Chapter 1: down
It’s a surprise, when Viktor opens the door and sees Yuuri standing outside. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
St. Petersburg was depressingly familiar, gloomy and bitingly cold in the way coastal Hasetsu never could be. Viktor had missed the cold, loudly lamenting its loss to make Yuuri laugh as Yuuri pulled on scarf, hat, and gloves for a walk with Makkachin. Now Viktor gripped coffee between his gloved hands and burrowed his nose into his scarf, sending selfies to Yuuri in lieu of taking his hand.
The bare bones of his programs came together easily enough, and it wasn’t as though he’d gotten horribly out of shape, skating nearly every day with Yuuri and practicing their duet. Yakov made Viktor skate both programs for him once a week and left him alone otherwise, the same way he had before. Even the grumpiness and dissatisfaction radiating off him was the same as it had been before Viktor left; the only new part was the betrayal in Yakov’s eyes whenever Viktor flubbed a spin.
His free skate was about Yuuri; of course it was, both programs were, and it only made Yakov frown harder, but how could Viktor skate about anything else, now that he knew love firsthand? The song for his free skate was quiet, melancholy layered on top of contentment, and Viktor had the program perfect before he turned twenty-eight. His short program wasn’t ready, though, and he sat out the Russian Nationals, skating alone in his deserted home rink and trying to remember what joyous happiness felt like.
He took time off practice to watch the Japanese Nationals. Yuuri handily cleaned up, even with the original jump composition in the free skate back in place until Worlds. Minako was at his side to hug him in Viktor’s place. Viktor called him as soon as the medal ceremony was done, holding Makkachin in front of his face as the video connected and waving the dog’s paws in a celebratory dance. He could hear Yuuri’s laughter through the fur.
Yuuri called him on his birthday, putting him on speaker in the middle of the kitchen so all four Katsukis could call out their congratulations to him, before taking the phone out to the onsen to talk with Viktor in private. He started crying when Hiroko called him Vicchan and didn’t stop until ten minutes after they hung up, but Yuuri didn’t notice. Viktor found himself crying a lot, in the weeks after Barcelona, and he’d gotten good at doing so silently, face and body perfectly still, tears rolling down his face and doing nothing to ease the itch between his shoulderblades.
He hadn’t cried this much in over fifteen years. It had felt more therapeutic then. Now it just gave him headaches.
Georgi took gold at the Nationals, the first time in his career. So did Mila, but that wasn’t unusual. Viktor sat in his apartment, watching Yakov hug them both on his television, trying to keep Makkachin from licking the salt trails off his cheeks until after the tears stopped. Georgi’s mascara streaked down his face as Yakov beamed at him.
Chris’ yearly Christmas-and-birthday gift made it to Viktor’s doorstep two days late. Last year Chris had sent him a husband pillow, a fifty-ruble gift certificate for Viktor’s favorite ice cream place, and a copy of Chicken Soup for the Broken-Hearted Soul, full of annotations in Chris’ neat script. Congratulations on your first rejection, Chris had written in French on the inside cover. May you channel it into your first silver in a decade next month. Viktor had laughed and bought himself a silver watch, tagging Chris in the Instagram picture he posted.
This year, Chris’ package included a new toy for Makkachin, a family-sized tub of lube, and a copy of Wedding Planning for Dummies. The inscription this year read, If you choose anyone else as your best man, know that you put their life in danger. My speech has been written since Beijing, and by God I will give it, one way or another. It made Viktor smile a little, which was more than any of his other gifts had.
Fear not. I don’t know any men better than you, Viktor texted Chris alongside a picture of Makkachin and the new toy.
I don’t know whether to be flattered or concerned for your mental health, Chris wrote back.
La mélancolie, mon ami. It will pass. It always does.
Speaking to Yuuri helped, and it didn’t. Yuuri’s voice was full of the same longing as Viktor’s, and when there was video he could see it in Yuuri’s eyes as well. It was a comfort that both of them were handling the separation equally poorly, but whenever Yuuri talked about coming to Russia after the European Championships, all Viktor could hear was Let’s end this over the hole in his back widening a little more.
