It wasn’t hard to spot a 180cm platinum blond in Fukuoka International Airport. Especially when he was the only person wearing sunglasses. Indoors. At night.
“Viktor!” Mari winced at how hard she flapped the R in his name, nearly adding a final U to it. It wasn’t like Viktor didn’t have an accent himself, but he managed to make his throaty vowels sound charming. Mari just sounded like a Kyushu hick.
Thanks to the internet, Mari had much better English than her parents, who had rarely spoken to foreigners even before Hasetsu tourism crashed, but she was nowhere near Yuuri’s level of practiced fluency. Viktor, for his part, could understand most of what was said around him in Japanese but usually had to answer in English, with Yuuri acting as an interpreter.
But Yuuri was still in Moscow. And Viktor was here because Mari had nearly killed his dog.
Given the sunglasses, it was hard to tell the exact moment that Viktor spotted her. He’d been walking in her general direction, but eventually there was more intention to his movements. The twist of his mouth couldn’t properly be called a smile.
“Mari! I didn’t know anybody was meeting me here.”
Mari gritted her teeth at the open friendliness in his greeting. It would be so easy to respond in the same casual tone, to pretend everything was fine and she didn’t have any responsibility to take here. But it wouldn’t be right.
“Viktor.” She placed her hands before her and bowed at the waist, deep as she could go without bending her knees. “I’m truly sorry for my carelessness.”
Silence. Mari risked a glance upward at Viktor, which was stupid because those sunglasses still obscured his expression.
“Did—” His voice quavered, letting through the emotions that his glasses concealed. “Did something else happen? Did you message me? I had wifi on the flight from Seoul, but maybe nothing got through. Last I knew, the vet was keeping her for observation until tomorrow. Oh god, Mari, is she okay?”
Mari stood up abruptly from the bow. Of all the scenarios she’d imagined before Viktor’s plane landed, panic hadn’t featured in a single one. Anger, absolutely. The most painful version had been the one where Viktor walked right past her as if she were a total stranger. There was a bonus variation where Yuuri gave her the same treatment a few days later, they packed up Viktor's room in silence, and the Katsukis never heard from either of them again. She would have deserved that.
“Makkachin is fine. I mean, she will be. That’s not…” She had to pause and arrange the English words in her head. “She’s still at the vet, and we can pick her up tomorrow morning. I want to apologize for not watching her more closely. I’m sorry I didn’t clean up the shrine offerings before bed. I’m sorry you had to leave Yuuri alone in Moscow because of me.”
Viktor grumbled something in Russian that Mari assumed was profanity, judging by the cadence.
“It’s not your place to apologize for my dog’s lack of training,” he said, his voice terse. “I’ve had fifteen years to make her stop stealing food. I’m sorry your family had to deal with the consequences of my own irresponsibility.”
She wanted to argue, to explain how all her small failures built up to Makkachin wheezing in the back of the inn’s rattling supply van as Mari’s father drove to the emergency vet at top speed. She’d had almost twenty-four years of being the diligent eldest child who watched her friends move away for degrees, careers, marriages, while she stayed at home so her artistic, ambitious little brother could follow his every dream, and she’d single-handedly sabotaged him when it mattered most. Why couldn’t Viktor see that?
But the point of apologies wasn’t to browbeat the other person into accepting your contrition. Of course, it was also rude to argue with someone who was trying to apologize, but maybe Russians didn’t care so much about letting people save face. Not that she knew what Russians were like other than Viktor and Yurio, both of whom seemed to be unusual examples.
“Here’s an idea,” Viktor said, less firmly now. “I’ll accept your apology if you accept mine. I forgive you, Mari.”
“I… I forgive you too?”
“There we go. Now let’s find a train home before some teenager on Instagram tells the media I’m here.”
“Are all Russians this weird?” she wondered in Japanese as Viktor led the way toward the shuttle for the subway line.
