice if you’re not competing?» Yuliya asked Otabek.
«Yakov booked time at a private rink. I’m doing land-work here today while they work on the ice. Phichit and Yuuri are coming with me later. But I want to see the practice today, and Yakov vouched for me.»
They returned to their stretching and Yuliya looked around the arena to see who else she recognized.
Mila, who she’d met on the plane, was there, and Sara Crispino and her brother, though they were at opposite ends of the area for once. A girl from France who had debuted as a senior at the beginning of the season: Yuliya had been watching her because she was only a year older and had won several Junior events the year before. She was not expected to win this time. For a couple years now, it had been neck and neck between Mila and Sara whenever they skated together, with few of the other ladies coming close in technical skills. At least not among the skaters eligible for Europeans.
She looked back down at Victor just in time to see him jump a perfect quad Lutz. She gasped.
Yuri sighed. «I’m not going to win this time.»
«No,» Otabek agreed. «But you’ll kick butt next year, once you put some extra muscle on.»
“Hmph,” Yuri grumbled.
«You’re looking kind of, well,» Yuliya paused, looking for the right word. “Lanky.”
«I feel like a bunch of mismatched parts that got stuck together. Like, if I’m going to be tall, fine, but do I still have to have the baby face? And could everything be proportional? I feel like I’m all knees and elbows and feet,» Yuri said.
«To be fair, you kind of are,» Otabek said, and leaned away as Yuri tried to elbow him.
«Not helping, Beka. » Yuri said.
Otabek raised his eyebrows. «You thought I was trying to help? What kind of friend would I be if I was actually nice to you all the time? You’d hate that.»
Yuri snorted. «Goddammit, Beka.»
«You know I’m right.»
Yuri looked up at Yuliya. «The most annoying fucking thing is that he actually is right.»
«All right,» Yuri said, climbing to his feet and grabbing his skates, his back to the rink. «Wish me luck.»
• Lilia •
Breakfast and Minako and dealing with the visa situation with the Japanese consulate had taken up most of Lilia Baranovskaya’s morning, and she was already frustrated when she made it out to the ice arena across the street from the hotel.
Yuri had apparently already stretched and done his land warmups, and was pulling his skates out of his bag up near the Vasilyeva girl. The child had introduced herself with her mother’s name cobbled into a near parody of a Ukrainian matronymic, but Lilia had known the girl’s father for years, had met the child when she was a toddler, and while she wasn’t about to make a point of it, she was not unaware of the girl’s father’s political ties. He and his wife been a frequent fixture at cultural events in St. Petersburg until his son had been outed.
Lilia walked with a ballerina’s controlled stride, silently, until she stood directly behind Yuri. The infuriating boy was now taller than her, but she didn’t think it had dawned on him yet.
Otabek had noticed her, but said nothing.
Yuri nearly jumped out of his skin when he turned around and found her standing there.
«Really, Yura. Did you think I wouldn’t check?» She gestured at the stadium seat in front of her. «Bend over.»
«Not. A. Word,» Yuri said to Otabek, who simply cocked his eyebrows up in response.
Lilia worked brisk fingers along Yuri’s hamstring, watching for any flinching.
«I’m telling you, I’m fine,» Yuri said. «I’m more worried about the extra centimeters than I am about my butt.»
«Do your skates still fit? We can get new ones here if you need,» Lilia said.
He turned around. «I got a new pair right before we left. They should be fine.»
«Show me,» she said. «I’ve gone through three sets of shoes in a single performance.»
«Your shoes were made of paste and cardboard,» Yuri said. «Mine are made from thermoelastic high-tech materials.»
«Which do not give way to your growing feet at all,» Lilia said. «Show me.»
«Let me get rinkside,» Yuri said. «I don’t want to deal with the stairs in skates.»
Otabek pushed himself up to a stand, dusted his hands off on his warmup pants, and followed them down.
• Victor and Yuuri •
“I don’t see why you won’t let Yuuri practice with me. The programs fit together. I designed them that way. It doesn’t interfere,” Victor said to Yakov.
«Don’t be ridiculous. Skate your program. He will not be on the ice with you during the short program. You are wasting time arguing with me.» Yakov waved at the ISU official, who signaled the other skaters on the ice to make way for the full run-through.
It felt good to Victor, the ice under his feet, the focus on the competition. Though he could feel Yuuri’s presence like sunshine on his skin, he simply let it warm his performance.
Nearly three minutes after he’d started his short program run-through, he came to a breathless, arched halt, wishing Yuuri was out there with him so that he could bend back farther.
There was a scattering of enthusiastic applause, and he grinned as he straightened and gave an exaggerated bow and grin, and then skated over to Yuuri.
“Yeah?” he said to his husband (and oh, that would never get old.)
“Breathtaking,” Yuuri said, and leaned in to whisper, “I want you so bad right now.”
Victor blushed, kissed Yuuri’s cheek, and said, “Later.”
“Gross,” Yuri said from the rink entrance.
“Did you grow again?” Victor asked. “Wait, you have your skates on. Is Yakov actually letting you skate? I thought he withdrew you.”
Yuri’s face when white with shock and then flushed red with anger. “What? No!”
“Yakov, didn’t you tell him?” Victor asked.
Yakov frowned. «Yura, it doesn’t make sense to have you compete in this. You are in no way prepared. You haven’t hit a triple in a week or more. You were hurting so much you spent two days in bed. Best to take some time and focus on Worlds.»
“I. Am. Fine.” Yuri spat the words out like poison, took his guards off and slapped them on the rail. “It doesn’t even hurt anymore.”
“Yura, you can’t,” Yakov said. “I already withdrew you.”
“Fucking un-withdraw me,” Yuri said, his tone getting desperate. “I need to at least try.”
Victor tried for soothing. “Yurotchka, let it go for now. You have to work back into it slowly when you’re growing so fast. Every time you shoot up your balance changes.”
“Don’t fucking patronize me, Vit’ka.”
“You could really hurt yourself,” Yuuri said. “Why do you think I debuted so late?”
Yuri growled. “Because you fucking sucked, Katsudon.”
Yuuri rolled his eyes at that. “Actually, my coaches made me sit things out when I was growing too fast. They wanted me settled before I was jumping quads.”
“I’ve been jumping quads for years,” Yuri said. “I’m skating.” And he pushed out onto the ice with several other skaters, to warm up.
“Yuri!” Victor called after him, and then shrugged. “Was I this difficult, Yakov?”
Yakov stared at him, and then said, “Worse.”
Victor watched Yuri skate angrily around the rink. “I am so sorry.”
• Yuri •
Of all the blows puberty had dealt him, Yuri thought, this was definitely the cruelest. His debut year was supposed to be glorious, not some flash in the pan and then too tall to even function.
I can’t believe they’re not going to let me compete.
The ice felt fine under his skates. The nagging pain that had been so wearing and terrifying was almost completely gone. The adrenaline of the argument fueled him around the rink, the cut of the blade strong, decisive. He turned, feeling the ice, then went into a spin, feeling his balance.
Fuck them all.
They were all watching him, so he slowed a little as he approached the rail. “See, I’m fucking fine. I can skate. You just watch me.”
He could feel their eyes on him as he turned, built up speed.
Yakov called out, «Don’t you dare try anything more than a single!»
Yuri let out an inarticulate shout of rage, and launched himself into the air.
Everything felt fine setting up the jump, a toe loop.
But as he left the ice, arms pulling in, his body reflexively beginning the rotations in the air, there was a loud pop, and the worst pain he’d ever felt in his right hip.
There was a massive intake of breath, as if everyone in the rink was gasping at once. Time slowed, the ice below him no longer anything but the enemy. He tried to land the jump, but there was no way to make it work.
He couldn’t even get his ankles untangled enough to extend his now-burning leg. The left ankle buckled under him as he came back down hard, and he fell heavily to the ice, reaching out with an arm to catch himself, not that it did any good at all.
The pain was blinding.
But the humiliation was worse.
He opened his mouth, but no sound came out.
Get up, he told himself. You always get up.
Trying to get up just ended up with him flat on his back with pain seemingly everywhere.
He was dimly aware of voices around him, hands under his head. Victor, in Russian, saying, «No, don’t get up Yurotchka. Stay. Help is coming.»
Yuuri, in English, saying, “Yura, please, don’t move.”
He started to shiver, and there was a coat over him that smelled comfortingly familiar, but it didn’t warm him. A second coat, but he still shivered.
An unfamiliar voice spoke in English with an accent he couldn’t focus on enough to understand, and there were hands on his legs.
Yakov, his voice raw and brusque, asking in Russian if he could feel things, but Yuri’s voice wasn’t working.
“Can you move your legs?” Yuuri asked, and in fact, he could, and that was okay, for values of okay that included pain so bad that the world was dim.
Things were getting hazier by the second, and Lilia snapped at him, «Breathe in, you’re forgetting to breathe. Control your breath.»
It took everything he had to stop trying to scream and breathe in, and the world came back into focus, and with it, the crashing realization that he was never, ever going to live this down.
He let out a single frustrated, agonized scream, and then put all his energy into controlling his breathing as tears streaked out of the corners of his eyes and down into his hair as he lay there, head tipped back against Victor’s hands.
He wasn’t very effective at it, the air coming into his lungs in gasps and shuddering out of him again in ragged bursts, but it did serve the purpose of oxygenating his blood and distracting him from the freight train of embarrassment and rending pain barrelling down on him.
Of all the faces around him, it was Otabek’s that shocked him the most. The normally cool Kazakh skater looked completely terrified.
• Yakov •
Yakov knew that something was wrong before the noise reached his ears. The setup wasn’t for a single, though he’d never know how many rotations Yuri had actually planned. If he’d planned.
“Yura, nyet!” was already coming out of his mouth when the pop registered. He froze for a split second as the jump fell apart in the air, and was already moving before Yuri splayed out on the ice, face twisted in a silent scream.
“Yebanko,” Yakov muttered as he struggled to get his coat off, barely registering that Victor already had his hands under Yuri’s head, frustrated at the lack of traction from his street shoes. Next to him, Yuuri was already down on his knees, handing his coat over to Victor.
A balding Gallic man in a very nice camel coat joined them, saying in English with a heavy French accent, “I am a doctor of sports medicine, may I help?”
Yakov nodded. “I’m his guardian.”
The man felt the injuries and asked if Yuri could feel his touch, but Yuri didn’t respond.
Yakov repeated the question in Russian, and Yuri seemed to want to answer, but nothing came out. There was a hand on Yakov’s shoulder. Lilia, telling the boy to breathe.
Why didn’t I think of that?
Yuri screamed, and Yakov’s heart broke.
The rink medics were bringing out a stretcher, and the doctor asked if Yuri had hit his head on the way down.
The whole jump replayed in Yakov’s mind, and he winced. “Ny… Non,” he responded.
“Est-ce que vous parlez français?” the doctor asked.
“Je parle français,” Victor said. “Il parle juste un peu.”
“Right,” the doctor said, switching back to English for Yakov’s sake. “I do not think the ankle is broken. His spinal cord is working, but he needs imaging. But it sounded comme… like a fracture. When he jumped. I would need x-rays to be certain. He needs a hospital. He must not skate.”
“How long?” Yuri asked in a ragged, pained voice.
Yakov was not sure if he’d ever heard the boy sound so defeated.
“I cannot know, it could be six, eight weeks. It could be six months. Depends on whether you do what your doctor, what your coach says. Injuries like this can be of little importance to a career, or they can end it. The ones who are ruined by these things are the ones who insist they can get better tout de suite, who will not give it time to heal. If you are not stupid? You could come out of this stronger. If you are stupid? You won’t ever jump a quad again. But we must get you to a hospital.”
Yuri closed his eyes, his breathing ragged. Next to him, Otabek wrapped his fingers around Yuri’s and said, «I’ll be here with you. I’ll be following you to the hospital.»
«You’re more important,» Otabek said. «I’ll do it later.»
• Otabek •
Otabek Altin stared out the front passenger window of the cab at the winter-bleak city as Yuuri, Victor, and Mila sat squashed hip to hip in the back seat of the compact car.
Victor was muttering about the stupidity of the jump, and Yuuri was trying to calm him, while Mila sat, twisting her hands, trying not to cry.
He closed his eyes, and remembered his last argument with his mother.
“What is this boy to you? You said you wanted to settle here, to stay. You have been gone so long. And some child calls you and you just, what, you go? You’ve known him weeks! You’ve spoken more of him since December than I’ve heard you speak of anyone in your life, even family! And you decide you must move there?” They spoke in a familiar Almaty patois of Russian and Kazahk.
“He trains with the best people in the world,” Otabek had said, folding a shirt and putting it in his suitcase, but she was having none of it.
“You have trained with the best in the world. You said Russia was not for you! Weeks! You are an adult, he is not. What is this?”
“He is a friend,” Otabek said.
“You don’t have friends. You said you did not need them, that they were a liability.”
“Maybe I’m tired of being alone. And I have had friends, just not… not here.”
“You are not alone here. You have family here.”
“He feels like family, I don’t know. He feels… like zhanym.”
“Are you gay? Is he your lover? He is too young, no?” She sounded more shocked than angry at the idea.
“Not, no. He isn’t my lover. I don’t really want that, and I’m sure he doesn’t. I just… I’ve never met anyone like me, and he feels like a kindred soul. We talk and I find myself actually happy. And then I go to skate and there is no one who can challenge me here. I go to the club and it is superficial. I come home and no one understands what I do or what drives me. And then I talk to him and there’s someone who gets it, who can push me, challenge me. In America they had a saying, ‘He is a big fish in a small pond.’ I have found all the glory I can find here. I thought I could come back, but…”
“This is your home.”
“In figure skating, it is a very small pond.”
She sighed. “I suppose it is better to serve a hundred than lead ten.”
“I can lead the hundred, or at the least, come very close. Closer if I do this.”
She sighed. “And this boy?”
“He feels necessary. I will be a better skater for knowing him. I already am.”
“Otabek, are you okay?” Mila said, leaning forward over the back of the seat.
Otabek stared out the window and didn’t answer.
Behind him, he could hear her huff of annoyance. She said, “Fine, shut us all out. We love him, too, you know.”
He closed his eyes and then said in the direction of the glass, “I don’t know. Watching him fall…”
She reached over and put a hand on his shoulder. “Same.”
He could still hear the sickening pop of bone, hear Yuri screaming, the rush of people to get to him on the ice.
“What is he to you?”
People kept asking him that. And there weren’t good words for it, not in any language he knew. “My soul,” he’d told his mother, leaning on the family sense of zhanym. Maybe he couldn’t answer because he didn’t know. Maybe it didn’t matter. All he knew was the Yuri was important. Not for romance, not for professional interest, but because being around Yuri made Otabek feel like being himself made sense. Like he mattered for something more than his feet on the ice and his country’s flag in the air. He’d be the smallest fish in the sea if that’s what it took to matter that way.
Yuuri’s voice suddenly carried from the back seat. “It’s going to kill him if he can’t come back to the top from this.”
“We won’t know until they figure out exactly what’s wrong,” Victor said, pulling out his phone. “The hospital they took him to sounds okay.”
“I can help pay for whatever care he needs,” Otabek said, shifting in his seat to look at the occupants of the back seat. “Wherever he needs to get it.”
They stared at him. Mila, blinked, smiled, and said, “Are you rich or something?”
“He’d have to be,” Victor said. “To train where he’s trained and not worry about sponsorships.”
Otabek shrugged. “Wherever he needs to go.”
“Who was that doctor?” Yuuri asked.
“Dr. Bernard?” Mila asked. “His daughter, Mireille, just moved up to seniors this year. She’s sweet. He’s some big name at a sports medicine clinic in France.”
• • •
The waiting was the worst. Yakov, Lilia, and Dr. Bernard were somewhere with Yuri, while the other skaters were relegated to a lounge with Yuliya and Katya.
«Shouldn’t you two be gearing up for the competition?» Otabek asked Victor and Mila while Yuuri was up finding coffee.
«Fuck the competition,» Victor said.
«I know you and Yuri have a special connection,» Mila said, «but he’s family.»
«Papa will take care of whatever Yuri needs,» Yuliya said.
Victor snorted. «For as sharp as our tiger’s claws are, he has managed to surround himself with loyal lions.»
• Yakov •
In the trauma center, they were waiting. Dr. Bernard had smoothed a lot of the bumps, but he lacked privileges in the hospital. The center was dealing with a car crash and imaging was tied up.
Yakov had handed over the hard copy of his skater’s medical history—the English version he always carried to international competitions—and helped the staff load a digital version they could translate into Czech if necessary. An IV was flowing and various monitors were attached to the boy, and a nurse was in and out every ten minutes or so.
“Is this making things worse, this delay?” Lilia asked.
The doctor shook his head. “If it is what I think it is, the first course of action is enforced rest anyway. We need the imaging to know exactly what we’re dealing with, but it sounded like a fracture, and probably an avulsion fracture given what he was doing. He’s the right age for it and exactly the right kind of stupid to make it happen.”
Yuri started to say, “Fuck you,” but Lilia’s hand clamped firmly over his mouth.
She leaned over his bed and said, “He is one of the best sports medicine doctors in Europe, and if he tells you you’re stupid, you will nod and agree with him, because you know he’s right.”
“Let the boy swear,” Dr. Bernard said. “He’s in excruciating pain, and will be for some time.”
“Can they give him something?” Yakov asked.
“We need to make sure there’s nothing else going on, but I’m sure they will send him off to la la land as soon as a course of action has been decided.” To Yuri, he said, “The kind of stupid I speak of is when young athletes hurt themselves, pretend they are fine, and then try to show off. A smart athlete knows to check injuries out early, and take a small time to heal a small injury rather than risk the large injury. It is a normal kind of stupid for someone your age. I have seen much older men do the exact same thing. You knew better, no? You just didn’t want it to be that way.”
“I wanted to win,” Yuri grumbled.
“You might, still. It is, hm, less certain for this, but I was sincere when I said that this may make you stronger. I have seen athletes be, ah, very smart about learning from rehab, and they come back knowing their bodies more, er, better. And when you know your body, you can control your body. If you can control your body, the things you can accomplish are much greater than if you can’t. How long have you been in pain?”
Yuri turned his head into the rustling pillow and mumbled something.
Dr. Bernard bent close and said, “I could not hear.”
“Before Nationals,” Yuri said. “Not long after the Grand Prix Final.”
The doctor nodded. “I thought as much. Usually these kinds of things have a long, er, history. Fast growth, chronic inflammation irritating the bone and causing bone loss. The tendons grow slower than the bones sometimes, and create great strain. The body usually adapts, but the body is not normally doing giant figure skating jumps.” Where much of what he’d been saying had been halting, these words tumbled from him as if it were a lecture he’d given in English many times.
“It hurts so much.” Yuri said, clearly trying not to cry.
“Whatever it was that happened, you injured your hamstring badly. It is in a very, eh, personal place. Pain helps keep you from moving so much, no?”
Yakov sat heavily in the plastic chair next to the rolling exam table. «Lilia, if you want to head back with Mila and Victor… They need to prepare. I have not heard from Georgi either, and he was supposed to meet us at the rink in the afternoon.»
«I want Otabek,» Yuri said.
Lilia glanced at the doctor and said, in English, “I’ll see if they’ll let him come back. Your little friend and the Japanese boy are here, too.”
Yuri shrugged. “If they’ll let them.”
Yakov raised an eyebrow at her, and she made a small movement that called attention to the phone in her hand.
He pulled his out of his pocket, and shortly after she was out of the room, it vibrated in his hand.
«He will let them comfort him in ways we cannot.»
• Lilia •
The young people in the waiting room sat up straight as Lilia walked in after checking with the nurse. Well trained. She’d spoken to enough of them about their posture.
“I don’t have any news yet, except that it’s going to be a while. Yakov asked me to take Victor and Mila back to practice. He’s in pain, terrible pain, but not in immediate danger.”
“Can we see him before we go?” Victor asked.
“You and Mila go back, and then Otabek and Yuuri and Yuliya can go back when we leave.”
“I’d rather stay with my Yuuri, here,” Victor said.
Lilia sighed. “I commend your loyalty, really, I do, but we must keep him calm, and you need the practice time. The orderly will show you back. Do not stay long, or I will drag you out by your ear.”
She watched as Victor stood—only letting go of Yuuri’s hand when he had to—and held out an elbow for Mila, who looked shakier than Lilia could ever remember seeing her.
Lilia felt a hand on her arm, and looked down. “Yes, Yuliya?”
“Is he going to be okay?”
“I don’t know, child. He’s not going to die. Whether he will skate… Only time will tell.”
“Anything I can do, I will,” Yuliya said.
“Have you talked to your papa? I’m sure he’ll want to know,” Lilia asked, and then sighed. “Don’t look like that child, I’ve known him for years. You look just as your mother did at your age. I half thought they would give you to me to train.”
“I’d be terrible, I don’t have the ankles for it,” Yuliya said. “Please don’t tell anyone that you know…”
Lilia covered Yuliya’s hand with her own. “I am an old lesbian living in a homophobic country. I would not throw anyone to the Volki.”
Katya snorted. “You’re what, 40? That’s hardly old.”
Lilia smiled. “Aren’t you lovely!” She did not supply her actual age.
• Yuri •
Yuri didn’t know which was worse, seeing Victor instead of Otabek, or the look of raw worry on Victor’s face. «The fuck are you doing here? You need to go practice so you can obliterate The Pelvis.»
«I’m going, but I wanted to tell you, we’re all here for you, and we’re going to do everything we can possibly do to help you get better.» Victor took Yuri’s hand and squeezed it gently. «And don’t worry about the competition. It doesn’t matter.»
«Like hell it doesn’t,» Yuri said. «If you do anything for me at all, go win that thing since I can’t. Don’t you dare use me as an excuse to slack off. Make Yakov leave, too.»
“Yakov can’t leave until you’re stable. If you need a treatment he has to be here to sign for you,” Victor said, switching to English.
Yuri blinked. “Oh. I’m… I’m sorry.”
Victor snorted. “Apologize later, when we know how much you have to apologize for.”
Yuri closed his eyes and winced. «Have you ever felt like a complete idiot?»
«I showed up naked in Hasetsu, granting a request that Yuuri had forgotten making, and made a complete fool of myself,» Victor said. «I think it is safe to say that I have experienced that feeling.»
“That turned out okay, though,” Yuri said.
“This could, too,” Victor said. “It probably will, if you listen and follow instructions.”
Yuri whimpered. «That’s why I’m terrified.»
Mila came up near his head on the other side of the bed, and stroked his hair. «Being scared helps change what you do. That’s what it’s there for.»
Yuri closed his eyes. «I’m never nice to you.»
«Yeah, but you’re family, so we don’t take it personally,» Mila said. «You should let Yuuri or Yuliya do your hair, so it won’t tangle. There’s enough to be miserable about without dealing with matted hair.»
Yuri raised the arm that didn’t have an IV in it, intending to feel his hair, and yelped as a new hurt made itself known. Dr. Bernard was at his side immediately, feeling at his shoulder.
“Don’t tell me I fucked up my arm,” Yuri said.
“Probably not much,” Dr. Bernard said. “You hit the ice hard. We will look.”
“Uggghhhh,” Yuri said.
“Truer words were never spoken,” Victor said. «Yakov, please call me if something changes. I’ll be back when I’m done with practice.»
Yuri said, «Make Katsudon and Otabek practice, too. I want to see him cream JJ at 4CC.»
«They’ll go this evening, when the ice is booked,» Victor said.
• • •
Otabek came in moments after Victor and Mila left, followed by Yuuri and Yuliya.
“I’m supposed to ask you to do my hair,” Yuri said.
“No metal clips or decorations,” Dr. Bernard said. “If they’ll let us use their MRI, those would interfere.”
“Waxed thread?” Yuliya asked.
“Perfect,” the doctor said.
• • •
A few minutes later, they’d organized themselves so that Yuuri was on Yuri’s left, Otabek on Yuri’s right, and Yuliya up near the head of the bed, picking out the tangles that had already started to form.
Every ounce of his willpower was going into not showing how much pain he was in. The blood pressure cuff on his increasingly sore arm kept going off and making everything harder to cope with.
Dr. Bernard looked at him through narrowed eyes. “It is better for you to be as relaxed as you can be, even if that means you are crying. Fighting can pull things farther out of alignment and muscle tension can reduce blood circulation. They will be putting you on pain medications so that you will not hold tension there, as you need all the blood flow you can get to heal. Hold your friends’ hands. Squeeze if you need to. This thing you are doing… I can see the sweat on your brow, hear your breathing. You cannot hide that you suffer when it hurts this badly. Breathe. Keep breathing. Don’t knot yourself up around the pain, you’ll only make it worse.”
Yuri took a deep, shuddering breath, closed his eyes, and felt hands wrap around his hands. “I can’t get away from it.”
Yakov’s voice, surprisingly gentle. «Breathe in. Imagine the pain is a ball of fire, and every time you blow out, it cools the flame, and makes the ball smaller and farther away. Come on, Yurotchka. In. Out.»
«I want my grandfather.»
«I know. I called him. You will see him soon enough, but he cannot travel here right now.»
Yuri sobbed. «It hurts. I feel so stupid. Will you forgive me?»
A large, firm pressure on his upper arm, Yakov’s hand, and then, «Yurotchka, there is nothing to forgive. I should have told you before we landed. I should have pushed. I failed you. You didn’t fail me. Keeping you safe is my job. Don’t make extra pain by worrying about anything but getting better.»
Through gritted teeth, Yuri said, «Lilia threatened you if you yelled at me, didn’t she.»
«Of course she did. Terrifying. I am far more scared of her than I am mad at you.»
Yuri laughed and then gasped with pain. «Ow. Funny hurts.»
• • •
They had been there an interminable amount of time when the harried staff doctor finally came in. He stared for a long moment at Doctor Bernard, blinked, and then said in heavily accented but competent English, “They said a French specialist was here, but I never imagined…” He shook himself and said, “Where are my manners? I am so honored to meet you, Docteur Bernard. I am Doctor Janak. I have seen your seminars online, they were very useful. What is your opinion here?”
“I would like for young Mr. Plisetsky to have an MRI as soon as possible, looking especially at the right hip, left knee and ankle, and left shoulder and arm. I’m most concerned about his pelvis. We will need to look very carefully for avulsion fractures. I was there when it happened, and it sounded like a fracture.”
