Yuuri wakes from the comforting oblivion of sleep the same way he biffed his quad Salchow the day before yesterday: all at once, to splintering pain.
There is too much pain to catalog. There are the aches of muscles and the throb of bruises that usually accompany a series of spectacular falls on the ice. There’s the burn of shame and sadness, because all those spectacular falls occurred in public, at the Grand Prix final, with his idol, his family, and his entire country watching.
To top it all off, there is what feels like an elephant sitting on his head. His mouth feels dry and cottony and gross in a way that is unfortunately all too familiar.
Fuck. Apparently, last night he chose to deal with his public humiliation by drinking too much.
Just what last night’s debacle needed. Drunk Yuuri, Yuuri’s least favorite avatar of himself.
Through his eyelids—not thick enough to shield his parched eyeballs from the red sandpaper of the sun—he can detect daylight.
It’s not time for daylight. It will never be time for daylight. But Drunk Yuuri was apparently not considerate enough to close his curtains last night, and so here he is—his head mashed in by elephants, his eyes assailed by a spotlight, knives in his brain, bees humming everywhere, and a quiet agony in his heart that pulses, thickly, painfully, in time to the whir of air circulating in his hotel room.
Yuuri squeezes his eyes shut even more tightly, but the pain is all inside.
The last few days wash back on a wave of despair.
His disastrous free skate—no grace, all falls and contusions. Victor Nikiforov, the man he’s spent half his life trying to impress, catching sight of him and offering him a commemorative photo as if he were a fan, not a fellow skater. (Really, though, Yuuri’s despair whispers, was he wrong? Can Yuuri even call himself a skater after that performance?) The banquet that Celestino forced him to attend.
Yuuri feels scraped to rawness. He twitches; his limbs are tangled in the bedsheets, and he barely contains a sob.
He contains it.
Yuuri has spent the last years skating alongside Americans. Come on, they used to tell him, let it all out, don’t bottle up your feelings inside, as if he were in danger of becoming some kind of increasingly pressurized soda.
He had never wanted to explain that he didn’t function the way they did. He wasn’t bottling up his feelings; he was keeping them safe in the privacy of his heart. It always feels like an intrusion every time someone asks him to share his emotions—as if they’re claiming the right to stroll into his soul and poke through his medicine cabinet, clucking judgmentally at every embarrassing thought they found.
His free skate had been intrusion enough. His private fears of abject failure should have stayed just that—private. Instead, his worst nightmare played out in public, for the entire world and his family to watch.
It had felt like a violation of some kind, as if reality itself had hacked his soul and sold the photographs of his secret fears to the tabloids.
Yuuri remembers standing on the edge of the banquet hall yesterday evening and thinking to himself that if he were a different person, a better person, he would smile and nod and introduce himself to everyone he didn’t know.
Instead, he introduced himself to the champagne. By the feel of his head, he made the acquaintance of rather a lot of it.
Stupid diversionary tactic. Now he is not only a complete failure of a skater, but he is a complete failure of a skater with a hell of a hangover. Splintered images filter through his mind in confusion, and Yuuri sighs. Apparently, he is also nursing the remnants of an extremely embarrassing alcohol-induced lust-dream starring Victor Nikiforov.
A door opens somewhere. His senses are both muffled and overloaded; it feels as if he can hear the hinges creak, make out patter of running water.
Fuck. He is going to have to get up. Pack. Talk to Celestino, try to come up with some explanation that doesn’t sound like “see you never, ha ha” because without the prize money from the Grand Prix, he can’t afford Celestino’s fees any longer, not for any of his upcoming competitions.
Reality awaits. It’s a shitty reality, but it isn’t going away.
Yuuri pries his eyelids open.
For a moment, he’s blinded by a nauseating spill of daylight. He winces and swallows, waiting for his stomach to settle and his eyes to focus—or, at least, to focus as much as they can without his glasses.
Blurry hotel room wall. Blurry white-ish blob—probably a hotel room painting that would be no more interesting if it were clear. Blurry hotel room chair, the dark material half-covered by some blurry red and white fabric draping over the top. Yuuri frowns. What’s that? Something he picked up last night? He assiduously dresses in blue, gray, and black. He doesn’t own anything in red.
He sighs and pats the bed next to him. Nothing.
Where did Drunk Yuuri leave his glasses again? He feels around on the bed, expands the search to the nightstand—
“Good,” a soft voice says. “You’re awake.”
Yuuri sits up, turning to the sound. A human-shaped lump stands at the foot of his bed.
He lets out an unholy shriek that richochets painfully, back and forth, through the iron shell of his hangover.
Reality—fuzzy and indistinct as it is—hits him the moment after, while his vocal chords are still echoing with the scream.
This room is larger than his. The window is in the wrong place. Instead of two carry-ons (one for his skating gear, the other for his clothing), there are four large suitcase-shaped blobs to the left of him.
He is definitely not in his room.
Oh, fuck. He slept with someone last night.
It’s not actually the first time this has happened, although it’s been years since he woke up in a strange bed. He can’t even blame his prior partners—he holds his liquor well enough that most people don’t realize how utterly sloshed he is. All he can hope is that he can manage a quick escape and an apology…and that whoever this is has nothing to do with the skating world.
Drunk Yuuri has a lot to answer for. Yuuri winces.
The figure at the foot of the bed raises his hands. “Oh, sorry,” he says. “Did I startle you?”
Yuuri involuntarily yelps again. That voice. Not that voice. Anything but that voice. “Oh my God. You’re Victor Nikiforov.”
Silence meets this pronouncement. Then…
“Did you…” There is a shaky pause. “Did you not know that?”
Yuuri hadn’t known there was anyone here at all.
“I.” He swallows, trying to gather himself together. “Did I.” Crap. He doesn’t want to know what he did, not yet. “Where…?” Damn it. Not that either. The where is obvious. He’s in Victor’s room.
For some inexplicable reason, Yuuri thinks of that terrible restaurant in Detroit that he kept stealing away to these last weeks, a cheesy diner with red vinyl seats, ripped in places to show the foam underneath. The tables were fake wood; the condiment bottles plopped at one end were of dubious vintage.
This restaurant had two benefits. One, it was open at two in the morning, when Yuuri would finish his illicit evening skates. Two, it served a massive plate of hashbrowns mixed with bacon and doused in cheese—craptastic food the way only Americans can celebrate craptasticity. It had been mostly edible, especially doused in enough ketchup.