“I understood that, and I am definitely weirder than most. Shall we?”
They’d missed a train by seconds; the next one would be in just under a quarter hour. Mari muttered that she was going to find the smoking area. Viktor gave a noncommittal hum of assent and followed her, tapping away at his phone as he walked.
Mari lit up and watched Viktor out of the corner of her eye. He was scrolling through Twitter, tapping the heart icon every few seconds, sometimes writing a short reply.
“Yuuri's mentions?” she asked.
“Yeah.” He didn’t elaborate on why he was so focused on them just now, but Mari could guess. She didn’t have to know skating to realize that Viktor’s disappearance in the middle of a competition could look bad. Staying active on social media would tell the world Viktor was thinking about Yuuri, plus it would create buzz among the fans as their idol’s coach responded to their messages. Mari could personally attest to the feeling of drawing a celebrity’s notice. She’d squealed like a teenager the time Takao (okay, she wasn’t an idiot, it was more than likely Takao’s social media manager) fave’d her tweet.
“Could I have one of those?” Viktor asked, gesturing at Mari’s cigarette.
“You don’t smoke.”
“I used to. I promise I’m not starting back up or anything else that would upset Yuuri. Please?”
Mari silently held out her pack and lighter.
Viktor sighed deeply when he took his first drag, as if he was letting all the tension of the day flow out of his body.
“Oh god, I missed this,” he murmured. “That’s why I had to quit. I started as a way to relax, and then it just kept going until I had a cigarette in my hand any time I wasn’t on the ice. It was affecting my skating.”
Viktor looked ready to say something more. He opened and closed his mouth, anyway. The sunglasses still made it difficult to know any more than that. They smoked in silence, but Mari couldn’t shake the feeling that Viktor’s eyes stayed on her.
“You should quit too,” he said in a low voice, quiet enough that the other smokers wouldn’t hear, if they even spoke English. “Yuuri worries about you.”
Mari snorted. “Don’t you know? The Japanese don’t get lung cancer like you weak Europeans.”
“It’s true. We smoke more and have less cancer.” She flicked the last of her ash off into the garbage and threw the butt away. Viktor followed suit, even though his cigarette had a couple minutes left in it.
“You should still quit.”
“You should take off those stupid sunglasses,” she retorted and set off for the train platform without looking back to see if Viktor was following her. The bumpy roll of his suitcase over the tiled station floor made it clear enough anyway.
When they reached the platform, Viktor grabbed her arm and crowded entirely too close. Mari was ready to snap at him, but any harsh words died in her throat as Viktor tilted his glasses up just far enough that she could see his eyes. The sclerae were blotched over in pink with angry, red veins standing out against the paler background. His eyelids were so puffy that the usual dimples above his cheekbones were almost invisible. If she hadn’t known the real reason he looked like this, Mari would have guessed he’d lost a fistfight. Badly. No wonder he wouldn’t take the glasses off.
“Seriously?” she breathed, momentarily forgetting to speak English.
Viktor huffed not-quite-a-laugh at that. “Seriously. It’s pathetic, I know.”
“It’s fine.” Mari stepped back. Viktor was drawing enough stares just by being a tall foreigner. The last thing they both needed was inappropriate physical closeness to pull even more attention to them.
The station speakers chimed and the pleasant voice of the PA recording announced the next train. Queueing up gave Mari the first opportunity to truly sort out her thoughts since the moment she’d caught sight of Viktor in the airport.
She knew Viktor would be upset over Makkachin; it would be strange for him not to be. If he’d had Makkachin long enough to inspire Yuuri to get Vicchan all those years ago, she was probably one of his oldest companions. But to cry for hours, long enough and hard enough to leave his eyes in that state? That kind of devastation would still seem overblown to Mari if Makkachin hadn’t survived, and it all added up to make her feel uncomfortable and helpless in the face of his grief.