“Is it not easier to simply do the whole body? And you prefer an MRI to CT?”
“I prefer to avoid the excess radiation in someone his age, and if he tolerates the machine and you have the time available, certainly.” Dr. Bernard looked at Yakov. “He has no metal implants?”
“No,” Yakov said. “Nothing.”
“I think we can make time. I understand he is an athlete?”
“He won the Grand Prix of Figure Skating,” Yakov said. “If he heals well, he could be on the podium at the next Olympics.”
Dr. Janak’s eyebrows rose. “Well, then, we shall attempt to help that to happen. What do you think, Dr. Bernard?”
“I think we should give the boy some pain medicine and get him into imaging as soon as we can.”
Dr. Janak picked up the chart. “I see that his stats are stable. You don’t suspect an internal bleed?”
“I suspect a simple avulsion fracture, probably of the ischial tuberosity. Plus several more minor injuries, possibly chronic. I’m more concerned about some underlying etiology than I am about hemorrhage at this point. He would already have decompensated.”
“How much pain are you in?” Dr. Janak asked Yuri. “You look like you are coping well.”
Yuri opened his mouth and then closed it again without saying anything.
“On a scale of one to ten, where one is something you barely notice and ten is you are about to faint and it is the worst pain you can imagine?”
“It is worse than I’ve ever had before. I don’t know,” Yuri said.
“He is a skater and a dancer,” Yakov said. “He has pain most of the time and does not complain.”
Dr. Bernard said, “His physical symptoms indicate extreme pain, and he was screaming earlier.”
“What would you do?”
“I would give opiate and ketorolac now, with an anxiolytic, before the scan. If I am correct, we can consider epidural placement while he is still medicated, to reduce the need for opiate and keep him immobile.”
“What does that mean?” Yuri asked.
“Which part?” Dr. Bernard asked.
“Um. All of it.”
Dr. Janak said, “We will give you some immediate relief from the pain, something to make you sleepy and relaxed during the scan, and if there is a fracture of the hip, we will place a thin catheter near your spine to put medication only where you need it, so that you do not feel, hm… loopy,” he twirled a finger near his head, “for any longer than you must. It will also remove the temptation to fidget, and if it is a minor break, will help prevent further damage. Most likely you will fall asleep, sleep through the scan, and wake up with little pain.”
“You can just fix it?” Yuri said, looking back and forth between the two doctors.
Dr. Janak shook his head. “I said no pain, not that it would be fixed. Rest is our first cure for the kind of fracture Dr. Bernard suspects. The epidural will not allow you to get up. But we do not want you to get up just yet.”
“I just want it to stop hurting and heal right,” Yuri said. “It hurts so much.”
Dr. Janak looked at the nurse who had been quietly monitoring vitals, and spoke quickly in Czech. She nodded, and walked out.
When she returned a minute later, she walked over to the side of the bed where the IV was, and picked up the tubing, finding a port. “Easy,” she said. “Makes you…” She mimed falling asleep.
“Please,” Yuri said, his eyes desperate, and then gave a small nod.
She injected three medications into the IV tubing.
“How fast will it work?” Yuri asked.
“Well, we are not knocking you out,” Dr. Janak said. “But you should be feeling quite good in a few minutes. It’s okay to go to sleep, if you can, it will make everything much faster. I will leave you in Dr. Bernard’s most capable hands, and they will be down shortly to take you to imaging.”
Yuri looked down at the IV. “My arm is cold.”
“That’s the medicine,” Dr. Bernard said. “You should feel much less pain, soon. I must caution against thinking no pain means no injury. They are turning off the pain to ease you, but you could make everything much worse if you pretend you are not hurt.”
Yuri nodded, and then his eyes widened as his head swam. “Woah. I think moving my head might be a mistake.” He yawned, and Yuliya, who had been working on his hair the whole time, grumbled at the motion.
“Don’t you have to go back to the rink?” Yuri asked Dr. Bernard, his words slowing.
“Mimi would kill me if I didn’t stick by you until we know the full situation. She’s one of your, what do they call them… Angels? She’s the same age, and has been following your career for some time.”
Yuri made a series of strange faces, consternation and puzzlement, and then he yawned again.
“How is your pain?” the doctor asked.
“Oh, god, better.” Yuri said. “Spasiba.” He yawned again, and closed his eyes. “Sonnyy.”
“He says thank you, and he’s sleepy,” Yuliya said.
“Merci,” Dr. Bernard said.
“De rien,” she answered with a smile.
“You speak French?” he asked.
She smiled. “Fluently, but my mother told me always to speak the language the most people understand.”
“Good advice,” he said. “I may ask for your help a little later if things get complicated. There are some things I know in French but not in English, and I have no Russian.”
“I lived in Russia and England and we travel to France and Switzerland often,” Yuliya said. “But I don’t know medical terms.”
Yuri mumbled something about Switzerland and frowned.
Otabek leaned forward, “I didn’t catch that.”
Yuri muttered something in Russian and Otabek picked up “Christophe” and “asshole” and laughed.
“I think he’s getting loopy,” Otabek said.
“I think I would like to go sit down,” Yuuri said. “If he’s not needing immediate support.”
“You could go back to the rink,” Yakov said. “I wouldn’t mind.”
“Victor actually wants me here,” Yuuri said. “But I don’t need to be in the room every moment.”
• • •
Things were a fragmented blur for a while. Yuri was vaguely aware of someone speaking to him in Czech, and then Russian, and then being wheeled into a dark room with an ominous looking camera. His mind kept trying to turn it into something else, but he couldn’t focus hard enough to figure out what. Someone was positioning a hand, and they moved him, and it hurt.
Then it was still, and there was a beep, then they moved the strange camera, and more beeps, and again, and then they were wheeling him to a brightly lit room and sliding him, bedding and all, onto a narrow table.
A face swum above him, and something was covering his ears, and he frowned and started to try to move, and then another cold thing flowed into his arm and he drifted.
• • •
For a long time, one of Beka’s playlists echoed in his head, but it felt like a surprisingly poorly mixed dance beat, because the drums were like machine guns in the distance. He tried to tease Beka about it, but the words came out incoherent, and Yakov’s voice was in his ears so loud and close that he wanted to look around, but his body just wasn’t really responding.
«Don’t move. They have to get good pictures. The noise is the machine, not the music.»
He stopped fighting to move, and almost fell asleep to the staccato beat in the strange cocoon of the MRI machine.
There was a flurry of voices, and someone was explaining something but it didn’t make sense.
There were a dozen hands on him, gently lifting him, curling him forward. He found himself with his head against Yakov’s shoulder, his coach telling him something, his body obeying though his mind could not parse it.
There was a strange pinch in his back, and then pressure, and he tried to pay attention, he did, but the last of the nagging pain was fading into an almost pleasant buzzing numbness, and then even that was gone, and then, so was he.
Yakov sat with Otabek and Dr. Bernard outside the magnetic resonance imaging chamber as the machine fired what sounded a volley of blanks and then hummed into a new position.
“I like your music,” the tech said from a nearby computer station. “Is soothing. Can we keep?”
Otabek nodded. He’d picked a techno, mostly instrumental dance list of the sort people liked when they were in an altered state, slow and throbbing, and sometimes lining up pretty well with the machine, sometimes not. «Strangest gig I’ve ever done,» he said.
«Was that an actual joke?» Yakov said.
Otabek quirked up an eyebrow and said nothing more.
“I have images coming in for you, Dr. Bernard,” the tech said.
The doctor moved over to stand behind the machine, and sighed. “He has a stress fracture in one of the small bones of his ankle. It looks… not fresh. Older. Hmm. Three, four weeks perhaps? There’s also inflammation around his achilles, tendonitis, possibly. He may also have a sprain, but that’s harder to see so soon, with so much swelling generalized.”
“He said his knee hurt on that side, too, days ago,” Otabek said.
“You didn’t say,” Yakov said, his tone more accusing than he intended.
“You knew he was hurting enough to ask me to keep him off the ice,” Otabek said. “He begged me not to tell you, and Lilia came anyway. He doesn’t trust very many people, I’d like him to be able to trust me.”
Yakov sighed. “I knew. I just didn’t want… I didn’t think it was so bad.”
“Most skaters and dancers have things like this they just skate through even though it makes things, hmmm, more difficult, longer, than simply taking time to heal,” Dr. Bernard said.
The machine in the other room thundered and then hummed as Yuri slid deeper into it.
“Merde,” Dr. Bernard said. “I hate being right some days. You see here?” He pointed at a spot on the MRI at the base of Yuri’s pelvis, at his right sit bone. “This should not be like this. The good news is that it appears to be a simple break, and it may heal just fine with rest, but he could get back on it sooner and lose less muscle if he had surgery.”
“Surgery,” Yakov said, his eyes widening. He let out his breath in a shocked sigh.
“I need to see this from other angles when the test is done. We might give it a few days to see if it starts to heal in the correct alignment. Sometimes they do. Sometimes the ligament does not help.”
“Isn’t it better to get it lined up first?” Otabek asked.
“With large breaks, yes. We don’t like them starting to heal wrong as we perhaps need then to break the bone again. But this, the bone was maybe a little weak to start, and the ligament is short, and if we go in and operate immediately it may break worse. I would like to give him some days to let his body start to heal the bone, and if it does not grow together, when it is operated on they will simply make the surfaces fit correctly. Com… Like the Lego.”
“They would shape it?” Otabek asked.
Dr. Bernard nodded. “If he came to my clinic in France, I would recommend a new treatment we are using, where we take bone marrow and filter it, and use the fluid to help the bone heal very quickly. This could give him a better result, faster. But they cannot do it here.”
“Where can they do it?” Yakov asked.
“Not Russia. Hm, I believe they are using this technique in experimental centers in the US, Colombia, and Australia. But who knows if the Americans can even do it after last week. But I learned from a doctor in Japan.”
“We have actually been discussing moving to Japan. Because of Yuuri-san and Victor, St. Petersburg has become less safe,” Yakov said.
“Yura would love that,” Otabek said. “I would need a visa if we were all going and I would continue training.”
“We had talked about Hasetsu,” Yakov said. “Where is this doctor located?”
“Dr. Nakajima was in Kyoto, last I knew, but she is in great demand at many schools of medicine. I can contact her and ask her what she would recommend. Where is Hasetsu?”
“Yuuri-san could tell you more,” Yakov said. “I think it is near… ah, I can’t remember the name, I just know it had an airport and I was going to go get Yuri from it when he ran away to Japan last year.”
“Fukuoka?” Otabek asked. “I think he said it’s an hour from Yuuri’s parents?”
“That one,” Yakov agreed.
• • •
Holding Yuri for the epidural placement was surreal for Yakov. The boy curled into him like a child, quiet and compliant and completely out of it. He’d grown so used to the constant battle that was Yuri Plisetsky that it was more terrifying to have him quietly obedient. Not to mention that the great gangling boy’s arms dangled impossibly far. He’d been growing so fast. Up close it was impossible to ignore. He’d been with Yuri for a decade, and could still remember the boy crawling into his lap in the early days, completely contained in the space between Yakov’s shoulder and his knees. And now, his head against Yakov’s shoulder again, he curled and gangled and seemed impossible to contain.
«Steady, Yurotchka,» Yakov murmured. «This will be over soon.»
That felt like a lie. Yuri’s season was certainly completely over. The question now was whether they could get him through the healing process and help him get back to the ice. It was going to be a long, difficult spring.
Yebanko: some sources define this as "clumsy" and others laugh at that definition and say, "more like crazy dangerous idiot." Which means that this is just exactly what Yakov would say just then.
I’m going to be taking liberties with a few parts of the medicine here for narrative convenience. Treatments do exist that involve bone marrow aspirate being filtered and used to speed bone growth. They’re mostly used for osteoarthritis. They may, in fact, do exactly what I’m suggesting in another ten years, but as far as I know, it would be unlikely for a simple avulsion fracture, even in a top athlete, right now. In fact, in Eastern Europe, they would probably advise conservative management. But there are some better results for top athletes doing things surgically. They probably wouldn’t wait. France has the top hospitals in the world, so Dr. Bernard is actually not all that implausible (but that he would actually take a full week off to watch his kid is kind of unlikely. Most of the surgeons I’ve met won’t/can’t/forget to take time off.) He’s a really good guy, because writing shitty doctors is not something I’m up for right now.
I’m not writing this based on what the standard of careis, I’m writing based on what I think someone would do if they had money and resources and a lot of people with clout pulling for them and a need to heal as well and quickly as possible. Call this an antidote to the horror stories I hear every day hanging out online with people who share my hell-diseases.
The machine they’re using is pretty state of the art—there is a University Hospital in Ostrava and they do in fact have a very good MRI machine, and a a regional hospital (i.e. smaller hospitals send patients to this one) and it’s completely plausible that the trauma specialist might have not only heard of but learned from an internationally renowned specialist in sports medicine. But I’m making up the people out of whole cloth.
Japan is in fact at the forefront of stem cell research. I’m going to play a little fast and loose with the locations of said facilities because Japan is long and awkward and having Yuri in Tokyo is not the story I want to tell. Sending him to Russia for surgery is on no one’s list of options, because Russian hospitals are reportedly very inconsistent and while Yuri might get great care, it would only take one person sabotaging things to make it permanently terrible. I’ve been reading about Russian hospitals for decades, and he’s much, much better off even in the Czech Republic. There’s a reason he thinks going to doctors is a terrible idea, and that has a lot to do with the stories he’s been told by people who had bad experiences in the hospitals where he grew up.
Yuri knows about hospitals from his grandfather’s experiences, from maybe some childhood experiences, and none of that is positive. When you are afraid of getting medical care, you avoid doing it as long as possible, and sometimes that makes things worse. The saving grace here is that he is actually in good hands now.
Anyway, the doctors are not modeled after real people specifically. I’m not quite spinning a wheel for their names, but close, so any resemblance to real people is, in fact, coincidental. (I tend to look up common surnames and common given names in an area and then go with something on the top hundred, or I deliberately misspell a name a little so that it doesn’t bring up actual people results. Most of the names I use you’ll either get a thousand results or none.)
Writing Dr. Bernard is a little bit of a trip for me because my French is less horrible than any of the other languages I have familiarity with, I’ve been around a LOT of people speaking French over the years, and a lot of French-speakers speaking English as a second language. So more than any other character, I can HEAR in my head the places he stumbles and the phrasing he uses, and his English is outstanding with big medical words and highly technical stuff and MUCH less fluent when he’s doing bedside manner because he’s primarily used English at medical conferences, not talking to patients.
In my head, I hear the magnificent Dr. Michel Odent, probably the most sensible doctor I’ve ever spoken to. Often, when he was giving a talk, it would take me about 10 minutes to start to really understand him through the accent and then it was just easy. Dr. Bernard is not Dr. Odent, but it is easy to write my French Docteur as a kind, sensible man, with a little bit of a snarky streak.
So in a particularly cruel ironic twist, my son broke his foot today. (Actual son, not ficcy metaphorical son.) Unlike Yuri, he was not pulling a tantrum-ish stunt. He is supposed to start kinder in 2 weeks. I have ordered him the most adorable little blue knee-walker so that he can still "walk" to school with his dad.
When he fell, I knew pretty much instantly that he'd broken something from the way he cried. He was getting an x-ray within half an hour and home in an hour. We won't know until the morning whether it's a growth plate fracture or not.
Is there anything as pathetic as a five year old whimpering in their sleep? This kid doesn't complain unless it's severe.
Anyway, said drama may delay writing, I'm going to be posting what I have over the next week or so.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
• Yuri •
Yuri swam back to consciousness later to discover he had a complete absence from the waist down. He panicked at first when he couldn’t feel his legs before the memory resurfaced. It was evening, and Yuliya was curled up—sleeping—on a bed nearby, with Katya sitting on the foot of it, reading on her phone. There was a curtain separating the two beds from the rest of the room, and he frowned, swallowed, and asked, «Where is everyone?»
«I sent them to go do their practice, and said I’d message if you woke. If you want,» Katya said.
He blinked, and nodded. «What did… the tests?»
«They said you have a broken hip and a stress fracture in your other ankle,» Katya said. «Maybe some other minor things? But those were the big ones.»
He winced. «So I’m fucked.»
«They didn’t seem too upset. Yakov is more worried that you won’t listen and do what you need to do to heal, but the injuries themselves are pretty common. People get better from them all the time.»
«I can’t feel my legs.»
«That’s the medicine they’re putting in your back. I think they put you in a brace while you were out.»
Yuri lifted the blanket and peeked under. His legs were, in fact there, and a strange system of strapping and plastic held his hip immobile, but he couldn’t get a good look at it because of the angle. «What am I supposed to do now?»
«Well, we’re figuring that out,» Katya said.
«Yules wants to stay with you while you heal. She has this idea that you can do your schoolwork together.»
«I hate school.» Yuri closed his eyes.
«Well, you might not if I’m helping you. Or you might. But it’s possible that you could get a head start on your high school diploma if you use your time wisely.»
«Don’t I have to, oh, rehab or some shit like that?»
«I think you have to heal before they’ll let you try to get back to your old self,» Katya said. «But you won’t be doing rehab all day every day.» She glanced down at her screen. «Oh, they’re coming.»
• Yakov •
It took a significant amount of persuading for Yakov to leave Yuri. The boy was out cold, though, drugged past pain, and after some back and forth, Dr. Bernard persuaded him that it would be reasonable to take a few hours to work with his other skaters and make arrangements for treatment.
Dr. Bernard reached his colleague an hour later as they sat rinkside while Georgi skated. With Yuuri’s help, they figured out a workable schedule and plan of action. Victor called his friend at the Japanese consulate in Moscow, and they started sorting out the visa situation. The Japanese figure skating association was thrilled at the idea, and suggested that if Yakov was willing to do a clinic for young Japanese skaters in the summer, they might be able to help arrange longer-term visas for all the Russian skaters, and Otabek.
“Dr. Nakajima is in Fukuoka?” Yakov said.
“The Imperial University there has a research facility at the university hospital. They are doing a study which she oversees, some time there, some time in Kyushu, some in Tokyo, back and forth,” Dr. Bernard said. “This is not unusual for doctors at our, hm, level. So Yuri can stay in the hospital in Fukuoka and do the rehab inpatient there, and then go to, er… Hasetsu, and rehab outpatient from there. You can visit then, and he will heal better. Dr. Nakajima said that she can see him as early as Monday to evaluate for surgery. But we will know before then if it truly necessary.”
“How many are coming to Hasetsu?” Yuuri asked. “The onsen is not ideal for long term for many. Victor and I will get an apartment, but everyone else?”
Minako said, “Do not worry about Lilia.”
“I will be wherever Yuri is,” Yakov said. “Otabek as well. A bedroom for each.”
“Too many stairs at the onsen,” Victor said, leaning against Yuuri’s back.
“Stairs would be good for him eventually,” Otabek said.
Yuuri had Victor’s laptop in front of him, and had fifteen tabs open within a few minutes. He kept frowning, and Victor finally said, “Just sort by biggest, and look for the biggest one closest to the train or the rink. Either way.”
“But that would be expe… right.” Yuuri shook his head. “I will never be used to the way you look at money.”
A minute later, he said, “This one, maybe, for Yuri, Otabek, and Yakov. Maybe Mila or Georgi, but not both. It’s just far enough from the train to not be too loud, close enough to get to easily.”
“Mila can stay with me,” Minako said.
“One or two could stay with your parents,” Victor said. “Oh! What about that one? Do they have a penthouse available?”
He pointed to a listing for a building they’d both seen in the center of Hasetsu.
“It wouldn’t be good for Yurio,” Yuuri said absently, flipping through the pictures. “I don’t know about penthouse, but that’s a very nice view.”
Victor leaned over and peered at the images. “It would be good for us. That’s very close to the rink. Send an inquiry?”
Yuuri sent off inquiries on both of their top choices, plus a note to his mother to ask if she had suggestions for an agent to talk to.
Yakov watched them sorting things out, with a peculiar sense of loss and satisfaction. He’d been the one taking care of the details for so long that it was both frustrating and satisfying to watch the young skaters sort things out. Young. Hah. Married. Both having to be talked out of retiring.
He ran a head over his bald pate, and sighed, suddenly feeling every one of his seventy years.
“We should pick this up when it is business hours in Japan,” Yakov said. “For now, we need to get Otabek and Yuuri on the ice before young Yuri wakes up.”
• • •
Sten “Goldie” Goldman, the new agent, found them at the rink halfway across the city from the main arena, early that evening. The skaters were all on the ice, and Lilia sat with Minako at the far end, watching the skaters closely.
Yakov was sitting on one of the team benches with a notepad and a headache when Goldie stepped over the bench to sit next to him. “How’s our boy?”
Yakov shrugged. “Unconscious. Hurt. I have not talked to the media yet, though I told the ISU. They will issue a statement, I’m sure.”
“Do you think he’s going to recover?” Goldie asked.
Yakov sighed. “If he listens. If he is careful. If he does as he is told. Probably.”
“If he makes it back to the ice and is successful, the comeback story will only increase his earning potential,” Goldie said.
“And if he can’t, everything he’s trained for his entire life is for nothing,” Yakov said. “He is not known for listening. He does not do as he is told. This happened because he was not being careful.”
“Well, I’ll be here for a few days,” Goldie said. “I can talk to him, if you like. He hasn’t known me as long. He might listen better?”
Yakov shrugged, and then yelled, «Altin! Tighten that spin! You need to focus on your PCS if you’re going to catch Leroy and Katsuki at Four Continents.»
Otabek’s answer was a quick thumbs up and a redoubled effort.
“So what’s the plan? Can I help?” Goldie asked.
“We’re going to Japan, all of us. There is a doctor there who can give him the best chance of recovery, and Katsuki’s family is there and my skaters seem to love it. Plus, with Russia…”
“Is the training facility adequate?” Goldie asked.
“Victor brought Yuuri-san up to top competitive form there,” Yakov said. “But I’m concerned. We have certain equipment that he was using in Russia that was really helping him, that they do not have there. We will have more time on the ice, but less convenient auxiliary facilities.”
“I could talk to some of their sponsors and see if they can help with equipment upgrades,” Goldie said. “That’s often pretty simple at their level. I don’t speak fluent Japanese, but perhaps the Japanese Skating Federation can be encouraged to help their star skater?”
“They’re already bending over backwards,” Yakov said.
“All the better.” Goldie clapped Yakov on the shoulder and smiled. “I know you’ve handled this for years. I’m hoping I can help make your job easier.”
“If you can get that idiot boy to listen to the grownups, you’ll have more than earned every commission you ever get from him,” Yakov said. “But he won’t be up for talking until tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow, then. When things calm down, we should talk about getting them to the States for a publicity tour.”
Yakov snorted. “Victor seems to thrive on those, but if you can get Yuuri-san to be anything but a stick or a demon in front of the camera, good luck.”
Goldie shrugged. “With the right prep, I think he’ll do okay.”
“He’ll blank and then say embarrassing things.”
“That’s actually good publicity,” Goldie said.
“But it’s not particularly good for my skater,” Yakov said.
“I thought Victor was coaching him?” Goldie said.
Yakov shrugged. “I’m learning that keeping Victor happy depends in large part on keeping Yuuri happy. They are a package deal.”
“How was the wedding?” Goldie asked.
“It was a wedding. And it was good to see them happy. It feels like a very long time ago. Everything went to hell right after and it hasn’t really stopped.” Yakov sighed. “I was born after the war, barely. But my mother told me stories, and…”
“My grandparents died in Poland,” Goldie said. “My mother was sent to relatives in Chicago before the worst happened. The things we’re seeing…” He shuddered. “It feels too much like the old stories.”
Yakov gave a tiny nod. “I have spent most of my life choosing to be Russian instead of Jewish. They are past choosing to pretend. And I am too old to choose country over children. When Victor left… I think I made the wrong choice. That he came back anyway… I have had a lot of students. Victor and young Yuri are… They have been with me from childhood, and had no one else most of the time. I did not respect that as much as I should have.”
“You are different than I expected,” Goldie said. “Where is the old Soviet thirst for triumph?”
“The Soviet Union started falling apart when Victor Nikiforov was born, and died on his second birthday,” Yakov said. “None of them remember it. Not one.”
“Now you’re making me feel old,” Goldie said.
“Winning used to be proof of the superiority of the Soviet system. Now, people think we win because we cheat. That, I refused to do. With their talent, I didn’t have to.”
“You already fought them…”
“I won. They leave me alone because I produce winners without their poisons. But perhaps I used a different kind of poison, and that was a mistake, too.”
“Oh?” Goldie said.
“Look at them,” Yakov said, nodding down to the end of the rink, where Victor and Yuuri skated together. “I told him he could never come back to the ice if he left, that he was throwing everything away. And you know, I think the only reason he still skates is because Yuuri-san likes it when he does? He’ll win medals simply because it makes his husband happy when he skates beautifully. No yelling at all. And he’s a terrible coach, but he’s apparently exactly what Yuuri needs.”
“It’s hard to argue with results.”
Yakov snorted. “Yura would find a way. He’ll argue with anything.” Yakov pinched his brow and then sighed.
“Is it that bad?” Goldie asked.
“Have you ever watched someone throw a rock in front of their feet on purpose and then trip on it?”
Goldie snorted. “You cannot be in this business without seeing some truly spectacular acts of self-sabotage.”
“I could see it happening before it happened. You know, as a coach, when something’s wrong, you can feel the fall coming, sometimes before their feet even leave the ice. I’ve had skaters I knew would fall before they stepped onto the ice in the first place. I was a coward and let him get all the way to the arena without telling him I could not allow him to skate.” Yakov sighed. “I can’t figure out if I let myself get too close, or if I didn’t allow myself to get close enough.” He gave himself a small shake and his entire posture changed. “Enough. Excuse my schmaltz.”
“Who do you talk to, Yakov?” Goldie asked.
Yakov looked at the balding sports agent as if he’d grown an extra head. “Talk to?”
“Surely you have colleagues, people who understand…”
“About Yuri? Lilia. But not so much anymore, now that… Not so much anymore.”
“One of my exes left me for her college roommate, twenty years after college,” Goldie said. “It makes you wonder how much you really know a person.”
Yakov snorted. “Oh, that I knew. I always knew. I just had some delusion that it would change. For a while, it seemed like it had.”
Goldie glanced down to the end of the arena. “My ex-wife is still one of my better friends.”
“We fight less than we used to,” Yakov said. “It’s something.”