Right now, Yuuri’s words are ketchup stuck at the end of an ancient bottle. Nothing, nothing, nothing. He’s afraid that if he smacks the end too hard, his feelings will all come out in a vomitous mass.
He tries for the very basics. “Megane, doko?”
Not even the right language. Which is just as well, because if Victor understood him he’d be offended by the familiarity of that sentence.
The Victor-shaped blob at the end of the bed just looks at him. Yuuri can’t see his face, but he is about as close to an expert at Victor’s expressions as it comes. He supplies his own guess. Victor is probably looking at Yuuri now the way he looked at the one reporter who asked those stupid, invasive questions about his family a few years ago. Something like, “Who let you in here again?”
He struggles through his despair and the shards of his hangover and tries one last time. “Glasses?”
It’s not even a complete sentence. Yuuri sounds even stupider than he feels.
Victor, though, acts as if this morning greeting makes complete sense. “Oh. Yes! Sorry, I set them on the desk last night.”
Victor (oh my God, he slept with Victor, he slept with Victor Nikiforov) walks toward him. A few seconds later, Yuuri feels the familiar, comforting weight of his glasses in his hands. He puts them on and looks up.
Victor Nikiforov is definitely standing right next to him. He looks like he’s showered, but hasn’t shaved—there is a hint of scruff on his cheeks. He looks… Good. Hauntingly good.
“Last night.” Yuuri is going to kill himself. “Last night, did we…?”
“You don’t remember?” Victor’s mouth snaps into a frown.
Yuuri is pretty sure that he should not hope that they had crazy monkey sex. He shakes his head.
“I tried to get you to your room,” Victor says, “but I couldn’t find your coach and after about three separate tries, it was clear you didn’t remember your room number. I brought you here. Nothing, um… Nothing like that happened.”
Thank you, Drunk Yuuri, Yuuri thinks.
Then: What the fuck, Drunk Yuuri? You slept with Annoying Aki from human anatomy, but not Victor? Your priorities need work.
“I mean,” Victor says, “you were drunk, first of all, and I wouldn’t.” He looks at Yuuri, as if he wants Yuuri to be sure of this about him. “But second, you informed me in no uncertain terms that—ah, how did you put it?” His voice changes, pitched a half-note higher, as if he’s imitating Yuuri. “‘I’m not the kind of person who lets just anyone get in my pants. It takes more than one banquet, even if you are Victor Nikiforov.’”
“Oh.” Yuuri feels himself blushing fiercely. Great. So he imposed on Victor and then implied Victor wanted to have sex with him. Classic transference, Drunk Yuuri. It can’t get more embarrassing. “Well. Um. Thank you? For taking care of me?”
Yuuri tries to piece together what must have happened last night through the splinters of his hangover. He got staggeringly drunk. Celestino must have left early; Victor, being a world champion, international heartthrob, and all-around winner of the year must have appointed himself Yuuri’s keeper.
It kills Yuuri that Victor is nice on top of all his other qualities. He’s nice. He isn’t even tossing Yuuri out immediately, giving him time to wake up and get his hangover in gear.
It’s a crying shame that Yuuri will have to avoid Victor for the rest of his life out of sheer embarrassment.
But Victor just smiles softly at him. “I had fun.”
“You had fun? Taking care of your drunk competitor?”
“Last night,” Victor says. He sits on the bed and strangely enough, he looks almost bashful, playing with the fringed edge of a pillow, a starry expression in his eyes. “Dancing. With you. I had fun.”
“I…” Yuuri swallows as the realization starts to sink in. Those flashes of imagery that went through his mind when he woke up—of him dancing with Victor, of the pole being set up… Those weren’t from a dream. Oh, no. That would be too kind.
That had been reality.
“Oh my God.” He sits up; the movement sends daggers through his skull. “Oh my God. I danced with you last night.”
“I dipped you.”
“I…” Another faint memory asserts itself. “I…practically assaulted you and demanded you come to my parent’s onsen?”
“Oh, thank God. I’m so glad. Pretend I never mentioned thinking about, um…”
“I meant no to the assault part.” Victor smiles at him. “It’s not assault if it’s consensual.”
“Oh my God.” Yuuri buries his face in his hands. He can feel himself spiraling into a panic attack right now, his breath freezing in his lungs. He thought he was embarrassed by his Grand Prix final performance, but hell, that was just a little understandable public humiliation in front of the entire world.
This? This is a catastrophe.
“Yuuri.” He feels the bed shift as Victor sits next to him. “Yuuri. Hey. Wow. It’s okay. It’s okay.”
Yuuri focuses on Victor’s words. He focuses on his own breath, the way his therapist told him to. It’s hard, because his breath is raggedy and his throat hurts, as if he spent last night screaming. His breath sucks. He has to be the worst breather in the history of respiration. Breathing isn’t helping, not one bit. Victor is seeing him like this, Victor will know, Yuuri doesn’t want Victor to know this about him.
Victor touches his hand, and it’s all Yuuri can do not to flinch away. Instead, he lets that spot of warmth from Victor’s fingers ground him.
“I’m not,” Yuuri says stupidly. “I’m not. I’m not like I was last night. I’m not…” Confident, he wants to say. Arrogant, he possibly means. Sexually assured is the phrase that is so exactly his opposite that he can’t even whisper it, even in denial.
“Not really into me?” Victor fills in quietly.
Yuuri’s eyes pop open. “What? No. Why would I not be into you? It’s just—I’m not an idiot, you know. You’re completely out of my league.”
Victor frowns. “What do you mean, league?”
“You’re you. I’m me.”
Victor shakes his head in puzzlement. “Isn’t that how these things work? If it was just me, it would be called masturbation.”
Does Yuuri have to spell it out? Apparently, by the look on Victor’s face, he does. “I’m one of the dime-a-dozen skaters that you can find anywhere. You’ve won the Grand Prix Final five years in a row.”
Victor’s hand tenses on Yuuri’s shoulder. His jaw squares. A faint blush of red blooms on the tips of his ears. He opens his mouth, as if to say something, then snaps it shut a moment later.
“Well.” The other man sits up and pulls away. “It’s a good thing you told me how to handle this last night.”
“Um. I. What?”