Viktor clearly didn’t want to hear more apologies, and he’d left his best source of comfort behind in Moscow. There was nothing Mari could say to make him feel better.
“Your Japanese is strange,” she said instead, because dry sarcasm was always her first refuge when put on the spot. “You say nasakenai in standard dialect but wakattoru like a grandpa from Hasetsu. It’s a mess.”
The insult earned her the first real smile from Viktor all evening. This wasn’t the carefully pleasant upturn of the lips he’d maintained in the airport and the station, as if waiting for paparazzi to pounce on him. There was a flash of teeth and the familiar dip at the cupid’s bow that made his grin look like a heart.
“How’s this, then? Gabai nasakenaka!” he said in the most exaggerated Saga accent Mari had ever heard.
“Please never speak Japanese again.” She tossed her head and stepped onto the train with all the dignity of an empress, Viktor still snickering at his own cleverness behind her.
“Are you doing a viewing party at Yu-topia tonight?” Viktor asked suddenly, once they’d settled into their seats.
“No, it’s too late,” she said. “I think Japanese TV will show it tomorrow, but there’s nothing live. Minako said she watched on a bad stream last night.”
“You know, I hadn’t even thought about that. I didn’t cancel my TV subscription from Russia when I came here, so I should be able to get an official stream on my computer. Want to invite people?”
Minako answered Mari’s Line within seconds. Her proxy stream for the short program had been, quote, “the worst of the worst,” and she could offer Viktor free sweet potato shochu for life at the snack bar if he let her watch through a legitimate channel.
The Nishigoris, on the other hand, sent their regrets. Yuuko said they couldn’t bring the triplets or leave them home alone, but neither she nor Takeshi felt right saddling the other with the girls so only one of them could watch Yuuri. They would catch up on Youtube. Mari’s parents said much the same thing. They had to open the inn the next morning, and it had been a very long day. They didn’t expect to be awake when Mari and Viktor got back.
The rest of the trip was awkward. Viktor still wasn’t his usual, chatty self. Of course he wouldn’t be, not after the last 18 hours. Mari’s experience as a conversationalist consisted mostly of nodding along as drunken patrons complained about her generation or urged her to find a spouse soon and stop making her parents worry for the future of Yu-topia. What was she supposed to say to draw a normally gregarious man out of his shell? “Sorry your dog almost died” had already backfired. Her go-to opener, “Want to hear embarrassing stories about my little brother’s teenage crush on you?” wouldn’t be much better under the circumstances. He seemed to be responding well to rudeness, for some reason, but it was a bit draining on her. Not crying didn’t mean she hadn’t spent the day exhausted and worried.
She settled for staring at nothing, pretending not to notice when Viktor’s breathing entered the same smooth cycles that Mari knew Yuuri used to calm himself down. Four counts in, six counts out. Was that a trick all figure skaters knew, or had Yuuri taught it to Viktor? Or, for that matter, did Viktor learn it from his own experiences off the ice? She wouldn’t dare ask such a personal question, decades of social conditioning winning out over her curiosity, but something about Viktor made her suspect he and Yuuri were alike well beyond their lives as skaters.
Minako was waiting for them at Yu-topia with several large bottles of saké and two six-packs of beer. She frowned when Viktor’s sunglasses finally came off, but she didn’t say anything. They all crowded onto one of the sofas in Viktor’s room while he set up his laptop and logged on to his satellite account. The pairs’ free skate was still broadcasting. Minako and Viktor kept up a running commentary and tried, hopelessly, to teach Mari to spot the differences between jumps. By the time a couple from France stood at the top of the podium, Mari could correctly identify an Axel but had made Viktor double over laughing when she asked, “Was that a… Lutz?” at a not-an-Axel jump. Tipsy Viktor was kind of a jerk, but at least he seemed to be feeling better.