The trouble wasn’t that St. Petersburg was exactly as it had been two years ago; it was that St. Petersburg was exactly as it had been one year ago, in that transitional period between the last Grand Prix Final and World Championships, when Viktor had been bored senseless and obsessing over the possibility of coaching, trying to decide if the shitfaced Japanese skater had been serious, and if Viktor would be any good at coaching. The answers were no and no, as Viktor knew this time around. “I suppose this time next year I’ll know if Yuuri was serious about staying,” Viktor said to Makkachin. “I wonder what new questions I’ll have,” he added, to avoid the fact that the answer would likely be no once again.
Yakov dragged Viktor into his office and gave him a dressing-down the likes of which Viktor hadn’t had since his Juniors days, once everyone was home from Nationals. Mila had snatched a bit of history for herself during her free skate, landing a clean quad toe loop and a new personal best. “I know you fancy yourself a good coach now, Vitya, but you are not her instructor, and you are not to interfere with her training,” Yakov finished, hat askew from the force of his ire.
Viktor tipped his head down from where it had been leaning against the wall while Yakov ranted. “She came to me,” he said, once it seemed it was his turn to talk. “As soon as she found out I was coming back to St. Petersburg. It’s not as though I was trying to poach your clients, Yakov.”
“All the same! She knew my thoughts on her learning quads, which were not yet, damn it, and you had no right to abet her in disobeying me!”
Viktor blew air out of his cheeks. “Yes, Yakov, she knew your thoughts, which is why she’d been practicing them in secret for months.” Yakov blinked. “She nearly had it too, all I did was fine-tune her technique, try and prevent her hurting herself without a proper instructor.” Viktor could feel the tears creeping up and staining the backs of his eyes with salt. He stood. “If you want skaters with no minds of their own, go back to the Novices and pick a new set to mold.”
“Vitya, are you - are you crying?” Yakov stammered, as Viktor picked up his coat.
“And for the record, Yakov,” Viktor said, one hand on the doorknob, “I don’t think myself a good coach. I’m not, and I know that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t help, or that people aren’t better for having me with them.”
Yakov sighed. “That’s not what I meant.”
Mila and Georgi were in the hallway, blatantly eavesdropping, and Mila winced in sympathy at him. He winked at her, clapped Georgi on the shoulder, and skipped the day’s training.
Lilia took him to lunch one day, after an early training session in which Yakov had barely done more than nod in greeting and tsk when Viktor fell. Her house was gaudier than he’d expected, all creamy marble and polished mahogany. There was a small pile of cat toys in a corner of the entryway, and Yurio’s scowling face flashed down at him for a moment before he disappeared behind a door.
“Sit,” she said once they were in the kitchen, pointing to the chair he was to use. Viktor sat and watched her put the finishing touches on something in a slow cooker, finally ladling borscht into a huge bowl and putting it in front of Viktor. “Eat.”
“Aren’t you eating too?”
Lilia shook her head, sitting. “I hate borscht. Eat,” she repeated. “You’re dropping too much weight, it will start to come from your muscles soon.”
The borscht was delicious, although Viktor felt the lack of bread. Lilia sat in silence until he finished, chin propped on her hand. “I’m doing my best with Yakov,” she said suddenly, as Viktor placed his spoon down. “He is behaving in very poor form.”
That was a surprise. Viktor blinked and shrugged. “You needn’t, not on my account. I should have expected it. The fact that I didn’t is my own fault.” Looking back, Viktor had never really believed Yakov wouldn’t forgive him, even with all the sniping in public and shouting at press conferences. He’d assumed Yakov would come around easily enough, especially once Yuuri took silver and and Viktor’s own world record. Viktor had thought of Yakov as a father for so long, he had forgotten it wasn’t mutual.
“Yes, well, it isn’t all on your account,” Lilia said, snapping him out of his thoughts. “He sets a bad example for the other skaters under his care, treating you this way just because you disappointed him. They will fear the same, and stand in their own way to avoid it.”