“You don’t remember?” Victor raises an eyebrow. “After you told me you didn’t sleep with people you’d known for only one banquet?”
Yuuri doesn’t remember anything except little snapshots of utter embarrassment, and even those are touch and go. He shakes his head.
“Well.” Victor crosses his arms. “You, Katsuki Yuuri, gave me some advice.”
Victor nods. “You told me precisely what I needed to do to—how did you put it? ah, yes—‘get in your pants.’”
Yuuri stares at him in complete horror. He can only imagine what Drunk Yuuri might have requested. The only thing that’s holding him back from telling Victor to forget it all is the faint hope, however dim, that Victor might actually do those things.
Please let me have asked for a lap dance.
The audacity of the idea—both erotic and shamefully embarrassing at the same time—is too much to handle. Yuuri shuts his eyes. “Don’t tell me. Drunk Yuuri laid out a complete blueprint.”
“Less of a blueprint,” Victor says, “more of a treasure map.”
His gaze fixes on Yuuri’s lips, and Yuuri swallows. His throat is dry; swallowing doesn’t help.
“You know.” Victor leans in, brushes the tips of his fingers against Yuuri’s cheek. “Go left past the rocky crags.” His fingers trail down Yuuri’s neck. “Up the slope with the fir tree on your left.”
Victor’s hand skims down his collarbone, leaving behind a coruscating trail of open yearning. Every cell of Yuuri’s skin is desperate for a second touch.
It doesn’t come. Instead, Victor leans in, so close that his breath is warm against Yuuri’s jaw. His finger marks a diagonal line on Yuuri’s clavicle, and then slashes across it. “It’s the kind of treasure map where X marks the spot.”
The spot is, apparently, Yuuri. He jerks back, ending all contact.
“Metaphorically speaking, of course,” Victor says. “Literally speaking, you said—”
“That was Drunk Yuuri,” Yuuri tells Victor. “This is Sober Yuuri. Sober Yuuri really, really doesn’t want to know.”
“Don’t you?” Victor looks at him—at the six-inch distance that Yuuri has created between them. His eyes narrow. “Fine. Still, it’s my treasure map. You gave it to me, I liked it, and I’m keeping it. But let’s just start with this one thing.”
Victor stands up and crosses the room. He takes out his wallet, of all things, and rummages through it, muttering to himself.
“There you are.” He’s addressing whatever he found, not Yuuri. He grabs an item and goes back to Yuuri. His smile glitters in a way that doesn’t seem entirely friendly. “Hold out your hand.”
Victor dumps an American nickel in his palm.
Yuuri stares blankly at the dull metal.
“Well?” Victor’s thin-lipped expression is sharp enough to cut. “You’re a dime-a-dozen skater, right? Go ahead. Produce the goods. I want six of you.”
“What’s the delay? I’m expecting a half-dozen Yuuri Katsukis,” Victor says. “Or at a minimum some kind of a rain check.”
Yuuri glares at the nickel in his hand.
“What? You can’t deliver?” Victor Nikiforov is clearly dramatic even off the ice. “Too bad. I was hoping for an entire Grand Prix final with just you and your five identical twins.”
“We wouldn’t all qualify. It was a miracle that one of us did. Besides, it’s just an expression. I didn’t really mean—”
“Oh,” Victor says, and the smile that spreads across his face is even more cutting. “I understand now! What you really meant was that my dating pool consists of all the other four time World Champions, five time Grand Prix Final gold medalists.”
“I. But. Obviously? Someone on your level…would…” He trails off as the expression in Victor’s eyes gets a little colder.
Victor leans down. “Yuuri,” he says very slowly. “I’m gay. If I am only allowed to have serious relationships with people whose skating resumes are identical to my own, I am going to be lonely my entire life.”
“Uh.” Yuuri swallows. He hadn’t even been thinking about a relationship with Victor. Serious relationship? Victor is not making sense.
“There. Is. Nobody.” Victor’s finger touches Yuuri’s chest, hovering over the spot he marked with an X. “So I get to decide who is worthy of my attention. Not you.”
Behind that sharply savage smile, behind those cutting words, there is the glitter of something that feels like real truth. Damn. Yuuri really must have told him something last night. His…blueprint? Treasure map? Whatever it was he laid out last night, it must have been something to engage Victor’s interest this way. And that something…
If he’s won this kind of honesty from Victor, he must have given a real truth of his own. Yuuri can only imagine. His fantasies were, he thought, safely locked up in his mind. All the thousand things that he’s imagined doing with Victor Nikiforov…
He can just imagine spilling his carefully hidden yearning in a bout of drunken confession.
It’s not fair. Victor owns every inch of the territory of Yuuri; he earned it in late night masturbation sessions with Victor’s name on Yuuri’s lips. He was the reward that Yuuri held up after weeks of bruising falls. Do this, and someday you’ll see Victor. Keep going. Keep going for Victor. Victor has Yuuri already; did he have to get his secrets, too?
Here is Victor, a reward unearned. Here is Victor, and Yuuri has apparently handed him the keys to his heart and a treasure map to his soul. Here is Victor, looking at Yuuri with that soft gleam in his eye, like he wants to leave footprints all over the territory that Yuuri has kept to himself all these years. Yuuri is private, private, private, and he doesn’t know how to cope with this.
Nothing has changed. His hangover still splits his head like an axe. He still messed up his free skate. Vicchan is still dead and gone gone gone.
But Victor is here, looking at him, and even though this is messed up—even though Victor is going to follow Yuuri’s treasure map and—how did he put it?—get into Yuuri’s pants and unthinkingly stomp his heart to pieces, Yuuri has wanted him forever.
At some point, Victor’s definitely going to come to his senses.
He hasn’t yet.
“Have breakfast with me, then,” Yuuri says before he can think better of it, before Victor can think better of it.
Victor looks at him. His eyes narrow. “Wow, Yuuri. After all that, are you asking me out on a date?”
No, Yuuri wants to say. Just as friends! That’s all I mean. But he knows that it’s the wrong answer. It’s not just that Victor is scowling at him, practically daring him. It’s that Yuuri doesn’t like lying, and…
And he wants Victor. He has since before he understood the idea of sexual want.
Victor thinks he’s someone else, someone brave and confident. It’s wrong to take advantage of Victor in the space of time it takes him to recover from his lapse of judgment.
But it’s Victor.