They were all comfortably drunk when the first men’s group hit the ice. Viktor didn’t have much to say about these lower-ranked skaters, none of them contenders for Barcelona. He perked up a bit more as the final group began their performances, although he complained when the network kept cutting out of the six-minute warm-up for a recap of the group’s short programs.
The first skater’s jumps were impressive until they, well, weren’t. The next performer was all classic sophistication… and then Viktor started giggling that the whole program was inspired by the skater’s twin sister, at which point it got creepy. Viktor didn’t laugh when the score came up, though, and put Michele Crispino in first place by a huge margin. He shrugged off Minako’s offer of more saké, grabbed one of the many notebooks he kept stashed all over the room, and started sketching out columns of numbers next to skaters’ names, only looking up to declare Lee Seung-Gil’s costume a huge disappointment after what he’d worn the day before.
“Like a fluffy, gay peacock!” he proclaimed. “He was life goals.”
“More like a parrot,” Minako countered.
“Parrot, peacock, whatever. The point is he was glorious, and now this is just meh.”
“Meh” seemed a decent summary of the performance overall. Seung-Gil couldn’t seem to land his jumps, including an error on one that was, apparently, a big deal. He ended up well behind the other skaters in the group so far. Then it was Yurio’s turn. Viktor had finished whatever math he’d been doing and returned his focus to the broadcast. He and Minako both gasped as Yurio did… something. It wasn’t jumps, just some spins and skating around. What had they seen that was so shocking?
“It’s about the placement of his jumps,” Minako explained in Japanese when she noticed Mari’s confusion. “He’s changed all his choreography so he’ll have six jumping passes after the halfway point. All those jumps will get a scoring bonus, but it won’t be easy to land everything and maintain his musicality, especially if he hasn’t tried it this way before.”
“The commentators just said this isn’t how he did it in practice today,” Viktor added. “Yakov is either furious or thrilled. He hates surprises, but he was always telling me to plan back-up jump layouts, just in case.”
“And I bet you never did,” said Minako.
“Never needed to. Why bother?”
“It might be a good habit for Yuuri, though. His biggest problem is losing confidence when something goes wrong. Having something to fall back on could help.”
Mari found herself nodding along. She didn’t understand much about the particulars of Yuuri’s skating ability, but everything Minako said matched the best ways to support Yuuri in other parts of his life. Mari remembered one notable year when she helped Yuuri, then in primary school, make Valentine’s chocolate for Toyomura Yuuko and Nishigori Takeshi. They had to run to the store for extra obligation chocolate as well, in case Yuuko and Takeshi didn’t like Yuuri as much as he liked them. Mari got to eat the obligation chocolate herself, and the drama didn’t repeat itself for White Day.
“Maybe.” Viktor sounded unconvinced. “I don’t want to overwhelm him when he’s already struggling with consistency. Plus he gets angry if I suggest lowering the difficulty. You saw what happened at the block championship.”
“So don’t offer him less difficulty. Give him another quad or something. His current layouts will be the new back-ups, and he’ll know you believe in his ability to do even better.”
“He knows I believe in him,” said Viktor. He leaned forward so he could see Minako clearly around Mari. “You don’t think he knows?”
He sounded hurt, Mari thought. Such a reaction wasn’t about his relationship with Yuuri as a coach, that was for sure.
“I’m sure he knows on one level,” Minako answered gently. “But extra proof wouldn’t do him any harm. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but he’s good at overlooking how much people care about him. Anyway, it was only a suggestion. The final decision is for you and Yuuri to make.”
Viktor nodded slowly and sank back into the sofa cushions, chewing his lip. He picked up another notebook but kept glancing between it and the laptop screen throughout Yurio’s performance, clearly not wanting to miss it.
Yurio landed his jumps cleanly all the way to the end, when he collapsed to the ice with exhaustion. Mari and Minako leapt to their feet, applauding, and Viktor looked quietly satisfied.