Viktor hummed, tapping his fingers against the handle of the spoon. “When does Katsuki come?” Lilia asked.
“Katsuki. You are continuing to coach him, yes? When is he coming to continue training?”
“He’s coming to the Europeans,” Viktor said, swallowing. “And then to St. Petersburg after, to get ready for the Four Continents.” The damn crying started again, but he didn’t dare reach up to wipe the tears away while Lilia regarded him.
“Hmm.” Lilia frowned at him for a long moment, then raised her voice and called, “Yuri Plisetsky! Eavesdropping is an ugly habit!”
Yurio appeared in the doorway, Potya clutched in his arms. “Can I have some borscht?”
“One bowl, but first you must package up the rest for Viktor.” Lilia stood and swept out of the kitchen. Yurio glared at Viktor as he put Potya down.
The last portion of borscht was heating on the stove for lunch when Viktor realized that the itch between his shoulders hadn’t bothered him in hours. “How about that, Makkachin,” he said, turning the heat off and pouring the stew into a bowl. “New year, new start.” Makkachin blocked his way to the table. “Oh, someone wants their own lunch, do they? But they have to let Viktor put his bowl on the table first, so he can use his hands!” Makkachin allowed Viktor to put his bowl onto the counter, and Viktor counted that an acceptable compromise.
The itch between his shoulders, a persistent nagging irritation that sometimes flared into pain, had been there since Yuuri waved him onto a plane in Japan. He should have realized that it would only stop if he and Yuuri were once again in the same country.
Viktor flings the door open at two minutes to midnight, call still active on the phone in his hand. “Happy New Year,” Yuuri says into the phone he holds to his ear. Viktor hangs up, throws his phone onto the table by the door, and pulls Yuuri into a hug.
Yuuri fits as well as he ever did. He smells of travel, of sharp Russian air, of the chemical interior of a sanitized cab, and his skin is warm under the cold.
Down the block, people start to shout the countdown. Viktor kisses Yuuri from seven to Happy New Year, and Yuuri kisses him again after that for good measure. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be here for your birthday,” he murmurs, forehead pressed to Viktor’s.
Viktor shakes his head, grabbing blindly for Yuuri’s suitcase and tugging them all inside the warm house. Makkachin is losing his mind, nearly knocking Yuuri down to get at his face and lick. Yuuri laughs and hugs him, crooning, “Hello Makkachin, yes, I missed you too, your fur is so warm.” Viktor stands, watching them, trying to catch his breath. He presses a hand to his chest.
Yuuri prises his way out of Makkachin’s embrace and stands. He’s bashful now, face flushed, hands twitching at his sides. “Hi,” he says.
Viktor lets out a helpless laugh and tugs Yuuri back into his arms. “Hi,” he breathes into Yuuri’s neck. Yuuri’s arms come up and wrap around him, one hand coming to rest between Viktor’s shoulderblades, and Viktor bursts into loud, wrenching sobs.
Viktor cries himself into a doze in Yuuri’s arm, back against Yuuri’s warm chest on the couch. When he wakes, Makkachin has shoved himself in and around their tangle of legs, and Yuuri is singing something soft in Japanese into Viktor’s hair. One hand is tracing slowly up and down Viktor’s arm; Viktor catches it in his own, twining their fingers together. Yuuri sings the song to a close; it sounds like a lullaby, something about mountains and souvenirs. “How long are you staying?” Viktor asks into the new silence.
Yuuri shifts behind him, pushing one shoulder further under himself so he can better wrap his arm around Viktor. “As long as you need me.”
“Forever, then,” Viktor murmurs, running the pad of his thumb over Yuuri’s ring.
Viktor shoves himself up and turns to search Yuuri’s face. There’s nothing but sincerity there, but he still has to ask - “Really?”
Yuuri chuckles and reaches up to brush some of Viktor’s hair out of his face. “I missed you too, you know.”