“Yes.” He folds his arms. “I’m asking you on a date.”
Victor’s smile turns from savage to sunny in a flat millisecond. “Wonderful. I accept.”
This is the point where reality reasserts itself. Yuuri realizes that he’s wearing… Oh, God. A shirt that is not his and is a little big on him. His favorite tie, much loosened. A pair of black boxer briefs. That’s definitely it. He smells like alcohol, and his mouth tastes like ass.
“Great.” He manages a weak smile. “I should…maybe shower? And, um, acquire pants? But… Meet in the lobby in half an hour?”
“Perfect!” Victor says. “This is great. It’s exactly what the treasure map suggested.”
Yuuri doesn’t want a reminder of that damned map. He must have dumped a whole entire boatload of instructions/confessions/whatever sexual fantasy Drunk Yuuri came up with on the man.
Yuuri has had too many sexual fantasies about Victor. Literally anything could be on that list. All of his requests probably fall somewhere on the scale between embarrassing and arousing.
With his luck, they’re both.
Still. This? Yuuri frowns in confusion. “I told you to make me ask you out for breakfast?”
It doesn’t sound like something he would ask Victor for, drunk or sober.
Victor nods. “Definitely. I mean, not that specifically, but…definitely.”
“Um.” Yuuri gestures around. “Okay. I…should get up, but…”
“Oh.” Victor’s eyebrows rise. He looks around, locates Yuuri’s pants on the floor, and then—after a long pause, during which Yuuri clutches the sheet in front of him like a nun, feeling his cheeks flush while he imagines having to dress himself for his walk of shame in front of his idol—retreats to the bathroom.
Yuuri slips into his clothing. He slinks to the door, passing Victor, who is patting face cream from an expensive-looking tub on his cheeks, when Victor speaks.
“Wait, before you go, we should exchange numbers, don’t you think?”
“Um. You want…is this part of the treasure map again?”
“Sure,” Victor says with a grin.
Yuuri looks into Victor’s blue, blue eyes. It takes him a moment to understand what is happening. Victor Nikiforov wants his number. Victor. Nikiforov. Victor. Nikiforov. They’re exchanging numbers. They’re going on a date.
His head has not stopped hurting. He doesn’t care. He can break down in gibbering panic later. He’s going on a date with Victor.
“What, Yuuri?” Victor sets down his pot of expensive emolument and turns to him. “You don’t believe me?”
“No,” Yuuri says. “I completely do. It’s just that at any point up until this morning, I would have flat-out killed a man for your number. I was just taking a moment to thank myself for putting something useful on the, um. The thing. The treasure map.”
Victor’s lips twitch into a smile. “Ah, Yuuri,” he says. “We’re just getting started.”
Yuuri has time for a quick shower and a change of clothing (ah, God, why had he only given himself half an hour? And he brought nothing to Sochi that remotely looks like a date outfit?). He slurps a cup of bitter hotel-room-brewed coffee in tongue-burning desperation as he descends in the elevator.
“Hi!” Victor smiles at him as he approaches in the lobby.
Victor is so beautiful, with that fall of silver hair, the shine of his eyes. Yuuri tries not to melt in response. “Um. Hi.”
“You look great.”
“Ah.” Yuuri’s face flames. “You. You, too.” He’s reverting to monosyllables.
“Where are we going?” Victor asks.
“Um.” Crap. When it comes down to it, he did ask Victor. “Uh. Gimme a second. I barely had time to put on pants, let alone look up a place.”
He takes out his phone.
“You could have skipped the pants,” Victor whispers.
“What?” He must have misheard.
“I said,” Victor says smoothly, “I can pick out a place. If you want. I’ve been in Sochi before.”
“Oh right. For the Olympics.”
“Yep, and also—well, never mind that. I know a little out-of-the-way place not far from here. Will that work?”
A hole in the wall. Perfect. It will fit Yuuri’s budget, and since he asked Victor out, he’s pretty sure he’s paying. “Sure.”
Victor links his arm in Yuuri’s, and they breeze out of the hotel.
Yuuri is aware that this is a date, and he should talk, because that is what people do on dates.
The Olympics gives Yuuri something to talk about—asking Victor what the Olympics was like, how it differs from other competitions. What he’s really wondering is if the pressure is worse.
It already feels worse. Before his colossal fuck-up here in Sochi, commentators in Japan were talking about Yuuri as an Olympic medal prospect in a few years, and… Well, that was a piece of tremendously overestimated national pride. No. Just… No.
Instead, Victor tells him a story about the Olympic Village running out of condoms—“not that I needed any of theirs, and really, they should know how many they run through by now!”
Yuuri tries not to blush, thinking of Victor getting laid here, and how beautiful he would have looked with his then-long hair spilling on the pillow while…
Fuck, he can’t think of that.
By the time they find the restaurant, he’s blushed twenty times. The blood vessels in his cheeks have likely fixed in a state of permanent dilation. It shouldn’t be physiologically possible, but here they are. At least Yuuri will be able to write a paper on the phenomenon.
It takes him a moment to realize that Victor’s little out-of-the-way place looks staggeringly expensive. It’s also popular—the woman up front asks them if they have a reservation.
Victor smiles at her. “No,” he says, “and I know how terribly busy you must be, but I was hoping you could squeeze us in at the last minute?”
She takes one good look at him. Her eyes widen.
“Of course, of course, Mr. Nikiforov. Welcome back.” She doesn’t mention Yuuri. She doesn’t look at Yuuri. Maybe he’s invisible.
That would be great.
They get a table in the back, right at the window, with a view of the azure waters of the Black Sea spread out before them.
They sit. They don’t actually order food; Victor directs the waitress to bring them something he calls the chef’s tasting menu. Yuuri is faintly aware that he asked Victor out on this date and so he should pay, and oh my god, he has…not even fifty thousand yen in his account, maybe four hundred American dollars? Thank god even the last place loser at the Grand Prix Final gets something, or he’d be even more fucked than he is. He has four months until he can slink back home, and if he doesn’t win at Nationals this year, he has no idea how he’ll survive. He can’t ask his parents for money. He can’t.
He is quite possibly the world’s worst date. Victor is hauntingly, achingly, stupendously beautiful, and he’s graciously filling the awkward, land-mine sized gaps that Yuuri is leaving in the conversation. Yuuri has absolutely no idea what he’s doing on a date with him.