“Is this bad for Yuuri?” Mari asked once she’d calmed down enough to sit again. She would never apologize for being a fan of Yurio (not a Yuri’s Angel, to be clear, but a fan of the actual Yuri Plisetsky, the kid who stomped around the inn and used his rage to create beautiful skating), but it did feel a little disloyal to be so excited by a performance that might keep Yuuri from his goal.
“No, not really,” said Viktor. “He shouldn’t have to worry about Seung-Gil or Emil at all. He can beat Michele with about 175, and I’d guess Yurio’s score won’t take much more than that either. It would be a new personal best, but Yuuri can do it. I designed that program to break two hundred with a good, clean skate.”
Minako whistled. Two hundred points was good, Mari guessed. Very good. She realized just how good when the number 199.87 popped up next to Yurio’s name. Even a routine with all that extra difficulty still hadn’t quite reached 200, and all Yuuri had to do to get there was skate well? Mari knew, in an abstract sense, that her brother was one of the best skaters in the world. To think of his skill in those terms, though, was something else. “Katsuki Yuuri” was a name young skaters would speak the way Yuuri had grown up saying “Viktor Nikiforov.” Maybe they already did. All Yuuri needed was one good day, just to show himself he could do it, and he would be unstoppable. Mari couldn’t wait to see it happen.
The camera cut to Yuuri. He was already at the center of the ice, looking down in his starting pose. His first movements were hesitant, like he was trying to remember the choreography. This was not going to be that 200-point day.
“He looks nervous,” said Mari.
Viktor hunched forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. “I know.”
They all groaned when Yuuri messed up his first jump combination. Mari could see something had gone wrong, although Yuuri didn’t fall or put a hand down. His legs were too loose in the air, like all his momentum had been cut off before he left the ice. He got it together for another jump and a spin, but his landing of the next jump almost sent him sprawling. Viktor sighed and muttered something in Russian. Minako reached across Mari and smacked him on the back of the head.
“Hey,” she said, her tone clipped with annoyance. “Mari and I speak Japanese because we know you understand us. Russian is cheating. No hiding what you think.”
“I should never have left him alone.” He was still staring at the laptop screen. “Makkachin’s going to be fine, I shouldn’t have—”
“Bullshit.” If there was one thing Mari knew in English, it was swearing. Viktor’s whole torso jerked as he turned to look at her. It was a bigger reaction than he’d given to Minako’s slap. Mari hoped he'd be able to understand what she was about to say, because it was too much to put into English. “Yuuri made you come home because it was right. He gets nervous, but he’s an adult. It isn’t your job to take care of him that way, not as his coach or as his boyfriend.”
“He nailed the Axel!” Minako interrupted.
Viktor gave Mari an odd look that she couldn’t interpret—and wasn’t that just a running theme for the evening?—before turning his attention back to the laptop. On the screen, Yuuri was skating like his mistakes had never happened. He landed jump after jump cleanly. His arm movements were confident, his feet always exactly where they should be. Viktor named each element for Mari’s benefit as it passed. Triple flip. Triple Axel, half loop, triple Salchow. Triple Lutz, triple toe. Step sequence, level 4. As exhausting as the program must have been, Yuuri’s movements were smooth and deliberate. Yurio had been flagging at this point. Yuuri didn’t even look tired.
“Maybe he’ll go for the flip again,” said Minako.
“He seems determined enough,” Viktor agreed. “Nope, quad toe— Oh, Yuuri, no.”
Mari had been ready to cheer as Yuuri launched into yet another jump, even though his hand brushed the ice at the end. “What? What did he do wrong?” she asked.
“That’s a fourth combo. The limit is three. The double toe won’t get credit, and the quad will take a deduction.” He leaned back to speak to Minako over Mari’s head. “You’re right. I’ll talk to him about backups. Quad Salchow for the triple Lutz, do you think?”
“Or a quad flip,” said Minako.
Viktor gave a soft huff of laughter. “Last time he did the flip in competition, he was mad at me. I don’t know if I want to put that in his head every time he skates.”