Viktor kisses him, staying on his mouth for only a moment before he has to shove his face into Yuuri’s neck and be held for a few more minutes. Yuuri obliges him, humming the lullaby again until Viktor can show his face once more, and then says, “Do you sleep on this couch, or do you by any chance have a bed with more room for such things?”
“Yes, yes I do.” Viktor rolls to his feet and holds a hand out. “I even have a shower, if you would like to partake.”
It’s closer to two than one by the time Yuuri finishes washing the travel from his hair, and they sleep until well past ten. Yuuri would sleep longer, but Viktor shakes him awake and pushes a mug of coffee into his hands. “Jet lag,” Viktor says. Yuuri groans and shoves his head against Viktor’s hip where it sits against the pillow, but he sits up afterward. “How did you know?” Viktor asks, quieter.
Yuuri looks at him sidelong over the coffee. “Yurio texted me. I knew it was - that is, I knew we both weren’t doing well, but he told me you were driving him mad and he’d murder you with a dull skate if I didn’t get up here and fix you.”
Viktor snorts. “As if Yakov would let his skates get dull.”
“That’s what I said, but Yurio is nothing if not determined enough to wreck his skates to prove a point.”
“Fair.” Viktor leans down, laying his head in Yuuri’s lap under the coffee. “I missed you,” he murmurs into the sleep pants wrapped around Yuuri’s thigh. He tries to keep it quiet enough that Yuuri can’t hear, but fingers find their way into his hair all the same.
After a bit of waffling, Viktor skates his incomplete short program for Yuuri and barely has time to beg for help before Yuuri is on the ice with a list of suggestions. He essentially re-choreographs the entire step sequence and moves it to a different place in the program, and Viktor can tell after the first run-through that Yuuri has made it as close to perfect as it will get.
He skates it for Yakov three days later, grinning with his first satisfaction in months by the end of the music. Yakov cuts his eyes over to Yuuri, watching safely from the other side of the rink. “Not bad, Vitya. Not bad at all. Glad to see you back in fighting form.”
Viktor nods, feeling unexpectedly disappointed. Perhaps Yakov can sense it, because his departing huff is more resigned than irritated as he leaves the rink.
“Wow,” Yuuri says when Viktor skates over to his side of the ice, watching the door as though expecting Yakov to come back through and wrap Viktor in his arms. He doesn’t say anything else, though, except, “When can I see your free skate?”
“At the Europeans,” Viktor says, stepping off the ice and taking his guards from Yuuri. Yuuri frowns at him, clearly disappointed, and Viktor laughs. “It’s a surprise, my Yuuri. Have patience.”
“It’s the European Championships, not Christmas,” Yuuri grumbles.
Viktor slings an arm around Yuuri’s shoulders as they make for the locker room. “You’re right. It’s better.”
The crying stops happening, at least, and it’s easy enough for Viktor to lose himself in the routine of practice, now that Yuuri is at his side, but both his programs are as perfect as they will ever be a week before their flights, and it leaves him too much time to think.
The itch comes back, twinging late at night, or whenever Yakov watches him skate, or whenever Yuuri says something about Hasetsu with a tinge of nostalgia in his voice. Yuuri catches him at it, sees him rolling his neck or his shoulderblades, and makes sure to plaster himself to Viktor’s back like a koala when they make it home. “I don’t know what to do,” Yuuri mumbles into the back of his neck one night, a handful of days before their flights. “Tell me how to help you, please let me help you, there must be something I can do.”
Somehow this turns into Viktor giving Yuuri a bath, washing his hair and cleaning the dirt from under his nails, drying him off and wrapping him in Viktor’s coziest bathrobe. Yuuri is nearly asleep by the time Viktor tucks him into bed, warm and soft and heavy in Viktor’s arms, and it’s the nearest to a cure Viktor has ever been able to find.
The flight is hell. The seats are on his sponsors’ dime, and he manages to wrangle Yuuri into first class beside him, but he can’t sleep. He watches Yuuri sleep instead, resisting the urge to reach out for his hand and wake him up. Is this how you feel before every competition? he thinks, remembering Yuuri trembling in a parking garage in Beijing. Yuuri had managed to channel his fear into his free skate, grabbing Viktor’s glass heart and knotting it in his traces so tightly that Viktor became his forever. Viktor would have to do the same this time.