“How long are you here at this rink?” Goldie asked.
Yakov looked at his watch. “Until they call us to tell us he’s awake, or eight, whichever comes first. Phichit! Clean up that triple Axel! Yuuri-san, watch him and see if you can figure out what’s off!”
“You know what’s off already,” Goldie said.
“He’s trying to start rotating before he leaves the ice,” Yakov said.
“You’re training them to train each other?” Goldie asked.
“It helps their confidence, but I’m not going to be doing this forever, and I think that Victor and Yuuri-san are the most likely to continue coaching Yura long term. Yuuri-san has a knack with the boy.”
“You used to only take Russians,” Goldie said.
“You used to only take Americans,” Yakov shot back.
“Love of country wears thin when country does not support your loves,” Goldie said, watching Yuuri do a quad Lutz triple loop flawlessly. He blinked. “Was that…”
“He does it after the halfway point,” Yakov said. “I can’t let him do too many of them or he gets a little dizzy. And yes, it’s one of the highest possible scoring jumps in figure skating. I’m not sure anyone does it in combo as well. Not even Victor.”
“Has he even ever done it in competition?” Goldie asked.
Yakov smiled, and shook his head. “Not yet.”
“If he can keep those nerves under control, 4CC is going to be something,” Goldie said. “You’ve got my number. Give me a call when you think the kid is ready for conversation.”
• Yuri •
It was nine in the evening when Yuri’s entourage returned to the hospital, and an orderly had just pushed Yuri’s bed from the ward to a semiprivate room. Private, really, as the second bed was unoccupied, for the time being. Katya and Yuliya followed.
When Yuliya flopped on the empty second bed, Yuri blinked, and said, «Should you be doing that?»
«Why not?» she asked. «I paid for it.»
He considered that for a long moment, and then asked, «All of it? Or just the second bed?»
She laughed. «Your travel insurance covers most of this. I just made them put you someplace you wouldn’t have to deal with nosy people. And this way someone can spend the night with you without sleeping in a chair or bumping things that shouldn’t be bumped. Being alone in a hospital sucks.»
«Who will be spending the night?» Yuri asked.
She shrugged. «That’s up to you, Yakov, and anyone who wants to stay. I mean, I’m sure the newlyweds would offer, but you wouldn’t really want the two of them sleeping here.»
«Otabek probably wants to. Yakov probably feels like he should. I will if you really want me to, but I’d rather not.»
Katya looked up from her phone and said, «They’re here at the hospital. You get to say who you want to come visit, but I think pretty much everyone you’ve been traveling with is here.»
Yuri felt a wave of exhaustion. «Is there anyone I have to see? Or can you just have them send up Otabek and Yakov?»
Katya’s thumb flew across the small screen, and a moment later, she said, «If you’re up to it, I think Victor and Yuuri should come up for a little while, but they won’t stay.»
A few minutes later, the door to the room was pushed open, and Otabek came in, followed by Yakov, Yuuri, Victor, Lilia, and Minako. The room was a good size for a hospital room, but even so felt very crowded.
He looked at their solemn faces, and said, “Don’t tell me I died and this is like some sort of wake or something.”
“Too soon,” Yuuri said.
“I thought they said it was something people heal from. Why do you look so worried?”
“It’s the tubes and wires,” Victor said. “They make you look—” He shook his head and stopped talking.
“So? What’s so important?” Yuri asked impatiently.
Yakov pulled a chair next to Yuri’s bed and sat down. “So they’re not sure if you’re going to need surgery yet. We won’t know for a few days. They’ll do another MRI then and see if the bone is starting to heal in the right position, or if it’s gotten worse.”
Yuri frowned in confusion and said, “Okay? And if I need surgery?”
“If you do, they’ll operate after we’re done in Ostrava.”
“Wait, you think I should have surgery in Russia?”
“Russia?” Yuuri said. “Why would it be there?”
“We live there,” Yuri said. “You aren’t dragging me to Four Continents like this. But I don’t want to have surgery in Russia. The last time I was in a Russian hospital, they charged my grandfather for the food he brought me, and didn’t check on me for hours.”
Victor pulled another chair over and sat down in it next to Yakov. “We’re not going back to Russia.”
“I don’t understand,” Yuri said.
“If you need surgery,” Yakov said, “the best center for treatment we could take you to is in Japan. In Fukuoka.”
“But that’s just an hour from Hasetsu…” Yuri said, looking at Yuuri.
Yuuri nodded. “We’re renting places there. We’re taking over the rink from early morning until the hockey teams and lessons start after school, so we can train.”
“But Yakov… Mila… Lilia…”
Lilia stepped forward, up close to the head of the bed, reached out, and brushed her fingers over the braids Yuliya had placed hours earlier. “Yurotchka, it’s not safe for us in Russia now. We decided on the flight here that we would not be returning to Russia any time soon. Mila and I will stay with Minako. You will be in a house with Yakov, Georgi, and Otabek once you’re out of the hospital.”
“Nobody told me anything,” Yuri said.
“You weren’t really available, and we already knew you’d rather be in Japan,” Yakov said.
“But my cat, their dog… Your sister, Lilia? What about my grandfather?”
Yuliya, lying on her stomach on the other bed, said, “We’re picking the pets up on the way. I don’t know about anyone else.”
“Elena will be okay,” Lilia said. “So will your grandfather.”
“You were going to do this even before I got hurt?” Yuri asked, his voice startlingly small.
“We were talking about it,” Victor said. “That firebomb… It was at a club Yuuri and I went to. That our bodyguards work at. That’s part of why they went back. There was an incident at the rink. It’s no good for Yuuri’s anxiety or my depression to be worrying about that kind of thing when we’re trying to train.”
“So I’m not screwing up everyone’s life?” Yuri asked.
“Don’t you want to go back to Japan?” Otabek asked.
“On my own two feet,” Yuri said.
“You’ll get there,” Minako said. “Coming back from injury isn’t easy but I think most of us have done it at one point or another. The only one doing any rearranging for this, really, is the doctor in Japan, and she’s just adjusting her schedule to see you as soon as we’re in Japan.”
“But you need the harness,” Yuri said to Yuuri. “You were doing so well on it in Russia.”
“We’ll install one at the Ice Castle,” Victor said.
“You’ll be on your feet when the cherries bloom,” Yuuri said. “If you are very careful and listen to your doctors.”
Yuri blinked. “Japan? To live? With my cat?”
Yuliya said, “I’ll be there, too, while you’re in rehab.”
“You have school.”
“I have Katya. We’ll call it an exchange program.”
“Can she do that?” Yuri asked Katya.
Katya shrugged. “The good news is that she’s a benevolent little dictator, and does her homework. It’s hard to argue with a chance for her to pick up another language. Her father never will.”
“I’m right here,” Yuliya said.
Yuri yawned, and Yakov said, “That’s enough for tonight. Everyone out.”
As they started to filter out, Yuri said, «I want Otabek to stay. I mean, if you don’t mind, Beka.»
Otabek smiled wryly and said, «It’s fine. As long as there’s a bed.»
Yakov frowned, and Yuri said to his coach, «You won’t sleep here. You’ll pretend to, or you’ll snore, but you won’t sleep. You should go to the hotel. I’ll be fine.»
Yakov looked at Otabek and said, «You call me if there is anything.»
«Of course,» Otabek said.
Lilia squeezed Yuri’s shoulder and said, «If you need anything, message me. Even company.»
Yuri looked back at her with wide eyes, and she shook her head. «Don’t act so surprised. You’re one of mine, now.»
He hesitated, and then gave her a small nod.
Yakov waited until everyone but Otabek was gone, and then came up to Yuri’s shoulder next to the bed, leaned over, and kissed Yuri’s forehead. «Do not doubt that you are important to all of us, and not just for your skating.»
Yuri frowned and said, «Now you really are freaking me out.»
«As difficult as you can be,» Yakov said, «I would not want to do this without you. Please, boy, please listen to your doctors. Please. I want to see you back on the ice. Not for me. For you.»
«I want to,» Yuri said quietly. «I want to try.»
«Let us help?» Yakov asked.
Yuri nodded, and with one last look back. Yakov left.
«Is it just me, or is everyone being really weird?» Yuri asked Otabek.
«I thought you’d hit your head,» Otabek said. «Victor and Yakov were already moving when you landed, and I couldn’t see, and I thought you’d hit your head. I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared.»
«I fucked up everything else, but not that.» Yuri winced. «Is this supposed to start hurting again? Because it’s really starting to suck.»
Otabek picked up what looked like a small joystick on a cable, with a red button on the end. «If this is what I think it is, it might help. If it’s not, it will call the nurse, and they can help.»
Yuri stared at the button, and then pressed it. A machine next to him gave a soft beep and whirr and then the pain, which had been creeping back, crept away again. He gave Otabek a questioning look.
“Patient controlled… analgesia,” Otabek said.
A nurse came in, a stout older woman with greying hair cut short, and started to speak in Czech, then glanced at the chart and continued in Russian. «Oh, good, you found the button. I was going to come explain it when all your guests were gone. Is your friend staying?»
«He needs to be still, so no funny business,» she said. «And maybe you should be out while I bathe him?»
Yuri’s eyes went wide, and he shook his head.
Otabek said, «I know what the epidural means. I will stay if he wants me to.»
«Do you have any feeling?» the nurse asked.
Yuri said, «Not since I pressed the button.»
She nodded. «That is good, then. You have a catheter, did you know?»
«A tube in your dick to collect piss so you don’t wet yourself when you can’t feel it,» Otabek said. «I had to have one once.»
“Ugh,” Yuri said.
She held up the bag and said, «Good output.»
«Gold medal to you,» Otabek said.
Yuri swore at Otabek and threw an arm over his eyes in embarrassment.
Otabek turned so that all he could see was Yuri’s top half as the nurse pulled the blanket back, and said, «Okay, look. This is going to be a shitfest. There’s no way around the fact that this is going to be the actual worst for you for a while. If you want me around, I can do that. I’m going to skate, I’m going to compete, you don’t have to tell me twice about that. But I’m also going to be around every fucking day that I can, and when you stop being in the hospital and all that bullshit, I’m going to be one of the people helping you at home, and you’re going to need a fuckton of help, so don’t even try to start pulling that independent crap because it’s boring and ridiculous and I don’t have time for it. You’re going to need help with everything for a while. Not forever, but for now. And I’m your friend and I signed up for this, so don’t even start.»
Yuri left his arm over his eyes.
«Are you going to say anything?» Otabek asked.
«You told me not to start,» Yuri said. «This is me, not starting. You should sleep.»
• Victor and Yuuri •
Yuuri was quiet in the car, worry on his brow and anxiety twisting his fingers until Victor carefully walked his hand under Yuuri’s and gave him a reassuring squeeze.
“Sorry,” Yuuri said. “It’s just… You know.”
Victor nodded and left his hand stretched across the seat, looking down in the general direction of his knees. “He grows on you.”
Yuuri sighed. “Yeah.”
When they finally made it back to their room, they worked together smoothly but quietly to take care of their skating equipment and get ready for bed, all the motions ingrained from years of practice, working around each other easily from months of proximity.
Yuuri held it together right up until they climbed into bed naked, a new habit formed in the mere days since their wedding. His mother had warned him to pick his side of the bed on their wedding night, because he’d have it forever, but they’d already settled on that weeks prior. The lack of clothing was the thing that had “stuck.” He hadn’t had a chance to put pajamas back on since the wedding, and now, with his emotions raw and vibrating out of his skin from the effort of keeping them under control, he had no desire for anything other than having as much of his skin as possible up against Victor.
When Victor held out his arms for Yuuri, Yuuri climbed in and let out a low, shuddering sob.
It was a while before he realized that Victor was crying into his hair.
Yuuri pulled back just enough to see Victor’s face, and reached up a hand to cup Victor’s cheek, then scooted a little up the bed as Victor watched him through red-rimmed eyes. He stuck a pillow behind himself and then held out an arm for Victor to snuggle back in again, now with an ear against Yuuri’s bare chest.
“You comfort me so much, my Vityenka,” Yuuri said, stroking Victor’s hair. “Sometimes I want to comfort you, too.”
Victor’s breath came out in a deep, shaking sigh. “Yuuchan.”
“It feels like we got married and the world fell apart,” Yuuri said.
“Let it,” Victor said, voice harsh and raw. “It can all go to hell as long as I can be with you.”
“Even Yura?” Yuuri asked.
Victor took a deep breath and then sighed. “He is learning. I learned similarly, once upon a time. I don’t mind moving to Japan, I just don’t like feeling like my home is not my home.”
Yuuri let his left hand trail down Victor’s side, and brought his right up to cup Victor’s head, dropping a kiss on the top of it. “You will always have a home. I know you are my home. I hope I can be yours.”
Victor nodded against Yuuri’s skin. “You already are.”
• Minako and Lilia •
- Note: IDK what language they’d speak, but I suspect it would be a fairly fluid mix of Russian, French, and English. I don’t think I’m going to fully do that justice, but they’re both fluent in all three. Probably more English and Russian than French, but they spent time together in France once upon a time where they only spoke to each other in French, and it was the first language they used together. French quotation marks and Russian quotation marks look identical to me. Likewise with Yuri and Otabek, they’re usually speaking Russian with a lot of idiomatic English tossed in, and I don’t always distinguish because if I get too bogged down in that the story will not happen.
Lilia was muttering under her breath in three languages all the way back to the hotel. Minako watched her the entire time, not saying a word, just reaching across the back seat of the town car and putting a hand on Lilia’s knee.
As they got out of the car, Lilia said, “I’m sorry, zvezda moya, it’s just…”
Minako waited on the curb until Lilia made her way around the car, and then wrapped an arm around Lilia’s waist as they walked across the sidewalk to the hotel lobby. “I know how I felt when my Yuuri fell apart. You don’t need to apologize.”
Lilia put an arm around Minako, and brought her hand up to Minako’s hair as the doorman opened the door for them. “I just feel like I should have been more firm, more clear with him. I let him lie to me minutes before he went onto the ice.”
The elevator was standing open, and they stepped into it. As soon as the doors closed, Lilia buried her face against Minako’s shoulder. “Why are they such idiots?”
“I remember a certain 21-year-old dancer who insisted on dancing Zarema on a broken toe,” Minako said.
“The understudy was already filling in for someone else,” Lilia said, straightening as the elevator door opened.
They walked to their room, and when the door was closed behind them, Minako asked, “Are you really okay with coming to Japan with me?”
Lilia set her purse down next to the television, kicked off her pumps and said, “My only regret is not doing it decades ago.”
Minako laughed as she peeled her overcoat off. “You would have been horribly unhappy in Hasetsu back then. I certainly was when I finally went home.”
“If I’d been willing to go with you then, we would have ended up in the US,” Lilia said. “We’d have been in New York, in the Village, dancing in edgy hipster ballet and teaching. We would have been those lesbians and…”
“And I never begrudged you your career,” Minako said. “I had my own. I never asked you to follow me.” She sat down on the bed, and Lilia sat down next to her.
“Lyubov moya,” Lilia sighed, taking Minako’s hand, “I missed you like air, for so long.”
“He really will be all right,” Minako said. “You know that, don’t you? We all will.”
Lilia nodded, and they continued getting ready for sleep.
There are a lot of ways in which Yuuri’s world differs from ours, and one of them is that while in our world, Japan is a powerhouse of figure skating talent, in Yuuri’s world, they’re… not. But they’re in the middle of a perfect storm for up-and-coming skaters. So this is not a world that contains Yuzuru Hanyu (even if he was glimpsed on the cover of that one magazine) or Shoma Uno or any of the other amazing Japanese skaters, because it kind of can’t be and still have Yuuri be the only certified male skater. It’s a little complicated to write, but I’m saying that seeing Yuuri start to have international success is inspiring a new group of skaters, and having Yuuri and Victor back in Hasetsu is going to be Very Good for that process.
Yakov is in a hard place, because his top two skaters want to be in Japan and so he has to either abandon them or abandon his other skaters or he has to get the other skaters to come. And he is too fond of Yuri to leave him to his own devices right now. Lilia deciding on Japan is just the capper on the decision.
Historically, it has not been uncommon for people to flee politically hairy situations in groups. I’m the granddaughter of someone whose entire village fled the Ukraine when he was two, and settled in Mexico. As a group. And really, it’s not like they’re defecting. They’re just training somewhere else. That happens all the time. But it is making the Russian figure skating officials extremely nervous to have their top figure skaters, top coach, and ancillary staff just up and leave. Russia’s lost a lot of talent that way over the years.
• 25 January 2017 • Yuri •
The problem with the PCA system was that the epidural wearing off would wake him up in pain until Yuri could fumble for the button. The first time he tried it after the sun came up, it didn’t work, but a nurse came in to coach him through using a bedpan without aggravating his hip. He sent Otabek out for that. After the humiliating process was over and he was clean, the bag was changed in the machine and the pain subsided, leaving him frustrated, bored, and immobile.
He yelled at Otabek to go practice, and at 9:30 in the morning Yuliya showed up with a laptop he’d never seen before. She set it down unceremoniously on his bedside table and said, «We’re going to do school this morning.»
Yuri started to grumble, but she just leaned over, put her hand over his mouth, and said, «Look, I get it. And maybe you hurt too much to get much done. Maybe it will be more fun if we do it together. But I’m not here for it if you’re going to be bitchy at me. I don’t deserve it.» He stared at her, eyes wide, and she said, «If I take my hand off are you going to bitch at me?»
He shook his head.
«Will you work on homework with me?»
«Are you hurting, or feeling sorry for yourself?»
She took her hand away from his mouth, and said, «Pain?»
He sighed. «Not much. But I can’t move, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired.»
«Feeling sorry for yourself?» she asked.
He bit back the urge to snap, glanced up at her, and sighed. «Yeah.»
«Fair enough,» she said. «It really sucks.»
He blinked at her. «You’re not yelling at me for feeling sorry for myself?»
«Why should I? This is hard. It’s not fair, no matter how much you think you deserve it. You get to wallow for a while if you really feel a need. Or we can play a game together on the computer when you’re done. I’ve got my accounts loaded up, so you can pick something and we can see if you like it.»
He nodded, and used the laptop to log into his often-neglected online schooling account.
• Victor •
Victor thought that possibly he’d spent more time in his life on the ice than off it, which made it all the more frustrating when his practice went terribly. And with practice time limited sharply by the beginning of the competition, there was no time to find his footing.
It felt like the ice had become less friendly, more unforgiving.
«Nevermind,» Yakov said. «You can practice with Yuuri tonight. That should settle you.»
The mood at the rink was subdued. Mila was downright shaky, preparing for her first skate. Victor found himself watching skaters in a way he usually didn’t bother. It was comforting to see that he was not the only one struggling.
“You don’t seem yourself,” Chris said, leaning on the rail next to him as they watched another group of skaters take the ice for practice. “Is it the angry kitty?”
“I think he’s mostly scared right now,” Victor said. “And life is just… intense right now.”
“Where’s your other half?” Chris asked.
“Last I saw him, he was on the phone with a real estate agent while simultaneously emailing vendors and texting Phichit,” Victor said.
“Honeymoon over already?” Chris asked.
“It hasn’t started yet,” Victor said shortly.
Chris raised his hands in apology. “No harm intended, it just seems like…”
“It’s been a lot,” Victor said. “The wedding was lovely, and I’m so glad we’re married, and it feels like literally everything else is out of control.”
“Hm. Yes, I can see that. Do you know where you’re going yet? For the honeymoon?”
Victor sighed, and stretched his legs. “I haven’t thought much about it yet. I have a vague idea about a beach, and a lot of sunshine. But it needs to be someplace friendly, and I don’t know where that’s going to be in three months.”
“I’ll send you some links,” Chris said. “It might be nice to cuddle up and dream about the tropics while all this nonsense is going on. Personally, I’d go back to Barcelona, but I hear Costa Rica is nice, too. And I hear La Réunion is amazing. But I meant for the kitten.”
“Japan,” Victor said. “Still. Come with us?”
Chris sighed. “I can’t, appealing as you make it sound.”
“I’ll get you there one way or another,” Victor said. “Come in the off season, anyway.”
“For a bit,” Chris said.
• Yuuri •
With the decision made to move back to Hasetsu, making the arrangements felt both frighteningly real to Yuuri, and at the same time, easier than they had any right to be. The real estate agent took him on a live video tour of both the places they’d picked as likely—with Yuuri’s sister there in person to look things over—and as both places were clean and well cared for, it made saying yes simple. With his very public life, it was the easiest rental approval he’d had since reaching adulthood. So strange to have enough money to simply authorize the ridiculous number of yen for the move-in costs for two places without worrying about the money.
The agent suggested a company to furnish both places, and by the time the women’s short program started at 11, he had already spoken to them and arranged for his furniture and Victor’s to be sent from the onsen to their new apartment, and everything but Yuri’s room furnished Western-style at the house where the others would live. Minako had assured him that she was set for Mila already, that it would be good for the girl to experience Minako’s more traditional decor.
「I didn’t know you had more than one futon,」 Yuuri had said. 「Not that it’s any of my business.」
Minako had laughed. 「I don’t. But Lilia’s knees will do better with something a little farther from the floor, so I already ordered a taller bed.」
After the housing was taken care of, Yuuri talked to Yuuko, who was absolutely thrilled. 「Are you kidding me?」 she said, the second time Yuuri apologized for the coming invasion. 「My kids are going to be over the moon, business is going to go through the roof, and we’re finally going to be able to upgrade the rink.」
「Upgrade?」 Yuuri said.
「Your agent called early, and you have sponsors who are already making arrangements to put in a dual harness system and an improved fitness center. We’re happy to put their banners up along the rink walls, and they’re willing to help us buy a new Zamboni and upgrade the sound system.」
「We should do an ice show to highlight the changes,」 Yuuri said.
「Is this Katsuki Yuuri actually volunteering to do publicity?」 Yuuko said. “Amazing!”
「Victor’s been muttering about getting Chris there, and it would be a great excuse to get Phichit involved,」 Yuuri said.
They ended the call because Yuuko wanted to watch the livestream of the Ladies’ event.
• Mila •
There were six groups of skaters, randomized into groups in rough order of world ranking from lowest to highest, and with Mila’s recent successes since her move up to Seniors two years prior and a random draw within each group, she was skating dead last. Normally, this would have been an advantage, but this time, she felt her tension wind up the more they waited.
“I know you’re worried about the kid,” Sara said as they stretched, “but it won’t help him any if you fall on your ass out there,”
“We’re all going to Japan,” Mila said.
Sara considered that. “Sounds like fun. New culture, new language, new people, and you’ll still get to keep up on your skating without losing ground. Where’s the downside?”
“No one really asked me. I mean, they kind of did, but what am I going to say, ‘No, I have a thing for burly Russian hockey players, and I don’t want to leave my friends from the dorm, so I’m going to give up the best coach in the world because I’d rather stay in Russia even when Russia is being a bag of dickweasels about dumbass shit?’”
“Again, where’s the downside in Japan?” Sara asked, standing up to stretch against the wall.
“It’s just so far,” Mila said. “And new language, and new culture, and I’m staying with two terrifying ballerinas.”
Sara blinked at that, considered, and said, “You mean the Yuris’ Ballet Dragons?”
Mila snickered. “Oh god, now I’m never going to be able to think of them as anything else. But yes.”
Sara grinned. “You are going to have so much fun.”
“Living with two dragons?” Mila asked. “I will have no social life.”
“If Lilia Baranovskaya is walking away from her career in Russia to travel to Japan and living with Minako Okukawa, I’m pretty sure that means she’s out of fucks to give,” Sara said.
“Like, they’re a thing, right? It’s been a rumor since the Final, but, like, I saw them actually practically cuddling yesterday. And everyone knows that Minako is a party animal.”
Mila frowned. “Please don’t speculate. I mean, I don’t know if she wants to go back to Russia or not, and I don’t know how much she wants made public.”
Sara grinned, “Oh, I’m not going to speculate, I just think it’s brave, that’s all. Something to aspire to, saying fuck off to everyone who wants to keep them in their place.”
“Is Michele still being an ass?” Mila asked.
“I’m thinking about confusing the hell out of him by becoming a lesbian,” Sara said. “See how long it takes him to notice.”
Mila snorted. “I think I like dick too much to go that route.”
“I hear they make strap-ons for that,” Sara said.
Mila coughed. “You cannot go from talking about my ballet instructor’s relationship status to talking about strap-ons. It’s a fundamental violation of all that is right. Don’t put the image in my head.”
“I don’t know,” Sara said. “She’s still pretty striking.” Sara sat back down and said, “Feet,” as she stretched her legs out wide in front of her.
“She’s literally older than my mother,” Mila said, putting her feet up against Sara’s and taking hold of her hands to alternate stretching. “If this an attempt to sabotage my skating today with distractions, all I can say is that it is absolutely working.”
“Sorry,” Sara said, not looking sorry at all. “I could kiss you, I hear that works for some skaters.”
Mila blinked. “I value my life, I can see your brother from here, and I might want to go back to Russia some day.”
Sara grinned. “What, no, ‘Sorry, I’m straight’?”
“I’ve never thought about it,” Mila said, leaning over one of her legs.
“Never?” Sara asked.
“Have you, really?” Mila asked.
Sara shrugged. “My brother has done a fair job of convincing me that most men are terrible, partly by example, and I’m really, really done with him running interference on my social life. I don’t think it will occur to him if I’m getting friendly with girls that there’s anything more to it.”
“Yeah, but are you actually attracted to girls?” Mila asked.
Sara blushed, looked around, and then gave a very small nod when it became clear that Michele had been distracted by Emil.
Mila blinked, and then smiled. “Good for you.”
• Georgi •
Georgi sat in the stands watching the women compete, when Victor and Yuuri found him in the third round.
He looked up and said, “So how is your move coming along?”
“I think we’ve got a good place for us, and for you, Yakov, Otabek, and Yura,” Yuuri said.
A strange expression crossed Georgi’s face, but then a Russian skater from Moscow was announced, and they watched the routine begin.
“Is that the one you’re dating, Zhora?” Victor said under his breath.
Georgi shook his head. When the routine finished, he said, “Raisa? She’s not here.”
“I thought she was from Moscow,” Victor said.
“We’re not really dating-dating. And she used to live there,” Georgi said.
“You spend so much time talking to her?” Yuuri asked.
Georgi gave a short laugh. “She’s a good friend. I’ve learned a lot. She likes to skate, she’s just not competitive.”