“Last time he did the flip, you kissed him. You should put it in both his programs, give him some incentive to perform well.”
“I’ll think about it.” Viktor had looked away from Minako, but his head wasn’t turned far enough from Mari to hide the dusting of pink across his cheeks.
The slow-motion replays of the program ended, cutting to Yuuri and his temporary coach in the kiss and cry area. Yuuri’s score was lower than the goals Viktor had mentioned earlier, putting him in third, but nobody looked too disappointed. Viktor’s old coach even seemed quite pleased.
“Okay,” Viktor murmured. “Okay, Yuuri.”
“He made it?” Mari asked.
“If JJ doesn’t place below second, yes. Yuuri and Michele will be tied for qualifying points, and Yuuri’s silver in China will win the tiebreaker.”
“JJ would never get lower than second,” said Minako. “He’s going to beat Yurio for gold easily.”
Viktor shrugged. A young man with dark hair glided onto center ice. He was of a firmer build than anybody else skating that evening. Everything about his stance suggested confidence and athleticism, and the height of his first jump only confirmed it.
“Who is he?” Mari hadn’t watched the short program the night before since she had to open the inn in the morning. Her parents had woken her in the middle of the night so they could rush Makkachin to the vet, and after that she hadn’t had time to look at Yuuri’s standings until the train ride to Fukuoka. The only other competitor she recognized tonight was Yurio.
Viktor shrugged again. “Some Canadian, I dunno.”
“‘Some Canadian.’ Ugh! Don’t make me smack you again,” Minako warned. She focused her attention on Mari, switching to Japanese. “Jean-Jacques Leroy won bronze at last year’s GPF and gold at Four Continents, and he came in fifth at Worlds. He’s nineteen and one of the favorites for the Final this year. By the time he’s done skating, you’ll want him to impregnate you with powerful, Canadian babies.”
“Tell me I heard that wrong,” Viktor groaned. “He’s so boring!”
He waved at the screen just as JJ lowered himself almost all the way to the ice and glided along with his fingers skimming the rink surface, one leg extended below his bent knee. Mari couldn’t see anything boring about that.
Minako scoffed and declared Viktor banned from commentary for the rest of the night. Viktor responded by grabbing another beer and his phone. A few seconds later, Mari’s notifications for @v-nikiforov lit up as Viktor filled a thread with praise for Yuuri’s program. She wondered if his followers would recognize the thread as a sign that he wasn’t watching JJ. Not knowing about Viktor’s career beyond the things she learned secondhand from Yuuri, she couldn’t work out if Viktor’s disdain stemmed from rivalry on the ice or a more personal reason. What did somebody have to do to make Viktor Nikiforov dislike them? He didn’t have a bad word for anybody in Hasetsu.
None of that changed how attractive JJ’s hair was. Or his ass. How had Mari been missing out on skater butts for all this time? Yuuri should have told her. Maybe he had, in all the rhapsodizing over Viktor, and she’d just missed it. Were the women’s asses this nice too? She would have to research the other disciplines.
Minako’s predictions were correct. JJ ended up in first place with a program that scored over 200 points, and Mari would gladly overcome her complete lack of maternal instinct to have his babies.
Viktor pointedly ignored the post-competition interview with JJ, instead composing a final victory tweet: See you in Barcelona! Way to go, @yurikatsuki! #proudcoach #GPFigure #CoR2016
Mari sneaked a glance at Viktor’s phone screen a moment later and saw he’d switched to Line. There was a conspicuous number of heart stickers in the message box. Minako’s “Good night!” was met with a polite but disinterested response. That was all anybody was likely to get out of Viktor until Yuuri told him to go the hell to bed.
Mari gathered the empty bottles for recycling and followed Minako out of Viktor’s room. She paused at the doorway.
“Hey. Before Yuuri gets back, buy me new headphones.”