Yakov pulls him aside that night, under the gimlet eye of his ex-wife, and they wind up walking the perimeter of the abandoned outdoor pool for ages, until even Viktor has to wrap his gloved hands around his ears to remind himself they’re still there. He opens his mouth at that point, but Yakov beats him to it. “What - what do you need from me, right now, Vitya?” Yakov asks.
Viktor snorts and stops walking, leaning against a nearby railing. “That seems to be the question of the hour.” Yakov looks at him. Viktor closes his eyes. “People keep asking me. What do I need, what can they do, what would help me.”
Yakov is quiet for a few heartbeats. “It’s gotten that bad, has it?” Viktor just hums, and Yakov sighs. Viktor hears the fabric of his coat rustling as he settles himself next to Viktor. “I didn’t see. I’m sorry.”
Viktor doesn’t hum at that, doesn’t make any noise, and Yakov waits next to him, equally silent. Finally, Viktor says, “Too good to be true, I suppose.”
“That I could be competitive and happy at the same time.”
“Were you happy?” Yakov asks, sounding surprised. “In Japan, with him?”
Viktor opens his eyes and looks at him. “I was,” he says. “If not the happiest I’ve ever been, then the happiest I’ve been in a long time.” He looks back at the water. “Like I said. Too good to be true.”
Yakov snorts, the closest to a hug he ever gives. “When have you ever let that stop you?”
Viktor is fourth after the short program, with his highest performance score in over ten years. Chris is practically glowing with delight from the front of the ranks, and Viktor tries to stay out of his way, to keep from marring his well-earned satisfaction.
This resolution lasts until just after dinner, when Chris knocks the butt of a bottle of champagne against Viktor’s door until he opens it. “Can I come in,” Chris says, already setting the bottle down on the table in Viktor’s room. “Where’s your man?”
“Off with the Crispino twins and Mila, and Nekola.” Viktor takes a full flute from Chris and toasts him. “Congratulations. Personal best, wasn’t it?”
“By nearly two points.” Chris makes a token effort to hide his smugness, which Viktor appreciates, and then he sits, crossing one leg over the other. An indecent amount of thigh shows under his robe. “Come. Tell Auntie Chris your woes.”
Viktor sits with a sigh. “I told you. La mélancolie, mon ami.”
“You did say that, yes,” Chris says, regarding Viktor far more intently than Viktor is entirely comfortable with. “Your coach looks like he’s terrified of you.”
Viktor snorts. “Yakov isn’t terrified of anything. He’s just toying with the idea of forgiving me.”
“Mmm.” Chris takes another sip. “And how are things with le délicieux katsudon? As idyllic as ever?” Viktor doesn’t answer. Chris puts his flute down and leans forward. “Ah, there is the terror. Tell me.”
Viktor shakes his head. “Everything is fine, Chris. He’s - we’re together, in St. Petersburg, and we’re going to stay together, he promised, but...” He doesn’t remember downing the rest of his drink, but the flute is empty.
Chris takes it and sets both flutes on a desk behind him. “But?”
Viktor stares at the carpet, feeling his stomach churn and his back itch, and finally it erupts out of him. “He told me he wanted to leave me.”
“What?” Shock is written across Chris’ face when Viktor looks back at him. “When?”
“In Barcelona. After the short programs.” Chris relaxes, and Viktor goes on. “He said he wanted to end things, and I should go back to skating and he would retire, and I had no idea it was coming -” He’s crying again, but it isn’t the soulless drop of tears from the previous month, nor the unstoppable fountain of New Year’s Day. It feels more like it felt when he was fifteen. He already feels lighter for it.
Chris lets him cry, making soothing noises and keeping the alcohol well out of reach, until Viktor dries up a few minutes later. “Have you told him?”
Viktor shakes his head. “It isn’t just that, just him. It’s...”