This whole idea was stupid. The waitress recognized Victor. There was that long walk over. People probably took photos. The entire internet is probably speculating as to why Victor is stooping to spend time with that loser, Yuuri Katsuki…
“What really is in this treasure map I gave you?” he asks, interrupting Victor in the middle of a story about how he and his dog came here to vacation after last season. “Honestly, the idea makes me uneasy. I shouldn’t be held to do something just because I thought it was a good idea when I was drunk.”
“No!” Victor looks at him. “Of course not! You can always say no, Yuuri. I hope you will if you’re uncomfortable.”
That would imply saying no to everything, which he suspects Victor does not want him to do. The very act of wanting things involving other people makes Yuuri uncomfortable.
“The conversation,” Victor says, “went something like this. You said I wasn’t getting in your pants that easily.”
Victor says this in a normal tone of voice. Anyone could hear him. Yuuri looks around, but if anyone is paying attention, they’re pretending not to.
“Naturally, I asked what I would have to do to get in your pants.”
“Ah.” Yuuri blushes. “How embarrassing. What do you mean, naturally? Why would you ask that?”
Victor tilts his head. “Because I want to get in your pants. I thought that much was obvious by now.”
It’s not like Victor needs help with that. All he has to do is pretty much exist. Exist and look at Yuuri with that expression. Although it would help matters substantially if he would also lower his voice.
“And you said—” Victor’s still talking in that same normal tone of voice. It sounds extra-loud to Yuuri in the quiet restaurant, loud enough for anyone to hear. Loud enough that he can already imagine tomorrow’s tabloid headlines: Katsuki Yuuri sexually harasses Victor Nikiforov, demands blowjobs and a strip tease.
“Nope,” Yuuri interrupts. “I changed my mind. I don’t actually want to know.”
“Just surprise me.”
“Oh.” Victor blushes. “I can—I mean, I’d love to do that.”
There’s an awkward pause. Yuuri’s mind is still stuck on all the things he must have asked Victor to do to him. He knows what he’s like when he’s drunk. His carefully constructed boundaries evaporate.
He can’t believe Victor was about to spill details of his pornographic daydreams to the entire restaurant.
“Yuuri,” Victor says, “there’s still so much we need to learn about each other.”
“What? You don’t want to…?”
“No, no!” Yuuri realizes belatedly how rude he must sound. “I probably told you I was a huge fan already? I just meant…” Oh, God, he really is going to say this out loud. It’s not like he should have any sense of shame, not after having apparently given Victor a list of his sexual fantasies. Still… “Look, I’ve kind of been reading everything about you since forever. There isn’t anything more about you I could know. And you already know everything interesting about me.”
“I barely know anything about you!”
Victor frowns at this, then continues. “And you barely know anything about me!”
“I know a lot about you. I know that you’re wearing million yen sunglasses and that you look really hot in blue eyeliner.” Yuuri realizes what he says as he’s saying it. He keeps going anyway, on the hope that maybe Victor won’t notice. “And while that doesn’t tell me a lot about you, I can figure some things out from that.”
Victor is frowning, though. He reaches out and touches the sunglasses that he’s tucked into his shirt pocket. “A million yen?” He pulls out the pair. “That’s, um, in rubles…”
“You don’t know how much you paid?”
Victor just brushes a finger down the earpiece. “I don’t know how much anything I wear costs. Companies just send me stuff, you know. If people see me wearing it, it’s good advertising.” He frowns at the shimmering gold lenses. “I don’t even like these that much, but I’m really too cheap to buy my own when these are perfectly serviceable.”
Huh. Yuuri mulls this over. Breakfast arrives at this moment.
Or, Yuuri supposes he should say, it’s the first course of breakfast, because apparently breakfast comes in courses. Two waiters simultaneously set shot glasses of creamy blue liquid in front of them, as perfectly synchronized as a pair jump. There’s a dollop of white in the glass, and the world’s tiniest leaf perches on top.
This is about as far from hashbrowns with cheese as it is possible to get on the breakfast spectrum.
“Your amuse bouche, gentlemen,” one of the waiters says. “Just a little something to tickle your palate. This is a blueberry soup with cubes of celeriac gel, topped with crème fraîche and microbasil.”
Yuuri recognizes the words blueberry and soup.
“Your first course will be out shortly.”
Oh. Apparently this is not a course. This must be something fancy like European hotel room numbers—they don’t count the first floor?
Fuck. The bill will be… So high.
Yuuri looks at the shot glass. He suspects that this is, ounce for ounce, the most expensive liquid he’s ever held.
“Bottoms up,” he says, and downs the whole thing in one go. It’s surprisingly easy on his hangover.
Victor grins. “I love it,” he says, setting down the tiny spoon he’d picked up, and oh God, Yuuri realizes belatedly he was supposed to eat it with a spoon. But Victor just imitates him.
“So,” Victor says, when the second course—wait, no, the first course—arrives. It’s a triangle of perfectly browned French toast dotted with berries, dusted with sugar, sitting beside a square of caramelized pork belly. “How are we going to work this?”
He catches Yuuri with his mouth full. Yuuri nearly chokes trying to speak, then decides to finish chewing, then is aware that chewing seems to be taking a phenomenal amount of time and Victor is no doubt losing patience. He swallows his food too fast. It slides down this throat in a solid lump of sweet regret.
“How are we going to work what?” he manages to say, before retreating into a coughing fit.
Victor waits while Yuuri exhales his lungs into his napkin. No doubt he’s already wondering what he saw in him.
“Work this.” Victor twirls his fork to encompass the two of them. “Our relationship.”
They have a relationship? Yuuri thought that Victor was just planning to fuck him.
“You know. The long distance thing. I can hardly seduce you at Worlds if we never talk before then.” Victor gives him a playful wink.
As if it’s not enough to choke on his breakfast, Yuuri chokes on his own tongue. “Right. You have the treasure map to work through.” Fuck fuck fuck. What was he thinking?
“What’s your schedule like on a normal day? Are you going back to…Detroit, that’s where you train, right? When do you normally wake up? What do you do during the day? What do you have for breakfast?” Victor leans forward excitedly as he’s speaking.
Yuuri is already feeling overwhelmed. He hasn’t even talked about his plans with Celestino. He certainly doesn’t want to explain his uncertain future to Victor. “I… Um, I don’t know about Detroit. I’m flying back to Japan.”