“You two seemed to have so much fun at the club when we went,” Victor said.
Georgi shrugged. “Anyway, I’m not sure how long I’m going to be skating. I haven’t decided if I’m going to Japan yet. I’ll decide after the competition.”
“You’re retiring?” Victor said.
Georgi shrugged. “I’m not going to beat you before you retire, and I keep sliding farther down the podium. I’m thinking about exploring some other options that aren’t… open to me as a competitive skater.”
The scores came up, putting the Moscow skater firmly in the middle of the pack.
When the applause quieted, Yuuri asked, “Anything in particular?”
“I’m still exploring,” Georgi said. “Don’t worry about it.”
• Otabek •
It was no decision at all for Otabek to leave the rink to go see Yuri after his off-ice workout. When he arrived in Yuri’s room, he asked without preamble, «Are you watching?»
«I didn’t know if Yuri would want to?» Yuliya said.
«You want to, let’s do it,» Yuri said. «Besides, I feel like I owe…»
“Mireille?” Yuliya supplied. «She’s in group four.»
«Yes, Mireille, we should watch her, and Mila for sure,» Yuri said.
«It’s not going to be too upsetting?» Yuliya asked.
«He’s around skaters all the time and will be,» Otabek said. «I think he’s strong enough to deal with watching people skate.»
«Oh, speaking of which,» Yuliya said, «I think the plan is going to be that I’ll stick around with you guys until you get done with the hospital and anything inpatient. They’re going to want me back in London eventually, but I can take a while. I don’t really have to be back until March.»
«You don’t have to…» Yuri started to say, but Yuliya raised her eyebrows and he stopped.
«I know. And I know it’s a lot since we’ve only spent a little time together, but I know you need people, and I think you’re going to need us a lot, and I’m the only one who doesn’t have somewhere else I have to be.»
«You have school,» Yuri said.
“Katya?” Yuliya said.
Katya looked up from the chair she was in by the window. “Hm?”
«Would you explain to him about me and school?»
«Yuliya is often out of school for weeks at a time. She has a system, and tends to work ahead anyway. She probably won’t be able to get away with this in another year or two, but right now, she’s fine.»
Yuri still looked worried.
“Look,” Yuliya said. «True or false: Yakov is preparing more skaters than he normally works with for more competitions than he normally deals with.»
«True,» Yuri said.
«True or false: You have to stay in bed and you’re going to go horribly stir-crazy if you’re alone a lot.»
Yuri grumbled, «Yeah, okay. But where are you going to stay?»
«There’s a hotel next to the hospital in Fukuoka. We’ll have a room there,» Yuliya said.
«I might look into having a room there, then,» Otabek said. “Yuuri-san already set us up with a house in Hastesu, but I know Hasetsu’s only an hour, so I could still practice…»
«Beka, you can’t,» Yuri said. «You cannot spend tons of time with me and two hours on the train and all the time you need to get ready for Four Continents. There’s no way. I’ll be fine.»
«What I was going to say is that I know we’re probably going to be taking turns coming to visit, and if I have a hotel room reserved while you’re there, then whoever is visiting can have the option of staying over.»
Yuri blinked. «You would… Of course you would.»
«Äke already told me to spend what I need,» Otabek said. “He won’t miss it.»
That his father had said it when Otabek first left home for training didn’t bear repeating, but the regular deposits from his trust account had never stopped coming. Sanzhar Altin was an exceptionally busy man, and had worried little past the first year or two overseas. Otabek rarely used his father’s credit card, but had never heard a word of complaint when he had.
Yuri gave him a small nod. «I… I don’t like the idea of being alone in the hospital.»
«Look, they’re starting,» Yuliya said, and they leaned in to watch the stream on the laptop.
• Yakov •
Standing next to the rink, watching Mila take her place in the middle of the ice, reaching upwards for her starting pose, Yakov struggled to find his focus. Normally, he would zero in on every move his skaters made, looking for weakness, looking for places to work on, new ways to squeeze a few more points from the GOE and PCS.
He felt, more than saw, Lilia at his side.
«I am watching,» she said. «And I talked to Katya ten minutes ago. He’s fine. Bored, but fine.»
Mila’s music started, and she spiraled out of her starting position and worked up speed on the ice.
«She seems focused,» Yakov murmured.
«Unlike you,» Lilia said.
Mila skated cleanly, drawing a gasp from the audience when she nailed a triple Axel. Yakov smiled, then, as the plan they’d submitted had called for a double.
«Was that fully rotated?» Lilia asked.
• Yuri •
Watching Mila take first in the short program with a new world record was bittersweet, but Yuri gasped when she looked straight at the camera and mouthed, “For Yura” and held up her fingers in a heart shape.
He flushed and frowned and there was nowhere to bury his head.
Otabek looked at him with a raised eyebrow, and Yuri said, “Shut up.”
Otabek snorted and rolled his eyes. «I think it’s sweet. You know Victor had an absolutely rotten practice this morning.»
«Really?» Yuri said, not knowing whether to be pleased or annoyed by that bit of information.
«He actually fell on his ass,» Otabek said. «Yakov told him to stop and try later.»
Yuri blinked, and then said, «Where is my phone?»
Otabek looked around, then shifted off the bed and pulled the warm phone from a fold of the blankets.
«Great. Ass phone,» Yuri muttered, and then texted Victor saying, Don’t you dare let that sex maniac win.
«Chris seems like a good guy,» Otabek said, reading over Yuri’s shoulder.
Yuri sighed. «He’s just so in-your-face about the whole sex thing. Gross. There’s a time and a place, and it’s wherever I’m not.»
• • •
Goldie came over while Otabek was at the rink that evening, knocking on the door and entering without really waiting for a response. “They said you were decent.”
Yuri flinched when he saw the sports agent. His hand went up to his messy hair and said, “I’ll understand if you don’t want to keep me on.”
Goldie grinned. “Are you kidding, kid? If you handle this right, it’s only going to increase your earning potential.”
“If it doesn’t end my career,” Yuri said.
“Well, Yakov said that your chances for a full recovery are great if you listen to the doctors,” Goldie said. “So, listen to them.”
“That’s really easy for you to say,” Yuri said, looking away.
“I’ve been in this business a really long time, kid. I’ve seen people fuck it up. I’ve seen people take a sure-shot recovery and pull dumbass shit that ended up sidelining them for good. But I’ve also seen skaters who used the opportunity to learn. Who took the slap in the face and decided to do better, to be smarter about their bodies.”
“Lilia says I have poor impulse control,” Yuri said.
“Believe it or not, that can actually be trained. Look, you have a lot of time on your hands to think. You get to learn how your body works and learn what’s going to heal it. And you get to ask for help. You’ve got this whole team of people who want you to succeed, who want you to heal, and all you have to do is say, ‘I need some help with this,’ and we’re going to make sure you have what you need. You like winning. Make this your competition.”
Yuri looked over at Goldie and said, “I don’t even know where to start.”
“First thing, you have exactly one job right now,” Goldie said. “Do what you can to avoid making things worse. They said you get re-checked in a couple days.”
Yuri nodded. “I guess they have to decide if it’s going to need some kind of fancy-ass surgery?”
Goldie snickered. “Well, fancy- ass is certainly in the ballpark.”
“Ow,” Yuri said without heat. “It hurts to laugh.”
“Look, I can’t know exactly what you’re going through, but I have had both knees replaced, and I get feeling laid up and helpless. But it’s really temporary. It’s going to be a crappy week. I think we all expect you’ll have surgery, and in my experience, where surgery is needed, things tend to get better after that faster than you expect. So you won’t be back on your feet anytime soon, but it’s not going to be paralyzing you and it’s not going to hurt so damn much when you move.”
“I just feel so stupid for doing this to myself,” Yuri said.
“Look, I blew out my left knee walking my dog,” Goldie said. “And the right one blew while the left one was healing. At least you were daring to try something. I was just trying to get my mutt to quit licking his own ass and cross the street.”
“I prefer cats,” Yuri said. “You don’t have to walk them.”
“Cats are good,” Goldie said. “I haven’t had one in a few years, but when I was a kid, I had this calico. Best cat ever.”
Yuri fumbled for his phone, and brought up the lock screen. “This one is the best cat ever.”
“What a beauty,” Goldie said. “You miss her?”
Yuri nodded. “She’s in Russia.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure they’re stopping to pick up your pets on the way to Japan. So you should see her again soon.”
• Yuuri •
Phichit showed up in as the women’s competition was drawing to a close and the medal podium was being set up, and Yuuri blinked when he realized he’d barely seen his friend other than at practice.
“Where have you been?” Yuuri asked as Phichit sat down next to him.
“Sorting out travel arrangements and talking to Celestino,” Phichit said.
“Reconsidering?” Yuuri asked.
Phichit sighed. “I really, really want to spend time with you, but I think… Yuuri, I think I want to go back to Thailand until 4CC. Are you mad?”
Yuuri blinked. “Why would I… This is a lot harder than we thought it would be, and you deserve to have the focus on you while you’re training. Yakov is distracted, I’m distracted, everyone else is even busier…”
“It’s just…” Phichit looked down at his hands. “I am so, so proud of you right now. And if I thought for a minute that you needed me to stay, I would, but I think right now I’d be one more distraction you don’t need. But you don’t really need my help right now, and you don’t need one single tiny thing to make you feel guilty, and I think if I’m at my home rink…”
“Phichit, it’s okay,” Yuuri said. “I think… I have so much to take care of right now that there’s no time left over to be anxious, and I want you to have what you need.”
“If there’s anything I can help with…” Phichit said.
Yuuri laughed. “I feel like I’ve leaned against a boulder and started an avalanche right now. I just rented a house and an apartment without even being in the country, and I think they’re remodeling the Ice Castle as we speak.”
“Maybe I’ll come see it in the off-season,” Phichit said.
Yuuri reached out and squeezed his friend’s hand. “You’d better. I’m counting on it.”
“Where’s Victor and Chris?” Phichit asked.
“Down doing something official, I think,” Yuuri said. “When are you leaving?”
Yuuri inhaled sharply. “So soon.”
“I want to get on the ice and stay there for the next two weeks,” Phichit said. “Put into practice some of Yakov’s hints. Victor gave me some ideas about upping my training regimen, too.”
“I’m going to miss you,” Yuuri said.
“You won’t, but that’s okay. We’ll see each other in a couple weeks, and I’m going to kick your ass.”
At that, Yuuri grinned. “You can try.”
“Done it before,” Phichit said.
“I hope you give it your best shot,” Yuuri said. “What time are you going?”
“Leaving for the airport at 3 am,” Phichit said.
“Do you want to sleep first?” Yuuri asked.
Phichit grinned. “Not really?”
“I forget, are you sharing a room?” Yuuri asked.
“Not while Otabek is with Yura at the hospital,” Phichit said.
“Movie marathon time?” Yuuri asked. “ The King and the Skater ? With popcorn if we can find it?”
Phichit grinned. “Fuck yes.”
“I’ll come up after Victor falls asleep,” Yuuri said.
Phichit raised an eyebrow. “When should I expect you?”
Yuuri thumbed an alert into his phone. “10:30 at the latest. Victor is surprisingly not a night owl when he’s in competition mode.”
• • •
They blew off the opening ceremonies to practice at the other arena. Yuuri felt surprisingly calm on the ice, calmer than Victor, and his program run-throughs went smoothly.
Victor didn’t manage a complete clean run-through, and ended up in a yelling match with Yakov about why, until Lilia and Minako took Yakov away and Yuuri worked on soothing Victor.
“I’ve never heard you shout at him that way before,” Yuuri said, as they sat on one of the bleachers near the rink. “He shouts all the time, but you usually let it roll off.”
Victor sighed, and leaned his head against Yuuri’s shoulder. “I am not accustomed to being wary of the ice. It doesn’t feel like my friend right now, and I don’t know how to handle it. It’s easy to blow Yakov off when I’m confident. Right now? I don’t know why it’s hard, and that’s terrifying.”
“You were fine at Nationals,” Yuuri said. “The ice is not your enemy. Yura didn’t fall because the ice was bad, but because he was pushing himself when he should have been resting.”
Victor sighed. “I wonder every day if I should have come back at all.”
“You still have a story to tell,” Yuuri said. “You’re not done surprising them.”
“You’ll skate with me in the exhibition?” Victor asked.
Yuuri nodded. “Of course.”
Victor leaned over and pressed a kiss to Yuuri’s cheek. “I never want to do another exhibition without you. I meant that.”
Yuuri blushed. “If I can, I always will.” He glanced over at Victor, momentarily overwhelmed. “It seems like forever since the wedding, and it was only last week.”
“A week tomorrow,” Victor said. “You know, Mike emailed me links to the video files. We could look at them later.”
“You’re going to gloat,” Yuuri said.
Victor straightened, turned, and said, “Oh?”—his whole body communicating an alert interest.
Yuuri sighed, and then said sheepishly, “It was all a blur and I really want to see the video. Thank you for having the forethought to have them record it.”
Victor’s grin was blinding.
“See? I told you you would gloat,” Yuuri said.
“I’m just happy that I did something right,” Victor said. “Today hasn’t been a doing-things-right sort of day. After we get back to the hotel?”
“I can’t watch all of it then, I promised Phichit that we would have a movie night before he leaves. But some of it?” Yuuri said, just in time to be muffled by Victor flinging his arms around his head.
“It’s a date,” Victor said.
“Mmrph,” Yuuri answered.
• • •
After practice, a hurried dinner eaten out of takeout cartons in Yuri’s hospital room, and the trip back to the hotel, it was 9:30.
“Snuggle?” Victor asked, crawling into bed naked and propping the laptop on the covers.
“I don’t dare,” Yuuri said. “I’ll fall asleep, and I promised Phichit…”
Victor pouted playfully, and Yuuri, still clothed, flopped onto the bed next to him. “Close enough?” Yuuri asked, sliding in under Victor’s arm.
Victor pressed a kiss to Yuuri’s hair and used his other hand to navigate to the links Mike had sent to his email.
“Wow, that’s… that’s a lot,” Yuuri said, as Victor scrolled down a list of plain text links, sorted by time, with a few descriptive words in the title so they wouldn’t be totally at sea.
“I haven’t looked at anything yet,” Victor said. “I wanted to wait for you.”
Yuuri reached out and touched one of the links. It opened a password protected page, Victor logged in, and then the video started streaming.
“There were ice swans?” Yuuri said, as the camera panned across the guests, sitting in padded folding chairs on some sort of walking surface that covered the ice.
“We posed in front of them,” Victor said.
“I just did what they told me,” Yuuri said with a small laugh. “The noise in my head was pretty loud.”
“Yura was apparently deeply offended that they hadn’t made ice poodles,” Victor said.
Yuuri snorted. “That would have been risky, but cute. The swans are nice, but a little trite.”
“Right?” Victor said. “If we ever get married again, no ice swans.”
The camera settled on the dark space behind the rink entrance, and Victor appeared with Chris next to him.
“Oh my god,” Yuuri said. “You look so nervous.”
“I was,” Victor said. “I think I flashed back to every time you ran away, even though I knew you wanted it, part of me…”
Yuuri buried his face against Victor’s chest for a moment. “I had a panic attack but they talked me down. But it wasn’t about you, it was about me not feeling worthy. I still sometimes can’t believe that you think I am, even though you’ve told me a thousand times and I trust you.”
“Remind me why it was a good idea for us to get ready separately?” Victor asked.
The camera zoomed in, then, and Yuuri gasped. “You looked like an angel. I probably would have jumped you if we’d been half naked ahead of time.”
Victor chuckled. “I guess your surprise was worth it…”
“Surprise?” Yuuri said, and then remembered the hose he’d worn, and blushed. “Oh, right. The surprise.”
On screen, they were embracing at the rink entrance, and then following Chris and Phichit into the rink. The video cut off.
“It’s a bunch of clips,” Victor said. “He’s still working on editing them together.”
Yuuri dragged the list up and found one marked, “14.27.Yuri.p.skate.edit.” There were half a dozen files with camera descriptors.
He hesitated. “Should we?”
“He must have been already hurting then,” Victor said softly. “And he skated it anyway for us. Yes. Please.”
Yuuri touched the link, and the first thing they saw was a note from Mike. “I heard about the accident and pushed this to the top of the list for editing. This is a rough draft, but contains multiple camera views.”
They watched it through, and then lay there, unmoving, when it ended. After a long moment, Victor said, “I want to skate that with you, for the exhibition.”
“This exhibition?” Yuuri turned to look at Victor.
“It’s not complicated. And it says what I want to say, I think. Play it again.”
“Without the little girls, we’ll need to do something more in the second half,” Yuuri said. “It’s designed around five people, so we either drag other skaters in, or do something different.”
“Hmmm,” Victor said. “Maybe... Play it again.” Then he caught Yuuri’s wrist, gently, and said, “Wait, I need paper.”
“You stay, I’m not under the covers,” Yuuri said, rolling up and reaching over to the hotel desk for a hotel pad and pen. He put them in Victor’s hand and was rewarded with a kiss.
Yuuri resisted lingering in the kiss, and turned to touch the replay button.
• • •
Many replays later, Victor was yawning and had a series of scribbled diagrams and element lists on eight different tiny pieces of hotel notepad paper, and Yuuri’s phone alert was going off with a fifteen minute warning to go up to Phichit.
“You’re supposed to be asleep,” Yuuri said.
“Take the computer away so I don’t end up awake for hours watching our vows?” Victor said.
“We’ll watch it together tomorrow,” Yuuri promised, sleeping the computer and setting it on the night table next to his side of the bed.
Victor turned and wrapped an arm around Yuuri’s middle, and mumbled against his hip, “Not ready for you to go yet.”
“I’ve got a few minutes,” Yuuri said with a soft chuckle and ran his fingers through Victor’s hair until the grip around his waist slackened. With his other hand he sent Phichit a “be there soon” text.
• • •
Yuuri didn’t ask where Phichit had found popcorn, and lounging together on Phichit’s bed felt both familiar and oddly nostalgic.
Phichit was unusually quiet through the movie. Yuuri had watched him watch this particular film often enough that the failure of Phichit to mouth the words along was all by itself enough to worry him.
When the first one ended, and Phichit went to start the next one, Yuuri said, “Hey, hang on. What’s going on?”
Phichit looked over, and his face was momentarily unguarded, wistful. Then something shifted and he smiled and said, “It’s a marathon. Gotta keep it going.”
“BFF time-out,” Yuuri said. “Really. I want to know.”
“I don’t want to… it’s the last time we’re… I don’t want to be sad at you,” Phichit said.
“You’ve literally rocked me through more panic attacks than I can count.” Yuuri’s voice had just a hint of an edge. “So I don’t get to help you when you’re obviously upset?”
“You’ve… I don’t want to inflict this on you,” Phichit said. “It’s actually ridiculous.”
“Because my anxiety makes so much sense,” Yuuri said dryly. “No dice. Last I checked we were friends, not a one-man Katsuki Yuuri support unit.”
Phichit dropped back onto his back, limp, and said to the ceiling. “That’s why it’s ridiculous. I should be overjoyed that you are married, that you’re surrounded by people who know how awesome you are. It’s like all my hard work has finally made you into a real boy, but I don’t know where I fit in now that you don’t need me anymore.”
Yuuri snorted. “Well, that is pretty ridiculous.”
“I told you,” Phichit said. “I mean, obviously you’ve been a real boy all along, and you weren’t like, some pet project, and you’re not disappearing from my life, we’re seeing each other at least as often as we did last year. More, even.”
Yuuri elbowed Phichit and said, “You totally helped make me into a real boy. The silly part is that you think I don’t need you anymore.”
“You don’t!” Phichit said. “I mean, you have this amazing husband who completely dotes on you. You’ve got friends. You’ve got so much going on.”
“You literally kept me from winding up into a bad brain attack on my wedding day, last week,” Yuuri said. “And so what if I don’t need you to help put me back together someday? I want you in my life as my friend, not my therapist. I want the funny guy who sings every damn song of this ridiculous series and pokes me to have fun when I get too deep in my own head.”
Yuuri sat up straight. “No, I take that back.”
Phichit flipped over on his side in an instant. “Wha?”
“I don’t just want the funny guy and the guy who pokes me. You’ve been holding out on me.”
“You already have a husband, Yuuri, and there’s no WAY…” Phichit stopped as Yuuri rolled his eyes.
“You’ve been protecting me from this. From your worries. From your hopes. From your insecurities. You’ve always been a fantastic friend to me, but I want to learn how to be a good friend to you,” Yuuri said. Then he slumped a little and looked away. “Unless you don’t want… Shit. I don’t want to demand that you tell me things that you’re not comfortable sharing, but it’s okay for you to, like, tell me. If you want to. If you need to. Without being afraid that it’s going to break me.”
Phichit blinked at him. “Yuuri…”
“Too much?” Yuuri asked.
“I might have to work up to it,” Phichit said.
“I just… You deserve to have someone listen to you the way you’ve listened to me.”
Phichit considered that, and then turned the movie on. “I’m not saying no, I just have to think, and I really want to watch this with you,” he said.
The movie started, and they got caught up singing the theme song. When the story began, Phichit said, “You know I mentioned wanting an ice show someday?”
“I want it to be all about the stories of Thailand. I want to prove that ice skating can be… a logical way to tell my country’s stories.”
“Tell me when and where, and I’m in,” Yuuri said.
“Six years,” Phichit said.
“After the 2022 Olympics?” Yuuri asked.
“I’m going to win them,” Phichit said. “I’m going to win them and I’m going to have an ice show so big that everyone wants to be in it.”
A song started, and they ended up singing it as campily as they could get away with after midnight and not have a noise complaint.
The song ended, and Phichit said, “I’m jealous of you for knowing what you want romantically. I have no idea.”
“You date all the time?” Yuuri said, puzzled. “You always seem to have fun.”
“How many third dates have you ever seen me go on?” Phichit asked.
Yuuri blinked. “I thought you were keeping things casual?”
“I am. I do. Because I like people and I like going out, but I don’t feel… I don’t know. What made you know that you wanted to only be with Victor? Romantically?”
Yuuri sighed. “I don’t know. He was all I ever wanted. Anyone else, I’d be comparing to him. I’m not… I wasn’t looking for romance. I don’t think I ever expected romance. Victor skating, and the emotions he made me feel… the romance was a side effect to needing him like air. People keep telling me what a great romantic gesture it was, going to him, getting married so fast… but it was like grasping for the oxygen mask and putting it on. I feel like I can breathe now. I know it looks romantic from the outside, but I’m really the same clueless asshole I always was.”
Phichit snorted and threw a piece of popcorn at Yuuri, who caught it in his mouth and grinned.
They settled back in and Phichit said, “So I don’t know. I’ve just never needed anyone that way.”
“That’s not a bad thing,” Yuuri said. “I think i was envious of that for a long time. It’s scary to feel like you need someone you don’t think you can have.”
“How scary was it when you figured out maybe you could?” Phichit asked.
Yuuri snorted. “Way scarier.”
“I don’t know, is something wrong with me that I’m not in a hurry to pair up?” Phichit asked.
“Fuck anyone who makes you feel like there’s anything wrong with you not being a co-dependent jerk like the rest of us,” Yuuri said.
“I’ve missed you,” Phichit said.
Yuuri gave him a fond smile. “Was that so hard? I’ve missed you, too.”
“How come it took you so long to call after you left Detroit?” Phichit asked.
“I fell into my own navel,” Yuuri said. “It’s hard to remember to reach out when my monsters are busy telling me how worthless I am.”
“That’s an image,” Phichit said. “Look, I don’t care how bad it gets… I want to know.”
“Same,” Yuuri said. “The good stuff too.”
“The good stuff all goes on Insta,” Phichit said. “If you used yours more, I wouldn’t have to wonder if you’re still breathing.”
“I want to have a school in Hasetsu,” Yuuri said. “For skating. Being in St. Petersburg showed me how incredible it was to have all that unfettered rink time.”
“Yeah?” Phichit said.
“There are defunct onsen all over Hasetsu,” Yuuri said. “I want to buy one and turn it into housing for skaters. So they can get training without going to the States.”
“Coached by Victor?” Phichit asked.
“Both of us. Yakov, if he’ll stay. I think…”
“If you build it, they will come,” Phichit intoned.
“Oh my god,” Yuuri said, rolling his eyes. Then he sighed. “I really hope so. I have this idea that I might spend all my money on this idea and then have nobody show up.”
“All the money in figure skating is in coaching,” Phichit said. “And Japan’s best and brightest, hell, most of East Asia’s best and brightest would be fools not to jump at the chance.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Yuuri said. “We’re only an hour from a major university, airport, transportation hub. But actually… do you have any idea how much money we’ve made in the past month?”
“Please, please tell me,” Phichit said, turning away from his favorite musical number, pausing it without even looking at the screen, and folding his hands under his chin like a hamster with a seed.
“Between the two of us? Contracts for 2.5 million, though we won’t get paid on some of that until later. And that’s just for this year.”
Phichit nodded. “That sounds about right. But please, tell me… just how loaded are you now? I mean, Victor was pretty well off before the Versa contract, right?”
Yuuri blushed. “Um. You know… I haven’t asked.”
Phichit flopped onto the bed and flung his arm up over his face. “I don’t understand you, I don’t know you, and I feel betrayed at a core level that you— Katsuki Yuuri, have I taught you nothing? What does Tommy Boy say?”
Yuuri sighed, and muttered, “Show me the money. I am NOT going to go all Jerry Maguire on my husband. I have plenty of money. I don’t need his.”
Phichit threw his hands up dramatically. “I have failed in my mission.”
“What am I supposed to say? I love you and didn’t marry you for your money, but how much do you have?” Yuuri shook his head. “I have no idea how I would even broach the subject without looking like I wanted him for his money.”
“Darling Victor, it occurs to me that I know very little about financial planning, and I’d like to do what I can to make sure we have enough for the long haul. Can we go over our finances together?” Phichit said, singsong.
“Oh, right,” Yuuri said. “I mean, I do know a fair amount about financial planning. I took 12 credits worth of relevant business classes.”
“Sweet Vitya, love of my life,” Phichit said, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
Yuuri threw popcorn at Phichit’s ear. Then he smiled and said, “Actually, I think I’ll just tell him you were teasing me for not knowing anything about his finances, and then explain that I’d never asked because it didn’t seem important, and certainly isn’t any of your business.”