“What?” Viktor looked up from his phone.
“Good ones,” she continued. “Noise canceling ones.”
“I— What?” he repeated.
“I sleep below you. You’re noisy. Both of you.” She gave a significant look to Viktor’s absurdly large bed.
“…Oh.” He blushed bright pink. “Uh, sorry.”
Mari snickered at the memory of Viktor hitting on Yuuri when he first arrived in Japan. He’d acted so suave, but anyone could see at a glance that the great Viktor Nikiforov didn’t have a damn clue how to flirt with a man who wasn’t already trying to sleep with him. His behavior had been all performance and no substance. This fidgety mess who had fallen hopelessly, obviously in love with Yuuri over the summer, this was the real Viktor, and Mari resolved to make it her sisterly duty to tease him at every available opportunity from now on.
But also, if she had to spend one more night trying to sleep through the frantic squeak of bedsprings, she was going to strangle them both.
After not anywhere near enough sleep for the second night in a row, Mari borrowed the Nishigoris’ car to pick up Makkachin at the vet with Viktor. The Yu-topia supply van had sufficed when every second could mean the difference between life and death, but a worn-out poodle deserved a smoother drive after her harrowing experience.
“Yuuri called after you went to bed,” Viktor said as he buckled his seatbelt. If Mari was being charitable, he looked exhausted. The uncharitable version was he looked like shit. Although the redness had lessened in his eyes, the puffy, dark circles had only gotten worse, and his hair looked like he’d tried to smooth the greasy bedhead with his hand rather than bothering to pick up a comb. He’d skipped the sunglasses this morning. Probably, Mari thought, because he just didn’t care anymore.
“He exchanged his plane ticket. He’ll be home tomorrow evening.”
“But he’d have to leave today, right? I thought there were two more days to the event. You said the women and ice dancers were finishing tonight, and then there’s a… a show, isn’t there?”
“The exhibition gala, yes. He wasn’t asked to perform. The Russian skating federation wanted to feature a skater from the host city, so they chose the 9th place finisher because he trains in Moscow.”
Mari kept her eyes on the road. The way Viktor spoke was ominous. Mari’s support for Yuuri’s career was unconditional, but that support was completely focused on her little brother and his performances, his happiness. She hadn’t paid any attention at all to other skaters, not even Yuuri’s beloved Viktor, until she met Yurio. The political side of skating was a mystery to her.
“Why did they do that?” she asked, finally.
“It’s a snub.”
“Uh, hang on.” Viktor thumbed his translation app open and tapped in the word. “Hana de ashirau?”
“Like ignoring somebody.”
“Yeah. Exhibitions have to include the medalists, but after that it’s up to the event organizers. To not choose Yuuri even though he’s going to Barcelona and Michele Crispino isn’t, it’s… sending a message.”
She needed a cigarette. If only smoking were an option in a borrowed car that transported small children.
Viktor rested his head against the passenger window. The Katsukis were not a hugging—or any kind of touching, really—family, but Mari found herself tempted to pat Viktor’s shoulder in comfort. No wonder Yuuri was all over him every day.
“Hm?” Viktor turned from the window. The glass had plastered his bangs to his forehead.
“Can he win gold? In Barcelona?”
“Yes.” There wasn’t even a beat of hesitation. “JJ is the only one with higher base values because of his jumps, but Yuuri can beat him on everything else if he skates clean programs. All he needs is confidence.”
Mari nodded. “Good. I want to see that.”
They didn’t talk for the rest of the drive, but for once the silence wasn’t awkward. Mari turned away to give Viktor some privacy when he broke down at Makkachin sleepily trotting toward him in the vet’s waiting room. If she brushed off a few of her own tears, well, nobody was looking.
“Makkachin and I are going to pick up Yuuri.” Viktor always took care to speak whatever Japanese he could when Yuuri and Mari’s parents were part of the conversation. Mari and Yuuri usually followed suit and helped Viktor keep up if he had trouble.