“Ah, going home for a bit? To the, um, the onsen that you mentioned?”
“No, All Japan is pretty soon. That’s, um, the Japanese…” He trails off at the look of amusement in Victor’s eyes. “Right, you know what the Japanese national figure skating competition is called, since you…um…are…also a figure skater.”
He didn’t want to think of this. The weight of reality—how badly he screwed up at the Grand Prix final, the fact that if he goes home he’ll collapse in a ball and cry over his dog—is waiting to hit him.
He glosses over reality. “It would take me basically a day to fly back to Detroit, plus jet lag… It makes no sense to go there and then take another twenty-something hours to fly to Japan again ten days later. Besides, I’m finishing up at university. I did most of my courses by correspondence while I was training, but I have to get through a final set of papers and take some, um, practical exams before graduation. I need to do that in person. My university’s on Hokkaido—that’s, um, north—they were really good about working with me on travel, but it’s not easy to go home because my parent’s home is on Kyushu, and it’s kind of far away, and time…”
He worried that he wasn’t talking enough before. It was probably the right call, given the words coming out of his mouth.
“Besides, I’m pretty sure—”
No, he’s not going to mention the fact that he can’t actually pay Celestino, that even if he’d come in third at the Grand Prix final, he would have barely been able to afford Celestino’s coaching fees and his tiny apartment in Detroit. He retreats to something a little less personal.
“Celestino doesn’t want anything more to do with me after my performance yesterday, so Detroit… I don’t even know if I can go back. I, um, packed most of my stuff before I came out here. I don’t really have a lot anyway. It’s getting shipped by…”
If Victor doesn’t interrupt him soon, Yuuri’s going to start spouting tracking numbers. He shuts himself up by shoving the rest of the pork belly in his mouth.
Victor is watching him. He’s probably wondering if he should even be eating something with this much sugar.
“That sounds horrible,” Victor says. “Did Celestino really tell you that? I never heard he was a jerk, but sometimes people surprise you.”
Great. Now he’s unintentionally managed to malign Celestino. “No, no! He didn’t say that. He told me, um, not to worry about it, actually. And maybe to stop beating myself up.” Yuuri rubs his forehead, but the headache doesn’t go away. “He might have said the last one something like fifty times. I don’t know, I stopped listening.”
Victor watches him.
“I’m just not expressing myself well. Hangover.”
Time to change the subject completely. “Ha ha, my mind isn’t great right now. What did you ask me again? When do I normally wake up? Um. Usually around ten.” This is a lie, but he figures it sounds better than admitting that he’s usually up at the crack of noon.
“Ten?” Victor looks flabbergasted. “What? Seriously? No, wait, that’s—what’s the time difference—okay, fine, we can make this work.” He nods. “I can wish you a good morning right when I go to sleep. What do you do for your afternoon cross-training?”
Yuuri is not about to admit that he prepared for the Grand Prix final with an assiduous schedule of stress-eating. “Um. Ballet, I guess?”
Thankfully, there’s a pause as the next dish arrives—something the waiter announces as gravlax, whatever that is. It turns out to be the world’s thinnest slice of toast, smeared with the thinnest layer of some soft cheese with an unpronounceable name, topped with the world’s thinnest slice of smoked salmon and a single, perfect sprig of dill.
Victor scrunches his nose after they’ve taken their first bite, and comes back to this. “Ballet is hardly cross-training. It works the same muscle groups. What else?”
“Same muscle groups.”
“And…I run?” He used to, in the dimly remembered fall when the possibility of qualifying for the final was a bright hope.
Victor brightens. “Great! You can come with me on my run, too. If you’re waking up at ten, you’re probably going to sleep at…” His eyes narrow. “One? Two?”
Four, Yuuri doesn’t say.
“So if I move my run to the morning, then you’ll have plenty of time to cool down and have dinner…”
He looks around, frowns at the cloth napkins. “Notebook,” he mutters. “I didn’t bring my notebook.” When the servers come in with their next course—lightly poached fish with a sunrise of sauce that is apparently colored peppers—Victor asks for paper and pen, which they don’t think is strange at all.
It takes Victor about thirty seconds to start filling in joint schedules in incredibly messy handwriting. Victor starts with his own. Apparently he gets up, practices ballet, has breakfast, goes for a run, spends three hours at the rink, eats what is undoubtedly a perfectly balanced lunch, then hits up the gym, before stretching and going home, where he watches the footage from the rink of that day’s practice while making notes for the next day. Then he goes to sleep. There is no NetFlix. There are two ten-minute blocks carved off for social media management. There isn’t any downtime of any kind.
Yuuri watches this schedule unfold with dawning horror. “Are you insane?”
“I’m a four-time world champion,” Victor says, head bent over his schedule, as he messily adds in his dinner hour. “Of course I’m insane. Were you actually expecting something different?”
Yuuri kind of had the idea that Victor sprang fully-formed and ready to win gold, from his mother’s head. Now that he thinks about it, it is kind of a stupid thought.
“You’ve never mentioned this in any of your interviews.”
“Mmm, people prefer thinking that I’m a natural genius. I just let them see what they want.” Victor slides the pen and paper across the table to Yuuri. The final course—Yuuri still can’t get over the fact that their breakfast had courses—has come. It arrives as all the other courses have—two waiters setting it down in front of them with aplomb. A porcelain egg cup with gilded edges contains a blue-green eggshell. Yuuri leans forward, examining it. The shell is not dyed; it’s blue all the way through, as if it’s the egg’s natural color.
The top of the egg is sliced off, and a little gold spoon accompanies this arrangement.
Yuuri assumes—he has some experience with food, after all —that inside the eggshell is an egg.
It is not an egg. It is apparently a custard topped with caramelized sugar and tiny red berries that he’s never heard of. It’s a perfectly balanced blend of sweet and tart and rich. An actual curl of gold foil perches on the topmost berry.
I know a little place near here, Victor said. Ha. A real hole in the wall. If Yuuri could concentrate on the food instead of his anxiety about how much the food must cost, he would weep with how good it was.
“Do you eat like this all the time?’”
“No,” Victor says with a wink. “Just when I’m trying to impress a hot date.”
So half the time then, and he still looks like that.
“Are you going to fill out your schedule?” Victor gestures.