Phichit flopped his hand flat against his chest and said, “I’m wounded. Truly hurt. Making me the bad guy… Yes, absolutely, do that. You know for a fact that the next chance he gets, he’ll have his entire portfolio in front of you. Do that. I approve, you devious bastard.”
“Thank you,” Yuuri said. “I guess?”
Phichit threw his hands in the air and dropped his jaw. “You have to do it more like this. ‘I GUESS.’”
Yuuri just shook his head and laughed.
• Yuri •
By the time everyone except Otabek had left that evening, Yuri felt like he wanted to jump out of his skin. Well, he’d felt that way from the time he’d woken up in the morning, but between the lack of a shower, the interminable humiliation of the bedpan, and the knowledge that he’d be losing the epidural the next morning, he was a snarling mess.
«I feel gross,» Yuri said to Otabek, who lay on the other bed with a book.
Otabek, looked over. «Yeah, not having a shower will do that.»
«My hair is gross. My mouth tastes gross. My skin feels like it’s crawling, I itch so much. My mind feels like it’s crawling.»
«The last time I injured myself was when I got the undercut,» Otabek said. «My hair was longer before.»
«I had a plan,» Yuri said. «I was going to grow my hair down to my waist.»
«You can still do that,» Otabek said. «Just don’t cut it for a long time.»
«Do you know how long I’ve been growing it out?» Yuri said.
«About sixteen months,» Otabek said. «You’ve grown about 10 inches of hair in that amount of time. Your hair grows fast. There’s no reason not to cut it if that will make you more comfortable.»
Yuri reached up and felt the braids Yuliya had worked into an intricate crown around his head. «I’m afraid to take this out because it’s gonna tangle, but it’s making my head hurt.»
«I’m not going to tell you what to do,» Otabek said. «But if it was me? I’d cut it as short as you can stand. The last thing you need to worry about right now is your hair.»
«I’m not ready,» Yuri said.
Otabek pushed himself up to sitting, threw his legs over the side of the bed and crossed over to the back of Yuri’s hospital bed.
«I’m going to take the braid out now. Fuck it if it tangles, we’ll comb it out. You don’t need one more thing making you uncomfortable.»
Otabek pulled over the stool the nurse normally used to chart, and leaned over the top of the bed, looking for where Yuliya had hidden the tied off ends. Once he had the hang of where they were, he worked slowly and carefully to take the braids apart. Once they were all lose, he worked at Yuri’s scalp with his fingertips.
“God,” Yuri said with a sigh, relaxing under the touch.
«It occurs to me,» Otabek said as he worked, «that you’ve had a lot more touch than you were used to for the last couple weeks. And almost none since you got hurt.»
«People are messing with me all the time,» Yuri said.
«Yeah, but that’s not what you need,» Otabek said.
Yuri made a disapproving grunt. «You don’t have to be such a self-important bastard about it.»
«I’m only a self-important bastard when I’m right,» Otabek said, still working his fingers against Yuri’s scalp.
«Objectively, no,» Otabek said. He finished with Yuri’s scalp and stood up with a thoughtful look on his face. «I wonder…»
He moved around the room looking in cupboards, and frowned. “I can’t read Czech.»
«What are you looking for?» Yuri asked.
«Some sort of lotion. I want to work on your hands. It’s the only part I’m not afraid will injure you.»
«Did my bag come?» Yuri asked. «There’s all sorts of shit in there.»
Otabek stared at Yuri and then shook his head. «I am an idiot.»
«Your bag is at the hotel. But I have mine. Which also has lotion.»
«Dumbass,» Yuri said fondly.
«I thought I was a self-important bastard,» Otabek said, digging the moisturizer he used to keep his hands from chapping at the rink out of his bag.
«Self-important bastards are usually dumbasses,» Yuri said. «It’s not like they’re mutually exclusive states of being.»
«Well, now I’m a genius,» Otabek said, scooting back over to Yuri’s bed. «Give me your hand.»
“We’re not like that,» Yuri quipped.
«Do you want me to go back over there?» Otabek said with a nod toward the other bed.
Yuri shook his head and moved his hand closer to Otabek.
Otabek squeezed a dollop of lotion onto his palm and then rubbed his hands together quickly. Yuri frowned.
«Warming it up,» Otabek said, wrapping both warm hands around Yuri’s left hand, and then working systematically from wrist to fingertips.
Yuri’s eyes drooped shut, and he mumbled, «Feels nice.»
«I can’t do much for you right now, but I can do this,» Otabek muttered.
It looked for a long moment like Yuri might be asleep, but then he turned his head and looked at Otabek through half-closed eyes. «Thank you. It… um. It helps.»
Otabek ducked his head a little and smiled. “No problem.”
So my kiddo has a minor break, limited weight bearing, no growth plate issues. He's squirrelly and whiny and I stg I wrote this many weeks ago before this happened. Sometimes I hate being right? Anyway. He's already having to be told not to hop around on one foot, and we'll have a knee-scooter for him soon.
• 26 January 2017 • Yuri •
The last hit of the epidural happened early in the morning, and they took it out while it was still effective. The pins and needles return to full sensation was bad enough, but the reawakening of the pain in the hamstring was brutal, and once they’d removed his catheter and coached him through the most mortifying piss of his life, Yuri found himself trying to move to get more comfortable, realizing it was impossible and making things worse, and finally asking for something to help take the pain away.
The rest of the day blurred into a drowsy haze, punctuated by the return of the pain. Yuri was only peripherally aware of Yuliya and Otabek, who told him between doses that Yakov, Lilia, Yuuri, and Victor had all stopped by.
«Thank fuck for whatever the hell they have me on,» Yuri muttered.
It was worse, though, when he realized that it was night again and he’d barely been awake all day. He was vaguely aware that Otabek had gone and come back, and said, «Remind me why they couldn’t just keep the epidural?»
«You’d lose too much muscle tone, and it’s not good to have a catheter so long,» Otabek said. «I asked. I guess there’s a time limit on how long you can have a straw in your spine.»
Yuri shuddered, and yawned. «It still fucking hurts. I thought rest was supposed to make it better?»
«You have a break in a bone. That always hurts like a motherfucker,» Otabek said. «If there are rough edges irritating the muscle or nerves in that area… it’s going to fucking hurt.»
«I wanna cry, but I think it would hurt worse if I did,» Yuri said.
«Get another dose,» Otabek said.
«I don’t want to get addicted.»
«Look, if in six months you’re jonesing for more opiates, I’ll kick your ass about it then. Using them when you are actually in the hospital with something that is one of the more painful things a human being can experience? Isn’t going to make you addicted.»
«But what if I have the gene?» Yuri asked.
«It’s not that simple,» Otabek said. «But you can ask Dr. Bernard or the Czech doctor about it tomorrow. Tonight, do what you need to do to stop wiggling—I’m really sure that’s not good for you.»
Fifteen minutes later, the pain was pushed back into the fog by an icy shot into the IV, and a few minutes after that, so was Yuri.
• Yuuri •
Yuuri startled awake at 5 am as Phichit tried to sneak off the bed to get ready to go, some movie still playing in the background.
“Sorry,” Yuuri said. “I fell asleep on you.”
“Mm. Actually I kinda fell asleep on you,” Phichit said, pointing to a drool mark on Yuuri’s shoulder.
“Gross,” Yuuri said, wrinkling his nose.
“You drooled on my hair,” Phichit said. “So we’re even.”
Yuuri snorted. “I guess. So, you want company to the airport?”
“Go back to bed with that Russian hunk of yours,” Phichit said. “I’m sure he’s all sad and shit because his Yuuri abandoned him.”
Yuuri looked worried, and Phichit rolled his eyes. “Seriously, he’s probably asleep. I’ll be fine. For real. Thanks for hanging out, and…” He looked down, and then back up at Yuuri. “And you were right. And I’m going to work on it. It would be shitty of me to abandon our friendship simply because you don’t need me holding your hand.”
Yuuri gave a tired smile and said, “Thanks, though. For doing that. You got me through a lot of rough stuff.”
“My pleasure,” Phichit said. “Sincerely. I’m just really happy for you.”
“Yeah,” Yuuri said, his smile wider.
• • •
Yuuri slipped into the hotel room he shared with Victor after seeing Phichit to the shuttle.
Victor was wrapped around a pillow with one of Yuuri’s t-shirts on it, sound asleep. Yuuri shook his head and snapped a picture, dropped his clothes next to the bed, and slid in behind Victor, skin-to-skin, burying his face in Victor’s hair.
“Solnyshko,” Victor murmured. “Done with your movies?”
“Phichit is on his way to the airport,” Yuuri said, sliding an arm under the blankets and snaking it around Victor to snuggle closer.
“Missed you,” Victor said.
“Looks like you found a good substitute,” Yuuri said, barely suppressing a laugh.
“Hardly,” Victor mumbled. “Doesn’t even have your face. If I’d known, I would have brought one of my pillowcases.”
“I cannot even imagine what one of the cleaning staff would think about finding a dakimakura in the bed randomly,” Yuuri said. “And I’m back now.”
Victor wiggled against him. “We could train horizontally this morning.”
Yuuri snorted. “You did not just say that.”
“We can’t?” Victor said, rolling over to give Yuuri puppy dog eyes.
“Not if you call it horizontal training, we can’t,” Yuuri said.
Victor sighed. “Okay. I won’t call it that. Be gentle with me, I have to compete tomorrow.”
“We don’t really have to…” Yuuri started, but Victor’s eyes went wide and he started to pout.
“We don’t have to, but I really want to,” Victor said.
“Lie on your back,” Yuuri said. “I wouldn’t want you to strain anything.”
“What are you going to… Ohhhhh….” Victor said, as Yuuri scooted underneath the covers.
• Victor •
The ice at Victor’s scheduled practice felt less like an enemy, but not entirely like a friend. He didn’t fall, but everything still felt off.
“This is what you get for changing your routine,” Yakov muttered at him. “Practice tonight, a run-through or two.”
Victor just nodded and slipped his guards on as he made his way off the ice. He found Yuuri sitting with Minako a minute later, and said, “I need to steal my husband from you, if you don’t mind.”
She looked amused. “He’s all yours.”
“You look tired,” he told Yuuri as they left the locker room.
Yuuri yawned. “I was up with Phichit most of the night.”
“So no sightseeing?” Victor asked.
Yuuri shook his head. “Snuggles? Wedding videos?”
• Yakov •
Yakov was torn between feeling guilty that he couldn’t be at the hospital full time, and being enormously grateful to Otabek and Yuliya for picking up the slack. He stopped in several times per day, but the worried tedium of Yuri lying drugged out and motionless was something he felt ill-equipped to handle with the looming pressure of three skaters competing.
Mila seemed at the top of her game, at least. He’d worried about her right up until she’d nailed her performance to the wall. Georgi was hitting all his jumps, but something was missing from his skating, and it felt like Georgi’s heart might not be in it anymore.
And Victor. Victor seemed rattled. Shaky. As if he was taking Yuri’s ill-considered leap as a personal failing. As they walked back to the van that was taking them back to the hotel, Yakov said to Victor, “It isn’t your fault, you know.”
“I blurted it out in the worst way,” Victor said. “If I can’t be good with Yura, how am I going to be a coach?”
“I couldn’t stop you from going to Japan,” Yakov said. “At some point we have to get over the idea that we have control of our skaters.”
“I had to go to Japan,” Victor said. “I couldn’t even explain it, but I had to go.”
“I know that, now,” Yakov said. “At the time it felt like I’d never failed anyone harder than I’d failed you by not persuading you to stay. And Yura needed to try to prove something, and he failed, and now we get to hope he learns from the mistake.”
Yuuri had been quiet on the other side of Victor, but once they were buckled in the van, he said, “I’m afraid all the time that I’m not going to live up to expectations. Failure used to paralyze me. Sometimes it still can. But it didn’t end me, and it doesn’t stop me from trying. I’m still afraid I’m not going to live up to everyone’s expectations.”
“I’d love you whether or not you ever won a medal,” Victor said.
“And I’m glad,” Yuuri said. “But it’s my expectations that are the highest, and the hardest to live up to. And the ones that hurt the worst when I don’t get where I want to be. Anyway. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s okay to be worried and afraid, even with things like your coaching ability, but the thing that you taught me was not to let that fear get in the way. You know you have the ability to skate beautifully, but do you know that people will understand if you aren’t perfect? That you don’t have to be perfect all the time to be good enough?”
Victor snorted and said, “But I am Victor Nikiforov. If I do not skate perfectly, they will say that I’m done, that my comeback has failed.”
“Or we’ll say that you’re human and the past month has been intensely busy.” Yuuri stroked Victor’s hair.
“Listen to your husband,” Yakov said. “You’re no coach at all if you can’t understand that people have off days, that stress affects everyone, and that one off practice is not the whole competition.”
“Besides,” Yuuri said, “your base scores are so high that the only person in shooting distance of your score is Chris, and then only if you fall more than once.”
“Yura didn’t need Europeans, and while it’s probably better if you skate, it’s not essential,” Yakov said. “Not getting gold here will have no bearing on Worlds.”
“Yuuchan is going to beat me at Worlds,” Victor said. “I can feel it.”
“Don’t you dare ‘let’ me win,” Yuuri said. “I’m going to wipe the floor with you, but I want to wipe the floor with the best you I possibly can.”
Victor grinned. “Say that again, closer.”
“Oy!” Yakov yelped. “Take that to your hotel room. My old ears don’t need to hear that kind of nonsense.”
“You sound like Yura,” Victor said, smiling.
“Someone’s got to keep you two in check,” Yakov muttered, as he climbed out of the van in front of the hotel.
“I’m going to tell him you said that,” Victor called after him.
Yakov just shook his head, muttering.
• 27 January 2017• Yuuri •
The men’s competition started in the late morning, but where the Grand Prix events usually had ten to twelve entrants, and the GPF had six, Europeans had thirty-six men in the short program, and only twenty-four would go on to skate in the final.
Yuuri found it weirdly soothing to be with the other skaters without having to skate himself. Victor was more nervous than Yuuri had ever seen him, and completely frustrated with himself for it.
“Do you feel this way all the time at events?” Victor asked.
Yuuri looked at him thoughtfully and then shrugged a little. “I don’t know how it is for you. I’m always anxious, but it varies.”
“How do you stand it?” Victor asked. “I feel like I’m going to jump out of my skin.”
“What’s going through your head?” Yuuri asked.
“I just keep thinking about how Yuri fell, how fast it was… that I couldn’t stop it. He didn’t break his hip landing, he broke it jumping. I didn’t even know that was possible. That the very act of leaping could break a body in front of me…”
Yuuri straddled the bench he’d been sitting on and turned to face Victor, who was sitting on the floor, stretching. “If you want to come up here,” Yuuri said, “I might be able to help.”
Victor came to his feet gracefully, and straddled the bench, facing Yuuri.
“Okay,” Yuuri said. “So you have these thoughts, right? And they’re making you tense and irritated and scared. And you’re thinking about them rather than what you want to be focused on.”
“Close your eyes,” Yuuri said, reaching out and taking Victor’s hands in his. “So before I skated my free at Nationals, I had a pretty bad anxiety attack out of nowhere. I’d been feeling pretty good, but all the old demons came back at once, and I was really scared that I would fail to do what I wanted to do on the ice. Minako told me not to take them with me when I went to warm up, and it occurred to me in a flash that these worries and fears and negative voices in my head were all like cuttlefish, stuck all over with their suction cups, biting at me with their beaks. Like each worry was a cuttlefish.”
Victor startled and said, “Yes, I can see that.”
“It’s really hard to skate covered with cuttlefish, so I pictured my skin as hard and slick as ice, and as I skated my warmup, I pictured each cuttlefish curling up and falling off, too cold to attack me again.”
Victor smiled, and said, “I can try that.”
“But there’s more,” Yuuri said. “The thing that kept me focused was thinking about the story I wanted to tell, the message I want to give you. You’re so focused on Yuri and fear right now that you’ve forgotten this amazing story you tell with your skating, haven’t you?”
Victor opened his eyes, stared at Yuuri for a moment, then moved forward, wrapping his arms around his husband tightly, their knees spread wide by the proximity.
“Is this a new stretch?” Chris’s voice was full of amusement. “I like it.”
“I’m going to say this in the most loving and gentle way I know how,” Yuuri said without looking up. “Fuck off, Chris. We’re having a moment.”
“I can see that,” Chris said. “Carry on. Can I Instagram it?”
Victor made a rude gesture behind his back in Chris’s general direction.
“Right, no Insta. See you on the ice.”
Victor’s shoulders were shaking, and Yuuri realized after a moment that Victor was laughing.
“Ha?” Yuuri said. “Are you okay?”
“You sounded like Yurio for a minute there,” Victor said.
“Yura wouldn’t have tried to be gentle about it.”
Victor pulled back a little, and cupped Yuuri’s cheek with his right hand. “I get the feeling that your anxiety can be… more… than you really let me know most of the time.”
Yuuri shrugged, and let his forehead rest on Victor’s shoulder. “If I told you every time I had intrusive, anxious thoughts, it would get boring fast.”
“You never bore me,” Victor said.
“I bore me,” Yuuri said. “Part of me can see the anxiety happening. I can get myself through it, but part of that is not feeding the monster, not paying it the attention it craves. You see the parts that damage ships. You see the occasional teeth, the spines. Most of it is under the surface.”
“It’s so physical,” Victor murmured. “Is it always so physical? I feel it in my chest, in my arms. It’s exhausting.”
“There was a while in my life,” Yuuri said, “Where my chest just felt like that all the time. You’ve… It’s less, since I started to believe that I could be worthy of you.”
“You skated like that? You skated like that?” Victor said. “All the time?”
“You saw,” Yuuri said. “But this isn’t about me, right now. Think about the things that are making you anxious, and think of them as separate from you. They may be riding you, but they’re not who you are. Sometimes I latch onto another emotion, and use that to drown out the fear. Usually loving you does it. I’ve been better since… since we made things clear. This week has been hard, but I think anyone would have a hard time with it. I mean, look, the great Victor Nikiforov is struggling with it, that must mean that it is genuinely difficult. Sometimes the hardest thing about anxiety is feeling like other people would handle it better, so I get anxious about feeling anxious, and that, um… It’s not helpful.”
“If anyone ever thinks you’re weak, they’re fools,” Victor said. “The only reason I got out of bed today was that I felt like I had to skate.”
“There it is,” Yuuri said. “The pressure isn’t all bad. You’ve got a story to tell.”
“Our story,” Victor said, his voice low and soft.
“You’re not wrong for being worried about Yura,” Yuuri said. “But the doctor said that what happened to him happened because he’s fifteen and growing. You’re not. I know you worry about injuries, but worrying is more likely to get you injured. How do your knees feel?”
“Stretched,” Victor said. “Not hurting.”
“Then your chances are as good as they ever are, right?” Yuuri said. He pulled back and gave Victor a long, bemused look, and then shook his head.
“What?” Victor asked.
“Just, here I am telling you how to pull yourself together. I was just having a moment with the irony of it.”
“You’ll make a good coach someday, if you want,” Victor said.
Yuuri snorted. “I guess.”
“Don’t you want to?” Victor asked. “We could open a school—”
“—In Hasetsu,” Yuuri finished. “I was just telling Phichit I wanted to do that someday. It just feels funny because it feels like I’m coaching you right now.” He shifted and brought his leg over the bench, and Victor did the same, so that they were sitting side by side.
Victor smiled. “You’ve always made my skating better. Hopefully I can put your coaching to practice later.” He took a deep breath. “Hey, that feeling is going away.”
“It does,” Yuuri said. “Don’t be too surprised if it comes back. Just keep that mental image.”
“Remind me what a cuttlefish is?”
“They’re like octopuses and squid. Sort of halfway between. They’re cute right up until you look at their tentacles and beaks,” Yuuri said. “They hide everything in a black cloud when they get scared.”
“Oh,” Victor said. “Yes, that does make sense.”
Yuuri pulled his phone out and showed Victor a picture of one. “They look innocuous and worried, and they can camouflage themselves, but they are strong and can grip things tightly.”
“If elder gods had babies, they’d look like that,” Victor said.
Yuuri laughed. “My demons are adorable, right up until the suckers latch on.”
“You make your skin ice?” Victor said.
“I just visualize it so cold and slick that they can’t hold on. They fall to the ice and I skate them away.” Yuuri held up his hand with the fingers hanging down, and then flipped it over. “They’re not dead, they just can’t pull me down again very soon.”
“You don’t visualize them dying?” Victor asked.
“Some worries are useful,” Yuuri said. “I don’t want them stopping me from doing what I need to do, but sometimes I need to learn from them, learn to work with them. Fear of what happens when I get drunk is usually enough to keep me from drinking. I don’t want to kill that one off completely. It’s not wrong, I just don’t need it when I’m skating.”
“You felt like this, worse than this, and got out there and skated in China on no sleep, after I was so mean to you.”
“It wasn’t my best skate,” Yuuri said. “But getting the feelings out helped me say what I wanted to say to you. Tell me your story today? Will you, Vityenka?”
• Victor •
The warmup, later, was better. Victor’s group went out, and he moved smoothly, visualizing his worries as gripping sea creatures that fell away in the cold. The ice was an ally again, for the first time in days, and he went smoothly up into his quad combo, landed cleanly, and smiled widely, to a broad cheer from the crowd.
Chris followed with a quad Sal, and they exchanged a grin on the way out of the gate.
The skate itself? He’d done better. He worked to hide his disappointment that he’d nearly come to a complete stop landing on the quad Lutz combo. Not a deduction, but not beautiful, either. While he’d recovered enough to land his flip cleanly, he hadn’t done it with his usual flair. Yuuri and Yakov sat with him in the Kiss and Cry, and he murmured to Yuuri, “Yura’s record is safe for today.”
Yakov said nothing, which was to Victor the ultimate measure of just how preoccupied the man was.
The score came up 109.85, and Victor smiled his patented media smile as his name topped the list.
Christophe was up last, and they lingered near the Kiss and Cry to watch.
Chris was electric. His Lutz was soaring, his landing damn near perfect. Victor’s mental tally of GOE bullet points hit 6 easily, and he was surprised that the technical scoreboard indicated that at least two judges had found it less than perfect. Years of practice kept the surprise off his face, but the crowd was much more engaged than they’d seemed to be during his own performance. The routine was technically excellent and well emoted, and Victor reluctantly slid back towards the reporters as the routine drew near to an end.
A chorus of reporters waited for him as the door closed behind him, and his hand tightened around Yuuri’s as they descended en masse.
“Did Yuri Plisetsky’s injury affect your skating?”
“Your score was more than six points lower than your skate at Russian Nationals, do you feel like you’ve peaked?”
«Will you be returning to Russia after this competition?»
“Did your marriage last week affect your training time?”
He blinked at them for a split second, then smiled mirthlessly and said, “I have only one mouth and can answer only one question at a time.”
Yakov narrowed his eyes at the reporters and pointed to a reporter he knew was friendlier than most. She stepped forward and said with a crisp British accent, “Your skating was lovely today, Mr. Nikiforov. What was your inspiration?”
Victor let out a breath and smiled genuinely and said, “We call that ‘On Love: Devotion,’ and it was very much inspired by my husband, who has taught me everything about love.” Next to him, he could practically feel Yuuri blushing. “I’m also dedicating my skating during this competition to Yuri Plisetsky, which will annoy him endlessly. I’m hoping the fury it sparks in him will help motivate him to get well as fast as possible.”
The reporters laughed, and one said, “What happened on the combo?”
Victor gave a wry half-smile. “Due to the short time I had for preparation, I based my short program on the choreography I did for my husband. Yuuri’s skating is incredibly powerful, and his… stamina is legendary, and we’d put all the jumps at the end. I’m still working on having enough steam to power through the hardest jumps in the second half. But I’ve only really been intensely training for about five weeks. I feel like I did pretty well, all things considered.”
A roar went up behind them, and they all turned to look at the monitor, where Chris’s scores had posted.
Victor was still on top, but only barely. Victor grinned. “And Christophe just beat his personal best by about nine points. Good for him.”
“His 109.56 doesn’t leave you much advantage going into the free skate,” a different reporter said.
Victor smiled. “Christophe is an amazing, exciting skater, and I’m thrilled as his friend and as a competitor that he’s managed to bring his score up so far. I look forward to seeing what he plans for tomorrow. I like challenges.”
“How is Yuri Plisetsky doing?” someone asked.
Yakov said, “His long-term prognosis is expected to be good, but we’re still deciding the things we will do now. He will be out for the rest of the season.”
“It’s serious, then?”
“He has a broken hip, a broken ankle, and several soft-tissue injuries,” Yakov said.
“Is it true that he was on the ice against your orders?”
Yakov’s eyes narrowed, and he held up a hand while he thought for a moment. “Yuri is fifteen, and growing quickly. I don’t know if you remember being fifteen, but he is not the first and not the last skater to express his frustration on ice and underestimate potential outcomes of skating while injured. And I am not the first or the last coach to fail to…. explain sufficiently the potential for worse injury when he grew six, eight centimeters in six weeks. I would hope that this would spark a conversation about the importance of moderating activity during growth spurts. This was a hard lesson for all of us, and I hope very much the skating community pays attention. It is tempting to say, ‘I tried,’ but I am hoping that we can, all of figure skating, find better ways to handle young athletes. I think all of us are wondering if we could have prevented it.”
Victor said, “Yuri loves skating. I think we all will do what we can to help him back to health.”
Christophe came from the Kiss and Cry then, and the reporters moved over to him.
The three of them looked at each other and Yakov said, “That could have been better.”
“It could have gone a lot worse,” Yuuri said. “I thought you were both really calm.”
A Russian reporter came over and started asking question of Yakov, the camera pointedly not aimed at Victor.
Victor stared at it with a look of mild consternation, then took Yuuri’s hand and walked back to the locker room.
He muttered to Yuuri, “It’s a good thing the Americans and Japanese like me. I think I am glad we will not linger in Russia when we leave.”
“Do you want to go back to the hotel? Visit Yuri?” Yuuri asked.
“Let’s go eat dinner with Yuri and then come back for Mila,” Victor said, shrugging his jacket off. “Help me with my zipper.”
Yuuri smiled, and pulled the zipper across the diagonal of Victor’s back, leaning his forehead against Victor’s shoulder as he did so.
“What, you started without me?”
They looked up to see Chris standing at the end of the locker room.