Mari’s mother looked up from her account books. “Take care, Vicchan!”
“We’ll be home late, so maybe the katsudon should be tomorrow?”
Mari’s parents nodded enthusiastically. Katsudon for fourth place was breaking Yuuri’s personal rule, but they would all spin it to mean they were celebrating Yuuri’s victory of making it into the Final as well as his 24th birthday.
“Having a dog with you in the airport is going to cause trouble, you know,” Mari pointed out.
“Big, dumb foreigner!” said Viktor. “I get away with everything.”
“Airport workers speak English, even in Fukuoka. They’ll know enough to say, ‘No dogs.’”
“Sorry, no English! Russian!” Viktor answered with a media-ready smile, exaggerating his accent to the point of parody.
Mari rolled her eyes. As if ‘no dogs’ were a phrase too difficult for an international traveler to recognize, poor English skills or not. Pointing and shaking a head at Makkachin would get the point across.
“And if that doesn’t work,” Viktor added in a low voice, “I’ll just burst into tears. Makkachin is going to be waiting for Yuuri with me, end of story.”
They shared a long, meaningful look. Viktor may have cheered up now that Makkachin was healthy and Yuuri would be home soon, but Mari had sat in the car with him for an extra 15 minutes yesterday until he stopped crying and could carry Makkachin into Yu-topia with a smile. She would bet her life savings that Yuuri hadn’t seen that side of Viktor yet. She hoped he wouldn’t have reason to for a long, long time.
“Oh! I almost forgot. Be right back!” Viktor dashed upstairs with a quick command for Makkachin to stay put. He came back with a bag from the local electronics store. “These are for you, as requested.”
The bag landed in Mari’s lap. Inside she found a pair of state-of-the-art headphones that cost, she knew perfectly well, a small fortune.
“Viktor, I… I can’t take these,” she stammered. “They’re too expensive. I didn’t mean—”
“The shop assistant said I couldn’t go wrong with this model for noise canceling. You can return them for cheaper ones if it really bothers you, but come on.” He raised an eyebrow and quirked the corner of his mouth. “Do you really want to risk your ears over a few thousand yen?”
“You’re the one who brought it up. See you, sis. I’m heading out!” With that, Viktor led Makkachin out the door to a chorus of “See you later!”
“Mari and Vicchan are so lively,” Mari’s mother chuckled. “It seems you have two little brothers now.”
“But why did he give you headphones?” her father asked.
“It’s better if you don’t know,” Mari grumbled.
“No, I mean why did Vicchan give only Mari headphones? We all have to live with those two!”
Viktor and Yuuri stumbled through the door hours later than planned. Mari was watching late-night dramas after closing up the inn, and her parents were long asleep.
“Lost my luggage,” Yuuri mumbled in explanation. He and Viktor slipped off their shoes and, leaning heavily on each other, made their way up the stairs with Makkachin bounding ahead of them.
Mari didn’t bother with her new headphones that night. The next morning, she carried breakfast trays upstairs and found the door to Viktor’s room wide open. They were fully clothed, sleeping on top of the blankets. Viktor had his head pillowed on Yuuri’s chest, a patch of drool puddling from his mouth onto Yuuri’s t-shirt. They were both embroiled in a snoring contest with Makkachin, who was curled at their feet. Their coats and belts lay discarded on the arm of the loveseat, but they hadn’t even bothered to take off their socks after that.
“Spoiled little brothers,” Mari whispered over them.
They didn’t so much as stir. Mari set the food on the coffee table for later, roused Makkachin for a morning walk, and carefully slid the door shut on her way out.
But not before snapping a picture.
Years later, the photo would resurface for just the right level of big-sisterly bullying in a wedding reception speech. Yuuri would chug his glass of champagne while Viktor begged for a copy. For today, however, Mari was content to let them sleep.