Oh. He’d hoped Victor would forget. For a brief moment, Yuuri considers putting something like his actual schedule for the last few weeks on paper for Victor Nikiforov.
Wake up. Spend an hour freaking myself out reading social media, and skip breakfast. Go to the rink. Worry about all the ways I’m messing up. Eat lunch. Eat second lunch. Go for a half-hearted run. Get lost in my own mind; eat third lunch…
Right. Definitely not. Yuuri knows what he should be doing—something closer to Victor’s schedule, something with fewer bowls of katsudon and more cross-training.
“Um.” He looks up at Victor. “You…uh, want me to put down…everything…on my schedule? Are you, um, expecting me to, um…”
“Oh, no, nobody is as bad as me,” Victor explains earnestly. “I have to work pretty hard. Not everyone can be naturally hot like you.”
That splitting headache that he’s been ignoring? Yuuri realizes it’s not a hangover. Or, at least, it’s not just a hangover. It turns out the back of his mind has been screaming What the fuck?! at him on continuous repeat for the last hour. This makes no sense. None. How is Victor saying these things about Yuuri?
Then understanding hits him with all the subtlety of a brick in a sock. If he had any doubts that he’s told Victor his most private desires, this last bit of extravagant praise seals it.
He doesn’t know how many times he’s gotten himself off to shamefully unrealistic scenarios in which Victor Nikiforov—for some reason—loses all sense and good taste and decides that he has to have Katsuki Yuuri. Yuuri has brought himself to orgasm far too many times imagining Victor whispering to him. You’re beautiful, Yuuri. So hot, Yuuri.
He can just imagine his drunk self divulging this secret, too. Praise me, tell me I’m beautiful, and I’ll do anything you want.
Victor’s words are meaningless. Victor would never be praising him like this on his own initiative. This is all a lie. Yuuri’s passable on his best days.
Victor reaches across the table and ruffles his hair. “It’s okay, Yuuri,” he says. “I know your true eros now. I’m going to make all your dreams come true.” His voice is low and fluid, as seductive as the slide of skates across the ice. “Soon.”
This is messed up. Yuuri can only imagine the impression that his drunk self has left on the other man. He knows all too well the kind of fantasies he’s harbored about Victor over the years. The praise, after all, was merely the beginning of his fantasies.
If Victor offers to do all of those things to him…
What is he going to say? Oh, no, Victor, don’t, please don’t, do not touch me there.
Victor’s rational, packed schedule seems like a reprimand. It reminds Yuuri of what he was like in the days back when he was working as hard as he could to inevitably not qualify for the Grand Prix final, just like he’d not qualified for the three years prior. It’s a reminder of just how badly this is all going to go. Victor is…well, Victor. If Yuuri has any sense, he will end this now.
Yuuri has no sense.
What the fuck?! screams the chorus in the back of his mind.
“Is something wrong?” Victor asks from the other side of the table.
Yes, something is wrong. The something is Yuuri.
“Just trying to figure out time zone differences,” he lies.
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Victor says. “Once I program it into my phone it’ll take care of it all.”
“Oh, ha, then, good.” Yuuri applies the fakest of fake grins to his face. “Great. I’ll, um, just get right on this, then?”
He stares at the page.
“Actually, with university stuff…” If he’s going to make stuff up, he might as well make up everything. “Um, yeah. I’ll…definitely need to be getting up early. Earlier.”
Yuuri invents a six a.m. run. It’s kind of not a lie, if by six a.m., he means eleven a.m., and if by “run” he means “bagel run.” Although bagels will be a lot harder to find in Sapporo. He brackets off a tiny sliver of time for breakfast, several hours at the rink, followed by time in the gym and the ballet studio. Since Schedule Yuuri is pretending to be Actual Yuuri’s responsible twin, he adds time to study for his coming examinations.
Schedules are aspirational anyway. It’s not like he’s actually lying. It’s more a case of fake it until…well, until you obviously get called on faking it. He fills in the rest of the time with things other than play video games and binge-watch reality TV shows.
Victor frowns at the paper when Yuuri passes it back. “Evening skate? Why do you have a second round on the ice? For…four hours?”
It’s the one thing on the paper that is not a lie. I’m too anxious to fall asleep if I don’t do figures, Yuuri doesn’t tell him. “I’m building up my stamina,” he says, which is the first semi-plausible sounding explanation that comes to mind. “It’s less about practicing jumps and routines, and more about learning to skate well when I’m exhausted.”
“Huh.” Victor looks at this complete list of fabrications with respect. “See? I’ve already learned something new from you. This is so amazing!”
Yuuri manages not to laugh hysterically.
At the end of the meal, Victor slides a matte-black card to the waiter who brings their bill alongside a small selection of chocolate truffles and some fruity sugary squares that apparently need to be named in French.
Yuuri knows he shouldn’t protest—his bank account is too thin for him to drop this kind of extravagance on the remaining balance—but pride wells up on him. Victor doesn’t know the decrepit state of his finances, and Yuuri would rather die than discuss them.
“Hey.” He looks at Victor, and tries his best to sound forceful. “I asked. I should pay.”
Victor’s eyebrows go up. “Those two things have nothing to do with each other.”
“It’s a rule.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“Um.” Yuuri scrubs his face. Forceful is not going well. “It, um, it’s a rule in America?” He’s a little fuzzy on the details of American dating; more than once, he hadn’t realized he was on a date until the other guy sprung a credit card at the end and insisted on paying. “I think?”
Victor gestures. “We’re not in America. And neither of us are American.”
The smile on Victor’s face deepens. “Yuuri, the whole point of taking you here was to impress you. How am I supposed to impress you if you won’t let me spoil you?”
“I don’t know,” Yuuri says, stubbornly, stupidly taking out his wallet. “Maybe just impress me the way you normally impress me, by existing?”
For a second, Victor’s expression falters, cracking. Then the smile comes back, transformed into a blaze of delight. “Oh.” His hand goes to his lips. “I… Yuuri.”
Yuuri doesn’t know what he’s said to make Victor react like that. Who wouldn’t be impressed by the five-time Grand Prix final winner? Especially one as extravagantly perfect as Victor Nikiforov. And that smile… He’s watched all too many of Victor’s interviews, and he’s never seen anything like it before. It’s a wash of emotion so brilliant that he finds himself biting his lip to hide his own vicarious response.