“Always,” Victor said. “Oh, congratulations! What I saw of your performance was amazing.”
“You’re still in the lead,” Chris said in a deliberately casual tone.
“I’d have to look at the scoring to figure out why—you had the audience eating out of your hand. I practically staggered out of my combo. I know which performance I’m more interested in seeing again,” Victor said.
Christophe leaned against the locker across from them and said, “And still, my best day is just a hair worse than your worst day. You are lucky I am not an envious man, Vitya.”
Victor pulled his arms out of the costume and said, “I need a shower. Do you want to come to the hospital to see Yuri with us?”
“Don’t let me stop you,” Chris said.
“I never have,” Victor said with a sly grin. “But really, Chris, do you want to come with us?”
“I think your little snarling tiger would not be happy to see me,” Chris said.
“We’re not sure he’s even going to be awake,” Yuuri said.
“Even less reason to go. But tomorrow, perhaps, the winner buys drinks, after?” Chris said.
“Trying to get drunk on my money?” Victor asked.
Chris smiled, and said, “Perhaps I’m being generous.”
Yuuri snorted. “Either way, you won’t lose.”
Chris made an expansive gesture with his hand. “Exactly.”
• • •
Yuri was just awake enough to talk to them, but not awake enough to be rude (or remember that they’d been there at all). They sat with Otabek and Yuliya and watched through a few of the short programs on YouTube.
Georgi’s short program was better technically than it had been at earlier events, but lacked the passion, and he’d scored in the low nineties. Emil had landed four quads (two toe loops, a Salchow, and a loop) but suffered on his presentation and GOE scores.
Yuliya seemed confused, and Victor said, “It’s not enough to go up in the air and turn around a lot and land. He was basically skating from jump to jump with no transitions. His footwork was sloppy and his ‘inhuman’ theme is nonsense if he wants to actually get the judges on his side and get the PCS up. He’s three years and a love affair away from actually being competitive with the top skaters.”
She laughed at that. The next skater was Michele. Otabek spoke up then and said, “If you do not mind, I would prefer to skip his. I know his score, and that is enough.”
“He skated beautifully at Rostelcom,” Yuliya said.
“He is an upsetting and unpleasant person,” Otabek said. “I do not like how he treats his sister.”
“What was his score?” Yuliya asked.
“85 something,” Yuuri said.
They skipped ahead to Victor’s performance. Yuliya kept glancing at Victor and finally couldn’t help saying, “Why did you keep wincing so much? It’s beautiful!”
Yuuri explained, “He knows he can do better. When he’s rested and not worried, he has a little more energy, and that energy is the difference between a good performance, which this was, and the great performance he feels like he should be capable of. Even though literally anyone else having as much stress as he’s had in the past two months would have probably fallen flat on their faces today.”
“See, that one was just sloppy,” Victor said. “I was tired and they could see it.”
“And you still outscored everyone,” Otabek said.
“A handful of people beat that score last year,” Victor said. “I beat that score last year. I want to see Chris skate.”
They moved on to Chris’s performance.
“I wish we could have seen the whole thing there,” Yuuri said.
“You were right next to the rink?” Yuliya said, and then gasped at Chris’s first huge jump.
“For part of it,” Victor said. “We had to clear the area and got snagged by reporters.”
“I love how deep his edges are there,” Yuuri said, as the step sequence began.
“He really nailed this,” Victor said. He glanced down at his phone, where he’d pulled up the judges details. “Why on earth did they mark his GOE below a 2 on those jumps? They were better than mine.”
“Your entry was harder,” Yuuri said.
Victor made an annoyed huff and waved his hand. “Judges. Ridiculous. Oh, and his PCS should have been points higher. That performance should have beaten mine today.”
“You had harder jumps, later in your program,” Yuliya said. “Even I know that affects a lot.”
“It’s pretty much impossible to skate a harder short program than Vitya did,” Yuuri said. “Until they allow quad-quads in the short program, or quad Axels, the quad Lutz-triple loop, quad flip, triple Axel is as hard as it gets. There’s only so much room in the other components—ultimately it’s going to come down to who can do those things in an order that allows them to land everything beautifully and still skate an appealing program in the transitions. So he bobbled on the hardest possible program, and Christophe soared on a merely very, very difficult program, and they rewarded the daring. And they did ding Victor hard on his PCS. But his base value was five points higher, and that matters.”
“Not so much if I can’t stay steady on that landing,” Victor said, looking annoyed with himself.
Otabek rolled his eyes. “I don’t know whether to be annoyed or relieved to see him so hard on himself.”
Yuuri laughed. “Same, though.”
“You’re going to outscore me at Four Continents,” Victor said. “You’re steadier on that Lutz combo, and your arm positions have been more complex than mine.”
“Assuming I get some concentrated practice time,” Yuuri said.
“Yakov has time for you in the morning,” Victor said. “You get to spend all day at the rink while I sleep.”
“I’m more worried about the fact that Goldie was hinting to Yakov that he wanted us in the States when our ad comes out, for interviews.”
“Ten days before 4CC? Even with a private jet, that would be hard,” Victor said. “Not impossible, though. It would be very good for your brand.”
“Not yours?” Yuliya asked Victor.
“Mine matters less,” Victor said. “Yuuri is on the cusp of becoming a household name, and that is where the sponsorship money comes pouring in.”
“Isn’t it already?” Yuuri asked.
Victor laughed. “You’ve basically recouped your career costs at this point, or what your costs would have been if you’d had to pay normal fees for the amount of rink time you used in Hasetsu. I mean, it was your parents paying the money, over the course of two decades, and you’ve recouped that in about six months, so it’s not too bad. But the more money you bring in while people are talking, the less you need to make them talk when you’re done.”
“You say that like he didn’t just marry a rich man,” Otabek said dryly.
Victor laughed. “I have money because I have some media savvy. And the things I want to do with my money… having more money would let me do more of them.”
“Like what?” Yuliya asked.
Victor smiled. “It’s a surprise. Anyway, I will leave it up to you, Yuuchan. If you are willing to go to America, it would be okay with me. If not, so be it.”
“You can probably take the plane,” Yuliya said. “I’ll be in Japan, and our schedule is clear right now.”
“I think I slept better on that plane than I have anywhere else while traveling,” Yuuri said. “But how much does a trip like that cost you?”
She shrugged. “My father is a billionaire.”
“How many billion whats?” Otabek asked.
She entered some numbers on her phone, and said, “What currency?”
“Rubles,” Victor said.
“I don’t know, Wiki says something between 300 and 400 billion?” she said. “After the first hundred billion, it doesn’t really matter.”
“That’s over a trillion Tenge,” Otabek said.
“Yen are about double the rubles,” Yuuri said. “So maybe five, six billion US?”
She shrugged. “Something like that. More than enough to cover a plane to the States and back without missing it.”
“You know we could figure out who he is from that,” Otabek said.
Yuliya sighed. “Of course you could. Madame Baranovskaya knows exactly whose daughter I am. You trust me enough to let me in, and maybe I can trust you, too.”
“We’re going back to the rink to watch Mila later, do you want to come with us?” Yuuri asked.
She glanced at Yuri, still drugged and out of it on the other bed. “I might go watch, but I don’t dare sit with you. You know the cameras will be on you, and that people from Russia will be looking. I don’t want people curious about me.”
Victor nodded. “I can understand that.”
• Victor and Yuuri •
They got back to the rink in time for the third group of skaters, and Dr. Bernard’s Miri, who finished up in the middle of the pack but seemed delighted by her score, a personal best.
Goldie sat down next to them before the last group, and said, “If you can get to the US on the night of February 3rd, I can get you on three talk shows the next morning and two late night shows that will air that night.”
Victor said, “I would need to renew my visa.”
“Well,” Goldie said, “if you can’t, we might be able to do a satellite appearance on two of them.”
“We will see,” Victor said. “Yuuri’s competition is the priority. But we would have a ride.”
“You make it sound like a car pool,” Goldie said.
“A plane pool?” Victor said. “I’d say it is not often that we are offered the use of a private jet, but it has been happening a fair amount lately. I do not mind.”
Yuuri snorted. “You say that like it is an imposition.”
“Do not underestimate the costs of free things,” Victor said. “It is probably fine.”
• • •
Sara skated cleanly and beautifully, but her difficulty was eclipsed by Mila, who landed a clean triple Axel late in her program after an emotional, clean skate with a triple flip combination and a triple Lutz in the second half.
“Has she landed the Axel before in competition?” Yuuri whispered to Victor.
Victor shook his head. “She’s been nailing it in practice, though. With the height she gets, she could do a quad toe, or maybe a Salchow.”
A moment later, Victor said, “She doesn’t need it,” as the scores went up, and the crowd roared. Not quite a world record, Mila’s score was still ten points ahead of Sara, who was in turn six points ahead of the bronze medalist.
They stayed through the medal ceremony, gave Mila her congratulations, and then headed back to the hotel to collapse by 10:30, silencing everything on their phones since they would not need to be awake early.
• 28 January 2017 •
In the morning they woke, snuggled sleepily for a little while before ordering room service for breakfast, and so it was not until they had coffee that they finally picked up their phones.
“Oh shit,” Yuuri said at the stack of notifications, missed calls, and missed messages.
It was Victor who found the salient news article first. “Maybe we won’t try to fly to the US,” he said, showing Yuuri the news of the chaos in airports around the world.
Yuuri stared. “I mean, they probably won’t give us trouble?”
“Do you feel lucky?” Victor said. “Could we afford that kind of delay?”
“You honestly think they’re going to go after anyone coming in on a private jet?” Yuuri asked.
“I’m starting to feel like maybe hurrying to get married was the smartest thing we could have done,” Victor said.
“You were questioning it?” Yuuri asked.
Victor reached out without looking away from his phone, and pulled Yuuri close. “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s just that now we look psychic, rather than like fools in love. I would have married you in Barcelona if you would have agreed to it. This is insane, they did this thing while people were in the air!”
The travel ban was a background buzz everywhere they went that morning, including the hospital.
• Yuri and Yakov •
Yuri was groggy from antihistamines and painkillers when they took him back for another MRI late Saturday morning.
Yakov and Otabek were there again. Otabek talked to him through the process, low and calm, talking about Almaty and Niagara Falls and Morocco, describing places that Yuri had never seen in person.
Dr. Bernard watched the images come up on the screen, and Yakov could tell the moment the hip came up that the news was not great, as the doctor sighed, resignation written all over him. They waited for the rest of the scan to finish, and then the doctor leaned over the tech’s shoulder to point to the relevant parts.
“The little piece here,” Dr. Bernard said, “is farther than it was when we first scanned it. He’s going to need surgery as soon as you get to Japan. It is very painful to have the broken piece move against the tissues.”
“Will it hurt his chance to heal properly to wait until Monday?” Yakov asked. “Our current plan is to be on a private jet as soon as the banquet finishes. We will be in Japan in the afternoon on Monday.”
“Leave after the exhibition. I will put a word in to see if your skaters can be early in the lineup, so that you can leave as early as possible. And we will make sure that his transport does not worsen things.”
“The flight itself?” Yakov asked.
“The vibration could be very painful. We cannot send him sedated without proper medical personnel. I must be in France on Tuesday, or I would consider going myself.”
“I will discuss it with our host for the flight,” Yakov said. “They may have a suggestion.”
• Yuri •
Back in the room, Yuri swam back to full awareness to find Yakov deep in discussion with Katya and Stefan.
“What did I miss?” he asked, his voice rough.
“We are making arrangements to leave Sunday,” Yakov said. “It is a little complicated.”
“I thought we were going on Monday?” Yuri said.
The door opened behind Yakov as he said, “The doctors want you in surgery as soon as possible. Monday morning. That means leaving Sunday afternoon.”
Victor stopped in the doorway. “Surgery?”
“We knew it was likely that he would need it,” Yakov said dismissively.
“I thought this was something that could get better with rest,” Victor said. “They were going to look and he was going to be better.”
“The bone piece moved farther from the hip,” Yakov said. “If he wants to skate again, he needs surgery, and he needs it soon. He is growing too fast and the ligaments get shorter when they are not stretched.”
“Does he need to go now?” Yuuri asked. “We could find another way to Japan.”
Yakov shook his head. “The doctor cannot meet us at Fukuoka before Monday morning. We should have enough time for the exhibition, but we will leave immediately after.”
Victor was leaning against the wall, staring at Yuri.
“What?” Yuri growled at him.
Victor shook his head, and plastered a smile on his face. “Nothing.”
“Liar,” Yuri said. “If it’s nothing, quit staring at me. Don’t you have a competition to win?”
Victor stared at Yuri. “What?”
“You are skating this evening. You should go prepare,” Yuri said. “Win gold, the usual.”
“Mila won gold for you last night,” Otabek said. “It was very touching. She landed the triple Axel.”
“She won for herself,” Yuri said.
“I’m pretty sure I heard her give an interview where she said, ‘Yuri Plisetsky couldn’t be here, so I wanted to go for the triple Axel in his honor,’” Otabek said.
“She’s been very worried,” Yuuri said.
“We all are.” Victor’s voice was low and quiet.
“The last thing I need is a bunch of clucking hens,” Yuri said, his voice petulent. “I’m tired. Get out. Where is Lilia?”
“She will be here a little later,” Yakov said. “Otabek needs to go practice with Yuuri-san. Can your friend stay?”
Katya said, “She’s gone to get lunch, but I’ll stay for now.”
• • •
The room went from tense to empty shockingly quickly, with Victor heading back to the hotel, Yakov heading over to the other rink with Otabek, and Yuuri and Stefan heading back to the plane.
Yuri let out a shuddering breath, and Katya said, “You know this is temporary, right?”
He stared at her, and she continued, “It’s hard and it’s going to be hard for a while, but a year from now it’s going to be this distant memory that feels like another lifetime. No one in history has had a better shot at getting completely better than you do.”
“I hate the way they all worry. I have never seen Victor look like that.”
“He cares. Is that so hard to believe?” Katya went over to her leather messenger bag and pulled out a tablet. “If you’re awake enough, you could do homework.”
“I… it hurts so much. But I’m afraid of the drugs,” Yuri said. “And I itch.”
“Afraid?” Katya asked.
“Addiction,” Yuri said. “I’m afraid I’ll want them.”
“Do you like how they make you feel?” Katya asked.
He shook his head. “It feels like I can’t control myself. Like I can’t help saying words I don’t want to say. I hate it.”
“If you didn’t hurt, would you take it anyway?” Katya asked.
He shook his head.
“Then I don’t think you need to worry about addiction. If you find yourself craving it and wanting it when you don’t need it, then we worry. But the risk of taking pain medication for an injury and having that turn into an addiction is much lower than they would have you believe. You are surrounded by people who care about you, you have a support system and a reason to want to not be drugged. I think you will be fine. Keep telling yourself, ‘This is temporary.’ Because it is.”
• Victor •
The problem with the cuttlefish metaphor was that the damn things lay in wait, and reached out their tentacles at the worst possible moments. And knowing they were there, waiting, had Victor on guard, a portion of his energy simply reserved in wariness, because every time he let down his guard, his mind was back in the hospital, seeing Yuri limp, seeing him crumple on the ice, the weight of his shoulders against Victor’s arm.
Yuuri’s arm around his waist was steadying, but out on the ice it was harder. And not consistently harder. The early warmup was fine. Skating out with his group was not.
“Vitya?” Yuuri said, looking worried, as Victor grimly slid his skate guards back on.
Victor sighed, and looked over at Yuuri. “You really skated like this?”
Yuuri wrapped Victor in a sudden hug. “Never in a million years would I wish that on you.”
“The damn cuttlefish are sneaky as hell.”
“It’s been better, lately,” Yuuri said. “You help make it better.”
They walked back out of the public areas to wait for Victor’s turn. “I just keep seeing him,” Victor said.
“He’s going to be okay. And you’re going to be okay,” Yuuri said. “I… When we get to Japan, maybe you should see someone?”
“You think I could find someone who speaks English or French or Russian well enough?” Victor asked.
“In Fukuoka, definitely,” Yuuri said. “I’ll ask Minako if she has suggestions. It sounds a lot like PTSD.”
“Does it not affect you the same way?” Victor asked. “How he was hurt?”
Yuuri shrugged. “It doesn’t matter how it affects me. I think coping with anxiety is like exercise. You can get better at it, but it takes practice, and it’s also a muscle that can be overused, injured. You were scared for him, are still scared for him, because you care about him. You held him in your arms while he went into shock, and I didn’t. You’ve known him for years, and I care, but I have not been so close.”
“I’m not used to being so vulnerable,” Victor said with a wry smile.
“Just remember the story you want to tell,” Yuuri said. “It’s a lot easier to focus on something else than it is to focus on worrying about worrying.”
“Does that help?” Victor asked.
Yuuri laughed. “I’m the champion of worrying about worrying, but yeah, what carried me through at Nationals was a deep need to say what I needed to say to you, about us… It was the first time I really stopped worrying about proving myself and focused completely on telling the story. But I also hadn’t just gotten married or watched someone I care about get badly injured.”
“Vitya,” Yakov said, and they both looked up. “It’s time.”
Yuuri squeezed his hand, and followed them rinkside to stand with Yakov and watch Victor skate out onto the ice.
• • •
The opening clarinet and cello drew Victor into the routine, and the first rise in the music brought his largest jump, which he played safe and landed well. To the audience, it was perfect. To those who had been watching him skate in practice, it was… almost staid, if a quad Lutz triple loop combo could be said to be staid.
The story. Tell the story, Victor thought. Up into a solid, graceful quad Sal, the Russian storm building with violin, footwork leading into a quad flip where the intensely difficult entry wasn’t quite enough to offset the lack of fluidity on landing.
Then the step sequence, and his best chance at communicating his love to the audience, his feet a blur, finding Yuuri on the sidelines for a moment and smiling before moving on.
The triple Axel came with the music at peak, the wind (and woodwind) in a furious whirl with the violins, a blustering wall of sound that was supposed to culminate in a soaring quad toe loop…
That he barely landed. The audience’s gasp was all the more striking for the quiet in the music that followed. The lull had him less curling gracefully into the quiet bliss of his lover’s arms, and more staggering in from the cold as he remembered the storm that was Yuri, rising, falling, not getting up again.
It was only his long experience that kept him moving through the choreographic sequence that marked the beginning of the second half. He let himself arch into the layback Ina Bauer, not quite as low as Yuuri often got, but it still gave him this moment of respite, as he moved through the other expressive elements, he tried to communicate this idea of sudden safety, the feeling of their quiet apartment.
He was starting to feel okay again when the music started to rise again and he went up in his second combination. It was supposed to be a triple flip and triple toe, but he felt himself involuntarily doubling the second jump, and landing with a decided lack of grace.
Enough, he thought, visualizing cuttlefish, squids, and octopuses flying off of him as he moved into the spin. A momentary fancy of one of them with googly eyes waving its tentacles desperately as it sailed through the air had him smiling as he came out of the spin.
This is my life with Yuuri, he thought. We battle our demons and draw upon each other’s strengths.
He rose up into a triple Lutz, strong and graceful, not the most complicated jump he’d ever done, but it felt high and strong and it occurred to him that he actually did have enough left that maybe in another competition, he might slip a fifth quad in, there, in the back half, and surprise everyone.
That propelled him into the three jump combo—triple Axel, loop, triple Salchow, solid and steady once more.
Then the final spins, which started as a complex tangle of his own limbs that almost implied a partner, and ended in a upright spin, settling out with the final notes first looking down with arm extended, and then looking, reaching, palm up, for his husband.
A few minutes later, they sat, Yakov on one side of Victor and Yuuri on the other.
“Victor,” Yakov started.
«I know,» Victor said under his breath. «I was distracted, and sloppy. It won’t happen at Worlds.»
Yakov coughed and said, «I was going to say that in the face of all that has been going on, and how rough your practices have been, that watching you keep your head and stay on your feet through that performance was actually quite moving.» He switched very deliberately to English. “There was more emotion in the worst of it than in your so-called best performances. I credit Yuuri-san.”
Victor turned, and wrapped an arm around Yuuri, then looked back at Yakov. “Yes, I do, too.” He switched to Japanese and said softly to Yuuri, 「I wish I gave you more honor in my skating. It will be perfect next time.」
“Sarumokikaraochiru,” Yuuri said back.
Victor looked perplexed and said, “I do not think I know that one. Did I hear tree?”
Yuuri laughed, and said, “It translates to ‘Even monkeys fall from trees.’ Or, everyone makes mistakes. You are brilliant, and that was lovely to watch, and I can’t wait to see what you do next.”
The score came up, and they gave a sigh of relief. It was off his highs by a not unexpected margin, but still higher than any of the remaining skaters had ever done before.
• • •
It wasn’t enough.
He barely cleared 200, and had no question where the points had been deducted. The PCS was low in the way that judges might punish a skater for underperforming, and he could feel the rebuke. His combined 311.77 might have won any other European championship, but for Christophe, who had taken his existing program and upgraded his triple flip into a quad. Chris landed it neatly, and while he had a less than graceful landing between his quad toe-double toe later, he managed to save the combination. His 205 and change brought his total to 315.10, sailing neatly past Victor.
Christophe looked stunned when the scores came up.
“Why isn’t he happier?” Yuuri asked Victor as they made their way back toward the Kiss and Cry. “He beat his personal best?
“I don’t know,” Victor said, as they watched Chris’s coach grin and wrap an arm around Chris’s shoulders, while Franz planted a kiss on Chris’s cheek.
A horde of reporters descended upon all of them then, and they did not get a chance to speak with the other skater.
“How do you feel with your first silver in more than half a decade?” one reporter asked.
Without really thinking about it, looking over at Chris, Victor said, “It will match my hair.”
“How does it feel to lose to Christophe Giacometti?” another reporter asked.
“Chris skated beautifully. I’m very happy for him,” Victor said.
“Is this the end for you?” another one asked.
At that Victor turned to look at the reporter. “You do understand that while I love skating, there have been other things happening in my life. I expect that by Worlds, things will hopefully be calmer, and I will be less preoccupied.”
A familiar Russian reporter’s voice said, «Did your marriage to Katsuki Yuuri undermine your ability to concentrate on your performance?»
Victor’s eyes narrowed as he said, «Were it not for my husband, I doubt I would have been able to take the ice, I was so upset. He did not cost me gold, he helped win me silver. Without my husband, I doubt I would be skating at all. I do not even know if I would be alive without him. No. He did not undermine me. Russian terrorists bombing people I care about undermined me. A friend getting hurt undermined me. Relentless negativity from the Russian press undermined me. My husband is why I still breathe.»
And with that, keeping his fingers firmly entwined with Yuuri’s, Victor worked his way through the crowd and back into the locker room.
Georgi was there and pulled them to a nearly private nook in the back of the locker room, where he said to Yuuri, “You should make him sit down for a few minutes and get calm. I heard him from back here.”
“Are you okay?” Yuuri asked Georgi, as Victor sat down and took a deep, rough, sighing breath.
Georgi shrugged. “Tenth is not too bad to end my career on. But it is definitely time for me to move on.”
“Where will you go?” Victor asked, looking up.
“I think I will travel,” Georgi said. “I might come see you in Japan, later, but I won’t be training. I have some money set aside.”
“You are always welcome in Hasetsu, Georgi,” Yuuri said.
“Please,” Georgi said. “Call me Zhora.”
“Zara,” Yuuri said, not hitting the initial sound correctly.
Georgi smiled and said, “Yes, perfect. Now help him calm down, and I will make sure no one disturbs you.”
• • •
By the time the medals were awarded, Victor was calm and smiling again.
He stepped up and graciously accepted the silver medal, even holding it up to show how well it matched his hair, a self-deprecating smile on his face.
When they stepped down to the ice for a photograph together, Victor wrapped his arm around Chris’s shoulder. “Your dream came true, you finally took the gold.”
Chris’s smile went brittle, and broke as soon as the cameras were off. “You think I wanted to win on a day you faltered? When you were struggling harder than I’ve ever seen? I did not defeat you today, Victor. You defeated yourself. I simply made off like a crow with a coin on a battlefield.”
“You think too little of yourself,” Victor said. “You put up your two best performances of your life, you skated beautifully, and it was a privilege to watch. You were truly the better skater.”
“We both know that if Yuri had not hit his growth spurt and been injured, you would have beaten both of us, fully confident,” Chris said. “Don’t get me wrong, I will absolutely cherish this medal, but it was not won in the way I’d hoped to win it.”
“Your flip was beautiful. And it won you the competition,” Victor said. “Think of it, Chris. You beat me with my own jump.”
At that, Chris smiled, sly and sultry. “I did, didn’t I?”
“I never thought you’d be such a lousy winner,” Victor said. “I suppose you’re going to complain about buying me a drink”
“I’ll buy one for Yuuri, too, if he’ll drink it,” Christophe said. He turned. “Emil? How about you?”
Emil was still staring, astonished, at the bronze medal on his chest.
“I think he’s still in shock,” Victor said, amused.
• Yuuri •
It occurred to Yuuri at the bar that the only times he’d ever seen Victor get really drunk were when he was upset.
He asked Chris about it, watching Victor poking at Emil’s bronze metal, and Chris stared at him for a long moment before saying, “You’re only figuring that out now?”
Yuuri snorted. “It’s taken you this long to figure out that I’m really not very good at any of this?”
“I mean, you’re pretty good for him,” Chris said, as Emil looked more and more confused by Victor’s antics. “And he’s obviously great for you. But I’m still trying to figure out how two such completely oblivious people ever managed to become such amazing artists on the ice.”
Victor sloshed back over toward Chris and said, “It’s the grav… gravitas…”
“You have about as much gravitas as a radish right now, Vitya,” Chris said.
“Gravity!” Victor said. “Is… hmmm… astrophysics.” Alcohol had thickened his accent and slowed his words.
Yuuri and Chris looked at each other, baffled, and then Chris said, “Victor, is it possible you’ve had too much to drink?”
“Look,” Victor said. “Is like… Yuupiter. Thick atmosphere. Strong gravity. Hyuuuuge electromagnetic field.” Victor grabbed a tumbler full of half melted ice that had previously contained scotch. He held up the glass and then picked up a little pickle from a bowl on the table.
“Most things, they come—” Victor brought the pickle near the glass—“and they go, pshew!” He orbited the pickle around the glass and then swung his arm wide away from the glass.
Chris wiped a drop of brine off his cheek and said, “I’m missing something, and you’re drunk.”