“Everything?” Chris supplies. Viktor nods. “Poor tortured soul,” Chris murmurs, and unlike everyone else who’s ever said that to him, Chris doesn’t sound mocking.
He trails a finger across Viktor’s jaw as he leaves, taking the flutes and drink with him. “Bien joué,” Viktor calls after him.
Yakov rants out his customary pep talk as Viktor stretches and approaches the edge of the rink, and it feels more like them than it had before the short program, somehow. “Don’t get complacent,” Yakov finishes, handing Viktor his water bottle as Crispino takes his bows. “I know you’ve had this program down for weeks, but if you want to medal you can’t half-ass it. Don’t give me that look, you half-ass the Europeans every year,” he adds before Viktor can swallow and speak, taking the water bottle back.
“I promise to put my whole ass into this performance,” Viktor says. Yakov rolls his eyes and steps aside, and there Yuuri is, moving forward as Viktor steps onto the ice.
“This program better be worth the wait,” Yuuri says after a moment, running his fingers over the back of Viktor’s hand where it rests on the boards.
The stands erupt into applause for Crispino. Viktor leans forward. “Don’t worry,” he murmurs into Yuuri’s ear. “I’m going to show my love to the whole of Europe.”
In the single heartbeat of time between taking his initial pose and the first strains of music, Viktor understands the fear that has been lurking behind his heart and in his stomach and under his tongue. He nearly laughs aloud with the relief of it, but this isn’t music for laughter, and instead he channels it into the speed he needs for the first jump.
He’s going to show his love to the whole of Europe, and then maybe someone will tell him he’s allowed to keep it.
He ends with one arm reached out towards where Yuuri stands at the boards, and he’s sweating hard enough that he may as well be back in the onsen again. Yuuri is looking as bowled over as he did then, and Viktor finally does let himself laugh as he bows.
Yakov is waiting with his blade guards, but as Viktor nears the boards Yuuri shoves him aside. “Stupid Viktor,” he says as Viktor sweeps him up and off his feet. “We’re going to be together always.”
“Always?” Viktor staggers a few steps towards the kiss and cry before Yuuri slides back down to the ground to pull him there by the hand.
Yuuri burrows himself into Viktor once they’re seated, nodding against his shoulder. Yakov settles himself on Viktor’s other side. “Well done, boy,” he says over the din of the cheers. “You really showed your ass.” Viktor frowns at him over his laughter.
Chris is radiant on the podium that night, winking at the cameras over his gold medal. Viktor slaps his rear in congratulations as he skates his own bronze over to Yuuri once the press has dissipated. He lifts it up as he approaches. “Not bad for a rusty old geezer, eh?”
Yuuri just raises an eyebrow as Viktor brandishes the medal. “What am I supposed to do with bronze?” He leans close. “I only kiss gold medals.” He smirks at Viktor’s stunned expression, kissing him to smooth it away.
“Gold medals and foolish Russians,” Viktor says.
“So it would seem.”
Viktor presses his lips to the smooth gold, warmed by Yuuri’s fingers and the heat of his chest. “Now this is a medal,” he murmurs, leaning up to kiss Yuuri’s mouth next.
“Good enough for a wedding?” Yuuri asks.
In lieu of answering, Viktor sweeps Yuuri into another kiss, deep enough that he can hear Phichit coo from where he and his bronze medal wait for them. “Don’t think this means I’m going to go easy on you at Worlds,” Yuuri says when they separate, Viktor’s favorite flush across his cheeks. “That’s how I show my love.”
Viktor beams at him. The smiles are easier now, after weeks of waking up next to Yuuri every morning and getting barked at by Yakov every afternoon. Chris sends him daily selfies with his gold medal, in various locations and varying states of undress. The itch in his back is a scar now, rather than a hole. “A lot can happen in six weeks, my Yuuri,” he says, taking his hand. “Can we marry at the onsen?”
“Oh, Dad already has a full marketing campaign based around it,” Yuuri answers darkly, and frowns when Viktor bursts into laughter.
I didn't have a specific song in mind for the SP, but I pictured Viktor's FS to The Rules for Lovers.