“Now you have to let me get this,” Victor practically purrs. “How else will I ever make you as happy as you make me?”
Yuuri gives in. He lets Victor pay. He lets him take his hand. And when Victor stops outside the restaurant, grinning into Yuuri’s eyes, Yuuri thinks he will let him do anything. Victor licks his lips, and Yuuri’s stomach tenses. Victor opens his mouth…
“Yuuri, when does your plane leave?”
Reality drops on his head. Yuuri checks his phone. “Um…shit. Three hours from now. I have to go, I have to pack.”
“Can I come with you?”
The idea that Victor Nikiforov, of all people, wants to watch boring Yuuri do something as prosaic as shove his ordinary belongings into his common-place luggage is so bizarre that Yuuri gives in.
Victor holds his hand all the way back to the hotel, and Yuuri wonders the entire way if maybe he is still asleep. It would explain a lot.
Victor’s theme for the year is Questions, and every reporter under the sun has asked him what questions he’s asking or answering. His short program is a sprightly pop song about first love; his choreography, almost sad, fits the music in a way that shouldn’t make sense, and yet does. His free program is an utter beast, four different kinds of quads, set to music that is hauntingly romantic and defiantly lonely. Half of Victor’s fans have said that his theme isn’t really questions—it’s romance, but he’s already done that, and so he’s just making it sound mysterious.
Yuuri watched him unveil the programs at Skate Canada this year. He disagrees with half of Victor’s fans. His skating raised questions in Yuuri, not answers—questions so hard to articulate that he can’t even say if they’re asking what or when or why.
He’s wondered about Victor’s questions so often since then that he could be dreaming this. Occam’s razor; Victor Nikiforov would never be acting like Yuuri is the answer to every question his skating this season posed.
And yet this is not a dream. Yuuri knows this because he has dreamed about Victor Nikiforov far too often before, and if this were a dream, he would not be questioning the logic of it all. If it were a dream, there would be random time skips. He would jump from moment to moment. If this were a dream, this moment—with Victor sitting on his bed while Yuuri hastily stuffs sweaty workout gear into his carry-on—would bleed into a heated and completely inexplicable montage of Yuuri, balls deep in Victor, the pleasure of their bodies intertwining both excruciatingly too much and still too little, in the phantom way of dreams.
Instead, Victor keeps talking—something about little Yuri Plisetsky—“you know him,” Victor says happily, and for a second, Yuuri thinks that Yuri told about the bathroom encounter, until Victor says, “You know, from the dance battle,” and Yuuri nearly chokes on his tongue. He hadn’t known about the dance battle at all.
That sense of unreality—of being asked to remember something that he doesn’t really remember—makes this feel even more like a dream. He knows it is not.
Victor crowds next to Yuuri in the cab to the airport. Victor twines his fingers around Yuuri’s and leans his head against Yuuri’s shoulder, sighing and cuddling closer when Yuuri puts his arm around him. It’s not a dream, Yuuri thinks, looking down at the shine of his silver hair. He can smell Victor’s shampoo, something vaguely sweet. In dreams, cuddling is never uncomfortable, and right now, the heavy weight of Victor’s head is slowly cutting off the circulation to his arm.
He doesn’t move, even as his hand dissolves into numbness, just in case this is a dream, just in case he might dispel it.
The cab ride ends. Yuuri ditches his luggage with little ceremony at the check-in counter. He’s running late; there’s very little time. Victor comes with him down one hallway, and there’s the security line.
This is it. They stop.
Victor holds both of Yuuri’s hands, smiling down into his eyes. “I wish you didn’t have to go.”
“I…” Yuuri looks down, then, very shyly, up. Victor leans in as if this is an invitation. His breath is warm against Yuuri’s lips. Yuuri’s lungs freeze. It’s too much—it’s not a dream, and he doesn’t understand anything that is happening. It’s tiny, but he pulls away.
For a second, Victor freezes in place. Then he steps back.
No, Yuuri thinks. No. Don’t stop. I’m just an idiot. Ignore me. Just do it.
But it’s his thought, safe in the privacy of his mind. Yuuri has the unreal sense that he’s already given too much of his emotion to Victor. This… This truth, he gets to keep.
“Okay,” Victor says, as if they’ve had a whole conversation.
He lifts a hand to Yuuri’s cheek, brushes his jawline. Yuuri shivers.
It’s not okay.
“I get it,” Victor says softly. “Let me earn it, Yuuri. There’s nothing I want more.”
The shameful truth is that he has nothing to earn. There isn’t an inch of Yuuri that hasn’t yearned to be close to Victor. He’s branded as his already, from head to toe, from the expanse of his skin to the deepest eukaryotic cells of his body. He’s Victor’s down to his mitochondria.
Yuuri looks up at Victor. He can’t say this; it’s terrifying even to admit it to himself. Victor doesn’t need an invitation. The terrain is his. Hell, the map is his, delivered already in a drunken stupor.
Once Victor realizes there’s nobody at the gates to keep him out, he’ll invade the territory of Yuuri’s heart without hesitation. Until then…
Yuuri reaches out and pulls Victor into his arms. He doesn’t think about it; he just acts. For a second, Victor is stiff, resisting the embrace; then he melts against him, his breath whispering out against Yuuri’s cheek. Yuuri squeezes him, because for now, this is a wonder. For now, Victor is here. For now, it’s almost like he’s treating Yuuri like someone he really cares about, instead of just following instructions that Yuuri has left like a trail of breadcrumbs.
For now, Yuuri is safe, and Victor hugs him back so hard that Yuuri can almost pretend that they’re in a caring relationship instead of…whatever this is.
He pulls away as people flow around them, pushing past them into the security line, but Victor grabs his hand as they part, and squeezes it.
Yuuri looks up into his eyes. That blue seems to go far, far back, like staring into Hasetsu’s ocean from a boat, straining to see the bottom. If Yuuri let himself, he could invent an entirely new set of lies to explain the look on Victor’s face.
But he can’t. He can’t. He’s already fed Victor one set of lies that he used to tell himself. He can’t let himself develop another set of stronger, more painful lies.
“I’ll text you when my plane lands,” he says.
Yuuri should be reluctant to go, but it’s easy to turn away, easy to head to his plane. He’s wanted Victor for far too long. Now that his fantasies are inexplicably coming true, he’s terrified.