“Yes, exactly,” Victor said. “Most things, they swing wide round Yuupiter. Maybe they orbit. Maybe they go wide. Maybe they bounce off atmosphere.” He bumped the pickle against the glass.
“Pshew?” Chris asked.
“Da,” Victor said. “But gravity is strong. Once things orbit? Things always orbit. Never leave. Get too close? Never part.”
“You’ve lost your articles, Victor,” Chris said.
“Information is like this,” Victor said, and tried to drain the last of the liquid from the ice. “Needs more booze.”
“I’m pretty sure it does not need more booze,” Yuuri said.
Chris suddenly let out a barking laugh and said, “Victor, are you saying that you two are both such geniuses on the ice because you’re so dense that once you learn something, you never lose it? Because of gravity?”
Victor pointed at him with a wide, delighted grin. “See? This is why I adore you, Chris!”
“So once you two started orbiting each other…”
Victor picked up a second glass and stared at the two glasses in his hand. “These are a terrible metaphor.”
“Once we started orbiting each other, the mutual attraction meant that it was pretty unlikely that either of us would ever find an exit trajectory,” Yuuri said.
“Yuuri tried,” Victor said.
“Not really,” Yuuri said. “I like being with you.”
“Even when I can’t tell my story?” Victor asked.
“I never needed gold from you,” Yuuri said. “Your story isn’t about winning. It’s about loving. And you told that story.”
Victor leaned over and said in a stage whisper, “Can we go back and fuck now?”
Yuuri did a spit take with his club soda. Chris looked delighted, and said, “Phichit is going to be so upset that he missed this.”
Turning scarlet, Yuuri said, “Victor, I think our orbits need to carry us up to the hotel room. To sleep. We’re skating tomorrow.”
So I took my kid to get crutches and he balked, hard. So he spent most of the day hopping around with a walker like some spritely geriatric Monopod. Late this evening, he was loaned a too-large knee scooter, and was every bit the menace I thought he'd be.
Saith he, "I can't believe I get to practice driving when I'm FIVE." (It's three wheels with a hand brake and no motor, so the one-legged equivalent of a Flintstones car, but I'm not going to disabuse him of the notion. It's good for him to learn
three five sevennine point turns, and less likely to result in catastrophe than the hopperwalker.
• 29 January 2017 •
In the morning, Yuuri packed most of their stuff, requested a wake-up call for Victor, stretched, and then jogged over to the arena from the competitors’ hotel while Victor slept off his hangover. The rink had a few skaters warming up for the rehearsal for the exhibition.
It felt good to be on the ice with so few people around. He let himself move through hydroblades and spins. He was aware of the other skaters on the ice, but only enough to avoid them as he moved. When there was a wide clear area in front of him, he jumped, going up strong and solid into a quad flip, landing, going up again in a quad toe loop for the hell of it, coming back down and going up into a triple loop after, and another triple loop after that. He glided out of it, smiling, and suddenly noticed the hush that had come over the room.
“Holy shit, Katsuki,” Emil said over the rail.
“I know, right?” Victor said next to him. “Yuuchan! Don’t wear yourself out before the skate!”
Yuuri laughed. “You know I can do more quads than that.”
“It’s too bad you can’t do that in competition,” Emil said, a strange look on his face.
“I mean I can, but the last one wouldn’t count,” Yuuri said, skating over to Victor. “How’s your head?”
Victor laughed. “I’m fine. I took the medicine you left. Thank you for the wake-up call.”
Yuuri smiled, and said, “Do you know the planned order?”
“We’re probably very early,” Victor said. “Yakov wants to leave pretty much as soon as we step off the ice.”
Chris skated over from the other side of the rink, and said, “So, Yuuri, can I post your jump combination?” He held out a phone with a video, paused.
Yuuri tapped the screen, watched himself jump, and said, “I guess, if you want.”
“How many quads can you do in a row?” Chris asked.
“When he practices, I’ve seen him do twenty in a day,” Victor said. “And he hasn’t gone from one to the other without a step. But as individual jumps, I’ve seen him do fifteen with very little break in between. He’s never done them in combination before that I’ve seen, though.”
Yuuri blushed. “I just had a lot of momentum and it felt good. I think I’d be too nervous to do that in competition.” He glanced at Victor. “Stop choreographing quad quads for me in your head.”
Chris snorted. “He’s got your number, Vitya.”
“He’s got my everything,” Victor said with a dreamy sigh.
“Just when I forget for a split second that you two are newlyweds…” Chris took his phone back and started entering text.
“I checked us out,” Victor said to Yuuri. “Our stuff is already on the plane. Thank you for packing.”
“You needed sleep,” Yuuri said, “and I seem to recall you packing for me not too long ago.” He looked down at their fingers laced together over the rail. “I meant it when I said I wanted to learn how to take care of you the way you take care of me.”
Victor gave him a wide grin and a happy sigh—then a shadow passed over his face. “I keep expecting Yurio to be yelling at us when we’re happy. What a strange thing to miss.”
Yuuri reached up and cupped Victor’s cheek. “He’ll be okay, and back to yelling at us sooner than later.”
“I feel so foolish, being so upset,” Victor said.
“I don’t think it can be foolish to care,” Yuuri said. “Come skate with me.”
• Yakov •
It had taken some doing, but Yakov had persuaded the event coordinator to put Yuuri and Victor after the opening number and Mila after that, and release them from any further obligation to the event. He was watching them run through their parts in the practice session when Goldie showed up at his side.
“Don’t they usually put the gold medalists toward the end?” Goldie asked.
“We need to be in Japan as early as we can in the morning,” Yakov said, his eyes on the skaters. “We’re stopping in St. Petersburg on the way, just long enough to load some cargo, and the whole trip is going to be close to twelve hours. We’d have skipped the gala entirely except that it would cost them so much. So leaving early will get us to Japan at about ten in the morning, even with one of the fastest private planes.”
“And you don’t want them docked for missing the exhibition?”
“Exactly,” Yakov said.
• • •
Yakov spent the second half of the morning making sure that everything was set to move Yuri safely. A nurse would be coming along to help him on the plane, she’d be taking a commercial flight back. Any one of his injuries would have made flying challenging, but the combination of injuries and the need for continued medication best administered via IV meant that everyone felt safer with someone medically trained on board.
The problem was that the pain was persistent and hard to work around. Yuri would expend enormous energy trying not to move, which would end up tightening muscles that connected to the problem areas, pulling the jagged bit of bone farther away from the place it was supposed to anchor. So the more he fought to stay still, the worse the pain got, but if he moved, sharp pain would cut in to the ever-present burn. The medication sapped the fight out of him and stopped the tension, so keeping him medicated was not just a comfort, but a medical necessity. The more things tightened, the shorter the hamstring pulled, the harder it would be to do an effective repair. In Japan, a transport team would be waiting, to take him directly to surgery. Dr. Nakajima already had every scan.
In Yuri’s room, Otabek sprawled wearily on the second bed, dark circles under his eyes.
“How was he last night?” Yakov asked.
“He slept, mostly, but they come in often for him, to check, and I wake up for that,” Otabek said. “He gets restless whenever things wear off, and then it hurts.”
“Once the surgery is done, he should have a day or two more of the worst pain, and then they can start to wean him off,” Dr. Janak said from the other side of the room. “The break is near a nerve, and it’s quite inflamed. But take the irritant away from that nerve, start the bone healing, it should get better quickly. If he follows instructions.”
• Yuuri and Victor •
After the rest of the exhibition skaters moved off the ice, Victor moved onto it, while Yuuri hung on the sidelines. They both wore their simple long-sleeved silk tops and the trousers they’d worn for their wedding.
As the tenor began singing “Somewhere Only We Know,” Victor echoed Yuri’s role from the wedding skate, spread eagles leading into hydroblades, substituting a high, airy double flip at “I’m getting old,” getting a chuckle at the drastically downgraded jump from those who knew the difference.
As the chorus began, Yuuri had moved into position, ready for the spotlight to shift. As the second verse began and the light found him, Yuuri didn’t follow Otabek’s part exactly, but instead let all his emotions about all of the good and all of the bad that had been happening flow into his skating. The fallen tree was Yuri, lying on the ice, and he let the shock and worry show as he started with a hydroblade and moved into Ina Bauers, thinking of Russia as the alto sang, “Is this the place we used to love.” He marked the end of the verse with a quad flip that sparked a huge response from the audience.
The simple thing was the idea that we could love and be safe everywhere, Yuuri thought, as the chorus began and a second spotlight found Victor. They moved through the girls’ choreography just as Yuri and Otabek had done through the chorus, but they had completely reworked the bridge and the third chorus.
As the bridge began, they began spiraling together, first into a paired camel spin, and then, as they came upright, into a rotational lift, with Victor catching Yuuri’s torso and leg, and Yuuri clinging, head back, as they spun.
They’d tried it a dozen ways in practice, and even attempted a few ridiculously short-lived death-spirals, and while Yuuri could lift Victor just fine and spin, Victor’s position in the air was hesitant at best, while Yuuri had enough practice on the pole to feel reasonably comfortable relying on Victor to stay on his feet while Yuuri arched.
When Yuuri’s feet were back on the ice and the intensity of the chorus was dropping, they moved a little ways apart on the ice, skating together as they’d done so often, rising into side-by-side quad toe loops followed immediately in combination with a triple, and a double, coming out of the third jump and moving almost immediately into a pairs camel spin, their synchronization perfect.
Yuuri thought about Denmark, about moving to Japan. The line came again, “This could be the end of everything.” They spun away from each other, thinking about the why of their rush to marriage, and then moving back into each other’s arms for the last repetitions of “Why don’t we go somewhere only we know,” starting a spin with Yuuri down nearly on one knee holding Victor in position, and then quickly reversing it, with Victor low with bent knee and Yuuri held, a deliberate echo of the back and forth of their proposals. They rose together in an embrace as the music ended.
There was a momentary hush, and then the audience burst into applause. When it settled, the announcer spoke in Czech and then English, to say, “That was silver medalist and past champion Victor Nikiforov and his husband, Yuuri Katsuki, skating a routine performed at their wedding last week and choreographed in part by three little girls. It was originally performed by Yuri Plisetsky and Otabek Altin, with the Nishigori triplets. They say this is dedicated to Yuri Plisetsky, who was injured in practice before the competition began. Next up, your gold medalist in the Ladies competition, Mila Babicheva.”
As they passed Mila, she said, “You two are a hard act to follow.”
“Your skating is beautiful, Mila,” Yuuri said. “You’ll be jumping more than we did. The audience will love it.”
She rolled her eyes, and moved out onto the ice.
Yakov slapped their guards into their hands and said, “There are reporters waiting for you, and I had to promise the ISU that they could have some time with you while she skates, to get them to let you leave early.”
They followed him back to the press area, where they were bombarded by questions.
At first, they couldn’t understand anything, then they realized that pretty much every reporter had posited a different theory about their skate at once.
“Was this about Yuri Plisetsky?”
“Is your skate an indictment of Russia’s hostile environment for gays?”
“Does your skate have anything to do with the American travel ban?”
“Was it about your marriage?”
Yuuri and Victor looked at each other, and then Yuuri leaned forward a little and just said, “Yes.”
One confused reporter asked, “Which one?”
Victor said, “Yes.”
“Could you clarify?” one of the reporters asked.
Yuuri sighed and said, “I skate to tell stories. That skate happened to be about my feelings about our friend’s injury, about getting married, about the fact that the rise of violence against people like us everywhere and current political shifts made it feel like we should get married quickly, because we don’t know if it will be legal anywhere long term. It’s about feeling like the place that we thought we were going to be isn’t the right place for us now, and the fact that we’re about to take ourselves and most of the people we care about to one of the most welcoming places we’ve been together.”
“Are you looking forward to Four Continents?” someone asked.
Yuuri’s grin was sly as he said, “I’ve been working very hard to improve my skating, and I’m looking forward to testing myself against some of the better athletes in the sport.”
“Victor, do you think you’ll win Worlds?”
Victor shrugged. “I’m going to try very hard. With Yuuri around, I really need to up my game. I think right now he’s the strongest skater in the sport. It’s a delightful challenge.”
“Was it a shock to you to lose to Christophe Giacometti?”
Victor laughed. “I think Chris was more surprised than I was. I’m very happy for him. And silver is hardly a loss. It’s more an incentive to improve.”
“Where do you go from here?”
“Japan,” they both said.
Yuuri added, “Yakov is Yuri’s guardian, and the best treatment is an hour from my hometown. It’s easier for him to keep training us if we’re all there.”
“Victor, will you ever return to Russia?”
“Nationals are next winter,” Victor said. “I expect to be there as always. I’d like to skate in one more Olympics.”
• Yakov •
Yakov ushered his skaters back to the lockers and stayed to answer a few more questions.
As the reporters disappeared, Georgi found him.
“You are not packed?” Yakov asked.
Georgi looked at his feet and said, “I’m retiring.”
“Look me in the eye and tell me that,” Yakov said.
Georgi looked up at Yakov, and said, “I’m not improving, and I have other interests I need to pursue that are not compatible with skating.”
Yakov frowned. “Interests?”
“Travel,” Georgi said, but there was a weight to the word that caught Yakov’s attention.
“I suppose you would tell me more if you wanted me to know,” Yakov said.
“You’re not trying to talk me out of it?” Georgie said.
“You know as well as I do that you have a slot on the Worlds team that you’re giving up. I don’t need to tell you that. You know the Olympics are next year, and you could qualify.”
“I don’t want to,” Georgi said. “I… I’ve said what I need to say on the ice.”
Yakov narrowed his eyes. “Be safe. Please. You know you always have a place with us in Japan.”
“Even if I’m not skating?” Georgi asked.
“You could help coach. I have extra skaters now, and I understand we’re likely to get an influx of young skaters at the rink we’ll be at,” Yakov said. “It would be helpful to have someone to take some of the load.”
Georgi took a deep breath in, and said, “I can’t… I can’t right now. But maybe when I’m finished… travelling… If you still want me then.”
“Why wouldn’t I… No, you don’t have to tell me.” Yakov put a hand on each of Georgi’s shoulders. “Listen to me, Zhora. You have a place with us. No matter what.” He put a kiss on each of Georgi’s cheeks and said, “Take care.”
Georgi stared at him for a long moment, and then gave Yakov a bemused smile and said, “Thank you,” before walking away.
• Otabek •
Yuri was given one last dose of heavy narcotics before the medical transport arrived to take them to the airport, and was completely out of it. Otabek saved recordings of the exhibition livestream onto his laptop to distract his friend later. He’d already sent all but their most essential items to the plane that morning, a strange luxury of having it on the ground waiting for them. Yuliya had already gone to the plane when Yakov was dropped off to ride in the transport while the rest of the skaters rode in a towncar to the airport.
Yakov waved Otabek into the back of the transport with Yuri and climbed into the front passenger seat.
The medical technician pointed to a jumpseat near Yuri’s head and then sat on the opposite side, buckling himself in and gesturing for Otabek to do the same. There was another tech in a third jumpseat and the traveling nurse in the fourth.
Yuri’s brow was wrinkled with discomfort as the ambulance bumped on a pothole, and Otabek reached out and put a hand on his shoulder, murmuring to Yuri in Russian, explaining what he was feeling and where they were going.
• Yuliya •
Yuliya had gone back to the plane early, more than ready to be done with the adequate but depressing Czech hospital.
“How are you doing, Yulika?” Ivo asked as she came on board.
“Bummed to miss so much of the event?” he asked. “Katya said you barely saw any of it in person.”
“It felt more important to stay with Yuri,” she said. “I don’t regret going, it’s just hard. But I’ve been alone in a hospital. I wouldn’t leave someone I cared about alone in one if I had a choice.”
He put a hand over hers. After a moment, he took his hand off and said, “Want to help me prep?”
She nodded, and followed him into the galley.
• • •
They left the ground about half an hour after Mila finished skating.
Yuri had been brought on and installed in the back third of the plane, with a giant inflatable pouf being used to slide him over without stress. The nurse briskly secured him to the single bed and stowed a number of supplies in easy reach. She and Yuliya and Otabek occupied the couch across from him.
Yuri opened his eyes and said in slow, slightly slurred Russian, “I’m sorry I’m not good company. These drugs…”
“Not the fun kind?” Yuliya asked.
“Mm,” he swallowed. “No. I… slow. Awful.”
“You are heavily medicated,” the nurse said in heavily accented English. “We need you still and calm for this trip. You should sleep. When we arrive, they will knock you out very soon. Then operate. Then a day, maybe two with very strong meds, then the IV goes, and you take meds by mouth for a while, but they are not so…” She put her hands together and elaborately mimed falling asleep.
“I’ve been sleeping for a week,” Yuri grumbled. “Tired of sleeping. And my hair is gross.”
“I can help with that,” Yuliya said. “When we’re at cruising altitude.”
“Should just cut it off,” Yuri said. “Too much trouble. Fucking hair.”
Yuliya opened her mouth and then closed it again. “If you want, but Stefan will yell if we cut your hair here. Maybe after the surgery?”
Yuri gave a small shrug. “Over it. Hair sucks.”
Otabek said, “Maybe wait until you’re off the heavy drugs to decide anything about your hair.”
“Every time the drugs wear off, I think, ‘I’m tired of dealing with hair,’” Yuri said. “Keep forgetting to say. Just cut it all off, I don’t care.”
He lapsed into silence as the plane taxied out, and was asleep before they took off. As the plane hit a little turbulence, he moaned softly but didn’t wake.
Yuliya pulled out a pack of cards, and dealt a game of rummy onto the space between her and Otabek without comment. He picked up his hand, and she laid down the notepad with their running scores.
“I’ll beat you one of these days,” Otabek said.
“You keep saying that,” Yuliya shot back with a smirk. “And yet.”
• Yuuri •
Victor leaned back and fell asleep in his chair about ten minutes into the flight.
Yuuri sat there, fingers laced with Victor’s, gazing out the window, mind wandering without focus. He didn’t sleep, but he didn’t really notice time passing, either.
Ivo came by with sandwiches, saying, “We’ll have snacks later, after we leave St. Petersburg, and a good breakfast before we land in Japan.” Yuuri ate one-handed without noticing anything about what he was eating.
It was pitch black and moonless as they descended, until they slipped under the cloud cover and the lights reflected purplish orange off the undersides of the clouds.
On the tarmac, a car and a truck were waiting in the cold. As soon as the plane stopped, a flurry of loaders started shifting boxes onto loading carts, and when the airstairs were in place, the car door opened. Mila, on that side of the plane, gasped. Yuuri unbuckled and came to look out her window.
“Yakov? Is that who I think it is?” Mila asked. “Is he coming with?”
Yakov smiled. “It appears so.”
“Does Yuri know?” she asked.
Lilia, sitting across from her, said, “We thought it best not to get his hopes up if we couldn’t sort out the visa, or his health worsened.”
“Oh, there’s Makkachin!” Yuuri said.
Elena got out of the car after the dog, and walked him up to the foot of the stairs. Yuuri rushed forward and stood in the doorway, and Makkachin managed to slip Elena’s grasp to dash up the airstairs and greet Yuuri with paws on shoulders. Katya braced Yuuri to keep him from falling back into the galley.
“Ha, thanks,” Yuuri said, as he snagged Makkachin’s leash. “Settle, Makka, I’m taking you to Victor now.”
He slid past Lilia, who walked down onto the tarmac to say goodbye to her sister.
A moment later, Nikolai climbed slowly up the airstairs, with a bag over one shoulder and a cat carrier in his other hand.
Yuuri walked back to his seat, where Makkachin jumped onto Victor, licking and wiggling until Victor woke up.
Victor promptly burst into tears, tried to bury his face in his dog’s fur (but was thwarted by the fact that Makkachin was far more interested in face licking than face burying), and completely failed to sit up.
As Nikolai passed them, he said, «He has just been walked and done his business. Elena made sure of that.»
“Spasiba,” Victor mumbled around Makkachin’s enthusiasm.
Yuuri sat down, leaned his seat back, and turned to pet the dog.
• Lilia •
«Thank you for bringing them,» Lilia said after hugging her sister.
Elena smiled. «They were no trouble. I’m going to miss them. I’m going to miss you all. How is Yurotchka?»
Lilia sighed. «The injuries will heal, eventually, but he’s been in the worst pain for days.»
«It is hard to see people you love in pain,» Elena said. «How is Minako-san?»
At that, Lilia smiled. «I don’t think either of us has ever been so happy in a relationship. Not even before, with each other.»
«You’ve stopped fighting it, then?» Elena asked.
«Watching those boys get married… watching them essentially thumb their noses at Russia’s backwards—» Lilia sighed. «It’s just been very good. When we’re not panicking about being found out or the professional consequences, we just fit perfectly. I think the problem was always that we did not have enough time. And now? We have time. It is strange, I always felt that I tended to tire of people quickly with too much proximity. But the more I am with her, the better we get along.»
«I’m happy for you,» Elena said. «Invite me to the wedding, please?»
«But they just…» Lilia stopped, and stared at her sister. «That’s not what you meant.»
Elena grinned, her round cheeks dimpling. «I know you swore you’d never marry another man, but well, she isn’t…»
«I have no idea if she’d even want that,» Lilia said. «But yes, if it happens, of course I’ll invite you.»
«Are you ever coming back?» Elena asked, taking Lilia’s hands in hers.
Lilia stared down at her sister’s hands, and said, «I don’t know. Not for long.»
«Are you keeping your place?»
«Stay as long as you like,» Lilia said.
«I really should get back to Rostov,» Elena said. «My grand-nieces ask me every day when I will come back, and the cold…»
«I might…» Lilia stopped, and then said, «If I decide not to come back, could I send you to close my home?»
Minako called from the top of the airstairs, “Li-chan, they’re almost ready to go!”
Lilia put quick kisses on her sister’s cheeks and gave her a long, firm hug, and then climbed back into the airplane.
• Nikolai •
Nikolai stepped quietly into the back cabin, and took a sharp breath in at the lanky boy lying quiet and pale on on a bed, straps across his torso and legs.
He shrugged the bag off his shoulder and Yuliya pointed under the couch, and whispered, «Your bag can go there.»
He held up the cat carrier, and Otabek reached for it.
«Best not let the cat out,» Nikolai said quietly. «He’s upset about the carrier and…»
«We have a cat back in Almaty,» Otabek said. “My mother’s cat would be in the fuselage in a heartbeat.»
«Ah, so you know,» Nikolai said.
«Are you coming with?» Yuliya asked.
Nikolai nodded. «Yakov said that the onsen would be good for me, and that Yuri would be in Japan for a while. My health is not good, but they have doctors there, and maybe with less cold—I would like to spend more time with my grandson, and I think he needs me now.»
«We’ve heard a lot about the onsen,» Otabek said with a small smile. «He really loves Japan.»
Without opening his eyes, Yuri muttered, «Japan yet?»
Nikolai chuckled and said, «Not yet, Yurotchka.»
Yuri turned his head and opened his eyes and blinked. “Dedushka?»
«I’m here, tigrenok.»
«But you’re in Moscow!»
«A kind young man came to get me in a very comfortable car this afternoon, and they needed someone to bring your little Potya on the plane, so I volunteered.»
Yuri stared at him for a long moment. The engines thrummed and whined and the plane started to move.
«You are coming with us?» Yuri’s voice was suddenly very young.
Nikolai smiled. «I heard there are nice hot springs in Japan. And that my best boy would be there for a while, getting better.»
«You brought Potya?» Yuri asked.
Nikolai lifted the carrier and rested it on the rail so that Yuri could see it. Inside, Potya mewed.
Yuri’s breath hitched, and a tear slipped down his cheek.
«Are you hurting?» Nikolai asked, concerned.
Yuri shook his head. «I mean, yes, but I’m happy. How long can you stay?»
«A few months at least,» Nikolai said. «I figure you’re going to need feeding up.»
«Nothing tastes good,» Yuri said.
«Not even pirozhki?» Nikolai asked.
The nurse said, “Best put the cat under the seat until we’re airborne.»
Nikolai nodded, and buckled himself in place.
«I haven’t had one in weeks,» Yuri said. «We were so busy.»
«I’ll feed you one in a little bit,» Nikolai said. «I brought plenty.»
Otabek looked at the nurse and said, “Can Yuri eat something?”
The nurse checked her watch and said, “Anything he’s going to eat has to be eaten in the next hour. He must have an empty stomach for surgery.”
• Yuuri •
Victor managed to sit up for the takeoff, but Makkachin insisted on sprawling across both their laps with his nose plastered against the window. Neither had the heart to make him climb down.
Once they were at cruising altitude, Ivo brought around some of Nikolai’s pirozhkis, and Makka hopped down to sit in front of them and look at them expectantly as they ate.
“Don’t feed the dog pirozhki’s,” Lilia said. “They’ll give him gas, and the airplane is too small.”
“The onions aren’t good for him anyway,” Victor said, “But he looks so hungry… Do we have food for him?”
Ivo came by a few minutes later with a dish on a tray, which he set down in front of the dog. “I figured he might need to eat. We have a crate for him in the back if need be. I minced some of the steak for him.”
“He should be fine right here,” Victor said.
• • •
The food made them sleepy, and everyone reclined their seats after a while—as much as they could with so many people on board. Yuliya wandered through the cabin to curl up in the empty seat across from Mila, leaving Otabek most of the couch. Yuuri looked forward through the middle compartment, Minako and Lilia were leaning toward each other, side by side, fingers interlaced, facing him.
Nikolai had come forward after Yuri had fallen asleep again, to take the seat across from Yakov. Amusingly, they both reclined, hands folded on their chests, hats tipped down over their eyes to block the low lights that kept the cabin from being pitch black. Mila was opposite Yakov.
Mila looked over at Yuliya and said, “Is it usually so full?”
“Never,” Yuliya said. “But it’s fast. I saw you skate, by the way. What a stunning program!”
Mila smiled. “Lilia choreographed it.”
“You brought it to life, though,” Yuliya said. “Can I see you skate in Japan sometimes?”
Mila nodded. “Whenever you like.”
Yuliya smiled, and closed her eyes. “Thank you.”
Yuuri rested his head on Victor’s, and fell asleep.
• 30 January 2017 •
It wasn’t the most restful sleep Yuuri had had on that plane, but was still orders of magnitude more comfortable than flying coach, and when he woke, the sun was rising rapidly ahead of them, sharp and bright in the thin, high air.
Breakfast was delicious, rustic bread picked up the previous day in Ostrava, with cold smoked salmon, soft cheese, and a rich spiced apple compote on the side, served in a bowl over thick slices of shortcake and topped with clotted cream. Katya followed Ivo with coffee and tea, and Yuuri gratefully took coffee with too much real cream and raw sugar. Across from him, he watched Minako order black coffee and then swipe sips from Lilia’s bejammed tea.
He looked down and realized his coffee was disappearing faster than expected and said, “You know you can get your own, Vitya.”
Victor grinned unrepentantly, and said, “But it tastes better when it’s yours. You can have some of my tea if you like!”
Yuuri narrowed his eyes and said, “You’re just lucky I know I can get more.”
• • •
Makkachin was whining by the time they started their descent. Yakov turned in his seat and said, “Our first priority when we land will be getting Yuri off to the hospital. We don’t know how long he’s going to be in surgery and we do not need ten people there waiting. I suggest that most of you go to Hasetsu and get settled. Nikolai and Otabek and I will stay with Yura. Otabek and Yuliya are renting rooms in the hotel near the hospital, and we will take turns sleeping there.”
“I can set up a group chat,” Mila offered. “That way you can tell us when he’s out of surgery and when he’s ready for visitors.”
“Da,” Yakov said. “The rest of you should go rest. We can deal with the jet lag tomorrow.”
“Should we take Potya?” Victor asked. “The cat gets along with Makkachin just fine.”
“How are we getting to Hasetsu?” Victor asked. “We have too much stuff to take the train.”
Yuuri felt a wash of panic like cold water. “I didn’t—”
“Nishigori-san is picking us up in one of the hockey vans,” Minako interrupted. “Papa Katsuki is coming too, in the catering van. Or maybe Mari-chan.”
“Have you ever called him Papa Katsuki to his face?” Yuuri asked, amused.
She laughed. “No, only to your mother when we were talking about the both of you. It’s a long-standing joke between us, but useful enough.”
“I totally forgot to plan for getting our stuff there,” Yuuri said. “How could I forget that?”
“I asked your mother if you’d asked for a ride,” Minako said. “She laughed at me. But you managed to find housing and get your houses furnished and a thousand other details, I didn’t mind taking care of this one.”
“I can’t believe you call him Papa Katsuki,” Yuuri said, shaking his head.
“You’re a married adult now,” Minako said dismissively. “You might even find out that your mother sometimes uses rude language.”
Yuuri paled. “Do I have to?”
Minako grinned. “Absolutely. Look, by the time she was your age, she had a five-year-old child and was about to get pregnant with her second. She’s not that old, and you’re not that young. How much did you swear when you were in the States?”
“Your mother spent a year abroad,” Minako said. “When she was a teenager.”
Yuuri blinked. “Oh.”
“You’re not a kid anymore,” Minako said.
“Just because I got married?” Yuuri asked.
Minako snorted. “That and you’re going to be twenty-five this year.”
Yuuri gaped at her, and Mila laughed. “Yuuri-san, seriously? I’m 18 and I feel like an adult.”
“I felt more like an adult when I was 18 than I do now,” Yuuri said.
They broke through the cloud layer, and began their final descent into Fukuoka.
• Mila •
Mila had been in Japan before, in the spring, for Worlds, but she was completely unprepared for how warm it was in January. She’d started to shrug on her winter coat on the plane, but Minako had stopped her, saying, “It’s 10C out there, you really don’t want to get stuck in that.”
It still didn’t prepare her for stepping off the plane and into a moist, cool breeze that felt like springtime.
She climbed down the airstairs and turned to wait for the rest. Someone tapped her on the shoulder, and she turned to find Mari with a sly half grin. “Take your bag?”
“Thank you!” Mila said, and then caught herself. “Or should I say arigato?”
Mari chuckled and tossed the bag into the back of the catering van. “I mean, you can try. I hear you all speak English, so it all depends on how hard you want to work.”
“I think I’m too tired to try to speak Japanese right now,” Mila said.
“Didn’t you just fly in on the posh-mobile?” Mari asked.
Mila snorted. “It seats 14 and berths five. There were like, eleven of us. Yura was the only one who got to lie down all the way.”
“Yura? Oh! Yurio! How is the little monster?” Mari asked.
Mila frowned. “I don’t think he’s like, going to die or anything, but it really sucks right now.”
Mari stepped forward to direct the baggage handlers to load the cart into her van. She looked back over her shoulder and said, “You can ride with me if you want. We’re stopping at Minako’s first, then Yuuri’s, and then we’ll drop the rest off at Yakov’s new house.”
Mila nodded, and was then distracted by Makkachin nearly dragging Victor down the airstairs in his haste to get out of the plane. Victor was saved by Yuuri snagging an arm around his waist.
Nearly everyone was off the plane when the ambulance team moved forward to carry Yuri out using a special lift.
“Come on,” Mari said. “Hop in.”
Mila spared a last look at her teammate’s bed appearing at the door of the plane, and climbed in.
“We’ve got most of the stuff,” Mari said, as she pulled out. “They’ve got most of the people. Did you clear customs?”
Mila nodded. “They came on the plane. It was very fast.”
“Huh. Nice,” Mari said. “It took forever in Spain.”
“That’s going into the EU. Once you’re in, it’s no trouble,” Mila said, watching the city go by. “I expected it to look more different from St. Petersburg, but the apartments… Warmer here though.”
“Ha, yeah,” Mari said. “Wait until we’re out of the city. And Hasetsu is cute.”
“All the rinks and hotels run together,” Mila said. “I travel all over, but so much of it is alike where we compete.”
Mari nodded. “Ice Castle is pretty different. I mean, the rink itself is still an ice rink, but it’s not like those big stadiums.” She passed through a tollbooth and up onto a high expressway.
“In Russia, there is… our rink is only one of several in the complex. We only use the giant arena for events. Mostly? Practice rink, sometimes children’s rink, sometimes small arena.” Mila yawned.
“It’s just one rink here, but you don’t compete for time so much,” Mari said, then glanced at her side mirror. “Takeshi-san is just behind me. I’ll wake you up when we get to your new home.”
Mila rolled up her coat and leaned against it, half dozing. Over the edge of the barrier that surrounded the high ribbon of road, she could only occasionally see the balconied tops of apartment buildings, so she drifted until they plunged into a dark tunnel, and then emerged into the daylight on the other side.
“Oh! It’s green!” Mila said, looking off to the right.
“What did you expect?” Mari asked, amused.
“Russia is grey and white and maybe brown right now.”
“We don’t freeze very often,” Mari said.
Mila drifted again when the greenery was taken over again by high buildings.
“If you like green,” Mari said after a while, “You should open your eyes.”
Mila looked and found hanging trees and rolling countryside. She sighed. “Is Hasetsu like this?”
“Ha, it’s a little more city than this,” Mari said. “But it’s sleepy and green in a lot of places. And there’s the ocean. Yurio and Victor both said it reminded them of St. Petersburg.”
“Were they homesick?” Mila said softly.
“If they were, they never said,” Mari answered. She tapped her hands on the steering wheel and then reached down without looking to pulled a cheap chopstick out of her bag. Instead of putting it on, she tapped it against her lips.
Mila looked puzzled, and Mari laughed. “I’m trying to quit smoking. I really want one right now.”
“I never tried it,” Mila said. “Yakov threatened to dump any of us if we started. I guess he used to smoke and quit a long time ago.”
“Yeah, I was never an athlete, so no one had anything to threaten me with, but Otaasan said being around the smoke might make it hard for Yurio to get better, and the little runt grows on you.”
“He’s taller than you are now,” Mila said, laughing.
“He’s always going to be little Yurio here. He can’t escape.”
“Fair,” Mila said, and closed her eyes again. “You know he’s not staying with you, right?”
“He’ll be there often enough,” Mari said. “Might as well stop now.”
“You really like him that much?” Mila asked.
“He’s a good kid. I mean, he’s terrible, but he’s my kind of terrible. I was angry like that a lot, and I want to see him get better.”
Mila smiled, and didn’t open her eyes again until they pulled in at Minako’s place.
• Yakov •
The ride to the hospital was short, but Yuri’s brow furrowed at every bump. Yakov put a hand on the boy’s shoulder and leaned over and said, «Soon, Yura. Just a little longer.»
The hospital was clean, brisk, and efficient, and entirely in Japanese. Someone fluent in English was found, who apologized that they did not have a Russian translator available. The translator was a neatly dressed young woman who helped the nurse complete a check on the health history. The travel nurse had handed over her records at the airport, and Yakov had sent everything he had ahead, so there was another apology at the necessity of double-checking all the information.
“I would worry if you didn’t,” Yakov said, gruffly, sitting in a curtained section of a larger ward next to Yuri’s stretcher.
She smiled and nodded and continued.
When she left, Yuri mumbled something, and Yakov leaned over. «I can’t hear you, Yura.»
«Where are we?» Yuri asked, his voice thick and slow.
«At the hospital,» Yakov said.
«I’m sorry, they won’t let you eat until after the surgery,» Yakov said.
Yakov rested a hand on his shoulder. «Soon, Yurotchka. I promise.»
«They went to check into the hotel. They should be back shortly. I sent everyone else to Hasetsu.»
Yakov almost missed it when Yuri said, quiet and low, «Scared.»
«You are in good hands here,» Yakov said.
A few minutes later, Dr. Nakajima came in. Her English was excellent, crisp and precise. “You must be Yakov,” she said, extending a hand.
He shook her hand and nodded.
“I’ve looked everything over,” she said. “Our plan is to anesthetize him and then aspirate the bone marrow we will need. That will be processed to concentrate stem cells and healing factors. While they are doing that, I will make an incision, evaluate the fracture visually, prep both sites to reattach the bone, and if necessary, help the hamstring lengthen a little more easily. I will be using a new polymer clamp or screw to fix the bone, I haven’t decided yet. It will convert into bone over time, and is not metal, which will make it easier for us to continue to evaluate the hip over time. By that time, the bone marrow should be prepared, and I will apply it to help the bone heal faster. We will prep part of the sample further for injection in his ankle joint at the site of the stress fracture there.”
“Is that necessary?” Yakov asked.
“Normally, no. But he’s been skating on a broken bone for weeks, and the inflammation there has caused some bone erosion which could have long-term consequences. It’s small, and most people wouldn’t notice it, and it could heal without intervention, but this will heal it faster while we’ve got him immobilized, and it is something that over time could limit his competitive potential. Also, it probably hurts more than he’s willing to say. If he was anything but an elite athlete, and wasn’t already getting the bone marrow extracted, we would not do this. But since we are already doing it for the ischial tuberosity, we might as well do it for the navicular. It might shorten his cast time for that, which is important. The hip can’t be weight-bearing for two months, and the ankle shouldn’t for at least four weeks normally, preferably longer, but we risk serious muscle degradation if he is inactive for that long.”
“What can we do?” Yakov asked.
“I’m going to recommend isometrics in bed with physical therapy while he is hospitalized, but we’re also going to try a custom built printed cast on his left leg that will unload the foot and ankle, so that he can spend time upright. There will be a custom brace for the hip, as well, to minimize movement. I want him here for a minimum of two weeks, so that we can make sure everything is stable before we move him on to rehab. Inpatient rehab is probably the best option after that, unless proper supports can be provided at home. As soon as we start seeing sufficient healing in the ankle, he’ll be able to get upright on crutches, but given the shoulder issue, we’re going to need to watch that closely. He’ll be able to start walking again in about two months, and should be able to start training again, slowly, in five to six months, depending on how well the bones have healed and if his growth has slowed down.”
Yuri said, “If I’m not mostly done growing in five months, the injury won’t matter.”
“Oh?” she said.
“I’d be too tall for skating,” Yuri said.
“You could switch to pairs,” Yakov said.
Yuri rolled his eyes.
She laughed. “Dr. Janak’s bone studies indicate a probable final height between 180 and 185 cm, approximately, and I concur. As long as you don’t deliberately bulk up your shoulders with weight lifting, you should be fine. Assuming you listen to your rehabilitation specialists and your doctor.”
Yuri was quiet for a moment, and then said, “So I’ll be taller than Victor?”
“At least as tall as,” Yakov said. “Tall skaters have an advantage in PCS.”
“How soon can we start?” Yuri asked. “I’m tired of this hurting.”
“It’s going to hurt for a while, but I think that you’ll find that the pain of injury and the pain of healing are qualitatively different. And we’ll be starting as soon as I go give the okay to my team,” Dr. Nakajima said.
“Then what are you waiting for?” Yuri snapped.
Her eyebrows went up, and then she laughed. “Someone will be in just a few minutes.” She pulled the curtain back a little and leaned to look out. “And that will give you time to talk to your other visitors.”
“Is my grandfather there?” Yuri asked.
“Yes, and another young man. Mr. Altin, if I remember, yes?”
“You follow skating?” Yakov asked.
She smiled. “Since Katsuki-san’s big splash last year, it’s safe to say we all follow it. Sports heroes are professionally interesting to me. There’s a certain… horrified fascination I have for the stresses you put your bodies through. Anyone who deals with bone and joint issues is going to see a great number of athletes.” She gestured for Nikolai and Otabek to come in, and said, “We’ll start very soon.”
• Victor and Yuuri •
As it had been for days, weeks, getting settled in their new apartment involved a whole lot of hurry-up-and-wait. Victor let himself curl around Yuuri on the drive to Hasetsu, taking Nishigori’s teasing in stride. Then a flurry of activity, offloading Minako and Lilia from the hockey van and helping move their things out of the catering van.
With Otabek, Yakov, and Nikolai all still in Fukuoka for Yuri, but most of their things in the vans, it made the most sense for Victor and Yuuri to help unload with Mari and Nishigori at what had quickly been dubbed Yakov’s house. It would be large enough.
Nishigori unlocked the door, and said, “It’s mostly ready.” They followed him in.
“His grandfather will go there,” he said, gesturing to the left as they came in the wide front door. The room was airy and had a single bed, a desk, and a comfortable chair looking out over the tiny front yard. “Over here,” he said, gesturing to the right, “for Yuri.”
The room closest to them already had a workout bench in it, but beyond that they could see a hospital bed and a commode.
“Already?” Victor asked.
“They rent the equipment out by the month,” Yuuri said. “It was easier to just tell them to discuss what would be needed with Dr. Nakajima and have it ready now.”
They put down their loads in the storage room in the back corner of the house, and then Victor and Mari and Nishigori went outside to get another load while Yuuri went upstairs to make sure the rooms were furnished as they should be. Yakov’s large bedroom upstairs and Otabek’s smaller room were both set up as requested.
They finished bringing in the last of it and Victor looked around. “I think they’ll be comfortable here, Yuuri. It’s amazing.”
“Bigger than my apartment,” Nishigori said with a laugh. “We’re all in one bedroom.”
“It’s not that bad,” Yuuri said.
“I’ve seen the apartment you two are moving into,” Nishigori said with raised eyebrows. “Please don’t tell me my apartment isn’t small.”
They walked back out to the vans to find Mari moving the few remaining bags into the ice rink’s vehicle. “No need for me to come downtown,” she said. “Tousan needs me back at the onsen. You should come by when you’re… settled.” The lift of her eyebrows on the last word left no ambiguity about what she was implying.
Yuuri blushed scarlet, and she laughed.
“Hop in,” Nishigori said. “Last stop, coming up.”
Victor asked as he climbed in, “Wait, if you’re all in one bedroom, how do you—”
“Victor!” Yuuri said indignantly. “You can’t ask that!”
Nishigori laughed. “What do you think love hotels are for? But that takes planning. And babysitters.”
“Maybe when things slow down, we can help out,” Yuuri said. A moment later his eyes widened and he buried his face in his hands, saying, “I mean, that’s not what I meant.”
“No, we’d love to,” Victor said. “Did the kids see us skate?”
“I thought they weren’t going to stop screaming for a week,” Nishigori said as he pulled back out onto the narrow alley and made his way downtown to their apartment. “They kept screaming about how Yuuri and Victor were skating their program. Then they found a clip and watched it and took apart every move. I think they want to change the choreography.”
“They’re seven,” Yuuri said.
Victor grinned, “I think it’s amazing and I’d love to work with them on something when things slow down. It’s good to encourage young skaters.”
“Consider them encouraged,” Nishigori said. He made a series of turns, and then pulled into a parking place in front of a tall apartment building. “This is it.”
The apartment building rose 13 stories above the street, a dark grey, with visible balconies on every floor.
“Isn’t this just down the street from the rink?” Victor asked.
“It’s a three minute drive that way,” Nishigori said, pointing. “Maybe ten minutes walking if you don’t hurry?”
Yuuri laughed. “You said the ‘w’ word. I think he knows ‘walk’ in at least three languages.”
“Tell you what,” Nishigori said. “How about I walk him while you go see your apartment? We can bring the stuff up later.”
“By walking, do you mean letting him pull you to your apartment so the girls can dote on him?” Yuuri asked.
Nishigori gave an unapologetic shrug. “They’ll wear him out.”
“Are they that close?” Victor asked.
“They’re closer to the rink,” Yuuri said. “We can pass it getting there if we want.”
“Grab the cat,” Nishigori said. “Though honestly, if I was smart I’d just take him to my house.”
“If Yura doesn’t mind,” Victor said, reaching into the van and grabbing the carrier and a bag marked «Potya» that had been with the luggage. “We can get him settled here for now, though.”
The bag meowed as Victor picked it up. «I hear you, little lion. Just a few more minutes.»
Nishigori took Makkachin’s leash from Yuuri, and handed Yuuri a set of keys. 「Top floor.」
「Really? I thought we were getting one on the fifth floor? That’s what we paid for,」 Yuuri said.
Victor looked over, puzzled, and Nishigori said, “I’m pretty sure the owner was on the top floor and decided to switch?”
“It gives you a better balcony,” Nishigori said.
“But…” Yuuri stared up the side of the building.
“Don’t question the upgrades,” Victor said.
“I… But… Okay,” Yuuri said. Then he sighed. “They’re probably going to want to use us in publicity when they advertise units.”
“That’s okay by me,” Victor said.
“You want to live in a tower full of fans?” Yuuri asked.
Victor’s grin was nearly predatory with glee. “I married one, didn’t I? I love my fans.”
Yuuri blushed, pressed his lips together, and then said, “I’m going up now.”
• • •
The elevator required a key for the penthouse level, but the door opened into the entry of their new apartment. It was easily half again as large as the one Yuuri had thought they were renting, and as soon as the elevator doors closed, the exterior sounds faded. Yuuri tested the floor with a little jump and said, “I think this is very soundproof.”
They took off their shoes, and Victor opened Potya’s bag to lay out a litter box, just enough litter to fill it, and then found food and water dishes.
“I’ll find the water,” Yuuri said, as Victor opened a packet of food and poured it into the dish.
“Spasiba,” Victor said absently, unzipping the front of the cat carrier.
Potya slunk out, found the litter box, used it, wolfed down the food, and then dashed into the other room like he was being chased by demons.
Yuuri came back and said, “Where’s the cat?” He set the water down next to the food dish.
“Didn’t you see him? He went that way,” Victor said, pointing.
“Probably under something,” Yuuri said. “So should we load more things in? Or take a tour?”
“Tour,” Victor said.
The apartment Yuuri had seen on the video tour had been more spacious than he’d have normally tried to get, with two separated bedrooms and another room about the same size that opened onto the main living space.
The living space for this new apartment was twice as large, and the bedrooms were larger as well. One was set up Western-style, with a king-sized bed. The other was done with traditional tatami mats. The master bedroom opened onto a corner of a rooftop garden. The kitchen was more extensive than the other apartment had had, as well.
Yuuri stared. “A family of six could live in here with room left over for the relatives.”
Victor looked amused. “Didn’t you sign a contract?”
Yuuri nodded. “I’ll look at it later.”
“The couch looks good for cuddling,” Victor said, looking at the relatively compact seating area set to one side of the large, mostly empty living room.
“Oh.” Yuuri said, staring at the far wall. “It’s not quite as big as it looked.”
“Surely that isn’t standard in Japanese apartments?” Victor asked.
There was a wall of mirrors, creating the illusion of a much larger space, and a barre. There was an odd difference in the floor between the sitting area and the wide expanse of floor, a little step, and Yuuri stepped up onto the floor, gave it a little test bounce, and laughed. “This would be good to dance on. It’s not quite as springy as I’d like for ballet, but I think they floated a dance floor over the regular floor.”
Victor eyed the polished wood. “So we can dance here?”
Yuuri smiled. “We can practice in private.”
Victor pulled open a floating partition to reveal a smaller space behind.
“Yuuri, did you order that?” Victor asked.
Yuuri looked, turned scarlet, and said, “No?”
Victor walked up to the pole braced between the floor and ceiling and looked it up and down. At the base of it, tied to the pole with a ribbon, was a little envelope. He picked it up.
“I thought this might be a good house warming present,” Victor read. “It’s portable, so you can take with you if you move. Enjoy, Chris.”
“How could he possibly have known to send it here?” Yuuri asked.
“I asked Inessa if they could get our things shipped from our apartment,” Victor said. “He must have sent it to St. Petersburg.”
Yuuri covered his face with both hands. “Someone packed the lube again, didn’t they?”
“It will be good for your skating, no?” Victor said. “The pole, not the lube.”
Yuuri turned slowly and looked at Victor, and then smiled. “And yours.”
Victor blinked, and then looked at the pole.
“It helped me improve my staying power,” Yuuri said. “And my jump height.”
Victor put a finger to his lips and then smiled widely. “Yuuchan! Will you teach me how to dance on your pole?”
Yuuri tried and failed to slip into his sexy mode, and then burst out laughing. “Really, Vityenka… It’s our pole.”
Victor walked over to a sliding door that was slightly ajar and opened it the rest of the way.
Potya dashed out of the closet and disappeared around the corner.
• Yakov •
Yakov had spent much of his life waiting for things to start or things to finish, but waiting through Yuri’s surgery was particularly taxing. Otabek was sitting across the waiting room with his phone plugged in, scowling.
Nikolai was reading something on a tablet. Curious, Yakov said, «I like the feel of paper in my hands.»
Nikolai nodded, «I did, too, but Yuri bought this and showed me how to make the text large. And it doesn’t hurt my hands. It’s not as satisfying, but also not as painful. I’m an old man. I must find my comforts where I can.»
Yakov snorted. «You’re not that much older than I am, Kolya.»
«Every year counts,» Nikolai said sagely.
«Wait until you get to try the onsen,» Yakov said. «All the aches, just pfttt.”
«You like it here?» Nikolai asked.
Images of the onsen, of the baths, of the Katsukis’ jovial hospitality flashed through Yakov’s head. Of how relaxed Victor and Yuri seemed.
«Yes,» Yakov said. «It’s not home, and there’s always that, hm, fish-out-of-water feeling. But the people I have met have been kind, and tolerant of our clumsy manners. The boys are wound tighter in Russia than they are here. And your grandson adores it.»
«I do not know how long I can stay,» Nikolai said. «But I would rather be where he is. Perhaps once I’ve slept, my joints will be happier.»
«You could go sleep now,» Yakov said. «We don’t all have to wait. It will be hours.»
«I feel like I let him down all the time,» Nikolai said.
«They will tell me when he gets out of surgery. They won’t let us back right away. I can call you then,» Yakov said.
Nikolai sighed. «I don’t know how you keep doing it, but thank you.”
«It isn’t as easy as it used to be,» Yakov said. «But I’m not ready to stop yet. You go rest. I have your number.»
• • •
Yakov surprised himself by falling asleep sitting up. He woke to Dr. Nakajima’s polite “Excuse me,” and a gentle hand on his arm.
He blinked at her and then managed, “Is he okay?”
Otabek looked over with sharp interest.
She nodded. “The surgery went very well. I think he will make a full recovery. He is in recovery, and hasn’t really woken up yet.”
“Does anyone back there speak Russian?” Otabek asked.
She looked surprised. “No, but the nurse with him speaks English. He is fluent, I thought?”
“He is,” Yakov said. “But if he is at all difficult, he may respond better to Russian instructions. I am not squeamish. Would it be possible for me to come back there with him while he wakes up?”
“I will talk to the primary nurse,” the doctor said. “Normally we do not bring families back until the patient is out of recovery. That would be in about an hour.”
“If he fights, bring me back,” Yakov said. “He’s accustomed to taking instructions from me.”
Otabek said, “When he was trying to move in the MRI, it was Yakov he listened to.”
Yakov gave Otabek an appreciative nod, and Dr. Nakajima excused herself.
Yakov called Nikolai to update him.
• • •
A few minutes later, a nurse came out to escort Yakov back to recovery, where Yuri was starting to move fretfully on the bed.
«Be still,» Yakov said in exactly the tone he’d use at the rink, though considerably lower volume.
«I’m here, Yurotchka. You just had surgery. It went well, but you must be still so you do not hurt yourself.»
“Yakov?” Yuri’s voice was quiet and pained.
«It will for a while. But it went well. Sleep.» Yakov worked a hand around the various leads to smooth the boy’s hair, and the nurse added a pain medication to the line.
I know nothing about Japanese surgical recovery procedures. This is entirely based on my own experience in American hospitals as both patient and parent of patient. Way back when I had my appendectomy as a teenager, I was apparently combative as I came out from under the anesthetic, and kept trying to pull my dressings off. Somehow my mother bulled her way into the recovery area, and snapped at me to stop, and I stopped instantly. Years later, when my own not-very-verbal child had surgery, I insisted on being with her in recovery on the grounds that none of them knew her language (sign plus very hard to decipher speech at the best of times at that point.) I walked back and found her doing what for her amounted to sobbing in pain, and struggling to breathe, only it didn’t look anything like what most kids do when they’re in pain or struggling to breathe. So I ended up sitting next to her and watching the oximeter like a hawk and moving the blow-by to keep her oxygen levels up to help her feel less panicked. They also gave her medication they reserve for when people are acting like they are in pain, because they did not understand that she couldn’t actually cry the way most kids cry, and that her “severe distress” sounded, at that point in her life, like a small whimper. Anyway, I have Feelings about surgical recovery.
There will be a significant break before more is posted of this particular story. HOWEVER... In the next day or two I will have at least 2 chapters of the next story posted (it's only 3 chapters long but they're all vignettes, so...) and on the 31st I will probably be posting a chunk of part 9. Please DO read them even though this isn't finished. There's a whole lot between here and there that won't be spoiled.